HR: Familiar advancement and RoP:M

I've seen some house ruling addressing how familiars are meant to advance, given the changes imposed by Realms of Power: Magic. The most common I've seen is allowing the Silver Cord to subtract somewhat from the Might penalty. I had a similar idea that seems (to me, anyway) to allow the two different rules to live somewhat in harmony. I'd be interested in hearing opinions on the matter from people more familiar with the rules than me.

House Rule:
If a character with Magic Might is the familiar to a Hermetic Maga with a lab total above (X), the two can perform a short (one day) lab activity to remove the Might penalty to advancement for a previous season, conditional on experience only being spent on Abilities, and imposing an additional Gain Limit of the Maga's own score in each raised Ability.

(X) might be most simply a restatement of the Familiar Bonding Level (ArM5, p. 104), but since that total adds Might without multiplying, making it easy to reach even after the Familiar transforms significantly, a more appropriate total might be something like:

Lab Total: 10+(Familiar Might x 3)
Lab Total: 10 + (Familiar Might x 2) + (Total score in Magical Qualities - Total score in Magical Inferiorities) x 2

The reason why I think the above house rule might work well is because 1) it would limit the type of abilities Familiars would be encouraged to learn, so that it would improve specifically in a way that would allow the two to work well together, but it would likely not develop an extra pool of Abilities the Maga doesn't possess (which would give the familiar a benefit it didn't have in the original rules), and 2) because Familiars cannot learn Arts, while Hermetic Maga splits experience between Arts and Abilities, Familiars will probably gain Ability experience at a faster rate than their Maga, but this rule will 'cap out' once the familiar has learned everything the Maga knows. After this point, the Familiar has essentially gained an artificial 'season', similar to the seasons described in character generation of RoP:M, and will advance as any other Magic character, with no addition unbalancing benefits.

What do you guys think?

I didn't realize this was something that got house-rules thrown on it a lot. Actually, I was under the impression that Familiars advanced as non-Magic creatures. Supernatural creatures, specifically Magic ones, suffer from the difficulty learning due to a fundamental difficulty with changing because of their immortal nature. When a creature becomes a Familiar, it trades its immortality for the mortality of binding its own life to that of a magus (when a magus dies, their Familiar does too, and usually vice versa). In exchange (and the reason many being would want to be Familiars) is that their newfound mortality removes the penalty that their immortality had given them. The immortal, unchanging nature of Magic creatures is mentioned numerous times in RoP:M and TMRE as being the reason the penalty is gained, and most people I've talked to also rule that Familiars gain experience without the penalty, for the simple reason of not making the Familiar rules less meaningful due to later sources (as doing so would, in turn, reduce the value of the core book).

Ignoring that, I approve of your house rule. I'd personally just use the Lab Total associated with the Binding Total, though...

I only have my own anecdotes with regard to it being something discussed, but in two campaigns I've played in, two allowed the Silver Cord to mitigate the Might penalty, while a third uses the Realms of Power: Magic rules exactly as is, supplanting the core's (slightly vaguer) rules.

I think the quandary arises because familiars are briefly mentioned in the Magic character generation section of RoP:M, but not in the advancement section, so it implies familiars should use those rules, without having them specifically addressed in the relevant section.

I agree with your interpretation, because it is truest (even compared to my house rule) to the core rules, but then it seems a bit unfair they get all the nice stuff from the supplement book, without any corresponding balancing.

I personally feel that any direct involvement with the magus's activities should be exempt from the might penalty. Assisting him in the lab, you gain exposure xp, but reading from a book, or being taught (by anyone other than the magus) you have the might penalty.

Rather than house rule it, I go with following the specific rule rather than the general. "Familiars", as per the rulebook, is much more specific than the generic "Beings of Magic" in RoP:M, so rulebook wins. Ditto for Immortal Magi from Mysteries.

I don't really think Familiars in particular got any especially nice stuff. Heck, now they have to pay for the Powers they were getting for free. Some creatures got really nice stuff with RoP:M, but many, the most common Familiar type included (namely small animals), just got more rules in regards to stuff they already had.

Mmm, I dunno if I like this. It seems very much like a compromise where neither side feels at all satisfied.

If you are trying to stay true to the core, the alternatives you offer are kind of nice, but they only technically follow the core, and only if you intentionally stretch the meaning of some of the words. They state that familiars learn what you know 'over time', and you're willing to (in the interests of being conservative, rather than accurate) interpret this as spending time to teach them Magic Theory, but you do you think it was intended that, say, you waste potentially multiple seasons teaching them esoteric stuff like Order of Hermes Lore?

And if RoP:M wanted low Might creatures to be able to change and learn, while high Might creatures to be necessarily static, you've given an unlimited loophole for, say, a wizard's Might 60 familiar to continue to learn. Only slowly, or at great cost, yes, because you've been conservative, but at precisely the same rate as a Might 10 familiar.

I realize your primary goal is balance, but for both books, you've insufficiently modeled the intent of the text. If you don't want to houserule beyond that, I think players might prefer that you disallow one set of rules entirely instead.

Yeah, exactly. And I hope I don't betray my powers of prognostication to the world, but I wouldn't be surprised if your view was validated in the near future. :slight_smile:

I just want to make clear that the house rule above isn't meant as an interpretation of the rules, but rather a change or addition to it. If I wrote it with the intent of loosening the rules when people favoured RoP:M, equally in your case, it would be to tighten the core rules, to balance out the advantages of owning RoP:M.

The hallmark of a great compromise!

I'm not sure I understand what you mean by staying true to the core. If I had to guess I would say that your vision of the core rules regarding familiars is that they should be able to learn without paying vis. There is a sentence that supports this, on page 105 of the core text, but I don't find anything that says they learn what the magus learns over time.

It's not perfect, by any means, but it is a bit of a pay me now or pay me later approach. First, I find the idea of a might 60 familiar to be... unlikely. For the most part familiars are going to top out in the 20-25 range, IMS, and have in the sagas I'm participating in. So really, the only difference is between a Might 20 and a Might 10 or lower creature. But this is one of the reasons for selecting a lower might creature; it's easier for a creature with less might to learn on one's own. And if a magus wants to invest time and/or vis to improve their familiar I don't see why I should stand in the way of that. If he spends a season teaching his familiar Magic Theory, to boost his lab score later on, it means he's not doing other stuff in the lab right now.

I realize your primary goal is balance, but for both books, you've insufficiently modeled the intent of the text. If you don't want to houserule beyond that, I think players might prefer that you disallow one set of rules entirely instead.
Balance isn't my goal. Balance is a mythical beast in the realm of Ars Magica. I'm looking for something thematic and consistent with the themes and ideas already present in Ars Magica. That being familiars should be able to learn directly from a magus, the point of taking a familiar is to help you with your magic. Low might creatures have more capacity to learn on their own, but have fewer powers, high might creatures have less capacity to learn on their own but have a lot of powers. Those powers should come at the expense of something. Not for balance, but because TANSTAAFL.

I think JL's compromise works well. I think the rules are trying to balance the magical beasts and the Familiars. A Hound of virtue, trying to learn something new requires vis. That is it needs magic in the raw form to change it's own magic. A Hound of Virtue that is a Familiar has linked itself to another in a permanent way. Any change to it outside that link would require vis. A change, like learning Magic Theory from it bonded mage should be easier because they share the bond. This is more restrictive than you might think and forces a mage to spend time to improve his familiar. And giving a mage another time sink is good for a game.

Realizing that I might be even more restrictive than JL in that I would not allow a familiar to learn from reading a book. It could read the book but gain nothing from it. If it read the book the same season it's mage did then it can gain the experience.

To clarify, the text in ArM5 regarding how familiars learn is on page 105, in the first paragraph under "The Familiar in Play."

To wit: "Over the years, your familiar learns what you know, provided that you keep the familiar with you when you study and that you share your knowledge with it."

This greatly suggests that a familiars learn what their maga does naturally, rather than having the maga expend effort to force it to.

There is also relevant text under The Bound Familiar, on the same page.

To me, this explicitly states that it requires some effort on the part of the magus to share his knowledge with it; "share your knowledge with it." And as far as the familiar learning what the magus knows, provided the familiar is kept with him seems to hint at exposure to me. But regardless, these rules for familiar advancement weren't designed in contemplation of the might 20 and greater familiars that now seem to be relatively common. I mean, if a magus wants a familiar with a lot of power, there needs to be some compromise, why would any magus take a low might familiar. Again, it's something of a pay me now or pay me later compromise. You can have an awesome kickass familiar that can call lightning bolts down from the heavens but can't learn squat without consuming mass quantities of vis, or you teach it, or have it with you and it gets exposure based in my HR. Or you take a low might familiar that needs minimal amounts of vis and will learn tons of abilities when it isn't helping the magus in the lab or otherwise occupied with the magus's responsibilities.

I don't see that your HR does anything different than mine. Let's say we have a Might 20 creature, in order for it to learn you have to have a lab total (in what, by the way, the arts used to bind it?) of 70 for it to learn without penalty. This is going to make it something of a challenge to even get to that point, whereas, I allow the player the choice of sacrificing a season of advancement (still gets exposure, in teaching no less) to teach their familiar.

I'm curious, is there a reason that familiars are being designed with higher might these days, other than the general issue of power escalation in the game? Granted, the spirit and daimon familiars from Mysteries are better than the usual, but that's to be expected as the reward for learning the appropriate virtues. Other than that, I'm not aware of any real changes.

Because they can?
If you build it, they will come.

You can design a familiar of nearly any might, and if your Arts can bind it, then you make it immune to acclimation and it has huge amounts of powers. Let me ask; why would you even select a low might creature?

Probably for the same reasons I would as a real person in that world. Low-Might creatures are (usually) smaller and (always) a whole lot easier to find than high-Might creatures. The rarity of high-Might creatures also contributes to the problem that with so few powerful creatures to choose from, an incredibly small amount of them would be able to form the emotional connection with your specific magus necessary for binding yourself to a Familiar.

I don't know about you, but specific SG philosophies that would alter this notwithstanding, I personally would much rather find and bind an emotionally compatible low-Might Familiar over the course of a season or two so I could immediately get to the other important things I want to do than spend a year and a half not doing other productive things to search out one of the rare beasts with Might suitable to be my companion in combat only to meet them and realize that they're an annoyingly proud Winter creature who considers me a plaything at best and a nuisance at worst. Especially if after cycling through this several times I finally get a high-Might creature who meshes well with me and then I need to spend two more seasons out of the lab waiting for the expansion project that will let him fit in my lab to finish.

On top of the ease of finding and compatibility advantages, a small, low-Might creature will be much easier to bind as a Familiar, cost a whole lot less vis, and most importantly be bind-able much earlier in the magus's life. This means that they'll spend more time learning useful skills like Magic Theory and Finesse, increasing the utility and Lab Total bonus of your Familiar by a large amount due simply to how much longer he's had to learn your Magic Theory.

Lastly, I know a few magi who wouldn't want a creature who could get emotional and accidentally destroy the laboratory and its delicate equipment as a Familiar, but maybe they're just weird.

This is the fuzzy interpretation I was referring to. If that really was the intent of the text, shouldn't it have read "provided that you keep the familiar with you when you study or that you share your knowledge with it."? And even that reading ignores the fact 'study' would probably suggest you reading a book, and not you working in a lab on, say, inventing a spell.

I mentioned a 60 Might familiar not to suggest it would be common, but to highlight the fact that, despite your intent, your ruling does not take into account Might. Certainly, the old RoP:M rules are still partly in place, but if we assume that your method of advancing your familiar is the more appropriate one, 60 Might familiars will advance at precisely the same rate, and at precisely the same cost to the Maga, as 10 Might familiars.

The lab totals I had above admittedly weren't particularly fine tuned. I said 'something like' them, because the actual numbers would need to have a bit of playtesting, or tweaking for a specific campaign. But the intent of the totals was to allow the familiar to grow, via transformation - which it can currently still do - but in a measured fashion, proportional to the strength of the maga, in exchange for allowing what I consider a closer reading of the core rules' intention regarding advancement.

I personally prefer the last lab total, because it sneakily adds in a control over non-Might raising transformations, something which currently doesn't seem properly in check in the RoP:M rules.

No, that's not true at all. A might 10 character gets 5 experience points if the SQ is 15. If he consumes a pawn of vis, it's 7, two pawns it's 9. And so a might 10 creature can advance independently of his master. He can spend years reading that L6Q15 Magic Theory summa, and get something out of it, if only a little bit. A might 15 and greater character gets a lot less, unless they consume a lot of vis.

I don't understand what you mean about transformations, that has a specific meaning in RoP:Magic...
In any event, your method provides a way to have one's cake and eat it, too. Because you can have a high might creature, and with sufficient Lab totals, and the loss of a day, they can remove all penalties to the SQ for learning for a season. Doesn't seem right to me.

I've seen this issue come up a lot of times in the past, enough to wonder: why not ask to the line editor, David Chart, for clarification/errata?

True, but that hasn't changed in concept since the corebook was written. What has changed is the general escalation of magi power levels, but that's an entirely different issue and one that the community of this board never agrees on.

I don't have a problem with the high might familiar advancing at the same rate. Binding a better familiar, with the required lab totals and all the practical difficulties, SHOULD give you a better familiar. The problem, IMO, is that by twinking the system every Tom, Dick, and Harry player magus can end up with with the same lab totals as used to be required for Archmage status. Solve that and there's no need to adjust familiar rules.

Heh. I did, and I think it's going to be in the next errata. I asked about my house rule, and he suggested I post it here. :slight_smile:

Yes, but you are quoting the RoP:M rules there. Your ruling changes those rules away from that. I realize you give familiars the option of choosing whichever set is most advantageous to them, but your maga-teaching-familiar ruling itself doesn't address Might in any way. I agree that the Might penalty is something that needs to be preserved in some way, but it's disingenuous to state that as a strength of your ruling. Your ruling is moving away from that paradigm, not reinforcing it.

I am referring to that specific meaning. Aside from improving Abilities, magic characters can consume vis to transform and improve their Magical qualities. This creates the possibility of a maga with a low lab total binding a low might creature, then have it transform to a state that the maga couldn't bind with her current lab total. It was an irrelevant aside. Sorry about that. :slight_smile:

Yes, that is true. But prior to RoP:M that was precisely the state of affairs. Further, the quoted text above suggests that that was essentially what was meant to happen with a familiar. My house rule is design to draw that back, so that familiars only learn in a specific manner, and with the implication that once that well runs dry, the RoP:M rules come back into full effect. The lab total requirement, I admit, is unnecessary, but I find it balances out some of the loose ends RoP:M still has.