HR: Familiar advancement and RoP:M

I agree with you in principle.

Twinking the system is a larger issue that I don't think is easily solvable. But if we don't mind adjusting familiar rules, I don't think it's the end of the world to throw mages with low Might familiars a bone. The reason why it might be good is because, generating a familiar as a character aside, within the context of the In Character game, not every maga is guaranteed to have a familiar of a Might level equal to the maximum they can bond with. But yes, there is no especial need.

As LuckyMage mentioned on the previous page, magi with low-Might Familiars usually do have a bone already; their Familiar would require fewer seasons to find, less vis to bind, and would probably have been around longer so would have a higher Magic Theory since you have to be older and more experienced to have the requisite Binding Total to snatch higher-Might Familiars. That last part alone means that characters who care more about the Familiar's effect on Lab Total than said Familiar's ability to rip things to shreds would probably choose Binding a low-Might Familiar ASAP over waiting until several decades post-Gauntlet to bind a big, high-Might creature, with or without other boons for doing so.

In fact, these rules somewhat discourage picking low-Might Familiars, since you'll need a big enough Lab Total to train the Familiar and make it be of any use in the laboratory that by that point you could get a stronger Familiar with more Intelligence or other useful quirks to make up for the lack of a Lab partner that the Familiar usually is. Either leaving the RoP:M penalties in as-is or removing the penalty to learning entirely in exchange for the loss of immortality both do more to encourage low-Might Familiar bonding, as they either learn more easily or, if they learn at the same rate, are usually bound and learning the needed skills much earlier on than the higher-Might Familiar.

... Also, cats are awesome Familiars as per RoP:M, though admittedly more awesome for Folk Witches than Hermetic magi. I'd take one of those over a dragon for most magi I've played.

Sure, because the rules for advancement apply, IMO, to all magical creatures. I do want to provide something of a benefit for a magus who takes a familiar to bypass the need to use vis, regardless of might scores.

It still requires a lot of experience accumulation, and it's something of an open question for the troupe whether experience meant for, say Magic Theory, could apply to a transformation into something else. And the more often one transforms to become more powerful the less often this can be repeated because it becomes harder to transform.

And my method has familiars learn in a specific manner, too. The well will eventually run dry, perhaps even sooner. And my method (a method I'm sure I've stolen from someone else) has the benefit of already being well defined. As you said, you still have to develop the mechanics of your system. The mechanics of the system where the familiar can learn without penalty while in the presence of the manage matches the spirit of the core book, while preserving the general rule of the RoP:Magic book and limiting advancement for creatures with Magic Might. Your system has the same effective limits as mine; the ability score of the magus doing the teaching, mine imposes a time constraint on magi, and time is the most important resource a magus has. Thinks that are time sinks are generally good, in that it forces a magus to choose between immediate gratification and a long term investment in the abilities of a familiar.

If you have a 60 Might familiar, you deserve to have a 60 Might familiar.

I feel like I have a lot to say on this topic, but it's also starting to really stray from the core of what we were originally talking about, so if it's okay with you, I'd prefer to leave that for another thread. I apologize for making the aside, it was more of a distraction than I intended.

I think as far as the intent of our rules, you and I don't differ very much. But I think the practical application of your rule is not necessarily going to have the same effect as you expect it to. The major difference, I think, between our two methods, is our disagreement about whether the maga in question needs to spend a season for their familiar to learn. Let's leave that aside for a moment, and just look at how things will likely turn out in a typical campaign, with regard to Abilities.

If you imply the well will run dry as well in your method, I think because you are focusing specifically on Magic Theory for how it is balanced, and more importantly, on the maga directly teaching her familiar. Consider for a moment how, if the maga wanted, in the base RoP:M rules, she can already spend a season to improve her familiars skills: extract vis for it to consume, go on adventures to collect vis while gaining experience herself, or track down better books or tutors that will exceed her own teaching ability. Each of these offers different advantages that may make them significantly more palatable than directly teaching your familiar. You ignore the second method your propose, exposure experience for lab work, because it is a minor trickle, but if you were to step back from a hypothetical maga's life with her familiar, and count up the amount of experience her familiar could expect to gain from exposure, versus the amount she would expect to gain specifically from your teaching exception, I think in nearly all cases, the former would exceed the latter. Considering that many would never use your teaching option at all, because it is very conservative in its gains, the average could very well greatly exceed the latter. And the fact of the matter is, lab exposure is not in any way capped. A familiar can, and likely would, eventually exceed the maga's Ability scores because of it.

And you say your rule is well defined. It is, but only if you accept the two examples you give. If you claim you aren't concerned with game balance (Or when you said it was a mythical beast in Ars Magica, did you mean it was common and of great interest? :slight_smile: ), then what would your ruling be if, say, a maga and her familiar both snuck into a castle in concert, and spent their adventure experience for that season on Stealth. If we follow the logic of your ruling, shouldn't that allow the familiar to learn without Might penalty? And if so, what about when they both spend a season reading the same Summa? That would be a literal description of the situation described in the text in ArM5. What about two copies of the same Summa? If you allowed any of these, however, what you would have is a rule with incredible restrictions, but no bite as far as balance is concerned. If you didn't allow it, then your ruling is an arbitrary rebalancing, and a rebalancing that greatly changes the role of the familiar as defined in the core, while simultaneously - because you said you weren't doing it for balance purposes - not being aimed at any particular goal.

We both have the intended same limits, but mine are explicitly stated. Yours, you believe, are a natural extension of their application. If you consider the wider application, however, they are not the same.

First, as I pointed out above, exposure in Lab Activity is not limited. I can think of multiple distinct ways in which a familiar can exceed their maga's scores in an Ability via exposure, and many of them would happen naturally, without the maga intending the situation to happen. Furthermore, in the specific case of players intentionally targeting your rule, it is very easily exploitable.

Secondly, and I think more importantly, is your attitude vis-a-vis Magic Theory. Magic Theory is the most important Ability to be concerned with, and you have clearly being thinking in terms of it for the application of your rule. But it is not the only Ability, and because of that, the application of our rules is very different. You've spoken about paying now, or paying later. This only makes sense with Magic Theory. The cost of a season only recoups itself in this instance, and never pays itself back directly for any other skill. There is not payback for teaching Finesse, or Concentration, Abilities the familiar and the maga will both have benefit from, and certainly not for favourful Abilities, like Lores, languages or anything that maga or familiar might take because it fits their conception, without being particularly useful to them. Because you have costed based on Magic Theory, you have made improving these Abilities beyond frivolous. So in one stroke, you reduce the familiar to being only a lab assistant, and then penalize that role in turn.

Time, and warping, are the core balancing factors in Ars Magica. No disagreement there. However, you need to have a reason why you impose this particular balance. I realize my House Rule changes both the core and RoP:M literal rules, in an attempt to address their spirits. If you wish to imply that you, in opposition to that, are merely interpreting the rules as written, I think the sticking point will always be this cost of the maga's season of labour. Prior to Realms of Power: Magic being published, I cannot imagine you would ever come to that conclusion based on the text you had. "The familiar can learn Abilities in the same way a human can," would always be the albatross around your neck. RoP:M certainly has nothing to support this season's work, as it doesn't even directly address the familiar in the advancement sections.

What I'm trying to say is, clearly, this season of teaching penalty is something that comes specifically from you, and your interpretation of a proper role for a familiar in a campaign. This is fine, of course, but we have to dispense with the idea that we are talking about what the default Ars Magica campaign is meant to be. It is what you would like it to be, and, of course, since I've proposed a House Rule, what I would like it to be.

What is this typical campaign of which you speak?

In Magic Theory, sure. And I'm OK with that. But to get a high magic theory sooner, or to reap more rewards from having a higher magic theory score later, the magus needs to invest time earlier to teach the familiar. If a magus is content to have the familiar learn by exposure, I'm not going to stop him. If the magus is content to spend vis to have the familiar learn from a book or teacher, I'm not going to stop him, and again, if the magus wants to teach the familiar directly, I'm not going to stop him, in fact, I'm going to encourage him to do that by waiving the vis requirement.

Ars Magica is not balanced. Attemps to balance it usually fail, because the goal of the system is telling interesting stories, if the troupe can agree with the general framework of the rules, then you will have interesting stories. Addressing some of your specific items You can't have two people learn from the same physical book in a season, so your question is moot. And as far as sneaking into a concert together. Sure, why not? Keep in mind that the RAW regarding adventure experience is that the rest of the season is spent in contemplation of the adventure. So, if the magus and the familiar spend the rest of the season discussing it, sure. It works for me.

Actually, they aren't explicitly stated, as we don't know what your mechanic looks like, yet.

And I'm actually OK with this. I like the idea of a familiar being better at Magic Theory than a magus, it's interesting. It frees the magus up to learn other abilities, to some extent. And it is evocative of Bob and Harry from the Dresden Files; Bob knows way more than Harry does about magic theory.

Actually no, this is where the value of a low might familiar will really shine, because the low might familiar can learn with sufficient source quantity. This has been my unstated point, that there should be a value of a low might familiar over a high might familiar; the value is that the low might familiar can learn independently, albeit a bit slowly. Your method allows any might familiar to learn if the Arts of the magus are sufficient to the task.

Certainly, prior to RoP:Magic, familiars could learn without restriction and high might familiars could be had easily. I like what we have now, making hard choices about the kinds of familiars one takes. Do I take the drake with 40 might or the cat with 10? My reasons for the HR aren't out of balance but out of having the characters having to make interesting choices. I don't find it terribly interesting to create paths to ultimate power. I find it interesting to create paths that lead to incremental increases in power at the expense of something else...

Sure, it comes from me. I could just as easily have stuck with the rules in RoP:Magic, and force magi to go hunt for mass quantities of vis to feed their familiars so that they can learn. They can still do this, if they'd like, it's still an entirely valid choice, and it may be necessary for abilities other than Magic Theory, as you point out. But as to your proposed house rule, once you get the mechanics down, basically if the lab total is sufficient there's no choice to be made. The magus will always perform the 1 day lab activity that allows the familiar to learn, there is no cost to the magus to do the 1 day lab activity. Keep in mind the wording of my ruling does allow for the magus and the familiar to be taught together, too. The need for different abilities isn't my highest concern. Finesse isn't all that useful to a familiar unless one of his inborn powers uses it, since powers that a magus invests in a familiar affect only the magus, the familiar or both. Concentration isn't all that useful, unless, again it's for inborn powers, because it's just as easy to invest a power in the bond that has the bond maintain concentration. I'll stipulate that my method makes independent learning of lore abilities harder, but again, to me, that's a feature, not a bug, giving a compelling reason for a character to take a low might familiar. Why else, if you could have a high might familiar would you be willing to settle for a low might one, if there wasn't some compelling advantage? Ars has never been about bigger is better, and to me, your ruling does make bigger, or higher might better than low might.

The campaign implied by the core rulebook, of course. It's not a pointless question. It's the baseline we all use.

The text - very specifically the familiar text, but most of the other rules as well - is not a mixture of fluff, and strict rules, like less complex and flavourful games often are. Each rule is very clearly justified by world-building, and I think one of the reasons why the game feels so elegant is because of this extra level of attention. Take away any one mechanical rule, and you could probably reconstruct it exactly, because the game has explained what should happen, and the mechanics stick to a simple enough paradigm that one can figure out how the designers would have implemented it. D&D, by contrast, is a series of arbitrary rulings. Take out, say, how to calculate a familiar's hit points in 3rd edition D&D, and no two GMs would agree on what nonsense should be stuffed into the blank space.

Ars Magica, specifically its 5th edition, has very much tightened up the gap between how the world works In Character with how the world works mechanically. When I speak about trying to fit the house rule I proposed to the intent of both the core rules and Realms of Power: Magic, I'm not conjuring airy spirits from my imagination, it's all there in black and white. That's why I said, for example, that the simplest Lab Total should be the bonding lab total, because it is the puzzle piece that causes the least disruption, and has the least of my personal preference in it. The other two I suggested fit my personal preference more, while deviating further from the game.

Looking at your house rule - sorry, I have been treating it is an interpretation up until now, but I realize now I misunderstood you - I have to say, the thing I'm really missing is what its purpose is. To summarize what I get out of your last post you:

  1. Don't mind if ability scores learned using your HR exceed the maga's score
  2. Don't care if it is balanced, or at least don't expect it to be balanced and
  3. Don't mind if players circumvent the season lost to teaching, but only in some situations

To which I have to ask, why are you making this ruling at all? You're breaking Realms of Power: Magic's principles, you aren't satisfying the intent of the core rules, and you don't expect there to be balance at the end of it. What's the intended goal?


As far as Ars Magica being not being balanced, I have to disagree. Balance isn't an on or off switch, it's a matter of degree. No system outside of the most simple is perfectly balanced. Even chess isn't perfectly balanced, but it's complex enough that noone yet knows if the black or white has the advantage. Ars Magica is a very open game, which risks many avenues of possible abuse, and there are many strategies, both In Character and Out of Character, which may favour one type of character over another, but in terms balance, it's not bad.

I learned Ars Magica in third edition, and picked up a second edition book a while back, and I think much of the openness of those has been tightened for fifth edition. Spells had no explicit guidelines, only examples used as signposts for players and Storytellers to determine the magnitudes of new spells. Learning wasn't tied so tightly to the seasonal system. I haven't played 4th edition, but it's my understanding 5th came specifically out of balance problems in 4th. Balance is very important to 5th edition.

Quite simply to satisfy the Realms of Power:Magic limitations while satisfying the spirit of the core text. The core text is explicit, as has been mentioned, that the familiar can learn abilities as humans do. That enough is reason enough for some to just say that familiars don't need to consume vis to learn. But I do like the "balance" of having a low might familiar over a high might familiar, and the only way to encourage that is to have the low might familiar have some advantage over the high might familiar.

If there are many avenues of possible abuse then there is a lack of balance. Not all magi are created equal, where's the balance in that? That everyone has the choice to make a magus that can cast BoAF and penetrate 20 MR at gauntlet? That's not really an argument that the system has balance. Balance is basically all characters of the same type/class have parity. That doesn't exist at all in Ars Magica.

I don't think guidelines are an aspect of balance, I think of them as an aspect of consistency. It gives players and SGs a more consistent baseline to determine if spells are reasonable and what is possible. With a guideline I can more appropriately rule on an effect, I remember in 3rd edition I'd sometimes rule a spontaneous effect was one level in a session and then in the next session I'd forgotten about it and ruled it a different level. That doesn't happen (as often) with a more consistent and wider set of spell guidelines.

I think we are starting to talk in circles, so rather than begin to repeat myself, I'll just try and summarize and leave it at that.

If your goal truly is to satisfy the spirit of the core text, I can't see how you have succeeded. Reading the section on 'The Familiar in Play', I don't see how what it describes is at all a situation that will ever occur under your ruling. It is theoretically possible, but only via the most perverse sort of play.

If you intended to preserve Realms of Power: Magic, I don't see why you think you have done that. The core principle is that high Might creatures eventually become static and unchanging. Your house rule breaks this concept.

But it does feel at this point that we are just arguing, and that wasn't my intent. If we've both made changes to the rules, I have to accept that there is a great deal of personal preference involved in what we feel is right for a campaign, and even in why one would make a rule. While I don't agree with the rule itself, I can certainly acknowledge that you seem willing to apply it consistently, which is probably what's required for a solid campaign.

I'm not sure how I can explain it better. And as I said earlier, it's a compromise. It's a compromise between the total freedom to learn anything that the core book says and the rather onerous restrictions for a familiar if you stick close to the rules in RoP:Magic.

It doesn't break it much, and it doesn't break it without some effort on the part of the magus. Yeah, gaining exposure to Magic Theory while working in the lab with a magus might eventually give the familiar a really high Magic Theory score, but your method doesn't prevent that at all. Say a might 20 familiar has a MT score of 5, to get to 6 requires 30 xp, which would require 15 seasons of working with his magus in the lab, that's almost a solid 4 year. Typical lab use (based on Covenants pricing the expense costs) is 2 seasons per year, so it's closer to 8 years. Getting from 6 to 7 is another 18 seasons of lab work, another decade. 7 to 8 is 40 xp, or 20 seasons, which is probably a decade. You might have a saga that plays through nearly 30 years, or you might have a saga that gets through 10. But let's say that a saga lasts 100 years, let's say that a magus takes a familiar 10 years past gauntlet, that leaves 90 years that the familiar can advance. Let's say the magus has a magic theory score of 5 and teaches it to his familiar over the course of 5 seasons. So, starting from MT 5, and doing 45 years or 180 seasons of lab work, you have 75+360 xp= 435xp which means by the time the saga has ended the familiar has a Magic Theory score of 12 and has had for about the last 20 years of the saga. Is that excessive? Under your method where the magus can do the ritual to overcome the vis penalty and in a saga where magic theory tractatus are common and available at a Q10 level, it would require only 32 tractatus (and seasons) to get from a score of 5 to a score of 12. 8 years to get to a score of 12, or 40 years to get to that same score?

I also think I've been fairly consistent in saying that I want to preserve the low might familiar, to give it a reason for being, other than that's the only familiar the magus could manage to bind. A low might familiar has even more advantages and begins to look a lot more like your proposal than my proposal.

Ah, well, if we're back on the topic of my House Rule (yay), I guess this is new ground. :slight_smile:

It does though. With the gain limit, familiars can gain exposure for lab work, but only up to the score of the maga. Past that point, the familiar stops dead. And that is not an arbitrary point to stop it, it is precisely what the core rules mandates.

This sounds very much like you are talking about game balance! Yes, you are right, considering only exposure, my house rule proceeds at a faster rate. But I consider RoP:M and core to be incompatible. There is no arbitrary middle point that will satisfy both. So, knowing that I'm going to break RoP:M, I broke it in a precise manner that gave exactly what core required, and no more, and reverted to RoP:M in all other cases.

In practice, a familiar under my house rule learns naturally, and it learns the things it was supposed to learn, and once it has learned everything the maga had to offer, it stops. The well run dry, simulating the static state RoP:M wants. Yes, it breaks the rules of RoP:M, but within the spirit of RoP:M is the concept of a Magic character having a 'season', and that season is not directly tied to it's Might. It might be 120 experience points, or it might be 1200. If we allow the concept of a familiar having a season of specifically the Abilities the Magus has, it might not be part of the text of RoP:M, but it is conceptually sympathetic.

Just two quick comments.

First, note that the fact that "the familiar knows what you know" does not necessarily mean "he has the same skills". In our troupe we've long interpreted it more as "any piece of gossip you've heard, any event you've witnessed etc. - your familiar knows about it as if he'd been there at the time, because probably either he was or the two of you have chatted about it in your many hours together".

We've also toyed with a house rule in our previous saga, to capture the spirit of "a) the familiar learns what you know (not other stuff) b) provided he hangs around you (no explicit work on your part is needed)". The house rule, which worked fairly well (and that I like better than what was proposed in this thread) was as follows:

In any season in which the familiar spends the majority of his time with you, and does not gain experience from other sources, he gains exposure experience that can be applied to any ability or abilities he possesses at a score lower than yours. This experience is not reduced by the familiar's Might.

I wont hold my breath, this thing has been bouncing around on the boards for years with no sign of an erratum.


Indeed, but it may not have been corrected in errata because no one has asked.
Then again, when you ask for errata, you might get errata, just not in the way you like.

I never thought we left it. The core rules don't mandate anything about a gain limit. The phrase, learn as a human suggests that there is no limit to what a familiar may learn. You are capping it based on the score of the magus, which I suppose is a nod to the know what the magus knows line, but I have to confess I think ezzelino's take on it is much more apt for the meaning of that line.

Well, it's not geared towards balance so much as reasonableness and allowing interesting choices. As I might have alluded to or mentioned earlier, the choice comes down to having a high might familiar with a bunch of kickass powers who will learn slowly and only with some difficulty or a low might familiar who can learn much more easily. That's going to generally make more interesting stories and more interesting familiars.

I'm not sure what a familiar is supposed to learn, except the primary ability as far as the magus is concerned, magic theory. Familiars don't have a need for Finesse, unless they have inborn powers that use it. Concentration can be handled by the bond and so that really leaves Penetration, which I suppose... I like to think I'm in the spirit of RoP:M, too. Quick progress is limited to areas that the magus expends effort. There is very slight progress in areas where they both expend effort in a similar endeavor (lab work, or being taught or the adventure idea you proposed).

This thread is borne out of the fact that I wrote in about the subject. The reply I got was that it was going to be in the next round of errata.

That's a reading I find more appealing than Jonathan Link's, since it seems to have a purpose behind it. But it does make the whole sentence seem a little superfluous. After all, does it really bear mentioning that a familiar will learn of the gossip the maga knows, if the maga shares it with her? It's also slightly at odds with the fact that being able to transmit mental images is actually contained in one of the example bond powers mentioned on the same page. Still, on the whole, it's an internally consistent interpretation I can't really argue with.

But aren't you still stuck with the whole 'The familiar can learn as a human' does part?

That's also more palatable. My caveats are that still, it is unlikely that a familiar will ever learn everything the maga does, since it necessarily learns at a slower rate than the maga does, and only when she also learns. [strike]Also, it only addresses knowledge accumulated after the familiar is bound. Technically, you still have to address knowledge that the maga has because she learned it earlier.[/strike] Ah, on rereading it I see that I misunderstood how and why the exposure happens. That wasn't really a problem. Sorry!

Ignoring the rate of progress issue, I believe you and I have drastically different personal approaches to familiars. My familiars tend to be individuals to contend with of their own right, even if they have low Might or no Might at all. If I include PCs and NPCs, I've had familiars that speak for the magi, others that are the magi's mounts, others who are adventurers, others that are warriors, a magus's lover, the lover of a feral shapeshifting companion, one that masquerades as the magus while the real magus is actually holed up in the lab, and more. So when I think about things a familiar is supposed to learn beyond Magic Theory I think things like Area Lore, Athletics, Awareness, Brawl, Charm, Guile, Organization Lore: Order of Hermes, etc., depending on the specific role of the familiar. And some might have Supernatural Abilities, too. Yes, I'll confess I think familiars are really cool and I like to do interesting and odd things with them, probably with more variety than most players/SGs. Still, even if you don't go as far as I do there must be some good other things for a familiar to learn.

Oh, I know there's good things for the familiar to learn, especially from the point of view of the familiar. But then again the magus may not consider certain abilities worthy. And it costs vis to learn abilities, so you need to convince your good friend to feed you some of his vis. Maybe the familiar can earn vis from the covenant, somehow and this becomes less of an issue.

That's exactly why I don't use the RoP:M rules for familiars. I like them to be real characters, experiencing and learning alongside the magus, just as they always were since 1st edition. Turning them into vis sinks or unchanging stat blocks, out of a sense of balance, makes the game less interesting.