Lab assistance from Familiars

How do Familiars assist in the Lab?

Do you need to modify your Lab to allow the Familiar to assist? eg different Labs if your Familiar is mouse or a moose? Eel or eagle?

Basic rule: They assist, so add their Int + MT to your lab total.

More complex from Covenants: Add Gold Cord to Safety. Also, if they're big enough, they require a Minor Virtue of space.

It really depends on familiar. Probably the best way to have them help is to have them turn into a human (possibly by enchanting the bond). It is hard to imagine how an eel would be able to help in the lab, as it would likely be bound to an aquarium. Someone with a large quadruped familiar would also need a very well designed lab for it to be any else than a bull in a china shop situation.

From experience, in my old group 2 of the mages went splitsies and ordered a talisman what would have their familiar (an owl and a dog) a human like arm to make them useful in the lab...


I dont know about how it would work with an eel. But the way I imagine it, familiars assist primarily by offering advice and sparring as they can. This does require that the familiar can initiate communication and would be significantly easier if the familiar and magus could do some equivalent of talking, e.g. telepathy.

In terms of actual situations here are some examples:

  • A magus is about to add a mixture into the kettle of experimentation, but unknowingly forgot to add a crucial ingredient, the magus' cat familiar throws the mixture on the ground, saving the magus from either wasting several days worth of careful preparation or worst case blowing up their lab.
  • A magus is about to start an experiment, but with a quick wit and perhaps superior attunement to magic the dog senses that the experiment would be better done while Jupiter is the sky rather than venus. The dog barks frantically at the model of jupiter on the magus' elaborate brass model of the sky.
  • A magus is disheartened by a long day in the lab that seems wasted. The magus' eel familiar pokes a slimy tail out of its aquarium on to the magus' shoulder, rendering comfort and encouragement at just the right time for the magus to call it quits on a bad day and to wake with fresh energy the next day.

These are just examples. But I specifically chose ones where the ability to speak is unimportant.

Speaking from personal experience, I have spent years working on-and-off in a laboratory, doing primary research. Having someone else in the lab can be an immense boost, and for lots of reasons other than what might at first seem obvious.
The most obvious benefit is of course if you have someone working on the same project and you do everything together. This is somewhat of a mixed bag though as you can also tread on each other's toes.

But merely having someone working on a related project, in the same physical room, is a benefit: you try harder when there is someone to impress with your diligence and talent. Having someone to take a break with is good for productivity and breaks are shorter and more efficient when you can just lean back, crack a joke have a laugh for a few minutes and then go back to work, than when you have to get out of the lab entirely and search for someone to talk to. There is the social benefit in that it is less lonely but the social benefit extends beyond mere company,
there are benefits in the ability to scream in frustration when things go wrong and to have a sympathetic ear. Having someone to spar with is also an immense benefit, this can also seem mundane but it helps. Situations like being able to say "Hmm that odd, whenever I weigh off Copper-sulphate the weight seems to jump straight from 0.448 mg's to 0.516 mg's no matter how little I add " and get a reply of "oh yeah the weight is weird like that, you just have to subtract 0.016 whenever it gets over 0.500, no one knows why" so you dont waste time troubleshooting old equipment that works fine as long as you apply some stupid hotfix.

I believe that real-life (scientific) research is a good parallel to magical research in Ars magica. (I say scientific research here, because that is the kind of research I am familiar with, not because I dont think other kinds of research are valid or good).

In real life research is a creative process and it is highly reliant on things like motivation, emotional comfort, sparring and pacing. Of these only sparring strictly requires someone that you can communicate complex ideas with. I believe that the familiar bond and associated friendship is enough to allow for enough communication to improve the lab work of a magus. I do think that the ability to speak to each other would be an advantage but I dont mind that the rules dont reflect this, probably for the sake of simplicity.


I'd say that the Familiar must be able to exist in the lab without discomfort ... either for the Familiar or for the Lab! So you'll need some adaptation if the familiar is e.g. exceedingly large, only breathes water, or is constantly shrouded in flames. Other than that, I'd say everything goes.

Keep in mind that, in order to take over a highly individualized lab, you need a season of adaptation (Covenants p.118). I assume that includes tweaking its features so as to optimize it for your familiar (alternatively, if you acquire first the lab and then the familiar, the adaptation of the lab takes place during the seasons of bonding).


While not a researcher, I have designed many ECOA and run the Op-For as part of the MDMP for decades. One of the best methods was to have several people create their own individual ECOA before we compared them all to classify them as things like "Most Likely", "Least Likely", and "Most Dangerous".

The overall effect (and how it relates to the topic of this thread) is that by starting from a shared overview and working towards a shared target, the effects of each individuals brainstorming can all be combined and much more effective than any of them individually could produce. If your target was to produce X spell or effect, you and your familiar each individually spending time trying to figure out how parts A, B, and C before refining and combining them is much more effective than you doing it alone.

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another benefit is time management "I'm going to leave this to brew while I grab dinner, if it starts to go wrong come get me" can be handled by almost any shape of familiar,

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Start cawing when the flask starts bubbling.

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Added notes, almost every familiar has unique senses and abilities, better than mortal magi usually.
Just helping with monitoring, and usually able to stay out of the way, makes great assistance.


It's not more complex from Covenants, its a restatement of the basic rules that the Gold Cord reduces botch die in the same way as Safety. You don't get to double-dip.

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My current character has a dog, Alba. She's a good girl.
She's also able to smell Vis - and now that you've mentioned it, probably any oddities in the lab.
Thank you.

But Safety wasn't a factor before Covenants. It's a restatement of the Gold Cord applying to a new rule. As it's a new rule, that's means we're looking at more complexity. On top of this, there is the space issue that is introduced in Covenants. Without Covenants neither the size issue nor Safety show up.

Before Covenants, Virtues and Flaws, Health, and Upkeep weren't an issue either.

Yes, they added complexity to Labs, and covenants, in that book, but the Gold Cord was acting the same as Safety, because it applied to experimentation in your lab as well.

Canonically, you need more than just a Familiar's presence in the lab. That's why we get statements like this for a Spirit Familiar:

Not exactly. Take a look again at Safety and how it works. You're only considering positive Safety, not negative. Look at what happens if the lab's Safety is -2 and your Gold Cord of 2 subtracts 2 botch dice to a minimum of 1 botch die. Now compare that to what happens if your new Safety is -2+(Gold Cord)=0. You'll see these are not the same thing. Even with a positive Safety score, you'll note that Safety doesn't have that minimum of 1 botch die, while the Gold Cord does; so even with a positive Safety there can be a bit of difference. This is why I say it's become more complex.

I am under the impression that standard Familiars also have to manipulate objects in the laboratory, in order to provide the mechanical RAW add their Int + MT to your lab total.

This seems to be a vastly different activity when discussing a mouse Familar and a moose Familiar. Unless of course you enchant the Familiar to have Human form and/or have other ways to manipulate objects in the lab to the required degree of accuracy.
However, if you have to wait until the Familiar Bond has the correct enchantments before the Lab assitance kicks in, then the Familair can't assist in the Lab to create those enchantments, can it?

The rules never actually say so, but that does indeed seem quite likely.

Requiring the animal to have hands and such to be useful makes the game less interesting IMHO. An animal can be useful in a Lab even without opposable thumbs, or else your players will feel like the best animal to bond is a monkey, because it can actually assist in the lab from the get go.


I really hope nobody requires familiars to have opposable thumbs before they can act as lab assistants.
There are lots of things intelligant animals can do to help in a lab even without thumbs.

Being unable to manipulate laboratory equipment at all does make it harder to help in the lab though.
(E.g. a disembodied spirit, or a fish stuck in an aquarium.)

Even a fish in an aquarium can help, stirring together liquids. Plus, for a cool lab for someone who has a fish, a dolphin, or some such familiar, how about making the entire lab underwater? (I know there's no Virtue/Flaw like that in Covenants, but there should be. (Though maybe Natural Environment and Outdoots with a focus on Aq is the solution to that). And then the fish can do the same functions any other animal would do in a land-locked lab.

In essence, if you, as a SG, can't imagine how the animal would assist, let the player come up with examples of how the animal assists. Also remember that the rules abstract lab work to also include you casting spells in the process to ease some functions, like making light, and such, so if the magus has good Animal and Muto and Corpus, sure, you could say he has given the animal human-shaped hands to assist better.

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