New Virtue - Familiar Mastery (Major Hermetic) & Story Seed

Hey all, so I really have an overarching desire to have it be possible for a magus to have the ability to enhance the ability to gain familiars, in both a boost to lab totals and the ability to gain two familiars at the same time. So, in order to do this I created a new virtue, which of course is by definition a house rule. I would like to share it - and the story seed that I came up to make it cool - to see if it breaks something that I was not aware of. Of course, I do know it changes the rules and makes things a little easier, but if there are any other balance considerations that I didn't notice I would love to hear about them.

Familiar Mastery (Major Hermetic* Virtue)

You are much more attuned to familiars and the magic that comes to and from them. This Virtue grants access to the Familiar Mastery Ability. Ranks in this Ability both reduce the familiar bonding target by (level x 5) and provide an additional bonus equal to the Ability level to any and every Lab Total related to familiars, be it the initial bond or effects that empower it. A further side effect of this specialized Arcane Virtue is that a magus with it may have two Familiars at the same time, not just one. The magus shares the same three cords between both himself and the two familars as a shared benefit. A magus must bond both familiars at the same time, which means the bonding lab total must equal the combined score of the familiars bonding level, though a magus may choose to take two seasons to work this magic (not just one).
Example: A magus has a Lab Total of 35, four of which come from his ranks in the Familiar Mastery Ability. He wishes to bond with to drakes, each having Magic Might of 15 and a size of 3. The familiar bonding level is 55 - 20 (4 x 5 for Familiar Mastery), 35. This means that over the course of two seasons he can fully complete the bond, as he would get a lab total of 70 vs. the familiar bonding level of 70. He has 70 cord points in which to spent over the three cords that he and the familiars both share.

Freedom & Friendship Story Seed

An evil hedge wizard has managed to capture, imprison, and subdue a pair of young dragons of the drake variety. He uses their immortal magical natures to seasonally gain a small quantity of Animal, Ignem, and Vim vis. He uses their dragon natures in tandem with his magical control over them to enhance his forces and strike fear into the hearts of the townfolk that live down in the valley from his mountain tower. They are not his willingly, but the dangerous old wizard has managed to subdue their minds with enchantments, making them unable to disobey his commands. They are not the only magical creatures he gas taken over, they are just the most powerful. Recently the presence of a dark wizard living in the mountains have come to the attention of the nearby covenant of Hermetic magi. This was mostly due to one of the villagers running away with tales of strange magics and foul beats chained to a wizened looking dark figure. To investigate what was going on in the valley town and the nearby mountains s team of magi with grog help were dispatched.

Before the dragons can be freed from the mind control the enchantment developed by the wizard needs to be countered, how this would be done is the stuff of adventure. Dealing with the hedge wizard is no easy feat, for while he has potent magics on his own he is best served by the horde of minions who he had enslaved to his will in one way or another. This does mean there is potential for the companions and grogs to be controlled, making them a threat to the magi while the wizard still lives. Death to the wizard might not end all the mind control, it would probably be best to try and find the node of magic he based his power on and destroy it first. If the wizard is vanquished some of his former slaves might be willing to serve and assist the magi, if they are treated well. This could potentially include the two dragons, who might be willing to become a familiar to a mighty magus. Additionally, various tomes of magic, spell scrolls, and magical item might be found and claimed from the place.

*Alternate Hermetic Virtue Categories

I kind of find it a little bit annoying that the Hermetic Virtue category includes things that are socially related to the order, aptitudes based on natural and ancestral ability, expansions to the baseline Hermetic theory, as well as various extensions that are taught in Mystery Cults. For my purposes, though this doesn't change much in the way of game mechanics, I have begun to mentally organize the standard Hermetic Virtue category into five specialized sub-categories; Hermetic Society Virtues, Hermetic Aptitude Virtues, Hermetic Arcane Virtues, and Hermetic Mystery Virtues. Society ones are aspects related to the greater society and culture, and people, of the Hermetic Order (so such virtues as Hermetic Prestige, and Skilled Parens). Aptitude ones are based on natural development of body and mind, and include such things as Adept Laboratory Student, Gentle Gift, Secondary Insight, amongst others. Arcane virtues are those that enhance or expand baseline Hermetic magic and can be learned by nearly anyone without true issue, like Flexible Formulaic Magic and Life-Boost. And Mystery Virtues are like arcane virtues by they are the proprietary lore of a particular Hermetic Mystery Cult, and include such obvious things like Faerie Magic and The Enigma. Both Arcane Virtues and Mystery Virtues can be gained in play, initiation and learning abilities through supernatural teaching, though Society and Aptitude virtues cannot. I actually follow the rules listed in True Lineages about Major Breakthroughs and how they can be learned for Arcane Virtues.

I figured I might as well share this idea with others, though I totally understand the concept is not for everyone! :slight_smile:

The two-at-once thing looks dangerous to me, because it allows for double the cord bonus.

When you start pushing cord strengths above five, they have a greater bearing on the various mechanics they touch. Getting a blanket +10 to personality tests, aging resistance, botch dice, soak, etc. without any cost in terms of warping will result in these magi tending to live longer, have positive twilight experience for longer and so on. This isn't going to break your game, but it does have the potential to have ramifications in a long-term game if you intend to use twilight/old age as a natural limiter on character growth.

That and for me having two familiars at once just grates on the whole magus-familiar relationship, but that one is entirely personal feeling.

You make a good point about the Cords and their maximum strength, and it is one that I agree with.

So after some analysis I came up with this altered virtue.


Familiar Mastery (Major Hermetic Arcane Virtue)

You are much more attuned to familiars and the magic that comes to and from them. No longer does the Might score of the creature increase the Familiar Bonding Level, as described on page 104 of Ars Magica Fifth Edition. Furthermore, a character with it may have a total of two Familiars rather than just one. The same three cords are shared between the magus and his two familiars, with the maximum individual cord strength remaining the same as it does in the core rules. A magus must bond both familiars at the same time, which means the bonding lab total must equal the combined score of the Familiars Bonding Level, though a magus may choose to take two seasons to work this magic (not just one).


Its mostly the same as my original one. But I removed the ability, made the benefit a flat bonus which just removes the need to add the Might, which means higher level familiars can be chosen - but off course higher level familiars also come with their own unique stories and challenges, and such is the stuff of legendary adventures and campaigns.

As a thought, I am debating between removing the addon to Might Score or removing the need for the +25 that is the base. That way having a more powerful familiar does require some work, but it would be less than the what was the minimum before. Any thoughts on this?

I don't think the virtue is currently worth a major virtue, it's in the appropriate ballpark, but it doesn't have enough oomph.

All you really get is access to another familiar, but it doesn't enhance or alter in any way how the chords work (Spirit/Faerie Familiars gives new bonuses). I'd like to see it enabling an easier transformation process of the familiar, as per the Realms of Power: Magic stuff, perhaps even laboratory or ritual guidelines to rework your familiar in some aspect. You are a master of them after all.

This is very interesting and has made me rethink a number of things. I very much like what you are saying.

Let us take a moment to look at what Familiar Magic currently has components:
Familiar Lab Total (Technique + Form + Intelligence + Magic Theory + Aura)
Familiar Bonding Level (Might + 25 + [5 x Size])
The Three Cords
Additional powers

Lets look at what we could improve.
*Familiar Lab Total - One way to improve this total is to maybe include ranks in Magic Realm to the total, this could represent the fact by knowing the nature of the Magic Realm one becomes better able to influence and control its aspects.
*Familiar Bonding Level - The simplest is to remove the Might Cost, the base 25, or even the size modifier. To be honest thinking about it I would rather remove the size effect and/or the base 25 requirement than Might. When one thinks about it Size is really meaningless to power and purity of magic - a genius loci might look like an ant but be the entity of a vast forest, and a massive titan of a creature might in fact be as powerful as an ant. The arbitrary penalty of the +25 annoys me in many ways, so I could see removing that as well, or at least downplaying it, making it a +10 instead. I say leave Might alone, for that represents the pure power of a creature, and it should be somewhat difficult.
*The Three Cords - No matter how many familiars one may add through variant rules, letting any cord have more than a +5 is unbalancing. If you could have a +10 to say the Golden Cord, you would never have to worry about Botching, especially if one adds even a level or two of Spell Mastery to the effect one is conducting. So, while I might see adding an additional Cord or providing an additional side benefit to the three base ones I would not allow any more than a max of +5 to each cord.
*Powers - This lets one put more spell-like powers into the familiar, which is as mutable as one might wish it to be. While this takes into account the magic of the Hermetic Magus it completely ignores the fact that familiars are Magical Creatures and thus have Might scores and their own natural powers, which maybe could be boosted and enhanced.

Familiar Mastery (Major Hermetic Arcane Virtue)

As you are much more attuned to familiars and the magic that comes to and from them you are able to access a whole of special abilities and enhancements.
[tab][/tab]*Add one's levels in Magic Lore to the Familiar Bonding Lab Total; knowing the nature and details of the world of magic lets one become even better at combining the self with the other.
[tab][/tab]*Remove the levels required by Size to the Familiar Bonding Level; to a master of magic one simply knows that size matters not, it is all about will and power.
[tab][/tab]*True mastery only comes when magi realize that the connection within a bond is two ways, not just one. This greater truth unlocks greater benefits within the familiar bond, which are known as Pacts. The Orchalcum Pact provides the Sharing of Powers (Mystery Cults, pg 89), the Adamant Pact provides for the Sharing of Fatigue (Mystery Cults, pg 89), and the Diamond Pact provides for the easier advancement of a familiar so he may better protect and support his master. This later pact reduces the Might advancement penalty by an amount equal to the master's present Technique + Form total, with said Arts being the same one's chosen in the original binding of the familiar.
[tab][/tab]*A magus may have a bond with more than one familiar at a time, though cord levels are collective and remain limited to +5 for each cord. (Though this provides limited additional benefit in the power of the Cords, it can become quite useful when it comes to the empowering powers, each familiar may have its own suite of powers and be used for different purposes.)

Perhaps a streamlined way to look at a bonus beyond just having 2 with cumulative cord limits is allowing it to act as a Magical Focus for some or all of the totals involved.

I'd consider modifying the wording on this one to allow for the fact that negative size makes a familiar easier to bond - as it stands, you have situations in which it's easier for someone without the virtue to bind a familiar.


The idea of having it mechanically be similar to a Magical Focus is a nifty one. Though I am not sure how I would actually implement such an idea.


You make a very good point. Mechanically this is a benefit, it allows a higher Might creature but a smaller size beast to be enchanted. I am not sure though how to keep the idea of negative size providing a boost when I also say that size matters not.

Hmm, thinking about it I could always say this:

*Remove the levels required by Size to the Familiar Bonding Level; to a master of magic one simply knows that size matters not, it is all about will and power. That said, the benefits that Hermetic magi have with binding smaller familiars still stands, reduce the Might requirement by five for every point of negative Size (so a familiar that is -2 Size reduces the Might cost by ten points).

Could make for great unusual stories so long as the magus, and each familiar, has unique and distinct personality and flaws. The dynamics will be more interesting if all your interests don't perfectly align and you each have strong feelings for the other two. For example, the model could be a love triangle between you and the last two dragons of their kind who are mates; or, you could have a regular familiar relationship (True Friend) with one dragon and the other could be like his spouse/ your brother-in-law/ mother in law/ whatever. You all care about each other, but you will also get in each others way and there will be times that either you or the familiar are pulled in different directions simultaneously.

But I am not sure you need a new hermetic virtues to role-play kinds of stories. Here are a few alternatives using existing rules:

(1) The Faerie Option
The Merinita chapter in HOH:MC contains a minor magical focus in "Familiars," both your own familiar and that of other magi. There is also a ritual which connects you to a faerie in a way similar to, but not identical, to familiar bonding. (see pages 89-90) If your drakes are faerie dragons, then one can be a regular familiar and the other could be linked through "Faerie Chains of the Familiar Slave." In that case one would be a loyal best buddy, and the other would require periodic bargaining and a bit more coddling to keep it happy. While you couldn't imbue the 2nd familiar with bond effects, you do benefit from three very powerful perks of bonding with a faerie: shared powers, shared senses, and shared fatigue.

(2) The Spirit Option
A minor virtue in TMRE (pg66-69) allows the binding of a parhedros, or magical spirit familiar. Binding a spirit familiar has a level of (might+25) and isn't modified by size. Your three cords also provide benefits to resisting twilight, affecting other spirits, or boosting stamina rolls. Some spirit familiars can take on physical form, either as an innate ability or an effect empowered into the bond. For example, Tytalus' appeared as a large black dog named Tremere. You could bind with a single dragon spirit that has the nifty ability to manifest itself as two drakes. This would come with both advantages and drawbacks. Maybe in its double-dragon form the spirit can be in two places at once, but has only 1/2 or 1/3 of its magical might and penetration. As an enchanted effect, I'd make this MuVi(An) base level 25, "radically change an animal in an unnatural way," at personal range, and with a duration of your choosing.

(3) The Character Creation Option
If the dragon interaction is central to the character from the beginning, you can simulate a familiar using core rule-book virtues. Take the minor flaw "Magical Animal Companion," in this case a magical drake who is searching for her mate or lost twin. The benefits of cords can be simulated by taking three minor virtues (Careful Sorcerer, Strong WIlled, Tough) that more-or-less mirror the benefits of having a +3(!) bond on each cord. (ok ok... careful sorcerer isnt quite as good as gold cord, but it is close.) For a major hermetic virtue, pick Mythic Blood. The included mmf will cover either Familiars or Dragons. Then use your 30 free, botchless, spell levels for pseudo-bond powers. Personally I'd design something to communicate with the familiar over long distances. Then, you pick up the power of having a dragon companion but also the story of needing to find their lost twin/parent/child/mate/etc. Once that 2nd drake is found, you bind them as your familiar. You will have known the first drake longer, and since your youth, but the 2nd will be the official familiar. The Mythic Blood story could be that you and the two dragons were always magically linked, perhaps their parent saved your mothers life and created a mystic connection so that you would one day find and reunite her offspring.


The best thing about the options you present is that they are options that already exist, already (mostly) balanced and totally can be used to play the sorts of story I mention in various ways. I like that aspect of Ars Magica, that there are many ways one could actually implement a story or a campaign using the rules as they already exist.

For me, I would never pick the Faerie option as I don't really like Faeries, they are not as 'real' as Magical creatures and so to me I wouldn't want to link myself with one. Plus, the idea of having to spend sessions fighting with my familiar, it doesn't hold much interest to me. That said, I am glad the option exists for those who wish to play with it. And I kind of wish that Magic creatures could give their powers to their magi like faerie ones do.

The thought of their being two bodies for one drake is a nifty one actually, and it has a lot of story potentials that could be quite fun to play with.

Very cool ideas, very thought provoking and interesting. :slight_smile:

Something the old Merenita might have known.

I have thought of a magus really going for the familiar, I just gave him a minor magic focus in canines (wanting to bind a wolf)