Re-binding a familiar? (vanilla question)

Another magus has died of unnatural causes, and left behind a familiar. Can the familiar be bound by another?

Most unlikely.

Should you ever die while your familiar remains alive, your
familiar will experience a shock that may kill it,
and even if it lives, it is reduced to a pathetic,
devastated condition ever after.
-- ArM5 p105

We have the quite encompassing ArM5 p.105 The Familiar in Play:

Should you ever die while your familiar remains alive, your familiar will experience a shock that might kill it, and even if it lives, it is reduced to a pathetic, devastated condition ever after.

Some book has, however, a (rat?) familiar who anticipates the death of its master and plots to be taken as familiar by a second magus. Does that familiar know more than the average magus of the Order?

If it would make for a good story in your saga, yes.

Erik T has mentioned a core rule which suggest the familiar will be in a bad way, however, maybe a re-binding saves the pathetic, devastated familiar.

The rule I quoted doesn't suggest anything, it states outright that the familiar will be in a bad way "ever after"

One can of course house rule differently, but then it would be just that - a house rule.

If you allow that, then people's lovingly trained up Magic Theory super lab assistant familiars will be a great treasure for someone else to try and rebind if possible. If you allow this as a house rule, then you end up with "why don't house Tremere pass on their familiars like they do talismans?" intruding into the background of your game. It's an interesting choice, but I've always gone with "the familiar pines away and dies after its human dies".


...which always bugs me. Once or twice I can understand, but why do so many magic beings (mosty of whom are immortal) want to sign up to be a familiar?


In order to bind a Familiar, first you have to get its trust and respect. Something that is almost certainly missing from the pathetic, devastated ex-familiar.

Now, a Divine Blessing or similar might restore an ex-familiar to a state where it might consider being re-bound as a Familiar, but something like that is rare enough that it is probably safe to consider the rule Erik T quoted as close to absolute.

Though not quite absolute. I once ran an adventure where a cat called Boots (though more formally as "Docent" due to its very large knowledge of Magic Theory) with a magical ability of "Nine lives" was the former familiar of a deceased mage called called Davidius (called by our plot hook "the Tenant"), and his apprentice Rose (daughter of a Tiler). The cat was miserable and pathetic, just barely helping the troupe release the ghosts of Davidius and Rose. At which point he dropped down dead, and the second sighted character saw his ghost accompanying those of Davidius and Rose go beyond this mortal plane.

The troupe would later see the cat "regenerate" (ie its nine-life power) into something more cheerful and confidant, but it did head off, not wanting anything more to do, even remotely, with its former master.

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There is something in the Magic Realm book about some magical creature suffering in low magic auras.
Being bound to a Magus stops this acclimitisation decline.

but still, it is like giving up, rather than hunting for a regio where one can be. I prefere that they can gradually recover from the emotional wrench.

Another option (given how good their Magic theories are) is that it is only when the magus dies that there is a problem. If they are lost to twilight does the familiar automatically go with them? If not there might be a conspiracry of familiars to encourage doddery old Magi to be reckless when coming to spell casting...

I have given this some thought too, an excessive amount of thought to be honest. I have even found an answer so all my effort was not entirely wasted.

First off I have to disagree with you, in your statement that most magical beings that end up as candidates for familiars are immortal. Note that the book specifies that a potential familiar must be an animal with intrinsic magic.

The rulebooks are extremely inconsistent about the mortality of magical beings. Even just within RoP:M it is stated that magical beings never age and that they dont need to eat (among other things). Yet it is specified that an elephant of virtue lives to be 300, many animals need to eat vis to avoid acclimation (in particular if their might scores are high enough the finding an aura that prevents acclimation is basically impossible).

It is true that magical beings can prevent acclimation by going to the magic realm but if going there was easy or risk free, then why are there even any magical beings left in the mundane world? My interpretation is that magical creatures are trapped in the mundane world by a combination of not having easy access to the magic realm and there being stiff competition for resources there.

There is also plenty of evidence that magical beings, in particular magic animals can die from natural causes, such as being killed by other creatures (magic or not).

So what is the expected lifespan of a magical rabbit? If we look purely at the factors relating to acclimation, probably a long time. But if we take into account the existence of predators (magical and mundane), humans, loss of habitat etc. probably a lot less. The same goes for a lot of other magical animals, in particular small animals. Predatory magical animals are not much safer either, as they are less likely to be killed by other predators but much more likely to be targeted by humans.

Animals that let themselves be bound as familiars are generally much safer from this kind of thing, as magi can protect them more effectively from humans and predators. Being bound as a familiar also prevents acclimation, and it allows the familiar to aspire for my higher things because it can gain xp at a stupendous rate compared to what it had access to before being bound.

IIRC magi on average live to be about 110-120 years. In this case the familiar can expect to live to 110-age of the magus upon binding years. IMO most magi take familiars in the first third of their careers but this is entirely subjective. but my estimate leaves a bound familiar with, on average 60-70 odd years of life.

For prospective familiars this leaves them with a question of expected value:

Can the animal expect to live a longer and/or better life as a free, unbound creature, than it can as a familiar.

IMO this trade is more attractive the smaller the animal, and more attractive the closer the animal lives to humans (who are the primary predator wherever they live). Which would result in a prediction that most familiars tend to be small and predominantly of the types of animal that live close to humans. again IMO my prediction is quite spot on.

As a practical guideline for campaigns my GM'ing principle is this:
The weaker the animal, and the lower its might score, the less a magus will have to convince the animal to bind itself to them. (e.g. a magic rabbit with a might score of 4(animal) might be willing to bind itself to just about any magus who is not a complete asshole and/or who is not completely opposed to the animal form)
Conversely if a magus (or player) wants a really strong and exotic familiar they will have to look harder and talk smoother. (e.g. a mighty fire dragon might only be willing to bind itself to a magus who is a world leader in the form of ignem and who also gets along so well with the dragon that they are basically soulmates already).


Another point which I have made before, in my own group, is that most magical beings are...immutable. Unchanged examples of an ideal. An unchanged ideal then let loose in a changing world will need to find some way to adjust itself. The creatures have lost the ability to grow or change, especially when most can only ever get - with a life-risking and life-changing adventure - 10 xp which will probably be reduced to 0 xp.

The intelligent creatures can realize their only real chance thrive in a changing world is to find a way to change. Their easy options are either Transformation - using the expensive expenditure of Vis that are hoarded by magi - or binding yourself to your friendly, trusted Magus companion (since being a familiar requires a friendship already.) If you have a magical animal who's in a happy, friendly situation where he isn't in any stress, he probably won't want to be a familiar, and probably wouldn't be easy to develop the needed rapport.
A creature of Cunning, instead of Intellect, would probably not really be considering the balance of immortality versus cool-magus-friend-forever.

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One thing that hasn’t been mentioned is that that text is almost completely legacy from 3rd ed. at least (I am unable to check editions before that but I’m sure someone on here has access to those editions) and existed long before the “standard” magical animal was completely unchanging (which includes being unaging). I hardly believe most players of 5th ed. read that and apply aging outside of, perhaps a cosmetic effect, to their previously unaging familiars so why do they apply the death part?

There are also other mechanical changes to familiars that made finding an animal with cunning a more acceptable option, the animal got the magi’s Int score - 1 as their Int rather than an automatic Int of -3 (if they previously had Int it didn’t change).

I think these two mechanical changes in 5th ed. significantly changes the sorts of familiars one looks for in play (ones that are already intelligent) and with that text kept unaltered makes the familiar bond seem like a dumb or suicidal move for any intelligent being.

Personally I’m fine with familiars whose bond is broken in either manner not being available for others to bind but it doesn’t have to be due to their death. The pain of the severing or death of their magus should be plenty for them to be completely unwilling to form a bond with another magus. Them not dying also leaves open the possibility of revenge by an upset familiar which seems a pretty fun idea to me.

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Serf's Parma, but IIRC, something we tend to forgot is that the animal doesn't need to have Magic Might, just (forgot the exact wording) a link to the Magic realm.

So a dog with (magical) second sight (and a dog's normal life span) would qualify.
For it, becoming a familiar would be a huge boost in both intelligence and life span.

This has very much to do with power level of sagas, but I can see familiars with MM being "premium", with animals with (magic) supernatural abilities being the norm.

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No, a familiar doesn't need to have Magic Might, but it will be common among those animals who qualify.

The first step in getting a familiar is find-
ing an animal with inherent magic. With inher-
ent magic, the beast is likely to have a Magic
Might score,

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Pulling out my copy of 2nd ed and looking at 5th, at least the structure and flow is extremely similar. The initial section is only a paragraph in 2nd, though you can see it as the base that expanded out into 3rd with very little change through 5th. "Finding & Befriending an Animal" are both two paragraphs, in which you can see that the version in 5th has been expanded and edited though it is still based on 2nd.

5th edition did change in the actual enchantment process from previous editions which were all based on the previous (2nd through 4th are all a chain in which you can see the progression from version to version) Previous editions all required a year long (4 seasons) process that must all be done in a row (and can not be later expanded) while 5th makes it a 1 season process (which can later be "Strengthened" and have "Bond Powers" added with a season). Previous editions used a (Vim 3rd & 4th) Vis cost of 12 + Size and required Animal 10+, with a closing cost of 2 (Vim) Vis. They all used Animal + Mentem + Intellego (- Magic Resistance & Size) for the Bond Strength. 2nd ed only allowed a single power, while 3rd & 4th allowed multiple ones.

Basically every edition worked their system additions into the previous versions text, with 3rd for example adding "type" Vis (all Vis was just Vis in 2nd). Most of the 5th changes are based on the common addition of Might and its refinement of many number systems.

I had actually started typing out a reply talking about this before I noticed it had been brought up. So I dropped the initial explanation and only cover my expansion.

Since many Covenants are located in or at least interact with strong Auras (6+) that can cause Warping, there can be an abundance of animals that meet the requirements to become a familiar without having Might. While in general this takes a very long time (75 years for Aura 6~7 and over 6 years for an Aura 10), this can be rapidly accelerated if there are spells and enchantments which affect it.

A Magi can even purposely target an animal with powerful spells and effects. Casting a "Moon" duration level 30 spell monthly generates 17 warping a year with minimal effort. Doing this daily with a "Sun" duration level 30 spell would take 75 days (so less than a season total time and 7.5 minutes of effort). There is actually no reason to take longer than 7.5 minutes total time if the Magi actually just wants to build up the warping total and has an appropriate spell. You don't even need a level 30 spell, since a CrVi level 10 (Base 5 "give 1 Warping Point" + Touch) will do it. The spell "The Enigma's Gift" gives 5 per casting (4 from the spell + 1 from powerful effect) and would reduce the time required to 1.5 minutes of work.

So any Magi which finds an animal they like and has an appropriate spell can get them to the point of being a potential familiar with only a short burst of work. Of course having a spell that gives a generally positive effect is the best bet since it will slant the warping toward that effect.

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Yeah, that's something that I certainly know, but...
I mean, let's be honest. I don't think I know of anyone who has actually bound a familiar that was not already Mighty and Intelligent. I don't even think any example canon familiars in the books were low-Int, let alone non-Might. While it's definitely something that's possible, considering the book suggests that it should be reasonably doable for any magus to find a compatible familiar, I don't think any magi would settle for less than a strong one.


There’s also a story aspect to this, considering one of the main ways of finding a familiar that might be compatible is looking for rumors or mentions in books and that dog with Magic Sensitivity is much less likely to have rumors told about it than some flaming bird or a shadow wolf or whatnot.

I would personally hate to bind a familiar that did not have its own innate magic resistance and a few powers...

We've had a few in our sagas. Sure, Intelligence is super useful in a familiar, but Might score?
Half the time, I leave my familiar at home when I travel, so that I have an AC (and a pair of eyes/set of senses) to the Covenant. Is that just us?