Removing Familiars

The Unbalanced to let Bjornaer magi have familiars? topic reminded me an idea I'd been considering for a while now: removing Familiars.

Before you all start screaming "but what about my lab bonuses!", this all comes because there are some milestones in the life of a magus: his Gauntlet, his Talisman, his Familiar and his Apprentices(s). I'm totally in for three of them, but to me the mythical sorcerer concept doesn't come attached to a magical pet, and when he does, the wizard is really not so mighty for Ars Magica.

Rephrasing it: this whole thing of having animal friends attached to every magi (besides Bjornaer) seems odd to me, and not only that, but I think it makes the Talisman quite redundant and superfluous, so I'm trying to see a way to get Familiars our (except maybe for some House and/or the True Merinitae).

The first solution, of course, would be to just don't have them and ignoring all their rules, but what I don't like are the animals, not the things you can do with them.

So the second solution is make them part of Talismans: so after opening your Talisman you can spend a season "awaking" it, as you would do to bond to a familiar. The result would be that your Talisman becomes a Magical Being that acts as your Familiar, which then can provide lab bonuses, chords, putting effects in them (which was an odd thing to do with your Familiar but not with your Talisman anyway) and all of that.

A third option would be option two, and also having a quite public Mystery Cult of pet-loving magi, which initiate a Virtue (Familiar?) that allows magi to have usual Familiars, at the cost of down-powering their Talismans (so they go back to regular RAW talismans).

An unexpected consequence, then, would be that maybe Bjornaer magi would become unbalanced, but they have issues on their own with Talismans anyway (it's hard to carry and use a magical staff in animal form, after all).

What do you think? Would anything else be really broken? Do you all really love familiars that much? Or does anyone remembers where do they come from, why so many magi have one and why should I keep them?


Strange. I have it the other way around. Or rather, I think the idea of the magical companion is an interesting feature. What I don't like is that they are potentially so powerful, that you cannot do without one (depending, as I have argued, on how the familiars are designed for the saga).

I like the idea of the Mystery Cult initiation ... in that it allows some lines to have a familiars and others not ...

One point bothers me though, if we consider the Familiar Cult as one available to everybody independently of the previously familiar cults. Would the Familiar Cult be compatible with other Cults? Or would you get some kind of conflict of worship, or whatever bond the Cult has with the Powers that Be, or rather the Powers that Grant the various powers?

No, I don't think it breaks anything, not more than the average house rule anyway. But there are always details which you do not detect until you write out the revised rules in full and playtest them.

So I'm with Ourobouros. I'm not a pet person, so unless the familiar in humanoid, it doesn't speak to me.

On the whole, I can't say that I am hugely enamoured with the familiar, and I wouldn't see any problem with a campaign which sets out having an animal familiar as a mystery (even if it's a common one).

There is a simple provision in ArM5 p.106 The Participation od other Players, which I advise to consider, if a familiar turns just into an ever-present convenient lab bonus.

However, you may also have the storyguide or another player act as your familiar. This alternative assures that your familiar is at least distinct from you, ...

Note, that this familiar still knows all the secrets and inventions of his magus.

That said, familiars are no problems for me.

I have to side with @OneShot on this. Familiars should be played by a different player than the Magus they are bound to. This changes them from a piece of equipment that provides bonuses to a character.

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I totally and completely agree with @InfinityzeN and @OneShot. Yet we have yet not been able to implement it in our troupe. Both the two familiars and the faerie companion go unplayed. It seems that few players cope well with more than their primary characters.

For the record, min/max-ing is not a problem in this troupe either, and the magi are still using most of their time reading up on arts.

I have had the same experience, players rarely seem interested in playing someone else's side kick.
I have spoken with one of my players who would consider playing the familiar for another player, but we are taking things very slowly and small step at a time, so that when the familiar is introduced it is as a member of the covenant rather than a lab feature.

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There are two ways groups I have played with have done it. One is in a rotation like shared Grogs, though there is normally one or two people who are the primary players. The primary plays them most of the time when interactions are required, though anyone can play them depending on the situation.

The other is to treat them like Companions. Most of the groups I have played with, we build Companions not associated with our personal Magus. In this style, another player would build your familiar based on known things (its species, its bound Magus personality traits) with some input from the bonding Magus. My current group uses this style. The familiars are much less min/maxed and feel more like actual characters. This is how my familiar ended up having a litter of kittens, which is not something I would have normally done.

EDIT: It helps that we actually have many games where we do not play our Magi or Companions. Grog/Familiar/Magic Cat adventures make a great change of pace.

My approach to this would be to give another player the familiar character, but then call on them at specific times to tell us what the familiar is thinking or doing rather than rely on them to essentially play 2 characters at once. I'd probably take on the responsibility of describing small things the familiar did as I thought necessary, but then, for example, if a player wanted to send her crow familiar to check out a ruined tower, I'd ask the familiar player what the familiar thinks about this, how seriously they take the task, and how they react to what they find.

This would allow the familiar to be present as a character and for the player to develop the familiar's personality, but it would be in small bite-size chunks and not something they'd have to think about at any other time.

On the general topic of the thread, I find familiars a compelling concept, with a nice sense of strangeness and mystery and to them, but then that may be lost if every magus had one. I think the idea that familiars are an optional form of talisman is a good one.

There is in fact a long association of familiars in magical literature, but that gets very... complicated.
I would say that if you make a requirement of an initiation to have an animal familiar that

  1. you make it a minor virtue to initiate, and allow players to take it at creation,
  2. you do not require this initiation for more exotic forms (for example spirit) of familiars, leveling that playing field a bit.
    Also I would not tie the familiar to a penalty with a talisman, and the bjorner do not have the problems with talismans that you imagine- they simply need a talisman that does not require hands to use.

A colar?

EDIT: maybe I should have put in a smiley, or was that obvious?

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Odin and his ravens and wolves, Witches and their cats/ravens, Merlin and his Owl in Disney's the Sword in the Stone, all of the demons in the Ars Goetia that help you "find good familiars" the main association being Gargamel from the Smurfs is wild to me.

If you have access to ars goethia, save time and bind a demon as familiar.

Isn't that a good way to get marched?

Only if you get caught by an unsympathetic Quaesitor.

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Do you know a sympathetic quaesitoris I could get caught by?


I thought most Quaesitoris made it their business to be unsympathetic. Also, I would think there are plenty of magi in the order who are either devoted enough to the code, self-interested enough to be wary of demons, or politically opportunistic enough to turn you in if they find out.

Binding a demon is a great way to get marched, and getting marched saves a lot of time that would be spent on your projects if you were alive. Therefore, Cardrew is right. Binding a demon is an excellent method of saving time.

Actually, not really. There are two canonical mages that I can think of right now which have demonic familiar, one of which made it to over 200. On the whole hermetic magic is bad at detecting demons, since there is no spell for it. The way to detect a demon is detect (un)holiness, which few people would have and with a difficulty of 15, even a lot of people who have the skill will struggle. So short of blasting everything, at all times with demon's eternal oblivion, someone with a demonic familiar will not be so easily found out.