Unbalanced to let Bjornaer magi have familiars?

Would it be unbalanced to let Bjornaer magi bind familiars like other magi?

To my mind not being able to have a familiar is a very big drawback to a magus, familiars are just too useful in ArM5, and while Heartbeast is a moderately useful virtue, it is nowhere near useful enough to compensate for not having a familar.

Or if balance is not a problem, would it cause conceptual problems with Bjornaer having familiars?
A Bjornaer in animal form having another animal as a familiar could seem a bit weird, but other magi can also take the shape of animals through spells without that being a problem with familiars.

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Familiars have become more important in ArM5 because of the help they provide in the lab.

But the Heartbeast as a second essential nature not easily seen through by others, combined with the availability of Sensory Magic (HoH:MC p.27f) and the Three Inner Mysteries (HoH:MC p.31ff), still provides enough compensation for Bjornaer in ArM5.

The life of a Bjornaer IMO should be more centered on their House and their existence as animals, and less on their lab than that of most other magi. They gain a whole different set of problems and methods to solve them by it, after all.

Better explain this different perspective of Bjornaer to new players in time, though.

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Familiars are not only useful in the lab - they are very much worth having even for a magus who rarely even enters his lab.

Sensory Magic and the Inner Heartbeast are very nice things to have, certainly - but you don't get them for free, and magi from other houses can get equally useful virtues by pursuing other mysteries.
So I disagree that the various House Mysteries should be considered compensation for anything other than the work and ordeals involved in the mystery initiation needed to get them in the first place.

In case it isn't obvious - personally I don't really see any problem with letting Bjornaer magi bind familiars, but I ask about it because there may be problems that I have failed to notice.


You don't get a useful Familiar for free either. :nerd_face:

Seriously, Heartbeast is not just running around in animal shape - it is being an animal and a human. Only embracing this dual nature makes Sensory Magic and the Bjornaer Inner Mysteries available - not just initiating them. An animal sidekick bound by magic also in ArM5 doesn't fit well with that dual nature.

It is mentioned in some source material for ArM5 that the canonical reason why Bjornaer magi cannot bind familiars is because the Bjornaer founder decided that having a familiar was not for her and so made the lack of ability to bind a familiar into the ordeal flaw for initiating the Heartbeast virtue. As such it is possible within the rules to e.g. integrate the Heartbeast virtue, rendering magi able to have both Heartbeast and familiar.

I do agree with Oneshot that there are some muddy thematics at play. But personally I dont see any reason why this could not be resolved or even ignored.

Not having a familiar is a serious drawback for magi Bjornaer, and there is no reason why you could not change it if you want to. Personally I think it would only put the Bjornaer on even footing with the Merinita and Criamon in having access to house mysteries and the full spectrum of hermetic magic.

However I would like to note that I dont think the question of "balance" is a valid question to pose in Ars Magica. The game does not have a balance to achieve, and as such any effort to try to balance house Bjornaer is doomed to fail. The game has so many combinations none of which are equally balanced, at least from a mechanical perspective, nor does the game even have a straightforward parameter by which to measure balance again from a mechanical perspective.

The best balance parameter I can come up with is one of stories. In that sense the real question to me is: "Are magi Bjornaer missing out on participating in the story, by giving up the ability to have a familiar in return for having a Heartbeast?". This is a question that each group must answer on their own, but in a sense, they are missing out on the stories that spring from finding and having familiars. They do also gain the stories that come with being both human and animal and if you care to/manage to include it in your stories the much tighter knit community of Bjornaer. However if your game does not include any other Bjornaer to have a community with, then this aspect is much lessened.


That depends very much on the saga, the SG, and/or the troupe. :nerd_face:

@Euphemism's answer is important. Balance is not necessarily a relevant question, and at the end of the day it depends completely on the game style of the troupe.

Lack of familiar is a major balance issue because

  1. Familiars boost lab work, which is a simple and fair numbers game which the players can enjoy downtime with no added pressure to the precious game sessions. Therefore lab work commonly receives a lot of attention.
  2. Since familiars are important, they should be available, so it is common practice to assume that a familiar with positive and human intelligence can be found within a season. Notably, by RAW, most candidates for familiars will have -3 Int when they are bound.
  3. Taking advantage of the Bjornaer strengths is an RP exercise which take up the scarce game session time. This makes it difficult to pay sufficient attention to the Bjornaer.

Change some of the fundamental assumptions, and the entire balance issues changes completely.


Hmm - so your saga provides the lab for free, the right, fitting familiar is sitting expectantly on the table besides the right Vis. You get free time to bind it and make it communicate with you, teach it to read Latin and make it learn MagicTheory. The you miraculously have the time for those one or two necessary empowerments of the bond that depend on the familiar, your lab and your covenant (often Speech or two-way Mental Communication). All the time your sodales just watch you, rejoicing in your new familiar? :nerd_face:

I've always interpreted magi Bjornaer's inability to bind a familiar being the result of the three cords being used to bind to the Heartbeast instead. That being said, I see no reason a new house minor Mystery that allows Bjornaer magi to empower those cords to provide the usual cord bonuses couldn't exist. As to bonuses in the lab, there's no reason those same, modified cords can't be renamed and provide their bonuses to Lab Totals in specific Bjornaer appropriate areas, similar to the Isis Cord for Spirit Familars.

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No it is not.
Any other magus who wants one can pick one up easily and the Heartbeast virtue is not so much better than all the other house virtues .
You will face the same saga dependent difficulties in getting a familiar any other magi would. For my saga with characters starting several years out of apprentice 3 of 4 starting magi had familars , the fourth has just taken one , the lab bonus is very signifigant

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Or to invent a new initiation script with a different Ordeal. Mind you, I'm not sure this approach would be well received within House Bjornaer (nor would integration).

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Can you give the quote? There is a big difference between "decided that having a familiar was not for her" and "never understood what a familiar is" - so the wording is important.

If you start with a typical familiar by RAW, it has -3 Int and the lab bonus is not very significant. Not for the first many years anyway.

If OTOH you let the PCs just happen to find a smart animal with human intelligence, then the lab bonus is very significant. That is playing generous, which of course is fine, but it is that generosity which imbalances Bjornaer.

Of course @OneShot, even the most generous play style does not make the familiar completely free. Binding takes a season, and empowering the bond cost seasons as well, if required. Let's make your scenario a little more plausible

  1. You probably take a season to find the right animal, with +3 Int, the right alignment to arts, and human speech. (Really generous troupes make it a bonus reward in a story, but I have not really met such a troupe yet.)
  2. You need to spend a season to bind. In a vis rich saga, the vis is no bother. Young magi don't have much other uses for their vis anyway.
  3. The covenant has a teacher who teaches Artes Liberales, and thereafter the familiar can read the summa on Magic theory. It takes a year before the familiar has MT 3, but the magus can do other things in this time. (If the familiar has book learner, you can probably cut that to three seasons.)

In this scenario, the magus has spent two seasons to get a lab bonus of +7 (incl. speciality in lab assistance). There are few other ways to improve your lab total by 3½/season.

  1. When the magus reads arts, the familiar continues to read MT and soon the bonus is +9 or even more with a really good library.

Some troupes play like that. Other troupes can bring up several caveats.

  • The first dozen magical animals the magus meets have only cunning. However good friends they might be, they do not make that much difference to the lab total. It takes years of dedicated search to find that one perfect familiar.
  • Almost perfect, the familiar does not speak, and another season is needed to give it that power.
  • The covenant is poor, and the vis and the teacher are not readily available.
  • The familiar is really the dear love of the magus, and it would not spend a year studying when the magus is doing other things. Therefore it does not learn MT for years.

I totally agree that Bjornaer is unfairly disadvantaged in a high-power saga, but in a low-power saga they are seriously less so.

There are 2 sides to this issue- culture and cosmology
culturally the bjorner emerged from a tradition which reputedly bound spirits to achieve shapeshifting. From this perspective binding a familiar may well feel to a bjorner like enslaving an animal, which they are loathe to do.
Cosmologically YSMV is pretty much the definition of this point, but for most of my sagas the bjorner utelizes the same "spirit guide" link in their soul to achieve the heartbeast that most magi link externally to a familiar- essentially they are their ow familiar in a cosmological sense. Like I said, this explanation can be very saga dependent.


"The final consequence of being
Initiated into the Outer Mystery of House
Bjornaer is the inability to bind a familiar.
The Ritual of Twelve Years, like other
Mysteries of Initiation, leaves a scar on
the soul of the Initiated magus; Birna, hav-
ing no personal desire to bond a familiar,
considered it to be an acceptable loss
when she invented the ritual. Any magus
who has ever bound a familiar, even if it
has since died, cannot successfully com-
plete the Ritual of Twelve Years, and so
cannot join the House."
HoH:MC p24

In short, losing the ability to bind a familiar is considered a Minor Ordeal for the initiation, giving a script bonus. (HoH:MC p26.) So if someone invented a different initiation script, a different Ordeal could be chosen.

If you ask me, permanant loss of ability to bind a familiar ought to be a Major Ordeal rather than Minor, and thus a bit overkill for initiating a Minor Virtue like Heartbeast.


does not sound like House Bjornaer working on an alternative initiation to use during the Gathering of Twelve Years, and thereby admitting an error of their founder.


No, that would clearly be a splinter group who would have to seek refuge ex Miscellanea. Would they be able to keep a dark secret? Or are we looking at a large scale joint Wizard's War?

Definitely a possible saga plot.

Or ... ones does a bit of history revision and decide that Birna decided that it wouldn't be fair towards her descendants to deny them the option to bind a familiar even if she wasn't interested in having one - in which case she would have chosen a different Ordeal for the Ritual of Twelve Years.

Either way, should one want any current magus Bjornaer to have a familiar, the alternative initiation script must have been invented and used some time in the past. Having the invention happen during the saga can certainly make for a good plot, but won't help any existing Bjornaer.

Where is it RAW that a familiar has Int -3 , never seen that rule. RAW is that it is a magical animal (or in the case of one pc a spirit) no reason why they should have int-3 not all magical animals do.
So in your Saga it may be typical that familars are int -3 no reason it should be typical in any other saga. It is not in mine.

I believe it is explicit that you will be able to find a familiar using your favored art combination so typically familiars will be bound with the mages best art combination of course that may not be so in your saga. Earlier editions required the use of animal magic so only a few magic could bind familiars you may prefer that.
I agree that some saga's may throw inpenretrable walls in front of people who want a familiar, I would either say you can't have a familiar or make it practical. There are a finite number of game sessions in a campaign for stories unless you have the story falw 'desperate for a familar but cursed never to have one' I cannot see spending many of those seasons on the quest for the elusive familiar.

It is clear everything depends on the saga , some saga's move very slowly with many sessions per season in which case a bonus on lab work is not terribly important as you don't do much. Others move rapidly in which case a bonus to lab work is very important in the latter case ensuring that all characters have equal access to opportunities to improve their lab work is important for fairness.

If I was really set on stopping Bjornear have familiars I would give them another minor virtue (Puissant Animal or something related to their heartbeast) as I don't remember any of the other house mystery virtues coming with a built in flaw

The player(s) could very well play the very first magi initiated with the revised script. That would imply a rogue parens, doing the ritual away from Crinthea and other Bjornaer. They could not possibly join House Bjornaer after gauntlet, but arrangements ex Misc are possible. They would not have access to house mystagogues, but the rogue parens able to pull off the revised initiation can probably do other initiations too.

There are a couple of issues to be settled, of course. Did the parens join ex Misc first, and pretend to raise the apprentices in one of their traditions? Then we have a dark secret. Or is the parens still a Bjornar? Then we are probably looking at open hostility.

But yes, of course you can deviate from canon past if you want to.

"If it did not previously have human intelligence, it gains it, with a score of –3."
ArM5 p105

So not all familiars will end up with Int -3, but many will.