Unbalanced to let Bjornaer magi have familiars?

Both Verditius Magic requiring casting tools and Heartbeast making one unable to bind familiars are Virtues having a Flaw integrated with them.

1 Like

Merenita requires either warping or fae related virtue/flaws.


And Enigmatic Wisdom for House Criamon is its own flaw. Enigmatic Wisdom increases the risk of entering Twilight while also increasing the chance of comprehending Twilight if you do.

1 Like

If it did not previously have human intelligence, it gains it, with a score of –3. [core:105]

And looking through canon books, most magical animals have cunning, only a few have human intelligence, and only some of those have positive intelligence.

Your are right that there is a canon assumption that magi can find a familiar with an ideal TeFo combo, but canon does not suggest an assumption that they can find one with human intelligence, much less both human intelligence and an ideal TeFo combo. I also don't think there is any canon assumption about the time needed to find the ideal familiar, but I am not sure about that.

I have never said that we break canon by letting every player choose a pretty ideal familiar, but it is choosing a power level on the high side of what canon warrants.

BTW, I meant to say that typical candidate familiars would get -3 Int if they are bound. I do not really have any statistical data for bound familiars in canon. Sorry for the sloppy language.

1 Like

I don't think Enigmatic wisdom or Nature magic have signifigant flaws enigmatic wisdom is swings and roundabouts and a small amount of warping will happen to any mage anyway. Casting tools is indeed a flaw in my defense the Verditius mage in my saga has the enchanted casting tools virtue so he has been doing well with them and I had forgotten this was the result of a virtue. On the other hand the benefits from verditius magic are really good if you are an item making lab rat which is what I would expect from a verditius.

I had missed the int thing as none of the magi recruited animals which were not intelligent before becoming a familiar and that has not happened often in saga's I am involved with. In my saga's it is typical for a familiar to be intelligent

Also I think I may have been overly combative in my answer so I apologise for any offense.

What happens in your saga is kind of besides the point. I do agree with @loke that the core rulebook very clearly suggests that most prospective familiars have scores in cunning rather than intelligence, and that as such familiars will in general take a long time before they are any good in the lab.

Keep in mind that when I say suggests I mean that this is how I interpret the text.

Looking at RoP:M about half the animals have cunning and of the half that does have intelligence about half of those have scores of +0.

Thus I think it is fair to say that most canonical familiar candidates would not be a great boon in the lab without a significant investment of time on the part of the magus. I also would not assume that a familiar would be willing to spend seasons upon seasons learning letters, latin and magic theory without getting something in return. A familiar should play like its own character with its own desires and plans and to me it doesnt feel right for a familiar to simply accept its fate as a lab assistant.

1 Like

For me, it is the difference between Lore & Mechanics. While the Mystery Cult Magi does have a flaw that is associated with them, for me, the Familiar loss is a bit on the extreme side.

I personally would be fine waving away the lore that Bjornaer does not like Familiars. Maybe you need to incorporate your Familiar into your Heartbeast? Maybe it has to be the same animal? Maybe when you turn you fuse together?

I feel there are ways to remove - or bend - the Lore to match it while still keeping the integrity.

1 Like

To answer the first question:
Is it unbalanced to allow Bjornaer magi to have familiars? No, maybe, yes? I don't think it's really unbalanced, but the Heartbeast has a lot of other bonuses, as do the mystery intiations. I also think you shouldn't just 'allow' it, because of story reasons. But that's just me.

To bring up other points, in my home saga, getting a Familiar generally takes a season of adventure (after hearing about the familiar, you need to earn its trust). The familiars generally will have +1 or +2 int. Most talk but we also don't care because we live on an island populated by sentient magical goats and we all talk to animals. Also, the familiars just don't go reading books, but the magi generally spend a season or two teaching them Magic Theory personally. it helps build the friendship!

The average familiar candidate has cunning, but in our game the average familiar has an intelligence of +1 or +2, and cunning familiars that get Int -3 get bonus stat points to distribute based on their former cunning stats.

1 Like

Balance is a lie, if your group is okay with it, having a familiar isn't going to destroy anything.

Just find out how big of a deal the player wants it to be- if they just want it to be a background thing, or something they strive for, or a dark secret. This is so no one accidentally forces plots on them they don't want just because they want a magical talking wolf friend.

Communication is way more important than some unattainable ideal of balance.


Bearing in mind that art combination has impact on the nature of the familiar. Chances are that familiars that resonate with Mentem, Corpus, Intellego or Imaginem will have intelligence, whereas a familiar that resonates with animal probably won't.

The Bronze Cord also helps with aging rolls and an extra 1 or 2 can make a big difference on the table. I'm still very early in my first ever saga and playing a Bjornaer so I'm not sure how big a deal that is but I'm definitely envious of that and the lab partner aspect as a new player.


Bronze cord helps with aging rolls, and Gold cord reduces number of botch dice for magic. Fewer botch dice means fewer botches and thus less warping.
Add to this that instilling powers in a familiar can be a way of getting constant magical effects on the magus without getting warping points - something neither spells nor enchanted items can do.

In a long-running saga these things can make a significant difference in the longevity of a mage, and is in my mind far more important reasons to get a familiar than any lab bonus they might provide.


That too!

Bjornaer get to put powers that affect only them in the heartbeast for 7 vis, a warping point and adding a Major Flaw at some point for the bonus to get that high, but familiars can do it for only vis and at a cheaper rate to boot. And they increase the lab total! You can try to edit the script to drop the vis and warping point completely, but that's ease factor 15 so you're going to need big Bjornaer Lore to do that reliably. And you're probably going to need a previous major ordeal still. Oof!

Bjornaer can have very resilient, pugnacious and mobile Heartbeasts to start with, and in ArM5 initiate lots of further Virtues affecting their Heartbeasts as well. This was always the 'balancing' argument against Heartbeast plus Familiar with good cords and lots of powers in the bond for one magus.

The balancing of Bjornar is, of course, a legacy from 3ed (and before) when we still thought of roleplaying as mainly adventure. In 3ed a combat worthy heartbeast even had a higher virtue cost. For good reasons. Lots of problems can be solved by the heartbeast form.

Of course, lots of problems can be solved by a familiar too, but in a story where each player plays one character, and nobody plays the familiar, the familiar has a tendency to drift off. Or the familiar is reduced to equipment to be exploited in the tactical game and ignored in the roleplaying game. The story advantage of the familiar is really the advantage of another character, but, for most roleplayers, there is a limit to the number of characters they can play sensibly.

Of course, the long-term game always favoured familiars over heartbeasts, but most troupes took a long time to learn to play the long-term game to an extent where it matters. In 3ed, there were also no rules for starting off as an older magus who had already had time to get a familiar, and it took a lot longer to bind it as well; five seasons IIRC.


From what I understand, it's a "Soulmate" idea. Your familiar is an intrinsic part of you, even before you've ever met sort of thing, like many romantics like to think of spouses.
But for the Bjornaer, that 'Beast' is an internal entity, the Heartbeast.

So yeah, It'd cause some conceptual problems (for me at least) if Bjornaer magi could bind familiars.

Game balance is an illusion, the White Hart that can be hunted but never caught. Leave that sort of silliness to That Other Game, and you will be happier and your games richer for it.

That said, the inability to bind a familiar is a major part of why Bjornaer magi er uncommon at my local tables. That, and how experience have shown that they probably work best in groups of their own. They do not seem to play well with others. YSMV, obviously.


That, and the requirements to bind a familiar in the first place were much higher (ie, they existed).
I remember a 3rd ed saga in which no PC ever became able to bind a familiar! Mind you, only one player actually tried.
By comparison, I've seen an apprentice bind a familiar in a 5th edition game. Actually, come to think of it, though it wasn't the same player, that same player did feature in both sagas.

Yes, losing a Familiar is a big drawback. But Heartbeast being moderately useful??? Sure, it's not the most useful for all things, but if it were, everyone should just play Bjornaer and we should erase the rest of the Houses.

Really? If you look carefully, I think you'll see this is wrong. Due to these the Bjornaer can be the best at Certamen, the best at Fatigue-based things (Life-Linked Spontaneous Magic, Life Boost (available via Initiation), Imbued with the Spirit of (Form)), the best at resisting attacks, etc.

For example, years ago someone here challenged everyone to build a magus who could best their Tremere Certamen specialist within the same number of years post-gauntlet. So this was a Tremere expressly built as theoretically the best possible at Certamen. My Bjornaer was so much better it was scary.

The Heartbeast can be useful in some situations, and is no help at all in other situations.
Most of the advantages obtained from the Outer Heartbeast can be obtained fairly easily by any magus with decent scores in MuCo(An) who use spells to change shape.
So, yes, moderately useful.

Of course it isn't the most useful at all things, but since I never claimed or implied that it is or should be the most useful at all things, I do not understand why you brought that up.

To get that good you have to pick the "right" heartbeast, right? A bear heartbeast, for example, does have a certain advantage over a rabbit heartbeast in the fatigue department.
And to get all the necessary initiations for improving the Inner Heartbeast a Bjornaer magus will have to spend a lot of time and vis, get a number of warping points, and most likely pick up a bunch of flaws along the way.
Some other magus spending the same amount of time and resources on their familiar, enchanted items, study, and/or mystery initiations could also get very powerful within their specialization.

While I have no doubt that a Bjornaer optimized for a particular task can get scarily good at it, so can other mages if properly optimized.
For some tasks perhaps a Bjornaer can be optimized most easily, but for some other tasks I am sure a magus from some other house would be the better choice.

Of course. Nobody claimed that Bjornær would be the one killer house. And yes, to do what you want to do, you pick the right heartbeast, just like you would want to pick the right familiar to get maximum benefit. The big difference is that the heartbeast is part of char gen, so you are entitled to picking just the right heartbeast. The familiar is a story reward, possibly from a downtime activity, but still a reward earned in game. If you are allowed to tune that to your needs and desires, SG (or troupe) is giving you a free lunch. Obviously, the Bjornær player can rightly complain if they do not get a similarly free lunch also.

Same goes for the mysteries. A major boon of the Mystery Cult Houses is the access to mysteries. There is a culture and/or policy of helping younger magi to initiations. Other starting magi are by default not cult members, and earning a cult membership should also be a story reward. If players can design their route of mysteries, outside a mystery cult house, they are having another free lunch. Mind you, there aren't that many magi in the OoH, and most of them are probably not cult members. There are probably more cults described in canon than there would or should be in any one incarnation of Mythic Europe.

It seems that all those who find Bjornær unfavourably balanced are stacking up extra free boons for the other houses, without giving the Bjornær anything which they are not explicitly entitled to by RAW.