Anyone else notice that they really nerfed Familiars in 5e?
I mean, on the one hand, they did utterly remove the whole “you’re screwed if your familiar dies” thing to compensate, but at the same time Familiars are now pretty much almost as worthless as the canon 1e version. I’d always been looking for ways to beef up Mages in 1e to make up for their generally “glass peashooter” nature at low levels that might actually work up to an actual glass cannon if they were lucky.
So Familiars were beefed up and casting the spell was essentially considered a “essential part” of an apprentice mage’s training, material components were tweaked (essentially making Arcane Focus), I ruled that spells could be cast directly from spellbooks with a longer casting time (aka 5e Rituals) and the proper equipment, and I added the idea of Grimoires (instructional spellbooks with “standard spells” that were easy to get ahold of) to the setting.
But as I look at 5e, I’m really underwhelmed with how Familiars work. Rituals, while fantastic, are simultaneously too easy to cast while at the same time being kind of useless because there are barely any spells with the Ritual tag. Learning spells is amazingly easy, but there seems to be little or no control on what spells get learned – plus the whole quest to find a “lost spellbook” is relatively “meh” because Wizards already gain lots of (unrestricted) spells as they advance.
I’ll get to Rituals, Arcane Foci, and Grimoires for 5e in a bit, at the moment I want to look at Familiars.
My game has a long history of really fun familiars – Edgar the Raven, Fafnir the Dragonet, She-Who-Chases-After-Rabbits-And-Runs-Into-Trees (aka “Rabbit”) the wolf, Asket the Frakir, the Ring of Ashkhelion, Elhiehu the Guardian Spirit, and many more besides. They can quickly become an active and engaged NPC/Ally/Henchman that builds a lot of color into the story, but mostly by being an active resource. 5e seems to have dropped this idea and instead moved to “flavor text for a couple of permanent magical effects” that are worthless the minute those big area effect spells start getting dropped.
So here is my very simple proposal to wrench Wizard (and Warlock) Familiars back into something more relevant.
- Familiars gain 1HD for each level of the pacted Wizard or Warlock.
- Familiars act independently of the Wizard or Warlock, including the ability to attack.
- When the Wizard or Warlock is granted a Ability Score Improvement/Feat Gain, the Familiar may also take one (it does not have to be the same as their Wizard/Warlock’s). Alternately they can gain some other ability with the agreement of the DM.
- A Familiar can, by proxy, maintain Concentration for one spell.
- A Familiar uses the Proficiency Modifier of their pacted Wizard or Warlock instead of their own.
A Mage or Warlock may, as a Reflexive Action, choose to take on any damage that their Familiar would suffer, less one point (that the Familiar must suffer – with the effects described below).
- When a Familiar takes damage, the Wizard or Warlock takes an equal amount of Psychic Damage. The Wizard or Warlock is Stunned for 1 round (Charisma Save for No Effect, DC15).
- If a Familiar is “slain” the Wizard or Warlock takes Psychic Damage equal to the Hit Points of the Familiar (Charisma Save for Half Damage, DC15). The Wizard or Warlock is automatically Stunned for 1 Round.
Let me know what you think! This seems relatively balanced to me, though certainly with the potential to be abused in either direction – but my goal is not to “prevent abuse” but to instead “promote roleplaying and fun.”