Expanded Familiar Traits

Derek Holland
This is an expanded and combined version of my previous posts on familiars.   One problem I have with d20 familiars is that they don't do much for the caster. Yes, taking feats allow for a powerful creature that can be used in combat but that is eh and fairly irrelevant considering the animate undead and create undead spells. With a bit of rewrite, those spells can be used to allow an a spellcaster to make just about any sort of creature (with the exception of constructs as they have their own existing rules). Familiars don't do much for their casters- yes there is the altertness feat and, for the weakest animals, a small bonus to a save, skill or hit points. So how to make a familiar more interesting and useful? Note that none of these should require an additional feat with one exception.   Taking a familiar allows the caster an additional slot of the highest level spell he can cast. This is powerful, scales with advancement (like most of these ideas) and makes familiars much more attractive without making lots of changes.   Increase the bonus that the familiar provides. Instead of 3 hit points, a toad adds 1 or 2 per master's class level. Those animals that provide skill bonuses or save increases, the master gets +2 to start and +1 for every odd class level.   The familiar provides an additional skill, one related to its lifestyle. This is usually Survival, but there are plenty of other possibilities. Many of these can relate to physical abilities of the familiar's species. Jump, Climb and Swim are most common. If you have Skirmisher's Experts 3.5, take a look at the rules for Convergent Tasks. New ones could be developed that are a result of the familiar's and master's bond and skills. These tasks should be unique.   Unique spells. In some legends, familiars are the source of a witch's power. That is a bit much for a game (kill the familiar and cut off all the caster's spells), but it can still be useful. There are tons of third party spell books out there. If you like a spell and want a reason to include it that doesn't allow all casters to gain access, have the character get it through a familiar. Heck, how about one unique spell per spell level?   Such spells may be cast normally or possibly through spell conversion. If the latter is allowed, the familiar must be in contact with the master.   Resurrection. This is based on an exist monstrous familiar I have mentioned before- the syft from Eden's Liber Bestarius. At some high level (say 15 or 17), when the master dies, the familiar absorbs his or her soul. The caster takes over and might cast spells (with that additional feat) and may be able to recreate his or her body and come back to life.   Communication. Imps and quasits were able to allow communication between their masters and their real masters in prior editions. In this case, basic familiars can allow their caster to speak to a minor nature spirit (such as a fey), celestial, fiend or some other form of supernatural being. This is not a skill check, but rather roleplaying that might earn a minor boon or hex depending on how well the player explains the caster's need for intervention.   Access to the Otherworld. This requires communication. At higher levels, the patron spirit of the familiar can open a gate to its home plane or provide a teleport to its home (for those that are native to the Prime Material Plane).   An alternative to the Otherworld is the plane of fairies if the familiar was an animal (or plant) to start with. Or the familiars are spirits and allow access to the Underworld. With the latter they may even allow access to channeling and related feats.   And then there is the possibility of using familiars as metamagic rods. The feat in question could be a weakened version, one that builds up as the master increases in level. Or the familiar could provide several weak metamagic feats as its master levels up. They could provide unique metamagic abilities. In any case, the familiar needs to be in contact with the caster for this to function.   The familiar may slow or even stop the master from aging, including magical aging attacks. Or it slows or stops starvation and dehydration.   Spell resistance, energy resistance and damage resistance for both itself and its master. How much and what weaknesses are level and possibly class (i.e. specialist) dependant.   The familiar acts as a magic item creation feat as it, rather than the master, has the knowledge.   Or it acts as a minor magical item. If it is a potion carrier, it can produce the potion X times per week.   The familiar is a spellcaster in its own right. I would limit it this to low level spells and/or illusions and divinations.   Here are some negative aspects meant to provide balance as well as add a little flavor to the setting.   The bond goes both ways. When the master gains the ability to speak to their familiar, they gain some minor behavior changes related to the animal's species. When telepathic contact can be made, these changes increase greatly. The result is a penalty to reaction rolls/interaction checks.   The bond is stronger than expected. Wounding one harms the other. This includes most forms of ability damage/drain.   The bond is actually a trap. Familiars are not allies to spellcasters, but rather animals that nature spirits use to influence the masters. Not only is the master's personality altered, but so is their alignment.   The bond is actually a trap II. The familiar drains a small amount of xp per encounter. Once is gains X amount, it breaks the bond, leaves and then transforms into a monster that wants to eat the caster. If it is successful, it joins its real masters.   The bond ties the souls together. If the master is raised from the dead, they gain one physical trait of the familiar's species and if the familiar is raised, it gets one trait of the master's species. If they are both dead and are raised at the same time (via a Resurrection spell or something similar), chaos results and they are both reincarnated. The master may or may not stay a humanoid but the familiar is just rerolled on the familiar chart (old mind, new body and possibly new advantage for the master).   The bond forces specialization. The master can not learn the spells of a specific school or schools. This may be species related (all casters with a cat may not learn conjuration) or it may be random.   The bond disallows X feats. Masters with familiars may not be able to use item creation feats (specific ones or all of them), metamagic feats (that is what the familiar is for), teamwork feats (from Pathfinder, the creature is the caster's only true ally) or some other kind of feat.   The bond is a lure. Creatures that consume magic may be drawn to the bond and even be able to break and eat it. If this happens, both minds are screwed. A loss of mental ability points, levels, xp, etc. are all possible. Creating a new bond does not heal the minds, only powerful magic does.   The bond is addictive and destructive. Yes, having a familiar is like taking narcotics. The master will want to be around the animal and do things for it that may be very self destructive. This may include other mental defects/drawbacks.   The bond is a curse. Yup, roll on the dependance, requirements or drawback charts for magic item curses. Or come up with something equally vile on your own or use one of those nifty resources on curses out there.   The bond causes curses. Magic items in the master's possession gain temporary curses (the same three types as above). As soon as the master gives them up, the items return to normal.   The bond is a reverse version of metamagic feats. This applies to only one school or spell descriptor. The result is a much weaker form of the spell that still requires the normal slot level.   The bond causes lycanthropy. The character is uncontrolled while transformed. Pity the weretoad.   The bond causes the master's spells to change in appearance. They become so unique that it becomes impossible to hide the caster's identity even with shapeshifting abilities.