The Find Familiar Spell Write Up

The magic user's familiar has always been part of their mystique through the centuries, and AD&D is no exception. Properly used, it can add a great deal to the player character's roleplaying opportunities, as well as opportunities for the DM to introduce new and interesting elements into the story line. Besides, it's a nice way to slightly augment a character's own power. However, there are usually some costs involved.

Unfortunately, the costs involved in 1st and 2nd edition AD&D always made me reluctant to ever take a familiar for my own spell casting PCs. Adventuring is a hard life, and even if your PC can survive most things tossed their way, their familiar friends often can't. This wouldn't matter if they were allowed to stay at home and putter around the magic user's keep - or what have you. There, they would really only come into play when the magic user was running around his hometown. Unfortunately, any sizable separation from one's familiar can have serious consequences. This is implied in 1e with a one-mile/level range, and is more explicit in 2e with a 1 HP loss to the familiar's HPs each day the familiar and its master are separated, until the familiar reaches 0 HPs and finally dies. Thus, going out of town for any extended period of time brought, um, those 'familiar' problems to light.

NOTE: The standard spell's range of one-mile/level doesn't make sense since substitutes are allowed, so unless one is in a dead zone where no life exists at all for miles around, there should always be something in range. Yet, 25% of the time there isn't, according to a random Meta-game roll. Worse, if one were in a dead zone, 75% of the time some familiar would still be in range anyway, also according to some Meta-game roll, irrespective of anything the DM predetermined about his or her game world. Thus, in 1e the range was taken to mean how close the familiar must be kept to its master, and 2e explicitly stated how quickly the familiar would sicken and die should it be separated from its master for any appreciable amount of time, and the range of one-mile/level seemed a logical choice for what distance constituted sufficient separation. Therefore, the rolls of 16 to 20 can't realistically be an out of range consideration and so it must be something else, like the target creature making saving throw or some such and ignoring the summons.

It often seemed to me that who ever wrote those Find Familiar spells wanted to force the PC to put their familiar in harm's way. Even being parted or separated from one's familiar had such a nasty consequence that they were almost forced to drag it along into the field with them, no matter how dangerous the situation, since leaving it at home might bring certain doom anyway. And unless its mobility was decent - as in a flying creature's, for example - this frequently hampered the magic user and their party's own movement or forced the magic user to carry their familiar. And when the magic user carries their familiar, any nasty thing that hits the magic user is bound to hit their familiar as well.

Next, after being forced to drag it along with them - and thus making it likely it would be harmed or killed anyway - they made losing one's familiar so detrimental as to forever degrade the magic user's own power - via permanent hit point loss, or permanent loss of constitution, or even death if the magic user didn't survive the system shock - in which case the magic user would permanently lose 2 constitution points, assuming they survived the attempt to bring them back to life. Since magic users had so few hit points or such low constitution scores to begin with, such potential costs were prohibitive.

Top all this off with the high probability, due to lack of any real control in the summoning process, that the magic user would be saddled with a familiar they wouldn't even desire, and you begin to get the picture. Somewhere along the way, it is as if the authors erroneously decided a magic user's familiar was so much of a pain in the #*% for the Dungeon Master that they were going to do all they could to dissuade their players from ever having their player's PCs summon one.

But familiars were supposed to be an aid, or something to help augment the spell caster. And with such restrictions, they were often more hindrance than help. This is why my PCs often did without a familiar and waited until they could construct a homunculus instead.

About the only way a familiar was ever advantageous was if the player luckily rolled for a 'special' - or deigned to simply take one, perhaps fudging the dice roll or begging the DM to out right give one to them. Without getting a special, if you had a familiar you probably had a liability. To my way of thinking, this was not acceptable.

Of course, going too far in the other direction was also a bad idea. Making familiars immune to certain attacks, or just giving them extra special evasive powers to help avoid the naturally deadly consequences of being next to an adventuring magic user - while conveniently not allowing the spell caster the opportunity to use the same techniques, whatever they were, to become similarly immune - just didn't make any sense either. And the notion of filling one's spellbook with one-time use specialty spells to augment and/or help protect one's familiar also seemed a bad way to fix some of the obvious deficiencies of the Find Familiar spell. There were better ways to do it.

And so in order to bring the Find Familiar spell into alignment with certain notions I held, it had to be changed. Thus, I present my own version for the World of Orlantia. There are the more traditional spells still out there, to be sure, but spell research is an ongoing process. And in the fullness of time, it was assumed spell casters developed more control over their summoning spells, using new methods and techniques such that they gained familiars that actually helped them more than harmed them. But even then, the control wasn't so great as to automatically give any magic user the power of a special familiar.

After a time, a happy balance was found between what was useful for the character - not overly powerful, nor particularly detrimental - and provided the desired roleplaying opportunities and story elements.

Therefore, without further eloquence, the current version of the Find Familiar spell most commonly employed on Orlantia:


Level: First
Components: V, S, M
Duration: Special
Casting Time: 2d12 hours
Area of Effect: One familiar for one target creature
Saving Throw: Special

By employing this spell, a spell caster may usually summon forth some animal familiar to aid them in their work, or perhaps an animal familiar to be bound to another person or creature of the spell caster's choice - i.e. the target creature. The target creature will henceforth be known as the master or mistress of the familiar. However, this spell write up will simply refer to them as the familiar's master. If the intended master of the familiar is not the actual spell caster, the master must remain with the spell caster during the entire casting time of 2d12 hours.

NOTE: The term 'target creature' does not apply to the summoned familiar because they are not specifically targeted - for those who like to know that sort of thing. Also, it says spell caster instead of magic user since I envision a 3rd level clerical version of this spell, as well.

The familiar is usually an animal quite normal in appearance to most animals of the same type, but it is very different in actual abilities. The summoning process intermingles the master's and the familiar's psyche such that one or both may briefly share in each other's psychological or physical make up, perhaps resulting in superior abilities together neither enjoyed on their own. This bond is more powerful than before, but now it is also only this strong during the temporary connection of the imprinting process, thus avoiding many of the detrimental effects of the traumatic demise or separation of the familiar from its master. After the imprinting and summoning process, the bond is weaker, though still highly useful.

Though such a temporary imprinting bond may result in the loss of certain benefits, should the worse happen - such as the death of the familiar - the loss isn't as physically detrimental to the master as before. Thus no hit points are conferred to the master, but then, none are lost either, nor are any constitution points lost, nor will the familiar sicken and die should the two become separated, and finally the master no longer even risks death from a terrible system shock should their familiar meet an untimely end. The other more desirable benefits, however, remain part of the spell's normal function.

Magic users may only have one familiar for themselves at a time, though they can summon as many as they wish for others. No one master can have more than one familiar, however. Also, a familiar may not have its own familiar - apart from its master, who is, in a sense, the animal's familiar. Unfortunately, the time, cost, and temporary nature of the familiar for other targets - other than the magic user themselves - often precludes them from doing this too often. But it remains an option for non-magic users, if they wish, to have the spell cast for them by a magic user to summon a temporary familiar of their own, should they decide to pay the price. These familiars will stay with their master for a period of one year, at the end of which time they will part company - unless renewed. See Below. This means, unfortunately, that a magic user casting this spell for another magic user will result in a familiar that will stay around only for one year. Only by casting the spell for themselves will a magic user get the full benefits afforded by this spell.

The magic user's own familiar from their own casting, therefore, will remain with the magic user until death they do part, or they both mutually agree to go their separate ways. Neither may decide unilaterally to end the relationship; it must be mutually agreeable to both parties to end this master/familiar relationship.

The only exception to the above rule is if the master sends the familiar away immediately upon successfully summoning them. All costs paid are already paid - no refunds - and the attempt at summoning another familiar may not generally be made again for one full year.

Once separated - either by mutual agreement or the death of the familiar - the magic user may summon another familiar after the magical residue of the familiar's connection naturally fades. This takes about one year to naturally occur - after they part, and not after the spell is cast, since what is fading is the ongoing link between them. However, a battery of Dispel Magic spells - about one casting per week for 2 months - will also cleanse the master of this trace residue. Without waiting or using the eight Dispel Magic spells, the results of the normal Find Familiar spell will not work as well - the DM should down grade any such results to be less favorable in some minor ways should the magic user prematurely make such an attempt.


Familiars usually convey some added ability to their master. Of the six senses, one is usually augmented greatly, and the others may or may not be augmented slightly - depending on the familiar's natural abilities. Thus, one of these: sight, smell, hearing, touch, taste, or some mental faculty, will greatly be augmented. No matter which sense is augmented, however, the master will gain a +1 bonus to all surprise rolls. No matter which sense or senses are augmented, it will be assumed the master has gained enough heightened sense of their own to merit this +1 bonus on their surprise rolls. This does NOT come from the familiar seeing an enemy and then warning its master. It need not even be there, but it must be within one mile to confer these heightened senses to its master. So remember that the added ability and bonus only work so long as the familiar and its master are within one mile of one another.

In a 3e game, familiars convey the feat ALERTNESS, which grants a +2 bonus to all Listen and Spot checks when the familiar is within arm's reach. This is just another excuse to get you to put your familiar in harm's way, so one may have this bonus feat whenever their familiar is within one mile of them.

So, too, might the master gain other abilities, depending on the familiar. Ask your DM, or consult the table below.

Yet a familiar may be further away than one-mile. If the familiar is within one-mile/level of the master, the master will be aware of the familiar's location - for example, 6.73 miles north by northwest - and be aware of its emotional state via an empathetic link. Similarly, so too would the familiar be aware of its master's location and emotional state. Via such a connection they can know certain things such as - I am being hurt, I'm scared, I'm happy, I'm curious, I need you - and many other low level feelings may be conveyed. One may not, however, know such things as - there are orcs here, I see the priest over there, I have found the secret door, come here at once - or convey similarly detailed knowledge. The one-mile/level radius will thus allow them to stay in touch on some level, but not as well as being within one mile of each other will. Most masters usually wish to keep their familiars within one-mile of them, though not too close, for the familiar's protection, if the master is doing something dangerous.

When within one-mile of each other, the master and the familiar will enjoy the additional benefit of communication on a mental but verbal level. For example: 'I see the priest,' 'There are 12 orcs coming toward your party,' 'Go find the ranger,' 'Come to me at once,' 'Hey master, there's some smoke in the distance,' or 'Why is the river black here?' Such mental communications are now possible. Most familiars cannot physically speak out loud, however, and though other PCs may be privy to the master's side of the conversation - IF the master decides to speak out loud - these other PCs will not typically be privy to the familiar's side of the conversation - unless they can read the master's mind, or even read the familiar's mind.

Masters and familiars may not hear or see or feel or taste or smell what the other does. They do not possess such a connection. But they can describe what they are experiencing to each other if they wish, and if they are close enough to do so. Also, when in such proximity, this is when they fully augment each other's senses. Outside the one-mile range, the master does not benefit from their augmented senses or enjoy any game mechanical bonuses.

Once outside the one-mile/level range, the empathetic connection is totally lost until they again get close enough to each other. In the meantime, the master has a vague idea of the general direction - but not the distance - their familiar might be in, but the familiar is totally lost in that regard and does not even know in which direction their master may be. Thus, they will likely do whatever they fancy until their master reappears. Typically, they will resort to the normal sort of behavior of their animal type, often hunting, eating, sleeping, having sex, and avoiding trouble - though that saying about cats and curiosity is generally true for all familiars. It should also be noted that even with their newfound intelligence, familiars tend to dwell on what their instincts keep bringing up. For example, a cat might become overly preoccupied with a mouse UNLESS the situation were so dire that it knew to lose concentration might endanger their master's life. Thus, whatever the animal type, they will find something more natural to do while waiting for their master to show up - assuming, of course, their master didn't already issue some instructions to be carried out in their absence. However, if they have a home nearby - like their master's keep or tower or even hometown - they will probably head toward it or stay close to it - or hang out within one-mile of it - should their master decide to start looking for them there.


The familiar also gains in this arrangement. They will gain a longer life expectancy, now on the order of their master's own. Their intelligence and wisdom are augmented - probably. Their final intelligence will be their normal intelligence, plus 6, plus 1d6, not to exceed the master's own intelligence. Their wisdom will be comparable. Thus, their normal intelligence, plus 6, plus a different 1d6 roll will be their wisdom - not to exceed the master's own wisdom.

NOTE: If any of the familiar's own statistics were superior to its master's statistics to begin with, these are not downgraded, despite what the above limits may suggest. Note, the master's intelligence or wisdom would NOT be upgraded because of this fact.

The familiar also gains in knowledge. This knowledge bond, by the way, is why the familiar is so 'familiar' with its master, and even why it is called a familiar. Many of its master's knowledge based skills will be known, to some degree, by the familiar. Though they cannot employ it all or even understand some of it, they know much of what its master knows - at the time of the imprinting, for what a master learns later isn't necessarily shared by their familiar unless the master actually tells them things, as they may well do. Familiars will certainly NOT be able to perform most skills their masters can even with such knowledge - unless they have this as a special power as some special familiars may come with on their own.

For example, a magic user's common cat familiar will not be able to cast spells, but a magic user's elven cat familiar may be able to cast spells since elven cats have this power in and of themselves. However, this does not mean the elven cat can cast the magic user's spells, but only that it can cast those normal elven cats may cast. But if the magic user happens to know how to navigate, either the common cat or the elven cat would too upon becoming that magic user's familiar. Whether they can use navigational tools, such as compass, protractor, sextant, or calipers, etc., or even relay this information to another is an entirely different matter. Some might be able to while others might not.

Of particular importance, familiars will acquire their master's primary language. They will not know all the languages their master does, but the primary one will be the one they 'think in' and mentally communicate in with their master - few familiars are actually able to verbally speak, but those that can will speak its master's primary language. After time and practice, the familiar may learn its master's other languages and, if it can normally speak, even speak them. It may acquire them at one or two a year, if the DM allows this. It might even learn languages its master doesn't know, but that could take years of game time, so unless they showed up knowing such languages to begin with, odds are familiars will never converse in languages unknown to their master. But some special familiars may appear with some language of their own already. If so, their master may acquire ALL those languages for one half normal cost - i.e. 1/2 NWP slot/language - or one skill point/language.

It should also be noted the familiar will be able to communicate on some level with other animals of its same type - treat this as its own language - though most animals do not have a lot to say and don't think clearly like they might if they possessed a higher language. Therefore, even though the familiar may communicate with these ordinary animals, the information they get will likely be vague - mostly short term memories of recent events within the last day, or about repeated occurrences that happen frequently. i.e. 'big man kicks me every time he sees me,' or 'river I drink from is over that hill.'

The familiar will certainly not get detailed information from other animals such as - 'Yeah, a hill giant did come through here 8 days ago,' or 'I think Sally was jealous of Marta, and that's why she probably left the farm last spring.' Most animals do not think on that level. Technically, however, the master could learn to communicate with creatures of the same type for 1/2 NWP slot/language, or 1 skill point/language, as above. For example, if a magic user obtained a cat familiar, they could learn the 'cat language' of that species of cat for 1/2 NWP slot, and they could then talk to simple cats and get simple, recent, information or the like from any cat of the same species as their familiar. An alley cat may not be able to communicate with a lion, however, so don't reach too far in this regard. Lions and jaguars and leopards, etc. may each have its own language, but the DM may allow limited communication if they feel the familiar and the other animal are similar enough, or particularly if they share the same natural habitat or come from the same region.


Both master and familiar often gain the best of both worlds. The familiar's base saving throws, for example, are identical to its master's at the time of imprinting - in rare instances, the familiar's saves may be better and the master will share their familiar's base save in that category. Bear in mind, if the master is wearing a +1 ring of protection or has some other magical protection, this will not help the familiar's saves. Both master and familiar will retain these base saving throws even when out of range.

The familiar will also gain the senses of its master if the master had the superior sense. For example, many of them may gain color vision, or even normal sight if they were deficient in that regard, or hearing, smell, touch, or taste similar to their master's if the master has the superior sense. But frequently it will be the master that gains here, or both who will gain. This is part of the reason for summoning the familiar in the first place. Though the master will lose this heightened sense when the familiar is further than one-mile away, the familiar tends to keep its master's superior senses no matter how far away they are, and does not similarly revert to normal.

NOTE: This effect has not been fully explained, but several magic users and sages are looking into the matter since the underlying reason may be able to be exploited if discovered and more fully understood.

Finally, the familiar will gain an AC bonus due to its intelligence and wisdom - now that it can more wisely or intelligently employ its own natural defensive abilities. The familiar's AC will be 2 places better than before - not to be worse than AC 7, in any event. For example, an elven cat - normally AC 4 - will have AC 2, but a frog - normally AC 10 - will have AC 7 - and not AC 8.

The familiar will also have greater understanding and effectively share some of the essence of its master's training in combat. This will give them an additional number of 'lesser hit dice' equal to their master's number of hit dice at the time of the imprinting. These are lesser dice, only being 1d2s rather than 1d8s. For example, if a 7th level master gains a familiar, it will have its normal hit points from its normal hit dice, plus 7d2 - i.e. 7 to 14 more hit points. Its base saves will be that of its 7th level master. These numbers will not change simply because the master later goes up in levels. The master may, however, imprint the familiar anew.

If the magic user - or master - increases in levels AND gains a hit dice, the familiar does not automatically share in this increase by gaining an additional 1d2 hit points for each of its master's new hit dice, nor does it increase its base saving throws. But if the master performs or has performed the ceremony of imprinting again, the process will keep the old familiar, but now with elevated hit points or knowledge or base saving throws as if they were just summoned - you do NOT reroll the former 1d2s again, however, but keep those already rolled. You will roll for any new ones. If new levels do not have hit dice but only hit point additions, the familiar does not gain any more hit points.

Since during a renewal, the summoning portion is not actually taking place, the magical residue will not hamper the master. Thus, they may do this as often as they wish - even each time they go up a level and gain a new dice or change their saving throws - but they must still spend the time and money recasting the spell.

The familiar of an actual magic user may have personal spells cast upon them by their master - just as their master may only cast personal spells on themselves, they may be allowed to cast such personal spells on their familiar, as well. If made permanent, by the Permanency spell and under the normal restrictions of the spell, this will usually result in the permanent loss of one point of constitution for the magic user casting the Permanency spell - and not the familiar - but such power may be worth it. For example, making your familiar capable of detecting invisible objects, or protected from normal missiles, may be highly advantageous - see Permanency spell.

NOTE: Permanency is a rather high level spell and not likely to come into play in most instances. Furthermore, casting such a spell in this fashion automatically costs the caster one point of constitution - rather than the normal 5% chance associated with casting it on inanimate items - so it will be hard to even pay a high level magic user to cast this spell for you and your familiar. The point is, you are not likely see this happening on any familiar that doesn't belong to a magic user of at least 16th level. I only mention it since it is possible.

Using A Touch Spell Via Your Familiar

Also, 'touch' spells may be transferred via the familiar. The procedure is as follows: The magic user casts a touch spell but touches the familiar to make the familiar a carrier - this has no detrimental effect any more than the magic user touching them self during a touch spell. This takes one round. In the following rounds, the familiar may attempt to hit a target to confer the spell's effect. It must still succeed, just as the magic user must have done, within all normal time limits. The magic user may do other things while the familiar is so engaged.

NOTE: The familiar does NOT share its master's THAC0 or base attack bonuses.

However, employing one's familiar as a weapon will often be looked upon rather dimly by the familiar. When a familiar decides to risk its life, its master's life should be in danger and this should be a decision it comes to by itself - for the love and friendship of its master. Such a coordinated attack technique ordered and directed by the master hardly qualifies. Unless the familiar has it explained to them, and then agrees it is important and worth risking its own life, this type of activity is likely to sour their relationship. Furthermore, should the familiar die, any new familiar would know how its predecessor met its untimely end - by virtue of the imprinting process - and probably would think poorly of its master right from day one.

Another peculiar effect was demonstrated when it was shown any Quest or Geas spell placed upon the master was similarly binding upon the master's familiar. That is, the familiar was also compelled to do all it could to complete the commitments. Even if the master died, the familiar would continue to try to satisfy these commitments - or die trying. Yet the reverse isn't true, so any Quest or Geas placed upon the familiar will not effect its master. It will, however, make the familiar anxious to complete these commitments, and unless the master allows it or even helps, the familiar will sicken and die just as you'd expect anyone would who failed to meet such powerful magical obligations. (See Quest or Geas).


A.) A familiar may be within one-mile of its master - both gain sensory advantages and bonuses and both may communicate mentally. Or,

B.) It may be further than one-mile but less than one-mile/level of the master - the familiar retains sensory advantages, augmented intelligence and wisdom, hit points, saves, etc., but the master does not retain sensory advantages or the +1 bonus on their surprise roll. But the master and familiar do continue to share an empathetic link in this range, though the mental, verbal link is gone. Or,

C.) They may be further than one-mile/level of the master apart, or on other planes of existence. The familiar again retains its advantages but the master has none. The familiar has no idea where their master is, but the master has a vague sense of which direction their familiar is, but not how far away it is. If separated by one or more planes of existence, simply treat this as further than one-mile/level of the master apart. When separated by planes of existence, the master may, however, get a random direction. Roll for this direction only once and stick to it. The master may move in that direction, but he'll never get 'technically' closer since his familiar is on another plane.


The death of a familiar can be emotionally traumatic, but it no longer has physically deleterious effects such as the permanent loss of hit points or constitution points. Nor does it even carry the penalty of a system shock or saving throw or temporary loss of hit points. At worst, the sudden tearing away of the empathetic bond may cause a magic user to miss cast their current spell or take a moment - one round - to adjust to the loss. They will certainly be aware of this if it ever happens. The master may grieve however they wish later, but no further penalties are incurred. They will, however, no longer benefit from any augmented senses or other special abilities conferred to them by their familiar. They would, of course, retain any languages for which they paid. Only at this time does the residual magical effect begin to wear off, and this will take a full year, or the aforementioned cleansing rituals must be used to speed up the process, before the master may attempt to acquire a new familiar.

As animals have spirits - not souls - the Raise Dead spell will not bring a familiar back to life. It would require a Limited Wish or a Resurrection. The DM may, however, allow Raise Dead to work if this spell normally does this for animals on their world. Also, they may allow this to work for an Ancestral Familiar (See Below). Normally, however, when a familiar dies, that's it. Death is a natural part of life. Masters will therefore do very well not to carelessly risk their familiar's life.


If a familiar is sent away, it will quickly revert to its original state if it had been with its master for only one year or less. If it had been with its master longer than one year, then it will always maintain its augmented intelligence and wisdom, though specific knowledge begins to rapidly fade. Thus, the master need not worry about the familiar talking too much about their shared secrets. The familiar may retain some general knowledge about its master and his or her friends, but its memory tends to get kind of fuzzy on details. After a year or more of separation, it is next to impossible to dredge up any meaningful secrets from a familiar, but before that, one might learn something, if they have a way to communicate with the familiar, and it was in a talkative mood.


Masters who do not cast their own Find Familiar spell will automatically lose their familiars after a period of one year. However, they may also have the spell cast for them again before this time expires, and thus imprint anew their old familiar. This must be done between the 11th and 12th month of their relationship. This may also augment their familiar's hit points or saving throws - assuming the master's own have increased in that year. If they do this, their familiar will also retain its mental faculties should they ever part. If they choose not to renew their current familiar, then after their familiar leaves they must still normally wait one more full year before having the spell cast for them again. Then they may gain a new familiar, perhaps even gaining another animal type altogether.

Temporary familiars, if renewed at least once, retain their intelligence and wisdom even if they are not renewed again. However, even if their master doesn't renew the spell, at the end of that year they may retain the familiar as a friend or follower or henchmen or sorts. There will be no magical connection, no empathetic connection, and no usual benefits or bonuses, however. The familiar will retain certain knowledge it had, but most augmented things simply vanish. Color vision or other heightened sense, extra hit points, better saving throws, etc., would all be lost. Even their augmented life span will revert to the animal's normal span of years, and from that point on, the animal will age as normal. But they may simply remain as a friend. And like any friend, they may leave whenever they wish, and certainly would if they were mistreated or abused, or even taken for granted.

Rarely, but sometimes, a character may obtain the spell for themselves after they have already had it cast for them. They may finally cast the spell for themselves and retain their temporary familiar. If they do this, it will become their permanent familiar under the normal conditions. Or they may send their familiar away, wait a year, and then try later for a new one. They may have to wait until the familiar's time is up, however, at the end of the year if the familiar doesn't wish to part. It's up to them. But after the spell lapses and a year passes, the master may try for a new familiar.

A magic user may cast this first level spell as soon as they acquire it. But there are benefits to waiting. The higher level the magic user, the greater control they have over what type of familiar answers their summons. Similarly, the larger and more expensive the sacrifice, the greater the control. Low level magic users may not be able to afford costly materials such that they can almost guarantee they get the sort of familiar they most desire. Thus, waiting until they have a better control is often a good thing.

However, they may dismiss such familiars later on as well, if the familiar agrees. It's up to them to decide what course of action they will undertake. Most familiars would leave if asked, unless they felt they would lose their lives under current circumstances, in which case they'd only willingly leave once it becomes safe to do so.


When ready to attempt a summoning, the magic user - and the target master if not the magic user them self - stoke a copper or brass brazier or some sturdy metal container with charcoal. When this is burning well, the magic user chants incantations while adding incense, herbs, fats, and a variety of small items the desired familiar would enjoy. Catnip, a ball of string, and a bit of tuna might entice a cat, while a mouse might entice an owl, for example. Of course, these items may or may not help - the DM will decide. The primary factor is the expense of the incense and herbs.


At the very least, the cost for materials of this spell is 100 Gold Pieces. But for every increment of 500 GP or fraction thereof of materials that the magic user burns, they may alter their roll by one place up or down. Also, for every 3 levels or fraction thereof they have achieved, they may further alter their roll up or down by one place. This means even a 1st level magic user spending only 100 GP may alter their roll up or down 2 places.

NOTE: The level of the magic user casting the spell is used and not necessarily the master's level since they could be two different people. But the master's wishes should be followed by the caster, and they may discuss their options as the spell unfolds - i.e. talk about the roll OOC and pick which option is best given the roll and what the adjustments may be able to do.

If the master is simply renewing the spell to keep the familiar, or to augment its hit points and saving throws, the cost will be a minimum of 1000 GP for a normal familiar or 5000 GP for a special familiar. The extra cost assures the familiar's safety and prevents other possible intrusions - such as possession by evil spirits.


A 'SPECIAL' may only be obtained, however, by rolling a NATURAL 20. You may not adjust your roll to get a 20, but you must roll an actual 20. Even if you roll a natural 20, the special familiar gets a saving throw vs. spell. Success negates the summoning of the special, but the spell may yet summon something else. At this time, the master has the option to roll for a lesser familiar or wait a year to try again. If they reroll, ignore all subsequent 20s and keep rolling until you get a result from 1 to 19. Adjust as normal. Then your regular familiar appears. Getting a special familiar should be a very rare thing, indeed. Normal familiars do not get a saving throw vs. the summoning.

OR the DM may agree to let you play a special. If this happens, bear in mind your character still should feel incredibly lucky rather than think they were handed a gift from the gods.

In any event, the special summoned will never have more initial hit dice than the master has. For example, if you are 1st level, only a one hit dice special will be available. If you are 9th level, perhaps up to a nine hit dice special may appear. Most specials will have as few initial hit dice as possible.

Specials may include a wide variety of creatures. Past choices have included such creatures as:

Brownie, Elven Cat, Hippogriff, Imp, Pegasus, Pixie, Pseudo Dragon or other dragonet, Quasit, Unicorn, and others. Alignment restrictions may apply - ask your DM.

Special Familiars will have powers in and of themselves, but these will not generally be conferred to the familiar's master. The special familiar's own power makes them a valuable ally. As a general rule of thumb, however, the special familiar will augment one of its master's statistics - usually the primary requisite - straight to 18 - no matter where it starts, unless it was already higher than 18, in which case there will be no gain. If their class or classes have more than one primary requisite, the one most like the familiar will be chosen. Furthermore, the master will gain +1 to all their saving throws. This will be true even when the familiar is out of normal range. Naturally, a special familiar also confers the powers normally afforded by a regular familiar. The DM may yet decide some further granted power would be appropriate for a particular special familiar. What or how much is left up to the discretion of the DM.

In reality, what often actually happens depends on several random factors, so no PC can predict exactly what will happen, anyway. Even if one master obtains power X from a special familiar of type Y, another master might not acquire this power even with a special familiar of the same type Y, but may acquire a different power Z. It's a crap shoot, after all.


One other curious avenue of exploration is the Ancestral Familiar. With the aid of a 9th level cleric, and a recently deceased blood relative of the master - under the same time constraints as the Raise Dead spell - or the aid of a 14th level cleric, and a not so recently deceased blood relative of the master - under the same time constraints as the Resurrection spell - the soul or spirit of the departed may take the place of the animal's own spirit while the magic user casts the Find Familiar spell. This is usually only done after all other attempts - such as Raise Dead may have failed. The relative will not keep any of its former powers from its last life - if any, such as a dead magic user will not still have any spell casting capability - but it will still possess its knowledge skills and memories and feelings. So it may know navigation, spell craft, various languages, or what have you. Such ancestral familiars always have the ability to speak. All this happens in addition to conferring all the normal abilities of a regular familiar. However, the ancestor may not posses - boot out - an exceptionally strong spirit - such as a special familiar's spirit - and thus they will always be one of the regular sorts. The caster may also force the ancestor's soul or spirit into a specific body type of the regular sort, provided they have such a body handy. The displaced spirit of the animal will simply move on - just as if its body had been killed. This is not considered particularly cruel in light of the fact one is displacing an animal's spirit to save or preserve a more valuable sentient life. The cost of this procedure is 5,000 GP - 4,000 for the cleric's Raise Dead, and 1,000 for magic user and materials - or 50,000 GP - 45,000 for the cleric's Resurrection, and 5,000 for magic user and materials.

The DM may allow someone other than a blood relative to undergo this process, but some former strong connection to the master should have previously existed in any event. A prime candidate may be one's best friend, a lover, a trusted ally or fallen comrade, etc. Keep in mind, the ancestor - or who ever - must agree to this process, or it simply will NOT work. In the fullness of time, they will eventually die and then proceed with their more normal afterlife - whatever that may be for that individual.

Ancestral familiars never need to be renewed. Unlike all other familiars, they are bound for life to their master - no matter if the master is a magic user that cast the spell themselves or a non-magic user who had the spell cast for them. Furthermore, they will always have the number of lesser hit dice and saving throws as if they were recently imprinted. Thus, when their master increases in level and gains a new hit dice or changes his or her base saving throws, so too will the familiar benefit. They will not, however, gain any new knowledge skills their master may acquire. For that to happen, the ancestral familiar must be renewed, but this will only cost 1000 GP.

NOTE: Though a special familiar still confers the statistic bonus, sensory bonus, and +1 to surprise roll bonus even when further than one-mile away, the normal limitations on mental communications and the empathetic link still apply. No familiar can mentally speak to their master if they are more than one-mile away.


Similar to ancestral familiars, some intelligent creatures may be punished/cursed by powerful spell casters, extra planar creatures, or even the gods, and thus their spirit or soul is condemned or cursed and made to inhabit a lesser animal's body for the rest of their natural life, or until certain conditions of atonement have been met. Such a cursed individual could be enlisted by a magic user to serve as a familiar for that magic user (but not for non-magic users, since that doesn't work for some reason). If the magic user accepts or enlists the cursed individual, they will act just like an ancestral familiar, unless or until the conditions of atonement are met, at which time the familiar may revert to its normal form and the find familiar bond is broken. The magic user may seek another familiar a year after this bond is broken, or attempt to cleanse the magical residue as previously mentioned to shorten that waiting period.

Consult the tables below and roll 1d20, adjust accordingly, and see what you will see.

A FAMILIAR TABLE (Haven't I Seen This Before? ;-)

The 1d20 Roll


Sensory Powers

Special Notes


Bat (Common)

Exceptional Hearing

Gain Effective Skill Of Blind Fighting


Bird (Condor)

Exceptional Sight and Endurance

20/20 vision, master may carry 40 extra pounds for free


Bird (Eagle, Hawk, or Falcon)

Exceptional Sight at a Distance

See things as if it were at half the distance it really is


Bird (Owl)

Night Vision, Superior Hearing, Wisdom

See as well at night as day, keen hearing, +1 to own wisdom score (not to exceed 18).


Bird (Crow, Raven)

Excellent Vision

20/20 vision, these familiars verbally speak their master's language.


Cat (Common)

Excellent Night Vision, Superior Hearing

See as well at night as day, keen hearing, +1 to own dexterity score (not to exceed 18).


Cat (Great)

Excellent Night Vision, Superior Hearing

See as well at night as day, keen hearing, +1 to own strength score (not to exceed 18).


Dog (Wild)

Excellent Hearing, Excellent Olfactory

+20% to any tracking skill.


Dog (Wolf)

Excellent Hearing, Excellent Olfactory

+25% to any tracking skill, +1 to own charisma score (not to exceed 18).



Superior Taste

+75% to swimming rolls, superior taste


Frog or Toad

Wide Angle Vision

May hold breath 2 minutes longer, all flanking attacks against you are treated as frontal attacks.



DM's Choice

DM's Choice



DM's Choice

DM's Choice


Mammal (Monkey)

Hearing and Balance

Keen hearing, +20% to any climb skill roll.


Mammal (Small, Other)

DM's Choice

DM's Choice


Plant (Intelligent)

DM's Choice

DM's Choice


Rodent (Mouse, Rat)

Excellent Olfactory

+50% to swimming skill, keen sense of smell



Excellent Taste

+1 to saves vs. poison, confers effective infravision, +1 to all speed factors


Turtle (Tortoise)

Superior tactile sense (touch)

+1 to all saves, +1 to AC.



See Above

See Above


As you can guess, some of these familiars will be difficult to keep. A large predatory cat in the city, or even a wolf, for example, may cause panic. An intelligent plant may be strong but not very mobile. Such a thing may confer great strength or serenity, but only when at home. A fish would be restricted to ponds, lakes, rivers, and seas - not very helpful in many dungeons or forest settings. And the master would need to live or travel near the water or leave their familiar behind.

Finally, be aware the DM may use a creature not even on this list. Or better, the player may simply suggest a neat one to which the DM will agree. Keep in mind that the familiar's powers should slightly augment its master's, and not so greatly add to them as to effectively be another PC comparable in power to the other PCs. Other than that, the sky's the limit.

Should the roll indicate mammal - small, other - there is a good list in the Monstrous Manual. The player and DM may discuss options to find something mutually agreeable, but you should not think the PC has this sort of control. The character will get whatever appears if they agree to any small mammal. Also, DM choices may be discussed before the player decides, but the character will not really have this sort of control. It is extended to the player as a gaming consideration and courtesy since it's fun to play what you like and not always fun to be stuck with something you don't want.


NOTE: The familiar will become a DM NPC. It may be guided or even handled by the spell caster's player - particularly during combat - but the DM will have the final say in the familiar's decisions. Or, the DM may abdicate this responsibility to another player - not the master's player. Thus, that other player will typically play their own PC in addition to playing the familiar and making decisions for the familiar. The DM should choose such a player such that they feel they will do a good job at playing a friend for the master. But remember friends don't always have to agree on everything to be friends. The point is, the master's player is not controlling the familiar like an automaton and making it do anything they wish, no matter how unreasonable. But any player taking on the added responsibility of playing the familiar, as well as their own PC, should give great deference to the master's wishes - it is the familiar's master, after all. Furthermore, though perhaps justified in some instances, it may look odd if the familiar always agrees with the PC of the player playing the familiar, but too frequently disagrees with its own master. If this happens too often, the DM may have to play the familiar himself or herself or choose another player.

If played by the DM, however, be aware the DM will generally not offer solutions to problems no matter how intelligent or wise the familiar may be. Doing so sort of defeats the purpose of letting the players figure things out for themselves. Thus, it is greatly recommended another player accept responsibility for playing the familiar.

So we see it is possible a master and their familiar may argue or fight with each other - not usually in a physical sense since neither wishes to bodily harm the other, more often than not - but they may carry a grudge, have hurt feelings, hard feelings, resent certain liberties, be difficult, and so on. Or they may be the best of friends as well. The roleplaying opportunities are boundless.

Finally, be aware that the familiar has certain knowledge the master possesses. In particular, they will know if their new master mistreated or even murdered their old familiar, recklessly or purposefully caused their demise, or in some other way badly treated their predecessor, and thus act accordingly. It is likely if such a thing did happen to the old familiar, the new familiar will not help so much as harm the master in all ways it can, or just do its best to protect itself and avoid its master as much as possible. In short, should a master so mistreat a familiar, it would be far better for them not to summon what will effectively be an enemy. However, contrary to some suggestions, there typically wouldn't be any deity seeking to take vengeance upon the master for the mistreatment of their familiar. The gods usually have better or more important things to concern them. It is enough that one such mistreatment carries a lifetime penalty by perhaps precluding them from ever having a trusted or trusting familiar again.

© January of 2001
James L.R. Beach
Waterville, MN 56096