Saturday, August 7, 2010

Unfamiliar Familiars III

Mages take familiars for many reasons - perhaps to compensate for perceived weaknesses, or to reinforce perceived strengths; to achieve another step towards a future state; for show, shock or awe; or merely as a utilitarian tool.  A wizard with a missing arm, with a spider monkey that fetches, stirs potions and turns pages is thematic; The mighty Alraxed the Blue being stuck with a ferret, as he took it at 1st level for the bonus to sneaking is not, IMHO.

For whatever reason they are chosen, the greater the variation in potential companions in a group, the more diverse the game - everyone with an owl familiar following Harry Potter, or all the mages in the group taking the animal with the greatest mechanical advantage is not what the game is about.


Giant Spider

I'm talking about a cat sized, or smaller, arachnid, at least, at first.  Bigger than this is arch-villain territory, and should not be encouraged, at least, not until higher levels.  Smaller than this is likely to be squashed by travelling companions or animals.
  • At lowish levels, there's the standard spider abilities - most notable being poison, should they bite anyone, and webs.  At this stage, it's catching rats and brownies, and making tripwires only.
  • Later on, at the mid-range levels, the poison is still there, but the web size allows it to trap small creatures (halflings and goblins, and slow dwarves), and create stronger and more effective tripwires and web-based traps.
  • At high levels, the spider has probably grown a bit from it's rich diet of paladins and slain good-guys, and can make large and extensive webs, capable of trapping and biding warriors, and can even launch the odd net to entrap smallish flying creatures.  I wouldn't recommend that it takes on a Griffin...

The issue here is sociability, as having a creature the size of a Great Dane following you around, sucking the liquefied innards of random stock, is off-putting to most potential comrades.  Except for the general misfits that become successful adventurers... Nothing can shock them...

The Bubur

One of my favourite creatures, mainly because, as a child putting together an unholy melange of RPG systems based on what I had access to (MERP, Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, and bad 80s fiction), I was given a handful of roleplaying magazines one day - two Dragon magazines and a few White Dwarves.  I had no context for most of their contents, but certain parts were lifted.

One of these was the Creature Catalogue III from Dragon #101, and my favourite from this was this little cross between a slug and a minivac.

Between 6 inches and a foot long, it's diet consists entirely of slimes, moulds and mosses, and it is unharmed by any of their effects.  It considers the more dangerous types more tasty, and does 2-8 damage a round to them as it hoovers them up through it's little proboscis.  Also immune to the effects of Yellow Musk Creepers and Violet Fungi, even though it doesn't eat them. It's sleepingbag-like body inflates and swells as it feeds.

The Catalogue states that they are docile and faithful companions, provided they are given one full meal a day, and there is a trade in them amongst adventurers, for whom they will fetch up to 1,000 gold pieces.  Their intelligence is "animal to low", so some of the brighter ones can manipulate tools clumsily with their forearms.

Anyway, as far as useful, exotic and thematic, there's definite potential for familiar status here.  Probably to a mage that is a professional dungeon crawler, and is experienced in the underground realms.
  • As a low-level companion, it will eat slimes, moulds and mosses that are encountered, but will suffer and sulk if not feed these often enough.  Standard powers, in fact.
  • In the mid-levels, it develops a taste for oozes and jellies as well, and gains extra immunities against other protoplasmic encounters.
  • And for high levels, these immunities to slimy, mouldy, oozey things are conveyed to it's master, providing him or her a definite advantage when exploring ancient flooded tombs or robbing the vaults of past emperors.
 Not forgetting the odd occasion where it's small size and ability to pick up keys, coins or the like will prove useful beyond measure.

    Thursday, June 24, 2010

    Unfamiliar Familiars, Part II

    So why look at the strange, the bizarre, and the unlikeliest of the animal (and monster) kingdoms for familiars?

    I consider that in Fantasy RPGs, those that use magic are not normal anymore. Like those that worked with radioactive materials in the past of the real world, the powers they use can twist and deform them, mentally and physically. Add to that the intense competition between peers and rivals, and you must admit that their perceptions will most probably change.

    For some, any benefit, or any special or unexpected benefit, might suffice. Others will bond with purpose, or perhaps with the one animal that does not fear, or perhaps, scare, them.

    More on this later. For now, a brief explanation of what I'm trying to achieve here, and some more beasties;

    Whatever system you use will probably have a system for familiars. If not, improvise. The animal gains hit points with their master, perceptions, health, and magic can be shared, and special abilities either become apparent, or perhaps controllable, at certain levels.

    The Rust Monster

    These monsters are cute, and purposeful. Although the low level mage is likely to have much in the way of fighter companionship, there are advantages. Good for a druid?
    • At low levels, this will not be fun, and you will not be popular. It may eat the weapons & armour of your foes. It will definitely eat your metal objects, and those of your friends.
    • At the mid levels, you will have some control over it's metal eating issues. Not control, more like a naughty puppy that will try and get away with anything. But better than before. It will also pause when it first detects metal, kind of like a bird dog.
    • At high levels, you can tell it which metals to eat, or not eat, although if it's hungry, and there is nothing else...
    At this stage, it seems that a rust monster familiar is more 'trained' than 'bonded with', although the mage may notice a metallic taste to most foods, and will sometimes be found sucking on small pieces of ironwork...

    Thursday, June 17, 2010

    Sloth Familiar

    This is a test, but we'll see what happens...

    So, you want a familiar for your mage, and the other, more active animals don't appeal. Why can't you choose one of nature's more relaxed beasts?

    You'll probably want a pygmy sloth, that can ride on your shoulders, or in your pocket, as lugging a 7 kg animal through a dungeon would tax the fittest spellcaster.

    But what advantages or powers could bonding with nature's most active vegetable give one, aside from the ability to sleep well at night?

    Here's my suggestions for generic powers given by your sloth familiar;
    • At low levels, the sloth can cause one target creature to fall asleep, or 1-6 targets to feel drowsy and tired, at the mage's level of magical ability.
    • At medium levels, the sloth can shield it's master with its ability to ignore poisons and resist spells and effects that cause one to act in a frenzied or panicked manner.
    • At high levels, the familiar can change to a Giant Ground Sloth, and engage any opposing foes with great power and force.
    That's it for the first test post, and the strangest topic I could cover. Start as you mean to continue.