M-U Familiar Benefits

I like the idea that familiars add to M-U power, and killing one is a pretty hard blow to the M-U. But taking permanent HP loss on its death means as a player I never use a familiar under 1E D&D rules.

Here’s my take on it:

Familiars can gain effective M-U levels if the M-U puts XP into the familiar. It’s kinda like how we do henchmen: instead of the henchman taking a 1/2 share of XP, the employer can split up to half his XP with the henchman. So if the party gains 600 XP, and the master’s share is 100, he can give up to 50 of that away among his various henchmen, familiar, etc. He has to take at least 50 for himself though. An NPC recipient can’t get XP from more than one PC per award (so the whole party couldn’t employ a guy and give him 300 of their 600).

In this case, the familiar doesn’t actually get to cast spells. He gains the HP, saves, attack chance, etc. for his HD or his M-U level, whichever is better. But if the M-U casts a spell from his memory, the familiar can give him a spell from its roster to replenish him (one per round let’s say).

If the familiar dies, the bond is broken. The familiar can be raised from the dead but won’t be your familiar anymore unless you cast Find Familiar again and somehow ensure that he’s the target. Especially important is that he loses his entire store of XP, which means the M-U is now back to square one in terms of familiar level. He’s stuck with his own spell capacity.

Other benefits of having a familiar include:

1: Telepathic communication with it, which means you might have an interpreter if the familiar knows other languages.
2: Sense through its eyes/ears/etc. up to 1 mile away.
3: If the familiar is on your person, and you save against an area-effect (Fireball, Lightning Bolt), the familiar is unaffected. If you fail the save, the familiar must roll on its own.
4: The familiar is always 100% loyal and while it may express misgivings it will obey even the cruelest mistreatment.
5: The familiar can remain awake while the M-U is occupied or asleep, making a surprise attack on the M-U less likely.
6: Familiars typically have some excellent ability: birds can fly very fast and have good vision, toads can swim and breathe water, many others can climb easily or run quickly, and all are small and good at hiding.
7: If a familiar completely stays out of a fight, on the M-U’s person, monsters typically don’t attack it. If the familiar starts giving spells, administering potions, or even entering melee it’s fair game and will probably get whacked as it tends to have little combat ability (AC, HP, saves).
8: Familiar Maladies are hilarious.
9: Familiars give some special benefit to the M-U as a trait that rubs off on him. I don’t like the 3E D&D familiar trait table because it’s all skill check or saving throw, which is weak and isn’t useful in 1E/2E. Use the below:

Basic Familiars
Badger … +1 STR, remain active until dead (such as a system with up to -10 HP before death)
Cat … +1 DEX, Hide in Shadows / Move Silently as Thief
Hawk … +1 CHA, triple vision distance
Mouse … +1 DEX, Pick Pockets as Thief
Raven / Owl … +1 WIS, speaks 1d4 languages master doesn’t know and 2 he does
Serpent … +1 CON, normal snakes won’t attack
Toad … +1 CON, swim at full walking speed, triple hold-breath duration
Weasel … +1 STR, Climb Walls as Thief

Note that no familiar gives +1 INT (unless you want most M-Us taking that familiar) and the benefits are visually subtle and non-damaging (no familiar lets you blast people with Acid Arrow or something).

I don’t think the Thief skill benefits are out of line or in any way diminish the Thief. As I’ve said before, I consider a Thief’s most important skills to be Open Locks / Remove Traps / Hear Noise, and it’s great if more people can Hide/Sneak like the Thief because then he’s not the lone scout (and Rangers, Monks, Elves, and Halflings already get sneaking abilities anyway).

Special familiars like pseudo-dragons and imps give special abilities as shown in the monster description (it seems these creatures exist in the rules to be familiars). I’d add a bunch like Hypnotoad, Mini-Beholder, and Winged Cat. Also I don’t see why some people have a problem with Brownies, they’re like awesome little magical butlers.

There should be plenty of magic items a familiar can use, such as amulets, rings, anything really small. I’d say only speaking familiars can activate a command word – it’s up to you whether familiars can talk but I’d definitely say Ravens and Owls can even if the rest can’t. Remember if that Owl keeps firing off Magic Missiles from his master’s wand he’s going to be a pretty tempting target for enemies.

From a game balance perspective, this is also great news for the monsters, since if a familiar is wearing a Ring of Protection it means one of the PCs isn’t wearing it.

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