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Magic User Option - Familiars

In Swords & Wizardry Core and Complete a Magic-User gains and retains his spells through the use, manufacture and study of a spell book. At the beginning of each day the Magic-User must study his spell book to commit to memory those spells within the spell book that she believes will be most useful to her that day.

In fantasy fiction the spell book, by a variety of names, is the typical accessory of the wizard and many an iconic scene show the wizard with her book in hand.  However, there is another accessory, just as much a part of the popular image of the spellcaster as the spell book; the familiar. A witch’s black cat, a wizard’s owl and many other combinations of animals and spirits, have accompanied the magic-user throughout the realms of fantasy.

Given that the spellcaster’s familiar is as much as, if not more than, a prominent figure as her spell book, it is interesting that the familiar has not been looked into more.

In the Third Edition of Dungeons and Dragons both Wizards and Sorcerers gained the ability to summon a familiar that would both offer a bonus to a skill and could attack. However, this reduced the familiar to nothing more than a parlor trick, another spell (or in this case spell-like ability) up the spellcaster’s sleeve.  Pathfinder’s Advanced Player’s Guide included the “Witch” character class who stored her spells in a familiar animal; however, the familiar was reduced to being a tribble. Useless save for its one able (tribbles = soothing, familiars = magical USB drives).

In both cases (and there could be more, but these are the ones my sadly rpg-starved mind knows) the familiar is treated as an accessory, a prop and not as an integral part of who or what the wizard is and represents.

Now, take the familiar a different way, say as a manifestation of a tutelary spirit or power animal (spirit guide/spirit animal) and a whole world of possibilities on how to treat a familiar begin to become manifest.

Tutelary spirits/power animals are guardians and guides in the world; a link, subconscious but still there, between the Ward and the other world. It is the job then of the tutelary spirits to assure the safety of their Wards, to assure that the paths taken are the ones best for the Ward and to help impart to the Ward knowledge and wisdom.

Remove this concept from the metaphysical of the real world and place it in the realm of fantasy, take the tutelary spirits away from the subconscious and astral planes and you get the wizard’s familiar.


The majority of magic-users in the world begin their apprentice-ship under a full fledged wizard at a young age; usually under the age of ten. For three years the apprentice studies under her mentor, learning the basics of law and theory, mathematics, science and herb-lore. During this time, the apprentice knows nothing of her familiar nor that of her master’s familiar.

On an apprentice’s thirteenth birthday, she undergoes “the rite” for three days she is left alone in a wild area near her mentor’s tower. She is given no food, no water and no supplies to aid her in those three days. Instructed to mediate during “the rite” the apprentice waits. If successful at some point on the third day the apprentice’s familiar will appear to the apprentice and will bond with her. It is after this bond is created that the apprentice’s training truly begins.

The Rite: During character creation, roll 3d6 and add together the result. Follow the table below. It is suggested that if available the Referee and player should roleplay through “the rite”

Table 1: The Rite
-1 spell per level
+1 spell per level

Familiars: Familiars are guides to spellcasters. It is with them that the majority of the spellcaster’s power lay. Familiars are empathically linked to their Wards offering the Ward insight into the emotions of any given situation (+2 saving throw social) as well as adding their own resolve to their Ward (+1 fear effect).

Familiars as guardians can defend their Wards against threats; however, as their duty is to their Ward and not her friends, the familiar will not enter into conflict unless its Ward is directly threatened. (See Familiar Table for AC[AAC] and Atk).

If a familiar should happen to fall in combat or by any other means, they will disappear from the material plane for 1d4 hours. During this time the magic-user will have access to only half of her spells, and need to make a concentration roll (60%) to successfully cast her remaining spells.



Unfortunately there is no way that I can think of to properly express in game terms the relationship between a Magic-User and her familiar and a familiar and her Ward. Out of game terms, the relationship is one of a dance with each partner leading and following, being parent and child. The relationship is deep and that is reflected, in game terms by the fierce loyalty shown by the Familiar in combat and by how much the loss of a familiar emotionally affects the Magic-User.

Anyway, as usually I hope everyone out there enjoys this, and it can be used no need to ask permission. I just ask that if these rules are put into a book that is placed for sale, I be given credit for what it mine. Also, tell me what you think as I don’t play caster-types so I have no idea if I hit a homerun or struck out.  


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