Alternate oWoD Familiars

The 2nd edition of Werewolf: the Apocalypse had rules for Garou and other shapeshifters having a familiar spirit. They were basically broken (a cheap source for extra Willpower, Rage or Gnosis points – sort of a cheaper Personal Totem that wasn’t mutually exclusive with having a pack totem), but flavorful. Revised edition replaces that with the Numen, which is much less broken but still pretty flavorful and interesting. A player in my very strange mixed oWoD chronicle asked me if there was some way for her character to have a spiritually aware “pet” that, as we discussed its nature, was much closer in nature to the Familiars as found in Mage: the Ascension than anything available in the Werewolf: the Apocalypse gameline. In this case, she wanted what amounts to a small, permanently animated and Awakened plant or “permanently” Materialized plant-spirit of some sort – almost a minor Kami itself… almost.

I wouldn’t allow a Garou to have any such thing, but for a Kami of the particular nature and abilities of the one that asked me, it actually made sense and I was able to see ways that she might go about acquiring such a companion. My instincts were to build something based on the rules for Familiars as laid out in the revised edition Mage book Guide to the Traditions until a friend pointed me to the Chimera rules in Changeling: the Dreaming and yet another system for Familiars found in Forged by Dragon’s Fire.So here I will provide some thoughts on a version of that background suitable for use by a Kami or possibly some other supernatural creature that is neither Mage nor Garou. I could see a Wyrm-cultist whose only supernatural abilities are maybe an Investment or two having one of these, for instance. I have also considered just using the Guide background from Sorcerer Revised (in this case it would probably be a 2-3 point Guide), but I feel like using something fairly detailed here rather than the vague rules provided under the Guide Background.

One of the key differences is of course the fact that Kami and other non-Mages don’t have to worry about Paradox, but mitigating Paradox is sort of the key mechanical function of Familiars in Mage. So we’ll remove that benefit, compensating in some other way. The core rules are mostly just as given for Familiars in Forged in Dragons’ Fire, with a few relatively minor tweaks to allow for a non-Mage version.


Similar in some respects to the Numens that some Garou and Kinfolk have, this is a spirit that is bonded to the character. Unlike a Numen, however, the Familiar is either more or less permanently Materialized or inhabits a physical shell that it has either taken over, spontaneously created itself or somehow had provided for it. They have entered into a spirit pact with the character to serve as a companion, adviser and friend. The members of the Changing Breeds prefer to associate themselves with Totem and Numen spirits, and so they typically may not take this Background. Kinfolk, Kami, Fomori, Wyrm cultists and the like, however, may well keep Familiars .

Some of these flesh-borne spirits are servants, others are more like pets, and some in turn consider the characters to which they are bonded to be the ones that are either servants or pets themselves. Whatever the precise relationship is, the Familiar Beast is able to keep itself in the material world partially by being bound to the life and soul of the character with whom it is associated. Storytellers that want to do so may allow Kinfolk hedge-wizards or other Sorcerers to use these rules in place of Guide, substituting any Gnosis costs for Mana.

Familiars accompany their bonded companions and provide a number of benefits as well as difficulties:

  • Life Link: if the familiar dies, its bonded “owner” instantly loses a number of points of Gnosis equal to its Background value, and they have to roll Willpower (difficulty 5 + the background value) or else be stunned for that many turns also. If the character does not have sufficient points of Gnosis available, then any excess points are drawn from Willpower (if excess yet remains, it is taken in Health Levels of unsoakable Lethal damage.
  • Arcane Connection: anything touching the familiar beast is also considered to be touching the owner, allowing the owner to use touch-range Gifts, Powers or the like that normally affect the area around the user may be centered on the familiar instead at the character’s discretion. Conversely, other people can do the same in reverse, using the familiar as a proxy for using their own powers against the character.
  • Pact: The familiar beast allows access to its knowledge, abilities etc, but  requires certain concessions. The character typically provides some sort of perks appropriate to the creature’s physical form. For example, a familiar beast shaped like a cat might demand that it be petted, fed and otherwise cared for like a pampered feline. The more esoteric, the more steep the requirements usually are. Some might want songs and poems, or demand precious objects to devour, or want the character to swear to certain acts or geasa such as never harming or killing a creature of the familiar’s type. If the pact in question requires specific actions or prohibitions of the owner, then the Flaw value of those actions counts against the cost of the familiar beast.
  • Thaumivorous: Familiars devour Gnosis in order to support their continued existence on the material plane, generally of an amount per week equivalent to the dot value of the Background. An equivalent magical source of food (appropriate forms of what Mages refer to as Tass, and which generally requires some special means of preparation such as cats’ hearts that have been stewed in wine and herbs) can be substituted in the case of masters that either do not have the Gnosis Trait or cannot afford to pay this Gnosis upkeep. Some Familiars (especially Wyrmish varieties) prefer to draw their sustenance from the blood or life force of their masters, taking Health Levels instead.

To create the Familiar, design it as you would a character, using the system from Forged By Dragons’ Fire, pp. 77-93.

The key changes to this system follow:

These Familiars do not have any ability to absorb or mitigate Paradox, since the characters to which they are bonded do not suffer from Paradox.

All references to Essence and Quintessence are to be replaced with Gnosis.

Familiar Types

There are several different classes of Familiars that can be selected, as detailed in Forged By Dragon’s Fire, but a few of the types are modified. Most  Familiars will be of the Animal, Bygone or Elemental varieties, though certain deranged or otherwise strange  characters still might cobble together Constructs or even Undead familiars for themselves.

The first major change based on familiar type is that no Familiars garner Paradox for their bonded characters.

The rules for Animals and Constructs are largely unchanged.

Obviously fantastic Bygones, Elementals and Undead larger than about the size of a cat typically cause reduced Delirium (at +2 Willpower on the chart), and those larger than human sized generally inflict full Delirium, at the Storyteller’s discretion. These same Familiar types are also subject to a Geasa if they are of Gaian origin, or have the equivalent of 5 points of Taints or Flaws if they are not. If the player has an alternate weakness in mind to make up for the removal of these Familiar types’ Paradox, then that may be used subject to the Storyteller’s approval.

(Example: Alesia wants her plant-aspected Kami to have a familiar that is an animate, intelligent bundle of cat vine that is roughly the size and shape of, yes, a cat – this is definitely a Familiar of the Bygone type, and an alternate weakness that one of the players suggested for it is that whenever any being that is susceptible to the Delirium can see the Familiar, it loses its power of movement, effectively transforming temporarily back into a normal inanimate plant. When the human looks away, the cat vine is mobile once again. This was acceptable to all concerned, and was taken as the Familiar’s weakness.)

The Charm lists may be used more or less as given, though Paradox Nullification is obviously not available. At the Storyteller’s discretion, Familiars can also take low level (up to 4-point at most) Powers from Possessed: a Player’s Guide for their stated Power cost in freebie points, and Taints in the same way. Typically, Gaian familiars can select Powers as if they were Kami, Weaverish ones as if they were Drones and Wyrmish Familiars as if they were Fomori. Wyld Familiars are rather less probable than other types.

For the thing’s stats it is often good to make its physical abilities the rough equivalent of some animal that’s roughly the right size and degree of mobility. A good source for equivalent stats would be the Werewolf ST’s Companion or perhaps the Bygone Bestiary.


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2 Responses to “Alternate oWoD Familiars”

  1. Anonymous Reader Says:

    I’ve heard that Bygone Bestiary’s creatures can be a bit of a game breaker, but the reviewer, IIRC, suggested that STs who can handle magical beasts IG might want to pick it up.

    • casewerk Says:

      It is only a game breaker if the game isn’t ready for magical beasties running around. Doesn’t fit super well in most modern chronicles, but it’s great for umbral realms, the inside of a Marauder’s Quiet, Dark Ages, or Sorcerer’s Crusade.

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