Building Less Familiar Familiars

Find Familiar in D&D has come a long way with 5th edition. In the old days, they could be a huge gamble with relatively minor returns.  But now they can add both utility and tactical advantage to your character’s repertoire.  Sadly, not all familiars are created equally in this regard. In fact, we have a saying at our gaming tables… “Owl familiar, is best familiar”. 😉

This is a bit of an exaggeration of course but in a great many cases and excluding some niche cases, the owl really does stand out. Its flight, vision, perception, movement rate and “flyby”… the power to engage a foe, perform a Help action and extract itself without invoking an attack of opportunity can be a big game changer, particularly at lower levels and with certain character concepts.

So, during my lunch break, I thought I’d throw together a low-impact way to make familiars a bit more versatile.  My guiding principle was that while familiars look like natural creatures they are actually highly magical extra-planar entities that merely look like their mundane animal counterparts.  As such, they might manifest their summoner’s desires and impressions about what a magical counterpart should be.  But I also didn’t want to create a massive rewrite of the familiar rules or a huge bestiary of obscure animals.

Here is my compromise:

Base Familiar Template:

Choose a Tiny mundane animal from or similar to the list provided in the Find Familiar spell description.  Remove all special abilities and powers from the Monster Manual entry.  The template below replaces all statistics unless stated otherwise.

Type: Celestial, Fey, Fiend (caster’s choice)

Size: Tiny

Stat Array:  Unchanged

Melee:

+1 to hit, reach 5’, one target

Hit: 1 damage (Choose Slashing, Piercing, or Bludgeoning)

AC: 11

Hit Points: 3

Skills: Perception +2, Stealth +2

Passive Perception: 12

Move: 20’

Familiar Abilities (5 Points):

Spend 5 points and provide explanations/justifications for the familiar’s abilities and gifts.

  • 1 – Darkvision (60’)
  • 2 – Blindsight (60’)
  • 1 – Flight (60’)
  • 1 – Spiderclimb (30’)
  • 1 – Fleet (60’):  Increase base/ground movement.
  • 1 – Aquatic:  Familiar can only breathe water, gains 60’ swim speed
  • 1 – Amphibious:  Familiar can breathe water or air, gains 30’ swim speed, needs short rest per day in water or gains 3 level Exhaustion (cumulative)
  • 1 – Keen Perception:  Pick one of the basic senses.  The Familiar gains Advantage on Perception checks with this sense. May be bought multiple times for different senses.
  • 1 – Stealthy:  Familiar gains Advantage on Stealth checks.
  • 2 – Poison:  On a successful hit using its natural attack, the familiar can poison a foe (DC10, 2d4). Harvesting this poison disables this ability for one week.
  • 1 – Speech:  The familiar can speak & comprehend one language known by its master, and use it to communicate within the limits of its intelligence.
  • 2 – Evasive: The familiar doesn’t provoke opportunity attacks when it moves out of an enemy’s reach.
  • 1 – Skillful (+2):  The familiar has a knack with a single new Skill (not cumulative with existing skills).  May be bought multiple times for different skills each time.
  • 1 – Predator:  The familiar is a natural predator or aggressive in nature.  Upgrade the base template: Melee: +3 to hit, 1d3 damage, increase size to small.
  • 1 – Survivor:  The familiar is tougher, more resilient or more deft at surviving threats. Upgrade base template to AC: 13, HP: 6

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