Atlas   Rules   Resources   Adventures   Stories       FAQ   Search   Links

Mystaran Familiars in OD&D

by Scott Moore

The original D&D game did not offer elves, foresters, or magic users the ability to summon familiars. Because of this fact, there was no reference to familiars in any of Mystara-related products until it became one of the campaign worlds for the second edition of AD&D. Since familiars can contribute significantly to role-playing, character development, and plot hook generation in a campaign, they can make for an entertaining addition to an OD&D campaign.

The following version of the Find Familiar spell is intended to be a first level magic user spell, based very closely on the version described in the second edition of AD&D, but tweaked for use in Mystaran-based OD&D campaigns with a few additional modifications:

- There is no chance of failure when attempting to summon a familiar. I don't like the idea of having PCs go through a ton of effort for no return and then forcing them to wait a game year for a re-try. I'm pretty sure their players wouldn't like it either.

- No chance of automatic character death when a familiar dies. Automatic deaths aren't fun, unless you're an evil GM. As with the previous note, I don't like doing it to PCs and I'm pretty sure the players wouldn't enjoy it either.

Find Familiar

Range: 1 mile per level of the caster

Duration: See below

Effect: Summons one familiar

This spell allows the elf, forester, or magic user to summon a familiar to act as an aide and companion. Familiars are typically small creatures, such as bats, cats, crows, ferrets, frogs, hawks, rats, lizards, snakes (vipers), owls, toads, weasels, or even mice, although larger creatures such as wolves or ravens may occasionally respond to the summoning. A familiar benefits a spell caster by granting specific abilities, acting as an ally, and being able to serve as a scout, sentry, or spy as well. A spell caster can have only one familiar at a time and he has no control over what sort of creature answers the summons.

The familiar is always more intelligent than other creatures of its type, typically by 2 or 3 Intelligence points, and its bond with the spell caster confers upon it an extended lifespan, such that it ages slowly and will not die of natural causes as long as its master is alive. A spell caster receives the heightened senses of his familiar, which allows the spell caster to be surprised only on a roll of 1 on 1d6. If the character is already surprised only on a 1, they gain the Alertness general skill (or a +1 bonus if it is already possessed as well) instead. Normal familiars have 2-4 hit points plus 1 hit point per caster level, and an Armour Class of 6 (unless the creature's regular hit points or AC would be better).

A spell caster has an empathic link with his familiar and can issue mental commands at a distance of up to 1 mile. Empathic responses from a familiar are generally quite simple. Basic concepts will be easily communicated back to the master, but instinctual responses may seem disjointed, more random, or even frantic. A spell caster does not receive any sensory input from his familiar. That is to say they do not see through its eyes, or experience the same sounds, tastes, smells, or tactile sensations that the familiar experiences first hand.

The familiar gains their master's saving throws, if better than the familiar's own, whenever they are in physical contact. If a special attack would normally cause damage, the familiar takes no damage on a successful save and only half damage on a failed save. If separated from their master by distances of greater than a mile, the familiar loses 1 hit point each day, dying when it reaches 0. If the familiar dies, the spell caster must pass a Constitution check or permanently lose 1d4+1 hit points (these points can be restored to the caster only through a raise dead fully spell). Even if the Constitution check is successful, the spell caster still loses 1 point from his Constitution. The spell caster may not summon another familiar until a full game year has passed since the death of their previous one.

When the spell caster decides to find a familiar, he must burn 1000 gp worth of incense and herbs. The spell is then started and must be continued until the familiar comes or the casting time is completed. The spell may take anywhere from one to twenty-six hours (a full Mystaran day) to complete. The GM the casting time as well as what type of creature responds to the spell.

Failure to properly feed or care for the familiar, intentional mistreatment, or continued unreasonable requests will have adverse effects on the familiar's relationship with its master. In extreme situations, an immortal may intervene, releasing the familiar from its duty. Purposely arranging the death of one's own familiar incurs great disfavour from Immortals, always with dire results. In either case, a character may likely not be granted another familiar and may suffer repercussions should they ever attempt to pursue immortality.

For GMs wishing to randomly determine a character's familiar, the following table may be used. The selection of familiars in this table is based on the overlap of options available in 2nd edition AD&D (one of the two game systems for which Mystara was a campaign setting) and the current set of standard familiars for d20 v3.5 (with the immortal option added). This gives a set of options that allow for the most common familiars found in Mystara, while allowing for a relatively easy conversion for normal familiars to a d20 version of the campaign in the future, if need be.

D20 Roll Familiar Granted Abilities

1-7 Black Cat Hear Noise as a first level thief

8-11 Hawk Superior distance vision under lighted conditions

12-15 Owl Night vision equals human daylight vision

16-19 Toad +3 hit points

20 Immortal See Familiar entry in "Mystara Monstrous Compendium Appendix" for additional rules

The Nature Of Familiars

Based on the 2nd edition AD&D rules, the majority of familiars were simply highly intelligent (relatively speaking) animals that formed a special bond with the summoning character. In Mystara, a few familiars are actually Immortals, trapped in that form either to perform a special mission or as a part of a punishment passed against them by a council of other Immortals.

Bard Games' "The Compleat Spell Caster" offered an interesting third possibility: familiars are actually minor demons, so desperate to escape the nether realms of torture, that they willingly leave their physical forms behind to possess the body of a simple animal on the Prime plane. They also change their alignment to match that of their summoner, as they would never want to do anything that may anger their new master, lest they get sent back from whence they came. Either or both of these "more than just an animal" options can make for an interesting plot hook in a campaign.


"The Compleat Spell Caster." 1983: pages 26-28. Bard Games.

"Advanced Dungeons & Dragon 2nd Edition Player's Handbook." 1989: page 134. TSR, Inc.

"Mystara Monstrous Compendium Appendix." 1994: pages 41-42. TSR, Inc.

"Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook v3.5." 2003: pages 52-53. Wizards of the Coast, Inc.