I’ve been reading the Golden Compass series (I highly recommend this series btw). The first book is set in a world where every person has a daemon that is with him or her at all times. The symbiotic relationship and nature of these daemons got me thinking about familiars.

In D&D, familiars are magical creatures summoned by means of a spell or ritual. When the creature is within a certain range, the caster gains some ability. If the familiar is killed, the caster suffers a penalty and may not summon another familiar for a set period.

The problem I’ve always had with familiars is that the benefits seemed pretty minor and the penalties not harsh enough. Many players see familiars as bomb detectors to be sent ahead of the party checking for traps (by walking into them). The penalties don’t seem to be sufficient to curtail this abuse. When a familiar is killed, there is nothing to keep the players from simply camping out for a year and a day until the caster may summon a replacement.

Over the years I have tried various modifications in order to alter the role of the familiar. I like my current rules for them but I thought this new idea was interesting enough to share with you.

Instead of summoning a magical creature to serve as a familiar, how about creating a familiar that is actually a part of the caster? In the aforementioned books, the daemons were actually externalized sentient souls of each individual. I wouldn’t recommend anything with such dramatic consequences, but if the familiar is part of the caster characters may be loathe to put the familiar at risk.

For instance, the caster and familiar could share a single damage pool. Any damage to the familiar would affect the caster. If the familiar dies, so does the caster. Resurrecting the caster would then raise the familiar as well. Personally, I would envision a familiar disappearing in a puff of smoke when it dies, and popping back into existence when the caster is resurrected.

In return, the caster may gain the ability to see, hear, and cast spells through the familiar as if the caster were the familiar (which, in a way, she is).

I’ve intentionally left out any other details as there are all sorts of different ways of developing these familiars further. I just wanted to present the basic idea. I think it makes familiars more important, more personal, and more of a companion that characters wouldn’t be as likely to abuse.