It's been awhile since our last communication. Word of your success against the vampire nest in Berkenheidt has reached us here in Carinford-Halldon. I'm glad the information I provided for you was able to prove useful.
My old companion Kelly has just sent me an interesting treatise, written by his apprentice Rigi. The girl has become fascinated with the nature of familiars in the Lands of the Mists, and while her work is a trifle basic, I thought the information might be of some use to you.
Spellcasters of various stripes have often found the assistance of a familiar, an animal imbued with a small fraction of the mage's soul, to be invaluable assets in their craft. While able to enhance spellcasting potential, heighten mental acuity, or impart other, more bizarre powers, these companions are also often just as useful for their natural abilities. Such boons come with a price, however: the portion of the soul that empowers a familiar is never drawn from the better aspects of one's psyche. Inevitably, the creature, while fanatically loyal to its master, continually exhorts them to greater heights of evil; constantly counseling them to give in to the darker side of their nature.
What follows are a selection of the most popular familiars found within the Dread Realms, and an analysis of the abilities they impart.
1) Lamordian Opossum
Few creatures are as vile as the Lamordian opossum, sometimes known as the bog opossum or the Musarde river rat. Their pale fur ends in yellowish tips, making their fur the color of tobacco stained cotton. Their long, toothy snouts are capable of opening wide to emit a malicious hiss, and their lashing, naked tails complete the odious package. A few of them are, instead, a smoky black in color. While the pelts of these 'ink opossums' are valuable, the eerie red eyes that accompany such coloration discourage most trappers from pursuing them.
As familiars: The Lamordian opossum encourages the worst aspects of their master's avarice. They urge their masters to take whatever they wish, and to take more than what they need. These familiars are at their cleverest when they are planning a way for themselves or their masters to take something which does not belong to them.
Benefit: Opossums are marsupials. When not actively raising kits, they stuff the pouches on their bellies with all manner of bric-a-brac they have stolen whenever they have gone unnoticed. Any spellcaster with an opossum familiar always counts as having a spell component pouch.
2) Mordentish Sentinel Hound
The Mordentish passion for dog breeding seems to surpass their interest in virtually everything except ghost stories. Although these animals seem broadly similar to outsiders, the Mordentish can tell individual breeds apart at a great distance. Among these breeds, the sentinel hound is of particular interest to the spellcaster. Their distinctive short height and elongated frame, with their long, sleek black coat makes them recognizable even to non-Mordentish. However, it is their spectral silence that makes the breed truly remarkable; every true-bred example of the species is totally mute.
As familiars: Sentinel hounds are used for watching herds or guarding camps throughout the night, and as such are hyper-vigilant to the point of paranoia. When bonded with a spellcaster, they are fond of pointing out suspicious behavior or nefarious possibilities, often where none exist. Unfortunately, they are disconcertingly correct many times, leading their masters to ever increasing heights of suspicion. When danger is revealed, the sentinel hound exhorts its master to attack without hesitation or mercy.
Benefit: Spellcasters with a sentinel hound as a familiar may always roll for initiative, even if they are surprised, although they can still be caught flat-footed.
Found throughout Sri Raji and in some parts of Hazlan, the bird-of-fortune has gained favor as a companion pet for fashionable nobles throughout the Core. It's lustrous plumage drapes down extravagantly. Its brilliant bronze and gold coloration would be enough to make it truly impressive. However, when the bird-of-fortune raises and fans its peacock-like tail, with the white, bronze, and gold display studded with prismatic whorls of color, even the most jaded stop to admire its beauty.
As familiars: Birds-of-fortune are imbued with their master's arrogance. They remind their master constantly how marvelous the two of them are, and never allow the master to be taken in by thoughts of doubt or failure. For those lacking in confidence this can be a boon, but for those susceptible to hubris, a bird-of-fortune can turn their master into the most grandiose braggart imaginable.
Benefit: When calculating caster level for dispel or spell removal effects, a mage with a bird-of-fortune familiar counts his caster level as four levels higher for his spells with a range of 'self.'
4) Invidia Swine
Neither swine nor actually from Invidia, this rodent is about the size of a large rat. It has a much shorter snout, no apparent tail, and such an abundance of fur that they appear to be rounded fuzzy globs with tiny feet. They form the basis of the food chain in parts of Verbrek and Valachan, where they are occasionally raised in hutches by peasants to supplement their diet, as Invidia swine breed rapidly.
As familiars: Content to hide in a pouch, backpack, or pocket, Invidia swine are quick to point out danger to their masters. They also encourage their masters to new heights of amorous action, insightfully pointing out those who display even the subtlest hints of romantic desire. For the shy and reserved, this can provide a great benefit, but more than one repugnant Lothario in the Core boasts an Invidia swine as a familiar. Hazlik has sent one of these creatures to Dominic d'Honaire as a pet; the latter seems ignorant of the subtle message.
Benefit: The mage bonded to an Invidia swine is adept at hiding. When receiving an AC bonus from cover, they increase the bonus by +1.
5) Strahd Slug
The Strahd slug is the name given to the black leech, common wherever damp conditions can be found across the Core and beyond. The name was made common by naturalists loyal to Azalin and has since become the standard appellation everywhere but Barovia. These tiny animals latch on to their victim’s (or master's) flesh and feed on very small amounts of blood. When engorged, they can be one to two inches long, and can show vivid stripes of blue, green, or red coloration.
As familiars: Strahd slugs encourage their masters to do as little as possible. They advise their mages to delegate responsibility and manipulate others to lighten their own workload. Masters with leech familiars either gain a needed calming balance on their personality, or else become lazy and wheedling. The necessities of the slug's diet often means their masters are pale of complexion.
Benefit: The constant effect of a leech cleansing one's blood grants a master with such a familiar a +4 bonus on Fortitude saves against poison and disease (magical or otherwise).
6) Sickle-Beaked Goshawk
A lesser hawk species that thrives in the fields of Falkovnia, the sickle-beaked goshawk is renowned for its viciousness when threatened. It is particularly noteworthy for its habit of attacking other predators to steal their kills. Even much larger animals can be driven away when faced with the long lacerations of the bird's razor sharp beak. With its red belly and tawny back and wings, the goshawk is most frequently seen as the familiar of the rare Falkovnian magic practitioner.
As familiars: Fitting to the land the bird calls home, the goshawk is a proponent of conquest. They encourage their master's to conquer others, whether for power, spells, or prestige. They are always plotting how best to increase their master's standing, and mages with such a familiar are some of the most ambitious in the Demiplane of Dread.
Benefit: Mages with a goshawk familiar have a +2 to their initiative rolls.
7) Harp Goat
The harp goat of Kartakass takes it's name from the mane of long, fine black hair that shoots up from the animal's spine. These goats, which grow no larger than housecats, are common pets in the mountainous land of Kartakass. Loyal companions, they are renowned for their humorous qualities; in addition to being easily trained to bleat for comedic effect, they eat nearly anything and are almost always hungry. Despite this, they can go long stretches without food, and are every bit as sure footed as their larger kin. The harp goat is a natural choice as a familiar for Kartakan wizards, particularly because it arouses no suspicion.
As familiars: Harp goats are gluttonous creatures, and that is a trait they attempt to pass on to their masters. What is good in moderation is better in excess, they say, and should their masters be stopped from indulging, either through external conflict or just their own moderation, the goat is always prepared to offer strategy or justification to fulfill whatever hunger needs satiation, whether that be food, drug, or a desire for power.
Benefit: Harp goats grant their master a +4 to Fortitude saves to resist dehydration and starvation.
Are the benefits of keeping such a familiar worth the temptation they provide? The truth, the Lady Gwen tells me, is that the temptations the familiar brings forth were already present within the mage. The familiar merely gives them voice. Whether one has a familiar or not, the darkness within us is always like unto a beast; if it is not allowed to feed, then it will eventually turn inwards to consume us entirely.
Safe travels and happy hunting,
Frankie Drakeson, Lord Mayor of Carinford-Halldon.
Jim Stearns is a deranged hermit from the swamps of Southern Illinois. In addition to writing for the Black Library, he puts pen to paper for High Level Games and Quoth the Raven. His mad scribblings can frequently be found in anthologies like Fitting In or Selfies from the End of the World, by Mad Scientist Journal. Follow him on Twitter @jcstearnswriter.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.