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Familiars» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Familiars: a semi-review rss

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Steffan O'Sullivan
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"All history is made up. Good history is made up by good historians; bad history is made up by the others." -David Macaulay
"We talked a little more of Milesians and Firbolgs; but I do not write what he told me here, as it is at variance with things I have written already, as is often the case with legend, whence comes a pleasing variety." -Lord Dunsany
A semi-review (meaning I've read it thoroughly but haven't yet played it) of Familiars.

The Setting

Familiars is a role-playing game set in the fantasy town of Mevania, which the author tells us is based on the real Italian town of Bevagna. The player characters are all magical familiars of wizards in this town, and as such are either animals (nothing larger than a dog) or a homunculus, basically an animated clay/straw/wooden doll.

The hitch is that magic is illegal and the Inquisition of the Church is active in hunting down wizards - and their familiars - and putting them to death. Wizards exist anyway, but must operate in complete secrecy. Since magic in this world is ritual driven, wizards need not only time and quiet to focus, but also ingredients, and that's the job of the familiars.

The familiars are part animal, and part supernatural spirit. They are more intelligent than the animal body they occupy, but still have much of the characteristics of the host animal. They can communicate with their wizard telepathically, but run the risk of breaking the wizard's concentration during a ritual, so such an attempt should be limited. And in fact it is, by "Help Us, Master Points" which have the unfortunate acronym of HUMPs. PCs must spend HUMPs to contact their masters, and they have a limited supply.

Character Creation

Thirteen different animal species plus one homunculus are available for PC characters. Each species has a variable amount of points to spend on Attribute levels. They also have innate Gifts, which vary from species to species, and a list of other Gifts that particular species may select. Some species have Flaws, while others do not - but may take a Flaw to select an additional Gift. Each animal is given a Size number ranging from 1 to 5, which is simply a scale to itself, not based on any units.

The animals allowed are fairly common familiar choices in the old tales: cats, owls, ravens, toads, bats, snakes, magpies, lizards - and also include some interesting choices: doves, mice, dogs, shrews, or rabbits. And the homunculus, of course. The author promises more species in a future supplement.

There are five attributes:

Strength (which is limited to a maximum of Size +1),
Aura (presence, will, charisma, etc.) and

Players will have from 17-19 points to spend among these five attributes, with a minimum of 1 in each attribute. Only Strength has an upper limit.

Characters then have their innate Gifts and possibly Flaws by species, and players may then choose one more Gift from the species' list. Each character starts with 5 HUMPs.


Familiars uses a very simple system called The Rule of 13. In an uncontested action, the player rolls 2d6, adds his relevant attribute, subtracts any difficulty modifiers, and if the result is 13+, succeeds at the task. Doubles are either spectacular success or failure. Opposed actions are simply 2d6 plus relevant attribute plus any modifiers for each opponent. Very simple and it avoids the pitfalls of a flat distribution - for the most part, I like it. (Which statement expresses my personal taste - YMMV.) I'm not sure I'd use it if I were GMing the game, but I would be happy to play in a game where the GM chose to use such a system, no problem.

Game Master Section

Each of the 40 Gifts and six Flaws available are spelled out in detail, with appropriate game modifiers included. There's a section on awarding and spending Experience points, and how to resolve common actions such as falling, lifting, carrying, fighting, chases, wounds, stealth, hiding, etc.. Homunculi are given extra coverage, as they are the only familiars with hands and the disadvantage of not being able to pass as an ordinary animal - remember, magic is illegal, and familiars are consider evil by the Church.

There's a list of otherworld creatures the PCs can encounter, ranging from vampires to ghosts to imps to various creatures of faerie to "stray familiars" - those who have lost their masters.

Finally, there's a town map and an adventure called Fool's Gold to get you started.

My Opinions

Based solely on reading, not having yet played, I can say I'm definitely in love with the setting and ability to play familiars! I like the Gifts and descriptions of each animal and the whole Inquisition issue - I'm fond of settings in which stealth and wits are more important than frontal assaults.

The selection of animals available as familiar is excellent and even intriguing.

The mechanics seem adequate, but I'd probably translate the setting to Fudge, which is very easily done. I'm a little unsure of the HUMPs - I'd have to play with them to find the right level. I like the list of NPC creatures, and it would be easy to add others from folklore. The included adventure reads well and will probably play well - I'll use it, for certain.

All in all, I'm very glad I bought this product (I have the less expensive pdf version rather than the print) and will definitely be basing a game on this setting!

[Note: this is one of my series of semi-reviews of Indie game products.]

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