Monday, 17 September 2012

Player Characters and their Familiars

©1999 Tony DiTerlizzi
Yesterday's events surrounding our 'missing' cat, Tilly, caused me to reflect on a topic that I was never quite happy about during my years as a DM (Dungeon Master).

The Familiar is a magically conjured companion for the magic users (sorcerer or wizard) within the Dungeons & Dragons - wiki's description of D&D - role playing game setting. It is normally one of the following (here I quote from the original Official AD&D Players Handbook v. 2010 by E. Gary Gygax - father of role playing as we know it.):

Familiar Listing according to the result of rolling a 20-sided dice (d20, as it is otherwise known):

©2010Mark Kelly - EvilDM
1-4       Cat, black
5-6       Crow
7-8       Hawk
9-10     Owl
11-12   Toad
13-14   Weasel
15        Special
16-20   no familiar available within spell range

Now, apart from the fact a player character wishing to perform this ritual can only do so once per year, and must stoke up a brass brazier with charcoal, and when burning well, add 100 gp (gold pieces) worth of incense, herbs and fat - whilst these are burning the caster must then begin the incantation, which is continued until the familiar comes or the casting time is finished.

All good and well. But as a reader you have to realise that these 'magically acquired' animals then become bonded with their new master. This means the caster gains in health equal to that of the creature summoned, and also conveys its sensory powers to the caster. Not only that, but both may now converse with each other, and the familiar will act as a guard/scout/spy for its new owner.

Brilliant, eh? You'd think so. But the groans and moans from a player who rolls 11-12 = Toad, would never fail to bemuse and irritate me. I mean, a toad can easily sit under a hat atop a character's head. Brilliant! It had wide-angled vision. Brilliant! It can move virtually undetected when placed on the ground, or in water. Brilliant! But still players complained.

Imagine, if you will, the brilliance of being symbiotically linked with a creature such as a toad. It would, you have to admit, be amazing. Although, I'm not sure how the conversation topics would go?

Now, back to my point: losing a pet, be it temporary or permanent is a traumatic experience, without a doubt. So during my rpg sessions I really couldn't get to grips with a situation where a player would happily sacrifice an animal companion, be it magical or otherwise, and not bat an eyelid?
Please do not misunderstand, some players would be bereft at losing their animal companion to the point where they felt inclined not to continue with their character - these were the true role players; they had bonded and forged a relationship with their animals. But those players who didn't give a toss, they bothered me.
©2011 Cedric Atizado -

'But it's only a game', I hear you say. True. But considering my group was run for just over 20 years, where they nurtured their characters, built up a whole world dynamic populated with friends, family, enemies, lovers, sometimes wives or husbands, and companions - animal or otherwise, it seemed a callous act for a player to cast aside a faithful companion in order to save their own skin. I just question as to their true understanding of their grasp on 'role playing'? Granted, if their character was played as a callous and manipulative buh-stard, ok, I could go along with that. But quite often, these characters were supposed to be the 'heroes' - the good guys, if you like - of the game world.

As a DM I found it extremely difficult not to play the 'hand of God' and strike their character down in a way that befitted their cruel act towards their deceased companion. Such are the trails and tribulations of a role playing session and the DM's conscience.

I suppose what I'm trying to say is this: be it in a game world or reality, I could never brush off the welfare of an animal, and as I discovered, even the thought of having lost a beloved cat, for whom life seems to revolve around making my life a test of Job, I was upset and extremely worried.

What does that say about the player and, more importantly, the person who happily sacrifices their in-game companion?


Jay Murphy said...

Nothing wrong with not brushing off the wellfare of an animal. We play the game to feel a connectedness to fantasy worlds. The best world creators will have the connectedness manifest in as many ways as possible; including being completely remorseless to slay a "boon" companion.

Mark K said...

I see what you're saying. Maybe I'm just too soft? But I have noticed same said people are very cut-throat with fellow party members at times. Maybe they just have a greater survival instinct?

JoJo said...

Never having played D&D or any RPG, I have no idea what any of the above post meant!

Mark K said...

hehehe... I just love the fact you've read it and commented :)

Matt said...

I also have a problem when players use their in-game pets as disposable toys. Fortunately as GM/DMs we have an entire fantasy world to back us up.

I would just make the bond weaker with abused familiars. After all, it's a mutual connection, not chains of bondage. I would allow familiars to hesitate in performing dangerous actions or outright refusing if certain death is on the table.

On the other hand, a familiar that is treated well and respected would more than likely be willing to give it's life if it's master was truly in peril.

Mark K said...

Hi Matt - long time no see ;)
Excellent point regarding the respected and well-treated familiar.

I certainly think it is down to us as a DM/GM to add a little character and personality to these familiars in order to emphasise that these are not just empty vessels to do with as you will, but also part of the party on equal terms, sentient and feeling. Then if the player still insists on throwing the familiar's life away in a ruthless, almost casual manner, then we, as a DM/GM, have confirmation that that person is a bastard. :)

Anonymous said...

woop i play rpg with my mates and some of the stuff we get up to is hilarious! respect to the DM who creates the scenarios. Roll a D20! :p

Mark K said...

Yup, I love the rpg scene with friends sat round the table - no-one ever truly knows which way things will go, and that include the DM ;)