Today, in honor of the word "Familiar" I begin with hard-won gamer advice, learned from repeating the same mistake at many tables:
Don't name your character's pets

Pets, pack animals and familiars are made of blackboxinite--the same indestructible material that survives plane crashes. Total Party Kill? Disintegrated? Crushed "Babe Ruth" style by a giant? Doesn't matter, your pet will survive the encounter and come out still holding a bunch of your stuff.

Pets are also infinitely transportable. Even if you are 1200 feet and 7 climbing checks from the surface. Your giant lava lizard familiar is always there to give you the +2 "breathing through your eyelids" bonus.

But they do have one flaw: They become vulnerable if your GM notices that they are there.

You pet may be unhurt while you barely survive a direct blast of black dragon acid breath, but remind the GM that you get a +2 to your dex save, because you have a mouse familiar, and suddenly the mouse is having to make a save as well, to avoid getting skewered by all the poison darts the GM just threw at you. One bad roll and you're trying to offset the penalties you earned by losing a familiar, while also cursing yourself for picking a pet that only had 1d3 hit points in the first place.

Seriously, though, pets and familiars can really add to a game. Played properly, they become members of the party. They have their own personalities, their own actions, and people react to them as much as to the players. In my first Guardians campaign, people generally didn't notice Bud the Ranger. Rather, they noticed Sparty, the 7' long wolverine who wandered around with him.

In our current game, one of the characters has a giant weasel, and the player has a large weasel stuffed animal that he brings to each game. This physical manifestation just makes the pet more real to all of us. Enough so that another player represents his giant mouse pet with a bowling ball-sized stuffed mouse. (And when I was named crow-friend to a bunch of crows we found in the woods, I also brought in my stuffed white duck puppet, as a one-time joke.)

These familiars and pets obviously have names and do fine. The "don't name your pets" advice really came to the forefront early in our Three Kingdoms campaign. We had enough money, even as low-level characters, that we'd buy horses. And I kept naming mine. I believe I lost one to a fireball, one got dissolved/eaten, and one was unrecoverably stolen. Finally, I got yelled at by the other players for naming the horses, as it clearly was causing them to get killed off.

Even summoned pets can be fun. Back in a 2nd edition game, one of the casters kept bringing up an Unseen Servant who he called "George." He would send George to open chests, check doors, etc. As a result, George got blown up several times by traps--and the next time he was summoned, he was carrying an "Unfair" sign and marching back and forth. Pure comic roleplay, but that scene was burned into everybody's mind, and all unseen servants since have had personalities.

A lot of familiars really do end up being indestructible, doing nothing but powering a small bonus to some skill or ability score. And what I've found is that they are so much more fun when they get to come out and be part of the game. Sure, there is some risk, but it brings enough to the game that it's worth it. In other words, I retract my earlier advice and suggest instead that you DO name your pets.



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