A familiar is a spirit created by magical energies from a realm parallel to reality. These spirits are completely loyal to its summoner, and are made to obey their master in any way the individual sees fit. They take the form that their master desires: creatures such as wolves or dragons, objects such as books or pots, etc. Familiars are made for a specific purpose, including attack and defense, securing specific and important objects, a repository of information, and other things. They stay in the real world with their master after they are summoned, and have a psychic connection with them so they can always be in contact.

To create a familiar, a ritual circle must be drawn around the summoner, who then draws energy from the magical realm and shapes it into the form the familiar takes. These spells take weeks or months to perform, with much effort. Every familiar is unique, and have different attributes. They vary in intelligence, size, strength and weaknesses depending on the user's skill, tastes, and power. Once a form and attributes are chosen for the spirit, it cannot be changed unless the summoner banishes it back to the realm and starts the process again.

I want this system to work in a way similiar to a character creation concept in video games. A summoner would obviously want to make his familiar as perfect as possible without debilitating attributes. However, the energy from this magical realm is limitless. There is more than enough for all users, and cannot "run out" due to the number of people drawing from it. I want to design this system to stop individuals from making their spirits all powerful. I also want to limit the amount of spirits a person can have. How can this system be designed to ensure that familiars have both strength and weaknesses?

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    $\begingroup$ You might check out Sanderson's 2nd Law. brandonsanderson.com/sandersons-second-law $\endgroup$ – David Elm Sep 30 '17 at 23:50
  • $\begingroup$ Aren’t you just describing Pokémon? $\endgroup$ – DonielF Oct 1 '17 at 3:54
  • $\begingroup$ Simple: during the summoning ritual, user is manifested as astral projection inside the magical world where s/he tries to tame a familiar. (It takes trust and skills to domesticate a juvenile, they can interact with our world as long as you keeps feeding them energy which drain your stamina) $\endgroup$ – user6760 Oct 1 '17 at 10:05
  • $\begingroup$ Quick note for close voters: The OP can't fix issues with the question if you don't tell them the problem. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Oct 1 '17 at 10:28

Putting a bigger engine in a car doesn't necessarily make it go faster. You have to consider weight, downforce, tyre traction, how the drive train works etc etc.

Your Familiars may be in a similar situation. If increasing any one 'stat' has a complex and potentially deleterious effect on the performance of another aspect of your Familiar then having 'infinite' power available isn't necessarily a good thing, instead you want to use just enough power to get the maximum effect you're looking for.

Consider Jenny the Golem.

Jenny is built to defend a priceless artefact, and has two aspects: strength and speed.

Increasing strength to deal with big ol warriors lowers speed. Fine, we can pump more magic into speed to compensate, right? Sure. But doing so means that Jenny's heat vision no longer works, and she can't spot invisible thieves any more. Less than ideal. So we invent a magical mcguffin and power it up to help Jenny get over this, but that introduces another weakness that can only be overcome by....

In the same way as a bigger engine might slow down a car, throwing more magic at it could make a familiar worse at their job, so a single definition of 'perfect' just doesn't exist.


Make the magical energy a little disobedient. When a wizard draws magic into our world to craft a familiar, that magic has goals of its own; goals which are not necessarily in line with those of the wizard. The more energy drawn, the bigger the goals and the more capable the magic is to achieve them.

In this way, a wizard who creates a powerful and obedient familiar may also be simultaneously creating an equally powerful yet completely uncontrollable demon who hungers only for the wizard's blood. In choosing to arm herself with a powerful tool (the familiar), the wizard creates a powerful enemy (the demon).

If the continued existence of the familiar is then linked to continued existence of the demon, the wizard's life is further complicated. She cannot destroy the demon without loosing her familiar. She must continually defend herself from the demon and drive it away whenever it attacks; but she must always be careful to leave the demon "alive" (and preferably caged) or loose her familiar.

Why do wizards not have all powerful familiars? Because they don't want to have to continually death-dance with all powerful demons!

Why do wizards not have lots of less powerful familiars? Because keeping track of lots of less powerful demons (imps) is a hassle and even a lowly imp can slit a wizard's throat while she sleeps.

Magic is never exclusively good or evil. It is always both.

  • $\begingroup$ I suggest reading the Long Price quartet. The Andats (the familiars of that series) always have the ulterior motive of Indirectly killing their summoners so they can stop existing. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Sep 30 '17 at 15:19
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    $\begingroup$ @JoeBloggs, thanks for the reading recommendation! I will add it to my list. I considered something similar to what you are suggesting, but it contradicted the OP's specification that the familiar be absolutely obedient to its summoner. Also, packaging both the benefit and the consequences in a single package cuts down on the number of ways those consequences play out. Giving each side of the spell a body and then captivating the wizard with the beneficial side of the new creations, allows the malevolent side to take advantage of the wizard's distraction. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Sep 30 '17 at 15:24
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, the Andats were absolutely obedient, just very, very devious. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Sep 30 '17 at 15:40
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    $\begingroup$ ...as in the monkey's paw. Got it! Thanks again for the book recomendations. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Sep 30 '17 at 15:52
  • $\begingroup$ Exactly. I vaguely remember something about carelessly worded requests leading Andats to destroy entire civilisations as a roundabout way of getting their masters to starve to death. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Sep 30 '17 at 17:21

Mutually Exclusive Properties

You can arrange properties to be "mutually exclusive" in a way that makes sense. As some examples: familiars which help with divination spells cannot help with illusions; a fire-enhancing familiar cannot help with cold magic; the more autonomous a familiar, the less magical aid it gives; and so on. This makes a monkey-familiar less helpful in magic than a book-familiar with magic.

Form Matters

A familiar's form must have a symbolic representation to what they're enhancing. A book familiar is good at enhancing intelligence and empathy, but won't do much to help the summoner's agility. A monkey-shaped familiar will do wonders for agility, but will not help with elemental magic. Since the familiar can only have one form, this limits how well the familiar can help with things.

Harmful Magical Energies

Creating a familiar is harmful to the summoner. You "buy" attributes by permanently sacrificing bits of your body or the mere act of tapping into that infinite energy wears a person out. This would also explain the "glass cannon trope" common to many wizards in fantastic settings.

  • $\begingroup$ 'You're nothing but a weedy little wizard' 'Maybe, but my familiar is a badass.' $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Sep 30 '17 at 15:16

Words/thoughts are fuzzy.

To demonstrate: If I say/think the word "tree", it can mean anything from one of those tiny bush-like things that are slightly bigger than a bush to a redwood that you can carve into a house. Logically, if I design a familiar, I have to describe it in some way. So if we stick with my previous example, I tell my familiar to be tree-shaped. this gives it some room to comfortably move around in. Other instructions give it more room. Since we are talking about enslaving something that is more powerful than anyone, I think that I at least want to give instructions that are as exact as possible, so that it doesn't somehow escape and eat me / blow up / cause freak weather / ... .

However, now we get a new problem:

If I want to convey the exact shape of the tree we are using, I have to describe as much as possible, and keep going for a long time. Eventually I will get bored of describing every twig, and leave some stuff out.


I want my familiar to be as simple as possible.

This gives the plus point that if you want the spells to be able to be completed by other people, you can have more people working on writing then reading the spell.


It's hard to say if you're making a game system or if you're telling a story. The answer changes.

Imagine what would happen if, instead of calling/creating a familiar with certain amazing attributes, the magician used magic to simply grant those attributes to himself. That should be easier than creating an intelligent being having those attributes, right? We can see immediately that the idea of a familiar is overpowering. We're permanently adding More.

The only way to mitigate this is to add a real cost to the creation of the familiar. And I don't mean money.

In game terms, let's say the familiar has attributes similar to those granted by a spell. The magic use would lose access to that spell (slot or points) as long as the familiar was in our world. So a familiar with numerous attributes would run the caster completely out of capability. Or in a game with numeric attributes values (like D&D's intelligence attribute), the caster's INT might be reduced commensurate with the quality of the familiar. Now the caster might have summoned Jenny the Golem, but his int is 14 instead of 18.

Finally, the cost has to equal the benefit. A Jenny the Golem who guards a castle is certainly kind of useful. An identically capable Jenny the Golem who meatshields for an adventuring magician is very different. In the latter case, the magician is using the familiar to negate the weaknesses of his class while retaining the benefits of the class. That's a non-starter.


The total "character points" are determined by the length of time of the conjuring. The allocations of points are essentially random, but can be influenced in a broad way by the conjuring. In order to conjure a really strong familiar,it may take a significant portion of a mage's lifespan. Most mage's are limited in the amount of time they can continuously (money, starvation, etc). Conjuring a really strong familiar requires dedication from a team, supporting the master conjurer with food, drink, and other means through the duratiin of the ceremony that can last years (reminder: open a Starbucks franchise in the magic quarter).


Strong vs Cool

The familiar concept must be well-thought before ritual. That means you must decide whether the familiar is flying or not, red or blue, physical or magical, short or long nails, furry or hairy, and many other options. Chances are you are suffering from Character Creation OCD. Well, it's your first familiar, after all, so it must be perfect!

Another week and you still can't decide the color of its horn.

Well, let's hit the random button. Voila! You've just summoned a lame Giant Slime as your partner for life!

That's why people can't just have an overpowered familiar. They can spend a week to think about the power, and another for the appearance. Of course, you can spend two weeks for each, and nothing is stopping you from spending a complete month in designing the power.

But you cannot bring a green blob to the annual Summoner Conference. No. Not even if it is as overpowered as the Dark Soul bosses. Except if it shoots laser.


While the energy to summon and keep the familiar around comes from a limitless place, that doesn't mean that there isn't--

A cost to the caster

This could be anything, and in the world of min-maxing, having a disadvantage because of an advantage you have is a thing.

You could work it like this: --standard familiar with minimal benefit to start = no cost other than components for the the spell, can't be very large, and don't have attributes not much above what an animal does. So while loyal, they aren't that bright, at least to begin with. as the wizard meets new challenges and grows in magic, so too does the familiar, which, is good because if they die the wiazard has to start again.

--scale of cost, as another poster suggested, an arm and a leg....but it doesn't have to be that, the world of sacrifice is a broad one, and there are plenty of ideas out there--they are blind or deaf for instance, or had to sacrifice something or someone else.

--OR the spells they can cast are nerfed slightly, the more powerful the familiar is. (The power may be limitless, but it may have to run through the wizard, limiting what they can do otherwise within a few seconds/minutes/days. Think of it like an endless supply of water--the tap is only so wide, even if it is endless.)

A Point Buy System Based on the Caster's Power

So the attributes vary from familiar to familiar, but the power level is the same. So you have a pool of points for non-magical traits such as, strength, dexterity, stamina, intelligence, charisma, wisdom. Give them a max number allowed for each trait. So a level one wizard can create a familiar with 12 points. 1 Point in a trait is dismal--or bare minimum, 2 is average for a human, and so on and so forth.

Then you can have a pool of magical traits or qualities that the familiar can have. There can be evolved versions of the ability if you would like (where a spark of fire becomes a gout of flame as the wizard and familiar grow in ability). The more badass they are, the more they cost. Having a familiar grow with you should be better than creating one from scratch at high levels if you want them to be common.

They can die & take you with them or, at the very least, PARTS of you

The connection is a two-way street. If they fall, so might you, or you may sacrifice something.

You could also have a sort of contractual sacrifice. When a familiar dies, they get the part promised. So a real powerful familiar would be body and soul. But you might have promised your left hand or just a pinkie for another.

What this means is that familiars will not be disposable, and that if you have 20 low-level familiars, you might have promised a bit of you as payment for them, sort of like a loan that will be paid. (Say goodbye to all your fingers and toes...)

The Power is Limitless, but the Conduit isn't

So the caster is actually the power line to the familiar, carrying that power to the familiar. Depending on the caster's ability, there's only so much power that they can run through themselves at any one time. It may last for as long as the caster is still alive, but, it's limited completely by the power the caster has. It can never be overpowered, because it will scale with the caster, and if it's like a video game, it will also scale with the challenges they face.


magics power may be limitless but the mage's power, or the amount they can channel, is not

Attach a proportional cost to losing a familiar, when the familiar is killed (or possibly is dismissed and/or stolen) the mage suffer a permanent loss in power proportional to the power of the familiar, it makes more powerful familiars also more risky. Every familiar becomes a gamble.

Alternatively make the power loss last as long as the familiar is summoned, while the familiar is summoned the mage is weaker. You can create a really powerful familiar but as long as it is summoned your own power is much weaker. Summoning may be done because they have many advantage but they also have a cost, This also makes assigning power and characteristics a serious consideration, the more it can do the less you can do.

Another option is having the more powerful/skilled/intelligent familiars take longer to create, you can spend two years making a super duper familiar, and doing little else, OR you can spend a few weeks making a good enough familiar. Basically to think of it as character creation, (Time spent on creation = # character points).

Option four, just limit the number of character points with the amount of power the mage can handle, a weak mage just can't draw enough magic to make a familiar as powerful as one a strong mage can make.

Lastly you can combine any of these factors, maybe a weaker mage can create a more powerful familiar than a strong mage, but only by spending a lot more time doing it. This would probably be the most interesting since power and dedication factor into a familiars power, it allows for a decent amount of variation.