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One of my PC's wants a familiar and one of my other PC's thinks it would be cool if she could take on the role of a familiar because she thinks it would allow her freedom to be "cute" in the game.

What does everyone think about allowing a player character to take on the role of another pc's familiar? What pitfalls might there be? Has anyone done this before?

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This is very similar to rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/30384/… - many of the same comments will apply, but I do not think it is a duplicate, since the problems and benefits with familiars as player characters may be different. –  Neil Slater Mar 19 at 16:42
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Could you clarify the question to indicate whether the player in question wanted to be as powerful as a normal PC? Playing a familiar is a bit different from playing a PC that also happens to be a familiar. –  tarkisflux Mar 19 at 17:30
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In our campaigns, the familiars always seem to consider the wizard to be their familiar. –  BBlake Mar 19 at 19:33

4 Answers 4

Communication Issues

Most familiars can't speak languages (Ravens, Parrots, and Thrushes can). They can communicate telepathically with their master, but not being able to talk to the rest of the party or NPCs that aren't the same type of animal would present some difficulties.

Class Levels?

Normally, familiars don't gain levels (or hit dice) on their own. As their masters gain levels, they gain bonuses spelled out on the familiar page. Things like increased natural armor, intelligence, spell resistance, and the ability to deliver touch attacks for their masters spells.

If your player isn't gaining class levels, they will be severely overpowered by almost everything else, as they're really just an extension of another character and not their own class.

If you do let them have class levels, you could wind up with a Wizard whose familiar is another Wizard, which would be... interesting. The primary problem in that case is if you would stack the familiar's bonuses with normal class levels? On top of that, you've got a party member that's a house cat, which would present some unique challenges in acquiring gear.

It's not impossible, but it would require some thought.

House Rules

To get what you want, it might be easier to throw out some of the familiar rules. You could do something like have two PC characters where some kind of accident happens, and one of them is permanently polymorphed into an animal and gets linked to the other character. Give them the relevant familiar special abilities (telepathic link, scry on familiar, etc), but throw out the familiar stat bonuses and treat the character as a PC in the relevant animal form for those things instead. Also let them retain speaking ability, unless the PC wants to lose it. Not being able to interact with most PCs or NPCs at all can get very restrictive.

That's going to get your players what they want without leaving one of them with significant weakness in terms of how they can interact.

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Yes! The house rules you mention are exactly what I was thinking might need done! I was just a bit worried on how far I could stretch things. Imagination knows no bounds but I want to be FAIR to all my players. Hehe, maybe I could give them the option of polymorphing her current wizard into a kangaroo, that would solve the gear problem! –  HeavyAl Mar 19 at 17:15
    
Why is the polymorph needed? You could still throw out the familiar rules allowing her to play a regular familiar, couldn't you? –  Flamma Mar 19 at 17:41
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@Flamma You could, although starting as a humanoid would give some explanation for why the character knows languages and has class levels. Ultimately it's flavor, you could accomplish that a lot of different ways. –  Tridus Mar 19 at 17:55
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The humanoid-turned-animal-companion idea reminds me a lot of the game Jak & Daxter. For those who don't know, Daxter got turned into a rodent-type thing by falling into a lake of dark eco. He could still talk and he wasn't exactly a "familiar", but the basic ideas still apply. –  user11482 Mar 19 at 19:04

As Zachiel mentions in his answer, the primary pitfall is the familiar character being less useful than the full character. This problem is going to be exacerbated as the full character gains levels and abilities, and the familiar gains few new or interesting things. For example, at the level that the full character is getting wall of ice and solid fog and scrying, the familiar is getting speak with animals of its kind. Most other level comparisons are similarly unkind.

This is not necessarily a problem of course. If the player who wants to be the familiar wants to be in the game without having to worry about tactics or contributing at the same level as everyone else, it's a reasonable way to keep them in the game. But they will be playing second fiddle and they will not have a lot to do in combat (they are more fragile and their loss hurts substantially), and they need to be comfortable with this going in (or able to swap to a real character at some point in the future).

If you're starting at level 1, the full character should select the parrot, raven, or thrusth so that the familiar can at least talk to the rest of the group. If you're starting above level 1, the full character should consider the Improved Familiar feat. An improved familiar will have additional powers and options, in addition to being more likely to communicate with the rest of the party, and may be more interesting to the player who wants to play the familiar. Plus, there may be more 'cute' options in there (faerie dragon comes to mind if you're at least 7th level, or allow them to trade the familiar up at the appropriate time).

In any case, the familiar absolutely does not count as a PC, and XP should be handed out accordingly. They are roleplaying someone else's class feature after all.

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The main pitfall would be not letting the other player get a familiar and being less useful than a full-fledged character (unless the other player goes full "let's buff my familiar", which I don't think is a really good strategy because that kind of build often makes for a very weak wizard/sorcerer/whatever). If the familiar player makes some wrong choices and dies, she actually harms the other player too!

You could consider the group to be made of 1 less player to dish out XP and rewards, or you could fake the whole familiar thing by letting your wannabe familiar be a separate PC (of some cute race), with a familiar-styled relationship with your other character, which is really just fluff and thus has no real consequences on the game's mechanics.

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Yes, there would definitely be a solid link between the characters, a symbiotic relationship that could be harmful if they're not careful, but that's actually what they are asking me to do! Another idea they had was a "what if" scenario where the one that wants to be a familiar who is now a Wizard somehow critically misfired a spell which permanently (or at least for the foreseeable future) turned her into a fox (the animal she wants to be) and so retains some of her Wizard like abilities. Is this reasonable at all or just way too much of a stretch? –  HeavyAl Mar 19 at 17:01
    
@HeavyAl maybe you should let her play a Kitsune, which is like a humanoid fox? I agree with Zachiel that you can establish whatever relationship you want just by 'fluffing' without necessarily changing any game mechanics. –  Eric B Mar 19 at 17:40

I did this in 3.5. We let the familiar (a pseudodragon, which solves the communication issue) have class levels as well (it took rogue), though I think the rules on letting it do this are very poorly defined and a lot of rulings had to be made. The game went excellently, and there were no balance issues with the familiar (though, as a note, rogue isn't exactly a overpowered class anyways). In that system your familiar-player has to pay for their own Level Adjustment (most familiars aren't available as character races, but some are), so letting them get both the familiar bonus and class advancement seems part of what they are paying an egregious amount for. Pathfinder has done away with Level Adjustment, but I'd recommend house-ruling it able to advance in class levels and then docking it a level behind the rest of the party to partly make up for the familiar bonuses. You could dock it two levels if you wanted to and the option would still be mechanically viable, but the choice of familiar would be more limited. Alternatively, because it's a cool idea and promotes group unity, you could not penalize them at all and just give the familiar bonuses on top of whatever the familiar-player decides to level up in as a party member. A familiar's greatest value as a mechanic is as an incredibly weak extra party member, so having it be one of the actual members of the party removes about as much power from loss of actions per round as it adds due to the familiar's misc. smaller buffs mattering more.

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