A player in the new campaign I am DMing wants their character, a halfling wizard, to ride around on a small bird, going for a Sir Didymus from Labyrinth feel. He suggested this could be his familiar, though he was very clear he doesn't expect this give him any special advantages (increased speed, flight etc.) beyond those a familiar normally grants. I liked the idea, so I came up with the following creature which would be added to the list of animal forms for the find familiar spell:

Bococho (riding familiar)
Small fey, unaligned
AC 12
HP 3 (1d6)
Speed 25 ft. (cannot fly)
STR 7 (-2) DEX 15 (+2) CON 10 (+0)
INT 2 (-4) WIS 14 (+2) CHA 7 (-2)
Skills: Perception +4
Senses: Passive Perception 14
Magical Mount. A bococho can carry its master (including their belongings), as long as they are of size Small or smaller. It won’t carry anything else.
Actions:
Peck. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 4 (1d4 + 2) piercing damage.

It's based on the eagle's stats (since that's a Small-sized bird which is still CR 0), but with no flying speed (it's flightless), a better walking speed (matching a halfling's normal speed), no Keen Sight trait, and the new Magical Mount trait allowing it to carry its master and for simplicity's sake to magically ignore how much gear they're carrying. (For reference, the slightly increased Strength of 7 means it can carry up to 105 pounds, which seems pretty reasonable for carrying a halfling wizard, who will only weigh around 40 pounds plus gear.) It retains the eagle's hit points and (slightly tweaked for theme) attack.

Is this balanced? I'm pretty sure that the hp and attack won't be an issue, since it still has a tiny number of hp and it can't attack in normal circumstances anyway, but have I made it too weak removing it's ability to fly at all (rather than just specifying it cannot fly while being ridden, say) and removing it's sharp sight feature (advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks involving sight)? Are there any drawbacks or advantages to this familiar that I haven't considered?

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    Chocobo, serial numbers filed off? ;) Did you compare to a horse of similar? – Trish Nov 13 at 14:21
  • I met a halfling Warlock carried by an imp familiar. RAW, you can do it - carrying capacity of an imp is (6 STR * 15) 90lbs, while a halfling weighs 35lbs as per Height and Weight table in PHB. DM didn't allow fighting like that though. Riding on it is a bit different, since there are actual rules for mounted combat, but if you only allow it to be transport, then I'd say you can even return flying speed. – Misamoto Nov 13 at 15:39
  • @Misamoto as a tiny beast, they get 1/2 carry .. max weight is 45lbs. Transporting a naked halfling maybe ;) as well as he was going for non-flight per reference of labyrinth. – XAQT78 Nov 13 at 16:04
  • @Trish you got me. ;) I haven't compared it to a horse, but based on later answers I might be better off comparing it to a mastiff or maybe a donkey. It's still a summonable mount but I figure building in some limitations (slower speed etc) might be enough of a tradeoff, though perhaps I might just design a non-magical version based on mastiff stats and let the player buy one, and have a separate familiar. – Guybrush McKenzie Nov 13 at 22:15
  • For those wondering - in the end I didn’t use this familiar, but made a Medium-sized bococho animal using modified Mastiff stats the same cost to buy (though it’ll be more expensive to replace). I also let the character go into debt to start with it; his party are helping him pay it off. I felt that while the familiar version wasn’t unbalanced, it was too much of a compromise between mount and familiar features - it isn’t much good for familiar benefits while being ridden. The character has an owl familiar, and in our city-based game the bococho is often left outside...so far! – Guybrush McKenzie Nov 15 at 21:56
up vote 14 down vote accepted

It breaks some rules, but should be fine

You are breaking some things that D&D tries to enforce:

  • A creature can only ride on a creature at least 1 size category larger than itself. A small creature riding another small creature breaks this idea, and leads for a more mobile mounted combatant.
  • The only way to get a magical mount is higher level spells. You're giving something that wizards and paladins get at higher levels at first level.
  • Not sure if it's intended, but your mount sounds like it can carry any weight as long as the master is carrying the loot. How gamebreaking this is depends entirely on how strict you are on the weight of loot in the first place.

However, while your familiar breaks those "rules", it looks fairly harmless. A familiar can't attack, so Peck is entirely irrelevant. Its high perception might cause some problems, but that is something other familiars can do as well, and its inability to fly makes it less viable for scouting.

The only real problem I see is that your wizard would be able to have the mount dash to double his normal movement speed every turn. How gamebreaking this ends up being depends a lot on how often you simply sneeze on the bird in round one to kill it.

For people who claim that this isn't really a problem because you can compare it to a 8 GP mule, there are a few key differences:

  • You can't stash a mule in hammerspace.
  • You can't buy a replacement mule in advance for when your current one dies halfway through the adventure, you can buy extra compoments to resummon your familiar.

How important those two points are depends entirely on how your campaign. For some campaigns this would make no difference at all, for others where mounts die constantly, this could be a huge boon.

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    @PinkSweetener Not entirely true, because a magical companion you can keep resummoning is a lot more flexible than an 8gp mule who is permanently gone if you don't feed it or it takes a fireball to the face. – Theik Nov 13 at 12:43
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    @Theik worth remembering that resummoning a dead familiar still costs 10gp worth of spell components, making it more expensive than buying a new mule, and I think it's safe to assume that if you're somewhere you can buy magical incense, you can also buy a mule. (Though the reverse may not be true, and you can summon your familiar anywhere, assuming you've already stocked up on magical supplies.) – Guybrush McKenzie Nov 13 at 13:20
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    You could simply rule that this creation does not have the ability to do a Dash. – sirjonsnow Nov 13 at 13:38
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    @Theik Is the Dashing really all that concerning? Any mount can do it, and you can typically afford a mount very early. – A Very Large Bear Nov 13 at 18:28
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    @GuybrushMcKenzie Spell components are only more portable than mules in certain circumstances. A donkey chain following the party is not only cheaper than recasting Find Familiar, it also substantially increases the party's carry weight. You might ask yourself "aren't there a lot of places you can't bring a chain of donkeys?", but players will try anything. Tomb of Annihilation?Ethereal plane? Why not! – Pink Sweetener Nov 13 at 19:06

Yes, it's balanced.

First of all, let's compare your homebrew familiar with the "regular" version. I'm assuming that, when you're talking about familiars, you're referring to those accessed via the Find Familiar spell, not the variant familiars as described next to (for example) the Pseudodragon's stat block in the MM on page 254.

With this presumption made, the strongest familiar available via Find Familiar is arguably the Owl.
In comparison to the owl, your familiar has:

  • (+) more AC
  • (+) more HP
  • (+) overall better ability scores, although that is likely irrelevant
  • (+) a better melee attack, although you can't use that
  • (−) lower speed and no flight
  • (−) no Flyby (which prevents opportunity attacks on the familiar)

These pros and cons keep in balance, since the increase in AC, HP and ability scores won't matter a lot (it's still too weak to fight).

Now, how big is the benefit of being able to ride your familiar?

Not particularly unbalanced, considering you can get a Donkey for 8 GP according to the PHB, page 156 (chapter "Equipment"). This donkey even has 40 base speed, and is hence faster than your homebrew rideable familiar.

Just make sure you adhere to the mounted combat rules as specified in the PHB on page 198.

So, overall, your familiar would be sub-par without the Magic Mount trait, while, with the trait, it is slightly above average concerning usefulness.

If you want to, you could even add the Beast of Burden trait, which the Mule possesses:

Beast of Burden. The mule is considered to be a Large animal for the purpose of determining its carrying capacity.

This trait effectively doubles the carrying capacity, which ensures that you don't have to worry if your halfling can ride the familiar with all of his gear.

Keep in mind that your familiar won't spawn with a saddle - you'll need to bring that along (or houserule that it does spawn).

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    I would argue if you gave this mount the Beast of Burden trait then reducing the strength by a few points would be a cost effective trade as the trait does the same thing the OP wanted when he buffed the familiar's STR – Reed Nov 13 at 14:30
  • Beast of Burden is a natural trait associated with a domesticated animal not with an exotic non flying bird. – XAQT78 Nov 13 at 15:34
  • @XAQT78 I mean, we are in homebrew territory, so who's to say that this bird can't have Beast of Burden? Or the same trait, but re-named for flavor? – A Very Large Bear Nov 13 at 18:24
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    @AVeryLargeBear But where do we draw the line? What's next, grizzlies?! – Pink Sweetener Nov 13 at 19:11
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    @PinkSweetener yes, please! – Morgen Nov 13 at 19:41

Your HB non-flight bird as steed and a familiar, is unbalanced for a few reasons:

  • Low Strength 105 lb carry capacity (PHB pg. 176)

Halfling and exotic saddle alone weigh 80lbs (give or take 5lbs based on location in PHB), 25lbs left for ALL your gear and gold. This puts you in the realm of monitoring your weight as opposed to something with 13 Str and 195 carry capacity.

  • Low HP effectiveness as a mount

1 hit and it’s gone, spilling you and your gear all over. Costing 10 you to recast, if you can find your coin purse.

  • mount is not one size larger (PHB pg. 198)

Represents the physical stature of an beast to properly accept a rider without strain on themselves.

  • must have an appropriate anatomy to serve as a mount (PHB pg. 198)

Stating you must be able to add a saddle or have a supportive locaction that doesn’t interfere with the beast natural movements.

  • does not follow Find Familiar 1st lvl spell (PHB pg. 240)

Spell states tiny in which Pact of the Chain upgrade, are still tiny.

  • negates the Find Steed 2nd lvl spell (PHB pg. 240)

Benefits of a higher level spell, without it being known or on spell list.


Albeit not very well, but even real people can ride on an ostrich. This seems more like a thing of convenience than practical use.

As a mount and not a familiar, you benefit from it being able to attack, carry proper weight without having to monitor the mechanics, you can cast self spells that apply to it using using FS etc like other companion type npcs.

You are trying to upgrade a class feature that neither has the supporting spell Find Steed nor using a beast for an equivalent substitution for the new beast.

Suggestion for a beast as a non-flightless bird: (natural or Find Steed)

  • Mastiff (medium beast) base stats; requiring exotic saddle
  • 50 speed via ostrich comparison
  • Keen Eyesight via ostrich comparison
  • Hoof attack via ostrich comparison
  • Dash action via ostrich comparison
  • -2 Str, -2 Cha, +1 Dex, +2 Wis

You, the DM, can approve anything into House Rules, even then, the OP is a bit abstract to allow for all the factors mentioned above.

  • This is a little disjointed. Could you explain why the items on the first list make it unbalanced? I would also make it clear that you are suggesting that this be a mount, not a familiar in your second section. – A Very Large Bear Nov 13 at 18:37
  • Just to make it clear: I am the DM. Will amend my question to make that clearer. – Guybrush McKenzie Nov 13 at 22:16

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