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I am DMing a game with my niece, whose character is a 2nd level Wizard. In our last session she acquired the find familiar spell which she copied into her spell book and then wanted to cast to summon a flying monkey. Initially I didn't allow it since the spell description only lists fairly mundane creatures, but I've been thinking it over and I'd like let her have her way. It would be a fun thing to add to the game and it would also be a small reward for what I think is a cool idea.

Here are the stats for the Flying Monkey that I have worked up:

Flying Monkey

Tiny beast, unaligned

Armor Class 13
Hit Points 4 (2d4)
Speed 30 ft., climb 20 ft., fly 30 ft.

STR 8 (−1) DEX 16 (+3) CON 10 (+0)
INT 6 (−2) WIS 12 (+1) CHA 10 (+0)

Skills Stealth +5 (while not flying), Acrobatics +5, Sleight of Hand +3
Senses passive Perception 11
Languages
Challenge 0 (10 XP)

Nimble. The flying monkey has advantage on all dexterity based saving throws.

Actions

Bite. Melee weapon attack: +1 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 1 (1d4 − 1) piercing damage.

Does this seem to be in line with the other familiars, power-wise? Or is it overpowered?

It has a fly and climb speed, but I've kept them fairly low to compensate. I've also given it stealth and the ability to use sleight of hand to give it some additional utility and to compensate for the lack of special senses.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @daze413 Yes that should have been Acrobatics, and no it's a group of five players. \$\endgroup\$ – dblanchett Oct 10 '15 at 6:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ There is now an official Flying Monkey in Tomb of Annihilation. \$\endgroup\$ – Foo Bar May 3 at 10:51
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I think these seems like a lot of fun, and I'd probably allow it in my game as well. I've created custom familiars in the past, and most recently I've used this "5e Familiar Handbook" I found. If you're not sure about your custom familiar, compare it to the others on this list. I like how you kept the climb and fly speeds low, but I think I'd personally do something like this: Speed: 20 ft.; Climb: 40 ft.; Fly: 20 ft. With those movement speeds, you'd have a clumsy-lookin' flyer, but an excellent climber, much like what I imagine a flying monkey would move like.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You say you've created custom familiars and say the thing to do is to compare to other standard ones. Can you describe how you've done that with the custom builds you've used? I think that could be useful to OP; as is your answer reads a bit like "check for yourself." Which is what the OP's asking for help with. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Oct 9 '15 at 16:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ The link you found includes rather strange examples, if you ask me. I don't think you should allow Pseudo dragons and quasit to appear with Find Familiar. See here: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/69375 \$\endgroup\$ – Alexis Wilke Oct 9 '15 at 22:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm going to leave the movement values for now, and may update them after seeing how this plays out at the table. \$\endgroup\$ – dblanchett Nov 2 '15 at 10:33
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The thing that I find most notable about your flying monkey is that it's very very conspicuous. One of the primary uses of a familiar is espionage. Normal familiars-birds, cats, vermin, and other small animals, can wander around cities or camps without being noticed. Even if they fail their stealth checks, there's a very high chance that their being seen won't alert any suspicion. A flying monkey doesn't have this luxury.

So overall, I would say that the novelty of having a flying monkey is actually a drawback, unless the monkey themselves has some exceptional ability on its own, which it doesn't seem to.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ is this, effectively, an argument that it's underpowered? (Having lost inconspicuousness without gaining much.) \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Oct 11 '15 at 13:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes. I'd say it's weaker than the other options. \$\endgroup\$ – Strill Oct 11 '15 at 21:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ That is really campaign-world specific. It might very well be that a world where wizards have flying monkey familiars has an abundant population of them. \$\endgroup\$ – Mala Oct 11 '15 at 22:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ I actually like this as a way to balance the familiar. It has a bit more utility in that it can fly and climb, but it will stick out in certain environments. \$\endgroup\$ – dblanchett Nov 2 '15 at 10:29
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This looks good to me. I think it's more important to consider the actual impact any difference in absolute utility will have on your game than the maximum possible impact. A flying monkey familiar is cool and thematic. Personally I would not have nerfed the climb and fly speeds, and just let the familiar be better; a cool familiar generally doesn't destabilize play and can often give an interested player a lot of fun. If necessary, I would allow some other non-familiar nerfing penalty to make up for the power difference.

When making that kind of ad-hoc class power change in earlier editions (i.e. AD&D 1e and 2e) for spellcasters, I would generally charge spellslots. For a large power boost that does not upgrade over time, I would charge an appropriate spell level and not allow the ability until the player would be entitled to a spell slot of that level to sacrifice. For upgrades-with-level powers, I would charge a spell slot of the highest level the caster would have available (meaning that higher-level spells will end up coming later unless the PC has VERY high attribute modifiers). I haven't done either of these yet in 5e. They seemed to work very well, and I consistently found myself looking for an equivalently streamlined and effective system for non-spell-casting classes.

If I had your player, I would put the land speed at 20, the others both at 40, increase the creature's size to Small, and give it some more hp. I would also charge her a 2nd level spell slot when hitting level 3, and acknowledge that the arrangement is not very balanced in the meantime (and charge her a 1st level slot for now).

I would also make sure to discuss the familiar, it's power level, what it's good at, and how I'm going to be figuring the costs, with the player so that we are both satisfied with the outcome. I'd do my best to show her that the goal is to let her have her character work like she wants it to without altering very much the overall expected power of her character relative to the party.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the last paragraph: this could be an excellent intro for your (@dblanchett) niece to "behind the screen" thinking--and if she can help create the solution, all the better! \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Oct 10 '15 at 19:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ In your last paragraph, what do you mean by costs? Find Familiar is a spell you can cast without having to pay anything... \$\endgroup\$ – Alexis Wilke Oct 12 '15 at 5:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AlexisWilke Like I point out in my second to last paragraph, I would probably charge her a (permanent) spell slot, as an alteration to her class, for it. That's what I did for this kind of character customization in AD&D and it worked really well. Players often don't want a 'balanced' x-thing-they-are-excited-about, but are ok with nerfs elsewhere to preserve overall balance. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Oct 12 '15 at 5:49

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