Who doesn’t want an obedient animal-bro to call their very own? As mystically-linked pets, familiars are useful in a thousand and one situations, limited only by player ingenuity. They can spy on enemies, run errands, and deliver the occasional well-placed touch attack. From a story perspective the plucky little furballs make fantastic comedic foils, snarking at their masters’ commands and grumbling as they carry out orders. They even come in handy for GMs wishing to impart a bit of useful intel to the unwitting party.

“Hey guys? Why is Chester growling at that apparently empty point in space?”

You see what I mean? Familiars are great. The only downside is that they are ever so slightly fragile.

Take my latest familiar, a standard issue 5e D&D raven. It’s a viking game, so the shtick is that this bird is a lesser servant of Hugin and Munin. In the opening scene of the campaign my guy performed the ritual to call him down from Asgard. As a rite of passage he went alone out into the woods, made the necessary offerings, and watched as the black speck winged its way down from Bifrost, a sure sign of Odin’s favor. And what did I do with this blessing of the gods?

“Viigar! Mimic a human crying for help. Lead the orcs away from the village.”

The orcs killed the poor little feather duster with extreme prejudice. That brought in Viigar II. He lost all one of his hit points from exposure to a Thunderwave spell.  Viigar III came gamely back, and was with the party when we crossed the treacherous footpath towards a witch’s castle. Our ranger felt hungry eyes upon us, and so I sent Viigar up to scout.

“Look,” said my DM. “I get no pleasure from killing your bird. I’ll let him use your saves, OK? So have him make a Fort save with your bonuses vs. the fiendish wolf’s gaze attack as he crests the ridge.” And that’s how I acquired Viigar IV. The party ranger thinks I’m guilty of animal cruelty. I just hope that Viigar isn’t complaining about me to Odin every time he dies.