Item Familiars

( ⇪ Technology )

Like the legendary weapons rules, the item familiars variant system presents a method by which a character, even a non-spellcaster, can find himself linked to a particular magic or psionic item for a large part of his career. These items gradually gain in power and sentience, and often fulfill small roles similar to those of living familiars, but sometimes they become powerful entities in their own right.

To utilize these rules, the character must choose the Item Familiar feat.

Types Of Item Familiars

An item familiar must be a permanent magic or psionic item. Typically, it tends to be a magic or psionic weapon (such as a sword, axe, bow, or gun), a psicrown or rod (one that does not depend on charges for its powers), or a power stone or ring with a permanent magical power. The GM may allow for various wondrous items or universal items to be item familiars, and in such a case can adapt the following rules fairly easily.

In order to be an item familiar, a magic or psionic item must:

  • Have a price of at least 2,000 gp.
  • Be usable by the character (if it is a weapon, the character must be proficient with the appropriate category of weapon).
  • Have a permanent magical or psionic effect that the character can (and knows how to) use.

Keep in mind that the item only needs to meet the basics of this criteria. The magic or psionic item may have functions the character cannot currently use, and once the item is linked to the character he can separate from it for short periods of time without any harm.

Intelligent Items

This variant system does not depend on the item in question being intelligent, but any item familiar created eventually becomes intelligent. Item familiars normally become intelligent gradually, however, which lessens the complexity of the standard rules for intelligent items. Actions the item familiar takes of its own volition happen on its master’s initiative.

Bonding to an Item Familiar

Table: Item Familiar Abilities
Char Level Ability
1st Invest life energy; invest skill ranks; invest essentia; invest spell points; invest power points
7th Sapience; senses; communication
10th Special ability
14th+ One additional special ability per four character levels above 10th

When a character selects an item and chooses the Item Familiar feat, the character establishes a permanent, supernatural bond to the item familiar. This bond can be suppressed by an antimagic field (if the item is magic) or similar relevant effect, but it cannot be dispelled.

Once the character has become bonded to the item, the item may gain additional powers or intelligence. The character can also begin investing abilities into the item, using the item familiar to improve his own capabilities. Use the table below to determine what, if any, abilities the item familiar gains based on its owner’s character level.

For each of the investment options below, you don’t have to invest immediately, but can invest at any time later on as a free action. Once this investment is made, it cannot be reversed.

Invest Life Energy

A character may choose to permanently invest a portion of his life force into his item familiar, receiving bonus XP in return. These XP are actually part of the item, however, so if the item is lost or destroyed, the character loses not only the bonus but a quantity of his existing XP as well.

When a character chooses to invest his life energy into his item familiar, his current XP total and all future XP awards increase by 10%. However, if the character loses the item, he loses all bonus XP gained, plus an additional 200 XP per character level.

Invest Skill Ranks

Whenever a character with an item familiar gains skill points, he may choose to put some or all of those skill points into his item familiar. He assigns the skill points normally, but notes that they now reside in the item familiar. For every 3 ranks he assigns to the item familiar, he gains a +1 bonus that he can apply to any single skill. This bonus can be applied to a skill in which he already has maximum ranks. He can apply multiple bonuses to the same skill, but he may not have more points of bonus in a skill than he has ranks.

If the character loses the item familiar, is separated from it for one day per level (see the Item Familiar feat description), or if the item familiar is destroyed, these skill points and the bonuses related to them are lost.

Invest Essentia

The character may choose to invest essentia in his familiar and gain a number of essentia in return. The essentia invested must be equal to the character’s normal maximum essentia capacity by character level, and the bonus essentia given out (on top of the amount invested) is always 1 less than that (so for character level 6, the invested essentia is 3 and the bonus essentia given out is 2). As the meldshaper gains (or loses) levels, the number of essentia invested in the item changes so that it is always equivalent to the normal maximum essentia capacity by character level, and the bonus essentia also changes accordingly, remaining one step previous from that.

As with all other investiture options, if the item familiar is lost or destroyed, so is the essentia invested and the bonus essentia.

Prerequisite: Meldshaper level 1st, at least 2 essentia. If you do not have enough essentia for your level but have at least 2 essentia, you instead invest all of your essentia and the bonus essentia is one less than that. If you have less than 2 essentia, you cannot invest essentia now, but can choose to invest at any time later on once you have at least 2 essentia.

Invest Spell Points

Only spellcasters may choose to use this option, and they may only choose it once they meet the prerequisites. A character with a magic item familiar may choose to invest Spell Points (SP) equivalent to single spell slot in his familiar and gain a number of SP in return. The single spell slot must be of the highest spell level he can cast (of a chosen spellcasting class he has, see Table: Spell Point Costs), and the bonus SP given out (on top of the amount invested) are always equivalent to a spell slot two spell levels lower than the slot invested in the item (and count towards the chosen class). As the caster gains (or loses) levels in the chosen class, the number of SP invested in the item changes so that it is always equivalent to the highest spell level he could cast in that class, and the bonus SP also change accordingly, remaining two spell levels levels lower than that.

If a spellcaster does not have access to spells of at least 3rd level in the chosen class, he cannot use this option. However, if he later gains access to 3rd level spells or higher in the chosen class, he can choose to immediately apply the benefits of this option.

As with all other investiture options, if the item familiar is lost or destroyed, so are the SP invested and the bonus SP.

Prerequisites: Access to 3rd-level spells (the SP invested must come from the class that has access to 3rd-level spells), minimum SP pool 5 (in that class). If a spellcaster does not meet these prerequisites, he cannot use this option. However, if he later qualifies, he can choose to immediately apply the benefits of this option.

Invest Power Points

Only psionicists may choose to use this option, and they may only choose it once they meet the prerequisites. A character with a psionic item familiar may choose to invest Power Points (PP) in his familiar and gain a number of PP in return. The PP invested must be the minimum PP required to use a typical power of the highest power level he can manifest (see Table: Power Points by Power Level), and the bonus PP given out (on top of the amount invested) are always equivalent to that of a typical power two power levels lower than the power level invested in the item. As the psionicist gains (or loses) levels, the number of PP invested in the item changes so that it is always equivalent to the highest power level he could manifest, and the bonus PP also change accordingly, remaining two power levels levels lower than that.

If a psionicist does not have access to powers of at least 3rd level, he cannot use this option. However, if he later gains access to 3rd level powers or higher, he can choose to immediately apply the benefits of this option.

As with all other investiture options, if the item familiar is lost or destroyed, so are the PP invested and the bonus PP.

Prerequisites: Access to 3rd-level powers (the PP invested must come from the class that has access to 3rd-level powers), minimum PP pool 5.

Sapience

If a character with an item familiar is at least 7th level, the item gains rudimentary sapience. It gains Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores. Two of these scores (player’s or GM’s choice) are 10 and one is 12. The item familiar also gains an Ego score. This last score should not come into play very often—an item familiar is completely loyal to its master, unless its master radically changes alignment or one or the other is affected by some strange compulsion.

Sense motive checks made by item familiar, like any creature, are wisdom checks. These checks should be made regardless of whether the item familiar is currently being wielded.

Senses

If a character with an item familiar is at least 7th level, the item can see and hear in a 60-foot radius as if it were a creature. It does not normally make Spot or Listen checks separately from its master, but its master gains the benefit of the Alertness feat while wielding the item (the item familiar is too preoccupied by being wielded to make these checks on its own).

In situations where it’s important for the item familiar should make a spot or listen check (such as when the master is not wielding the item), like any creature, these checks are wisdom checks.

When the Alertness benefit applies, if a spot or listen check success would have failed if the master didn’t have that benefit (2 or less from failure per item familiar), it’s recommended that the GM flavor the success as being credited to the item familiar.

Communication

If a character with an item familiar is at least 7th level, the item begins to communicate with the master using basic emotions or feelings. The item may try to tell the master of danger, for example, by putting forth a feeling of fear. It can only communicate in this manner while being worn or carried by its master.

Special Abilities

When an item familiar’s master reaches 10th level, and at every four levels thereafter, the master chooses a new special ability for the item from the following list. Once an ability is chosen, it becomes a permanent part of the item (unless otherwise specified). Some abilities have prerequisites.

Armor, Shield, or Weapon Special Ability

An item familiar empowered with this special ability gains an ability equivalent to a +1 bonus. This ability contributes to the overall enhancement bonus of the item and its value but does not cost the master of the familiar any gold pieces or time. This ability may be used in conjunction with the normal rules for improving an existing magic item (see Improving an Item Familiar, and Adding New Abilities). A character may select this special ability multiple times, each time enabling his familiar to gain a different ability equivalent to a +1 bonus.

Prerequisite: The item familiar must be a type of magic armor, a magic shield, or a magic weapon.

Cantrips/Orisons

Only magic item familiars may have this ability.

The familiar may cast 0-level spells as a standard action (or longer, as defined by the spell’s casting time) as long as the spell does not have an expensive material component or an XP component. The item familiar need not provide any verbal or somatic components, and it need not provide any material components that cost less than 1 gp. There are two kinds of 0-level spells it can cast, although only on its master’s order:

  1. It may cast any 0-level spells that the master knows (or has prepared in 0-level slots). Using these spells expends the master’s ZP and spell slots as normal, and the item familiar must be within 5 feet of the master to cast such a spell.
  2. It may spontaneously cast any 0-level spell from any single class spell list of it’s master’s choice. This spellcasting as if it was a 1st-level warmage where either Intelligence, Charisma, or Wisdom (choose one) is used for calculating save DCs, bonus SP (although it has no 1st-level spells), and bonus ZP. It recovers all of these ZP whenever its master rests for an hour.

The master may use a free action on his turn to issue an order, or he may give a number of contingent orders (such as “If I fall unconscious, cast cure minor wounds on me”) equal to one more than his Charisma modifier (minimum one) per item familiar (he can only have this many contingent orders active on an item familiar at a time).

Improved Senses

An item familiar empowered with this special ability gains darkvision out to 60 feet.

Increased Sapience

An item familiar empowered with this special ability gains +4 to any single ability score and +2 to its other two scores. The item can now communicate telepathically in a recognizable language with the master out to 120 feet and can speak audibly in Common. It can speak, read, and understand one additional language per point of Intelligence bonus. A character may select this special ability multiple times, each time improving all three of the item’s ability scores and increasing the number of languages it can speak, read, and understand.

Greater Power

An item familiar empowered with this special ability gains any single greater power listed on the Intelligent Item Greater Powers table. The item uses this power as described, at the master’s command. A character may select this special ability multiple times, each time applying it to a different greater power.

Prerequisite: An item must have at least one lesser power for every greater power it is given. The master must spend the amount of gold pieces given in the Base Price Modifier column of the Intelligent Item Greater Powers table to purchase the greater power. The process of empowering an item in this way takes 24 hours.

Greater Senses

An item familiar empowered with this special ability gains blindsense out to 30 feet.

Prerequisite: The item familiar must already have the improved senses special ability.

Lesser Power

An item familiar empowered with this special ability gains any single lesser power listed on the Intelligent Item Lesser Powers table. The item uses this power as described, at the master’s command. A character may select this special ability multiple times, each time applying it to a different lesser power.

Prerequisite: The master must spend the amount of gold pieces given in the Base Price Modifier column of the Intelligent Item Lesser Powers table to purchase the lesser power. The process of empowering an item in this way takes 24 hours.

Psionic Containment

Only psionic item familiars may have this ability.

The familiar may manifest any power the master knows as a standard action (or shorter or longer, as defined by the power’s manifesting time) as long as the power does not have an XP component and the master is within 5ft of the item familiar. The item familiar’s manifester level is equal to that of the master.

Powers manifested in this manner must be manifested using only the PP invested and available in the item familiar. You can spend a full-round action attempting to psionically focus your item familiar (see the Concentration skill description). At any time when you need to expend your psionic focus, you can expend your item familiar’s psionic focus instead, as long as the item familiar is within 5 feet of you. The item familiar cannot focus itself. Maintaining psionic focus in an item familiar is dependent on the master’s current PP pool. It can expend its psionic focus on its master’s order as part of other kinds of actions, such as to activate a psionic feat its master has. However, the master must be within 5ft of the item familiar to do so.

The master may use a free action on his turn to issue an order, or he may give a number of contingent orders (such as “If I fall unconscious, spend as many PP as you can to manifest Touch of Health on me”) equal to one more than his Charisma modifier (minimum one) per item familiar (he can only have this many contingent orders active on an item familiar at a time).

Prerequisite: The item must have invested PP, and the master must have the ability to manifest 3rd-level powers.

Special: If the master is unconscious (but not dead), the master’s powers and the PP invested in the item familiar are still available to the item familiar.

Special Purpose and Dedicated Power

An item familiar empowered with this special ability gains a special purpose and a dedicated power chosen by its master (see the Intelligent Item Purpose and Special Purpose Item Dedicated Powers tables).

An item familiar usually displays more flexibility in how it carries out its special purpose than a standard intelligent item, especially if its purpose conflicts with its master. However, if a master (especially one who gave the item a special purpose in the first place) consistently acts against the item’s special purpose, the item has even more leverage for keeping the “master” in line. An item familiar can temporarily sever the link between item and master, essentially shutting down access to any abilities invested in the item plus all its normal magical abilities, as if the item had been lost or destroyed. The item only reestablishes the link if it is convinced the master is committed to helping it fulfill its special purpose.
No item familiar may have more than one special purpose and one dedicated power.

Prerequisite: The master must spend the amount of gold pieces given in the Base Price Modifier column of the Special Purpose Item Dedicated Powers table to purchase the dedicated power. The process of empowering an item in this way takes 24 hours.

Spell Use

Only magic item familiars may have this ability.

An item familiar empowered with this ability may cast any spell the master knows (or has prepared) as a standard action (or shorter or longer, as defined by the spell’s duration) as long as it does not have an expensive material component or an XP component and the master is within 5ft of the item familiar. The item familiar need not provide any verbal or somatic components, and it need not provide any material components that cost less than 1 gp. The item familiar must meet the ability score prerequisites for the spell but casts the spell at the master’s level. The item familiar may cast the spell only on the master’s order or contingent order (as described in the Cantrips/Orisons ability). For the purposes of casting spells, the item familiar only has as many Spell Points (SP) as was invested into it (both the maximum spell level amount and of the spell level amount two spell levels lower), even if the master has already spent their copy of those SP.

Prerequisite: The item must have invested SP, and the master must have the ability to cast 3rd-level spells.

Special: An item familiar doesn’t make concentration checks to cast spells, and cannot cast a spell that would exceed its limit. An item familiar can otherwise cast a spell that burns its own SP, but only if it has the necessary SP as normal (the burn then applies to the master as normal). SP burned by an item familiar can only be recovered by the natural healing of the master. If the master is unconscious (but not dead), the master’s spells and the SP invested in the item familiar are still available to the item familiar.

Item Familiar Alignment

An item familiar gains its master’s alignment and, if the character changes alignment, it generally changes alignment accordingly. However, if this alignment change would be in direct conflict with the item familiar’s special purpose (if any), the item does not change alignment, and it immediately severs the link between itself and its master. The link can only be reestablished when the master changes to a nonconflicting alignment.

If an item familiar changes to an alignment that would preclude it using some of its powers not tied to a special purpose, the change in alignment takes place, no severing of the link occurs, and the item cannot use those powers until its alignment becomes compatible again.

Improving An Item Familiar

An item familiar can be improved as other magic items can be. By spending gold pieces (and time and experience points, assuming the character is the one doing the work), a character can add new abilities to his item familiar.

This type of improvement has nothing to do with the master’s character level, though it may affect the item’s eventual Ego score.

Awakening Powers And Abilities

Rather than giving a player free rein to choose an item familiar’s special abilities, the GM may decide to create items with “sleeping” abilities that can only be awakened by having characters link themselves to them. In such cases, the Game Master retains more control over what new abilities and strange items get introduced into his game, but he does limit the likelihood of characters taking the Item Creation feat.

The GM may wish to mix and match awakening abilities with allowing characters to choose new abilities for their familiars. This system can support both concepts.

Inheriting An Item Familiar

Sometimes characters die, after which other characters pick up and use their items; this turn of events is an integral part of the d20 game. When a character finds or somehow comes into possession of another character’s item familiar, two results can occur.

An Ego Contest Ensues

An item familiar normally resists being picked up and used by another character. If the item familiar has an Ego score, it automatically tries to resist being wielded by anyone other than its linked master, even if the link has been severed (possibly because the master is dead). The rules for Ego conflicts can be found under Items against Characters. Normally, an intelligent item resists its owner only when a conflict of personality or purpose ensues. An item familiar assumes that any use of it by someone other than its linked (or previously linked) master is a conflict, and so it resists every time the new owner attempts to make use of it.

If the new owner wins the Ego contest, he can wield the item safely for 1 hour but cannot access any of the abilities the item familiar gained through its link (such as invested XP, skill ranks, or spell slots, or any special abilities it has that aren’t simply a feature of the magic item). An item familiar may talk to its new owner (if it has that capability), but it feels at best unfriendly and could be extraordinarily hostile. If an item familiar’s alignment matches that of its new owner, the item familiar may become less hostile over time but always forces Ego contests when possible.

The new owner can attempt to link to the item by selecting the Item Familiar feat (assuming he meets the prerequisite). What occurs next depends on his character level compared to the character level of the highest-level previous owner.

New Owner Is Same or Higher Level: The link succeeds. The new owner gains all the benefits of the abilities of the item familiar, and the item familiar’s alignment changes to match that of its new master. If the item familiar had invested skill ranks and/or spell slots, those investments become accessible to the new owner, adding to his totals. If the item familiar has spell slots, the new master can access them only if he could already cast spells of the appropriate levels.

New Owner Is Lower Level: The link partially succeeds. The alignment of the item familiar changes to match that of its new master, and the new owner can use all the item familiar’s special abilities and powers. However, the new master cannot benefit from any invested skill ranks or spell slots until his character level equals or exceeds that of the item familiar’s highest-level previous owner.

True Inheritance

A character may willingly pass on an item familiar. This transfer can be accomplished while the owner is alive, or it can be stipulated as part of a last will and testament if the owner dies. If a living character willingly passes on an item familiar to a new owner with a matching alignment, an Ego contest immediately ensues, but the new owner gains a +10 circumstance bonus on the check. If the new owner wins, the item familiar does not force an Ego contest again unless the new owner does something to violate his alignment or to obstruct the item’s special purpose (if any). The item familiar does not actually have a new master until the new owner selects the Item Familiar feat, but it cooperates with its new owner.

Item Familiars

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