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Like the legendary weapons rules, the item familiars variant system presents a method by which a character, even a nonspellcaster, can find himself linked to a particular magic 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 this new feat.
Types Of Item Familiars
An item familiar must be a permanent magic item. Typically, it tends to be a magic weapon (such as a sword, axe, or bow), a rod (one that does not depend on charges for its powers), or a ring with a permanent magical power. The DM may allow for various wondrous 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 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 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 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.
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.
Bonding To An Item Familiar
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 or similar effect, but it cannot be dispelled.
Once the character has become bonded to the magic 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 Table: Item Familiar Abilities to determine what, if any, abilities the item familiar gains based on its owner’s character level.
|1st||Invest life energy; invest skill ranks; invest spell slots|
|7th||Sapience; senses; communication|
|21st or higher||One additional special ability per three character levels above 20th|
Invest Life Energy
A character of 6th level or lower may 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.
For example, a wizard, a 6th-level character with 19,000 XP, chooses to invest his item familiar, a ring, with some of his life energy. He adds 1,900 XP (10% of 19,000) to his XP total, so he now has 20,900 XP. If he goes on an adventure and earns another 1,000 XP, he actually gains 1,100 XP (1,000 + 10% of 1,000), increasing his total to 22,000 XP, which makes him a 7th-level character.
If he then loses the ring, he would lose the 2,000 XP gained from the investiture (the 1,900 XP he received originally plus the bonus 100 XP he earned later), plus an additional 1,400 XP (200 XP per level), for a total loss of 3,400 XP. This loss would reduce his XP total to 18,600 and his character level to 6th.
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.
For example, a wizard has just achieved 7th character level, and he takes a level of wizard. Because of his high Intelligence score, he gains 7 skill points. He assigns 1 skill point to each of the following skills:
- Decipher Script
- Knowledge (arcana)
- Knowledge (dungeoneering)
- Knowledge (nobility and royalty)
- Knowledge (the planes)
He uses an asterisk to note that 1 rank for each of six skills resides in his ring. Since that adds up to a total of 6 skill ranks in the ring, he gains two +1 bonuses he can apply to any skill. He decides to assign both bonuses (a total of +2) to his Concentration skill. a wizard only has 1 rank in the cross-class skill Spot. If he had desired, he could have applied a single +1 bonus to that skill, but not both.
Invest Spell Slots
Only spellcasters may choose to use this option. A character with an item familiar may choose to invest a single spell slot in his familiar and gain a bonus spell slot in return. The single spell slot must be of the highest spell level he can cast, and the bonus spell slot is always two levels lower than the slot invested in the item. As the caster gains (or loses) levels, the spell slot invested in the item changes so that it is always of the highest spell level he can cast, and the bonus spell slot also changes accordingly, remaining two levels lower than that.
If a spellcaster does not have a spell slot two levels lower than the highest spell level he can cast (if he can cast only 0- and 1st-level spells), he cannot use this option.
As with all other investiture options, if the item familiar is lost or destroyed, so are both spell slots.
For example, as a 7th-level wizard, a wizard can cast 4th-level spells. He chooses to invest one 4th-level spell slot in his ring. The ring gains an additional 2nd-level spell slot, which a wizard can use as long as he has the ring in his possession. When a wizard attains 9th level, the spell slot assigned to the ring automatically becomes a 5th-level spell slot, and the bonus slot becomes a 3rd-level spell slot instead of a 2nd-level one.
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 DM’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.
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.
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.
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, such as the light fortification, bashing, or defending special ability. 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.
The item familiar must be a type of magic armor, a magic shield, or a magic weapon.
An item familiar empowered with this special ability can cast 0-level spells. The familiar may cast any spell invested in it 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. It has access to all the 0-level spells from any single class spell list of the master’s choice (taking into account any alignment restrictions against casting spells of a certain class or alignment subtype). It can cast a number of 0-level spells per day as if it were a sorcerer of the master’s character level (though the master does not have to be a spellcaster). The item familiar uses its own ability scores to determine spell save DCs but can cast its 0-level spells only on its master’s order. The master may use a free action on his turn to issue these orders, or he may give a number of contingency orders (such as “If I fall unconscious, cast cure minor wounds on me”) equal to one more than his Charisma modifier (minimum one).
An item familiar empowered with this special ability gains any single greater power listed on the Intelligent Items 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.
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.
An item familiar empowered with this special ability gains blindsense out to 30 feet.
The item familiar must already have the improved senses special ability.
An item familiar empowered with this special ability gains darkvision out to 60 feet.
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.
An item familiar empowered with this special ability gains any single lesser power listed on the Intelligent Items 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
An item familiar empowered with this ability may cast any spell invested in it as a standard action (or longer, as defined by the spell’s duration) as long as it 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. 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 (as described in Cantrips/ Orisons, above). If an item familiar casts an invested spell, it is as if the master cast it for purposes of spells per day and preparation.
The item must have an invested spell slot of the appropriate spell level, and the master must have the ability to cast 3rd-level spells.
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. For example, if a neutral good rod has the ability to cast druid cantrips and the rod becomes lawful good, it loses that ability. If a holy avenger item familiar becomes nonlawful, it loses all the abilities it had for being a holy avenger but remains a +2 cold iron longsword and retains its other item familiar abilities.
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. If a character links himself to a +1 longsword, for example, it only costs 6,000 gp (or 3,000 gp and 240 XP) to add another +1 of enhancement bonus or, perhaps, a special ability that is equivalent to a +1 bonus (such as spell storing or flaming). The character can accomplish this even without having the requisite item creation feats.
This type of improvement has nothing to do with the master’s character level, though it may affect the item’s eventual Ego score.
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 Intelligent 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 a Link
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.
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.
Awakening Powers And Abilities
Rather than giving a player free rein to choose an item familiar’s special abilities, the DM 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 DM may wish to mix and match awakening abilities with allowing characters to choose new abilities for their familiars. This system can support both concepts.