View Full Version : Low-level pseudodragon familiar

Lord Il Palazzo
2011-09-12, 09:45 AM
So I'm DMing for the first time with very little experience with the game before hand and I've got a bit of a problem. I'm starting my players at level 1 to try and keep things simple at first until I get my feet under me as a DM. One of my players is playing a wizard and wants a modified pseudodragon (http://www.d20srd.org/srd/monsters/pseudodragon.htm) as his familiar. My knee-jerk reaction was to say no, but he suggested the following which actually seems prety reasonable:

1) The pseudodragon lacks its sting and poison.
2) The pseudodragon has a strange form of breath weapon. To quote my player:
In short, a pseudodragon of this breed is given a scroll or small item and told its intended recipient. If the pseudragon knows or can picture the recipient, it then uses its fire breath on the message. The item is consumed completely in the (usually oddly colored, let's go with say, green) and the ashes are then whisked away at high speed towards the recipient. When the ashes reach the target, they are un-consumed in front of them, and they may then read the letter... This fire breath CAN be used as actual, you know, fire breath, but it is largely ineffective, as things attacked tend to get sent to random people in unhappy states, more often than not.

By and large, I'm OK with this. I'm just trying to figure out how to stat it out. I'm thinking that the pseudodragon, lacking its sting, should have natural weapons roughly on par with a house cat (a traditional familiar of similar size with similar weapons) so I'm saying it has claw for 1d2-2 and an added bite for 1d3-2 on a full attack with bonuses of +6 and +1 respectively (the bonuses are taken from the pseudodragon SRD entry.)

For the breath weapon, I'm going to limit it to only transporting objects that are fully consumed (and maybe give it a weight limit) to be sure the player can't set a monster on fire to warp it away and make it someone else's problem. Other than that, I'm thinking that, in combat, I'll treat it as a breath weapon with a range of 5 ft. (or maybe 10 at most) for 1d4 fire damage (as it isn't really adapted for combat) with a DC 12 reflex save for half damage (as per the SRD entry on breath weapon abilities, that's 10+1/2 racial HD+Con modifier.)

Does this seem reasonable, overall? I'm a bit concerned about the breath weapon, but it seems week enough that I think it will be OK. What do more experienced players/DMs think?

Mods: If this is the wrong place for this thread, I'm sorry and feel free to move it.

EDIT: I forgot to mention we're playing mostly-core 3.5 rules (though I'm definitely willing to consider non-core rules).

2011-09-12, 12:26 PM
First of all, since you have very little experience DMing, you're right to be cautious about what you allow. Good decision. Wizard is one of the most powerful classes in the game, so I'd recommend you never, ever, ever give a wizard any kind of houseruled benefit for free, in order to avoid making the power gap between wizards and non-spellcasting classes any worse than it already is.

That said, however, if the player is willing to take the Improved Familiar feat (DMG 200), it would be reasonable to give him a nerfed version of a pseudodragon that gradually improves, reaching full strength when he gets to arcane caster level 7th.

How to stat it out? Even removing the poison sting, a pseudodragon has flight, good maneuverability (which grants it the ability to hover), excellent Armor Class, above-average intelligence for a 1st-level familiar, telepathy, blindsense, darkvision, immunity to sleep and paralysis, spell resistance, more skill ranks than a regular familiar, and massive bonuses to Hide because of their tiny size and chameleon skin. This is much too powerful for a 1st-level familiar, even paying a feat, even discounting the breath weapon.

You're on to a good idea to start with the stats for a smaller and weaker creature and work up from there. I'd recommend the raven, rather than the cat, since the pseudragon is more similar to a raven. Replace the raven's claw attack with a bite that deals 1 point of damage, sub in the pseudo-dragon's physical and mental stats, and give it two of its special abilities (I'd recommend the chameleon skin and darkvision). Remember to delevel its skills, since you're reducing it from 2 HD to 1. Each time the wizard levels up, give it another special or two, starting with weaker specials like faster flight, more maneuverable flight, telepathy, immunity to sleep, and immunity to paralysis, or some natural armor, and working up to the better ones like blindsense, spell resistance, the poison sting, and its real stats.

As for the breath weapon - pseudodragons don't have a breath weapon. At all. They especially don't have a breath weapon that grants them unlimited text messaging in a medieval society where instant long-distance communication is unknown outside of POWERFUL magic spells. If he pays for Improved Familiar, and is willing to sacrifice the scry on familiar benefit gained at 13th level, that could be a reasonable alternative benefit to give the pseudodragon when his wizard reaches 13th level, IF it was usable only once per day. It's grossly overpowered for a 1st level character in any form.

Hope this helps!

EDIT: Here, I statted up a possible progression for you. Remember that the familiar also gets to replace its own stats with those of its master in many instances, provided the value it would receive from its master is better than its own.

Size/Type: Tiny Dragon
Hit Dice: 1d12+1 (7 hp)
Initiative: +2
Speed: 15 ft. (3 squares), fly 40 ft. (average)
Armor Class: 14 (+2 size, +2 Dex), touch 14, flat-footed 12
Base Attack/Grapple: +1/-9
Attack: Bite +5 melee (1)
Space/Reach: 2 ft./0 ft.
Special Qualities: cannot speak, low-light vision
Saves: Fort +3, Ref +4, Will +3
Abilities: Str 6, Dex 15, Con 13, Int 8, Wis 12, Cha 10
Skills: Hide +18*, Listen +5, Search +4, Sense Motive +5, Spot +5
Feats: Weapon Finesse
Alignment: neutral good

At 2nd level: gains darkvision and fly 60 ft (average)
At 3rd level: gains immunity to paralysis and +1 natural armor
At 4th level: gains +2 Int (add 2 ranks in Diplomacy and 2 ranks in Survival) and immunity to sleep
At 5th level: gains telepathy and +1 natural armor
At 6th level: gains spell resistance and poison sting (poison DC is 13)
At 7th level: gains blindsense and advances to 2 HD (add +1 base attack, +1 to all saves, +1 to poison save DC, increase hit points to 15, and +1 rank in Diplomacy, Hide, Listen, Search, Sense Motive, and Spot). Gain +2 natural armor. Also, Weapon Finesse becomes a bonus feat. Gain Alertness in its place (for an additional +2 to Listen and Spot
At 13th level: gain the talk'n'text breath weapon, usable once per day only, instead of the scry on familiar special ability.

Admiral Squish
2011-09-12, 12:28 PM
So... Is your player also trying to play a dungeonbred unicorn wizard?

2011-09-12, 01:21 PM
Yes, sending at will is damn good.

You can get it from jiriku's list and I want to stress on this again: The blindsense is the pseudodragon's greatest benefit (along with setting up a telepathic communication network for the group), not the poison.

I don't see a way to allow a blindsense 60 familiar at level 1.

I like the "immature pseudodragon" progression.

Lord Il Palazzo
2011-09-12, 01:36 PM
Thanks for the help, jiriku, I was afraid what I was thinking of was still a bit over the top.

The thing about this familiar is that the character back-story involves the wizard being apprenticed to a far more powerful wizard with whom she is required to stay in contact even though she's in a distant location (it looks like most of the campaign will be set in another country entirely). The main purpose of the specially bred pseudodragon (at least according to the player) is the communication feature so I doubt the player would accept putting it off until level 13. That said, I have hopes that I can find some way to make it acceptable, possible tacking on a heavy restriction on the recipient of the message so it would only be useful to "write home" and not for more game-breaking hijinks. (Maybe the recipient needs to have one of the pseudodragon's scales prepared by special ritual to be able to receive messages from that dragon or something similar.)

Regarding everything else, that sounds pretty good. I like the idea of slowly trickling in the pseudodragon's special qualities over the course of several levels until the full-power version becomes more acceptable. If I can get my player to put the dragon off until level 3 (he already has a level 1 feat picked that he can only take at level 1) and take Improved Familiar to get it, all should be (more or less) well. I'll start with your suggestion and play with what powers come when and see what I can do.

Marazus: Thanks for the input. I'll see what I can do about pushing back the blindsense and telepathy several levels for my player.

Thanks and have a good one.

2011-09-12, 03:11 PM
Oh, if this is the intention, then no problem.

"The pseudodragon can sent messages to only one person (or place?)."

Maybe something like "he can attune to a new person every 5 years" - and your dragon has done it 2 years ago.

The other thing: If it fit's your campaign, you can always sent an NPC pseudodragon with the group. He will not gain familiar-benefits and he will not be under the players control but he gets his back-story.

Lord Il Palazzo
2011-09-12, 03:20 PM
Hmmm. That's an interesting idea. I'll have to keep it in mind in case the player doesn't like the gradually building pseudodragon or can't find an opening for the Improved Familiar feat for a while.

2011-09-12, 04:55 PM
There are also alternative means of keeping in touch. For example, the wizard could gift him with a magical scroll, part of a pair. Anything written on one scroll appears on the other. That's right, we've just invented magical IM! :smallbiggrin: The PC has one scroll, the master has the other. Communication is established, with no possibility for exploits and no free increases in power.

Another option would be for the powerful wizard to just cast sending once every couple of days and say "Hey, how's it going?" Or perhaps the powerful wizard has a crystal ball with telepathy (DMG 253) and uses it to occasionally check up on his apprentice and chat about his progress.

Lord Il Palazzo
2011-09-12, 05:21 PM
jiriku, I'd considered offering the player some kind of magic item as an alternative (I actually had an idea more or less identical to the scrolls you suggested), but in the end, I want to make the player's idea work if there's any (reasonable) way to do it.

2011-09-12, 05:38 PM
Sounds like you've got a good handle on it then. Happy gaming! :smallsmile:

2011-09-12, 09:55 PM

If you are willing to give your player a raven, and just say "it's a pseudodragon *wink wink*, and let them upgrade the 'pseudodragon' when they get high enough level for the improved familliar feat..

It sounds to me like she's going for a concept. The player doesn't want a pseudodragon; they want a dragon assistant, and pseudodragon just so happens to be the closest thing to it. In that case, you could give her a raven (or a cat; does she want the dragon to fly? ... And is it a girl player? I think I'm crossing my mental streams...). Take away the claws and/or beak, and give them a ranged attack, 1d3-2 fire damage, range 5'. All that would do is let the familiar deal 1 fire damage as a normal attack (and it prevents the familiar from becoming a low-level death beast; with a couple buffs a standard cat/raven can do appreciable damage on full-round attacks, because strength eventually overcomes the -2 damage penalty).

For the messaging, you have 2 lower level alternatives. Whispering wind (fluffed to be an ash'd note rather than whispers) or animal messenger, fluffed the same way. Whispering wind has a range of 10 miles or so at level 1 (don't quote me on that, I'm going from memory) and animal messenger has a range of 50-200 miles.
Either way, KEEP IT AT 1/DAY. That's all you need to prefer abuse. The player wants to write home, make it so they cant send a letter a minute. Sending a journal entry each night when you make camp (and then only if you're close enough) is much better than functional free telepathy.

And I don't remember if you said yea/neigh on it yet, but don't let a flavor ability affect combat; having the 'fire breath' do standard claw/bite damage (with added 'blocked by fire resistance') is way safer than a 2d4 plus porting power. You my want to keep it at once every 1d4 rounds however.

Just my two bits.

Lord Il Palazzo
2011-09-13, 10:05 AM
It's interesting you mention giving the player a pseudo-pseudodragon that's really a reskinned raven because that's basically what my player and I have agreed on. (We didn't specifically say raven, but I told him* I'd give him a familiar that was based heavily/reskinned from the standard options, plus the messaging ability.)

I really like the idea of having the messaging ability work like a refluffed animal messenger spell. The player's agreed to heavy limitations on the use, including limiting it to only contact the mentor wizard (for now; I may allow an additional target later.)

Once the player has a chance to take the Improved Familiar feat (he's already starting with a feat that can only be taken at first level so the level 1 feat's spoken for) I'm going to start ramping the familiar toward full pseudodragon power as jiriku suggested (though minus the sting and poison and with a weak, short range breath weapon added to bolster the intended flavor.)

For the breath weapon (which won't appear until nearly level 7), I'm thinking something along the lines of 5 ft. range, 1d6 fire damage (reflex half) with a 1d4 recharge though I might tweak this before the player gets it depending on whether I feel like the character could use more or less power. Having a breath weapon like this would give the familiar at least some ability to deal damage in combat without provoking attacks of opportunity (as a normal pseudodragon can do this with its tail sting.)

So long story short, everyone's satisfied and all is well. Thanks again to all who helped.

*The player's male, the character's female; pronoun confusion ahoy!

2011-09-13, 04:57 PM

I see. My faux pas.

And... That sounds rather workable. I think you are given yourself too much detail with the breath weapon though. You are giving him a good breath weapon, and balancing it by putting it at higher level.

HOWEVER! both you and your player sound like you guys are a lot cooler and much more mellow than the people I deal with... And the familiar's combat ability doesn't matter if he's not supposed to fight.