Sunday, November 19, 2023


(Hey look, I can make posts that aren't just His Majesty the Worm shilling. I still am playing games and thinking about them!)

For my current Dolmenwood game, my players said they wanted to all play witches. To play to this gimmick, I wrote a magical familiar subsystem. Rules below in a His Majesty the Worm parlance, but can be adapted to any OSR system without difficulty. Lots of inspiration for this system came from the unparalleled Goblinpunch

A thing I really like about this subsystem is how it creates trouble for the players. Each familiar wants something weird and outrageous, which pushes the characters into interesting/dangerous situations to try and keep the little shit happy. 

Also, because this system creates such interesting little personalities, the players never have the "Oh right, I have a pet I forgot about" moment. Actually, they're penalized with an in-character justification if they ever have that realization as the familiar has felt neglected and slipped away into the dreaming world (see below).

The one big con about this system is that I have to talk in a lot of funny voices to handle the bonded NPCs that the players all have now. Exhausting on my vocal chords. 

Binding your Familiar

To bind a familiar to your service, you must go on a vision quest into the lowest realms of Dreaming (the parts that are tangent to the upper levels of Hell). Find some drugs that can get you there, if you have no spells that can do it.

Creating your familiar is like going to Build a Bear Workshop. Choose three representative pieces of the familiar and combine them together. (The art I made for my players for this is amateurish, but was accepted with applause, which made me feel good.)


In my heart, I know my familiar is:

  1. Toad with teeth, speaks in a deep baritone voice (my dear boy!)

  2. Blind crow, flies backwards

  3. Black goat, always stands on your shadow, causes discomfort on places where it's hoofs touch

  4. Shoulder imp, smug as Hell (literally)

  5. Fat hare, walks like a man, fond of eating bones and skin

  6. Moth, tiny crown, everyone gets goosebumps when it appears, speaks like a king


I most desire:

  1. Ghost. Can teleport you (only) to the nearest graveyard. 

  2. Fat. You can tickle it and it opens up to reveal an extradimensional space 1 slot large (does this for free, no need for a favor). Can burp out 1-21 gold coins, but these fade away during the next full moon. 

  3. Circle-Square-Triangle. Can conjure 1 random spell component every month. 

  4. Spellbook. Can ask it a question about the future: “If I do X, what will happen?”

  5. Silvery. Your familiar is white. Once a month, it can speak to the moon. The moon can see anything that happens out of doors during the night, except for nights of the new moon. Can tell you where something is or how something went down.

  6. Bat wings. Your familiar gains bat wings. It can lend them to you, allowing you to fly. 


For this, I would trade:

  1. Silver lantern. The familiar seeks new frontiers (especially of the mind and/or other planes) and cosmic truth

  2. Gilded birdcage. Familiar craves political power to rule the world and become a leader of men (preferred: starting a cult, marrying royalty)

  3. Cookie jar. Strange, dangerous, and terrible things to eat. 

  4. Cage carved of a single ruby. Money. Give it treasure.

  5. Doll-sized wizard tower. Familiar desires the construction of a vast object, built for some distant, undefined purpose (preferred: tower, ziggurat, ship)

  6. A mirror (familiar appears as a reflection). Familiar wishes for your ego-death through dissociative drugs, anomie, and constant exposure to danger.

Lastly, each familiar is unique. Roll on the 1d100 Familiar List to see how your combination is different from every other familiar. This also gives your familiar a random name.

Feed your familiar a portion of your own blood mixed with milk and honey to bind them to you. 

Familiar Rules

Once a familiar has agreed to work with you, it is your familiar for life. You and your familiar may fall out, get into fights. It might leave. It’s still your familiar, but until you come to mutually agreeable terms, you won’t be able to work together.

When you have a bound familiar, you can ask it to dwell with you in the dreaming world or the waking world.


When in the waking world, your familiar is physically present with you. It rides on your shoulders, trots at your side, sleeps in your sleeve. 

Familiars don’t like to be ignored. Every time you—as the player—mention it, describe what it’s doing, talk to it in-character, the familiar is pleased. It can feel it is being noticed.

Every time the GM has to say, “Wait, what is your familiar doing while you do that” the familiar feels hurt. You’ve forgotten about it. When this happens, it slinks off into the dreaming world. Summoning it is done with disfavor.

Familiars go into the dreaming world when they’re hurt. They rest there for 1-21 days.

You can dismiss a familiar to the dreaming world whenever you want, if it would be dangerous or inconvenient to have them around.


When in the dreaming world, it appears to you in your dreams. You can talk to it here, if you want. 


Whenever you attempt to summon your familiar from the dreaming world to the waking one (or vice versa) make a Wands test. Success means that the familiar arrives immediately. Otherwise it arrives in 1d4 watches. If you have annoyed your familiar, you automatically fail this test, while familiars that are extremely pleased will always arrive promptly.


Familiars can perform services, but never more than 1/day. However, for every service it performs, you owe a favor.

1. Familiars can use one of their special powers at your behest.

2. Familiars can give you a spell slot.

3. Familiars can do just about anything that a normal animal could do—and then some! They could fly away, spy on a bandit’s camp, and report back. It can even give its opinion about plans on how to ambush the bandit leader. 

4. You can ask a familiar to fight with you. This counts as one service. In His Majesty the Worm, use Cups cards to command them during a Challenge.

5. Familiars can save you from a violent death—but only once ever.


Each favor is always something that the familiar can call in immediately, or at a later date. 

If you perform the favor that the familiar requests, that's the end of it. But if you refuse, that is a violation of the contract with the familiar, and deserving of a roll on the Breach of the Covenant table.

Playtest Note: There's a bit of extra mental load with keeping track of all the familiars, their names, and their desired favors. Write a notecard with all this information to keep next to your campaign notes. At the start of each session, go over who owes their familiar a favor, and think about nearby things the familiar would be interested in. You can have the start of a session be a familiar demanding something troublesome nearby.

Breach of the Covenant 

1. random curse 2. random mutation 3. -1 to a random attribute 4. lose 2-8 XP

Bonus Picture


  1. Best way to handle multiple voices is make the player next to them do the voice of the familiar. That's also funnier.

    1. I like that method. The only catch for me is that the familiars are often a source of lore-dropping/know things the PCs don't, so I can't outsource them in this instance. But I should do that for other followers/hirelings.