During my weekly game the person playing the Wizard made an interesting observation. D&D 4e is the first edition of the game not to offer the Wizard class the option of taking a familiar. I have yet to play a Wizard in 4e and even if I had I don’t know if I would have even noticed this omission. I’ve never liked familiars. They always felt like an afterthought to the spell casting classes. In my opinion we can say good riddance to bad rubbish. Good call, Wizards of the Coast!
Over the years I have played a few Wizards myself. And if I wasn’t playing the Wizard there was a really good chance someone else in the party was. And in all those years of playing I don’t remember a single Wizard’s familiar having any impact to a campaign, storyline or individual encounter. The familiars were useless!
Of all the Wizards played at my gaming table over the years, by me or another player, I only recall a handful of them ever taking a familiar. And therein lays the real problem: I’m sure most of those Wizards had familiars recorded on their character sheets, but only the person playing the Wizard knew about it. And the reason no one else knew was because none of those familiars were ever made a memorable part of the Wizard to which it was bound.
I think the only reason any player ever took a familiar was to power game. Why not take a toad familiar if it gives you a few more hit points? Why not take a bat familiar if it means getting bonuses to Perception? I don’t fault the people playing Wizards for exploiting this part of the character creation process. I fault the game mechanics for presenting this beneficial option (for Wizards and Sorcerers only) and not having any negatives to balance it off.
If the familiar was really such an important part of the Wizard class then many of the monstrous spell casters would have familiars, too. I can’t think of any monster entries in the 3e or 4e Monster Manuals that describe familiars. That should tell you something. And that something is that familiars are useless and serve no practical purpose other than making your Wizard look cool (hawk familiar) or dirty (rat familiar) or creepy (snake familiar). Put simply, the familiar is just an affectation designed to facilitate role-playing. It should not have any in game relevance or impact other than to help make your character more memorable.
“I’m looking for a particular group of adventurers,” he said as he bellied up to the bar. “Can you describe them?” asked the barkeep. “They’re pretty non-descript. But the guy in the cloak had a ferret that he kept kissing and feeding. I think he was a druid.”
There have been a lot of complaints about things missing from 4e D&D, but I don’t think anyone is complaining about the missing familiars, least of all me.