- "Every servant has his place, no matter how lowly or modest. To know it is his greatest comfort, to excel within his greatest solace, and his master's contentment is his greatest reward."
- — Anonymous Imperial servant
A Familiar is usually an artificial creature or construct utilised for a variety of different tasks by many organisations and individuals within the Imperium of Man. A Space Marine Librarian or an Inquisitor sometimes make use of Familiars to aid them in their command of the Warp and to help focus their powers, and Warp-Familiars are common companions for Chaos Sorcerers. In this capacity, the Familiar becomes a psychic-symbiote, allowing its master to mentally link with it, seeing through its eyes and controlling its actions. Often, Familiars are either living creatures controlled by the mind of their master via arcane psyber neuro-implants or are cybernetic creatures controlled by voice or coded Vox-signal command.
Familiars are artificially-created creatures and constructs that slavishly follow and attend to their master. Familiars can be based on a wide number of living creatures, bio-constructs or pure automata. These are restricted to creatures smaller than an adult human (anything else would class as a Servitor), and by their nature cling to a single master unless instructed otherwise. Mostly, Familiars do not possess any significant degree of intelligence and are trained or programmed to perform certain tasks on command. Familiars are either living creatures controlled by the mind of their master via arcane psyber neuro-implants or are cybernetic creatures controlled by voice or coded Vox-signal command. Such slaved creatures are the strange fruit of ancient sciences and arcane superstitions, and the ownership and command of Familiars utilise many technologies that the Machine Cult considers sacred. A trailing throng of bonded Familiars is a sign of status both within the Adeptus Mechanicus and the Imperium at large.
Most notably, Space Marine Librarians and psychically-gifted Inquisitors often make use of Familiars, which aid them in their command of the Warp and help focus their powers. Familiars can take many forms from tiny mechanical beasts and creatures sensitive to the Warp to indentured servants with which their master has crafted a bond. Familiars can be an incredibly powerful tool for Librarians. They are psychic-symbiotes, allowing the Librarian to mentally link with them, seeing through their eyes and controlling their actions. Familiars can communicate with their masters in most cases (whether this is part of their nature or by choice) and the bond between a Librarian and his familiar will never be fully understood by other Battle-Brothers. Despite their status as tools of the warp, familiars are generally tolerated by the Astartes (with the exception of Chapters like the Black Templars who have no patience for anything connected to the Immaterium). They are also mostly harmless and not perceived as a threat. In some cases, however, they can cause trouble, their curiosity making mischief for those around them. Familiars have a habit of "complicating" things, especially if their master is incapacitated or absent.
Cyber-Constructs, Beasts and Servitors
Ancient pacts agreed in ages past with the Adeptus Mechanicus generally forbid most Imperial agencies from utilising Machine Spirits beyond a certain level of sophistication, and in any event most humans typically regard such devices as inherently blasphemous. Culturally, the Imperium is far more acclimatised to the idea of heavily cyberised systems that incorporate organic parts, with the trepanned crania of criminals and animals emptied for use as the control systems of heavy machinery, weapons, and vessels. Servitors -- lobotomised, cyberised, and repurposed criminals or cultured organic organisms are ubiquitous across the entirety of human space, and most citizens of the Imperium hardly spare them a second glance. Much of the Imperium's heavy industry is dependent to a degree upon these sad, brain-dead creatures, who shuffle mindlessly from task to task, lifting, cleaning, or carrying out other tedious or hazardous duties by means of equipment attached to their bodies or welded to their surgically-modified limbs.
The Immaterium is home to innumerable malefic beings that readily lend their powers to those foolish enough to call upon them. To entreat such beings is perilous, and many who do so are devoured by the ravenous Warp-creatures. Only a powerful Sorcerer can bend such an entity to his will, trapping its essence within an arcane object or host creature as a Familiar. So bound, the Familiar augments the Sorcerer's abilities, engorging him with raw psychic might. The practice of harnessing Familiars -- known as "tutelaries" -- was a secret amongst the Thousand Sons Legion before their fall to Chaos. Where other Imperial forces employed psybernetically-enhanced creatures, the Sons of Magnus the Red learnt through their studies of the power they could wield by calling upon the Warp directly.
Controlling a Familiar
In many respects, Familiars function as other creatures. Familiars are controlled by their masters through the use of simple commands. These are generally single words, short sentences or the equivalent. Should a master come under attack, the Familiar automatically moves to its master's defence, attacking the assailant unless it receives specific instruction (or possesses an instinct) to the contrary. Upon completing a task, the Familiar returns to its master's side unless it has received prior instructions or some other instinct applies.
A psy-bonded (or psyber) Familiar is a living creature bonded to its master by arcane technology. Interface circuitry in both Familiar and master (called a psyber-lure) allows the creature to be directly and precisely controlled, with the master having access to the sensory experiences of the creature and able to give it instantaneous commands at great distance. Owing to the idiosyncrasies of the little understood technology, usually only small, non-sapient creatures can become psy-bonded. Example psy-bonded Familiars include the following:
- Psyber-Eagle - Psyber-Eagles are genetically and cybernetically enhanced familiars created as gifts from the Adeptus Mechanicus to the grandees of the Imperium. They are often utilised by psykers to extend and channel their powers. Within the Calixis Sector, most famously, Lord Marius Hax himself is accompanied by a pair of psy-bonded eagles of prodigious size and splendour, gifts from the Mechanicus Fabricator-Lords of the Lathe Worlds. The eagles circle above him in the vast vaulted halls of the Lucid Palace on Scintilla, their eyes those of their master scanning from on high.
- Psyber-Raven - A Psyber-Raven is a common choice of Familiar among the Adeptus Astartes, particularly with Librarians. These dark-winged creatures are excellent for scouting objectives, their keen eyes picking out enemy ambushes and relaying troop positions. The bird's brooding appearance atop a shoulder pauldron and its occasional muttering of ominous phrases can be useful side effects as well. Psyber-Ravens are commonly created by the Iron Priests of the Space Wolves Space Marine Chapter. They often accompany their master in battle and act as the Iron Priest's eyes and ears, relaying vital information via arcane psyber neuro-implants. These fearsome creatures are often fitted with an array of deadly weapons to protect their master in the heat of battle. It is not unheard of for an Iron Priest to gift these formidable constructs to a fellow Space Wolf as a boon -- usually as a gesture of gratitude for having their life saved from certain death.
Many Imperial Adepta have in their service cyber-constructs, devices that incorporate the instincts of animals. These so-called Cyber-familiars are semi-intelligent machine versions or cybernetic adaptations of canids and avians controlled by a master which are all employed for this purpose. Such animals are usually crafted in special Adeptus Mechanicus facilities, which provides the vast majority of such constructs for Imperial organisations, such as the Adeptus Arbites. Some Cyber-familiars are created as assistants to serve prominent Adepts and the Mechanicus, or merely as amusements for the wealthy, while others are fitted for war with implanted weapon systems and all manner of crude but effective augmetics. Cyber-creatures may also have numerous items of equipment or weaponry implanted within their bodies just as a human can, such as a respirator, Auspex or gun. Example Cyber-familiars include the following:
- Caryatid - A Caryatid is a cybernetic construct that often resemble small, blue, winged humanoid creatures which inhabit the hives of Necromunda. They are mildly psychic creatures and tend to attach themselves to charismatic individuals and are considered a sign of good fortune. They are also useful since they can psychically penetrate the minds of others and recognise malicious intent against their adopted human master.
- Cherub - A Cherub is a cybernetic construct created by the Magos Biologis of the Adeptus Mechanicus for various Adepta of the Imperium of Man, including the Inquisition. Cherubim are often used by Inquisitors with psychic abilities as Familiars who can act to augment their powers. Cherubs have been intentionally shaped by the Mechanicus to resemble the child-like angels of ancient Terran myth to symbolise their purity in the eyes of the Emperor.
- Adeptus Arbites Cyber-Mastiff - Cyber-Mastiffs are usually deployed under the control of Adeptus Arbites or planetary Enforcer units to bring down recidivists and Heretics. Shaped in the form of a hound made of metal and guided by the brain and nervous system of a hunting creature, they are a fearsome extension of the Emperor's law, and a truly terrible sight to see unleashed.
- Fenrisian Cyberwolf - Although it is less common for an Iron Priest to bind with a pack of semi-sentient Fenrisian Wolves than other prominent Space Wolves, there are some amongst the Iron Priesthood who value the company of the great beasts. True to their dual nature as both Space Wolves and servants of the Omnissiah, an Iron Priest so adopted often outfits his animal companions with specifically-crafted bionics and other cybernetic enhancements.
- Subrique Pattern Grapplehawk - Rarely used outside the Arbites, these exotic Cyber-familiars take the form of elegant shining steel hawks. Their glittering crania contain the transplanted instincts of avians trained to seize moving targets without damaging them. These instincts, transferred to mechanical constructs fitted with powerful anti-gravitic suspensors and talons capable of tearing through cast iron, enable Arbites handlers to arrest suspects quickly (if brutally) on the streets of the Calixian Hives. Designed to be carried on the hip, or to perch elsewhere on the handler's armour, the Subrique Pattern Grapplehawk can be deployed quickly in pursuit of a criminal. This well-constructed Calixian variant of the arch-design is known to be somewhat lighter than many other types, and the built-in shock talons make use of speed rather than brute carrying strength.
- Haemoncolyte - A Haemoncolyte is a type of cyber-construct utilised by members of the Adeptus Mechanicus. These creatures are vat-grown creations from a Tech-priest's own flesh and blood. They are typically designed to absorb any tumours or poisons generated by the Tech-priest during their lifetime, effectively cleansing their master's body and allowing them to have a longer lifespan. These imperfections are passed to the Haemoncolyte via an umbilical connection. As the Haemoncolyte rapidly ages, they become covered in liver spots and lumpen growths taken from their Tech-priest counterpart.
Some Champions of Chaos are so blessed by their patron deity that they are granted supernatural creatures as servants and protectors, also called Familiars.
- Combat Familiar - A Chaos Combat Familiar in service to a Chaos Champion can take almost any form, such as that of a diabolical hound, a stunted humanoid minion, a tumbling nest of metal tentacles, a being of living Warpflame or a thousand other strange and unsettling beasts created from the energies of the Empyrean.
- Spell Familiar - A Spell Familiar may be a small creature made of bound psychic energy, such as the tutelaries of the Thousand Sons Chaos Sorcerers, or a living being invested with the power of the Warp. They can take any form imaginable or desired by their master, but are often small imps, evil-looking mannequins, or twisted, dwarfish mutants.
- Hamadrya - The Hamadrya is a peculiar creature which seems bound to the Chaos Lord Huron Blackheart. Slick skinned, with blank red eyes, it resembles something like a featherless bird or a skinless dog, but when seen on the edge of sight its shape changes, bloating in size, or turning to a flickering pillar of flame. What this creature is remains a mystery. Perhaps it is a Daemon of the Warp, the bound essence of one of Huron's enemies, or even the remains of his own mutilated soul, forfeited to the Chaos Gods in return for his survival. No matter its nature, the Hamadrya seems to gift Huron with strange powers, slowing time, allowing him to see lies, and to know truths that no mortal should. The beast appears semi-intelligent and stays with him at all times, perching on his shoulder or hiding behind him if things get too dangerous. The creature never fights or tries to help its master directly, but it seems to manifest its curious psychic powers, which Huron uses to his advantage.
Servo-skulls are human skulls (often that of a favoured servant or low ranking Tech-priest) that have been fitted with rudimentary Machine Spirits, support systems and an anti-gravitic suspensor motor to provide lift. These constructs are devoted to a particular task and have the basic equipment to carry out the purpose that they have been programmed to perform. Their advantages are their small size and manoeuvrability, which allows them to enter otherwise inaccessible spaces or hazardous areas that would endanger their operators, as well as the ability to act as additional "eyes and ears" for their masters. The Servo-skull is synonymous with the Adeptus Mechanicus, who regard these creations as excellent servants and their Machine Spirits as exceptionally faithful and pure. Servo-skulls can also be found serving faithfully with the other Adepta and the high-ranking elites of many Hive Worlds.
- Berserker-Chip - Also known as "lobos" and "butcher-jobs," these devices are surgically embedded in the creature's brain. When triggered, the chip sends it into a near-uncontrollable bloodlust and frenzy, backed by heavy doses of combat drugs pumping into its remaining organic tissues. These chips are activated either by a command word or signal sent directly to the beast.
- Codex: Daemonhunters (3rd Edition), pg. 14
- Codex: Imperialis (2nd Edition), pp. 3, 15, 46
- Codex: Heretic Astartes - Thousand Sons (8th Edition), pg. 38
- Codex: Chaos Space Marines (6th Edition), pg. 67
- Codex: Chaos Space Marines (4th Edition), pg. 57
- Dark Heresy: The Book of Judgement (RPG), pg. 72
- Dark Heresy: The Inquisitor's Handbook (RPG), pp. 142-145
- Deathwatch: First Founding (RPG), pg. 107
- Deathwatch: Rites of Battle (RPG), pg. 146
- Necromunda: Underhive (2nd Edition), pp. 2, 26, 91, 141
- Rogue Trader: Lure of the Expanse (RPG), pg. 127
- The Horus Heresy - Book One: Betrayal (Forge World Series) by Alan Bligh, pg. 237
- Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader (1st Edition), pg. 213
- Warlords of the Dark Millennium - Huron Blackheart," pp. 7, 20
- White Dwarf 137 (UK), "Confrontation," pp. 60, 63, 67
- White Dwarf 132 (UK), "Confrontation," pg. 33
- White Dwarf 130 (UK), "Confrontation - Necromunda Imperial Hive World," by Bryan Ansell, Rick Priestley and Nigel Stillman, pp. 13, 18
- Heroes of the Space Marines (Anthology), "The Skull Harvest," by Graham McNeill
- Treacheries of the Space Marines (Anthology), "The Bitter End," (Short Story) by Sarah Cawkwell