- For Eldar Warlock, see here.
Warlocks are a type of magic spellcaster in fantasy settings. Also, in settings where "witch" is a gendered term (such as Charmed or the average Halloween store), they are the male counterpart of witches (because imagining a dude in one of those Leg Avenue witch costumes would be too gay). In other settings, it simply denotes a different school of magic user. Compared to others, warlocks are usually dedicated completely to offensive magic and in a few cases, dabbling in the forbidden arts like black magic and daemonology to achieve more power, although this is not always the case.
- 1 In Warhammer
- 2 In Deadlands
- 3 In Dungeons & Dragons
The term "warlock" and "witch" appear almost interchangeably in Warhammer and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay as a generic term for any practitioner of evil magic. In "Realms of Sorcery", the magic splatbook for WFRPG 2e, the difference was finally spelled out; a "Witch" is any untrained magic user who has managed to advance to a sufficient degree of skill that they can cast one or more non-Petty Magic spells, and in fact a Witch can actually learn to cast spells from multiple of the Eight Lores due to being outside of the restrictive training of the Academies, but at the cost of being slightly more unstable when casting than a proper apprenticed Wizard. Conversely, a Warlock is any Witch who has progressed from the Eight Lores to actively using Dark Magic, Chaos Magic, or Necromancy; formally, Warlocks are broken in Daemonologists (practitioners of the Dark Lore and/or Chaos Magic) and Necromancers (practitioners of Necromancy). Both were presented as Advanced Careeers for the Hedge Mage in that same book, with Witch as a progression for Hedge Mage and Warlock as a progression for Witch.
The Chaos sourcebook for that same edition, ironically, makes no mention of the term "warlock". The concept remains in the form of the various Cult Magus advanced careers, and a whole career path to represent the wargame's Chaos Sorcerer unit, starting as a lowly Maledictor before rising through the ranks as a Doomweaver, then a Soulflayer, then finally a Cataclyst.
In Deadlands, both the generic black-magic using badguy and the PC "huckster" class/archetype/thingy would technically fall under the warlock moniker, and black magicians are commonly called warlocks to boot. Hucksters are a special case in that they literally deal with the devil for their magic; whenever a huckster casts a spell, they astrally project into the Spirit World and offer a passing demon to play a game of skill & chance (poker being, of course, traditional); if the demon wins, it gets a chunk of the huckster's soul (which translates to a huge amount of physical pain and/or death for the huckster), and if the huckster wins, the demon has to surrender the mojo needed to make the huckster's spell a reality. Part of what makes spells differ in difficulty to cast is the some spells either need more juice to work than others or else are calling for stuff the demon wouldn't normally like to do - it's a lot easier to call them up to kill somebitch than to make them protect you, for example.
In Dungeons & Dragons
Instead of gaining their power through meticulous training and study like the Wizard, or natural-born talent like the Sorcerer, they make contracts with very powerful entities and forces and channel that energy, like an arcane Cleric.
Ironically, despite being defined by their pacts with powerful patrons, the root words of "warlock" actually translate as "oathbreaker". In the Christian tradition that the term originates from, this is because they have broken their "oath" to God by striking a deal with another entity (or, to be more old school about it, striking their name from God's Book of Life and signing it in Satan's black Book of Death). In D&D, it subtly telegraphs the inevitable plot hooks about conflict with the character's patron, and their sudden but inevitable betrayal.
In 1st ed AD&D, characters had titles as they leveled up. An 8th level Magic-User gained the title "Warlock." Nobody cared about these titles, not even the people who used weapon speed or the AC to-hit modifiers for each weapon. There was a Dragon magazine article (issue 43) describing a 'witch' npc class, and male npcs that took this class were sometimes called "warlocks" instead.
In 2nd ed AD&D, a character could take a class kit, which was essentially a set of alternate class features that you could take to add a different play style to a class. Such kits required you to meet certain requirements to take them though. In the The Complete Wizard's Handbook, there was a Wizard kit called the Witch. In the description of the Witch kit, it is mentioned that most Witches are female, but male Witches are possible, being commonly referred to as Warlocks. The Witch kit states that the power the Witch gains, is taught to them by extraplanar entities, for a variety of reasons. In exchange for this magical knowledge though, Witches constantly had to struggle with the extraplanar entities to maintain their free will. Unlike traditional Wizards, a Witch needed to be more than just Intelligent, requiring decent Wisdom and Constitution scores as well. While this kit is not an official Warlock class, it was the first time the themes of the Warlock made it into a player class.
The 3.5 ed Warlock was introduced in Complete Arcane. It looks like textbook munchkin bait, but is actually kinda meh. Warlocks have at-will casting and no spells per day in 3.5, which made some people call hax but isn't so hot because very few DMs would ever run enough encounters in one in-game day for Vancian casters to completely run out of spells and most Warlock spells aren't that great anyways. Among the handful that do, some like to have spells that are at-will and keep 3.5. One of the Warlock's most powerful abilities is to DAKKADAKKADAKKA with Eldritch Blasts, without having an accuracy problem. This ability can win encounters, but the time necessary to do so balances it out, so this class is both for people who want fast combat going The Matrix on the ceiling, and for patient masterminds. Warlocks are Tier 4, able to do some things fairly well, but they simply don't get enough spells to remain versatile enough to participate in most encounters and have nothing game breaking enough to enter tier 2. Since their damage is static and they can't do much to improve it, they can have problems doling out enough damage to remain relevant, and a mere 2 skill points per level and no use for intelligence doesn't exactly help. Unlike most tier 4s, which would require major overhauls to bring to tier 3, Warlock just needs number tweaks to be brought to tier 3 with better skill points, spells known, and damage considered sufficient. Since Warlock invocations do not count as spells, Warlocks do not meet the "Able to cast Nth-level arcane spells" prerequisites for prestige classes like the Rainbow Servant and Mystic Theurge. Warlock levels do, however, count as arcane caster levels, so they meet the comparatively rare "Arcane caster level Nth" prerequisites of prestige classes like Acolyte of the Skin, Blood Magus, Enlightened Fist, Green Star Adept, and Wild Mage. Warlocks can also enter the few prestige classes explicitly intended for them (there are 3 such classes in Complete Arcane and 2 in other books).
Unusually for a non-core base class, Warlock got a decent amount of support in future splat where most non-core classes were forgotten by WotC beyond one or two future additions. Dragonfire Adept uses Warlock mechanics with a slightly different spin. Warlocks were even included in the base game of Neverwinter Nights 2, though there's no reason to bother with one unless the module you're playing restricts resting (as both expansion packs do) since a wizard can regain his spells in (literally) 6 seconds in this game.
Warlock is an unusually potent Dip Class since many of the abilities they can get at level 1 are passives that last all day.
Pathfinder didn't give the warlock a conversion due to the non OGL status of the 3rd edition version. Occult Adventures, however, introduced the Kineticist class, which follows Warlock mechanically a bit more closely than Magus to Duskblade, but thematically you are an element bender instead of having made vague deals with evil outsiders or fey. Unfortunately, the Kineticist is also considered one of the most difficult classes to build in Pathfinder, and the hardest to understand. The witch takes up the flavor portion of the warlock while having its own mechanics.
Then Ultimate Intrigue came along and made warlock an archetype of the Vigilante. In this context, they are more Vigilante Arcane spellcasters. While they have some Magus spellcasting, they also can sling magical bolts, and still use almost all the vigilante tricks of misdirection, masked combat, and walking straight past the guards after making a quick change of outfits. Sadly the mystic bolts thing is utterly non-supported and falls apart by mid-levels without third party materials, but you're still proficient in martial weapons and have pretty decent casting. About the only thing beyond general ranged attacks they can qualify for and make use of is the ability to change bolts to bludgeoning, piercing or slashing with the Weapon Versatility feat, but this just means they're subject to damage reduction. With third party material however, the mystic bolts become a potent weapon in their own right, albeit at the cost of your already limited talents.
When 4th edition rolled around, Warlocks made a surprising leap into the Player's Handbook, supplanting the Sorcerer as "the other PHB mage class". Classified as Arcane Strikers, Warlocks were flavored as eerie, sinister casters who could place victims under dread curses and gain magical benefits by reaping the souls of those they had cursed. They were also somewhat stealthy, thanks to their "Shadow Walk" feature, which granted them concealment until the end of their next turn on any turn in which they moved at least 3 squares. Like all classes in core 4e, the Warlock had subclasses, and a very obvious basis: their Pact, or what 5e would rename their Patron; the specific kind of unearthly entity that the warlock had received their power from, which even dictated one of their cantrips and also determined which kind of bonus they got from reaping the souls of those they had cursed. As a result, they started with three patron types in the PHB; the Fey, the Infernal, and the Star. In a step that 5e wouldn't replicate, a paragon level (11+) Warlock could take a feat called Twofold Pact, which represented them swearing allegiance to a second patron and getting access to its associated cantrip and pact boon, allowing them to choose which boon to benefit from whenever they dropped a cursed enemy.
The Fey Pact was made with an Archfey or, really, any particularly strong fey. Fey spells tend to have themes of either "glamour magic" (seductive, intoxicating enchantments") or savage nature-type magic (such as setting a pack of ravenous sprites on a foe that rend the flesh from their bones). Their mandatory cantrip is Eyebite, and their pact boon is Misty Step (teleport 3 squares when a cursed creature drops to 0 HP).
The Infernal Pact was, as you can probably guess, made with a scheming devil, or maybe even one of the Archdevils. The least subtle of the pacts, it's all about scouring foes with fire, sucking away their souls, or invoking other hostile elements from Baator. Is mandatory spell is Hellish Rebuke and its pact boon is Dark One's Blessing (gain temporary HP equal to your level when a cursed creature drops to 0 HP).
The Star Pact is an odd one, with elements of the Cthulhu Mythos - basically, in the World Axis cosmology, certain stars are sapient and they're basically giant aberrations, which can bestow powers on those willing to risk communion with them. These stars were so new that they actually got an article in Dragon Magazine ("Wish Upon A Star", #366) that went full Lovecraft, detailing some of the most common of these "dark stars" and a Paragon Path, the Student of Caiphon, dedicated to one of these stars - something that would be followed up in Dragon #403's "Strange Constellations", which adapted Atropus, Father Llymic, Pandorym, Ragnorra and The Worm That Walks from 3e's Elder Evils into star-fiends that can empower warlocks. Arcane Power would present a far more benevolent motif for the Star-lock in the Master of Starry Skies PP, but overall they remain a creepy, creepy son of a bitch - and the only class in the PHB other than the Cleric that specializes in doing radiant damage! Their mandatory cantrip is Dire Radiance, and their pact boon is Fate of the Void (you gain a +1 bonus to one D20 roll of your choice made before the end of your next turn when a cursed creature drops to 0 HP - this bonus stacks, but it only remains usable for one turn).
For those curious, the "dark stars" named in that issue are Acamar, Caiphon, Delban, Gibbeth, Hadar, Ihbar, Khirad, Nihal, Ulban and Zhudun. These had actually first appeared as part of certain powers in the PHB1, alongside a never-detailed star called Thuban ("Tendrils of Thuban", a level 15 daily spell, which paralyzes and consumes a cluster of foes with tendrils of of liquid summoned from the frozen emerald seas that lie under the star Thuban). The Monster Manual 3 would create a sadly under-developed monster category called the Star Spawn; celestial aberrations representing the progeny of these terrible stars, and even statting one such star - Allabar, Opener of the Way, a living planet corrupted by the Far Realm - as the most powerful of them.
When the Forgotten Realms Player's Guide rolled around for 4e, it introduced the new Dark Pact, an alliance made with horrible, malevolent spirits native to the Underdark and popular with drow warlocks, resulting in spells focused on darkness, poison, madness, and spite. Several of its iconic spells possess the ability to gain upgrades if you inflict damage on your allies, although even without this "augment" they're quite beefy. Its mandatory cantrip is Spiteful Glamor, and its surprisingly complex pact boon is Darkspiral Aura (when a cursed creature drops to 0 HP, your Darkspiral Aura value gains 1 point; you can use your Darkspiral Aura as an immediate interrupt when an enemy makes a melee or ranged attack against you, inflicting 1d6/1d8/1d10 Necrotic & Psychic Damage per point in your Darkspiral Aura; if this damage is less than 12, your Aura drops to 0 points; if more than 12 damage, you can halve the damage you take and your Aura drops to 1 point - you lose all Aura points when you take a short rest).
Dark Sun did the same thing; the Sorcerer-King's Pact was its attempt to recreate the Templar of AD&D, that strange pseudo-priestly class that derived its powers from its oath of allegiance to the tyrannical mage-psions of Athas' last cities. Its mandatory cantrip is Hand of Blight, and its pact boon is Fell Scorn - this strange feature is borrowing some elements from the psionics rules system, and can trip up an unobservant reader; the Sorcerer-King pacted Warlock has a single point of "Fell Might", which can be spent when casting certain spells in order to trigger some upgraded effects, and is recharged whenever the warlock drops a cursed creature to 0 HP. This trait is controversial to say the least because, normally, pact-associated spells don't need to spend this sort of resource to get their bonus. Even though Fell Might will recharge like crazy because, hey, cursing people is what a warlock is supposed to do, it still leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
Arcane Power would introduce what many wrongly believed to be the last of the Core pacts, in the form of the Vestige Pact; obviously themed after the Binder of last edition, the Vestige Pact calls upon the spirits of bizarre ghosts and ancient, forgotten entities, with a unique mechanic attached to it. Each Daily power associated with this pact, always named "Vestige of whoever", becomes a Vestige in the Warlock's arsenal. Whenever the warlock completes a rest, they can determine which Vestige is their "Active" Vestige - they can also choose to change their Active Vestige whenever they use one of those Vestige powers, causing the newly invoked Vestige to become Active. Your Active Vestige determines the effects of your pact boon and the secondary effects of your mandatory cantrip, "Eyes of the Vestige".
The reason that neither Vestige nor Sorcerer-King was the last of the Core 4e Warlock Pacts? Hidden in the Essentials era sourcebook "Heroes of the Elemental Chaos" is the Elemental Pact for core warlocks. Representing the obvious choice of a warlock drawing their power from a Primordial, this elementalist warlock has some slight overlap with the Wild Mage, but not much. It gains the bonus feature "Elemental Affinity", where you have Affinity to either Acid, Cold, Fire, Fire, Lightning or Thunder - this is determined randomly each time you complete a rest, and you can change your Elemental Affinity when you invoke your second wind. When you cast an arcane attack power that deals Force, Necrotic, Poison or Psychic damage, you can make it inflict whichever damage type you have Elemental Affinity for instead. Its pact boon is Accursed Affinity; after you drop at least one cursed victim, everyone you place your Curse on for the rest of the encounter gains Vulnerability (5/tier) to whichever damage type you currently have Elemental Affinity with.
Essentials also introduced two Warlock Variant Classes (alternatively known as subclasses); "Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms" introduced the Hexblade, an Arcane Striker-Defender that is basically a cross between a Warlock and a Swordmage, whilst "Heroes of Shadow" introduced the Binder, a restyling of the Warlock into a full-fledged Arcane Controller.
The Hexblade was initially introduced with only Fey and Infernal Pact options; it gained its own version of the Star Pact in Dragon #393, an Elemental Pact in "Heroes of the Elemental Chaos", and a Gloom Pact in "Heroes of Shadow".
The Binder, as the very last Warlock derivative to emerge prior to 4e's cancellation, only had the two Pacts; Gloom and Star, both in its native "Heroes of Shadow". It did manage to gain a Fey Pact for itself in Dragon #406.
It bears mentioning that, whilst original/"Core style" warlocks can take the spells from both the Binder and the Hexblade for themselves, the "Pacts" as used by these variant classes are not synonymous with the Core-lock's Pacts, so Gloom Pact spells have no special riders when used by non-Binders or Hexblades. This is one of the many reasons why most of 4e's fans didn't like the "simplified" versions of classes created for Essentials.
4e paired the Warlock class up with the Tiefling race, much like how Dwarves make iconic Fighters or Clerics, or Elves make good Wizards, or Half-orcs make good Barbarians. 5e continues this tradition.
4e Sample Patrons
Issue #381 of Dragon Magazine featured an article called "Performing the Pact", which provided some example Patrons for each of the five pacts available at the time.
The Dark Pact patron is Yorgrix, Weaver of the Poison Web: once a demonweb spider kept as a familiar by an overconfident drow matron, Yorgrix patiently mastered the dark magic it watched its mistress perform and then, fueled by hunger and ambition, slew and devoured both her and the entire city in which she dwelled. Glutted on countless souls, Yorgrix was transformed into a dread spirit; now imprisoned in the city it massacred, it reaches out to the minds of mortals with a simple promise: power for food.
The Fey Pact patron is The Eochaid, a strange fey spirit embodying the interplay between nature and arcane magic, and which manifests as a strange amalgamation of humanoid, animal and plant. Ancient as the Seldarine themselves, the Eochaid desires only to promote and strengthen magic, seeking its growth. Those willing to plant magic's seed - and to retrieve arcane artifacts for it to protect - are blessed with its wild hexes and unearthly glamors.
The Infernal Pact patron is The Prisoner in Iron, an infernal warlock of such power that the Archdevils feared him and have bound him in the deepest dungeons of Dis, hoping to hide him forever. But such is his power that he can still reach out to the mortal world, offering tutelage to the ambitious, seeking to empower a champion mighty enough to free him from his chains.
The Star Pact patron is Ulban, the Wanderer; a sapient time-traveling comet from a far-flung apocalypse, the last survivor of its universe. Now it wanders space and time, empowering those who, in some inscrutable way, will play their part in prevent Ulban's future from coming to be - often battling against the other dark stars in the process.
The Vestige Pact patron is The Bleak Guide, a reaper-like entity from the Shadowfell charged with maintaining the orderly transition of life to death, and more than willing to act as a go-between for vestiges and those mortals who will use their power to make is own existence easier. It can't act against the necromancers and undead that vex it so - but its mortal agents, on the other hand...
The 5e Warlock is a complicated marriage of 3e invocations, 4e pacts, and 5e spellcasting, with a few caveats. They gain a pitiful amount of spell slots, as well as only a handful of spells known. To the untrained player's eye, they're painfully limited compared to "real" casters, but in reality they're
roid-pumping nightmares not bad. Their spell slots all automatically scale the slot level up so their spells are always guaranteed to be pumped up, and also refresh after every encounter or few (short rest). Invocations are back from 3.5, albeit scaled back a bit, providing various kinds of special abilities, from access to spells that aren't on their list as at-will, encounter or daily powers, to power-ups for the pact form, and of course power-ups for Eldritch Blast.
To complete the Warlock package, you get a pact with a supernatural being. The pact gives you a thematic extended spell list; for example, Great Old One Warlocks can cast (but not spam, sadly) Evard's Black Tentacles. Pacts provide a bevvy of unique class features like teleportation, damage resistance or telepathy. On top of magical powers, they also give you a consolation prize in the form of a pact boon, which can either be a souped-up familiar, a free enchanted weapon that you can shapeshift into whatever kind of weapon you need (and you always have proficiency with it, even if it's currently in a form you wouldn't otherwise have proficiency with), or a magical book that gives you an additional three cantrips that can each come from a separate class's list. An alternative pact boon was the Star Chain, introduced in "Non Divine Faithful", which closely ties into the Seeker patron: this is a magical trinket that can be used to cast Augury and can be used to grant Advantage on an Int check once per short rest. A better alternate pact boon is the talisman, introduced in the class features UA, a magic necklace that allows whoever wears it (which can be you or anyone else, no attunement slot required) to add a d4 to an ability check roll if they aren't proficient in the pertinent skill.
The available pacts are:
Archfey - Bound to a powerful faerie lord or sylvan pseudo-deity, a warlock with this pact gains the power of Fey Presence (Charm or Frighten all creatures in a 10ft cube around you once per short rest), Misty Escape (teleport 60 feet and turn invisible once per short rest), Beguiling Defenses (you are immune to Charming and can attempt to Charm anyone foolish enough to try a Charm effect on you) and Dark Delirium (can attempt to entrap a target in an illusion to Charm or Terrify it once per short rest). This one is in the Player's Handbook.
Fiend - Bound to a Demon Prince, Archdevil, Ultraloth, powerful ghereleth, or other sufficiently-powerful entity native to the lower planes, a warlock with this pact gains Dark One's Blessing (gain temporary HP for dropping another creature to zero HP), Dark One's Luck (can add a d10 to an ability check or saving throw after you roll it once per short rest), Fiendish Resilience (gain Resistance to a single damage type of your choice after completing a short rest, though magic and silvered weapons can pierce it) and Hurl Through Hell (teleport a target into some hellish dimension for 1 turn, causing 10d10 Psychic damage to a non-fiendish target, once per long rest). This one is in the Player's Handbook.
Great Old One - Warlocks with this pact are bound to terrible abominations from outside time and space, drawing on the power of aberrant gods like Cthulhu. They gain the boons of Awakened Mind (telepathy with a 30ft range), Entropic Ward (can make yourself harder to hit and get a bonus if the target missed once per short rest), Thought Shield (mind cannot be involuntarily read, Resistance to Psychic Damage, inflict equal Psychic damage on anyone who inflicts Psychic damage on you) and Create Thrall (permanently charm a single creature with a touch, gaining telepathic communication with them from anywhere on the same plane, so good luck justifying this ability with a good-aligned character). This one is in the Player's Handbook.
Undying - A Warlock with this pact has offered their soul to something that has "cheated death"; most obviously a powerful lich, ghost or vampire, but mortals ascended to godhood and weirder things are also valid. The Nameless One isn't mentioned, but would be a perfectly thematic (and awesome!) patron for this pact. The "necromantic" pact, these warlocks get features related to the ability to cheat death; Among the Dead (Spare the Dying as a bonus cantrip, Advantage on saving throws against disease, Undead must pass a Wisdom save to attack you), Defy Death (gain a significant healing 1/day by passing a death saving throw or using Spare the Dying), Undying Nature (can hold your breath indefinitely, don't need food, water or sleep, immunity to magical aging, age 1 year for every 10 you live) and Indestructible Life (can freely heal yourself 1/encounter, including reattaching limbs as part of it). Comes from the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide.
Hexblade - Basically, you want to play a character inspired by Sauron or Arthas with Morgoth or Lich King style figure; your power is with a mysterious Shadowfell entity that makes its presence felt through powerful weapons bound with shadowy magic. Despite this, you don't have to take the Pact of the Blade. Having first appeared in Unearthed Arcana, the official version came out in "Xanathar's Guide", at which point it seems to have absorbed some of the fluff, if not the crunch, from the Raven Queen patron featured in that same UA. This pledge makes the warlock more of a melee combatant, in the vein of the class it takes its name from; their two level 1 features are Hexblade's Curse (1/short rest, place a curse on a foe within 30ft that makes your attacks more likely to hit and heals you if they die whilst cursed) and Hex Warrior (you can enchant one-handed weapons you are proficient with to use Charisma for their attack & damage rolls; if you've the Pact of the Blade, your Pact Weapon always has this trait no matter the form it takes, also you get free proficiency with medium armor, shields and martial weapons). At level 6, they gain Accursed Specter (raise a slain humanoid as a loyal specter 1/day). Their level 10 feature, Armor of Hexes, buffs up their curse by letting the warlock negate a cursed opponent's attack against them on a 4+. Finally, at level 14, they get Master of Hexes, which lets them forgo the healing effect for dropping a cursed opponent to instead immediately reapply that curse to a fresh opponent. Its bonus spells are close-ranged, a mixture of protective spells (shield, blur, blink) and temporary weapon enchantments - the only exceptions are Phantasmal Killer and Cone of Cold.
Celestial - This is the "good guy warlock" patron option, where you make a pact with an angel of some description. In mechanics, it's a refluffed version of the Undying Light Patron presented in an earlier Unearthed Arcana - ironically, unlike the Hexblade, this version was so well-received that WoTC saw no need to change its subclass features when they reprinted it for the Xanathar's Guide to Everything. The difference between the two versions is that it adds some healing spells to its list of bonus spells, instead of just fire/radiant damage-dealers, and rearranges what levels you get which features at. At 1st level, you gain Healing Light - the "heal with a touch" feature from the UL Patron, which it didn't get until level 14 - and Light & Sacred Flame as bonus cantrips. At level 6 it gets Radiant Soul, which is Resistance (Radiance) and bonus to radiant & fire damage, a feature the UL got at 1st level. They both get the same "bonus temporary HP on completing a rest" feature at level 10, but the Celestial renames it the Celestial Resilience trait. Finally, it gets Searing Vengeance - 1/day, when reduced to death, spring up at half maximum hitpoints and inflict radiant damage & blindness on all enemies within 30 feet - as its 14th level trait, when for the UL Patron it was a 6th level feature.
- More on that last ability: specifically, you can use it once per day, and you can opt to activate it instead of rolling a death save. So here's one way for you to exploit it: Celestial Warlock Drop Pod Bombing Runs. It's kinda liked the ODST drop pods form halo, except without the actual pods. You get a bunch of other celestial warlocks, recruit a bunch of griffins or dragons or whatever, ride them over pearl harbor, then deliberately drop off your rides. After you get all your bones broken by the crash, you activate your Searing Vengence, then start shooting eldritch blasts, while topping off your health with your Healing light ability for your bonus actions. (of course the key here is that this ability can only be triggered when you would be otherwise forced to roll a death save, and in 5e, if an attack that downs you has enough remaining overkill damage to equal your maximum possible HP, it will just kill your character outright, no death saves allowed. So if your ride's altitude is high enough for the fall damage to be ridiculous, then instead of looking like clever badasses, monodrones will just teleport in to put Darwin awards on your
The Warlock has been surprisingly well-off in terms of Unearthed Arcana content, with the Ghost in the Machine, Undying Light, Seeker, Hexblade and Raven Queen patrons in Unearthed Arcana, and the Kraken and Lolth patrons created by Mearls and released either on his Stream or in Twitter. As stated, the Undying Light was reworked into the Celestial Patron, and the Hexblade made it into the game in Xanathar's Guide, and you can read up on the UA articles on its page.
But what about Mearls' creations? Well...
Lolth as a Patron is a kind of dark mirror to the normal Archfey patron, combining some obvious Lolth references with bits of the Queen of Air and Darkness. Her bonus spells are Faerie Fire and Jump (1st level spells), Darkness and Web (2nd level spells), Fear and Vampiric Touch (3rd level spells), Dimension Door and Giant Insect (4th level spells), and Cloudkill & Hold Monster (5th level spells).
- Her level 1 class feature is Dark Queen's Servitor; this is basically a modified version of Wild Shape that lets you turn into a giant spider, whose bite does bonus poison damage based on your level. The big draw is that you can still cast your Bonus Spells whilst in giant spider form.
- At level 6, she grants you the Poisoned Beauty feature, which lets you attempt to inflict the Charmed and Vulnerable (Poison) conditions on a visible creature for 1 minute (or until damaged) if it fails a Charisma save. You can use this ability once per Short Rest.
- At level 10, she grants you the Spider Queen's Chosen feature, which gives you Resistance (Non-Magical Bludgeoning/Piercing/Slashing) when you're in Spider Form.
- Finally, at 14th level, she gives you the Kiss of the Spider Queen feature, which lets you spend an action to touch a creature; the victim of your touch takes 12d10 damage (your choice of Poison or Psychic), or half that if it succeeds on a Constitution save. You can only use this ability once per Long Rest, and a creature Charmed by you has Disadvantage on its save.
The Kraken Patron is pretty unique, and it makes a nicely themed pairing with a Storm Sorcerer. Its bonus spells are a mixture of "storm elementalism" (thunderwave, create/destroy water, gust of wind, call lightning, water breathing, control water, cone of cold), two divinatory spells (augury, commune with nature) and Evard's Black Tentacles, which is an obvious fit.
- At level 1, you gain the feature Grasp of the Kraken, which lets you summon writhing spectral tentacles at a point you can see within 60 feet. Creatures you target within 10ft of that point must make a Strength save against your Warlock spell save DC, or be grappled for 1 minute or until you use this ability again. A spectral tentacle has a Str (Athletics) bonus of 2 + your Proficiency bonus, and a reach of 10 feet.
- At level 6, you can the feature Inky Escape, which lets you drop a Darkness (5ft radius) on a point within 5ft of you as a Reaction to taking damage once per short rest. You can see through this darkness, obviously.
- At level 10, you gain the powerful Scion of the Depths feature, which grants you the ability to breathe water, a swim speed equal to your normal speed, and Immunity (Lightning). When your immunity reduces damage from an effect to 0, as a reaction you can cause creatures of your choice that you can see within 30 ft. of you to take lightning damage equal to your Charisma modifier + your proficiency bonus.
- Finally, at level 14, you gain the feature Unleash the Kraken, which lets you open a portal at a point visible within 30 feet of you. When you open the portal, kraken tentacles pour through it, and you must choose which boon you gain from the list below. Once you use this ability, you must complete a long rest before you can use it again.
- Transport: You and up to 5 creatures of your choosing that you can see are grasped by tentacles that emerge from the portal. A second portal opens at a point of your choice within 100 miles that you have visited in the past 24 hours, depositing you and your chosen allies there.
- Fury: The tentacles slam into your foes. Pick up to 5 creatures that you can see within 30 ft. of the portal. Those creatures must make Dexterity saving throws against your Warlock spell save DC. Creatures that fail their saving throws take 10d6 bludgeoning damage and are restrained for 1 minute. Creatures that succeed take half the bludgeoning damage and are not restrained. On its turn, a restrained creature can use its action to attempt a DC 15 Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check to end its restrained condition.
The Kraken Patron above eventually got bumped up to a slightly higher tier of Semi-official with the release of the September UA's Lurker in the Deep Patron, which pays a lot of homage to the above. It can be seen as an upgrade to the Kraken Patron. The bonus spells are exactly the same.
- At level 1, you get the Grasp of the Deep, which is basically the same thing as Grasp of the Kraken, but instead of grappling with the tentacles you get to smack someone repeatedly for 1d8 (upgrades to 2d8 at level 10) cold/lightning damage as a bonus action. It also reduces their speed by 10 feet temporarily. Also at level 1, you get Scion of the Deep, which lets you telepathically communicate to anything with a swimming speed like Aquaman.
- At level 6, you get Fathomless Soul, which gives you a bunch of sea-themed goodies: the ability to breathe air and water, resistance to cold damage, and a swimming speed equal to your walking speed. You also get Guardian Grasp, which allows you to halve any incoming damage for you or your buddies by wrapping your tentacle around them. This will make the tentacle go away, but it's well worth it.
- At level 10, you get Devouring Maw which summons a giant gaping maw that restrains foes in an area on a failed save, deals them an automatic 3d6 cold/lightning damage, and nets you some sweet temp hp equal to your Warlock level as long as there is someone near the maw.
- As your capstone at level 14, you get Unleash the Depths which is more or less the same thing as Unleash the Kraken above. The only major difference is that the Fury half of unleash does 6d10 cold rather than 10d6 Bludgeoning, and knocks people prone.
Class Feature Variants
The November 2019 UA granted quite a few things to the Warlock aside from the ability to swap out a spell each long rest (A necessity with how cramped the Warlock's slots are) and some new spells.
Each of the existing pacts gain some new Invocations, with Tomelocks gaining more spell-like powers and Advantage on concentration saves, Bladelocks gaining automatic armor proficiency, and Chainlocks being able to make their pets attack as a bonus. However, the biggest update here is the new Pact - The Pact of the Talisman gives you a talisman that allows whoever wears it (which can be you or anyone else, no attunement slot required) to add a d4 to an ability check roll (and saving throw if you have the pertinent invocation) if they aren't proficient in the pertinent skill. The other eldritch invocations specific to this pact require someone other than you to be wearing the talisman, as the first one allows you and said person to teleport to each other as an action, and the other lets you counter-attack something who hurts the person wearing your talisman.
A minor footnote on D&D 4e and 5e Warlocks
One of the roleplaying possibilities for Warlocks that sometimes gets mentioned is that once empowered, the Warlock is under no obligation to keep obeying their Patron. The rules explicitly do not contain any references to any of the patrons being able to strip the powers from a Warlock, unlike, say, a Paladin--in other words, the implication is that once granted, a Warlock's powers are theirs to keep. (It's mildly worth mentioning that "Warlock" descends from the old English "wǣrloga", meaning "traitor or deceiver" ("wǣr", meaning "covenant, truce, or pact" and "loga", meaning "liar"), and that kind of name cuts both ways.)
This was intentional (as, among other things, it allowed for Lawful Good Infernal Warlocks without the need for some very creative roleplaying), and influenced the initial three 4e Patron choices (and a few later ones): Who would give away free power to mortals that you could not revoke? Somebody whose cause is advanced by the mere usage of that power; Devils, Archfey and The Great Old Ones all obviously qualify (as did Vestiges)--all were (in 4e's default cosmology, at least) restrained in some way from the mortal world, and higher level 4e Warlock powers, at least, frequently gave them some temporary purchase on said world when used. On top of that, from the immortal patron's point of view, letting the recalcitrant Warlock keep their power is a good PR stunt: sure, one mortal might balk, but others will start wondering where he got his powers from. Others that might be more amenable to the patron's goal...
(Here's a Mike Mearls interview that explicitly notes this possibility in 5e, as well. Then again, Mearls also implies in that interview that Clerics can turn against their Deity and still have their Divine Magic, so take that claim for what it's worth. Admittedly, Divine classes did lose their "powers are revoked if your deity is pissed" trait in 4e, so it's not unprecedented.)
DMs should also note that while the Patron cannot directly withdraw the Warlock's new powers, they are also not restricted from sending repo men to get the recalcitrant Warlock back in line if the Warlock still has debt outstanding.
At first glance the warlock would look like a class that would be difficult to justify having a Good alignment. This is not true; all it takes is some roleplaying creativity and lore familiarity. Here are some ideas sorted by pact:
- There are just as many Good or Neutral Fey as there are Evil ones. Just take your pick.
- You actually work for a full Faerie Court. The Evil jerk you take orders from is just your immediate supervisor and/or teacher, and you sometimes report to somebody non-Evil further up the chain of command on what he has you doing, just to make sure he's not using you for his personal benefit.
- You offered someone on one side of the Blood War your services against the other, on the condition that you *only* be sent to kill people connected to the enemy (This is easiest with whoever's currently Archduke of the first layer of Baator, since they have to fumigate their lawn of demons every freaking morning and are always looking for help).
- You made the old classic "Sell the soul of my future firstborn child to the devil in exchange for power" bargain... but conveniently failed to mention that you're gay (this also works with the archfey pact if none of the good or neutral options appeal to you, since fairy tale creatures sometimes have a habit of abducting children).
- You straight-up bought the powers from Mammon, Archduke of greed, with ordinary freaking money. Because Mammon is a fiend who actually does that.
- Like the Hellknights of Pathfinder, you are more concerned with order and empire-building than being evil. Stability is your primary concern. (Be warned, some Paladins will probably still kill you for this)
- You were a prostitute (the "hate this job but am fucking broke" kind), and got a visit from Graz'zt or Malcanthet one day, who opted to give you the powers instead of money as payment. You still don't like to talk about that day, but in the end, it allowed you to pursue other means of employment.
- There have been extremely rare cases of fiends working to redeem themselves, such as Fall-From-Grace and Eludecia. Your patron could be one of these rare fiends that is either working to achieve redemption, or has already been redeemed.
- You're a Purified and your pact is with the Silver Flame itself. It's just influenced by Bel Shalor.
Great Old One
- This one is actually a lot easier than you might think. Firstly, it's important to remember that Far Realm entities aren't evil-aligned, they're [incomprehensible symbol] or [different incomprehensible symbol]-aligned. Secondly, most GOO's are by-nature nearly-if-not-completely impossible for beings native to the Great Wheel to cognitively process, so if you're lazy you could just say that your patron, Covfefe the unknowable, never explained their motives to you and thrust these powers upon you without you ever having asked for them in the first place.
- Heck, the PHB itself outright says that a GOO patron doesn't even need to be aware of you, and that your powers might've just come from reading a copy of the Necronomicon!
- If you insist on having a backstory more fleshed-out than that however, then you could say that your patron finds the Great Wheel reality and it's denizens just as alien and incomprehensible as we would the GOO's, and is using you to try to make sense of it as best they can; they might for example periodically take over your body and crudely try to mimic common human activities (the way an ape or toddler would) in an attempt to discern the meaning behind them.
- Or your Patron sees through your eyes, and asks you strange questions; but as long as you survive, and seek out "interesting" things, it's happy just to observe the mortal world through you. (Think "Very strange overly-inquisitive six-year old".)
- You developed a beef with devils for some reason, and were offered warlock powers by Zargon, the leader of the Baatorans and the guy who ruled Baator before Asmodeus kicked him out. Also works as a fiendish patron.
- Your patron is Caiphon, a giant, sapient, purple star that wanders around the night sky, said to have an important role to play in the future of the world. (This being is listed among the "Elder Evils," but those beings, despite the name, are noted to only generally be evil).
- Or your patron is Ulban; a sapient comet made from the last surviving souls after a future apocalypse which has traveled back in time to recruit agents to prevent that apocalypse from coming to pass.
- Remember, the description for this patron is that they have "Cheated death" somehow, so they don't have to be undead; As mentioned above, entities like originally-mortal gods or The Nameless One (the PC from the videogame Planescape: Torment) would work just fine here.
- Your patron is an Archlich, which is a type of lich who isn't evil (they've been in D&D lore for longer than the "must periodically feed mortal souls to phylactery to stay around" aspect of lichdom has, so they probably sustain themselves on bandits and murderhobos or maybe just sheer force of willpower and magical might).
- Most of the Fiendish ideas can also work here if your Patron is Orcus, the Demon Prince of the Undead (doubly so since he was originally a mortal). Loopholes, ho!
- The Shadowfell is no more an inherently Evil plane any more than Feywild is an inherently Good one. Maybe your Patron weapon really hates Fey creatures or some such.
- There is no reason you could not refluff the hexblade to be any kind of high powered magical sentient sword and the archetype could also work if you, say, had Excalibur as your patron. or maybe it's just an axe that's always eager for you to hit stuff with it.
- Since the Shadowfell is (among other things) the "waiting room" where the recently deceased get sorted into the proper Outer Plane, your Patron could be something that seeks to destroy undead and send them where, in it's eyes, they should've arrived long ago.
- Normally this pact should present even less of a problem than the Archfey one, but it can be just as problematic as any of the others if, say, the DM is running an Explicitly Evil Campaign set in Ravenloft. So in a situation like that, you could for example say that your Patron gifted you your powers as an act of goodwill in the hopes that it might change your outlook on life.
- Or more believably, your patron could be an evil Empyrean.
- A fallen angel could also work as an evil Celestial patron, though some DMs may rule them as only being eligible as Fiend patrons.
- Your powers come from your (likely Aberrant) Dragonmark. This one is an officially suggested option, albeit Eberron specific.
- You won your powers in a game of chance, The-Devil-Went-Down-To-Georgia style.
- Your pact is tied to your bloodline like a sorcerer, not anything you in particular did; maybe some distant ancestor of yours helped one of the archdevils get into their current position for example, so they guaranteed that all that person's firstborn descendants would be warlocks. (Surprisingly common with Fiends. In the Nentir_Vale setting, this is implied to be the case with many Tiefling Infernal Warlocks.)
- Your patron isn't asking you to do anything particularly evil; for example, the Lawful Evil Fiend wants you to fight off the Orcish Horde which is endangering his long-term plans (and killed your family), or the entity is more interested in having a reliable diplomatic courier.
- You're somehow important to your patron's long-running scheme, whether as a chosen one or in a simple "for want of a nail" kind of way. What matters is that your patron needs you to survive long enough to serve your purpose, which the warlock powers are useful for.
- You and your patron share a common enemy; particularly reasonable if the enemy wants you dead to the point that they will throw serious resources at you.
- You sold not your soul to your patron, but your memories, and as such don't have a clue who you are or why you wanted the power in the first place (works great for when you need to write up a warlock in a hurry and only have time for the crunch).
- You genuinely did not know that the entity you bargained with was evil, as it was masquerading as a more benevolent entity.
- You were tricked or coerced into becoming a servant of your patron and they gave you warlock powers so you could be a more versatile pawn, not because you actually wanted them.
- You got your powers by theft or trickery, not because your patron actually wanted to give them to you.
- You killed the previous person your patron empowered, justified or by accident, and the patron has decided you are going to replace them, like it or not.
- You went stag on your boss, as mentioned above.
- You keep the paladin constantly charmed.
Custom Warlock pacts and Patrons
A lot of fans like to design their own custom warlock patrons, which doesn't necessitate homebrewing a new pact. After all, there are a lot of powerful entities in the Great Wheel that would theoretically be fully capable of granting such a pact: Archomentals, Modron hierarchs, Slaad lords, and Rilmani Arurumachs, just to name a few. The patron doesn't even need to be very powerful, since 5th Edition fluff paints the patron as more of a "tutor" than the actual source of the warlock's power. Even relatively weak entities could potentially act as a warlock's patron as long as they have access to strange, arcane secrets and a reason to trade those secrets with a mortal.
If however you do want to homebrew a new warlock subclass, then there's a free PDF on the DM's guild that's a handy guide for doing so: https://www.dmsguild.com/product/259521/CreateAPatron-A-Warlock-Patron-Creation-Guide
|Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Classes|
|Player's Handbook 1:||Cleric - Fighter - Paladin - Ranger - Rogue - Warlock - Warlord - Wizard|
|Player's Handbook 2:||Avenger - Barbarian - Bard - Druid - Invoker - Shaman - Sorcerer - Warden|
|Player's Handbook 3:||Ardent - Battlemind - Monk - Psion - Runepriest - Seeker|
|Heroes of X:||Blackguard - Binder - Cavalier - Elementalist - Hexblade - Hunter|
Mage - Knight - Protector - Scout - Sentinel - Skald - Slayer - Sha'ir - Thief
Vampire - Warpriest - Witch
|Settings Book:||Artificer - Bladesinger - Swordmage|
|Others:||Paragon Path - Epic Destiny|
|Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Classes|
|Barbarian - Bard - Cleric - Druid - Fighter - Monk |
Paladin - Ranger - Rogue - Sorcerer - Warlock - Wizard
|Eberron: Rising from
the Last War:
|The Classes of Pathfinder 1st Edition|
|Core Classes:||Barbarian - Bard - Cleric - Druid - Fighter - Monk |
Paladin - Ranger - Rogue - Sorcerer - Wizard
|Alchemist - Antipaladin - Cavalier |
Inquisitor - Oracle - Summoner - Witch
|Arcanist - Bloodrager - Brawler - Hunter - Investigator |
Shaman - Skald - Slayer - Swashbuckler - Warpriest
|Kineticist - Medium - Mesmerist |
Occultist - Psychic - Spiritualist
|Ultimate X:||Gunslinger - Magus - Ninja - Samurai - Shifter - Vigilante|