Warlocks in D&D Fifth Edition (5e) are a strange beast of a class, based around customizable abilities, and, above all else, the tenuous connection between the material and the otherworldly. If you want to play this dark class, our guide will help you understand how they work, the best races and feat choices, and what they're all about!
A hooded figure stands before a statue, dressed in bone, twisted metal, and jet-black obsidian, chanting fel-words into a swirling nexus of shadow...
An armored knight kneels before a beautiful, gleaming bell of worked gold and gems, as angels bestow upon them otherworldly strength...
A child hugs a mottled clay pot to their chest, listening to the swirling words, like smoke, emitting from within...
Otherworldly patrons beckon to those within their sight: their purpose mysterious and enticing, their powers abundant and varied.
Will you answer their call?
The Warlock is a strange beast of a class, based around customizable abilities and, above all else, the tenuous connection between the material and the otherworldly.
Spells, artifacts, tomes, and blades all serve as tools of service, as well as modes of communication, between the Warlock and their Patron—often, a powerful entity that needs a mortal to do their bidding. Patrons, just like their servants, are variable, and serve their own interests.
Creating a Warlock in Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition is almost like creating two characters: after all, a Warlock is often in contact with their Patron, and while their Patron will be played by the DM as a powerful and influential NPC, the Warlock’s PC chooses their Patron, just as a Fighter chooses their Fighting Style, and a Wizard chooses their spells.
The relationship between the Warlock and the Patron is integral to the narrative of the character.
Why did the Warlock choose this Patron? How did the two come into contact with each other? What is the nature of their relationship? Why does the Warlock seek power from their Patron? What does the Patron hope to gain from their Warlock protege?
All of these questions should be considered when creating a Warlock and choosing your Patron.
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Introduction to the Warlock in 5e
Warlocks are, like the Blood Hunter, a varied and versatile class, filled with choices and intriguing paths to power. Each Warlock begins the game with a slew of spell decisions, and an ability bestowed by their Patron.
For example, a Warlock with the Archfey Patron begins the game with an ability called Beguiling Presence, as well as access to the spells Faerie Fire and Sleep. Choosing your Patron is not only a big narrative link to your character, but also the bedrock of your game play mechanics.
Consider your Extended Spell List as well as the Patron Abilities each one offers before planning out the rest of your character choices.
After familiarizing yourself with the Patron abilities, the next choice to make is the Pact Boon.
As of the writing of this article, there are five options:
Each one grants you an object or spell that further influences your choices made down the line.
Warlocks play the long game: power comes to those who wait and connive.
Warlocks possess a curated spell list, making them decent support and offensive casters, utilizing cantrips and regenerating spell slots to make up for their lack of “spell-stamina”.
The biggest draw, however, comes in the form of Invocations. A Warlock, over the course of their servitude, will master 8 Invocations based on the core rule book — a Dungeon Master may grant additional invocations, or even take some away, based on the events of the campaign.
Try to figure out which ones appeal to you on a game play AND narrative perspective!
The thematics of the Warlock are, in my opinion, particularly juicy for long, epic campaigns. Witnessing the Warlock’s powers develop as they further their notoriety and influence among mortal men, all while cultivating the kernels of lore and power fed to them by their Patron, can lead to some amazing character development and powerful, resonant decisions.
Pressure and power make for a strong story told through the lens of the Warlock! The weft and weave of the Patron’s desires, the Warlock’s goals, and how they interact can lead to some internal and external conflict.
The party might even come to distrust their Warlock companion as the Patron tests the limits of their resolve—inter-party conflict can serve as a powerful dramatic through-line for a campaign’s story line, and can even lead to some organic and interesting side-adventures based on dealing with the latest demand from the Warlock’s eldritch beneficiary.
I’ve found that globe-trotting or world-hopping campaigns best fit a Warlock’s unique skill-set.
With their ability to swap spells, choose Invocations, and recover their powers on a short rest, they provide their party the ability to shift their skills based on the needs of their group, as well as the needs of themselves.
Variety is the spice of life, and a Warlock is a class that embraces that philosophy!
Warlock Mechanical Overview
A Warlock has a Hit Dice of a D8. This means that at 1st level, all Warlocks will have 8 HP, boosted by their Constitution modifier.
In addition, they gain Proficiency with Light Armor and Simple Weapons. While these proficiencies are pretty standard for casters, they can be modified by the Warlock’s Pact Boon—for example, the Pact of the Blade allows a Warlock to gain proficiency with almost any weapon!
This class also gains two skill proficiencies chosen from the following:
These skills lend themselves to an information-gathering character, a charismatic deceiver, or a bookish archive. Warlock will not, at least by their mechanics, jump over spike-filled chasms or wrestle frost giants into submission.
Try to choose a background that balances, or adds on, to the skills you find interesting!
Your Saving Throws are Wisdom and Charisma—the two ability scores most often invoked by monsters, spells, and traps based in magic.
While Dexterity Saving Throws are often common in the game’s terminology, these two are POWERFUL proficiencies—and you get them for free! Having a Cthulhu for a boss DOES have its benefits!
At 1st level, a Warlock will make two choices: their Pact Magic and their Otherworldly Patron.
Pact Magic is the Spells a Warlock will use during their adventures, and at level one, refers to a pair of cantrips and a pair of 1st level spells.
Cantrips, particularly Eldritch Blast and Booming Blade, are strong choices for a Warlock. They improve in damage over time, and even have Invocations that buff them into spells rivaling higher level spells from other classes!
A good starting point for Cantrips would be Eldritch Blast/Booming Blade for a consistent source of damage, and Mage Hand of Prestidigitation for versatile, creative magic.Your other choice—the Otherworld Patron—is comparable to a Barbarian’s Path, a Paladin’s Oath, or a Cleric’s Domain. It’s your subclass, your specific flavor of power-bargaining spellcaster. There are quite a few choices, and I’ve included a list of them below:
Each Patron will offer a Warlock four abilities: one at level 1, one at level 5, one at level 10, and one at level 14. In addition, they will add spells to the warlock’s spell list—essentially, bonus spells that are tied thematically to your Patron’s identity.
Some Patrons, such as the Fiend, also have unique Invocations that can only be taken if your Patron matches the requirements. Speaking of Invocations….
Congratulations! You’ve hit level 2 and can now choose two Eldritch Invocations.
Eldritch Invocations are static buffs, modifying the Warlock’s already powerful abilities. For example, at level 5, a Warlock can choose an Invocation called Thirsting Blade, allowing them to use the Extra Attack feature! Nice!
Invocations can be swapped out once per level, allowing a Warlock to adjust their play-style every so often, changing abilities they find underwhelming or boring, in favor of a new one. Some Invocations, such as Thirsting Blade, may only be chosen by a Warlock who has chosen a certain Pact Boon. Others, like Armor of Shadows, can be taken by any Warlock at any level.
Make sure you meet the requirements of an Invocation before choosing!
Warlocks gain new Invocations as they level up, usually one per three levels. So, at level 5, a Warlock will have three Invocations; at level 8, four Invocations, etc.
Your Warlock has survived to level three, which allows them their last major mechanic: their Pact Boon. Each Pact Boon provides an item as well as an ability. The choices, as of this article, are as follows:
From level 3 onward, your main decisions will be focused on which Invocations you utilize, what spells you’ll learn, and the abilities offered by your Patron.
Similar to sorcerers and wizards, a Warlock’s class abilities are focused on cultivating strength and power through their spell-choices. While a Warlock casts fewer spells, their ability to refresh their spell slots on every short rest is quite powerful, allowing you to operate at your maximum capability with strong consistency.The other two class abilities to be aware of are Mystic Arcanum, which allows a Warlock to learn high-level spells, and Eldritch Master, which allows a Warlock to refresh their spell slots in a single minute—no short rest required! Of course, Eldritch Master is only available to level 20 Warlocks, so this one might be difficult to actually utilize in most campaigns.
Spell Slots and You: A Warlock 5e Spell Guide
Warlocks, unlike most caster classes, only have access to a few spell slots at once. Generally, a Warlock can cast two or three spells before running out of spell slots. I guess when your Patron bestowed you with unlimited magical strength, they figured you wouldn’t need more than a few casts to solve your problems!
Unlike most casters, however, a Warlock recharges EVERY SPELL SLOT during a Short OR Long rest. What Warlocks lack in supply, they make up for in stamina. A Warlock can rely on short rests, usually an hour or so in-game time, to bolster up their power.
Make sure to ask the DM for a short rest at every opportunity! They LOVE that kind of thing!
Aside from their unique casting ability, a Warlock derives their Spell Saves and Spell Attacks from the Charisma ability score. Charisma also happens to be a powerful skill-based stat, allowing you to be just as threatening through your social abilities as your magical abilities.
Focus on buffing your Charisma stat to ensure your skills and spells find success!
Warlocks possess a spell list that isn’t as varied or niche as wizards, clerics, or druids. Most of their spells are used to modify other abilities, increase or reduce damage, and creature illusions or deceptions.
Spells such as Expeditious Retreat, Cause Fear, and Charm Person, all act as ways to protect you from mundane and human threats, while other spells, like Hex and Armor of Agathys, buff your damaging abilities or defenses.
As you level up, your spells tend to level up with you—unlike other casters, who have multiple levels of spell slots, Warlocks have a Slot Level. For example, at level 7, a Warlock’s Slot Level is 4th.
That means, if a Warlock chose to cast the spell Charm Person, a level one spell, they would instead be casting at level four. A Charm Person cast with a level four slot targets up to four creatures, instead of one!
The same applies to other spells, such as Vampiric Touch or Witch Bolt. Generally, when casting spells, one must choose their spell slot and their spell level. Warlocks simply get the highest power for whatever spell they cast!
So, when choosing your spells, always look for the term At Higher Levels in the spell’s text. Usually, a spell cast by a Warlock will target more creatures or roll more dice!
In addition, keep in mind that a Warlock will have bonus spells available to them through their Otherworldly Patron! When your Warlock gains access to the proper spell level, such as 1st spell level at level 1 and 2nd spell level at level 3, you add these spells to your spell list. You gain spells every odd level, up to level nine.
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Otherworldly Patron’s Bonus Spells List
1st: Faerie Fire, Sleep
2nd: Calm Emotions, Phantasmal Force
3rd: Blink, Plant Growth
4th: Dominate Beast, Greater Invisibility
5th: Dominate Person, Seeing
1st: Cure Wounds, Guiding Bolt
2nd: Flaming Sphere, Lesser Restoration
3rd: Daylight, Revivify
4th: Guardian of Faith, Wall of Fire
5th: Flame Strike, Greater Restoration
1st- Burning Hands, Command
2nd- Blindness/Deafness, Scorching Ray
3rd: Fireball, Stinking Cloud
4th: Fire Shield, Wall of Fire
5th: Flame Strike, Hallow
The Great Old One
1st- Tasha’s Hideous Laughter, Dissonant Whispers
2nd- Detect Thoughts, Phantasmal Force
3rd- Clairvoyance, Sending
4th-Dominate Beast, Evard’s Black Tentacles
5th- Dominate Person, Telekinesis
1st- Shield, Wrathful Smite
2nd- Blur, Branding Smite
3rd- Blink, Elemental Weapon
4th- Phantasmal Killer, Staggering Smite
5th- Banishing Smite, Cone of Cold
1st- Thunderwave, Create or Destroy Water
2nd- Augury, Gust of Wind
3rd- Call Lightning, Water Breathing
4th- Evard’s Black Tentacles, Control Water
5th- Commune with Nature, Cone of Cold
1st- False Life, Ray of Sickness
2nd- Blindness/Deafness, Silence
3rd- Feign Death, Speak with Dead
4th- Aura of Life, Death Ward
5th- Contagion, Legend Lore
Each list of Bonus Spells is linked by the logical powers of each patron:
An Archfey gives you trickery-based spells, illusions, and nature magic. A Kraken gives you power over the gusts, tides, and storms. The Undying, an immortal Patron, gives you power over death and access to lost information or rare tidbits of lore.
These bonus spells add a strength and versatility to the Warlock Spell List, allowing you to specialize your character build and better synergize with your Invocations.
Much like spells, Eldritch Invocations make up the bulk of a Warlock’s powers and character appeal. Warlocks begin with two Invocations and add an additional Invocation at a staggered rate of progress- levels 7, 9, 12, 15, and 18.
You can also trade any known Invocation for another Invocation, as long as you meet the prerequisites. Generally, a Warlock must be a certain level, Pact, or Patron to choose an Invocation with a prerequisite.
Eldritch Invocations, unlike spells, are always available to a Warlock—you don’t need to worry about spell slots or bonus spells when dealing with and utilizing your Invocations.
Instead, each Invocation will modify an existing Warlock spell, usually Eldritch Blast, or provide you with an ability you can use a set number of times, listed in the Invocation, or a set of bonus proficiencies.
For example, Agonizing Blast is an Invocation that permanently alters your Eldritch Blast cantrip—whenever you strike with a Blast, you add your Charisma modifier to all damage! An Invocation like Beguiling Influence, however, grants you bonus proficiencies in the Deception and Persuasion skills!
When choosing your Invocations, it’s best to understand the role your character is pursuing.
Are you aiming to be an Eldritch Blast Machine Gun? You should look for Invocations with the term “Blast” in the name. Or maybe you’re crafting a doppelganger Warlock, a person who can shift faces, bodies, and minds with casual ease? Then perhaps you’ll want to look for the Mask of Many Faces Invocation, which allows you to cast Disguise Self as often as they’d like—no spell slots required!
More powerful Invocations will typically have higher prerequisites, so make sure to talk with your DM when selecting them to ensure your Warlock is eligible for these powers!
The Path to Power: Role-playing as a Warlock
When playing as a Warlock, conflict is key- ask yourself:
Often, a good Warlock will be a master of many roles: both game-play wise AND role-play-wise. Able to intimidate, deceive, persuade, and provide useful power and influence, all while maintaining their own goals, are the hallmarks of a useful and well-conducted Warlock.
When creating a background for your character, consider their circumstances and their goals. Generally, a Warlock will be forward thinking and goal-oriented. Why else would they trade their sovereignty and service to a mysterious, powerful creature, if not to receive a leg-up on accomplishing a series of challenges?
Other times, a Warlock might be cajoled, or even forced, into servitude. Their character arc could focus on either escaping their unfortunate circumstances, or turning them to their advantage. Guile, charisma, and cunning are all attributes I’ve seen lead to a powerful and resonant Warlock.
Also—while a DM is controlling and playing the role of Patron, they should maintain a healthy discourse with their Warlock player. Nothing is more disempowering than a DM forcing a hesitant Player to make a decision. A Patron should be a mysterious benefactor, not a Sword of Damocles hanging over a player, ready to decapitate them at a moment’s notice.
While a Patron is supplying power, it is often a good decision to have the Patron be in league with the party, rather than fomenting discord and chaos within their “employees”. A good Patron should be played as interesting, attentive, and powerful—a good boss, as it were.
This is not to say that ALL Patrons should be played this way. The message I’m trying to convey is that a Patron is a powerful and influential NPC, and thus, the DM has a certain responsibility to their players and the expectations of the campaign and its story.
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When choosing to play a Warlock, knowledge is power. Understanding your capability, your goals, your spells, and your mechanics are all integral to playing a Warlock effectively.
Your Patron, your spells, your Invocations... all are flexibly powerful, and the class encourages a player to swap around their abilities to better attend to the current leg of their journey.
Do NOT play a Warlock if you’re looking for clear-cut characterization, sturdy and stubborn class abilities, and a stagnant game plan. DO play a Warlock, however, if you possess the cunning and zeal of an opportunist, always on the lookout for advantages and flexibility, and, well... don’t value your soul too much! C’mon, they can’t be THAT valuable? Everybody’s got one! I don’t have a soul, and look at me! I’m great!
Happy pacting, friends, and stay tuned for more articles coming soon!