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September 15

The Pact is Sealed: A Warlock 5e Class Guide (D&D)

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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.


Get Warlock Cantrips as Free Printable Spellcards!


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:

  • The Tome
  • The Weapon
  • The Chain
  • The Star-Chain (actually very different from the Chain)
  • The Talisman

Each one grants you an object or spell that further influences your choices made down the line.

ConivingWarlock

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!


Pact Magic
Warlock 5e

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:
  • The Archfey: Mischievous, playful, and utterly deceptive, the Archfey represents a powerful entity hailing from the mystical other-world known as Faerie. An Archfey could be a swindling fairy princess, a charming satyr, or a nefarious, organ-munching hag. The Archfey Patron is often associated with agents of chaos, random chance, and raw desire. You gain several illusory spells, as well as abilities based in deception and charming people.
  • The Celestial: A being from a higher plane of existence, such as an angel, a gold dragon, or a demigod, helps define this Patron. Light magic, healing, and powerful bursts of radiant magic characterize this Patron’s options. A Warlock of the Celestial Patron is outfitted with several abilities that heal, stave off death, and sear enemies to charbroiled ash with holy fire. This Patron makes for a great origin to a character seeking vengeance or justice.
  • The Fiend: A being from a lower plane of existence, such as a devil or demon, assumes the role of your Patron. A Fiend warlock gains the ability to derive strength from killing their enemies, stave off damage and death through fel-magic, and even THROW YOUR ENEMIES INTO HELL FOR EVEN DARING TO QUESTION YOUR MIGHT!! A powerful Patron with highly damaging spells, a Fiend Warlock is quite capable of annihilating almost anything that crosses your path.
  • The Genie: Not the goofy, lovable, ragamuffin from Aladdin, but a being of elemental origin, a Genie is a powerful Patron, offering abilities based in elemental manipulation, defenses, and even reactionary damage when the Warlock is struck by an attack! You even get your own, personal, genie bottle to hide in if things go south. A new Patron, but one that promises to be interesting!
  • The Great Old One: Iyai, Iyai, Cthulhu F’taghn! You serve a being of unknowable, mind-snapping, unrivaled cosmic might. These Patrons are characterized by mystery, horror, and the ability to broadcast, safeguard, and manipulate your thoughts and the minds of others to your benefit. A Great Old One Patron is often horrific to behold, and will act as a “man behind the curtain” if played straight. These Patrons also offer some peculiar spells, based on summoning and controlling beings through psychic power.
  • The Hexblade: Your Patron originates from a dark mirror of reality: The Shadowfell. If you’ve watched Stranger Things, this plane of horror and misery is what they derived the Upside-Down from: a place where light and life is fleeting and ephemeral. The Hexblade is a weapon carved from the very essence of this plane of existence: it is often depicted as a sentient weapon, capable of influencing the wielder’s strength to supernatural levels. These Warlocks are melee focused, and as a result, receive abilities and Invocations that allow them to attack more often, hit harder, and heal from the damage they inflict. A brutal, metal choice.

  • The Kraken: RELEASE ME! If your DM doesn’t tell you to release your Patron at least ONCE during this campaign, you might need to find a new group. Kraken Patrons are giant sea-beasts, nautical terrors, and emperors of the waves. Krakens bestow their Warlocks mastery over tide and surf, tentacled hordes, and the ability to traverse water as easily as land and air. A choice for a sea-faring campaign! Check out Ghosts of Salt-marsh for an example of a setting that THRIVES with a Kraken Patron!

  • The Undying: Your Patron has learned to master the eldritch force of Death itself: they are Undying, masters of their own fate. A Warlock serving this patron is able to bend luck and spare themselves and their comrades from untimely death. Undead avoid you, finding you to be a strange scion of the end, and as your power grows, mortal concerns fall to the wayside: high level Undying Warlocks do not need to eat, breathe, or sleep, and can even reject the act of dying. Great for a campaign with a horror theme, or a grim fantasy setting!

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.


EldritchInvocations

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.


PactboonText
Warlock Pact Boon

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:

  • Pact of the Blade: Your patron bestows a magical weapon, able to appear and disappear at will. These weapons can change their form, allowing you to modify your fighting style based on the enemies you’re encountering! Make sure you brush up on your weapon stats and knowledge if you choose this Boon!
  • Pact of the Chain: Your patron bestows you a familiar: a magical, semi-sapient creature that follows your orders, allows you to share sight and hearing, and even fight alongside you! Certain familiars, such as the imp, or pseudo-dragon, are only available as Warlock familiars, and are characters all on their own! 
  • Pact of the Starchain: An entity known as the Seeker has bestowed you a chain of glowing, weaving starlight. The Starchain grants you the Augury spell. Augury allows you to receive supernatural advice on planned actions and potential dangers lurking within the near future. A Starchain also lets you gain advantage on any Intelligence-based ability check, which refreshes on any rest!
  • Pact of the Talisman: You’ve received a magical object from your Patron. This item allows you to add a d4 to any skill check you make in which you lack proficiency. A powerful ability that helps both the player and their party! Do not underestimate this one!
  • Pact of the Tome: A magical spellbook is gifted to you by your Patron. This Boon allows a Warlock access to cantrips from other classes. While interesting, I’ve often found this Pact to be a bit underwhelming. Eldritch Blast is often considered to be the strongest cantrip available, and the abilities offered by the other Boons are usually more influential and beneficial than a few cantrips.

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. 

WArlockpactboon

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.  

BladeWa
Friends
Lightning Lure

Get Warlock Cantrips as Free Printable Spellcards!

Galao the Wizard

Otherworldly Patron’s Bonus Spells List

archfey

The Archfey

1st: Faerie Fire, Sleep

2nd: Calm Emotions, Phantasmal Force

3rd: Blink, Plant Growth

4th: Dominate Beast, Greater Invisibility

5th: Dominate Person, Seeing

celestial warlock

The Celestial

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

fiendimp

The Fiend

1st- Burning Hands, Command

2nd- Blindness/Deafness, Scorching Ray

3rd: Fireball, Stinking Cloud

4th: Fire Shield, Wall of Fire

5th: Flame Strike, Hallow

Greatoldonewarlock

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

Hexblade5e

The Hexblade

1st- Shield, Wrathful Smite

2nd- Blur, Branding Smite

3rd- Blink, Elemental Weapon

4th- Phantasmal Killer, Staggering Smite

5th- Banishing Smite, Cone of Cold

Krakenwarlock5e

The Kraken

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

Undying

The Undying

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.


Eldritch 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! 

Warlockplay

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:

  • How does your Patron influence your actions and your character’s role in the greater party?
  • Is your Patron of the same mindset and alignment as you, or are you two often at odds, challenging philosophy and moral quandary like an old married couple?
  • Are you and your Patron of the same mind, with each part of the pact serving a greater whole? If not, why not?

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.

Get Warlock Cantrips as Free Printable Spellcards!


Conclusion

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!

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Brendan "Amigo"

About the author

Brendan has been an avid fan of games, stories, and the human experience for a good part of his lifetime. Laughter, friendship, and advice are all things he lives for. As a Dungeon Master, he’s seen his fair share of campaigns, and is always looking to craft some cool experiences for his friends. He will talk for days, if you let him, about his homebrew content, as well as whatever new story or phenomenon has caught his attention this week. Favorite systems are Dungeons and Dragons, Monster Hearts, and the newly released LANCER. He prefers long walks on the moon, dancing like everyone can see him, and a nice chianti with fava beans, but no liver. He’s on a diet, and  liver meat is awfully fatty.

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