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Have an Eldritch Blast
Students of forbidden knowledge, warlocks have bound themselves to otherworldly powers through special rituals and great sacrifices. Warlocks are the black sheep of the arcane world, intertwined with forces they may not entirely understand, or those they've underestimated. In dnd 5e, warlocks are the "build-a-character" class that can be worked into any style of character you can imagine. All it takes is a little sacrifice. If you want to wield power and aren't afraid of a little danger, then grab your sword and grimoire as we go through everything you need to know in this 5th edition warlock guide.
What Are Warlocks?
Sorcerers are lucky enough to be born magical, and wizards spend a lifetime studying the arcane, warlocks instead take the “easy path” of making a pact and sell their souls to an eldritch being in exchange for cosmic power! Whether it’s a literal devil, an arch fey, or even a god, warlocks are bound to their patrons and their magical ability only keeps flowing so long as they keep them happy. Warlocks often get typecast as evil or at least edgy (and many are) but they’re not stuck in that box. Every piece of the alignment chart has some powerful beings in it willing to make a deal. Mechanically, warlocks are very unusual spellcasters that can be built for wildly different play styles. With so many options within the class no two warlocks will be exactly alike. Broadly though, they’re often built as powerful spellcasting damage dealers or as martial spellcasters, combining both sword and spell prowess.
Some of the most iconic characters that would probably be warlocks in D&D include Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean, Spawn from the Mortal Kombat universe, Ghostrider from the marvel comics. Faust from the classical German legend (from which we get Faustian deal), Lilliana Vess from the Magic the Gathering multiverse, Dr. Facilier from the Disney film “The Princess and the Frog”, and strangely enough all the magical girls from Madoka Magica.
Warlock Class Features
Warlocks are the build your own character class of 5e dnd. They have long lists of options to choose from and are undoubtedly the class with the most customization potential. This means you can really create the warlock that works best for you, but it also means there’s a potential for combinations that don’t work quite right. Let’s go through each of the warlock’s class features, and the many options you’ll be able to choose from.
Note that this spellcasting class feature is called “pact magic” and not just “warlock spellcasting”, and that’s because much like most warlock features, pact magic is a little weird. All of the other spellcasting classes have spell lists and spell slots that provide your facility with spells in essentially the same way, but warlocks are the black sheep that go their own way.
Starting off with the similarities, Warlocks are Charisma based, and just like with other spellcasting this means your spell attack bonus and spell save DC is based on your Charisma bonus. The higher your Charisma is, the better your spell attacks will be and the more difficult it will be to resist your effects.
You’re also what’s called a spontaneous spellcaster, which means you don’t have to prepare any spells, but you only know a limited number of them from the warlock spell list. You start out knowing 2 first level spells, and you basically learn another spell of your choice every level until you hit level 10 and start gaining a spell at every other level instead. You can find the number of spells you know right in the warlock class table. And just like the other spellcasting classes you also have cantrips or “level 0 spells” that don’t take any spell slots to cast.
Here’s where it starts to get weird. Firstly, you only have 2 spell slots, yup, just 2. And not just at 1st level either, you don’t go up to a 3rd spell slot until 11th level and you max out at only 4 at 17th level. You also only ever get up to 5th level spell slots, so what’s going on? This is abysmally low compared to most spellcasters, so how does the class actually work with such limited spell slots?
Your big gimmick as a warlock is that while you have very limited spell slots, each warlock spell slot is always at your highest spell level. That’s right, you don’t get spell slots like normal, instead your “ammo” is always the strongest you could possibly have, you just don’t get a lot of it.
As a tradeoff since for most adventures you’re only going to have 2 or maybe 3 spell slots at a time, you recover them on a short rest. So for the most part, you’re going to only have a couple spells available at any given time, but you should feel free to fire them off since they’re quick to recover.
You also get a number of 0 level spells (cantrips), that don’t use spell slots at all. And even more than other spellcasters, warlocks rely on their cantrips a LOT. Warlocks often use their cantrips as their go-to attacks, saving their spell slots for when they’re needed for powerful effects. And warlocks get unique access to the arguably strongest cantrip in the game eldritch blast. We’ll talk more about that spell in a bit, but for now just remember it as a good weapon in your arsenal and an essential selection when you pick out your cantrips.
If you end up multiclassing or taking a class dip, remember that your spellcasting feature doesn't work to combine with other spellcasting features. Pact magic is it's own thing.
Finally, like most spellcasters you use what is called a "spellcasting focus", this could be a wand, a book, a talisman, or any other magical doodad you feel thematically fits as the thing you cast your spells with. Interestingly you are limited to an arcane focus and don't seem to be able to take the normal alternative of a component pouch. It's really just a flavor difference though.
At 2nd level you'll get the first of many special magical abilities called "eldritch invocations", these can range from access to extra spells, bonuses to skills, to full on magical powers. They're all excellent options that let you tailor your warlock build to your particular playstyle and each choice grants useful features. You'll start out with your choice of 2 invocations, and you'll get to pick additional invocations at 5th level, 7th level, 9th level, 12th level, 15th level, and 18th level. We’ll go into each eldritch invocation and what it’ll mean for your warlock in the building a better warlock section.
At 3rd level you get to pick out yet another layer of customization, a special “item” granted by the mysterious entity that’s been bestowing your powers. They may not seem all that impressive, but they’ll tie into a lot of the most powerful invocation options. You get to pick between 3 boons, pact of the blade, pact of the chain, or pact of the tome.
Pact of the Blade
This is the pact you take if you’re going with the martial fighting angle on your warlock. You get a special magic melee weapon (any weapon you like, not just swords). Your pact weapon counts as magic, and you can magically pop it into your hands as an action. Resistance to nonmagical attacks gets more and more common in later tiers so don't count it out. And don’t worry if you find a shiny new magic weapon in the next dungeon, you have the option to “transform” a weapon into your pact weapon with a ritual.
Pact of the Chain
With this pact you learn the find familiar spell and gain access to several stronger creatures that most spellcasters can’t pick: imp, pseudodragon, quasit, or sprite. Each one is good in its own way, but the imp is generally accepted as the “best” of them. This may not seem like much, but familiars in general are good, and now you have access to familiars that have a lot more utility and scouting options. In a real way think of playing a pact of the chain warlock as playing with a bonus mini character.
Pact of the Talisman
Your patron gives you a talisman that allows you to add a d4 to a failed ability check, potentially turning them into successful checks. This is oddly limited, as pure ability checks are few and far between, and this essentially functions like the bless spell. The invocations that build from it are quite strong though, so I would only take this pact if I planned on utilizing its unique invocations.
Pact of the Tome
This is the pact you take if you’re wanting to mostly focus on the spellcasting angle of warlocks and want a bit more spellcasting utility. You get a special spellbook called a “book of shadows” that you can bamf back to your hand just like the pact weapon. You also get to pick out 3 additional warlock cantrips when you pick this pact, and extra cantrips are a better bonus than you may think considering how limited the warlock’s cantrips are without it. You can also create a new one if the old one is lost or destroyed using a special 1-hour ritual, which will make losing spellbook a mere inconvenience rather than a crisis.
These are almost more like a patch rule than proper features, but because the warlock never gets higher than 5th-level spells, their higher-level spells aren't proper slots, and each one is instead a special "arcanum spell". Each time you gain an arcanum spell, you pick an incrementally higher spell (starting at 6th level and up to 9th level) and you can simply cast that spell once per long rest.
This is rather awkward since they aren't properly using spell slots, which means you'll only ever have that selected spell at each of these higher levels.
You gain your first mystic arcanum at 11th level (6th-level spell), then at 13th level (7th-level spell), 15th level (8th-level spell), and 17th level (9th-level spell).
Finally, the warlock capstone at 20th level is powerful but bland. You can spend 1 minute to perform a special ritual and consult your patron to regain all your expended spell slots once per long rest. This effectively means you can use a whopping 8 spell slots before taking a short rest... Yay.
Optional Warlock Features
In Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything every class got a set of optional features that act like a sort of upgrade patch to fix issues and improve things that needed improving. These features are technically optional, but assuming your DM allows them make sure to include these class features with your warlock character:New Spells
Using the optional features, the following spells have been added to the newly expanded spell list for warlocks:
Cantrip (0 Level): Booming blade, Green-flame blade, Lightning lure, Mind sliver, Sword burst
3rd Level: Intellect fortress, Spirit shroud, Summon fey, Summon shadowspawn, Summon undead
4th Level: Summon aberration
5th Level: Mislead, Planar binding, Teleportation circle
6th Level: Summon fiend, Tasha’s otherworldly guise
7th Level: Dream of the blue veil
9th Level: Blade of disaster, Gate, Weird
Pact Boon and Invocation Options
The warlock’s optional class features include a new pact (which we talk about in the warlock pacts section) that you can choose at 3rd level.
You also gain a slew of new invocations to play around with. Most of them are linked to the new pact boon, but some of them work for the existing pacts as well. I particularly like the Investment of the Chain Master that can turn your pact of the chain familiar into a serious threat.
Most of the spellcasters got a similar ability in Tasha’s, basically this lets you trade out a cantrip or your pact boon whenever you gain an ability score improvement. You also have the option to trade out a spell from your Mystic Arcanum once you hit 12th level. It’s a convenient and easy way to retrain this stuff if you decide you want a change sometime down the line.
Building a Better Warlock
Warlocks can really fill most roles if you build them carefully. The simplest builds tend to form around a lot of eldritch blasts and easily fill the ranged DPS role for the party. With just a few selections you could also create a decent melee tank, a healer, a face of the party, a stealthy scout, a utility caster, and practically anything else. However you decide to build up your warlock, you’ll need to start with your ability scores.
Warlock Ability Scores
Warlocks have a lot of potential directions and builds, but all of that still starts with your ability scores. You'll have your starting scores, and then you'll need to choose what to do with your ability score improvements at 4th level, 8th level, 12th level, 16th level, and 19th level.
Charisma is your spellcasting ability and other than some particularly strange builds you'll be needing to prioritize it. Charisma is also conveniently the ability score responsible for all the social skills, making it easy for your warlock to become the party face.
As a d8 hit die class, you're a bit beefier than most arcane spellcasters and have solid armor and weapon proficiencies, which means you can build yourself up for melee combat or stick to ranged play styles.
For melee builds you'll need to worry about making melee attacks, which usually means making Dexterity your second highest score to make hitting with finesse weapons feasible and establish a decent AC.
For ranged builds I recommend making Constitution your second highest score to keep you alive after you've taken a few hits, and to help you concentrate on some key spells.
Whichever one you pick; the remaining ability should be your third highest score.
Strength, Intelligence, and Wisdom are all far less important for a warlock, though there are some Strength based warlock builds out there that are worth consideration. Unless you're doing one of those odd builds, these three abilities should all be dump stats for you.
Any race can be a warlock, but if you want to make the most optimal use of your abilities, you’ll want to maximize your Charisma and one of the abilities that increase your survivability. Which means you need Charisma, then either Constitution or Dexterity. The following races have a +2 bonus to Charisma, and at least +1 in either Constitution or Dexterity, making them optimal choices for a warlock character:
Base aasimar gain +2 Cha and the scourge variant gains +1 Con. The free damage resistances to both radiant and necrotic are strong enough but with the Aasimar the scourge’s Radiant Consumption ability this becomes one of the stronger melee warlock options. I find this works particularly well with the celestial patron which can heal back the damage you take from your own abilities using their Healing Light.
Changelings gain +2 Cha and +1 to any other ability of their choice, which you can make Dex or Con. Changelings are technically setting locked into Eberron, so it may take some convincing for your DM to allow them elsewhere. Much like they do for any class, picking changeling goes a long way for making your character sneaky. Consider it strongly if you’re trying to be the party scout as a warlock.
Half Elves gain +2 Cha and +1 in two other ability scores of your choice, which you can make both Dex and Con. Half elf often gets pulled out for min-max builds but even outside of maximizing your ability scores it’s a strong option. Consider half-elf if you’re trying to max out all your relevant abilities, or just if you want a bit of flexibility.
Satyrs gain +2 Cha and +1 Dex. Technically setting locked as a playable race to the world of Theros, satyrs are still prevalent in the forgotten realms and a lot of DMs will allow them elsewhere. The big-ticket item here is Magic Resistance, a 35-foot movement speed, and some proficiencies that feel like dipping your hooves into bard. Consider this if you’re trying for a face of the party warlock or if you’re trying out a melee build that could benefit from some extra speed.
Tiefling (Dispater, Glaysa, Levistus)
Dispater, Glaysa and Levistus variants of Tiefling each gain +2 Cha and +1 in either Dex or Con. Every type of tiefling is a good fit for warlocks overall, it's just a matter of selecting that +1 bonus and the set of racial spells you like the most. Tieflings warlocks are a generally strong flavor win, and mechanically I really appreciate getting those extra spells in such a low spell slot class. Take a look through the tiefling variants if you're looking for some bonus utility spells for your build. You also get fire damage resistance, and resistance against such a common damage type is always helpful.
The Verdan gain +2 Cha and +1 Con. These weird telepathic goblinoids come to us from the acquisitions incorporated book and since they’re so powerful you’ll have a hard time with most DMs allowing them outside of that setting. With straight advantage on any Wisdom and Charisma saves and some free telepathy it’ll be hard to argue their fairness. If you do manage to get permission, they’ll make damn fine warlocks though.
At first level you’ll be selecting your otherworldly patron, the powerful being that has deemed you worthy of some of their power in exchange for favors/bloodshed/your soul. While warlocks have more class choices than most, this warlock patron selection is still vitally important to your character and how they’ll play. Many DMs will also take the opportunity and turn your patron into a tangible roleplaying force in your campaign, so consider how your patron choice may impact your story and behavior. Take your time and consider carefully what kind of warlock you want to be. The warlock subclasses 5e provides will grant you special features at 1st level, 6th level, 10th level, and 14th level.
Bound to a powerful lord or lady from the feywild, you get a few decent utility spells, the ability to charm or frighten people, and a solid “bamf” teleport ability that can get you well out of harm’s way. The invisibility + teleportation combo of Misty Escape makes this a very strong option if you’re trying to act as the party scout or if you’re getting up to no good, fitting for the servant of an archfey patron.
Cleric by way of warlock, your patron is a deity or other powerful “good guy”. Rather than prayer like a divine spellcaster, you directly made a pact with some celestial being for healing spells and powers, most importantly you gain the cure wounds spell. A celestial warlock also sneakily gains some nice damage boosts to radiant damage and fire spells, give it a go if your party needs a healer but you really wanted to play a warlock.
Your patron is either literal Cthulhu, some similarly betentacled horror from the deep, or potentially just a big water elemental with magical secrets. Mechanically your big feature is Tentacle of the Deeps, which works like a really good spiritual weapon spell, except it can even block hits like a parry. You also gain the retinue of aquatic features like water breathing and cold resistance. I really like this patron for damage dealing and battlefield control, between you and your tentacle you can really dish out some damage and keep your enemies where you want them.
Your patron is a literal devil or some other power from the lower planes. This is usually the go-to for melee builds if you aren’t going for hexblade. The Dark One’s Blessing feature rewards you for killing enemies with temporary hit points, though sadly this usually means you’ll shine in horde combats but will falter against single boss enemies. It’s hard to recommend this over hexblade for melee builds, but it has its place as the more survivable but less damaging option.
Your patron is a literal genie and you get a magic lamp and everything. Mechanically it’s very unique, as you have a tiny object that you can pop in and out of, and eventually you can even bring your friends inside. You’ll also be getting bonus damage to attacks specifically, so make sure your damaging spells are attack spells rather than saving throw effects. Overall, it has a lot of janky utility with the Genie’s Vessel and from the flight gained from the Elemental Gift. This patron is perfect if you’re looking for DPS with some utility on the side.
The Great Old One
Your patron is basically just Cthulhu (or something similarly mad) and you're one of their mad followers. At 1st level you gain the ability to speak telepathically with people (or at them at least), and you pick up some rather strong defensive abilities. At 6th level you can impose disadvantage on an attack against you once per short rest, and at 10th level you gain resistance to psychic damage and the ability to reflect it back when hit with it. And at 14th level you gain the ability to control a person and make them your unwitting servant, so out of all the otherworldly patrons, this one may be the hardest to justify as a good character. Still though, you get a lot of good mental utility spells that aren't normally part of the warlock spell list and some strong defenses, this is a solid otherworldly patrons choice.
Your patron is a shadow entity with a propensity for sentient weapons. The Hexblade warlock is nasty. Essentially once per short rest, your melee geared warlock can mark an enemy out for DOOM, get a massive bonus against them, kill them, and RAISE THEIR SOUL AS A GHOST SLAVE. 9 times out of 10 the best option for a melee warlock is going to be this.
Your patron is somebody very dark, powerful, and down with zombies. Mechanically its built around your Form of Dread ability that transforms you into something strong and terrifying for a while. You also eventually get full immunity to necrotic damage which can just make you invulnerable in some fights. I find it actually works best for ranged attack warlocks as it inflicts the frightened condition and can keep aggressors away from you and the necrotic damage immunity can be easily abused.
Your patron is likely a lich or somebody else who has cheated death. Mechanically this patron is all about, well, not dying. You gain a bunch of ways to keep yourself and take less damage from effects. It also functions oddly well if you focus on healing, as you’ll be rewarded with temporary hit points for saving others.
"Desert Fortress" by Dominick Critelli
You pick up two of these neat tricks at 2nd level and you’ll pick up additional invocations as you advance in warlock levels. Each invocation is an opportunity to make your warlock more unique, to power up a specific strategy, or to open up an entirely new ability. It’s hard to say which invocations are “good” or “bad” because many fit entirely different types of warlocks, but let’s go through them one by one so we can point out their uses and a couple of inefficient outliers.
This is the fundamental “I am going to use eldritch blast a lot” invocation. With this invocation you get to add your Charisma mod to the damage of each of that most awesome cantrip eldritch blast. These damage bonuses represent a considerable boost to your blast damage, and it should really be one of your first picks if you plan on being a “blast warlock”. Oh, and just to note it you do need to know eldritch blast to take this invocation, but that shouldn’t be a problem.
Armor of Shadows
This invocation lets you cast the spell mage armor for free, and without spending a slot so you can basically always have it cast. This is another “basic” invocation that a lot of players take, unless you’re already going a more armored up route and will be wearing better armor anyway. Strongly consider this invocation if you’re going for primarily spellcasting, or if the mage armor spell would give you a better AC than what you’re currently rocking.
This invocation lets you cast the spell levitate for free, without spending a spell slot. Normally levitate is just sort of a weaker form of flight and only gets used when flight isn’t an option. As a free spell though it opens up a lot of opportunities, especially if you’re focused on dealing damage from range. You have to be 9th level before selecting it, which is fair, but it’s worth considering when you hit 9th as an exploration tool and keep away tactic.
Aspect of the Moon
This is a pact of the tome specific invocation that lets you stay awake and active during your rests. It’s… Fine? There are some fringe situations where this can come in handy, but most parties simply take watches and staying up 24/7 isn’t all that necessary.
This invocation lets you cast the spell speak with animals for free, without spending a spell slot. How useful this will be is directly related to how many beasts you’re dealing with in your campaign, which in my experience isn’t many. Thematic and situationally useful if you’re going nature-y with your warlock but I’d normally give it a pass.
Gives you proficiency in Deception and Persuasion. Warlocks are Charisma based and it can make sense for you to play the “face of the party role”. And if you plan on taking this invocation early that can free up your other proficiency selections for other stuff.
This invocation lets you cast the spell compulsion for free, without spending a spell slot. You have to be at least 7th level to take this, but it’s a steal considering compulsion is normally a 4th level spell. If you’re not familiar, compulsion forces a target to walk in a direction of your choosing, including off a cliff! Normally it’s a bit situational as a prepared spell, but as a tool you always have in your back pocket it’s absolutely excellent.
Bond of the Talisman
This pact of the talisman invocation is strange but incredibly useful. Basically, you can hand your talisman to a buddy, then you can use an action to teleport to your buddy and vice versa, so long as you’re on the same plane of existence. You get to do this a number of times equal to your proficiency, which is plenty of opportunity to get up to shenanigans. Have your buddy check out the next room and instantly bamf back to you if there's trouble in there, or travel halfway across the world and be back in a flash. You’ve got to be 12th level before you can take this one, but I consider it one of the strongest incentives for taking pact of the talisman.
Book of Ancient Secrets
This pact of the tome invocation essentially turns you into a ritual caster. You get to learn 2 1st level ritual spells, and you get all the bells and whistles a normal ritual caster gets like the ability to learn more of them if you find them. Ritual casting is decent for warlocks, and will let you fill more of a utility caster role without sacrificing precious warlock spells known on utility spells.
Chains of Carceri
This is a minimum 15th level pact of the chain invocation that most people won’t get a chance to use, but if you find yourself in the position it’s a decent one to snap up. Chains of Carceri lets you cast the spell hold monster for free so long as it targets a celestial, fiend, or elemental. It also essentially limits you to 1 casting per creature. Hold monster is one of the most powerful control options that can potentially shut down even monsters at this level, so it’s definitely worth considering if your campaign has been running into a good number of those types of creatures.
Cloak of Flies
Cloak of flies lets you create an aura of poison damage that grants advantage to your Charisma (Intimidate) checks, but disadvantage on every other type of Charisma check. It’s minimum 5th level, but otherwise can be used by any pact. The intimidate boost has a lot of potential value to spooky themed party face warlocks, and the damage aura is good at early levels. In later levels that poison damage really feels lackluster though, so I’d only take this if you’re planning on getting use out of the intimidate and Charisma side.
At first glance devil's sight seems to just give 120-foot darkvision, but it doesn’t because it’s better. Devil’s sight lets you see through both darkness and magical darkness, which most darkvision doesn’t cut through. This means you can do nasty stuff like cast the darkness spell and fight against essentially blind opponents while seeing clearly yourself. It’s deceptively strong and you should consider it if you like fighting dirty.
This minimum 7th level invocation lets you cast the spell confusion once per long rest without using a spell slot. Confusion is a fine spell with good mob control applications, but I’m not sure I’d use up an invocation for one casting of it per day.
This invocation gives you advantage on concentration checks for maintaining your spells. If your go-to spells require concentration, this will help prevent the pain of losing one of your precious spell slots to concentration. A decent option for melee warlocks who are relying on buff spells when diving into combat.
This invocation lets you cast the spell detect magic freely without using spell slots. Of all the utility options this is the one I’ve personally picked the most often. Detect magic is an amazing spell and I’ve never been disappointed by picking it. Take this invocation if you’re trying to fill the “main spellcaster” role of your party.
This minimum 5th level pact of the blade invocation almost perfectly mirrors the paladin’s divine smite ability and lets you turn your spell slots into extra force damage on your attacks. You don’t have nearly as many spell slots to play with though, so while they’ll have a ton of kick, you’re only getting a max of 2 smites to any fight. Personally, I feel like there are better spells for melee warlocks than just using them as smite spells, but it definitely feels good to just deal a TON of damage on a swing.
One of the eldritch blast invocations, this one drastically increases the range of your eldritch blasts up to 300 feet. In most dungeon situations this will never matter, but in open air situations it can let you snipe away at a target for several rounds before they have a chance to even get close. Situational, but potentially good.
Eyes of the Rune Keeper
From otherworldly patron to otherworldly patron, this invocation allows you to read any writing, no matter what language it’s in. Very situational but depending on how much your DM likes putting occult lore in their dungeons it could pay off. I’d only consider this one in campaigns where written language barriers have been an issue.
This minimum 5th level pact of the tome invocation lets you cast the sending spell to your buddies without using a spell slot. Long distance communication always has potential uses, but since it can only affect a few people, it will usually only be with your party members who theoretically shouldn’t be split up anyway. It’s also only 1 way communication, so it’s pretty limited. I’d consider this one only if you’re already having coordination problems that could be solved by a lot of telegrams.
This invocation lets you cast the false life spell for free without spending a spell slot, but it only ever casts it as a 1st level spell. If it let you scale the spell up it would be an amazing option but as it is this invocation is really only useful at very early levels. Consider taking it early for a temporary hit point bubble at every fight, then trade it out for something else at higher levels.
Gaze of Two Minds
This is a weird one, basically you can touch an ally and see through them for a while like you would see through a familiar. There may be some applications here I’m missing but I can’t find many ways to make this useful. If I want to scout out a potentially dangerous area, I’d much rather send a flying and easily replaceable familiar, rather than risk another player character. I’d steer clear of this one.
This minimum 7th level invocation basically gives you x-ray vision for a minute a day, letting you see through objects as if they were ghostly after images. This is another very situational one, but there are definitely good ways to abuse it. Take a look in the next suspicious room and see if there’s an ambush waiting, or if your DM is kind, look through a lock to see the tumblers and open it easily. Consider this one carefully, and only take it if you’re doing a lot of dungeon delving or heist style capers.
Gift of the Depths
This minimum 5th level invocation gives you a swimming speed equal to your walking speed and lets you cast water breathing once per long rest without spending a spell slot. Ignore this if you’re taking the nautically themed patron the fathomless, as you’ll get a superior swim speed and free permanent water breathing anyway. Consider it if you took any other patron and are running into a lot of aquatic encounters in your campaign, but otherwise give it a pass.
Gift of the Ever-Living Ones
This pact of the chain invocation maximizes (so like you automatically roll the maximum) any healing you get, so long as your familiar is nearby. Even if you aren’t healing yourself, chances are you’ve got a healer in the party, or at least some healing potions and maximizing a heal can make a HUGE difference. I consider this one a high priority selection if you’re pact of the chain.
Gift of the Protectors
This minimum 9th level pact of the tome invocation gives you and a few allies a “pop back from 0” resilience feature. A number of creatures can write their name in your book, and the first time each day one of them would drop to 0, they pop right back up to 1 hit point instead. As a layer of defense for the party this can really be worth the investment and can be the difference between a victory and a TPK.
Grasp of Hadar
Another of the eldritch blast invocations, this one pulls creatures 10 feet closer to you when you blast them. Normally as a caster you want the targets farther away, but there’s some sneaky utility here. Firstly, it doesn’t grant a save, and doesn’t have a size limit, so even that massive dragon is getting pulled towards you if you hit it and it can’t do anything about it. Secondly, it pulls towards you no matter what’s in the way, or where you are in relation to them. So, there’s the obvious plan of flying over a cliff and pulling creatures to their doom, or even just flying over a creature and pulling them up 10 feet so they fall back and take the fall damage. Generally, though, I only take this if I can somehow add flying to the equation, and I’d recommend only taking it once you’ve somehow gained flight.
Improved Pact Weapon
This pact of the blade invocation is usually the first one you pick with that pact and for good reason. Your pact weapon gets a +1 bonus to attack rolls and damage, it becomes a spellcasting focus so you don’t need to worry about keeping hands free, and you can summon ranged weapons as your pact weapon which opens up all sorts of possibilities.
Investment of the Chain Master
This pact of the chain invocation boosts your familiar with a laundry list of improvements and new abilities that all add up to make them viable in combat. With this invocation your familiar can be a credible threat at early levels, and if you’re just starting out it can be a massive advantage. Give it a go if you’re still in tier 1 and consider trading it out much later.
Lance of Lethargy
Another eldritch blast synergy invocation, this one lets you slow a creature when you hit with your blasts. I actually really love this one for eldritch blast builds, especially when combined with the fathomless patron that can slow your enemies even further down. Slow effects like this really improve your chances of staying out of melee and playing the “keep away” strategy is a decent option for blast heavy warlocks, turning your eldritch blast into a defensive spell.
This minimum 12th level pact of the blade invocation adds your Charisma modifier’s worth of necrotic damage to your pact weapon’s damage. Adding an entire stat to damage on each hit really adds up, and it’s hard to turn down this kind of consistent addition to your damage output. I’d take this for any pact of the blade warlock as soon as it’s available as it represents a huge advantage.
This minimum 5th level invocation adds psychic damage whenever you cast the hex spell or do any other spell or affect that places a curse. It deals psychic damage equal to your Charisma modifier to the target of your curse and anybody else you choose within a 5 ft radius. If you’ve got bunched together targets, this can usually mean somewhere in the neighborhood of 12-20 psychic damage spread around depending on placement and your Charisma mod. It’s not a bad amount of free damage, but ultimately, it’s only going to matter if you’re hexing people a lot. For debuff centered warlocks only.
Mask of Many Faces
This invocation lets you cast the spell disguise self for free without expending spell slots. If you are attempting to be a sneaky or tricky warlock this is usually a no-brainer pick up. Being essentially a doppelganger at will, can let you get up to all sorts of shenanigans.
Master of Myriad Forms
This minimum 15th level invocation is like the mask of many faces all grown up, it allows you to cast the spell alter self for free without expending spell slots. If mask is like being a doppelganger, this is like being a proper shapeshifter as you actually make the changes rather than just creating illusions. There’s arguably stronger options up at 15th level but if you’re going for that magical assassin or crafty trickster playstyle, there’s really no comparison.
Minions of Chaos
This minimum 9th level invocation lets you cast the spell conjure elemental once per long rest without spending a spell slot. Conjure elemental is a solid spell and having an elemental minion will represent a serious combatant all the way through tier 3. I highly rate this one for any style of warlock.
Mire the Mind
This minimum 5th level invocation lets you cast the spell slow once per long rest without expending spell slots. Slow is a powerful crowd control spell and if you’re focused on the debuff strategy it’s a decent choice.
This invocation lets you cast the silent image spell for free without expending spell slots. If you’re going for a tricky illusion warlock, this is basically an obligatory pickup. Silent image is sort of the base-line useful illusion spell but being able to use it freely opens up a lot of utility.
One With Shadows
This minimum 5th level invocation lets you turn invisible as an action while you’re in dim light or darkness. Sadly though, you turn visible when you move again. It’s still quite useful though. Once you break line of sight with a pursuer or guard, you jump into a shadow, and you’re gone. Probably a wise choice if you’re going the sneaky route.
This minimum 9th level invocation lets you cast the spell jump for free without expending spell slots. This is one of the few invocations I really don’t recommend anybody taking. Why jump when you could levitate? Pass this and take a look at the ascendant step invocation instead.
Protection of the Talisman
This minimum 7th level pact of the talisman invocation lets you add a d4 to a failed saving throw, potentially passing it. You get a number of these d4s equal to your proficiency modifier each long rest, and you’d be amazed how often a d4 can mean the difference for passing a save. If you’re a pact of the talisman warlock, give it a shot, you’ll be amazed how much more survivable you get.
Rebuke of the Talisman
This pact of the talisman invocation lets you push away an attacker as a reaction and deal them a little psychic damage. If your attacker was already at the end of their movement, this’ll mean they won’t get a chance to make more attacks against you. I rate this highly if you’re playing the “keep away” strategy and are trying to stay out of melee. Give it a pass if though if you're able to deal decent damage with an opportunity attack.
This minimum 7th level invocation lets you teleport up to 30 feet to be next to a target you’ve hexed or cursed as per misty step. This is an obnoxious one that will all but guarantee your hexblade can stay in melee with your target. I don’t like it much for non-hexblades but free misty steps to get into combat is an excellent choice for hexblades.
Another of the eldritch blast synergy invocations, this one is the direct parallel to grasp of hadar except this one pushes by 10 feet instead of pulling. Pushing works directly with the “keep away” caster strategy and can still be used to push people over cliffs in a pinch. I find this one has fewer janky applications but is just naturally more useful in keeping enemies at a good distance while blasting them.
Sculptor of Flesh
This minimum 7th level invocation lets you cast the spell polymorph once per long rest without expending spell slots. Polymorph can be used to turn an ally temporarily into a T-rex, or an enemy temporarily into a newt. It’s versatile, and it’ll be rare that you can’t come up with something to do with it, making it a fine choice to have in your pocket once a day.
Shroud of Shadow
This minimum 15th level invocation lets you cast the spell invisibility for free without expending spell slots. Sadly, level 15 is well past when baseline invisibility is cutting the mustard, but out of combat it’s still a “sneak for free” card and initial advantage on attacks. I wouldn't call it a bad ability, it's worthwhile but you’ll be tempted with other strong options at this stage.
Sign of Ill Omen
This minimum 5th level invocation lets you cast the spell bestow curse once per long rest without expending spell slots. This is sort of the cornerstone workhorse for all those other “hex” invocations, and you’ll want to take this early if you’re going for that sort of a debuff warlock. Bestowing a curse is already a nasty effect, but when combined with other hex invocations it can really shine.
Thief of Five Fates
This invocation lets you cast the spell bane once per long rest without expending spell slots. Bane is a nice enough debuff spell, but past the early levels it loses a lot of usefulness. I recommend taking this early on if you’re going for a debuff warlock and trading it out for something else once you get into tier 2.
This minimum 5th level pact of the blade invocation is basically just the “extra attack” feature by a different name. Sadly, if you’re going for pact of the blade this is really a prerequisite and tax to keep you on pace with martial classes. Obligatory selection.
Tomb of Levistus
This minimum 5th level invocation lets you trigger a big “ice shield” once per short rest that gives you temporary hit points equal to 10 times your warlock level. More or less, you have a “stop hitting me button” that can save you from “real damage” for a round. I find it’s best used by melee warlocks as an emergency defensive maneuver if you’re on the ropes.
This minimum 7th level invocation lets you cast the freedom of movement spell once per long rest without spending a spell slot. It’s a decent emergency escape button for squishier warlocks, but I honestly think you’ve got better options like misty step. Take this if you’re REALLY worried about getting grabbed, but I’d normally give it a pass.
This minimum 5th level invocation lets you cast the animate dead spell once per long rest without spending a spell slot. Raising even one zombie or skeleton pal has good uses during the early levels, but I’d trade it out for something else around tier 3. Also, figure out how cool your setting and party is with necromancy, just in case.
Visions of Distant Realms
This minimum 15th level invocation lets you cast the arcane eye spell for free, without expending spell slots. I was originally quite down on this one but in practice it has proven incredibly useful. At will spying around corners, between cracks, and generally wherever you need to look is actually quite powerful. There’s still a lot competing with it at this high of a level, but it’s worth considering.
Voice of the Chain Master
This pact of the chain invocation turns your familiar into your own personal spy camera and walkie talkie. I consider it a “must take” for the pact of the chain, as your familiar becomes infinitely more useful as a scout and communication method.
Whispers of the Grave
This minimum 9th level invocation lets you cast the speak with dead spell for free without expending spell slots. As a DM I hate this one just on principle for allowing infinite powerful 3rd-level spells, but as a player it’s a go-to for investigating and roleplaying. Every corpse is your informant, and you find a lot of corpses over the course of a campaign.
This minimum 15th level invocation gives you super “spot the fake” vision, letting you magically see the true form of any shapechanger or glamor. It’s honestly not very good, even in situations with imposters there’s plenty of other ways to sniff them out than by spending an invocation. Still, if your DM uses them a lot and they’ve been a regular theme, grab this to break that whole mechanic down and spot them instantly.
Warlock Builds and Styles
Now that you're a bit more familiar with all the choices that go into making your warlock, let's put everything together into some builds! The following builds and play styles are common ways to put your warlock together and can be good starting points for your own build, be creative!
The objective is to stay alive and keep your party members alive too. Depending on your patron, you might be good or bad at this. If you're determined to be a strong ally for your party, you've got to offer protection. There are two ways to do this:
- Choose a life-based patron. The Archfey, Undying, and Celestial patrons are powerful patrons for helpful characters. Their spell-list can include spells for healing, protection, and even revival.
- Or kill the enemies before they kill you. On the flip side, you can also hone your skills as a warrior and protector. Hexblade, Fiend, and the Old One are strong, and can help you protect squishier members of your party.
The second objective of D&D is to kick ass, and here's how to do it best.
Choose your spells (and invocations) wisely. This goes double if you're a warlock of the Tome. Take your DM's campaign into account while choosing spells and try to choose spells that will weaken/harm your enemies.
For direct damage, the most popular combo for warlocks is Hex followed by spam of eldritch blast. Remember that Hex allows you to move the target of hex as a bonus action. While many read the Hex description as needing to be moved the following turn, it can be any future turn.
With the proper eldritch invocations like agonizing blast, you can really level up the Eldritch Blast cantrip with extra damage, eldritch blast+agonizing blast is by far the most common and easiest way to deal a lot of consistent damage as a warlock.
One of the key areas where warlocks shine is that they get all of their slots back on a short rest, and they cast their spells at the highest level every time. With Eldritch Blast *always* being a solid damage option, it's not as important to keep those spells slots in reserve like it might be for other spell casters. While you may not be initiating an ambush, you may want to start combat with your highest casualty producing spell. The warlock spell list is rife with raw damage opportunities!
Area of Effect- Warlocks don't have tons of AOE options, but spells like Create Bonfire, and Hunger of Hadar, when combined with repelling blast, can make it so that foes spend their rounds running out of difficult terrain only to be pushed back in. Remember, you can hold your action until a foe leaves the area of effect of spells like this. You can also call on your allies to SHOVE them back in as well.
All of this ignores the bladelock/hexblade, and their direct damage options. If you choose to do more melee styled warlock remember that you'll need to be making concentration checks frequently, so war caster or resilient feats really shine here. Armor of Agathys will give you additional hit points while doing damage to those who hit you. Hellish rebuke is a great way to make others pay for hitting you as well.
Fight smart. While it might be tempting to choose a spell that will inflict damage, you might be better choosing one that weakens, disorients, or scares them. Minor Illusion and Fear are good examples of this.
A great warlock combo here is the ability to see through your own magical darkness. This can cause havoc among your allies as well, but might be necessary to escape or to hit the high AC foe with Eldritch Blast (since you'll be rolling with advantage on those attacks)
Make use of your weapon. All players get a weapon, so don't be afraid to use it. You're not just a spellcaster, you're a warrior. Use that weapon!
Outside of combat, how well does a warlock fare? That depends on your character -- and your stats. With a high Charisma, it's not inconceivable that your character could end up being the face of the party. If you plan for this through the right background you might prove additional utility outside of combat. Dexterity can also be an integral part of your character's utility. Don't be afraid to step forward and sweet-talk people, or stealth your way around to eavesdrop.
To start, you shouldn't be afraid to choose non-combat spells. While your book of spells is low on space, you shouldn't feel obligated to stuff it with offensive spells. The ability to scry, charm people, and turn invisible can be pretty darn handy. Combined with Mask of Many Faces it's possible you can avoid a lot of combat through clever usage.
Now that we've gone over what warlocks can do, we can start thinking about what they're like.
If you’re interested in seeing one in action, a notable warlock is the character Fjord from Critical Role. The half-orc is a strong, quiet, and charismatic character, with his own set of morals. He is a Blade warlock sworn to a Hexblade patron and uses a number of offensive and illusion spells.
If you’re interested in seeing more warlock characters, try taking inspiration from other people’s builds. The warlock is one of the most versatile classes, so there’s no limit to the originality.
We hope this D&D 5e warlock guide helped you begin crafting your character. If you already have a warlock or have started building your own, tell us what they’re like in the comments below!
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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