The Ultimate Warlock's Guide to Dungeons and Dragons
"Desert Fortress" by Dominick Critelli
Face the Facts, and Make Some Pacts
Dungeons and Dragons is about doing the things you can't do otherwise -- whether that involves adventuring through the mountains, fighting bugbears, or making pacts with otherworldly beings. You know, the stuff we dream about.
Warlocks are one of the more versatile classes, perfect for players who want to boost their combat skills with magic, or focus on their skills as a spellcaster.
There’s some things you have to know before waltzing into your deal with the devil -- or a god, you have options. However, if you're gonna sell your soul, you should do it right. Here's a 5e warlock guide, so you can get your money's worth.
Choosing a Patron & Pact
What is the best pact for a 5e Warlock? - That's one of the top five questions people ask when creating a new warlock character.
First things first, you gotta choose who holds your soul in their purse. Obviously, your patron doesn’t have to be a force of evil or chaos -- contrary to popular belief, not all warlocks are servants of evil. However, the build and morality of your character can depend on your patron, so let's go over the different ones.
- Fiend You have made a pact with a devil, demon lord, or other hellish spirit. A deal with one of these patrons gives you access to a number of flame-based spells. Not to mention: at later levels, you can literally throw opponents through hell. Fun!
- Undying Want to live forever? Well, have we got a deal for you. Undying patrons are mortal beings that have conquered death. They give you access to a number of life-related spells, which makes you a great healer and ally to your party.
- Archfey The Fey are a strange bunch. However, they are known for making deals with humans, giving them the ability to cast illusions and interact with nature. Use these illusions to help your group, or give yourself a boost in battle!
- Hexblade Along with sounding cool, a hexblade is actually a sentient weapon that serves as a conduit for a shadowy, unknown figure. That is your patron, and contact with their hexblade has given you the ability to cast hexes, control spectres, and wield weapons with deadly proficiency
- Celestial Not quite a god, but they might as well be. A celestial is a powerful being bound to the Upper Planes, and you’ve given yourself over to them in exchange for power and purpose. Along with gaining access to healing & life spells, you’re also blessed with the ability to channel radiant energy.
- Great Old One Fan of Lovecraft, existential horror, or spooky aesthetics? The Great Old One is an utterly foreign, completely omniscient being. And you, lucky player, have tapped into a fraction of their incomprehensible knowledge. With this pact, you’ve been given a collection of dark spells -- including the ability to dominate people’s bodies and minds.
Additional pacts, including one of our favorite, the Hexblade, are available in Xanathar's Guide to Everything.
Now that we’ve gone over the character-creation aspect of warlocks, let’s go over other aspects of their build.
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 gotta 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 invocations, you can really level up the Eldritch Blast, but you’ll lose the utility of other invocations that only warlocks can get.
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.
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 style’d 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! If you've got a round to prep, True Strike may help too.
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.
Abilities & Spell Selection
This is where your Dungeons and Dragons warlock truly comes to life. What are they like? What skills do they have? What kind of warlock are they? Your character’s patron plays a large part in what spells, features, and invocations they have, so make sure to choose this wisely.
At level three, your character will come to another crossroads that will further shape them as a warlock & warrior. Here’s the three types of pacts, and how they might affect your character.
- Pact of the Chain. By becoming a warlock of the Chain, you’ve gained the ability to summon familiars and have them do your bidding. Your familiars can be otherworldly, and give you massive advantages during adventures and battles.
- Pact of the Blade. You gain the ability to summon your pact weapon at will, regardless of its size or location. Using a ritual, you can change your pact weapon to any magical and non-sentient melee weapon of your choice.
- Pact of the Tome. Your patron has given you a grimoire, which contains three cantrips from any spell list. These are cantrips you can’t get from the warlock list,and don’t take up spell slots. As long as you have your tome, you have these spells.
Your character gains invocations, patron features, and a growing Mystic Arcanum as they level up. Keep an eye on these, and keep growing your character & their skills!
**Xanathar's Class Updates**
The Celestial (Xanathar’s Guide to Everything)
Cleric by way of warlock. Rather than prayer, you directly made a pact with some celestial being for your healing powers. It also sneakily gains some nice damage boosts to radiant and fire spells, give it a go if your party needs a healer but you really wanted to play a warlock.
Hexblade (Xanathar’s Guide to Everything)
Hexblades are 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. Grab hexblade if you want to use warlock as a melee fighter.
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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