Dark clouds overtake the sky as the eyes of a young tiefling shift to a deep shade of purple. Magic energy surges around them and turns into a swarm of flies, coating them in a haze of buzzing and chitin. As soon as they appeared, they are gone, and with them, the tiefling.
In an instant, the tiefling is crawling out of a shadow behind an unsuspecting troll. As they reach out their hand, a blade as black as obsidian seems to appear from nothing as if the light was drained from the area and this was what remained.
With a single strike, our hero releases the troll’s head from its bodily shackles, and viscera falls to the ground below before the blade even stops ringing. The tiefling is proud, they’ve saved the village, but even now, they can hear the calls of the dark one that fuels them, that gives them this unholy might.
If you hadn’t guessed it by now, we are talking about the warlock class of D&D 5e today. This is a class that brings so much to the table from powerful spellcasting to stealth to incredible aesthetics and more. After all, there better be a good reward for selling your soul to some powerful being from beyond this world.
Every class in D&D has its draw. Some classes are good at slashing, some classes move like the wind, and some classes can change the fabric of reality. All of that is great, but what if it was in a single class?
Well, that’s what we’re going to be looking at. The warlock is an exciting class that allows for such a deep level of customization that you can really build any sort of character you’re looking to play.
Of course, traditionally that’s all wrapped in a dark, gothic aesthetic, but even that is changing as we get more and more warlocks capable of even more incredible things.
In this article, we’ll be diving deep into what exactly makes the warlock such an exciting class to play in 5e, and then we’ll give you a thorough understanding of everything that makes this class tick. By the end, you’ll be able to make the perfect character for you, whether that’s an optimized edge lord or a powerful yet reluctant cleric.
So, grab a dark cloak, throw on some eyeliner, and don’t sign any blood contracts quite yet; it’s time to dive into the 5e Warlock class.
Why Play a Warlock?
There are so many reasons to play a warlock, but I want to start off by focusing on the main two.
If you like customizing characters, warlocks are going to be the best bet by far. The other big draw here is that warlocks open up so many opportunities to really let your freak flag fly and make a character that is as weird, gothic, or eccentric as you want.
Warlocks are, after all, characters who receive their powers through deals made with otherworldly patrons. This can be through a contract with an archfiend, an oath sworn to a celestial, a debt of service to an unknowable being, or just about anything your imagination can come up with.
Sure, wizards may get big spellbooks and even bigger brains, but they are tied into one basic concept — their deep study of spells. The same is true for so many other classes, even if some subclasses try to shake it up a bit.
On the other hand, warlocks start off with an incredibly large pool of inspiration to draw on, and that only deepens when you add in the unique and versatile subclasses.
Artificers Are Extremely Customizable
The way classes work in 5e is pretty straightforward. You gain a feature every so often when you level up and focus on the main one or two things that your class was made for.
Warlocks hold a special place in my heart because they seem to openly defy this standard. While I can’t say that it’s unlike anything else in 5e, I will say that warlocks are as close as we come to a modular build system.
Each level you gain in this class truly makes you feel like you have an impact on the character, not like you’re just filling in the blanks and doing as you’re told. This alone sets warlocks so far apart from the standard 5e class.
The big reason this is possible is the fact that you choose a pact boon and a number of eldritch invocations as the main features for this class. I’ll explain more on these in the progression guide below, but essentially, pact boons are like hidden subclasses, and eldritch invocations are like the features those subclasses would provide.
When you put all that together with the fact that you still have an actual subclass, spells to choose from, and feats to grab up, you end up building a character that is uniquely perfect for you, no matter what that means.
This brings us to the next point…
Warlocks Even Do Spells in a Unique Fashion
Admittedly, the spell system for warlocks might be a bit confusing if you’re used to normal 5e spellcasting, but you get used to it quickly, trust me.
Even then, a little bit of difficulty is typically a huge bonus for us RPG nerds who love to solve puzzles and come up with creative solutions to every obstacle in our path. I know that for me, the warlock’s pact magic gives me a way to breathe since spellcasting can get pretty stale if you consistently play other caster classes.
Pact magic is a gripping challenge, whether you’re new to RPGs or you grew up reading Vance novels. It means that no matter what level you’re at, you’ll feel like a powerful spellcaster, but it also means making some calculated decisions and using your reserve of magic wisely.
Besides the whole system of magic, warlocks get what is hands down the best cantrip in the game, Eldritch Blast. Coupled with a number of invocations, you can turn this into a spell that can travel miles before reaching its target, a means of telekinetic control on your enemies, or a spell that really feels like it should cost a spell slot.
I mean, it certainly beats most things that the fighter can do and basically gives you the ability to hit as often as they can. With a single cantrip, you can go round for round with the most powerful casters, fighters, or weird creatures from other worlds.
I know what you’re thinking: “If that’s what a cantrip can do, how vicious are the spells?” Well, I guess you’ll just have to wait and see. Trust me, the payoff is worth it.
Lastly, we have to talk about…
Warlocks Are Cool From an Aesthetic Standpoint
Listen, I know that everyone favors a different type of gameplay and different aesthetics. Of course, we all have our own things we like. Hell, for me, it’s the artificer’s ability to tinker and create insane contraptions that really gets me pumped for the next session.
I get it, but I also know that there are few RPG players out there who don’t love a good gothic hero. Whether it’s Batman, Spawn, Van Helsing, or someone else entirely, I know that you enjoy a well-developed character who embraces their dark side and uses it to conquer true evil.
I mean, when I was a kid, and I hope I’m not dating myself here, if you asked me what power I would wish for, I would’ve said shadow manipulation. The original Teen Titans animated series was my favorite thing to watch on Saturday mornings, and Raven was just the coolest character there was.
So, why the tangent on all of this? I know that we all like to see interesting, dark, gritty characters, and that means we’d all love to play one ourselves. Warlocks open up the door for that in so many ways. Even if you want to play a character who’s more of a striker like Spawn, you can 100% do that because, as I said, warlocks are just that customizable.
And trust me, that customizability doesn’t stop at features. You can truly pick any flavor of character that you’re after when you put together your warlock. You can have a character who is as much of a contrast to the stereotypical warlock as Starfire was to Raven.
Truly, there are so many flavorful aspects of this class. Almost nothing is purely mechanical, which means there are so many areas that you get to lean into exactly the theme you’re looking to get across. You are the master of your own destiny, even if your soul technically belongs to an eldritch older than time itself.
Warlocks are an exciting, customizable, and powerful class. That’s why we play them, and that’s why you should too. If you need more convincing, keep reading. If you’re convinced, keep reading and get ready to build your own warlock.
The Warlock’s Defining Features
Warlocks are defined mainly by their eldritch abilities. Their subclass, pact magic, pact boons, and eldritch invocations all serve to further a purpose. However, unlike most classes, that purpose is really up to you.
Mechanically, they are treated like two-thirds casters since their spellcasting isn’t as much of a focus as it is for a class like the wizard. Because of that, different combinations of subclasses, pact boons, and eldritch invocations can have this class feeling like a full caster, a complete brawler, or anything in between.
You might think that a build starts with its subclass, but that’s not quite true. Really, a build starts with a concept, a goal. That’s what you get to build toward, and the subclass is just one piece of the foundation.
For warlocks, their patrons are a huge part of the foundation since the class itself operates like one big, blank slate. Once you have an idea of what you want your character to do, the subclasses really give you a breadth of options to further that goal.
I know that might seem like a general description of any character build, but it’s not. Most classes are a goal in and of themselves. Fighters hit things a lot, barbarians hit things hard, and rogues sneak around before they hit things. Their subclasses just change how the character achieves those goals.
The warlock class is really just defined by potential, and the choices you make determine how you use that potential.
Pact boons and eldritch invocations really serve much the same purpose as subclass. I mean, you quite literally get a focus through the pact boon with a main feature, which is followed by several smaller features chosen from a long list.
This is why I say that warlocks have two subclasses, the obvious one and the hidden one.
It’s difficult to find the “defining features” of a class that really aren’t too well defined, but again, that’s why I find this class so exhilarating.
Do you want to know what the true defining feature of a warlock is? It’s you.
You are the one who takes all of that unlimited potential and decides to couple a hexblade patron subclass with a pact of the blade, creating an unmatched arcane weapons expert.
You are the one who chooses the One with Shadows invocation and takes proficiency in stealth so you can become invisible in the shadows and sneak behind your enemies to trap them within a Force Cage.
You are the one who gets to choose exactly which spells, which invocations, and which features define your warlock’s abilities both on and off the battlefield.
The Warlock’s Limitations
The biggest limitation for warlocks is their spellcasting, which is saying something because they don’t have the worst spellcasting out of all the 5e classes (I’m looking at you rangers). Still, a warlock’s pact magic ability is dramatically different from the normal spellcasting feature, and it means warlocks have less frequent access to spells than most characters do.
In truth, the way warlocks cast spells isn’t bad; it’s just different. Rather than receive a wide breadth of spell slots, they receive a small number of spell slots for a specific level of spell.
Casting fewer spells can be difficult, but warlocks aren’t just limited to spells they cast via pact magic. They also have the opportunity to pick up many spells through their eldritch invocations, some of which are able to be cast at will.
Besides, having to upcast a spell to 4th level because those are the only slots you have simply means that you’re casting a stronger version of the spell you would have used anyway. Interestingly, this eliminates the choice of which level to cast your spells while introducing a new choice — when to use your spell slots.
This limitation is much more of an obstacle. Of course, in a game full of choices, you can definitely choose to avoid certain obstacles you don’t wish to deal with. Still, if you put in the effort to make this character work for you, it definitely will.
Besides, can we really call the spellcasting bad if they have access to the best cantrip in the whole game?
The other piece of this class that could be looked at as a limitation is the breadth of options you receive. It isn’t until 20th level that you receive a feature that doesn’t require you to make any decisions.
This is a bit divisive. Some people, myself included, absolutely love that you are in almost complete control of the path your warlock takes. Others believe that this class’s progression lacks stability and a sense of direction.
The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. While it’s really cool to be able to make decisions every step of the way, it’s also a burden to take on. Unfortunately, not every possible build is going to be efficient, although most will. If you choose features without a solid build in mind, you may end up with a subpar character who is easily outperformed by their peers.
Unlike a fighter, you can’t just ride the class as it carries you to new heights; you really have to steer. I understand that this can be a turn-off for some people, and I would’ve been lying if I didn’t at least include it here.
The Warlock’s Role Within the Party
Due to their versatility, warlocks can play so many different roles within the party. First and foremost, their high charisma will often carry them into the face or frontman role, but after that, it’s completely dependent on the decisions you make along the way.
As a charisma caster, warlocks are right up there with sorcerers and paladins, easily using their charm to persuade guards, intimidate goblins, and deceive their enemies. Social interaction is a huge part of the game, and warlocks can really hold their own here.
There are plenty of options within the class to further improve these social skills as well. Invocations like Disguise Self and Alter Self allow warlocks to infiltrate strongholds unnoticed. The pact of the talisman increases your chance of success on ability checks, while the pact of the tome may lead you to forbidden knowledge.
Even with something as straightforward as having good charisma, there’s more to be gained in the class features that you decide to take.
Obviously, the same can be said when we talk about warlocks in combat or in dealing with the environment.
When it comes to combat specifically, warlocks often start off with their go-to cantrip, Eldritch Blast. This makes them great at range or in close combat, sitting right up with the damage output of someone like a fighter or barbarian.
Of course, as they progress, warlocks can take wildly different approaches to victory. Some may choose to use a pact blade to curse their enemies, while others may cast vicious spells under the shroud of darkness. A warlock can even be a healer as the celestial subclass is basically a cleric-themed warlock.
Just about the only role warlocks won’t be trying to fill is tank. They at least maintain a d8 hit dice, but that’s still not enough to take damage turn after turn and stand between your enemies and your allies. They can certainly armor themselves up so they won’t have to get hit as often, but warlocks work best when they can move freely and do what they were designed for.
How To Roleplay a Warlock
Roleplaying a warlock is simple work. Once you’ve found the design that you like, all you have to do is lean into it and enjoy the eccentric flavoring of this spectacular class.
Warlocks aren’t quite cursed, but they’re the closest class we have to something of that nature. Often, a warlock’s patron leaves a mark on them, or they in some way come to resemble their patron.
For a warlock with a fiend patron, they may begin to grow horns (if they don’t already have some), and their skin may dull to a burnt shade of red. Celestial warlocks may have a glow about them that echoes the light of Celestia.
A big part of roleplaying a warlock is letting their theme show in everything they do, which definitely includes their looks.
Beyond that though, these are people who sought knowledge and power and were willing to enter a pact with some powerful being to achieve those ends. Understanding what that pact was and how it affects you is incredibly important, even if it isn’t deeply explored in the actual class mechanics.
Think of a paladin. If they break their oath, they are stripped of their powers. There’s even a whole subclass called oathbreaker that exists for this explicit purpose.
As a warlock, you get a bit more agency in this process, but you need to decide what happens if you don’t fulfill your end of the bargain. Naturally, this means understanding what your part of the bargain is.
For some warlocks, the bargain could be simple. You get power in life in exchange for your patron receiving your soul in death. Even with a dynamic as straightforward as this, you can still shake it up and have some fun.
Does your warlock plan to betray their patron and void the contract somehow? Why did your warlock enter the pact in the first place? What do you hope to achieve with this power?
A lot of classes could easily just be swept up into things. Fighters could be out-of-work soldiers looking for money, and wizards could be simply involved in their training to become an archmage. For a warlock, not just your call to adventure but the source of your powers was a decision made by you.
Or.. maybe it wasn’t. Who knows, maybe you entered into the contract unwillingly, forced to take on the burden of power to save the one you love.
The entire concept of a pact between a mortal and an otherworldly patron is ripe with opportunities for creative direction. What’s more, the pact can inspire how your character actually interacts with the world around them.
You don’t have to be dark and brooding, but if you want to, that’s completely justifiable. Your connection with your patron may give you a changed perspective on mortal life, like you’re watching puppets perform through a fog. As you grow in power, you may also grow in apathy.
Or, you can take the completely opposite direction and create a character who is the patron’s emissary in the mortal world. Perhaps the patron has a vested stake in the success of some empire or cause or cares for innocents in a way that only strengthens your heroic resolve.
Warlocks are given otherworldly power — that much is easy to grasp. The exciting bit about them is how that power impacts the rest of their actions and mannerisms.
Once you’ve decided on your patron, ask yourself some of the questions I’ve gone through in this section, and flesh out your character. I’m sure that if you do so with a creative mind, you’ll end up with far more answers than even the questions you’ve asked and a deeply interesting character to reflect that.
Black Citadel’s Ranking and Tier System
In our ongoing series of 5e class guides, we use the following color-rating scheme:
Red – C Tier. Red options can sometimes be situationally useful and might make for an interesting narrative choice, but they are largely less effective than other tiers.
Green – B Tier. A solid choice but nothing that is absolutely critical for a build, or it can be very good but only situationally.
Blue – A Tier. An excellent choice. Widely regarded as powerful in some way, useful, highly effective.
Purple – S Tier. The best of the best. Objectively powerful or transformative in some way. No choice in D&D is essential, but these options are definitely worth considering when you create your characters.
The Warlock Class Progression
The very basics of any class are the hit dice, proficiencies, and equipment that they start off with. Before we jump into the actual features of the class, let’s take a brief look at what we’re working with here.
- Hit Dice: 1d8 per warlock level
- Hit Points at 1st Level: 8 + Con modifier
- Hit Points at Higher Levels: 1d8 (or 5) + Con modifier per warlock level
Warlocks have average health but are definitely better off than most casters. We won’t be able to become the party’s tank and take blow after blow without a sweat, but we can survive in combat if we keep a tactical mind.
Armor: Light armor
Light armor is just fine, as far as armor proficiencies go. With a good dexterity bonus, we can end up with a pretty substantial AC. The way it works, if we have a better dex score, we’ll probably end up in closer combat anyway. Essentially, our AC is directly proportional to how much we actually would expect to get hit.
Weapons: Simple weapons
This proficiency is only half true. If you’re a warlock who doesn’t use weapons often, then simple weapons will be more than enough to cover you when you don’t feel like using a cantrip to dish out damage.
However, if you want to use weapons, you’ll have the pact of the blade anyway, and you automatically receive proficiency with the melee pact weapon you’re holding. Essentially, warlocks are proficient in whatever weapons they want to be.
Tools are not essential to being a good warlock, but if you want to dabble in some alchemy or herbal research, you can always pick something up through a background.
Saving Throws: Wisdom, Charisma
The saving throws proficiencies we get are pretty useful, although it would be really nice to have Constitution in place of one of them (for our concentration spells). We already have a great Charisma modifier, so we don’t really need to worry about adding the proficiency bonus on top of that.
Still, wisdom and charisma are two saving throws constantly forced by various magical effects, and being able to avoid them with more ease is great.
Skills: Choose two from Arcana, Deception, History, Intimidation, Investigation, Nature, and Religion
Skills are a variable part of the game, their frequency of usage is highly dependent on a DM’s style of play. Still, we get two charisma-based skill checks that further lead us to becoming the party’s face, and the other options aren’t too bad either.
You have the following options for starting equipment:
- (a) a light crossbow and 20 bolts or (b) any simple weapon
- (a) a component pouch or (b) an arcane focus
- (a) a scholar’s pack or (b) a dungeoneer’s pack
- Leather armor, any simple weapon, and two daggers
Starting equipment is starting equipment. There really isn’t too much value in overanalyzing these.
I will say that anyone choosing the pact of the blade should be taking a light crossbow instead of a simple weapon in the first section since your main weapon will be formed from your pact.
This feature is the warlock’s answer to spellcasting. While it still functions on the basic premise of using spell slots to cast spells, it is different enough that it can easily trip you up if you’re not paying attention.
Before I jump into how different warlocks are from other casters, let’s go over the basics.
Warlocks’ spellcasting ability is Charisma, which determines their Spell Save DC and Spell Attack modifier. The calculations for those are as follows:
- Spell Save DC = 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Charisma modifier
- Spell Attack Modifier = your proficiency bonus + your Charisma modifier
Like most classes, you start off knowing a specific number of cantrips and spells. As you level up in this class, you learn more of each, increasing the pool of options you have to choose from. Additionally, whenever you reach a new level in this class, you can replace a warlock spell you know with another spell from the warlock spell list.
This is a great way to adapt to the campaign, using certain spells at lower levels and replacing them with more appropriate choices as you rise through the ranks.
Now, here’s the in-depth explanation for pact magic.
Warlocks have a number of spell slots depending on their level, like most classes. However, they also have a level of spell slot accessible, where most classes can access any level of spell slot that they know spells of.
The way this works is actually pretty simple. If you are a 1st-level warlock, you have access to one spell slot, and that spell slot is a 1st-level slot. If you are a 4th-level warlock, you have access to two spell slots, and both of those are 2nd-level slots.
There is a table above showing the full warlock progression, but I’ve included a small spell slot table here for quick access.
Warlock Spell Slots
You may notice that this maxes out at a pretty low amount of spell slots. While that is the case, it doesn’t mean that you’re not powerful. One of the main benefits of this structure is that your spells are consistently going to be upcast to higher levels.
Additionally, warlocks actually regain expended spell slots on short rests and long rests, meaning you can essentially double whatever the spell-slots-available column says.
When choosing spells, especially lower-leveled ones, make sure that they can be cast at higher levels. If they can’t, make sure that you can’t get access to them in some other way because you really can’t afford to waste a spell slot.
Concentration spells are huge for warlocks since only needing to cast one spell in the whole of combat is a great way to conserve your resources.
When looking at spells in sourcebooks or online, it can sometimes be hard to decipher all the different pieces. If you’re new to the game, it probably looks like some strange code. Below is a mini guide to reading a spell and being able to actually understand what it does.
- Level – The level of spell slot needed to cast this spell. If it says cantrip, it’s a cantrip. For warlocks, just know that if the level is under the spell level you have access to, you can still cast it. If it can be upcast (it will say “At Higher Levels:”), then you’ll likely be upcasting it, and if it can’t, then you simply cast it as is.
Casting spells at their native level when you have spell slots of a higher level should be avoided. Only do so if it’s an absolutely necessary utility spell that you can’t cast in another way or that can’t be cast by anyone else in your party.
- Duration – This is how long a spell lasts. There are a few terms inside of this you might want to know.
- Instantaneous spells happen as you cast them, and that’s that.
- 1 Minute is how long a typical combat lasts. Essentially, this means one combat encounter or 16 rounds.
- Concentration is a mechanic in spellcasting that means a spell requires your focus. If you lose concentration, the spell ends.
You can only focus on one concentration spell at a time, although you may cast other non-concentration spells with no penalty.
You will need to make a constitution saving throw to hold concentration if you take damage. The DC for this save is 10 or half the damage you took, whichever is greater.
If you are incapacitated or killed, you lose concentration.
- Casting Time – This is how long it takes to cast a spell. Combat spells are split into action, bonus action, and reactions. You can only cast two spells on your turn if one is on a bonus action and the other is a cantrip that takes an action to cast.
- School – The school of the spell comes into play for your subclass. Most subclasses can record spells of their respective school with much more ease than another subclass might.
- Range/Area – How much space the spell covers.
- Attack/Save – Spells that affect others may require you to make an attack roll, or they may require the target(s) to make a saving throw.
- Components – Spells can require verbal, somatic (gestures), and/or material components. Material components that don’t have an indicated cost can be supplemented with your material pouch or arcane focus.
- Damage/Effect – If you’re scrolling through DNDBeyond.com, you will see this helpful little guide that gives you the basics of the spell.
- Spell Text – The actual text of the spell tells you everything you need to know about how it works. Some spells are complicated (and we’ve got plenty of guides to make them less so), but most are fairly straightforward once you understand the rest.
Invocations are an incredible part of this class that allow you to essentially treat warlocks as a modular class. They can be thought of as small features.
When you reach 2nd level, you gain two invocations. At certain levels, you gain more, and you can replace an invocation whenever you gain a level in the warlock class. By 18th level, you’ll know eight invocations altogether, and you can learn a total of 26 in a 1-20 campaign if you are constantly replacing invocations and trying new ones on for size.
Many invocations have requirements. Some may be a certain level, a specific pact boon, or require simply having access to Eldritch Blast. The requirements may seem limiting, but they are a great way to narrow down your focus. After all, a pact of the tome warlock doesn’t need an improved pact weapon.
I highly suggest jumping over and checking them out when you’re done with this article. For now though, I’ll just go over the basic things you can expect to receive from this feature.
Spells are incredibly common to see in invocations, like Darkness, Alter Self, or even Conjure Elemental. These will either be spells that you can cast once a day, essentially giving you one more spell slot, or they will be at-will spells, which is a huge bonus.
I would advise against picking up spell-based invocations just to have spells, but if it was something you wanted to use anyway, they can have a huge impact on a build’s efficiency and power.
The next category is what I would call abilities, which is really just a wide range of different things that can help you out. One with Shadows allows you to become invisible in dim light or darkness, while Gift of the Depths lets you breathe underwater and gain a swimming speed.
The next category is a bit silly, but there are enough options that it counts. Quite simply, there are many invocations that improve or augment your Eldritch Blast. As if the cantrip wasn’t good enough on its own, now you get a load of bonuses to go along with it.
Lastly, we have boon-specific invocations. Each pact boon has three or four invocations that are tied directly to it. Essentially, this works like a small subclass because you end up with a line of four synergistic and focused abilities attached to an early feature.
When choosing your invocations, you’ll want things that synergize with your build, but you’ll also have space left over to pick up whatever you think is unique and interesting for your character.
At third level, warlocks choose a pact boon, the hidden subclass of warlocks. The available pact boons are as follows:
Pact of the Blade
- You can use your action to create a pact weapon in your empty hand. You can choose the form that this melee weapon takes each time you create it. You are proficient with it while you wield it. This weapon counts as magical for the purpose of overcoming resistance and immunity to nonmagical attacks and damage.
- Your pact weapon disappears if it is more than 5 feet away from you for 1 minute or more. It also disappears if you use this feature again, if you dismiss the weapon (no action required), or if you die.
- You can transform one magic weapon into your pact weapon by performing a special ritual while you hold the weapon. You perform the ritual over the course of 1 hour, which can be done during a short rest.
- You can then dismiss the weapon, shunting it into an extradimensional space, and it appears whenever you create your pact weapon thereafter. You can’t affect an artifact or a sentient weapon in this way. The weapon ceases being your pact weapon if you die, if you perform the 1-hour ritual on a different weapon, or if you use a 1-hour ritual to break your bond to it. The weapon appears at your feet if it is in the extradimensional space when the bond breaks.
The pact of the blade is a popular favorite as it turns the warlock into a relatively powerful martial combatant. It works excellently in tangent with the Hexblade subclass, but it can realistically be used in any build that wants to accentuate their martial abilities.
Pact of the Chain
- You learn the find familiar spell and can cast it as a ritual. The spell doesn’t count against your number of spells known.
- When you cast the spell, you can choose one of the normal forms for your familiar or one of the following special forms: imp, pseudodragon, quasit, or sprite.
- Additionally, when you take the Attack action, you can forgo one of your own attacks to allow your familiar to use its reaction to make one attack with its reaction.
Having a familiar is huge, and the chain familiar is a big improvement on the normal familiar, even before you take on related invocations. Whether you’re using them for infiltration and seeing through their eyes or simply using them to perform the Help action so you gain advantage, they are definitely a great ally to have.
Pact of the Tome
- Your patron gives you a grimoire called a Book of Shadows. When you gain this feature, choose three cantrips from any class’s spell list (the three needn’t be from the same list). While the book is on your person, you can cast those cantrips at will. They don’t count against your number of cantrips known. If they don’t appear on the warlock spell list, they are nonetheless warlock spells for you.
- If you lose your Book of Shadows, you can perform a 1-hour ceremony to receive a replacement from your patron. This ceremony can be performed during a short or long rest, and it destroys the previous book. The book turns to ash when you die.
Since warlocks have fewer spells than most, the Book of Shadows creates a way to have more arcane versatility. When you pick up invocations, your book will even allow you to learn some additional spells.
Pact of the Talisman
- Your patron gives you an amulet, a talisman that can aid the wearer when the need is great. When the wearer fails an ability check, they can add a d4 to the roll, potentially turning the roll into a success. This benefit can be used a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus, and all expended uses are restored when you finish a long rest.
- If you lose the talisman, you can perform a 1-hour ceremony to receive a replacement from your patron. This ceremony can be performed during a short or long rest, and it destroys the previous amulet. The talisman turns to ash when you die.
The last option, talisman, isn’t necessarily the best choice, but it’s very useful if you want to play a support warlock. After all, it is the only invocation that can be fully utilized by other members of your party.
Eldritch Versatility (Optional)
Any level in this class that grants an ASI
This new variant feature grants a few extra quality of life improvements whenever you would receive an ASI (4th, 8th, 12th, 16th, 18th). You can choose one of the following:
- Replace one cantrip you learned from this class’s Pact Magic feature with another cantrip from the warlock spell list.
- Replace the option you chose for the Pact Boon feature with one of that feature’s other options.
- If you’re 12th level or higher, replace one spell from your Mystic Arcanum feature with another warlock spell of the same level.
If the change you make to your cantrip or pact boon disqualifies you from any invocations, you must also replace those. This actually works very nicely because you can almost completely change your build if you’re swapping a pact boon and a number of related invocations.
At this level, you choose a 6th-level spell from the warlock spell list that you can cast once without expending a spell slot. You must finish a long rest before you can do so again.
At higher levels, you gain more higher-level warlock spells: one 7th-level spell at 13th level, one 8th-level spell at 15th level, and one 9th-level spell at 17th level. Again, you regain all uses when you finish a long rest.
The capstone of this class lets you spend a minute to regain all expended Pact Magic spell slots. Once you regain slots with this feature, you must finish a long rest before you can do so again.
Few campaigns make it to 20th level, but if you do, you can basically take a short rest without having to actually take a short rest at all.
Creating a Warlock Step by Step
With all of the explanations out of the way, you should have a full understanding of how this class works. Now, it’s time for us to go through the process of building a great warlock. In the sections below, I’ll be highlighting certain choices that fit the warlock either mechanically or thematically.
Just remember that the following sections are meant to be suggestions, not guidelines or commands. You can still build an impressive warlock without following any advice. Ultimately, the decisions you make are up to you.
We start by boosting our charisma, and then we’ll want to have great scores in dexterity and constitution as well so we can actually survive combat. Beyond that, your ability score decisions really come down to roleplay preference.
- Primary: Charisma
- Tier II: Constitution, Dexterity
- Tier III: Intelligence, Wisdom
- Dump Tier: Strength
Strength: Non-hexblade warlocks who want to use a weapon should probably be choosing weapons with finesse so they can benefit from dexterity on multiple fronts. Then, hexblades use charisma as their attack modifier. Strength gets left to the wayside, but you can utilize it if you’re going for a unique build or interesting multiclass.
Dexterity: Dexterity affects not only our AC but our typical weapon-attack modifiers as well. A great dexterity means our warlock can hold their own in combat with or without spell slots.
Constitution: This ability helps our hit points and gives us a better chance of successfully making concentration saves. Put them together, and this is definitely a priority.
Intelligence: If you have good stat rolls, it doesn’t hurt to put a decent score in intelligence since at the very least, it will help you on Int saves.
Wisdom: Wisdom follows much the same concept, although you would also benefit from better insight, a great skill for skilled socialites like the warlock.
Charisma: Charisma is what fuels our spells, so naturally it should be the top focus when we’re choosing our ability scores.
Choosing a race is all about picking up cool traits and abilities that make you better at what you want to do. For us, that means we’re looking to get any spells we can get our hands on. Additionally, we’ll want to make sure we pick a race that gives us boosts in the right ability scores.
Custom Lineages and 5.5e
It’s worth noting that, if you like the aesthetics and roleplaying elements of a particular race but their abilities don’t fit a fighter, you can recreate them using the custom lineage options available in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything.
Also, the way that D&D 5e handles races and innate bonuses (or penalties) is set to change pretty dramatically over the next few years with the coming “Next Evolution of D&D” looking like it might do away with inherent ability score bonuses altogether, meaning you can play whichever race you want in whatever class and still have it be “optimal.”
Half-elves receive excellent bonuses for us with a +2 to charisma and a +1 in two other ability scores of our choice. This is absolutely perfect, but it doesn’t stop there.
Half-elves have advantage on saving throws against being charmed and can’t be put to sleep by magic. Charms constitute a lot of the worst spell effects in 5e, so protecting ourselves from those, especially as a caster, is excellent.
Normally, we would then get two skill proficiencies through the Skill Versatility racial feature, but we can actually forgo that if we want to choose a half-elf variant. These variants specify which type of elf your lineage comes from and give a variety of different features.
Of these, the best to grab up are High Elf Heritage for a cantrip of our choice (although intelligence is the spellcasting ability) and Drow heritage to get our hands on a few drow spells.
Half-drow is excellent because they use charisma as their spellcasting ability and they give us access to Dancing Lights, Faerie Fire, and Darkness with Dancing Lights being a cantrip and the other two being once-a-day spells.
Tieflings feel like such a natural fit as any innate powers they have come from their connection to a powerful fiend. Mechanically, there are several tiefling bloodlines that get a +2 in charisma, and all of them get a set of racial spells, all of which are cast with charisma.
Whether you’re playing a fiend patron tiefling warlock or any other subclass, this race is a perfect fit with so much roleplay potential.
As far as the bloodlines go, here are my top picks for warlocks (the ability bonus is in addition to the +2 in charisma):
- Dispater – +1 Dex. Thaumaturgy cantrip, Disguise Self and Detect Thoughts once a day.
- Glasya – +1 Dex. Minor Illusion cantrip, Disguise Self and Invisibility once a day.
- Levistus – 1 Con. Ray of Frost cantrip, Armor of Agathys and Darkness once a day.
Much like the tieflings, aasimar are descendants of powerful beings from another plane. This time though, we have celestial offspring. At least in the versions from Volo’s Guide to Monsters, they receive a +2 to charisma and another +1 bonus based on variant.
In MotM, this switches up a bit, and aasimar is a single race with a multi-option feature along with custom ability scores.
Either way, aasimar get some great abilities, such as a radiant form that lets you deal extra radiant damage from all your spells and attacks.
Skills and Languages
Languages are really not as important as you might think, at least in relation to a class build. You’ll take Common and likely a language associated with your race, and typically anything else is going to be very campaign dependent.
The same can be said for skills. While skills can be incredibly useful, they really depend on what kind of campaign you’re in and what kind of a DM you have. Some DMs love making people roll dice, and others rarely call for skill checks at all. This is definitely a good thing to go over in a session zero.
Still, there are some typically useful skills available to warlocks, so let’s look at what we have.
Deception and Intimidation are probably our best two options as they rely on our charisma. A healthy CHA modifier and our proficiency bonus mean a whole lot of success in social situations.
Arcana, History, and Investigation are all great for learning information about our surroundings, so having one of them is probably a good idea. Unfortunately, we don’t have ability scores to back it up, so we’ll have to let our proficiency bonus (and good rolls) carry us to success.
Lastly, Nature and Religion are pretty uncommon checks, and they don’t often make much sense for a warlock to have. Of course, your pact could be a sort of religious oath in which case this might actually be a good skill to be proficient in, but again, that’s really just for roleplay purposes.
Background suggestions are a weird area. They have very little impact on the mechanics of the build. Instead, they give you a template to start fleshing out your backstory.
Mechanically, you only receive a few proficiencies and a method of survival (money making, hunting, servants, etc.) that are useful for actually playing the game.
So, what are my suggestions for warlock backgrounds? I don’t have any. At least, I won’t suggest any specific backgrounds.
I will, however, redirect you to the roleplaying section and have you answer the questions in there again. Actually, answer them a few times, give yourself a week or so of pondering, and that way you can land on something you like.
When you have some solid answers, find a background that feels related to those questions, and mold accordingly. Or, come up with your own background. That has always been an option and is technically part of official 5e rulings.
If you really want to go wild with building your optimized character or even just make an incredibly cool warlock, feats are a very important step. Feats are optional abilities that you can take in place of an ASI (Ability Score Increase) at 4th, 8th, 12th, 16th, and 19th levels.
Out of those five, you’ll want to take a couple ASIs and use them to increase your Charisma, Constitution, or any scores that you want to improve.
After that though, you have a lot of wiggle room to add in cool, powerful, and synergistic feats to your build. So, here are some of my favorite feats for warlocks to pick up:
Technically, this falls way more under cool than it does under powerful, but that doesn’t mean it’s not useful. The telekinetic feat gives you access to an improved version of the Mage Hand cantrip that is invisible and can be cast without verbal or somatic components.
Additionally, you can even use this version of Mage Hand to push or pull a target 5 feet. This amped-up Mage Hand has so many uses, and it perfectly fits the aesthetic of just about any powerful warlock.
Plus, it does let you boost your charisma by one, which counts as at least half an ASI.
This feat, which lets you boost your charisma by 1 and gives you two spells, is really well themed for the warlock. It’s so well themed in fact, that you might not even need it.
It gives you access to Invisibility and a 1st-level illusion or necromancy spell. If you already have Invisibility from an invocation or aren’t interested in more illusion or necromancy spells, you’re good to go.
Otherwise, this fits in perfectly and lets you grab up some great spells to add to your once-a-day list.
It might seem silly to grab a feat that gives you access to a single Eldritch Invocation, but it’s quite the contrary. In fact, invocations are the one thing that are truly made for warlocks, and having access to more of them or more sooner is a perfect choice for a warlock simply wishing to do more of what they’re good at.
I am convinced the creators of this forgot to consider Eldritch Blast when they put this feat together. Too late now. This feat makes your Eldritch Blast, and any other attack roll spell for that matter, absolutely insane.
I won’t even waste your time with op-ed writing; just look at all the bonuses you get:
- When you cast a spell that requires you to make an attack roll, the spell’s range is doubled.
- Your ranged spell attacks ignore half cover and three-quarters cover.
- You learn one cantrip that requires an attack roll.
- Choose the cantrip from the bard, cleric, druid, sorcerer, warlock, or wizard spell list. Your spellcasting ability for this cantrip depends on the spell list you chose from: Charisma for bard, sorcerer, or warlock; Wisdom for cleric or druid; or Intelligence for wizard.
Yeah, insane. No one will escape your Eldritch Blast, and you get an extra cantrip just for fun.
The last option I’ll throw out is war caster, which is made for characters who want to carry a weapon while casting spells. Warlocks can already do this with the right build pattern, but this feat adds in the ability to use spells as a reaction (like Eldritch Blast), and it gives you advantage on concentration saves.
All of the bonuses here are excellent for any warlock but even more so for those who wish to use any variety of a pact of the blade build.
Warlocks make excellent candidates for multiclassing since it’s easy for them to have at least 13 in multiple ability scores. Most commonly you’ll see them paired with other charisma casters (bards, sorcerers, paladins), but they can also work well with characters who focus on dexterity.
Since warlocks are incredibly modular, you can get a lot of the good things out of the way fast if you choose well. This also makes them a good class to dip into for a few levels.
Most importantly though, you’ll want to consider why you’re jumping into another class. If you’re looking for more martial combat, you’ll want to choose between rogues and paladins. For spells, sorcerer or bard might have what you’re looking for. For darkness, certain rogues and the shadow sorcerer are right on the money.
It’s also important to note that if you multiclass with a class that has spellcasting, you can cast warlock spells using their spell slots and vice versa.
For more, check out our article specifically all about multiclassing warlocks.
The subclasses you choose can have a big impact on your build since they are one of the few places where warlocks see features that are set in stone. Below are all of the warlock subclasses with brief descriptions.
This subclass focuses on illusion magic, manipulation, and deception. It’s the perfect option for someone looking to invoke their inner trickster and play similar styles in social situations and in combat.
We basically just get a subclass that mixes the warlock and cleric classes together for a nice spread of radiant damage, healing abilities, and overall good vibes. Definitely flips the basic premise of warlocks on its head by making something that is almost the opposite of dark and brooding.
This deep-sea-themed warlock is focused on environmental control, using tentacles to grasp your enemies, and… well, being at sea. While this is an incredibly cool theme, it’s really only useful if you’re going to be partaking in a nautical campaign.
This fiery subclass gives you a little bit of everything and makes you a threat in combat, in a conversation, and everywhere in between.
Genie patron warlocks are very focused on spells, and there are four options of spell lists to choose from, each relating to a different one of the four elements. Perfect for someone who wants to lean further into the magical spellcasting side of warlocks and really let their creativity loose.
Great Old One
My friend Harry said it best: “The most mechanically and thematically warlock who ever did warlock.” Seriously, it’s a bunch of eccentric abilities wrapped in a dark aesthetic, and it basically just leans into everything you’d want from the main class in general.
“MY SWORD IS MY PATRON! HYEAHHH!” is basically the premise here. Funnel all your magic into being a badass weapon specialist who curses your enemies and promises a quick, closed casket funeral for any who cross them.
Fall deep into the grasp of necromancy, and let yourself really enjoy the concept of being not quite dead and not quite alive. Basically, you’re hard to kill, but it’s easy to pull the dead from the ground.
The undead’s sad little brother should’ve never been a subclass, but it’s here. Just, you know, pretend you didn’t see it.
Warlock Quickstart Guides
Here are a few basic sample builds for you. Use them to inspire your own build, or take them as is, and run with them to make an awesome character with a preset theme.
The Cursed Blade
This warlock is completely focused on hacking and slashing their way to victory. Use curses to humiliate and brutalize anyone who would dare stand against you.
- Class/Subclass: Hexblade Warlock 20
- Race: Levistus Bloodline Tiefling
- Skills: Deception, Intimidation
- Feats: War Caster, Durable, Eldritch Adept
- Pact Boon: Blade
- Invocations: All Pact of the Blade invocations, Cloak of Flies
Command the darkness to do your bidding and destroy all those who would dare defy you. Disappear into the shadows and appear wherever you will, then unleash terror upon your foes.
- Class/Subclass: Shadow Magic Sorcerer 14 / Archfey Warlock 6
- Race: Glasya Bloodline Tiefling
- Skills: Deception, Arcana
- Feats: Shadow Touched, Telekinetic
- Pact Boon: Tome
- Invocations: Devil’s Sight, Armor of Shadows, One With Shadows
Warlocks really are an incredible class. They invite so much room for creative influence, and that goes whether we’re talking about the mechanical build of it all or the aesthetic themes we want to dive into.
The modular aspect given to you, which allows you to make decisions for your character every step of the way, really gives us a class that feels wholly unique in the 5e class list. It’s a refreshing opportunity to put your own spin on a character and find exactly what works for you.
Even if none of that was the case, we’d still have a properly strange and creepy class that’s built on the simple premise of selling your soul for power. I don’t know about you, but that’s more than enough to sell me on an RPG archetype.
I hope this article has given you everything you need to jump into your next campaign and have an absolute blast as a warlock. As always, happy adventuring!