Last Updated on November 29, 2023
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.
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 Warlock for you, whether that’s an optimized edge lord or a powerful yet reluctant healer.
The Warlock Class Progression
The very basics of any class are the hit dice, proficiencies, and equipment that they start off with.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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. 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,
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.
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
You’ll take Common and likely a language associated with your race, and typically anything else is going to be very campaign dependent.
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.
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.
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:
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.
The Shadow Touched 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.
Spell Sniper 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.
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!
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As a kid, I was often told to get my head out of the clouds and to stop living in a fantasy world. That never really jived with me, so I decided to make a living out of games, stories, and all sorts of fantastical works. Now, as an adult, I aspire to remind people that sometimes a little bit of fantasy is all you need when life gets to be too much.