Blade, Book, or Chain: Choosing the Right Pact for Your 5e Warlock

Warlocks are an amazing class to play in Fifth Edition Dungeons and Dragons. Bestowed with magical abilities from otherworldly beings, these characters certainly work in a very unique way.

With an entirely different method of spellcasting than any other class and a host of eldritch invocations that can change your playstyle, this class offers so much to wrap your mind around before you even really start to think about your subclass. 

As if that weren’t enough though, warlocks get a special feature called pact boons that could honestly be an entire subclass. They certainly serve to make this the most modular class of all.

So what are pact boons? How do they work? Where do they fit in a build? We’re going to be answering all your questions on the four pact boons and what they bring to the table.

What Are Warlock Pact Boons?

Pact Boons are a warlock feature unlocked at 3rd level. Unlike most class features, this one comes with a few options that can dramatically change the overall feel of a warlock in much the same way that a subclass can.

Thematically, these are gifts that your patron rewards you with for serving them. When you describe your pact item, it might make a lot of sense to use imagery that reflects the unique characteristics of your patron.

I call pact boons the warlock’s “hidden subclass.” In reality, that’s what these feel like, and that’s kind of how they work.

The four options – blade, chain, tome, and talisman – each offer you an impressive ability when you take it. Then, as you level up, these pacts can affect which eldritch invocations you choose to flesh out your warlock.

That being said, your pact is entirely separate from your patron. Even though builds like a Hexblade warlock with a pact of the blade might make a lot of sense, they’re by no means requirements.

You can mix and match as you choose.

In this way, pacts allow warlocks to be the only class that really feels modular. As you level up you’ll choose spells, a pact, a subclass, eldritch invocations, and feats.

Of those, only your subclass is locked in from 1st to 20th level, and there are even some fun ways to change your subclass, which are introduced in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything.

5e Pact Boons

Before we break down each of these pacts in depth, let’s just look at what each of them has to offer. I’ve also included a list of any eldritch invocations that have a specific pact as a requirement.

We’ll go more into these invocations in the analysis of each pact.

Blade

  • You conjure up a magical weapon which you are proficient with. You can change the form each time you create it.
  • The weapon disappears if you die, conjure another, dismiss it, or are more than 5 feet away from it for more than a minute.
  • You can also undergo a one-hour ritual to turn a magical weapon that is not a sentient or artifact weapon into your pact weapon. 
  • A magical weapon that becomes your pact weapon can be summoned and/or dismissed. When it is dismissed, it exists in an extra-dimensional space. The weapon stops being your pact weapon if you die, you undergo the ritual with another weapon, or you perform a similar ritual to untie yourself to it.
  • Eldritch Invocations:
    • Eldritch Smite
    • Improved Pact Weapon
    • Lifedrinker
    • Thirsting Blade 

Chain

  • You can learn Find Familiar and can cast it as a ritual spell.
  • You can choose a normal form for your familiar or one of the following: imp, pseudodragon, quasit, or sprite
  • You can have your familiar attack as a reaction by foregoing one of your attacks.
  • Eldritch Invocations:
    • Chains of Carceri
    • Gift of the Ever-Living Ones
    • Investment of the Chain Master
    • Voice of the Chain Master

Talisman

  • Your talisman gives its wearer the ability to add a d4 to a failed ability check. This ability can be used a number of times equal to your proficiency modifier.
  • If your talisman is lost, you can perform a one-hour ceremony to have it replaced, destroying the lost one. The talisman turns to ash when you die.
  • Eldritch Invocations:
    • Bond of the Talisman
    • Protection of the Talisman

Tome

  • You have a grimoire called a Book of Shadows. This book holds three cantrips that you choose from any class’s spell lists (you can choose from multiple spell lists). You can cast these cantrips as long as the book is on your person.
  • If your book is lost, you can perform a one-hour ceremony to have it replaced, destroying the lost copy. The tome turns to ash when you die.
  • Eldritch Invocations:
    • Aspect of the Moon
    • Book of Ancient Secrets
    • Far Scribe
    • Gift of the Protectors

As you can see, there is a lot to gain from each of these pacts. When combined with eldritch invocations, these warlock boons offer up more than some subclasses do. 

Without further adieu, let’s get to the actual review.

Pact of the Blade

This pact gives warlocks the potential to be impressive martial combatants. While it doesn’t give you any boost to armor or HP, it lets you proficiently wield any melee weapon – not just bladed ones. 

There are two things that make this really spectacular. 

The first is that this is a magic weapon. The physical damage types aren’t commonly resisted on their own, but there are a lot of creatures out there that have resistance, or even immunity, to damage from nonmagical weapons.

The second bonus is that you can summon and dismiss your weapon at will. Surprise and stealth are huge in many D&D campaigns.

While this ability might just seem like a nice bit of flavor text, it means that you can conceal your weapon at all times. In fact, you don’t even need to conceal it! 

A pact of the blade warlock can throw a set of normal clothes over their light armor and just pretend to be some random peasant, noble, merchant, or whatever the situation calls for.

Once you get into the late game and start having to deal with progressively more resistances, you’ll be scot free.

When we look at this pact compared to the other options, it definitely stands out. Weapons are almost always useful, and they’re evergreen. There’s no limit to how much you can pull your weapon out on any given day. 

On its own, this is a powerful feature. When you pair it with just about anything that makes you better at melee combat, you’ll start to see some huge power boosts.

There’s a reason why the Hexblade pact of the blade warlock is such a big deal in 5e.

Eldritch Invocations

Speaking of adding on to what this pact offers, we have four really solid invocations tied to it. Considering that you can learn a total of eight invocations, at least a few of these should be in your build.

Eldritch smite clearly rips a page out of the paladin’s book, allowing you to expend spell slots to deal extra force damage (1d6 +1d6 per spell slot level) on your pact blade attacks.

This is a huge bonus. I mean, the entire paladin class is seemingly based on this principle. 

Improved pact weapon definitely delivers on its title. This invocation turns the weapon into a +1 weapon, allows you to use it as a spellcasting focus, and adds bows to your pool of options.

If you don’t want to make yourself less squishy with things like Mage Armor, then sit back and launch spells through a freshly summoned magical +1 crossbow. Beautiful.

Lifedrinker is admittedly a bit underwhelming. It just lets you deal extra necrotic damage with your pact weapon equal to your charisma modifier.

A +4 or +5 is really nice, but when compared to eldritch smite (which deals a less-resisted damage type), this kind of falls flat. The one upside is that this is consistent damage that you don’t need to funnel spell slots into.

Thirsting Blade is just the Extra Attack feature for your pact weapon, allowing you to make two attacks in a single Attack. Considering how important the action economy is to this game, this is a huge bonus.

Build Options

The pact of the blade is a really versatile feature. Mainly, it’s going to work well with other abilities that prioritize melee combat. If we can boost our AC or deal more damage on our attacks, we’re in the green.

Armor of Shadow is an invocation that you can pick up as early as 2nd-level that lets you cast mage armor at will.

This spell, which gives you a base AC of 13 + your Dex modifier, is better than any light armor, so you can avoid armor all together unless you plan on picking up medium or heavy armor proficiencies elsewhere.

The Hexblade subclass does so much for this pact that it’s a bit overwhelming. In fact, there’s a whole guide devoted to talking about why this is a good idea.

Here’s the speed-round version: bonuses to attack, charisma as your attack modifier, medium armor, great expanded spell list, and cursing your enemies. If all that wasn’t enough, they both have “blade” in their name. I mean, come on.

War Caster is an excellent feat for this kind of a build. It allows you to cast spells while wielding weapons, gives you advantage on saves to hold concentration, and even lets you cast spells as opportunity attacks.

A pact of the blade warlock firing off eldritch blasts as a reaction is probably one of the scariest things I can think of.

Multiclassing isn’t necessary to make this sort of build work, but it won’t hurt too much if you’re looking for a really specific build.

A paladin multiclass works really well since both classes use charisma for their casting ability. Just three levels can give you a fighting style, an oath, and divine smite.

From there it’s just down to which oath you want to take, which will largely depend on the flavor of your character.

This is an absolute powerhouse of a pact. There are plenty of ways to go with it, depending on just how much you want to lean into the melee focus.

With the right feats and subclass choices you can basically be as strong (if not stronger) than a dedicated martial class. Be sure to thank your patron.

Pact of the Chain

It’s no secret that find familiar is an amazing spell. It creates an extra creature on the battlefield that can take important actions such as Help or Use an Object.

For casters, it’s also an extra place that your spells can come from.

Aside from all the mechanics, having a familiar is just really fun. It gives you a character to control that you can become attached to.

The fact that this familiar comes in a few extra forms and can be used to attack adds some extra utility that will not go unnoticed.

At this point, you’re essentially running two connected characters in just about every combat and even out of combat.

For warlocks, one of the best ways you can use a familiar is to gain advantage on spell-attack rolls. This gives you a pretty good basis of how to fill out your spell list and of which subclasses do and don’t work.

Admittedly, this is a bit harder to manage than the other pacts. If you manage to strategize well though, you’ll become a powerhouse.

So this is a bit of a dividing pact. Those who enjoy putting in work and finding solutions will love it, but those who enjoy the simple things might be a bit overwhelmed.

Eldritch Invocations

Chains of Carceri is a beast of an invocation. While it does have a 15th-level prerequisite, it allows you to cast hold monster at will.

That is an incredibly powerful spell to not have to burn a spell slot on. It doesn’t directly translate to a familiar-based play style, but it is definitely awesome.

Gift of the Ever-Living Ones is a long name but a great invocation. Whenever you regain hit points while your familiar is within 100 feet of you (hopefully at all times), you regain as if you rolled the maximum on any and all dice involved.

Healing is so important, and it is awful when you get a huge healing spell with a lot of dice involved and nothing but ones roll up. This fixes that problem, and you don’t even have to be the one initiating the healing to benefit.

Investment is probably the best chain invocation out there. It’s similar to the improved pact weapon in theme, but it arguably does a lot more.

Your familiar can now gain a flying or swimming speed of 40 feet and gain resistance to any damage it’s taking if you use your reaction.

The big thing is that you can now use a bonus action to allow your familiar to take the Attack action. When it does this, its attacks count as magical weapons.

Additionally, if your familiar forces a creature to make a saving throw, it uses your spell-save DC.

There is a lot packed (or pact) into this one invocation, and it doesn’t even have a level requirement.

Definitely a must-have for those who are serious about their familiars and don’t just use them as a way to give their spells a longer range.

Voice of the Chain Master is great for recon missions. It allows you to perceive through your familiar’s senses and even use your voice to speak through it.

This is invaluable if there is anywhere you shouldn’t be hastily running into, which is most of D&D.

Build Options

There are a lot of ways you can go with this, but I think the simplest route is to go for a blaster caster, a warlock that utilizes a lot of attack-roll spells.

Obviously, one of the biggest pieces of this is going to be the warlock’s signature Eldritch Blast, but there are other things that can help us here as well.

Any of the invocations that deal with eldritch blast are going to be great – specifically, Agonizing Blast to deal more damage and Lance of Lethargy to slow down our foes.

These are great to pick up before we even take our pact boon, so we’ll be in good shape once we start casting spells from its location or getting Help on our attack rolls.

The Celestial and The Fiend are both great patrons for a chain warlock. Each has a pretty solid focus on dealing damage with a nice set of attack-roll spells and some others thrown in for good measure.

The celestial also has a lot of healing to mix with your everlasting ones invocation, while the fiend just doubles down on punishing your foes.

Rod of the Pact Keeper

You can’t necessarily plan for magic items, but you can certainly make a request of your DM if there’s one you’re particularly excited about.

The Rod of the Pact Keeper is an excellent item for any warlock, but especially for chain pact warlocks that focus on their spells. 

It gives a bonus to your spell-attack rolls and spell-save DCs where most magical items would just boost your attack rolls.

This little bit of a difference goes a long way and can give you just what you need to make your spells as effective as possible.

Metamagic Adept is an awesome feat for any spellcaster. Specifically, this will give you a few new options to boost your spells in interesting ways. Something like the twinning spell works wonderfully when you have a single target.

By that same logic, multiclassing into Sorcerer can give you some really fun benefits. I’m a big fan of the shadow magic subclass paired with the darker themes of a warlock, but basically any sorcerous origin will work.

The main reasons sorcerer is good is that it expands our spell list while still using charisma, and it gives us access to metamagic.

Pact of the Talisman

The pact of the talisman is the newest pact, and it’s not quite as great as the rest are.

On its own, it only helps out with skill checks, which is really disappointing when you compare it to the other impressive pacts we have to choose from.

This is unique in allowing you to give your pact item to others though. If you’re aiming for a supportive, group-hug sort of build, this could be a lot of fun.

Combat isn’t the only thing to concern yourself with in 5e, so this isn’t 100% bad. It’s just not great.

Another thing that keeps this from greatness is the usage limit. There are far too many abilities tied to a character’s proficiency bonus, and the other pacts set us up to expect a more reliable ability.

Eldritch Invocations

Bond of the talisman allows you or the wearer to teleport to each other (the closest unoccupied space) as long as you are on the same plane of existence.

This is tied to the PB again but independently from this pact’s other abilities. For an ability that you get access to at 12th level, this is cool but a bit underwhelming. 

It would’ve been nice to see an added ability to this or to have it be virtually unlimited, maybe with a small cooldown period.

Protection lets the wearer of your talisman add the d4 to saving throws. Yet again, it’s tied to PB independently of any other abilities.

We’re seeing a pattern here. This is certainly great, but you could just pick up the guidance cantrip with a pact of the tome. Tre underwhelming.

Lastly, we get an ability that’s actually kind of cool from Rebuke of the Talisman. This lets you deal psychic damage to a target that is attacking the wearer of your talisman.

The damage is, you guessed it, tied to your PB, but you can use this as often as you’d like. It is tied to your reaction though, which means foregoing other options if you want to deal a little bit of damage. 

Build Options

The best build option for this pact is to pick another pact, and run with it. Unfortunately, this doesn’t offer anything particularly unique.

If you really want to play a cleric that employs group-hug tactics, go for a Celestial patron, pact of the tome, and pick up healing and buffing spells whenever possible. 

Pact of the Tome

Taking a bit of inspiration from both bards and wizards, this pact allows you to steal cantrips from other classes and slap them into a spellbook.

Warlocks do have arguably the best damage-dealing cantrip in the game, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some cool spells we can grab with this.

I enjoy that this pact is extremely versatile. With over 40 cantrips out there to choose from, there’s more than a few ways that this can impact your build.

The fact that you’re not restricted to a single class’s spell list enforces this even more, making it so that you aren’t just soft multiclassing into cleric or druid.

I certainly can’t go through every cantrip, but I can highlight a few things to look for that I think are excellent.

Essentially, we break it down into a few categories: healing, buffing, debuffing, damage, utility, and control. Maybe that’s more than a few, but like I said, we have a lot of options.

Here are some cantrips that are always great:

  • Guidance – Allows a creature of your choice to add a d4 to an ability check. Reason number 452 why the pact of the talisman isn’t a great choice.
  • Booming Blade A delayed attack that has you make a regular attack with a melee weapon with a strong chance of dealing thunder damage on your targets next turn.
  • Shillelagh Allows you to use charisma for a club or quarterstaff instead of strength and boosts it up to a magical 1d8 weapon.
  • Spare the Dying Stabilizes a creature at 0 hit points, keeping them from dying. Never doubt the importance of having a good healing spell, even if your party has a dedicated healer.
  • Vicious Mockery – Just a great spell that deals a bit of damage and gives your target disadvantage on the next attack roll they make before the start of your next turn.

Again, those are just a few options. The ball is in your court, so choose whatever works for you and your build.

Eldritch Invocations

Aspect of the Moon eliminates the need for you to sleep. Being able to spend an entire long rest keeping watch while still gaining the benefits is huge. This is even better than an elf’s trance ability.

The Book of Ancient Secrets invocation is the natural next step for a grimoire. It allows you to add two 1st-level ritual spells to your book (one of which could be find familiar).

It also lets you add any rituals you find along your travels into your grimoire with just a few hours of effort.

Far Scribe turns your grimoire into a phonebook, sort of. It allows creatures that you allow to write their name in your tome so that you can cast sending at will to send a message to them.

They can even respond, and the message shows up as a written message in your tome. 

This is really cool and useful for keeping in touch with allies you make along the way. One could use this to alert those allies of incoming danger or to rally the troops when it’s time for an all-out war.

You could even use this on a smaller scale, sending the rogue in for a recon mission and keeping tabs on them with sending.

Protectors is a great supportive invocation. Much like far scribe, creatures can write their names in your book. This time though, if they were to drop to 0 hit points without being killed outright, they drop to 1 hit point instead.

The only downside is that only one creature can benefit from this per long rest. So no, you can’t write the whole party’s names down and prevent a TPK.

Build Options

As I’ve said, this pact lends itself to variety. So rather than give you a list of overwhelming options to build a character around this, we’re just going to look at other pieces of a build that also lend themselves to variety.

Magic Initiate is a great feat that is going to give us two more cantrips (gotta catch em’ all!) and a 1st-level spell off of a single class’s spell list.

Having a lot of cantrips might sound crazy, but the more variety you can have without having to expend a spell slot, the better.

Elemental Adept is a feat that can be worked into just about any build with spells that deal a single type of elemental damage.

It makes spells of your chosen type ignore resistances, which is amazing. There are a few fire cantrips that make an excellent case for putting this in your progression.

The Genie is a subclass with five options inside of it, each coming with their own unique spell list based on your djinn patron.

These different sub-subclasses all lend themselves to a different playstyle, giving you a really nice basis for the core of your build.

When it comes to multiclassing any warlock, other charisma casters work great. Bard, Sorcerers, and paladins all are excellent options, and each offer up their own unique abilities to create a well-balanced and unique build.

If you’re thinking that this sort of build direction is really vague, then you’re exactly right. I don’t really want to influence your build of a tome warlock.

Instead, try looking around at some of our warlock articles to learn more about different play styles that work well, and come back to this to figure out which spells deserve to be in your grimoire.

Pact boons are incredibly cool, and I could talk about them endlessly.

For now though, I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about the “hidden subclass” of the warlock class and that I’ve been able to give you some direction for your next build.

As always, happy adventuring.