Last Updated on January 22, 2023
There are many paths to attaining magical abilities in Dungeons & Dragons. Some folk, like wizards, study their entire lives to unpick the arcane secrets in arcane tomes.
Others form deep bonds with the natural world, or choose to infest their bodies with swarms of magical insets. Clerics draw on the power of their gods, paladins swear sacred oaths so powerful that magical power emanates from every fiber of their being.
A lucky (although that’s questionable) few are born with it. And there are warlocks.
Seekers of forbidden, forgotten, ancient knowledge, warlocks gain access to spellcasting through a pact, a bond of servitude sworn to some great and powerful entity – not a god, per se, but something god-adjacent that lends the warlock a fragment of its powers in exchange for… well, that depends on the entity.
Warlocks strike deals with devils, enter into dubious and complicated contracts with liches, genies, and powerful fey in exchange for access to their powers.
There’s no other class which comes with so many strings attached, where the being that pulls those strings can have such a direct impact on how you play your character, both narratively and mechanically.
The entity your warlock makes their pact with is known as an Otherworldly Patron, and its exact nature can have huge repercussions. Choosing the right cosmic overlord, then, is a vital part of building a warlock in D&D 5e.
In this guide, we’re going to be breaking down the different Otherworldly Patrons available to the warlock class in D&D 5e – hopefully helping you decide which booth at the eldritch job fair you find most compelling – as well as which options for character development gel the best with any given patron, and how the choices you make at 1st level can impact your game all the way up to 20th.
Summary: The Archfey turns the warlock into a cosmic trickster that focuses on illusion magic, deception and manipulation. This patron lets you frighten and charm your enemies, teleport out of danger, and imprison your foes in a nightmarish dreamscape.
Example Patrons: the Prince of Frost; the Queen of Air and Darkness, ruler of the Gloaming Court; Titania of the Summer Court; her consort Oberon, the Green Lord; Hyrsam, the Prince of Fools; and ancient hags.
Racial Options: The Eladrin – elves native to the feywild – make excellent thematic candidates for an Archfey warlock, which their natural Dexterity and Charisma bonuses back up really well.
Pacts: The additional cantrips granted by the Pact of the Tome are a great way to double down on this already versatile spellcasting class.
Archfey Expanded Spells
|1st||faerie fire, sleep|
|2nd||calm emotions, phantasmal force|
|3rd||blink, plant growth|
|4th||dominate beast, greater invisibility|
|5th||dominate person, seeming|
The realm of the Feywild is a place of raw emotion, immense power, and cruel, alien minds. Warlocks that choose to make a pact with an Archfey – one of the ancient, powerful entities that dwell (and sometimes rule) here often find themselves embroiled in complicated cat-and-mouse contracts that shift and change just as unpredictably as the Archfey’s emotional state.
Let me be clear: you may be working for a fairy, but they’re not Tinkerbell. The fey folk are a capricious bunch with temperaments that veer back and forth between tenderness and unimaginable cruelty at the drop of a hat.
They are every bit as alien to humanoids as the other, more overtly nasty entries on this list, and you should never enter into an agreement with an Archfey lightly.
Mechanically, this is a great option for warlocks looking to confuse, bamboozle, and otherwise run mental rings around their enemies. You gain access to an expanded spell list full of flavorful options, like Faerie Fire, Sleep, and, at later levels, Dominate Person.
Your other pact features also give you a handful of tools for imposing conditions on the weak-minded like Frightened or Charmed (something that feels very fey), as well as some useful escape mechanics that make you feel like an extension of the ethereal fey realm.
The capstone ability for this pact comes at 14th level, when your Dark Delirium feature lets you imprison a creature in a nightmarish dreamscape of mist and shadow that you create, bound to be charmed or frightened by the mental prison you create. Awesome, evocative stuff.
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything
Summary: A mixture of warlock and cleric that provides access to radiant damage and healing abilities. Also, probably the least morally gray patron and a great choice for cleric and paladin players looking for a change of pace.
Example Patrons: Celestial-type creatures like an empyrean, solar, ki-rin, or unicorn.
Racial Options: The Aasimar – with their natural Charisma bonus and obvious celestial association – makes for an excellent Celestial Warlock.
Pacts: The Pact of the Tome is a great way to round out the spellcasting abilities for this subclass which sometimes feels like it suffers from being spread a little thin. Reflavor your Tome of Secrets as a holy book and let those extra cleric spells fly.
Celestial Expanded Spells
|1st||cure wounds, guiding bolt|
|2nd||flaming sphere, lesser restoration|
|4th||guardian of faith, wall of fire|
|5th||flame strike, greater restoration|
Pretty much every other Otherworldly Patron on this list tends to either fall squarely into being either unambiguously evil or so utterly alien that their indifference to petty humanoid concerns like “preserving life,” “morality,” and “not eating babies,” makes them somehow worse than even the most mustache-twirlingly wicked archdevil.
By contrast, the almost unambiguous goodness of the Celestial patron feels like a breath of fresh air.
Obviously, there are DMs who are going to subvert those expectations with glee and aplomb.
But there’s so much media (from His Dark Materials and Supernatural to Dogma) that plays on the ideas of angelic beings as either unfeeling, inflexible entities for whom human life means little next to their holy wars, or otherwise beats you over the head with the idea of moral grayness, that a Celestial patron with the vibe of a kindly (slightly stressed out) kindergarten teacher who just wants you to go out there and be the best little warlock you can be, champ, actually sounds like the subversive choice.
You’re almost taking an alternate route to cleric-dom. Instead of being such a superfan that god gives you magic powers, you instead strike up an arrangement with a powerful angelic being, like some sort of holy independent contractor.
The powerful celestial in question gives you access to an expanded spell list replete with radiant damage-dealing effects like Sacred Flame and Searing Vengeance, as well as some healing magic.
Now, much like the divine soul sorcerer, the Celestial Patron won’t be able to fill the holy in a party left by the absence of a full caster, but every little helps.
Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything
Summary: Great unity of mechanics and theme that makes this subclass ideal for nautical or underwater campaigns and… not much else?
Example Patrons: Water elementals, aboleths, a really really big squid maybe.
Racial Options: Either the Sea Elf from the Explorer’s Guide to Wildemot or a Water Genasi would both be great thematic fits for this pact.
Pacts: The Fathomless’ propensity for underwater mobility and actually getting its hands dirty in combat means the Pact of the Blade is probably your best bet.
Fathomless Expanded Spells
|1st||create or destroy water, thunderwave|
|2nd||gust of wind, silence|
|3rd||lightning bolt, sleet storm|
|4th||control water, summon elemental (water only; a spell in chapter 3)|
|5th||Bigby’s hand (appears as a tentacle), cone of cold|
The Fathomless is easily the most situational warlock patron, which – considering how rare underwater adventures, let alone fully nautical campaigns, are in D&D 5e – is a shame.
Many of your features and abilities are dependent on you adventuring in, on, or near water, which means that a Fathomless warlock in a desert is going to feel like a real fish out of… you know.
Personally, I think this is a bit of a missed trick. If the Fathomless patron gave you the ability to make your environment more aquatic – something which the create or destroy water spell sort of does – then you could happily pack up this subclass for an inland excursion.
As it stands, however, you’re going to feel pretty limited to ocean-going adventures. Or maybe to big ponds.
That being said, in proximity to bodies of water, this subclass feels extremely powerful, with a mixture of control and melee damage abilities reflavored as dark tentacles and some evocative weather-based effects.
Narratively, the Fathomless’ role as the terrestrial agent of some malevolent deep sea entity presents all sorts of fun options for quests, as your patron sends you to places it can’t go in search of cursed magic items, long lost knowledge or sacrifices to be hurled back into the deeps.
Summary: A classic warlock subclass that offers a great palette of offensive combat options centered around fire, as well as ways to stay alive.
Example Patrons: Any demon lord or archdevil; Demogorgon, Orcus, Fraz’Urb-luu, and Baphomet; Asmodeus, Dispater, Mephistopheles, and Belial. Pit fiends, balors, and other greater demons can also work.
Racial Options: the tiefling (especially if you use the expanded Bloodlines list found in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes) offers a mixture of natural ability bonuses and innate spellcasting that makes them ideal warlocks.
Pacts: The defensive options granted by the Fiend patron make the Pact of the Blade a strong choice, although the beefed-up familiar granted by the Pact of Chain is probably the strongest option here.
Fiend Expanded Spells
|1st||burning hands, command|
|2nd||blindness/deafness, scorching ray|
|3rd||fireball, stinking cloud|
|4th||fire shield, wall of fire|
|5th||flame strike, hallow|
The pact of the Fiend represents the classic Faustian bargain struck with a denizen of the Abyss. You enter into an often complex and convoluted contract with a demonic or devilish entity that, in exchange for obeying its dark commands, grants you a host of powerful abilities.
The fiend patron gives you access to a host of offensive spells, typically with a thematically on-point fiery motif, as well as some much-needed defensive options like Dark One’s Own Luck – which lets you effectively give yourself 1d10 bardic inspiration once per short or long rest – and Dark One’s Blessing – which keeps you topped up with temporary hit points as long as you keep the fires of Hell stoked with the blood of your enemies.
You also gain one of my favorite capstone abilities in the whole game. From 14th level, your Hurl Through Hell feature lets you strike a creature with an attack and momentarily send it careening through hell on a nightmarish 2001: A Space Odyssey-style acid trip that inflicts 10d10 psychic damage when it reappears in the material plane at the end of your next turn.
You can only use this one per long rest, but this is still an insanely powerful damage and banishment effect.
Narratively, selecting a Fiend for a patron is probably the choice most likely to come back to bite you.
Demons and devils are innately, unashamedly evil and, unless you’re playing a character who’s just as wicked (in the traditional sense; not as in “you like to do rad skateboard tricks”), the increasingly dark demands of your patron are likely to cause some friction between you and the rest of your party before long.
Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything
Summary: A powerful and versatile spellcasting-focused pact that encourages creativity and lateral thinking.
Example Patrons: One of the four types of noble genie: Dao (earth); Djinni (air); Efreeti (fire); and Marid (water).
Racial Options: Given the elemental nature of the Genie patron, any type of Genasi makes for a good thematic fit, although none of them have particularly useful Ability Score Bonuses. The Half Elf (a great choice for any warlock) and Yuan Ti Pureblood from Volo’s Guide to Monsters (for some serpentine, desert flavor – very Djinni) are both strong mechanical choices.
Pacts: The Pact of Tome or Pact of the Chain are both great choices here, as more cantrips or a familiar both work well with this spellcasting-focused subclass.
Expanded Spell List
All Genie pact warlocks get access to the left-hand column of expanded spells, as well as the spells denoted by their specific type of Genie patron.
|Spell Level||Genie Spells||Dao Spells||Djinni Spells||Efreeti Spells||Marid Spells|
|1st||detect evil and good||sanctuary||thunderwave||burning hands||fog cloud|
|2nd||phantasmal force||spike growth||gust of wind||scorching ray||blur|
|3rd||create food and water||meld into stone||wind wall||fireball||sleet storm|
|4th||phantasmal killer||stone shape||greater invisibility||fire shield||control water|
|5th||creation||wall of stone||seeming||flame strike||cone of cold|
Firstly, the expanded spell list granted by any flavor of Genie patron is among the best of any warlock subclass. Pretty much every other pact only grants spells up to 5th level.
The Genie, on the other hand, takes you all the way up to your very own 9th-level spell: Wish – just about the most on-brand spell for anything genie-related. It’s a great feature that thematically cements the Genie, giving you a broader range of options at higher levels as your Mystic Arcanum feature progresses.
However, some of the spells you get through the Genie patron verge on situational – or at the very least require a little creativity to produce the best effect.
The Marid’s fog cloud and sleet storm, for example, are mechanically lackluster but could potentially be used to great effect in the right context.
Also, spells like spike growth, wind wall, gust of wind, and wall of stone are all somewhat dependent on good positioning, which means a Genie warlock tends to fare better in the hands of a more experienced player.
My favorite combination is the Dao Genie’s spike growth, which turns a 20-foot-radius area into a minefield of thorns and spiky growth. Any creature moving through this difficult terrain takes 2d4 piercing damage for every 5 feet of movement.
Most enemies, upon learning this, would stand still and use ranged attacks to break the warlock’s concentration.
However, if you apply the Repelling Blast or Grasp of Hadar invocation to your Eldritch Blast, you can force targets within the spike growth area to move either 10ft towards you or away, massively boosting the damage dealt by an additional 4d4.
Narratively, Genies are an interesting choice of patron, as their motives aren’t ambiguously good or evil like the Fiend or Celestial. Noble Genies rule vast fiefs on the Elemental Planes and have great influence over lesser genies and elemental creatures.
They tend toward blinding arrogance and a desire for absolute control (presumably as revenge for a millennia-long stint spent stuck in a lamp at some point), but the demands they place upon you could be as inscrutable and capricious as the Archfey.
Genies are also famously masters of maliciously misinterpreting phrases and wishes for dramatic effect. As a DM, the idea of running a game for a warlock whose patron is essentially a monkey’s paw gets more appealing the more I think about it.
You also get a special spellcasting focus which is a magical item tied to your specific genie and can range from a classic brass lamp to a hollow statuette.
As an action, once per long rest, you can enter your vessel, which is bigger on the inside and provides a sanctuary to hide, rest, or store your growing piles of loot.
The Great Old One
Summary: The most mechanically and thematically warlock who ever did warlock. The Great Old One patron provides an eclectic mixture of abilities that vary from the terrifyingly potent to the highly situational.
Example Patrons: Ghaunadar, called That Which Lurks; Tharizdun, the Chained God; Dendar, the Night Serpent; Zargon, the Returner; Great Cthulhu; and other unfathomable beings.
Racial Options: The Half Elf is a great choice mechanically, although extraplanar races like the Githzerai or just plain weird creatures like Changelings (from Eberron: Rising From the Last War) also work.
Pacts: Choose either the Pact of the Tome for its extra cantrips (from any spell list), or the Pact of the Chain if you want an eldritch familiar that hints at the true nature of your cosmic horror of a patron. Personally, I’ve seen small rifts in the fabric of reality, writhing masses of tentacles and shadow, and even a distressingly ordinary cat.
Great Old One Expanded Spells
|1st||dissonant whispers, Tasha’s hideous laughter|
|2nd||detect thoughts, phantasmal force|
|4th||dominate beast, Evard’s black tentacles|
|5th||dominate person, telekinesis|
So, first of all, I don’t think enough noise gets made about the fact that literal Cthulhu canonically exists in D&D. Also, if you’ve read the works of HP Lovecraft, you’ll know that Cthulhu – almighty cosmic horror that he is – is just the equivalent of a sleepy chihuahua guarding the gates behind which the really bad stuff lives.
There’s a whole pantheon of mind-shatteringly terrible elder beings floating out there in the void. The fact that your character has chosen to siphon away some of their power with their feeble little mortal flesh mind for the sake of a few cantrips honestly sounds like asking for trouble.
As a DM, a Great Old One warlock is basically free license to rain down cosmic awfulness upon the world – an apocalypse that hints at barely a fraction of the dread being’s true power.
Mechanically, the Great Old One gives you a pretty strong expanded spell list packed with all sorts of evocative, tentacle-based options – not to mention great control, enchantment, and debuff spells like dominate person and detect thoughts.
You also get a good mixture of spooky utility features, like Awakened Mind (which lets you communicate telepathically with creatures you can see within 30ft – even if you don’t both speak the same language) or Create Thrall (which lets you reach into the mind of an incapacitated creature and make them perpetually charmed by you).
You also get a nice smattering of defensive capabilities, like the ability to impose disadvantage on an enemy that attacks you and then turn that miss into advantage on your next attack against that enemy.
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything
Summary: Summon a blade of pure shadowy darkness to take the warlock from full caster to a semi-martial class that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with barbarians and fighters. Curse enemies, raise undead specters to do your bidding, and smite enemies with a sword made of darkness.
Example Patrons: The Hexblade itself, legendary Hexblades like Blackrazor, and the Raven Queen – ruler of the Shadowfell.
Racial Options: The Drow, with its mixture of innate spellcasting, Dexterity and Charisma bonuses, makes for an excellent Hexblade Warlock, although any race with a Charisma bonus will do.
Pacts: The Pact of the Blade is virtually a requirement for Hexblade warlocks, as it removes the limitations that your pact weapon can only be one-handed.
Hexblade Expanded Spells
|1st||shield, wrathful smite|
|2nd||blur, branding smite|
|3rd||blink, elemental weapon|
|4th||phantasmal killer, staggering smite|
|5th||banishing smite, cone of cold|
The Hexblade patron is easily the most unique warlock subclass, both in terms of narrative and playstyle.
Hexblade warlocks have forged their bond not with an otherworldly entity or powerful demon, but with a weapon, a dark artefact of power forged from the very matter of the Shadowfell itself.
Also known as the Plane of Shadow, the Shadowfell is the dark counterpart to the Feywild – a bleak, desolate realm of ash and decay. It is suspected that many notorious magical blades (Blackrazor being the most famous) have been forged from the Shadowfell over the ages, some say by the Raven Queen, ruler of the shadowfell and a minor goddess of death itself.
Now, your Warlock has one of these blades in their possession, bound to their very soul in exchange for untold knowledge and power.
By binding yourself to a Hexblade, you transform the warlock from a full caster like the wizard and the sorcerer into a devastating martial combatant.
The fact that your Hex Warrior feature lets you use Charisma as the modifier for your melee attack and damage rolls also makes the Hexblade warlock one of the most single ability-dependent (SAD) subclasses in the game, although a high Dexterity is still important for raising your armor class.
Your expanded spell list reflects your role as a damage-dealing martial combattant, with survivability spells like Blur, Shield, and Blink, as well as some powerful offensive capabilities like Banishing Smite, Elemental Weapon, and Phantasmal Killer.
This mixture of martial capabilities and a spell list that wouldn’t feel out of place on an Oathbreaker Paladin, the Hexblade patron is going to make your warlock feel like a powerful nuker, capable of focusing on the biggest, baddest enemy in sight and deleting them from the map in a matter of rounds. Eldritch invocations like Improved Pact Weapons also allow your Hexblade to manifest itself as a ranged weapon.
Curse of Strahd
Summary: A decidedly spooky, necromancy-focused subclass, the Undead Otherworldly Patron provides a great spell list and the best survivability options of any warlock patron.
Example Patrons: Vampires, liches, demiliches, and other beings that have shed their mortal forms to life an eternal half-life. Examples include the demilich Acererak, the vampire tyrant Kas the Bloody-Handed, the githyanki lich-queen Vlaakith, the dracolich Dragotha, the undead pharaoh Ankhtepot, and the elusive Darklord, Azalin Rex.
Racial Options: Any short-lived race (like humans, kenku, or dragonborn) can be a good mechanical fit. If your warlock is on the path towards eternal undeath themself, try the Returned background from Mythic Odysseys of Theros, which lets you play a creature brought back from beyond the veil.
Pacts: The Pact of the Tome’s additional cantrips are a good fit for this spellcasting subclass, although the optional rules for the Pact of the Talisman from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything are also a compelling option for this survivability-focused build.
Undead Expanded Spells
|1st||Bane, False Life|
|2nd||Blindness/Deafness, Phantasmal Force|
|3rd||Phantom Steed, Speak with Dead|
|4th||Death Ward, Greater Invisibility|
|5th||Antilife Shell, Cloudkill|
Sworn and beholden to a vampire, lich, or other immortal, necromantic being, the Undead patron gives you access to a fraction of their death-defying power – which translates into a very necromancy-heavy spell list, including False Life, Speak With Dead, and Antilife Shell, making the Undead Warlock the closest thing to a necromancer the class can get.
We’ve all seen vampire movies. Powerful undead beings often have some crippling limitations to go along with their near-godlike powers.
In order to get around such pesky problems – like turning to ash in direct sunlight or, in the case of liches, having to keep your soul in a big hungry horcrux called a phylactery which kills you if it’s destroyed – powerful undead love to keep the odd mortal around to do their odd jobs and look after the spooky castle while they’re taking a literal dirt nap.
A Note on the Undying
The final otherworldly patron, the Undying, isn’t going to get full coverage in this guide for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, this Otherworldly Patron (which was released as part of the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide) is functionally identical both narratively and mechanically to the Undead patron above, with one exception: it’s way worse.
The Undying (which also places your warlock in servitude to some deathless being like a lich) also seeks to make your warlock more survivable, like the Undead, but barely manages it as features like Undying Nature and Indestructible life feel hugely underpowered for high-level abilities, and your spell list is basically the same as the Undead, but with less interesting options.
If you want to play a spooky warlock, just grab an undead patron and leave this garbage subclass alone.
- About Author
- Latest Posts
I played my first tabletop RPG (Pathfinder 1e, specifically) in college. I rocked up late to the first session with an unread rulebook and a human bard called Nick Jugger. It was a rocky start but I had a blast and now, the better part of a decade later, I play, write, and write about tabletop RPGs (mostly 5e, but also PBtA, Forged in the Dark and OSR) games for a living, which is wild.