Things You Didn’t Know About D&D 5E: Warlocks and their Patrons

In a forgotten temple, a young half-elf steps off a broken platform. Slowly, he floats down, safely alighting on the cracked flagstones of the lower level.

With the shouts of the guards following her, a human woman ducks into a crowd. Moments later, she wears the shape of an old crone, shuffling carefully between the market stalls.

A cruel blade clutched in one hand, a tiefling looms over a bloodstained altar, examining the sacrifice. Pleased by the offering, he intones the name of his dark patron and drives the blade down.

Warlocks are one of the most misunderstood classes in Fifth Edition DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. These ambitious seekers of knowledge are often cast as willing tools of some manner of pseudo-deity, fanatical diabolists, or deranged prophets of alien masters, always bound to their patron by some mystical connection that compels them along a course of action, lest they lose their power. While this may be how a warlock is led to believe the arrangement works, the truth is far more interesting.

In this article, we will explore the nature of a warlock and their pact, and consider some alternatives to the typical arrangement that many players may have come to expect.

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The Easy Road

If a sorcerer, a wizard, and a warlock all went to an arcane university, the sorcerer would learn everything in hands-on seminars and use extended metaphors in their essays to describe how magic works, the wizard would learn everything in the library and write exhaustive essays on why magic works the way it does, and warlocks would steal last year’s exam and copy all the answers. While there are some exceptions, warlocks are generally not interested in coming by their knowledge honestly; they want the answers to their questions, how they obtain them is secondary.

It’s possible that this mentality is a result of the pact itself, that the making of a pact triggers an unslakeable thirst for knowledge, but it is more than likely that many warlocks are accepted by patrons because they already have this kind of disposition. Unlike a deity who grants spells to a devoted follower, a patron must instruct a warlock to use their power, and to master it quickly requires someone whose ambition may exceed their sense of self-preservation. Even good-natured patrons require audacious followers who can act swiftly.

While the Player’s Handbook pushes players to think more about their patron and their interactions with the character, we would suggest that you start first with asking yourself what kind of person would make a pact and what led them to that point in their life. Power may drive people to seek more power, but few people originally seek power simply as a means without end. What was so important to your character that they would seek to accomplish it through striking a deal with an entity of such formidable power?

Master And Apprentice

Some patrons may wish to be treated as gods, and some may even masquerade as such to their followers, but ultimately they can’t or don’t have the same relationship with a warlock as a god would a cleric. The reasons for this may be beyond mortal comprehension—maybe channelling the power of faith eventually makes them dependent on their followers, or maybe it is a secret beyond their knowledge. In whatever case, a warlock needn’t retain the favour of their patron to use their abilities; it is their power, forever.

The other consideration of this is what the patron gets from the arrangement. Patrons can and do make demands of their warlocks, and may refuse to teach the warlock anything more if the mortal has failed to comply with their wishes. The warlock doesn’t lose their power in this instance, but progression in the class may be restricted until a new pact is forged or until reparations are made (presuming the patron is the forgiving sort or doesn’t want one of their most useful servants defecting to the service of their enemies).

Exactly how much of an impact this relationship will have on the campaign is something that you need to discuss with your DM. If the DM has already written a campaign, they may not feel there’s room to include much about this, especially if they’re newer or the story has a drastically different theme than the story you think up for your character’s background. It may be that your patron’s demands amount to small favours you perform during downtime. If this isn’t to your expectations, it’s great to determine that up front so that you can decide if you want to make a different character. (This is why having a session zero is important!)

Sample Warlocks

This section will present some warlocks who fulfill or subvert certain tropes associated with the warlock class. Feel free to use them as inspiration for your own warlock!

Alaris: A Warlock of the Fiend

From a young age, Alaris had been warned by her father never to remove her talisman. The strange symbol, bound by a thick cord, had been given to her the day that her magical talents began to manifest. She’d asked about it and why it was so important, but her father was not the sort to say what didn’t have to be said, and she learned to simply accept his instructions. Besides, it matched her older sister’s, and Alaris had always looked up to Kara. 

Unfortunately, things have a way of getting lost and, when Alaris was seven, she returned home after a day in the fields and found it missing. Kara put hers around Alaris’ neck before their father could notice, and made her swear to say nothing of it. 

That night, Alaris woke to a sudden chill in the room. Cold sweat drenched her, and she looked over to her sister in an inexplicable panic. Though the moon cast silvery beams in through the window, no light seemed to reach the shape that stood above Kara, one long limb extended over her face. Alaris was frozen in fear as she watched her sister began to gasp for breath. Agony seemed to grip her, and Kara’s face contorted in anguish before, without warning, she grew still. 

Then the shadow turned its gaze on Alaris, and she knew she was about to die. 

It crossed the room in but a few steps, reaching out for her. The entity’s form roiled as it moved, its baleful, glowing eyes the only thing that seemed fully manifest. Alaris could feel its hunger tearing at her, white fire within her soul. 

Somehow, her hand found Kara’s talisman. She felt it thrum with power in her grasp. With a scream, Alaris held it forward, and the dark shape dispersed like a bank of fog before a strong wind. 

Alaris would later learn of the family curse. Generations past, an ancestor had sworn a pact with a terrible fiend, one that had lasting implications for his descendants. The fiend was owed one hundred souls born Alaris’ bloodline, a debt for the power it had given to the family. The magical gifts that Alaris had so treasured were a consequence of this pact, as was her sister’s death. Alaris also learned the secrets that had been passed down through the generations to protect herself from the evil influence and, with care, draw power from the dark connection. 

Though her family kept their curse secret, their reclusive nature and talismans led many to suspect them of illicit behaviour. Several years later, after a series of crop failures and mysterious deaths in the town, fanatical elements sought someone to blame. In a night of fire and fury, superstitious folk—whipped into a frenzy by the priests of a local temple—descended on Alaris’ home intent on holding someone to account. Alaris alone escaped. 

Since that day, her dreams have been plagued with visions of fire and shadow. An unfamiliar voice calls out to her, and sometimes when she awakes, she can still almost hear it as a whisper. The words elude her, but she doesn’t need to hear them to know what it promises: power.

This warlock has an antagonistic relationship with her patron, one that can play out in various ways. Through dreams, the fiend may continue to fill in the blanks of Alaris’ training, allowing her to progress through the class, but it is unlikely that it would do so without a purpose in mind for the warlock. Alternatively, Alaris might try to use her connection with the fiend to demand knowledge that she is owed as long as the pact between the fiend and her family persists. Such interactions are sure to offer great roleplaying opportunities.

Deneth: A Warlock of the Archfey

Hailing from the twilit dreamscape realm of the Feywild, the eladrin Deneth is a stranger to the Material Plane. He has been tasked with an important mission by the mighty and mysterious archfey known as Pan to seek seven mystical items that were stolen from his labyrinth and taken to the mortal world. The powers of these items and why he specifically was chosen are questions he can’t answer, though he secretly ponders every night as he slips into reverie. Even more troubling is that he was offered no guidance regarding where the items may be found, leaving him struggling to retain hope in his ability to succeed. 

Though he was sent alone on this quest, Deneth is never unable to call on his patron. Or one of them, at least. As a Knight of Summer, Deneth serves the greatest Seelie court, an association of powerful, goodly fey led by Titania, the Summer Queen. In reverie, his mind reaches across the planar boundary to touch the wisdom of his patrons. So great is their power that he must take care not to open himself too much to this connection. Power must be earned, and Deneth is still young—not yet having gone through the Drawing of the Veil. It is possible that this task is designed to usher him into maturity, though it is also likely that the reason lies in the fickle nature of the archfey whom Deneth serves. 

In battle, Deneth wields a slender blade of patterned steel, fighting with a grace that few ever see outside of dance and a ferocity not unlike a summer storm. This is partly from to his decades of training in the art of elven swordsmanship and partly from his ability to inspire fear and awe by projecting his fey presence. This combination of skills has led to Deneth’s allies giving him the affectionate sobriquet “Tempest”. 

In spite of his insecurities, he is driven and utterly devout in his faith of the archfey of the Summer Court. While he is dedicated to his quest, Deneth’s desire is to return home and bask once more in the warm presence of his patrons. But the longer his quest goes on, the more he comes to worry. If this is a test, as he suspects, how long does he have left to complete it until he’s failed? If he doesn’t succeed, could he ever return? Would he ever be worthy?

This warlock is a positive fulfillment of the common trope of the warlock faithfully serving their patron, though it offers a twist in that this warlock is not involved in a pact with one archfey, but several—perhaps an entire court. A character concept like this would require communication with the DM, as it builds a quest into the story and the DM needs to be able to incorporate that into the story. The DM should also take care to offer the occasional hint to Deneth’s character regarding the expectations of the eladrin’s patron, if only to ensure that the player doesn’t feel as though they are missing certain opportunities to advance the plot.

Putting It All Together

Warlocks are a little like getting two characters: the warlock and the patron. Discussion with the DM is important if you want to have a memorable experience with your warlock’s patron. Especially important in such a discussion are the consequences of a warlock breaking their agreement with the patron; while the warlock shouldn’t lose their abilities, the DM may determine that the would have to find another patron in order to continue advancing as a warlock.

To really make your experience memorable, try to embrace what makes a warlock different than a cleric. Patrons aren’t gods, and they don’t offer knowledge and power to just anyone. Typically, they want something back, something that they can’t get from someone else. Figure out what this might be, and you have the seed of a unique and fulfilling character arc.

Have your own experience with warlocks? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

6 thoughts on “Things You Didn’t Know About D&D 5E: Warlocks and their Patrons”

  1. Come you bonnie lasses and sailor bold hark to my story. Wulf Harnish was a pirate of the foulest sorts a paladin of the great god of the sea Procan working his way up through the ranks settling at first mate aboard a pirate galley with 36 guns a side gaining the favor of the dread pirate his captain served under hoping that one day a captaincy awaited him after a few years his captain feel I’ll be knew this was his chance he took the mantle of captain in his stead as he battled his illness gaining many great victories and securing great treasures for the fleet but when his beloved captain final succumbed to his illness he was past over for a man 20 years his younger but he was bedding the dread pirate Morgan so in a fit of rage keel haul as his crew called him (speaks volumes of what type of person he was) called to a noble sea djin and as him for power power beyond comprehension power to destroy the power to BURN and in one massive hellish rebuke set the entire fleet ablaze and set out to salt marsh to start his own crew free from nepotism and other human emotions of greed taking his dedication to Procan. And renewing it taking the oath of the acetic and letting the noble sea djin guide procan’s holy trident into his enemies

  2. I was thinking about making a warlock out of a princess. She knows her only use is to be bride but from a young age playing with the boys she knew would eventually be her suitors, she realizes none od them will take care of her people as well as she could. An old librarian, Arakamais, quietly gives her an education that consists of more than just how to be a quiet wife. The years pass and she becomes an intelligent woman, and her parents select the most suitable prince, but Bryce was also the cruelest and stupidest of all her old playmates. She fakes a divine call to become a nun, and because of her “impossible intellect for a wench that is,” the church and her family belive her. But Bryce knew he was owed her, and if she wasn’t given to him willingly, he would take her. He uses his influence clear the convent and proceeds to take what is his, and fulfils each twisted fantasy in a cold, empty castle. But the Raven Queen hears her pleas and knows that the man attacking her will also kill many more before their time, so she grants the princess the power to kill the prince. Now unable to go back home or stay in the convent, she makes a pilgramage to the mountains, where the Raven Queen has the strongest pull in this world.

  3. My sea elf, aptly named Karma, is a Warlock under the pact of the Undying. Their relationship is tense to say the least. Karma is slightly thankful to but mostly terrified of them. She found them when reaching out to any being that would listen and grant her power while on a battlefield long ago. The only beings that reached out were the Undying. She awoke in her body the next day to see everyone on the battlefield slain, both friend and foe. All that echoed in her head were the words “You’re welcome” followed by a haunting chuckle coming from each and every dead body that surrounded her. When she looked down at her hands, she saw her sword covered in blood and her clothes soaked with it. She ran, but she’s opened up to the power a bit more now that she has control.

  4. Here’s another cool story, If you want to read it:
    Baldwin Al’Hassan was in life a very religious and well devoted paladin of the holy order of crusaders that defended the holy lands of Chorusalem. After decades of service to the
    Unending Crusade Al’Hassan sadly died in a foreign battlefield, an unruly death full of regret and unfinished business regarding the many holy wars he had fought: while his church was in the most part full of honored warriors and pious, benevolent servants to the God of the Sun, corruption in the upper echelons festered, this treachery only being noticed by Baldwin and some of his fellow crusaders.

    His comrades held a burial with whatever they could find, trying to honor the memory of the righteous paladin he was, but due to times of conflict he was never fully given the holy funeral rites. His gravesite soon became unmarked and untended under the flames of war. The years passed, but Baldwin’s restless spirit stewed within his shallow grave, imagining the damage and abuses those that would misuse the Sun God’s blessings could do.

    After more than a century passed, the paladin, against his will, was raised by a necromancer and forced upon the vile, sinful existence of undeath. Divine fury burning through the newly reanimated bones, Al’Hassan overcame his enslaver’s power and killed him with a wrathfull smite. But alas, the deed was done, and now he was undead. For the cruzader there were two choices: to plunge his sword into his chest and die again to follow his God’s commandments, or cast away such rules to settle the affairs he had left unresolved in life and do what he believed necessary in cleansing his lord’s church. And thus Balwin Al’Hassan decided to break his Paladin oath, and became a wandering deathknight, forging a pact with the Undying Fiend Interminabilis to sustain his decayed bones until the bell tolls for those who would see the honor of the Sun God tarnished.

  5. I Have A Brass Dragonborn Warlock Who Was A Soldier. Once A Green (Well Brass, But Whatever) Lieutenant In The City Guard, His patrol Was Ambushed (Through His Incompetence) By Orcs And Goblins. As His Team Fell, He Called For Help From Anyone And Something Answered. The Attackers Were Incinerated In The Resulting Explosion Of Power. The Dark Fiend (Name Unpronounceable, Means “Nightmare”, Or Literally “Evil Dream”) Appeared In A Vision, A Being Seemingly Comprised Of Smoke And An Eye Of Fire With 3 Catlike Pupils. Braken Was Told To Wander, And Has Done So Ever Since, Dreading The Next Vision Of His Patron, Along With Its Strange Demands. He Does Not Know What Will Happen To Him If He Doesn’t Complete The Tasks, But He Is In No Hurry To Find Out. The Palm Of His Left Hand Has What Seems To Be A Brand On It, A Stylised Representation Of His Patron’s Eye. Oddly, It Seems To Shift Pupil Placement When he Isn’t Looking…

    What Do you Think? Good Warlock Patron?

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