Have you ever wanted to get Pact of the Blade, but the other two options were just better? Tired of building Eldritch Blast Warlocks in every situation? Well, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything really does have everything for you, because it introduced the Hexblade – Warlocks can now dedicate themselves to legendary weapons with a penchant for cursing. Should your Warlock consider binding themselves to these mysterious entities? Read on to find out with our Hexblade Warlock 5E Guide!
Wield the Curse: The Hexblade Warlock 5E Guide
The Hexblade is an aggressive Warlock subclass with some defensive options. Its sole role is to give the Warlock a reliable frontline option in a world where most Warlocks would be crazy to take anything but Eldritch Blast. Whether it actually succeeds at this task or questionable; Eldritch blast still ends up having more rays, and therefore more damage. However, combine the abilities of the Hexblade with the expanded spell list, and you’ll still have a fantastic reason to wade into melee range.
Expanded Spell List
The spell list is the real saving grace of the Hexblade, since the class abilities don’t do quite enough to usurp Eldritch Blast’s reign. It offers some ways to make melee combat slightly more enticing, but suffers from concentration issues.
You might notice that 4 of the 10 spells offered to the Hexblade are smites. Wrathful Smite is a good way to apply Frighten without a save. It forces your opponent to spend their action saving, meaning you’ll normally just have a Frightened enemy for a while. Branding Smite can scale from 2nd to 5ht level spell slots, which is good for when you only need damage, without the utility options of the others.
Staggering offers slightly less damage in return for debuffs on attack rolls and ability check; usually worthwhile. And Banishing Smite is essentially the only smite you’ll be using at level 5; 5d10 damage added to a melee strike is the best Smite available for the Hexblade, and the banish effect is quite potent against enemy casters or extremely hard-hitting melee characters. If you don’t want to banish them, then Branding Smite’s 5d6 might be a better option, or Staggering’s debuff. I’d suggest picking up at least Staggering and Banishing, though all four are solid.
Elemental Weapon, Phantasmal Killer, and Cone of Cold are also fairly aggressive. Elemental Weapon is only useful on nonmagical weapons, but gives you quite a boost when using them; in low magic campaigns, this is great. Phantasmal Killer is a decent ranged ability that can deal a lot of damage over the course of a minute. Quite potent, if you can spare the Concentration slots. And Cone of Cold is good for Warlocks, a class without great Area of Effect options.
Shield and Blur are both solid defensive spells; Shield for emergencies and Blur to apply disadvantage. Blur does take concentration, however, so you won’t be able to use Smites while it’s active.
This spell list has a lot of concentration spells. A lot of them are Smites, which means they’re safe to stop concentrating on after the damage is delivered (unless you want that debuff!). They are all fairly solid, and you can always replace old Warlock spells with new ones. Be sure to cycle your weaker Smites with stronger ones as you level!
The first level for Hexblade is quite powerful, compared to other level-1 patron bonuses. The first priority is the Hexblade’s Curse. As a bonus action, you can toss a curse on someone who is alive 30 ft from you. It ends early if you have trouble opening your eyes. You gain a few benefits from the curse, though the enemy isn’t hampered;
You gain a bonus to damage rolls against the cursed target. The bonus equals your proficiency bonus.
Any attack roll you make against the cursed target is a critical hit on a roll of 19 or 20 on the d20.
If the cursed target dies, you regain hit points equal to your warlock level + your Charisma modifier (minimum of 1 hit point).
You can’t use this feature again until you finish a short or long rest.
This feature is actually quite strong! It’s one of the few ways to get your Critical Hits to be a roll of 19 or 20, and it has a bonus to damage that scales with your Character level. All on a Bonus action! Multiclassing bliss!
The damage bonus is actually quite large compared to a lot of similar abilities – Such as Barbarian or Fighting Style – eventually getting to +6. The healing aspect of this ability is by far the weakest part, and even that will heal for 4 at level 1; not exactly the worst, not exactly the best. It can keep you from getting killed right after your cursed target dies. And it scales well with Warlock levels, which can be nice.
The only real downside is that it’s once per rest. And that’s not even much of a downside; Warlocks adore having short rests! Use this fairly often, and you’ll reap extremely powerful benefits.
And now for the other reason why the Hexblade is a fantastic choice for both multiclassing and melee warlocks. The first benefit includes a pile of proficiencies; shields, medium armor, and martial weapons. Then… You get something more unique.
The influence of your patron also allows you to mystically channel your will through a particular weapon. Whenever you finish a long rest, you can touch one weapon that you are proficient with and that lacks the two-handed property. When you attack with that weapon, you can use your Charisma modifier, instead of Strength or Dexterity, for the attack and damage rolls. This benefit lasts until you finish a long rest. If you later gain the Pact of the Blade feature, this benefit extends to every pact weapon you conjure with that feature, no matter the weapon’s type.
We’re still level 1 here!
So, first off, the proficiencies. A huge problem with Warlocks is that they need Dexterity if they want any AC. There’s just too much of a feat responsibility to do so in any other Warlock build. Getting Medium Armor right off the bat is crucial, and shields really can boost the AC of a one-handed build. The martial weapon proficiency is nice in the early game, and if you don’t end up taking Pact of the Blade, then this is a crucial increase to damage. Really good reason to put a Warlock on the frontlines!
Now… Usually, Melee Warlocks need to dedicate themselves to Dexterity or Strength. It’s important for Weapons, of course! But, thanks to Hex Warrior, the Warlock can use the pure power of their personality to maul their opponents. That’s fantastic! You could theoretically do both Eldritch Blast and Melee Combat simultaneously, without needing to put anything into Strength or Dexterity! If you’ve ever wanted your Sorcerer to swing swords just as good as they sling spells, get this multiclass!
Remember if you plan on taking the Heavily Armored feat to sneak your way into Plate Mail, there’s a Strength 15 requirement. Losing 10 feet of movement speed is really rough! Otherwise, try to invest in the +2 Dexterity to boost your armor while in Medium plate. It’ll be a life-saver!
The level 6 ability is the most utility-focused one of them all.
Starting at 6th level, you can curse the soul of a person you slay, temporarily binding it in your service. When you slay a humanoid, you can cause its spirit to rise from its corpse as a specter.
Right off the bat, you get to summon a spooky ghost! That’s pretty neat. Specters are CR 1 spirits that can move through walls, have a hodgepodge of resistances, a few immunities, and probably knows how to talk with you or others. It also can reduce maximum HP, though the saving throw to negate it is rather pitiful. But… They get more.
When the specter appears, it gains temporary hit points equal to half your warlock level. Roll initiative for the specter, which has its own turns. It obeys your verbal commands, and it gains a special bonus to its attack rolls equal to your Charisma modifier (minimum of +0).
The specter lasts – nor can you use this feature again – until you finish a long rest.
So this isn’t exactly fantastic scaling. The temporary hit points are added to a base of 22; at level 20, this 32 hit point spookster is probably not going to take a hit too well.
More interesting is the bonus to attack and damage. The Specter’s attack is normally +4. You’ll probably be boosting it to +8 or +9 by the time this is super relevant, which is insane at level 6. In addition, each time your new ghost friend hits someone, they have a small chance of losing 3d6+5 hit points for the rest of the day. And even if they save, 3d6+5 damage is nothing to sneeze at.
Sadly, other than small boosts to your Charisma, you can’t scale this up much more. It’ll have that +9 from level 6 (or more realistically 8) until level 20. And the hit points come aggravatingly slowly. Not to mention that it can only work on Humanoid creatures, occasionally locking you out of using this ability if combat doesn’t happen – or if you only stomp on mice – for a day.
Still, this gives you an Incorporeal scout with a potent touch attack, which follows your every command. That’s far from nothing, and there are plenty of ways to abuse such a potent skill. Use this on the first humanoid you’ve killed every day, and use it until it passes on.
Armor of Hexes
At level 10, the Hexblade gets an additional reason to use Hexblade’s curse… Because I guess three really strong reasons weren’t enough.
At 10th level, your hex grows more powerful. If the target cursed by your Hexblade’s Curse hits you with an attack roll, roll a d6. On a 4 or higher, the attack instead misses you, regardless of its roll.
For the love of all that’s unholy…
Alright, so, now, your bonus action, once-per-short-rest ability gives you a 50% chance to dodge attacks. On top of your already fantastic AC, potent healing, and (probably) good health thanks to the Constitution this class lets you get.
50% chance to miss might sound low… But it really shouldn’t. Your GM can roll a 20 on you, and you can still avoid getting completely decimated by a crit if you roll a 4 on a d6. This turns boss fights against talented duelists and hard-hitting treants alike into jokes.
And it’s not even just weapon attacks! Disintegrate can be easily sidestepped with a lucky d6. Vampiric Touch can suffer the same fate! There’s a pretty long list of powerful attack roll spells that are fairly likely to connect in the lategame, so this pretty solid miss chance is super crucial.
Your Hexblade Curse should normally be applied to the toughest creature in a room. Now, it should be applied to the one that hits the hardest… Which probably is the same one. Establish a short-rest rhythm with your party and reap the benefits.
Master of Hexes
Remember in the last section, where I mentioned that the Curse should be applied to the toughest guy in the room? Well…
Starting at 14th level, you can spread your Hexblade’s Curse from a slain creature to another creature. When the creature cursed by your Hexblade’s Curse dies, you can apply the curse to a different creature you can see within 30 feet of you, provided you aren’t incapacitated. When you apply the curse in this way, you don’t regain hit points from the death of the previously cursed creature.
Now you don’t really need to plan at all.
Notice that this doesn’t take a reaction, or a bonus action, or even requiring you to defeat the creature yourself. You just… Get the benefit. As a frontliner, being within 30 ft of another creature should be your natural habitat – Eldritch Blast Warlocks will have to get a little bit close to the enemies to make use of this. The only reason that you should not land Master of Hexes is either because the mages are blasting you from 120 ft, or because the fight is over.
Noticeably, you don’t benefit from the heal of the curse. That’s fairly significant – at this point, that gives you 19 health, as long as you have +5 Charisma. However, in 99% of situations, transfering the damage, crit chance, and 50% miss chance will be better than restoring the hit points.
This makes the Hexblade go from a somewhat situational single-target beater with good damage potential elsewhere to an absolute beast on the battlefield.
Pact Boon Synergies
At level 3, the Warlock gets a choice of one out of three pacts. These pacts all have synergies with the Hexblade, but…
Pact of the Blade
You chose Hexblade for the benefits of melee combat, right? The Pact of the Blade lets the Warlock use two-handed weapons, longswords, and more to boost your damage significantly. You also become essentially immune to disarm attempts, can always have a potent weapon by your side, get Thirsting Blade for the Extra attack feature, and Lifedrinker. This has by far the most synergies between the Pact and Patron of all the official releases – it’s fairly rare for the Patron to quite literally note that a Pact Boon gets extra effects with a Patron ability. If only because it’s taken so rarely, please consider this boon.
Pact of the Chain
Chain is the weakest of the options. You kind of already have a familiar; at level 6, you get a Specter. That can scout and deal damage for you. You don’t really need the bonus range on touch spells, either; you want to be within one Move Action from enemies, even if you go Eldritch Blast. This really isn’t worthwhile.
Pact of the Tome
The Book of Shadows is a good option that gives Warlocks access to decent utility spells – something Warlocks, let alone Hexblades, really like. Take some options from Wizard and Cleric, or maybe Druid, and you’ll be somewhat happy. Though, once again, if you plan on going into melee at any point, then Pact of the Blade will give you much better melee options, and melee protection.
Best Race for the Hexblade Warlocks
Incredibly, the Hexblade is one of the few melee builds in 5e that eliminate the need for Strength and Dexterity – Although getting to 14 Dexterity is probably not a bad idea. Your priorities are to get your Charisma high, and your Constitution to a point where one strong breeze doesn’t bowl you over.
While not necessarily perfect for a Warlock build, if you want to get to the 14 Dexterity and don’t mind putting your Ability Score Increases into Charisma twice, Tabaxi have quite a few uses. The extra movement speed – plus Feline Agility – can get you into melee range quite fast… Or give you an effective way to retreat. Perception and Stealth are both fantastic skills to have automatic proficiency in. And the 2 Dexterity is not lost on a build that takes refuge in medium armor. A quite potent choice, though more focused on utility than pure damage. Consider it if you’re allowed to use the races in Volo’s Guide.
Yeah, how often are these guys talked about? Held in the not-often-used Acquisitions Incorporated, the Verdan are an intelligently-created race of almost goblinoids with +2 Charisma, +1 Constitution; Perfection. Add onto that a boost of healing during short rests, free Persuasion advantage, bonuses on Wisdom and Charisma saves, and some free telepathy, and you’ve got yourself a really cool choice. Just… Ask your GM first. This one’s in a pretty far-off book.
Conclusion – Our Hexblade Warlock 5E
That wraps up our Hexblade Warlock 5E Guide. The Hexblade is the only Patron truly capable of unleashing Warlocks onto the frontlines. If your goal is to stand in front of your squishy allies in a unique but potent way, consider the Hexblade. Also, consider Hexblade for a multiclass if you’ve got a lot of Charisma and also want to swing a sword. For more info on this great class, check out our Warlock 5E Guide!