Oh, what made your ancestors think making a pact with undead was a good idea?! Oh well, power is power, and you’ve gotten yourself a weird patron! Introduced with Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, the Undead Patron is a powerful soul who was brought back after they died. Because of this, they could spend eternity gathering power and are now strong enough to act in a way similar to genies, celestials, and more. Liches, vampires, and mummies are popular patrons here. Will this Patron give your character the powers they crave? Or will this be another Undying problem? Find out in our Undead Warlock 5E guide!
Rise from Death: The Undead Warlock 5E
The Undead Patron is almost like a Wild Shape Druid, or a Barbarian. You are reliant on a limited resource “rage” mechanic to be most effective in combat. However, this mechanic consistently gets better, and you gain abilities outside of your Transformed state that improve your survivability and damage.
Expanded Spell List
The spells that you add to your spell lists are, shockingly, necromancy-focused. However, there are some legitimately cool utility spells that are worth considering.
|Undead Patron Expanded Spell List|
|1st Level||Bane, False Life|
|3rd Level||Blindness/Deafness, Phantasmal Force|
|5th Level||Phantom Steed, Speak with Dead|
|7th Level||Death Ward, Greater Invisibility|
|9th Level||Antilife Shell, Cloudkill|
Bane scales quite well with your spell level, as does False Life. Bane is like Bless, but against your enemies… And lets them roll a Saving throw. A Charisma saving throw, which is nice, but a saving throw nonetheless. False life is a somewhat effective factory for Temporary Hitpoints, but does nothing other than generate temp HP. That might not be worth the spell slot every time.
Blindness/Deafness is an absolutely brutal debuff, and as you cast it at a higher level, you can spread the misery. This can make it great for blinding a room full of people… Or, you can deafen important targets to lower the chance that they panic. Options! Phantasmal Force is fun, but is there to deal a small amount of damage and scales awfully with spell level.
Phantom Steed is hilarious, allowing you to ride away on a Ghost Horse. The horse is really fast, but can’t take any damage. Might be better to leave that for the Wizard. Speak With Dead is similarly situational. That’s also a spell better suited for a Cleric or a more flexible caster.
Death Ward is a decent defensive spell that you can throw on at the beginning of a dungeon and then refresh your magic midway through the dungeon. Could be useful, since it… Keeps you alive. Good to throw on a Cleric, at least! Greater Invisibility is brutally strong, but this is around the point where anti-invisibility might start becoming a problem. Still, really great spell, especially if you want to throw it on a Rogue or other high damage melee character.
Antilife Shell is situational, but you can use it to keep a theoretically infinite angry mob from doing anything but throwing stuff at you. Might be too situational for the Warlock’s standard spell slots. Cloudkill is good, consistent damage. Good for gassing rooms and can be relatively high damage over time if you can set it up right.
Overall, a fine spell list. Has quite a bit of Concentration, but it also has solid utility and debuff options. Scan through this list as you level up; this utility might come in handy in specific situations.
Form of Dread
At 1st Level, you can transform into something no longer quite living. You transform as a bonus action, and for a minute afterwards, you gain temporary hitpoints, can force a creature to become Frightened as a Saving Throw when you land an attack, and you’re immune to Frightened. You can only do this a number of times per day equal to your Proficiency modifier.
Your temporary hitpoints are fine, but not as high as Wild Shape. They are also no replacement for Rage’s Damage Reduction to all physical damage. Still, this is a solid 1d10+Level max health that you can refresh with a Bonus Action. That’s not bad durability at all! Don’t rely on it to be the sole reason you stay alive.
Frightening on hit is much better at keeping you alive! You can use this with Eldritch Blast to keep someone a hundred feet away from you. Or, you can use it in melee to basically force a target to only be able to attack you at disadvantage! That’s great boss-screwing potential.
You’re also immune to Frightened, which is fantastic. You can focus down Fey or Undead targets without worrying about not being able to approach them. Frightened is a fairly common condition, so you’re going to be very much using this immunity to Frightened. And, you can use this bonus action to basically cure your Frightened, which is extremely handy!
You also get to transform based on your flavor, which is fun. You can finally play as a mummy! Well, kinda.
Overall, this is a legitimately strong 1st level Warlock ability, but it is held down by it’s limits. Make sure you pop this during dangerous fights, or when you’re worried about taking damage. It’s like Barbarian Rage, so don’t waste it on nothing!
At 6th level, you gain some Undying Patron features, hilariously enough. This time, it’s a bit better. You don’t need to eat, drink, or breathe, and once per turn when you hit an attack roll, you can replace the damage with Necrotic damage. While in your Form of Dread, you roll an additional damage die.
This is actually pretty solid. Well, the second part. The first part matters aggressively little; if you’re getting gassed or poisoned by food, then you don’t need to eat? You might be able to avoid exhaustion due to thirst or hunger in a Desert arc of a campaign. Handy only when the DM specifically tells you that it is.
Now, the Necrotic damage and damage buff of Form of Dread… Now that’s neat. Necrotic Damage is a pretty likely damage resistance or immunity. This is next to useless while fighting an Undead. However, in most other cases, Necrotic is a standard, good damage option. Heck, against Celestials or Fey, it might be a Vulnerability! So you can choose between Force damage (rarely resisted) or Necrotic damage (often Resisted, but sometimes Vulnerability!).
In addition, in the cases where your Necrotic isn’t resisted or ignored, you can deal 1d10 more damage with Eldritch blast. That’s honestly stellar. On average, you’re outdoing the maximum damage buff that a Barbarian gets from Rage. However, that’s only once per turn, so you’re not going to outdo Rage on multiple swings. Still, good damage buff! Worth keeping in mind and abusing whenever you can.
At level 6, you essentially swap 1 Eldritch Blast to Necrotic damage and it deals 2d10 while Transformed. That’s… Okay, but not overly impressive.
At 10th level, you become inured to undeath. You resist Necrotic damage; if you’re in Dread Form, you’re instead Immune. In addition, you can stop yourself from falling unconscious with a 1d4 Long Rest cooldown. When you do this, you are set to 1 HP, and you explode with 2d10 + Warlock Level necrotic damage in a 30 ft radius (you can exclude targets at your choice). You gain 1 level of Exhaustion as a result.
This is an interesting defensive ability. The previous ability you got made you good against Living creatures, and now you’re tanky against Necrotic damage. That’s not great, but you’re fairly likely to fight Undead, Liches, or other sources of Necrotic damage in a standard campaign. Being straight-up immune to Necrotic damage will come in handy at least once in most sessions.
However, in general, you can stop yourself from dying once per 1d4 days. While useful, you’re basically replacing 1 level of exhaustion to explode for a somewhat low amount of damage; 30 on average at level 20. The good news is that the damage cannot be reduced in any way. The bad news is that you’re now unable to roll ability checks well. At least Warlock isn’t great at that in the first place.
While the AoE might seem a bit unnecessary, remember that this is a get-out-of-jail-free card. You can be the one to save your party from disaster! And it starts with a bang.
Honestly, this is a great ability, and might be worth taking the Archetype over. However… There’s one more ability left to talk about.
At 14th level, you can spend your spirit out of your body for an hour (or until Concentration breaks). Your spirit resists physical damage, can cast conjuration or necromancy spells without any signs, can fly and walk through walls, and can heal from Necrotic damage while using Form of Dread. This can only be done once per Long Rest.
Okay, now this is interesting. It has great mobility and durability, and can even be used out-of-combat to cast necromancy spells. You can even let yourself tank; if you do this, then you might want a way to boost your Concentration saving throws.
Afterwards, you can teleport your body there. That means you can leave your physical body in a vacuum (say, a bag of holding with a wide opening) since you can’t die from lack of oxygen or food. Then, you can just send your spirit out and then take a big ol’ nap when it dies! Or, you can teleport out and start working with your party.
Now, when should you use this spirit? It’s a great scout, being able to walk through walls and take less damage from reaction shots. It can set up traps in rooms ahead without being noticed. It doesn’t even have a range limit; it’s that good at scouting ahead if you need it to!
However, it’s also a great tank, since it takes so much less damage from physical attacks and can heal a ridiculous amount of health from Eldritch Blast alone! It isn’t the most consistent tank, since it relies on your Concentration, but there are ways to remedy that.
This can be used quite well as a Rage substitute, letting it tank for you and your party. However, it does ask you to use another resource (Form of Dread) if you want access to it’s lifesteal. And that’s good lifesteal, so you should probably at least consider it.
This is another fantastic ability, and it has so much different utility and uses… It’ll be fun to experiment with! Try to find the time to fit Warmage into your Feats if you want to use this ability effectively.
Pact Boon Synergies
As the first Warlock Patron that we’ve looked at since the Talisman came out, we have a few options here. However, one sticks out as being a touch more useful than the rest, especially if you plan on sticking to the Warlock for 20 levels.
Pact of the Blade
Two problems plague Pact of the Blade here. One, you don’t gain any form of Armor. That means you’re going to want a lot of Dexterity so you don’t get smeared in melee combat. But, that means you’re going to want to use a smaller melee weapon, like a Rapier… And then you’re not doing as much damage as Eldritch Blast. The second is that you have no specific melee-based benefits. You don’t do more damage in melee or anything like that, so there’s no synergy that makes this work more than EB.
That being said, thanks to Form of Dread, this is close to being fine. You are tanky enough that a high Dexterity build can function as a reasonable tank, especially once you get to Spiritual Projection. The Temporary HP helps a lot! If you absolutely despise making Eldritch Blast Warlocks, then the Pact of the Blade is not a terrible choice; just not quite optimal.
Pact of the Chain
Summoning a friend is always useful, and the Imp is especially deadly early on. The flavor is a bit off, but having a scout and a decent early-game carry is always nice. However, you will inevitably get to a point where you become a better scout than your Familiar. Then, it’s usefulness lessens dramatically. This is worth considering if you don’t have a Rogue or Divination Wizard to check ahead of the party for you all.
That being said, you don’t really need an early game carry. You are plenty durable yourself, and by level 6, you’ll be doing good damage every round!
Pact of the Tome
This is the most simple and effective ability. This boosts your utility via learning new cantrips, and eventually will give you more spells. The Undead Patron has some utility, but it is mostly focused on damage and survivability. These cantrips won’t solve your problems, but it will be more useful than your standard paths. And if you drop 1 Invocation, you can save your cleric from dying during a combat, which is incredibly strong!
This is a good default path, if you don’t think any other pact would work better for your specific character. It’s also the one with least maintenance, since you don’t need to worry about a Familiar or anything like that.
Pact of the Talisman
Pact of the Talisman is great for the pessimistic Warlock. You can put it on someone before they attempt an important skill check to add a high chance that they succeed. That’s useful, since you’re not supporting them in many other ways. Bond and Protection of the Talisman are both legitimately strong Eldritch Invocations.
If you want to be a good Supportive Warlock while blasting your enemies with Necrotic damage, this is a great choice! However, you’re giving up some utility by not picking up Chain or Tome.
Best Races for The Undead Warlocks
The Undead Warlock relies on Charisma to deal damage and land those Spell Attack Rolls that they’re so interested in. While a melee build could use Dexterity to deal damage, they will still want high Charisma to ensure that their spells are as effective as possible.
The Tabaxi, from Volo’s Guide to Monsters, are not perfect at handling Undeath, but they are an interesting choice. Their +2 Dexterity, +1 Charisma is good enough to ensure your spellcasting will be up to par. Much more interesting are their other abilities; Feline Agility allows you to outrun your opponents, making the Frighten on your Form of Dread much more impactful. Your Cat’s Talents give you two skill proficiencies that you honestly needed, and make you a good scout at level 14. Finally, you have a climb speed, which is useful for repositioning before you get to level 14. Hell, sometimes Jaguars can represent voodoo… That could work!
The Glasya Tiefling, introduced in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, is a great choice for your Undead Warlock. Glasya blessed your Tiefling with +2 Charisma and +1 Dexterity; perfect. You also get Hellish Resistance to help you with magical duels. Legacy of Malbolge helps you become a reasonable scout, with both Disguise Self and Invisibility being useful in their own way… Though Invisibility is probably the stronger spell there.
Conclusion – Our Take on the Undead Patron
The Undead Patron is a pretty stellar combat-focused Warlock. It is very reliant on Form of Dread to be useful, which can be a problem for a long day of fighting. As long as you time your abilities right, you will be impossible to put down, and a legitimate threat for 60 rounds a day… Which is usually enough. Try it out the next time you have an idea for a deathtouched individual.