Similar to the cleric in some ways, the warlock is devoted to a higher power. Unlike the gods Clerics serve however, warlocks are bound to very different patrons. These patrons could be anything from demons to fey. While not technically gods, they offer access to incredible power for anyone bound to them. Want to learn all about this unique class? Make a pact with us to check out or Warlock 5E Guide here at Nerds and Scoundrels!
Warlock 5E Guide
Warlocks seek knowledge and power, and they have entered into a pact with a powerful being in order to obtain it. While these patrons are not gods, they are extremely powerful. Binding yourself to these otherworldly patrons is not without a price, however. In exchange for the powers you gain, you must from time to time do your patron’s bidding.
For many, this tradeoff is worth it. The powers embued into a warlock from their patron are as minor as a cantrip spell, or they could offer powers that few can comprehend.
Warlocks are primarily spellcasters, but they are not as reliant on their magic as a wizard. All warlocks are proficient in light armor and know their way around simple weapons.
Otherworldly Patron, Pact Magic
Ability Score Improvement
Otherworldly Patron Feature
Ability Score Improvement
Otherworldly Patron Feature
Mystic Arcanum (6th level)
Ability Score Improvement
Mystic Arcanum (7th level)
Otherworldly Patron Feature
Mystic Arcanum (8th level)
Ability Score Improvement
Mystic Arcanum (9th level)
Ability Score Improvement
All warlocks share the same basic attributes and class features. Despite these similarities, there are many different types of warlock builds possible. You can further craft your character depending on the type of patron you select.
- Hit Dice: 1d8 per warlock level
- HP at 1st Level: 8 + your Constitution modifier
- HP at Higher Levels: 1d8 (or 5) + your Constitution modifier per warlock level after 1st
- Armor: Light armor
- Weapons: Simple weapons
- Tools: None
- Saving Throws: Wisdom, Charisma
- Skills: Choose two skills from Arcana, Deception, History, Intimidation, Investigation, Nature, and Religion
Assuming you don’t purchase your equipment based on the starting gold by level formula, you begin with the following equipment:
- (a) a light crossbow and 20 bolts or (b) any simple weapon
- either (a) a component pouch or (b) an arcane focus
- (a) a scholar’s pack or (b) a dungeoneer’s pack
- Leather armor, any simple weapon, and two daggers
Eldritch Invocations (Level 2)
Warlocks don’t get as many spells as other casters. However, their access to Eldritch Invocations balances things out. An Eldritch Invocation is a fragment of forbidden knowledge discovered through a warlock’s research. These invocations imbue your character with unique powers. Some act as permanent buffs to things like attributes or your armor class. Others give you access to specific spells that do not count against your spell count.
Some invocations have pre-requisites to use. Many of them are only available when your warlock reaches a certain level. The good news is there is no risk of taking invocations early on as you have the power to replace them when you level up.
You get two Invocations at level 2. You can add an invocation at level 5, 7, 9, 12, 15, and 18. Below, we review some of the best options at each level.
Level 2 Invocations
The first of our list is arguably the most popular invocation among warlocks: Agonizing Blast. Most warlock builds rely heavily on Eldritch Blast, and this invocation adds your charisma modifier to your damage roll when you use that cantrip. This is a great damage buff, especially at level 2. You can also power up your Eldritch Blast with Repelling Blast, which pushes the target of the spell back 10 feet.
Devil’s Sight is another strong option, especially if your campaign is heavy on dungeon diving. More than just Darkvision, you can see normally in up to 120 feet in both normal or magical darkness.
For spellcasters, Book of Ancient Secrets can be powerful especially if you are your party’s primary spellcaster. It is essentially the Ritual Caster feat taken through Invocation form. This is a pretty fair tradeoff. You must have the Pact of the Tome boon to take this option.
Finally, FIendish Vigor is another popular option. It gives you the innate power to cast False Life at will. This is without using a spell slot or needing a rest! You gain 1d4+4 temporary hit dice for the hour duration of the spell. This doesn’t scale unfortunately given the way warlock spells work, but there is no reason not to keep this running in perpetuity at level 2.
Level 5 Invocations
Level 5 does not have as many go-to invocations as Level 2, but there are some strong options. Cloak of Flies (found in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything) is a fun but situational incarnation that produces what appears to be a cyclone of flies around you. You get advantage on all intimidation checks but disadvantage on all other charisma checks when you use it.
Tomb of Levistus is interesting, although it may only make sense when you are facing catastrophic levels of damage. It allows you to freeze yourself into ice until the end of your next turn. You gain 10 hit points per level of warlock but become incapacitated and your speed is reduced to zero. You also become vulnerable to fire damage. While there are times this is useful, it is not always better than simply hitting zero HP and hoping your friends heal you in time.
Maddening Hex is also powerful if you use the Hex spell or rely on the hex options with Pact of the Blade. It adds damage as a bonus action, which is excellent if you are relying on Hex already. Speaking of blades, Thirsting Blade is vital for any Hexblade character as it gives them two attacks per round.
Level 7 Invocations
Level 7 is also a mixed bag when it comes to Invocations. At the top of the heap is ghostly gaze, which allows you to see through solid objects within 30 feet. You also gain Darkvision. This lasts a minute or whenever you break concentration, whatever happens first. You regain the ability to see through walls after a short rest, making this a very powerful option.
Relentless Hex is also nice, but really only if you are a melee warlock. It allows you to teleport to an enemy you have used Hex or a Hexblade Curse. This is most useful for fast enemies or for those that can levitate or fly.
Sculptor of Flesh could be the best option of them all. It gives you access to the spell Polymorph, although you must use a spell slot and can only use it once per long rest. Despite these steep restrictions, the ability to polymorph enemies into bunny rabbits or something of a similar nature is obviously powerful. This is one of the few ways a warlock can gain access to Polymorph.
Level 9 Invocations
There are only four invocations that become available at Level 9, and each of them is found in the Player’s Handbook. Three of them are varying levels of excellence. Then there is Otherworldly Leap.
Ascendant Step gives you the ability to cast levitate at will, without the need for components or use of a spell slot. This is a powerful utility spell for party members that cannot fly, and it can also be used in battle against hostiles.
Minions of Chaos is also strong. While it costs you a spell slot, you can conjure an elemental that will last for a full hour. This is a powerful minion to get once per day, especially for big fights or for scouting purposes.
Otherworldly Leap is not as useful. By level nine you likely have the spell Fly. It gives you access to Jump, but as a level 1 cantrip this is a poor trade for a Level 9 Invocation.
Finally, there is Whispers of the Grave which allows you to cast Speak with the Dead without using a spell slot. This spell allows you to give a corpse a degree of life long enough to question it. It must have a mouth and cannot be undead. The spell only works if no one has cast it on the corpse in the last 10 days. You can ask five questions, and the corpse can answer anything it knew during life. These answers are usually cryptic and do not have to be truthful.
Level 12 Invocations
There is only one option at Level 12, but it is solid. Note that Lifedrinker is only available to those following Pact of the Blade. It adds extra damage when using your pact weapon. When you land a blow, add your charisma modifier as extra necrotic damage.
Level 15 Invocations
There are five invocations available at Level 15. While two really shine, they are all interesting in the right situation.
Chains of Carceri is a nice option for those warlocks with Pact of the Chain. Once per long rest you can cast Hold Monster on a celestial, fiend, or elemental without using a spell slot. While obviously situational, this is exceptionally powerful for encounters with these three beings.
Master of Myriad Forms has a lot going on, but it’s not very optimal. It empowers you to take aquatic form as a sea creature, gaining the ability to breathe underwater and swim at high speed. You can also alter your appearance similar to disguise self. Finally, you can choose to grow natural weapons like claws to attack with. There a few issues with this invocation. Mask of Many Faces is available at a much lower level, making the change appearance option duplicate. The natural weapons are extremely lackluster given you are at Level 15. The aquatic option is nice but probably alone is not worth a Level 15 Invocation.
Shroud of Shadow gives you invisibility on demand without the need of a spell slot. This is exceptional for countless reasons and is arguably the best option at Level 15.
The other great choice is Vision of Distant Realms. It allows you to cast Arcane Eye without using a spell slot. This spell gives you an invisible magic eye that floats up to 30 feet in any direction. In can see in the dark, fit through the smallest of cracks, and transmits what it seems to you.
Witch Sight takes the opposite approach to these invisibility-centric invocations. It allows you to see the true form of any shapeshifter or invisible creature within 30 feet in your line of sight.
Pact Boon (Level 3)
Your Warlock’s patron – which we will discuss in-depth below – largely determines the powers available to your character. However, at Level 3 you are able to select a Pact Boon which expands your options on how to apply them. These boons can improve your ability with a blade, grant you access to stronger familiars, or open up your spellcasting options.
Think of these boons as gifts. After all, each boon comes with an item of sorts.
Pact of the Blade
Pact of the Blade empowers you to create a “pact weapon” in an empty hand. It can take the shape of any melee weapon, and you can change its shape every time you make use of this boon. You are always proficient with a pact weapon, even if it take the shape of a weapon you cannot normally use. This is a magical weapon, but only for overcoming resistances and for its immunity to nonmagical damage.
Your pact weapon remains as long as it does not stray farther than 5 feet from you. It also disappears if you die, dismiss it, or create a different weapon.
You are also allowed to spend an hour-long ritual transforming a magical weapon into your pact weapon. You can send this weapon into extradimensional space and call it back when you need it.
While interesting, Pact of the Blade is arguably the weakest of the three Boons. While melee warlocks are not unheard of, your strengths lie in spellcasting. This is best when playing a Hexblade Warlock, as the proficiencies in medium armor make melee more realistic.
Another issue is that you are never going to put out the kind of damage available to a spellcaster. These weapons pale in comparison even to cantrip spells like Eldritch Blast, and it only gets worse at higher levels. Avoid Pact of the Blade unless you are working toward a very specific build.
Pact of the Chain
Pact of the Chain gives you access to a helpful friend to travel by your side. You obtain the spell Find Familiar when taking this boon, and you can cast it like a ritual. What’s more, it does not count against your total number of known spells. When you familiar is present, you can forgo an attack and allow them to make an attack with their reaction.
You have access to all of the traditional familiars when you cast this spell. On top of that you also get four special options: an imp, a pseudodragon, a quasit, or a sprite. These options are notably more powerful than standard familiars.
the imp is arguably the best of the four. These creatures can fly, turn invisible, have improved Darkvision, hold multiple resistances and immunities, and much more. They are a great option if your party lacks a dedicated scout. It deals a poison attack that is decent at low levels, but it doesn’t scale as you advance. It can also morph into a raven, allowing you to take it with you most places.
The pseudodragon is another favorite. It has the best flight speed of the four and benefits from keen senses, but the total package is not as strong as an imp.
A quasit isn’t necessarily a bad option. It has most of the advantages as an imp, but it can’t fly. In other words, there’s not a lot of reasons to choose one over an imp.
Sprites are also nice as they have invisibility and flight. There is also little reason to select one over an Imp, though.
Pact of the Tome
My favorite option, Pact of the Tome is ideal for spellcasters. Your boon comes in the form of a Book of Shadows, which is a grimoire that contains three additional cantrips. This is a powerful option as these spells can come from any class. As long as the book is with you, you are able to cast these cantrips at will and they do not count against the number of spells you know. You use your warlock spellcasting ability regardless of the class these spells are home to.
This is hard to pass up for a spellcaster. The standard warlock does not get as many cantrips as a wizard, but this option gives them more. The warlock spell list is heavy on attack spells and light on utility, so you could benefit from choosing helpful utility spells that could benefit your party.
Should you lose your book, you can spend an hour-long ritual to have your patron provide you with a new copy. The old copy is then destroyed.
Mystic Arcanum (Level 11)
The Mystic Arcanum is a feature for every warlock, but it is tied closely with the warlock spellcasting system. We will discuss Mystic Arcanum in detail in the spellcasting section, but note at levels 11, 13, 15, and 17 your warlock will gain access to a single sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth level warlock spell. This is the only mechanism for warlocks to gain spells above Level 5.
Patrons – Warlock Subclasses
See Our Warlock Patron Rankings!
At six official subclasses, the Warlock has an average number of options. More than the artificer, less than the cleric, and roughly the same as the druid, fighter, or barbarian among others.
Each of these Patrons offers their followers an expanded spell list and four or five exclusive, powerful features.
Each subclass breaks down by the type of patron a warlock serves. Our Warlock 5E Guide breaks down each of the six options individually below.
The Archfey Warlock is bound to a powerful entity from another plane, known as a fey. While these creatures are essentially faeries, the archfey are enormously powerful beings that have crossed from the Feywild. This is a subclass centered on illusion and deception, but not for anyone seeking an optimal build.
- Expanded Spell List. The first level spells are the highlight here, as Faerie Fire and Sleep are strong options given how Warlock spellcasting works. There are a lot of situatonal spells in the mid levels like Phantasmal Force of Plant Growth. At the high end, Dominate Person and Greater Invisibility are two of the best spells out there.
- Fey Presence (Level 1). Using this requires a wisdom saving throw against your spell save DC. All creatures that fail are charmed or frightened. While this is decent crowd control, most of the time things are not going well if there are lots of creatures within 10 feet of your spellcasting warlock.
- Misty Escape (Level 6). Any time you take damage you can turn invisible and teleport 60 feet away as your reaction. This is exceptional against big monsters with multiple attacks.
- Beguiling Defenses (Level 10). You are immune to Charm and turn the effect back on the caster if they fail a Wisdom saving throw. Very situational but potentially hilarious.
- Dark Delirium (Level 14). You plunge a hostile creature into an illusory realm. If they fail a Wisdom saving throw, they are charmed or frightened for one minute or until they take damage or your concentration is broken. Somewhat lackluster, but lots of fun flavor possible with putting someone into a dream world you control.
A powerful being from the Upper Planes, a Celestial is not a god – but it might as well be. These amazing creatures bask in the light that illuminates the multiverse, and they will let you bask in the glow a little if you are faithful.
The Celestial aims as a sort of cleric-lite version of the Warlock, but its weird mix of spells leaves many better options for both dealing damage or healing.
- Expanded Spell List. At Level 3, Revivify is the gold standard on this spell list. For almost everything else there is probably a better option or a character in your party that does it better already. Given your limited slots, ideally you have another healer so you can skip Cure Wounds or Greater Restoration.
- Bonus Cantrips. You get Light and Scared Flame. You cast them both as warlock cantrips but they do not count toward your limit, which is awesome.
- Healing Light (Level 1). Healing Light gives you a d6 of hit points to spread around for each level of warlock you have. You can apply them as a bonus action to any creature you can see within 60 feet. They regenerate after a long rest.
- Radiant Soul (Level 6). You gain resistance to radiant damage, and add your Charisma modifier when you deal radiant or fire damage. This is a nice boost for Sacred Flame.
- Celestial Resistance (Level 10). You get your warlock level plus charisma modifier’s worth of temporary HP after a short or long rest. Even better, 5 of your party gets half that value.
- Searing Vengeance (Level 14). Instead of making a death saving throw, regain half your max hitpoints, leap to your feet, blind any creature of your choice within 30 feet and deal 2d8 + Charisma modifier radiant damage. Awesome stuff.
Serving a Fiend from the Lower Planes has its advantages if you are a spellcaster. This is a straightforward offensive subclass that spits out a ton of fire damage. Easily the most optimized subclass unless you want to play with a Hexblade.
- Expanded Spell List. Warlocks all have good options for dealing damage to a single foe, but this list offers several good AOE ways to blast bad guys. Burnie Hands is nice early on and Fireball is also hard to beat. In addition to damage, Stinking Cloud offers nice crowd control while Wall of Fire does a little of both.
- Dark One’s Blessing (Level 1). Any time you reduce a hostile creature to 0 hit points you pick up temporary HP equal to your Charisma modifier plus warlock level. Ready to hunt for final hits like this was a MOBA?
- Dark One’s Own Luck (Level 6). Available every time you take a short or long rest, you can add d10 to an ability check or saving role. This can be used after the initial roll before the DM announces the outcome.
- Fiendish Resilience (Level 10). This feature lets you pick one type of damage to be resistant to. You can change it after a short or long rest, and it does not work against silver or magical weapons. It is a good way to obtain hard-to-find resistances to things like psychic damage.
- Hurl Through Hell (Level 14). Hurling an opponent through the lower planes when you hit them with an attack is brutal. They disappear until the end of your next turn. When they come back from the hell voyage they take 10d10 psychic damages unless they are a fiend. Super powerful, but only available again after a long rest.
The Great Old One
This patron is foreign and unknowable, likely coming from another reality or from before time began in your realm. This subclass focuses on harnessing the power of alien knowledge, but it is a bit of a hodge-podge mechanically.
- Expanded Spell List. By far the most utility options available for a warlock. Dissonant whispers is a nice control spell at level one, while higher level spells like Dominate Persona and Telekinesis are exceptional. There are also options that may not be worth a spell slot like Sending or Detect Thoughts.
- Awakened Mind (Level 1). You can communicate telepathically with any creature within 30 feet that understands at least one language.
- Entropic Ward (Level 6). As a reaction, you can impose disadvantage for an attack against you. If the attack fails, you get advantage should you attack that same creature by the end of your next turn. You cannot use this feature again without a short or long rest.
- Thought Shield (Level 10). A cool but situational feature. You are resistant to psychic damage, and the creature that deals that damage to you suffers the same in return. Also, another creature cannot read your thoughts.
- Create Thrall (Level 14). Touching an incapacitated humanoid allows you t fill their mind with the power of your patron. That creature remains charmed until Remove Curse is used against them. This a tweaked version of Dominate Person that is very powerful.
The Hexblade is by far the most unique type of Warlock subclass. While spellcasting plays a role, this subclass centers around melee combat using weapons that channel the power of your patron. These patrons – sentient weapons brought to life by unknown entities – offer features that go hand in hand with Pact of the Blade.
- Expanded Spell List. These spells adopt a number of paladin spells, but they are an awkward fit as they do not scale well. The early level spells like Wrathful Smite and Searing Smite are largely wasted. Things pick up at level three with Elemental Weapon. This turns a magical weapon – which includes a pact blade – into a magical weapon. Banishing Smite and Cone of Cold are also strong options.
- Hexblade’s Curse (Level 1). You curse an enemy for one minute. During that time you gain benefits including adding your proficiency bonus to damages rolls, critical hits when you roll 19, and regained HP worth your warlock level + charisma modifier if the target dies while cursed.
- Hex Warrior (Level 1). You are proficient with medium armor, shields, and martial weapons. Any weapon, including pact weapons, are rolled with your charisma modifier for attack and damage instead of strength or dexterity.
- Accursed Specter (Level 6). You can bind a person you slay as a specter. They rise from the dead with HP equal to half your warlock level. It will follow your command, can attack, and gets an attack roll bonus equal to your charisma modifier.
- Armor of Hexes (Level 10). When the target of a Hexblade curse hits you, roll d6. A four or higher means the attack missed.
- Master of Hexes (Level 14). When the target of Hexblade Curse dies you can transfer it to another target within 30 feet.
As the patron of a being that has achieved everlasting life, you can enjoy the knowledge of avoiding damage and dealing with the dead. While the notion of a tanky, survivable warlock sounds good, this misses the mark.
- Expanded Spell List. There are decent options here, but the list suffers from overlap with other warlock powers and situational spells that are not always helpful. Blindness and Silence are useful, and Contagion is cool for a Pact of the Blade build.
- Among the Dead (Level 1). You obtain Spare the Dying but can use it as a warlock cantrip. Also, undead that attack you must make a Wisdom saving through. If they fail, they must target their attack at someone else or forfeit their action. If they succeed they are immune to Among the Dead for 24 hours.
- Defy Death (Level 6). The most interesting aspect of an Undying Warlock is Defy Death, in my opinion. Unfortunately, it only works once per long rest. With it, you gain 1d8 + your constitution modifier in HP for a death saving throw or when you stabilize someone with spare the dying.
- Undying Nature (Level 10). You don’t need food, water, air, or sleep. You only age one year for every 10 that passes. Unfortunately, this is virtually useless in most campaigns.
- Indestructible Life (Level 14). You can reattach a severed body part once after a long or short rest. Additionally, you get a bonus action to regain 1d8 plus your warlock level in HP. While this is not a ton of healing, using it again after a short rest makes it valuable.
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See our Breakdown of the Best Warlock Spells in 5E!
When it comes to spellcasting, the system in 5E works differently compared to other classes. While Wizards have to worry about spell slots and preparing spells, warlocks do not. The ease with which warlocks use their Pact Magic at earlier levels gives way to the more limited and complex options at higher levels.
Each class has a spellcasting ability that they use in the spell-related rolls, and Warlock is no different. The warlock relies on Charisma as their spellcasting ability. When casting a spell you use your charisma modifier plus your proficiency bonus. Some spells also require you to set a Spell Save DC; you will add your proficiency bonus and your charisma modifier to the number 8 to set this save DC.
Warlock Spell Slots
Unlike wizards and most other spellcasting classes, warlocks do not have a set number of spell slots they can cast at each spell level. Instead, the spell level of each of their spells (other than cantrips) increases as they level up. For example, a level two warlock knows three spells and has two spell slots. Each of these spell slots are at level one. This means they must be level one spells. the Warlock can cast any combination of the three spells they know twice before a short or long rest. This is a powerful benefit, as many classes only regain spells after a long rest. It is a tradeoff however, as warlocks general have fewer slots or spells than other casters.
Continuing the example, consider a level 5 warlock. At this level, the warlock knows six spells but still only has two spell slots. However, these slots are now at level 3. This means the warlock can cast any combination of the six level-one, two, or three spells they know twice. When they do so, lower level spells like Charm Person are more powerful according to the language of the spell.
While recovering your spells on a short rest is awesome, only have two spell slots until you reach level 11 is pretty limiting. You will only get to cast two higher-level spells per fight typically. The good news is that Warlock cantrips are some of the best in the game, and you can build your entire offense around spamming Eldritch Blast.
Using Mystic Arcanum for High-Level Spells
Looking at the Warlock Table, you will notice that the warlock’s spell slot level tops out at 5. This is much lower than the 9 levels of spells other classes get! Fear not. While not ideal, warlocks do get access to higher-level spells thanks to the Mystic Arcanum feature discussed above.
With Mystic Arcanum, a warlock gets a level 6,7,8, and 9 spell. This occurs when a warlock reaches levels 11, 13, 15, and 17 respectively. The Arcanum is the only way for a warlock to get spells above level five. Choose wisely, as the Arcanum only allows you to take one from each of the six levels.
The rules for these spells are different, too. Unlike spells on level 1 through 5, the four spells you pick up with Mystic Arcanum may only be recovered after a long rest. On the positive side, they do not take up a spell slot. This means you can cast cantrips at will, as many level 1-5 spells as your slots allow, and each of the four higher-level spells once per day.
Warlock Spellcasting Focus
A Warlock may use an item as their spellcasting focus. By using this arcane focus, a warlock can cast spells without the need to possess minor necessary components. Functionally, this is the same as having a spellcasting focus as they both have the same effect. In fact, when you select your starting equipment you can choose from either option. For flavor purposes, you could use anything from a magic wand, an orb, or a staff as your focus. It cannot be a weapon, however.
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Fleshing Out Your Warlock
For me, the term warlock sounds something more akin to a low-level underlying in the service of a Big Bad Evil Guy at the end of a quest. Instead, they are a deep and interesting 5E class that I have come to really enjoy.
For many, building a warlock is about optimizing a character’s abilities and spells. If that applies to you, this section might be of limited interest. If you are interested in delving deeper into your character, we have a few tips to consider. Outside of general roleplaying tips for the warlock class, we also offer some suggestions for patrons.
Selecting Your Patron
You have a lot of leeway with selecting a patron. Moreso than the Cleric does when choosing a god. There are far more patrons than gods, and many of them are clouded in secrecy. In cases like with Hexblade Warlocks, you might not be entirely sure who your patron even is.
However, there are some well-known patrons highlighted in the Player’s Handbook. Below are some examples of patrons in the Forgotten Realms.
Forgotten Realms Patrons
- Queen Titania
- Queen of Air and Darkness
- Price of Fools
- Prince of Frost
- Lurue, the Unicorn Queen
- Relkath of the Infinite Branches
- Verenestra the Oak Princess
- Sarula Iliene the Nixie Queen
- Neifion, Lord of Bats
- Aurilandür the Frost Sprite Queen
The handbook does not list specific examples of celestial patrons, but they generally come from the following types of beings:
- Light Aasimon
Great Old One Patrons
- The Great Mother
Hexblade patrons are mysterious, and the language surrounding them is confusing. Technically, your patron is an unknown being from Shadowfell (Maybe the Raven Queen?) that has manifested itself in a sentient weapon. So while your patron may be unknown to you, the weapon isn’t. Below are a few potential patrons behind these weapons.
- The Raven Queen
- Drasek Riven
- The Ghost King
- Larloch the Shadow King
- Gilgeam, God-King of Unther
- Vol, the Githyanki Queen
Roleplaying a Warlock
The most important thing about playing a warlock is to avoid letting the backstory get in the way of a good time. Unless your DM is unreasonably strict, you should have plenty of leeway to explain how a character of your alignment has ended up in a pact with a demon or demigod.
One of the central parts of every warlock’s story is how they came to be bound to their patron. This can be sticky for some characters, given that a large number of patrons are chaotic evil demons or demi-gods.
Thankfully, there are countless ways to explain how your good or neutral character finds itself in the service of something evil. After all, not all pacts are made on purpose. Some circumstances where you could explain making a pact with an evil being include:
- Tricked into a pact
- Agreed to a pact as the only way of avoiding certain death
- Accidentally entering a pact by reading an ancient tome
- Forced into a pact against your will
- Tricked by an evil patron pretending to be good
Remember, you are possible one of hundreds of warlocks serving a patron. Humanoids are barely on the radar for these beings, which means they are hardly watching your every move. This means you should be free to live your life undisturbed – for the most part.
There are obvious potential for conflicts among your own party. If your warlock travels with certain types of paladins or clerics, having a pact with a demon could be a sticking point. There are a few things to consider in this situation.
First of all, you can always lie. Unlike with clerics who use the symbol of their god to focus divine power, you can mostly avoid sharing who your patron is.
In fact, there are many cases when you might not be sure. A Hexblade Warlock may only know of the sentient weapon that channels their patron, not the patron itself. The same is true for some Great Old Ones that remain shrouded in mystery.
Warlock 5E Optimization Tips
There are a lot of different ways to go with your warlock. Unfortunately, many of them can be less than optimal. Below, we discuss squeezing the most out of your character sheet.
There are two general paths most warlocks take: spellcasters and Pact of the Blade/Hexblade melee builds. Thankfully, both options center around the same ability: charisma. The only time this is not the case is if you select Pact of the Blade but do not opt for a Hexblade patron. Taking that path makes little sense from an optimization standpoint.
- Strength. Most of the time this is a dump stat. You may want to invest some points if you are a Hexblade Warlock, however, for situations where you are grappled in close-quarter combat.
- Dexterity. Dexterity is important for your armor class, given you are unlikely to be wearing armor outside of a Hexblade Warlock. Using standard array this should likely be your third-highest trait for the AC boost alone.
- Constitution. Constitution is always important. I generally recommend to rank this second in the standard array.
- Intelligence. You will generally only use this for intelligence skill checks. If you make use of those, it is recommended to rank this fourth in the standard array distribution. However, if you lack these skills or don’t care about them I would drop it below wisdom.
- Wisdom. You will generally only use this for saving throws. It ranks near the bottom of importance, just above strength.
- Charisma. Your top priority. Spellcasters rely on Charisma, and Hexblade Warlocks use it for both their attack and damage rolls. Max it out.
Best Races for Warlock in 5E
For many, a lot of weight goes into race selection when building a warlock. While the race is important, some guides go overboard in labeling races “bad” or “useless” as warlocks.
It is true some options are better than others, especially at lower levels. Given the importance of charisma, any race that provides a bonus to that attribute is a strong option. However, these +1 or +2 bonuses matter less at the higher levels. With that in mind, don’t avoid the race you really want to play just because it lacks a +2 charisma boost.
- Aasimar. Hard to beat an Aasimar from a stats perspective. You have to like the +2 to charisma and the resistance bonuses. Healing Hands is also helpful in a class that does not offer a lot of healing options.
- Half-Elf. The bonus to charisma is great, as is Darkvision. You can also get some useful additional spells as a Drow.
- Human. Humans are essentially good at anything. You can take a boost in charisma and still have room for a feat.
- Tiefling. Tiefling is an excellent fit both for the +2 in charisma as well as the bonus spells. By level 5 you have picked up a cantrip and two new spells that do not take up a spell slot. You even use charisma to cast them. Add in Darkvision and you have the makings of a strong warlock.
- Yuan-Ti Pureblood. These snake creatures get +2 to charisma, which is a good place to start. Immunity to poison and resistance to magic are also excellent. Given a warlock’s limited spell slots, the innate spellcasting is the highlight, though. You add poison spray, animal friendship, and suggestion as you level up, and you do not need spell slots to use them. Even better, you use charisma to cast them.
- Dragonborn. No matter the subrace, your Dragonborn gets a +1 to charisma. This is useful, as is the inclusion of a breath weapon in combination with a Pact of the Blade build.
- Elf. The dexterity bonuses are not ideal but still useful. That said, a Drow or Eladrin Elf gets a bonus to Charisma and offers some other benefits.
- Tabaxi. +1 to charisma and +2 to dexterity is one of the better attribute bonus spreads, all things considered. For spellcasters, Cat’s Claws and Feline Agility can help you avoid melee combat. Darkvision is always nice, too.
Best Available Backgrounds
While there are countless backgrounds for 5E, many of them do little for a warlock. There is little in the way of tools that will be of interest to most warlocks, which makes optimizing your character about adding languages and skills. Our suggested backgrounds center on charisma or commonly used intelligence skills, as well as the potential for adding a language or two.
- Cloistered Scholar. Two languages and two useful intelligence skills.
- Courtier. Two languages, a charisma skill, and insight. A very good option.
- Criminal. A charisma skill in Deception, plus always helpful stealth. Could provide a fun backstory involving stealing a sacred tome that bound you to your patron.
- Faction Agent. Two languages, insight, and your choice of a strong party face skill.
- Far Traveler. Add a language and get two useful skills in insight and perception.
- Urban Bounty Hunter. The only option to pick up two charisma skills, or you could take stealth or insight. There is a lot of good options in this single background.
There are many feats available, should you choose to pursue them. While many of them are good under any circumstance, it is questionable how many are more valuable than an additional level of charisma for your warlock.
- Alert. Alert is good for anyone, but especially a warlock. When you only have two or three high-level spells, you could benefit from getting them cast early. Plus, the earlier you go the more round of Eldritch Blast you can get off.
- Inspiring Leader. This is a strong option for a warlock given the focus on charisma. You can spend ten minutes following a short rest pumping up six party members, including yourself. At the end, they each get temporary HP in the amount of your level plus your charisma modifier. This can turn into a pretty nice HP boost.
- Spell Sniper. My personal favorite for a warlock. Your attack spell range doubles and you ignore half and three-quarters cover. This is amazing for Eldritch Blast. Even better, you pick up your choice of cantrip from any class. However, the attack roll use the spellcasting ability of the original class. With that in mind, you likely want to select a Charisma spelling from the sorcerer, bard, or warlock list. Fire Bolt from the sorcerer’s list is a nice option.
- War Caster. While not as imperative to use this compared to some cleric builds, War Caster is nevertheless valuable if you intend to use Hex a lot.
Warlock is a good candidate for multiclassing. I would generally avoid taking more than three levels in another class, however, as taking a 9th level spell at Level 17 is probably more valuable than a fourth level in anything else. Don’t forget to check out our comprehensive Multiclassing 5E Guide while you’re here!
Good Multiclassing Options for Warlock
There are some nice options for taking a dip into Bard. Their spell options are useful given that they require Charisma to cast, and you get a fair few of them with a single level of bard. You also pick up Bardic Inspiration.
At two levels of bard you get Jack of All Trades, which is a fantastic boost to all ability checks. That and learning an extra bard spell aren’t bad at all.
Three levels of bard is also nice option. You not only get access to second level bard spells, but you select a Bard Collega and the substantial benefits that come with it.
If you are playing a Hexblade Warlock, a fighter multiclass is not perfectly optimized since the proficiencies overlap. However, a fighting style could be useful and action surge is excellent for any warlock. A fighter isn’t a bad option for Pact of the Tome warlocks either, as it gives useful armor proficiencies to beef up your AC, and Action Surge could be used for your Eldritch Blast spam.
Paladin is one of the best multiclass options for both Hexblade and Pact of the Tome warlocks. You gain proficiency in heavy armor and shields, which can really boost your tank. Paladins also use charisma for casting, which makes their spells viable.
At level one, you are primarily gaining proficiencies and a few spells as Lay on Hands is limited by your low paladin level. However, at level 2 you get a Fighting Style which is great for Hexblade Warlocks. At Level three you get the substantial power that comes with a Paladin Oath.
Going all the way to Level 5 might not be worth it in many cases, but it will net you an additional attack each turn.
While a decent fit, sorcerers may not be as powerful of an option as they immediately seem. Their spells might use charisma, but you can only use them once per long rest outside of cantrips. While you can use sorcerer points to create new spell slots or twin your spells, your low sorcerer level limit what is available. For example, three levels in Sorcerer only gets you three sorcerer points and two Metamagic options in addition to a few spells. While nice, it is debatable if it is more valuable than stacking up levels of warlock. Sorcerer multiclassing also makes little sense if you take the Pact of the Blade / Hexblade route.
- Artificer. Not worth giving up higher-level warlock traits.
- Barbarian. The inability to cast during rage makes this a poor choice.
- Druid. Not worth giving up higher-level warlock traits.
- Monk. Not worth giving up higher-level warlock traits.
- Ranger. Not worth giving up higher-level warlock traits.
- Rogue. Not worth giving up higher-level warlock traits.
- Wizard. Requires high intelligence, which is unlikely with most warlock builds.
Concluding our Warlock 5E Guide
After all those words, I think the best way to wrap up our 5E Warlock Guide is to say your options generally boil down to a spellcasting warlock or Hexblade warlock. There are countless ways to flesh these characters out, but if you care about optimizing your character there are several patrons and boons worth skipping.
Did we answer all your questions? If not, hit us up in the comment section below and let us know!