Warlocks aren’t your average spellcasters. Dependent for their magical abilities on a pact formed with a supernatural being, they’re subservient to their patron’s will, and reliant upon their master’s bidding to satiate their lust for knowledge and power. Adept in combat, and glorious to roleplay, they shouldn’t be overlooked.
But they’re also one of the more complex classes to play. Boasting greater customisability and versatility than several of D&D’s more ‘standard’ options, things can quickly get messy. Choosing your patron, picking a pact boon, navigating the list of Eldritch Invocations – alongside compiling a spell list, and choosing ability scores – is a tricky balance.
We’ll walk you through the ins and outs of playing a Warlock, picking out their main points of interest, their unique attractions, and strengths. You’ll know how to create a competent Warlock, the best builds on offer, and how to progress as your adventuring takes off. If you’re a total newbie, check out our beginner D&D classes guide for a ‘bird’s eye view’ rundown of the Warlock, and all the other classes on offer.
But if you’re ready to sign on the dotted line, and embrace obedience to a deific being, then buckle up, and prepare yourself for infernal power.
Warlocks excel for their versatility. Few other classes can be played in such a variety of ways, and no other spellcasters have as unique an array of magical options as that which Warlocks possess through their Eldritch Invocations. While your ultimate playstyle will be largely determined by your chosen patron and pact, much is also decided by your stat and spell combinations.
SPELLSLINGER (RANGED DAMAGE)
If you’re keen to take a more magically offensive role in combat, lean into Warlocks’ aptitude for damage-dealing spellcasting. Although the number of spells at your disposal at any one time is limited (more on that later), your cantrips will be the envy of all other magic users at the table.
Your cantrips are the envy of magic users
First-level cantrip Eldritch Blast is a class staple, and spells at higher levels deal even stronger kinetic bursts of destructive energy, whether that’s handing out targeted attacks, or powerful area-of-effect abilities. Be sure to choose your spells wisely, looking to leverage condition effects in combination with weaker direct-damage abilities for maximum effect.
Several Warlock pacts (more on those later, too) cater to this playstyle, but the Fiend and Genie stand out for their orientation around offensive plays.
MARTIAL (MELEE DAMAGE)
Spellcasting need not be your only combat offering. Warlocks’ proficiency in simple weapons caters to martial builds, in which you channel the power of your Patron, while leaping into the fray with dagger drawn. Their D8 hit die makes them tougher than squishy sorcerers and wizards, and light armour will provide some essential protection. If you’re set on a mixed sword-and-spellcasting build, keep a weather eye on your dexterity. Not only will it allow you to better use ranged weapons, like your starting crossbow, but wield finesse weapons, too, including your optional starting dagger. Upping your AC is never a bad option, either.
Phandelver protocol: Our guide to the D&D starter set
The hexblade patron is the obvious choice for a martial build, granting various combat buffs that can transform your Warlock into an intimidating close-combat machine, quite comfortable on the frontlines of battle.
SUPPORT / HEALER
Warlocks can also splendidly fill the role of party support. If you form your pact with a Celestial entity, you’ll gain access to healing spells that replicate the powers of clerics. And, by taking the Pact of the Tome, you can nab three cantrips from the spell lists of other classes, stealing their defensive and restorative spells. You’re unlikely to ever fully match the healing abilities of your party’s cleric, but if there’s none around, or you’re facing a particularly difficult dungeon, you’ll be thankful for the spells you do have.
SUPPORT / PARTY LEADER
Elsewhere in the realms of adventure, Warlocks can make fantastic party leaders. Besides their clear-cut class origins, their spellcasting capabilities go hand-in-hand with a charismatic personality, perfect for rallying some NPCs to your cause, or intimidating others into submission. Take charge of your group, or sit back, and let your companions squabble while you bask in the benediction of your Patron.
In any case, choosing ability scores for a Warlock is straightforward. With Charisma being your spellcasting ability, pump it up above all else. Constitution is the next favourite, as you’ll need all the hit points you can get, given your armour restrictions. Dexterity should be given third preference, with Strength, Intelligence, and Wisdom falling by the wayside. Put consideration into these final three for their roleplaying implications, rather than their combat buffs.
Increase Charisma above all else
Although your character’s background won’t hugely influence their abilities, it provides a great opportunity to further flesh out your Warlock’s pact, and relationship with their patron. Maybe you were a Sage, whose lust for knowledge compelled you into a painful relationship with a demon lord. Or perhaps you started life as a petty criminal, striking a deal with your patron as a meal ticket. There’s a lot of scope.
Warlock spells 5e
While Wizards learn their magical abilities through spending untold hours studying ancient texts to unlock their arcane secrets, and sorcerers are naturally imbued with magical potential, Warlocks’ facilities with spells come solely through “pact magic” – the agreement reached with their Patron.
One-shot: Read our review of Candlekeep Mysteries
This makes for a few major differences from other spellcasters, the most noticeable being Warlocks’ limited spell slots. At level one, you’ll only have a single spell slot available, which is upped to a measly two until you pass level ten. However, unlike your more bookish compatriots, Warlocks regain their spell slots after only a short rest, letting you refresh yourself mid-adventure. The idea is, you’ll fall back on your (brilliant) cantrips.
You’ll still learn new spells with each level, and can even use these instances to replace a learned spell with another from the Warlock list – useful for testing out a variety before settling on a core list, or switching your spells to suit the next adventure.
Hex is the pre-eminent spell choice
And Warlocks get a vast panoply of spells to pick from. At first level, Hex is the pre-eminent choice. It adds an extra 1d6 necrotic damage to a target creature whenever it’s successfully attacked, as well as landing it with a disadvantage on ability checks made in a score of your choice. Hex neatlyl complements planned party assaults, as you line up a foe for a stronger player to knock down. Charm Person makes for some useful fighting tactics, as well as hilarious roleplaying antics, while Armour of Agathys is a fantastic defensive spell that protects you with five temporary hit points and damages the enemy when hit.
Later, you should be looking to combine your magical abilities to fully leverage their potential. Darkness can be cast to snuff out light, and grant yourself a tactical advantage if you’ve learned the Devil’s Sight invocation. Tongues, granting you the ability to understand any language, is useful for those Warlocks who have built a charismatic personality, while Mental Prison is a great charm spell, locking a creature out of the fight.
At higher levels, you’ll gain access to Area-of-effect attacks, like Maddening Darkness, as well as near game-breaking spells such as Foresight, which grants an advantage to every attack roll, ability check, and saving throw you perform over eight hours. Powerful stuff.
Miniature mayhem: These are the best D&D miniatures
But you’ll also be making persistent use of your cantrips, even at higher levels – and the star of the show is undoubtedly Eldritch Blast. The highest damage-dealing cantrip in the whole game – when combined with the Warlocks’ Agonizing Blast invocation, which lets you add your Charisma modifier to the damage dealt on every use – its 1d10 force damage can be easily combined with other invocations and spells, like Hex, to massively bolster its utility.
Besides that, you have some ‘back pocket’ options that are useful at times. Mage Hand, which allows you to manipulate objects from a distance, can be vital for steering your party through the traps and puzzles of a dungeon, and Prestidigitation can be shrewdly used to navigate entanglements of a more social variety. Or, consider Chill Touch and Blade Ward to help in the throes of a fight.
Warlocks’ spellcasting abilities don’t end there. Perhaps most important are their bespoke Eldritch Invocations – fragments of esoteric knowledge that enhance your magical prowess, passed to you by your patron. They’re an effective means of specialising your Warlock and patching up their weaknesses, through granting new spells, passive abilities, and cantrip buffs. Many don’t require the use of a spell slot, lending great liberties to your devious magic.
Agonizing Blast is a staple
You’ll gain two Eldritch Invocations upon reaching level two, and an additional one for every two levels you ascend from fifth onwards. Many require you to have formed a particular pact with your patron, or have reached a certain level, but some of the lower-level invocations are actually the most effective.
Agonizing Blast is a staple of nearly all Warlock repertoires, but there’re a few other standouts you should have your eye on. For those that require no prerequisites, Armour of Shadows lets you cast ‘Mage Armour’ on yourself without expending a spell slot (very useful if you’re taking a mixed sword and spellcasting route), and Eldritch Sight lets you cast ‘detect magic’ should your party’s wizard be lacking in the detection department.
Mask of Many Faces, which lets you disguise yourself at will, makes for some creative adventuring, while higher level invocations, such as Maddening Hex – which causes automatic psychic damage to a creature under your hex- can turn the tide of combat.
Nat 20: These are the best D&D dice sets
When choosing between them, consider the build of your Warlock and whether an invocation might complement your existing strengths. Also pay close attention to your party members: do you really need Speak with Dead if a trusty Necromancer is by your side?
Best race for warlock
Any race that grants a natural Charisma boost will be an excellent choice. The Tiefling is something of a go-to Warlock race for their +2 Charisma, as well as their access to a few racial Charisma-driven spells. Plus, their infernal heritage often closely aligns with the nefarious machinations of their patron, making for some accessible roleplay.
Tiefling is the go-to race
Aasimar also work wonderfully for their innate +2 Charisma, and bring a peculiar personality to a Warlock. Their divine heritage and inclinations for good is an interesting counterpoint to the maleficence of their patrons. Or match them with a Celestial patron, and fully embrace divination.
Half-elves and Yuan-ti also bring a natural +2 Charisma, but have less obvious roleplaying touchstones (although that, in itself, is no bad thing).
Warlock subclasses 5e
The defining element of all Warlocks is their Patrons. Chosen right at the beginning, at level one, they grant you magical powers, make unavoidable demands, and serve as a general base to your roleplaying. But your choice of Patron also acts as your choice of subclass, influencing your abilities, powers, and spell list. Give serious attention to the options, and think hard about which Patron best serves your desired build, or presents you with the most tantalising structure from which to develop your Warlock.
The Archfey – Whimsical, immortal, and god-like, Archfeys are in the business of charming deception. You’ll learn spells that contort reality, and disturb the minds of your enemies, opening them up for a punishing harry, or clearing the way for a quick escape. Not all archfeys are actually fairies, but include any creatures that have taken a piece of the feywild under their own control – including the infamous Queen of Witches, Baba Yaga, or the deity Oberon. Chaotic and self-serving, these patrons will ask a lot from their followers, and give back only as much as they see fit.
Theatre of the mind: Check out the best tabletop RPGs
The Fiend – Destruction and corruption being the primary concerns of these patrons, Fiends are plain evil. Typical examples include Demon Lords, Balors, Archdevils, and other infernal creatures. To match, the powers they grant involve fire-themed, high-damage spells, that are best used to burn a whole through your enemy’s chest as quickly as possible.
The Great Old One – Ancient beings that deal with powers too illogical and elusive for mortal minds to comprehend, their knowledge is immeasurable, and the scope of their power untold. Most have been worshipped as deities at some point, including the Chained God Tharizdun or the (absolute classic) Great Cthulhu. You’ll gain spells that cater to festering psychological terror in your enemies, as well as mind-altering enhancements that protect you from the alterations of others.
The Celestial – Celestial patrons are the goody-two-shoes of Warlock sponsors. Angels, unicorns, and empyrean, they belong to the Upper Planes, and will share with you a scintilla of the holy light they cast across the universe. Celestials offer spells focused on healing and restoration, and abilities that will bolster your physical constitution. But there are also options for offensive spells, including Wall of Fire and Guiding bolt.
The Hexblade – The perfect pick if you’re looking to play a melee-heavy Warlock, you’ll tie yourself to a cursed weapon, imbued with a shadowy power. As well as gaining numerous attack, armour, and hit buffs, you’ll be able to use your Charisma modifier when calculating attacks, rather than strength. Wail on enemies up close, before using bursts of spells for the biggest foes.
Remote roleplaying: How to play Roll20 and RPG games online
The Undying – Offering yourself to an immortal being who’s cheated death, you’ll learn various necromancy spells and passive buffs to avoid pernicious conditions. Forging a pact with an undying patron is all about survivability, as you fraternise with liches and illithiliches. It’s worth noting that the Undying is generally considered to be the weakest patron in the game, offering a solid thematic choice, but few abilities that can’t be replicated, or surpassed, by the spell lists of other patrons.
The Fathomless – The aquatic one. Form a pact with a deep-sea monster, whether the ghost of a pirate captain feeding upon the lost souls of sailors, or a water elemental stalking the ocean floor. You’ll get a bunch of situational combat spells, that work best when surrounded by water. Pick the Fathomless if you know your adventure will frequently take you to sea, swamps, or other watery terrain.
The Genie – Strike an agreement with a Noble Genie to unlock a truly astonishing array of offensive and defensive spells. The four selectable genie types differ significantly, and, aside from their thematic delineations, have no obvious specialisation. Whichever you pick, you’ll be handed a strong mix of damage-dealing and protection spells, as well as the much-coveted Wish. A great option for those looking to play creatively, and take a more versatile role in their party.
Since Warlocks choose their patron at level one, there’s no room for subclass experimentation before committing. But a pact with a supernatural being does provide a fantastic base on which to carve out a thematic foundation for your Warlock. Are they obsequious to their Patron, or do they follow their bidding begrudgingly? Are you friendly with one another, or antagonistic, or is your master prone to forget your very existence? What compelled you to enter a pact: a thirst for power and knowledge, or dire circumstances that left you no choice?
Battlemaster: Read our D&D Fighter 5E class guide
Choosing your Patron, and formulating your relationship, can influence not only how you interact with them, but your approach to the world around you. Don’t skimp on this step.
Upon reaching third level, you’ll choose one of three ‘pact boons’, granted by your Patron. They provide powerful abilities, and are a prerequisite for some invocations, but none is particularly better than the rest, so pick whichever appeals, or whichever you think you could make the most use of.
Pact of Chain – Summon a familiar to your side, which may take any usual form, or a special embodiment, including an imp, pseudodragon, quasit, or sprite. Abilities differ between each, and higher-level invocations allow you to utilise your familiar in novel ways, like communicating telepathically with them, or perceiving the world through their senses. Good fun.
Pact of the Blade – combat-focused, this pact lets you create a magical ‘pact weapon’ instantaneously in your hand. You can choose any weapon in which you’re proficient, but will have to perform an hour-long ritual to prepare it for such magical creation.
Holy warrior: Check out our D&D Paladin 5E class guide
Pact of the Tome – opening up your spellcasting variety, you’ll gain a Book of Shadows, letting you pick three cantrips from any class’s spell list. You can cast them whenever the book is on your person, and can even replace it if an unfortunate accident should take it from you.
Warlock in a sentence
Upstart spellcasters, whose power is matched only by their versatility.