Legends & Lore: Warlock Design

Given that the warlock is one of my favorite classes in Dungeons & Dragons of all time, it is comforting that at least this time I only see potential issues in today's Legends & Lore.

I never played a warlock in 3rd Edition. It seemed like a two-trick pseudo-sorcerer that was created as a mechanical experiment to see if it would be possible to permit a character to cast a couple of spells whenever they wanted to. Of course given that magic does not have to let you circumvent the rules of the game the answer is yes, it was just a fairly lackluster execution.

4th Edition made them into a distinct, interesting concept: unlike wizards, who study magic, and sorcerers, who have magic in their blood, warlocks bargain for it. It also provided a variety of pacts to choose from; infernal, fey, star, and eventually vestige and gloom. Each pact had a separate benefit associated with it, and while you were not forced or limited to your spell selection, many received additional benefits if you had a specific pact. Plus there were also numerous feats and paragon paths to choose from, too.

For now Next's warlock will retain 4th Edition's flavor, in which you choose a patron that gives you access to power in exchange for something else or ongoing "employment". It would be nice to see the patron as a more involved force, but this will do for now. I am also liking the three types of suggested pacts: blade (4th Edition's hexblade subclass), book (more spells than the rest), and chain (summoning/binding planar critters). They sound pretty evocative and diverse, as do some of the other things mentioned (summoned minion serving as a magical conduit), so what could go wrong?

Well, at least four things.

The first is execution. Summoning a weapon and casting spells is the easy part, it is summoning monsters and bossing them around that might cause issues. In 3rd Edition you could summon an army of monsters and basically play your own party, while 4th Edition made it so that it either cost you actions to command your "pets", or gave them instinctive actions that they would do on their own if not told otherwise. While this might sound good in theory (hey, free action), this could include a giant spider munching down on whoever was unfortunate to be the closest at the time.

The second is patrons. The article only refers to the patron in regards to the book pact. The 4th Edition hexblade had access to a weapon thematic to your pact, and I think that summoning monsters could certainly benefit from a patron's type (devils for infernal, tentacled horrors for star, etc). I am hoping that these two pacts are not relegated to "vanilla" capabilities, especially since 4th Edition pretty much does the work for them.

Then we have the pacts themselves. I know I said that they sound neat and distinct, but I am guessing that this means WotC will lazily construct three subclass packages with a handful of needlessly divided features, forcing you to isolate yourself to one category early on in your career. It would be great to see a talent tree structure that lets you customize your character as you progress instead of locking you in, but given all the limitations we have seen so far I am not holding my breath.

Finally, magic. Warlocks started out with all at-will magic, then they followed 4th Edition's mostly unified power structure. I mostly-liked the warlock's mechanics in the previous packets, but would not be surprised if they just give them daily spells limited by your patron. What I would love to see is if they actually sit down, think about how warlock magic works, and create mechanics that support that explanation.

If I were in charge, here is how I would do it:

  • Your patron provides access to thematically appropriate spells and other features. It makes sense for a patron to only be able to dole out magic appropriate to its own capabilities.
  • Each warlock starts with eldritch blast, flavored as a burst of raw, magical energy. They might look different and have different effects based on pact (like fire for infernal). 
  • You would also start with access to a thematic spell or two, which would be usable at-will or burn some sort of point mechanic, flavored as the warlock's body "burning out". You could perform a ritual to get in touch with your patron to swap them.
  • You would get a choice as to how to specialize your character at the start: if you choose blade, you can summon a weapon, book gets you another spell, while chain lets you conjure things. Each time you level you get to purchase a new talent, upgrade an older one, etc.
  • You have a "sign" that starts small, but gets more obvious as you level up, potentially revealing your allegiance at a glance.
  • You can contact your patron to ask questions or for favors. You might have to exchange something or do something later on, but the character is an investment after all.
With this players get to choose how they progress, and can determine their complexity as they go. None of that "per-day" leveled magic, forcing you to stick with a subclass, or barring off other options for no good reason.


  1. I never considered them. They seem to overtly unchristian to to me, because of the difference between Incantational and Invocational magics. The other arcane classes can be easily re-fluffed, but the Warlock has the issues built into the mechanics (which isn't a bad thing design-wise, it evokes a concept and I don't want to discourage it). Pity. I like the prospects of an arcane striker that uses a 'hunter's quarry' type mechanic. Oh, well. I'll live. I could always invent the Arcane Archer or hybrid a Ranger or Wizard.

  2. Why not make a warlock pact based on gods or angels? There is nothing about the mechanics inherent to the class (ie pact boon and warlock's curse) that could not easily be renamed. I could easily see a god or angel working with a mortal to fight fire with fire, as it were.

    1. Maybe the invoker from 4e could be folded into the warlock.


Powered by Blogger.