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Let’s Build a 5th Edition D&D Warlock

D&D 5th Ampersand TransparentAs I’ve said before, when I read a game, I often start mentally building a PC as it helps me get a handle on the game, and see if it hooks my imagination.  So let’s do that with the latest edition of D&D.

I’ve been a fan of the Warlock since it first appeared in the 3.5 Complete Arcane book, where it was one of the first times in D&D that a spellcasting character gained access to magic they could use at-will instead of a limited number of times a day.  Warlocks got an injection of style and options in 4th Edition with the addition of powers and features themed to the patron entity and the pact struck. Reading through 5th edition, I can see the class retains some of this enhanced style and patron themed class features, but also, interestingly enough, features a unique spellcasting setup.  Let’s build one!

I’m going to follow the character creation steps as outlined in the 5th Edition Player’s Handbook.

Step 1: Choose a Race

Human.  How I choose race, gender, and other factors of characters I make could be a post of it’s own, but in this particular case I’m mostly interested in Feat humans can optionally take at character creation.  This is of course optional to include feats in the game, and would need to be run past the DM, but this is a hypothetical build, so I’ll assume feats are allowed.

That means I get:

  • +1 to two attributes of my choice.
  • Proficiency with one skill of my choice (Deception)
  • One feat of my choice. (See bellow)
  • Size medium with a walking speed of 30′.
  • Speaker of Common and one extra language.

I’ll hold off on the particulars of those selections at this time.

Step 2: Choose a Class

Warlock. As I’ve said above, I’m intrigued by their variant spellcasting setup and pact options.

At first level my Warlocks get:

  • 1d8 Hit Dice
  • 8 +Con modified hitpoints
  • Proficiency with Light Armor and Simple weapons
  • Proficiency with Wisdom and Charisma saving throws
  • Proficiency with two skills from a short list (I’ll select Arcana and Intimidation)
  • +2 Proficiency Bonus
  • A simple weapon
  • An arcane focus
  • A Scholar’s Pack
  • Leather Armor, two daggers, and another simple weapon
  • 2 Cantrips Known (Eldritch Blast, True Strike)
  • 2 Spells Known (Charm Person, Witch Bolt)
  • 1 Spell Slot per Day (of first level)
  • An Otherworldly Patron

Selecting an Otherworldly Patron

At first level, warlocks get an “otherworldly patron” with options given for Archfey, Fiends, or a Great Old One.  Being a fan of Lovecraftian works, and liking the idea of playing a character that is going slightly mad from the touch of elder gods, I’ll choose Great Old One.  I’m not sure which Lovecraftian entity I’d use for my patron, but I lean towards some kind of dead but dreaming entity in the world or the void between stars instead of the Far Realm.

At first level my patron provides me:

  • An expanded spell selection with Dissonant whispers, Tasha’s hideous laughter being added to my first level spell options.
  • Telepathy with any creature with a spoken language within 30 feet.

Determine Ability Scores

The default method here involves rolling random ability scores using the best 3 of 4d6, six times, and arrange to ability scores as desired.  A standard array is also given as an option, although they don’t use the phrase “standard array.”  Point buy is also present, but is a variant rule instead of a standard option.

Let’s do some rolling!

I’ve thrown this fairly standard dice setup at an online dice roller, and got some rather good results: 17, 14, 15, 9, 12, and 16.  I’ve never rolled so well at character creation in my life, but considering this a hypothetical character that I will probably never run, that makes sense.

Assign Ability Scores

As a warlock, charisma will be the primary combat/casting ability for the character, so it needs the best score.  Constitution is listed as the secondary attribute for warlocks, although I don’t see a strong indication as to why beyond concentration checks, however having decent hit points is valuable to any character, so I’ll make that the second best score of 16.  Going for a combat build, Dexterity becomes the third most important ability, as it will provide a nice boost to armor class and help with one of the most common saving throws.  I’ll make that 16 too by putting my 15 there and adding one to it from being human, after all, a 15 provides little benefit over a 14 in Dexterity, but a 16 is useful.  As an expert in elder lore and magic I figure a good Intelligence is worth while, so that can have a 14, and a decent wisdom would be useful for saving throws and some skills, so that can have a 12.  Strength is not an especially important attribute for the character I envision, so it gets the 9.

  • Strength 9
  • Dexterity 16 (15 , +1 human)
  • Constitution 16
  • Intelligence 14
  • Wisdom 12
  • Charisma 18 (17, +1 human)

Step 4: Describe Your Character

The first detail is a name.  The default setting for 5th edition seems to be Forgotten Realms, and the Human racial section lists a number of common names by ethnic/regional groups from that setting… but doesn’t speak much about the cultures those groups are associated with, which makes it less useful to me as a non-forgotten realms expert.  Let’s say he’s from the famed city of Waterdeep, which the internet tells me is on the sword coast. The PHB  tells me that’s Tethyrian, but then tells me they tend to use Chondalhan names.  Let’s go with Morn Greycastle.

For easy of roleplaying, he’s a strait male of about my age.  I figure the part where he has gone somewhat mad will be the primary roleplaying hook.

The book offers a chart for rolling random height and weight, so let’s do that:

  • 5′ 11′ (4′ 8″ +15“)
  • 230 lbs ( 110 +15*8)

A bit heavier than I expected, but playable.  I guess that explains his high constitution: he’s got some bulk.

Alignment

As I intend Morn to be essentially a mad cultist of an eldergod, I figure he should be Chaotic in nature.  I don’t see him as being driven by a moral compass or blood lust, so Chaotic Neutral which the book describes as “creatures follow their whims,” seems about apt for a madman.

Language

As a human, Morn can already speak common, but he also gets a second language.  Historically, elves are a group most often associated with arcane learning, with a particular passion for the stars, and an at least one past group of elves that attempted to open a portal to the Far Realm, so I’m deciding Morn can read and speak Elvish as his second language.  Given his telepathic abilities, I suspect it will mostly be for reading purposes.

Background

I like the idea that Morn has been off literally stargazing and has found something in the void between the stars.  He had traveled away the city where his astrological studies first started, mostly in libraries, to a mountain top where he could better view the night sky and contemplate the abyss between stars that started to stare back into him.  That makes him Hermit.

  • He gains proficiency in Medicine and Religion, and the Herbalism Toolkit.
  • He gains a third language, which given his mountain top isolation, may be giant?
  • He gets a scroll case full of notes, a winter blanket, a set of common clothes, a herbalism kit, and 5 gp.

For his “Life of Seclusion” he was “searching for spiritual enlightenment” in the night sky.

His Discovery would be that the stars and voids are not static, but intelligent, if not truly alive.  Moreover, something is afoot amongst them, as the return of a nearly forgotten wandering star heralds the rebirth, or reawakening, of something older than the gods.

For a Personality Trait, Morn is lost in his own thoughts and contemplation, often oblivious to his surroundings.

For his Ideal, Morn sought isolation as an ends to knowledge.

For his Bond, Morn’s isolation and study of the sky have given him the insight and warning of a great threat that only he can fully comprehend and defeat, although that task will drive him from his research and seclusion.

Step 5: Choose Equipment

Morn starts with gear provided by his class and background, instead of buying it all from scratch.  His Eldritch Blast cantrip provides him with a potent ranged attack, so there is little value in selecting ranged weapons with his options.  However, his decent dexterity means he might gain value from some finesse melee weapons, such as the two daggers he already has.  That leaves two simple weapon options open, and sadly no other simple finesse weapons to select nor ranged weapons more useful than the Eldritch Blast. So let’s think story wise: what weapons would be most useful for hermit in the mountains that’s more likely to use magic to fight things?  How about tools like axes and hammers?

For an arcane focus, a staff is the most appropriate for a hermit living in the mountains, and has the added advantage of being useful as a weapon down the road (more on that later.)

  • A Handaxe (simple weapon)
  • A staff (arcane focus)
  • A Scholar’s Pack containing a backpack, a book of lore, a bottle of ink, an ink pen, 10 sheets of parchment, a littlee bag of sand, and a small knife.
  • Leather Armor
  • two daggers
  • A Light Hammer (simple weapon)
  • A scroll case full of notes
  • A winter blanket
  • A set of common clothes
  • A herbalism kit
  • 5 gp

Trinket

At character creation, players also get to roll on a trinket chart to get one mysterious object.  In this character case, that came up as 71: “A fragment of a beautiful song, written as musical notes on two pieces of parchment” which for this character is probably some combination of the music of the spheres and the the mad piping of Azathoth.

Step 6: Come Together

Well not much to do here for a single hypothetical character.

Bonus Step: Feat Selection

As I said in step 1, I’m assuming feats are in play here, so an extra step is needed to select a feat for this character.  There are three obvious options for this feat: Magic Initiate, Spell Sniper, and War Caster.  All enhance spellcasting to some degree, but Magic Initiate is perhaps the best for a first level character because it can expand the versatility of the usually limited Warlock. It provides 2 cantrips and a 1/day level 1 spell, which just about double the abilities of a first level warlock. Note that the bonus 1st level spell is not added to the Warlock list, but is instead always cast at it’s lowest possible level, meaning it’s not useful for combat magic, and should be devoted to a spell that will retain the most of it’s usefulness even when the character is higher level and still casting a level 1 spell.

So which class to borrow from?  It should be Bard or Sorcerer in order to keep Charisma as the primary casting attribute. Between the two, Bard has the better options in my book, at least in this case, because of the diversity of options it provides.

The Vicious Mockery cantrip is a good addition to this madman, especially if it’s reskinned to “pronounce terrible truth” or “whisper words of madness”.  Although far less damage than Eldritch Blast, it has the advantage of being a Wisdom saving throwing instead of an attack roll, inflicts psychic damage, and leave the target with disadvantage: all perfectly themed.

I’ll also choose the Prestidigitation cantrip for it’s general usefulness.

Lastly, for the once per day, always at the lowest possible level, level one spell… well heroism, feather fall, unseen servant, and silent image all look good. I considered but then decided against Healing Word because it wouldn’t scale in usefulness over the lifetime of the character. I decided against a few more spells, including identify and illusory script, because they are rituals and warlocks can get access to a wide range of rituals later.  I decided not to take the often useful Detect Magic because warlock can get that as an at-will at second level.  In the end Feather Fall is was my choice, as it fits the mountain hermit background for the character, while still being potentially useful even at 20th level.

Morn at First Level

Ability Score Modifier
Strength 9 (-1)
Dexterity 16 (+3)
Constitution 16 (+3)
Intelligence 14 (+2)
Wisdom 12 (+1)
Charisam 18 (+4)
Armor Class: 14
Initiative: +3
Proficiency Bonus: +2
Proficiencies

  • Charisma & Wisdom saving throws
  • Arcana, Deception, Intimidation, Medicine, and Religion skills
  • Herbalism Toolkits
  • Light Armor, Simple Weapons, and Arcane Foci
Cantrips

Eldritch Blast

+6 vs AC, 1d10 force

Vicious Mockery (AKA: Whisper of Madness)

DC 14, 1d4 Psychic & Disadvantage of next attack

True Strike,  Prestidigitation

Spell Slots: 1 first level spell slot

Spells Known:

Charm Person, Witch Bolt

Other Spells: Feather Fall 1/day

Equipment

  • A Handaxe (simple weapon)
  • A staff (arcane focus)
  • A Scholar’s Pack containing a backpack, a book of lore, a bottle of ink, an ink pen, 10 sheets of parchment, a littlee bag of sand, and a small knife.
  • Leather Armor
  • two daggers
  • A Light Hammer (simple weapon)
  • A scroll case full of notes
  • A winter blanket
  • A set of common clothes
  • A herbalism kit
  • 5 gp

Future Improvements

When building the character, particularly when selecting spells and gear, I noticed that there was a lot of forward planning needed to ensure early level selections weren’t rendered useless in later levels.  Here are some of the plans I’d have for Morn:

At level 2, he would gain Agonizing Blast and Eldritch Sight.  This dramatically improves his damage output with his at-will attack and provides at-will access to Detect Magic.  Both are incredibly useful for an adventurer.

At level 3 he takes the Pact of the Tome, allowing access to 3 cantrips from any class list as long as the tome is with Morn.  This is a very nice expansion of the class’s versatility, particularly because these cantrips are not only from any class, but are still treated as warlock powers using his existing casting stats and features.  First up would be the druid cantrip Shillelagh, which would allow Morn to use his staff arcane focus as a magic enhanced melee weapon wielded with charisma for attack and damage.  Second would be the Cleric cantrip Thaumaturgy, which provides a variety of impressive effects that could be activated in a variety of creative ways.  Lastly would be the always useful Mage Hand.  Other tempting options include Poison Spray, a constitution resisted high damage ranged attack, Chill Touch which prevents a struck target from healing, and Minor Illusion, which is exactly what it says on the tin.

At level 5 he gains the Book of Ancient Secrets invocation, which provides access to ritual casting for spells off any class list, as long as they have the ritual tag, and the book starts with 2 rituals.  I’d choose Identify and Find Familiar.  A Toad or Octopus familiar would be the most thematically appropriate familiar, but given the scouting enabling features of the familiar bond, there are more useful options.  A flying familiar with good vision features is the most useful, making Hawks, Owls, Bats, and Ravens the better choices for scouting and observation.  Owls are especially good because they have enhanced sight and hearing, darkvision, and a flyby feature that may improve their ability to deliver touch attack spells. Rats and spiders, being ubiquitous in cities and dungeons and having darkvision, also make good scouts, particularly in enclosed spaces where flying familiars may not be the best choices. The climbing features of the spider are particularly good for scouting in these places.  However, the octopus as listed in the Monstrous Manual, does at least have the ability to exist out of the water for up to 30 minutes at a time, and a (slow) land speed with darkvision. More interesting is it’s small (not tiny) size and grappling attacks.  I think I might take the octopus over the owl or spider… because octopus an familiar of a crazed elder-god cultist just works too well.

UPDATE: Building a Better Warlock

I’ve more recently (Oct 2016) taken a second stab at making a Warlock, this time building a character from level 1 through 20. Meet Darvin Rainwood, a Human Folk Hero Warlock I think would be a lot of fun to play.

 

 

 

14 thoughts on “Let’s Build a 5th Edition D&D Warlock

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  2. daniel butler

    I built a teifling warlock based on high cha and am running into a headache as far as what to do with it. This is my first time in the 5th edition realm but have passively played for some time now. The first time I’m playing as a teifling warlock which are both firsts so I’m a little sketchy on the particulars.

    1. Brian Post author

      Daniel: To be honest, I haven’t had a chance to play 5th edition yet myself, but reading through it, I don’t think it’s too far off some of my 3rd edition experience.

      What warlock build are you using? I mean which pact patron and features did you pick? Or are you saying you’re having a hard time making those choices?

  3. Telefonmann

    Hi,

    while reading I noticed some choices that don’t go along with the rules as I understand them.

    1) Pact of the Tome: You should only be allowed to choose the cantrips from a single class (“any class’s spell list” != “any classes’ spell lists” so it basically says “pick 3 from any one class”), e.g. 3 from druid, not 1 from druid, 1 from bard. The wording for that skill is terrible and everyone waits for an errta, but as it is now you shouldn’t be able to pick from different classes.

    2) You seem to think that your telepathy is working both ways, however Jeremy states on his twitter that it is supposed to be one way (https://twitter.com/jeremyecrawford/status/505105541136674817). You can send your thoughts to the creature, but not receive its thoughts.

    On the other hand, if your DM says you can use/pick the skills as you described, that overrules the PHB :)

    Suggestions:
    You could ask your DM if you can take an aberration familiar. For example take a Flumph or Spectator but with the stats of a real familiar like the owl. It fits the Great Old One theme well. It could have been given to you by your patron, or was willing on its own due to its weakness compared to its kin. Bear in mind that those familiars wouldn’t be as good at scouting as a spider or rat since they are so rare and unusual that they certainly will arouse attention.

    1. unwyrden

      One more thing that’s a little off… Familiars can’t attack so I think that negates grappling as well. Of course, having a spider crawl up the enemy’s back to make use of a touch spell is an interesting combat trick.

      1. Brian Post author

        As I understand it, the first published version of the Player’s Handbook was vague on this, but it was later clarified in Errata: indicating that the cantrips can indeed be from any class. That errata might be in the latest versions of the book to be printed.

  4. zorro

    Note that a familiar can also perform the Help action in combat (e.g. distracting an enemy by flying around their head screeching), giving you advantage on your first attack every round, making the owl an even better choice. Of course, going Pact of the Chain would give you a much better familiar, lets say Imp for example, which also has a fly speed, permanent invisibility (so it also doesn’t provoke opportunity attacks, and if it stays above the bad guy’s head, is less likely to get hit by AOE), is intelligent, and can shapechange. Then taking the Voice of the Chain Master invocation (instead of Devil’s Sight) gives you magical darkvision wherever your pet is (around corners, or inside a house with an open window on top of a mountain across an ocean in a different country), and you can see, hear and speak to anyone (in your voice) from your invisible pet (or talking raven/rat/spider) as long as they are on the same plane as you. It also makes it easier to see people in order to use the Great Old One’s Awakened Mind ability (now you just have to get within 30 feet, e.g. leaning against the wall outside the building). It’s the ultimate spy, has good combat utility, unlimited distance recon or communication with allies, the list goes on. Plus if you have magic initiate plus normal warlock cantrips, do you really need even more cantrips? And if the bad guy’s in melee range of your squishy dude, you’d probably be better off using Frostbite (*if Elemental Evil is allowed) instead of Shillelagh anyway, and you already have access to Mage Hand (or an invisible flying Imp that can carry up to 90lbs and make carried items invisible) and cantrips similar to Thaumaturgy (you already have Prestidigitation, and an invisible raven makes a really convincing “cry of a raven”). So really the only significant thing you sacrifice (in my opinion) is Identify.

    Also, I wouldn’t immediately decide against taking spells from a non-Charisma based class, because there are quite a few spells that are non attack/save spells where the casting stat doesn’t factor in at all, like Goodberry (the best level 1 healing spell outside of combat – guaranteed 10 hp divisible however you want and you can cast it before you rest and use the berries the following day), some area effects e.g. Fog Cloud, or a buff or something you cast on yourself/allies, e.g. Bless, Guidance, Resistance, Feather Fall, Jump, and Mage Armor that you can cast on a friend instead if you want. Also, they never miss!

  5. Casualty

    I’ve been having quite the lengthy argument with my DM. To keep this from getting out of control, what’s the earliest possible level a Warlock could POSSIBLY gain book of ancient secrets? IE At level 3 when they take pact of tome could they had repelling and agonizing as invocations could they switch one out for ancient secrets? Or would they have to wait until level 5 when they gain a new invocation slot?

    1. Brian Post author

      I’d say you can drop Repelling Blast for Book of Ancient Secrets at 3rd level:

      (Emphasis mine)
      “When you gain certain warlock levels, you gain additional invocations of your choice, as shown in the Invocations Known column o f the
      Warlock table. Additionally, when you gain a level in this class, you can choose one of the invocations you know and replace it with another invocation that you could learn at that level.”

      “If an eldritch invocation has prerequisites, you must meet them to learn it. You can learn the invocation at the same time that you meet its prerequisites.

      “Book of Ancient Secrets – Prerequisite: Pact of the Tome feature

      At third level you meet it’s requirements, and therefore could learn it by giving up one of the invocations you already have.

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