2014-10-15, 06:07 PM (ISO 8601)
Halfling in the Playground
Re: Eldritch Might: A guide to the 5th edition Warlock
3. Warlock Chassis
Right, so let's look at the basics:
Hit Die: well, it's better than a wizard's, but it's no D12. That being said, warlocks have ways of making themselves much, much more survivable than their raw HP pool would suggest.
Armor Proficiency: Again, decent, but nothing to write home about. The average wizard will be able to manage a higher AC than you (mage armor) while a Dragon Sorceror can do it without the use of spell slots. Since you can't use shields, your AC is not going to be particularly good no matter what you do.
Weapon Proficiency: this one's a bit misleading, because by and large, you should not be using weapons unless you're a bladelock...in which case you've got an omni-weapon you're automatically proficient with. The only time this should matter is between levels 1 and 3 as a bladelock, and for the rare AOO attack you get to make.
Skills: 2 of Arcana, Deception, History, Intimidation, Investigation, Nature, and Religion. Deception is nice, but the lack of any of the more often-used skills (athletics, acrobatics, perception) kind of hurts here, as does not having persuasion. Guess that's what backgrounds and/or half-elves are for, though...
Saves: decidedly meh. The typical pattern of giving classes one common save and one rare save holds true here. the proficiency to wisdom saving throws is useful, but I've yet to see many monsters which actually attack charisma. Overall, neither good, nor bad. I'd have liked to see proficiency in Con saves, but that's honestly just a pipe dream.
Pact Magic: ahhhh, the meat of the class. Casting all of your spells at the highest level available is very nice, though it does limit the utility of some of the Warlock's spells-casting Hunger of Hadar is decidedly less impressive at level 9 than at level 5. The tiny amount of spells per short rest also means you'll need to conserve your spell slots, striking a delicate balance between blowing all your spells too early and having nothing in the tank for emergencies, and getting to a short rest with slots left over. How you choose to manage this will depend mostly on the DM and the campaign/group you're playing with. I find a short rest after every 2-3 encounters is generally how it shakes out, but YMMV. If your party is full of monks, fighters, and druids, they may be more inclined to short rest frequently than a party of wizards, clerics, and barbarians. Plan carefully.
Invocations: I'll go through these in detail a little later, but overall invocations fill a nice little gap in the Warlock's ability. Choose from at-will (but relatively low-level) abilities, passive buffs to your character or the Eldritch Blast cantrip, additional spells available 1/day, and enhancements to the Pact Boon you choose.
Mystic Arcanum: What the Warlock gets instead of higher level spell slots. you get ONE spell known from levels 6 to 9, which can be cast once per long rest. Make sure the spells you choose are widely applicable, because you'll only ever have one of each level.
Eldritch Mastery: Spend a minute meditating, recover all your pact magic slots without taking a short rest. Personally, I haven't seen too many times where the party had a minute where they didn't have time to short rest-Especially when the wizard can easily cast rope trick for a safe short rest. Still, it could conceivably happen, and turns the warlock into a walking engine of nova for an encounter or two. Pity it only recovers the low level slots, though.
Ah, the patron. At the moment, you have three choices-the Archfey, the Great Old One, and Fiend, roughly mapping on to good/neutral/evil. Each patron offers substantially different abilities and spell access, and certain patrons are better suited to certain pacts (fiend with bladelock, for instance.) Which pact bonus you want to choose should be carefully considered when picking your patron.
Spells: A decent list, but nothing special. Sleep is an encounter-ending spell (with not save) for quite a few levels, especially with the auto-scaling from pact magic. Faerie fire is quite a decent buff for your team, with corner-case utility against invisible creatures (though it does NOT scale.) Unfortunately, the mid level spells are underwhelming, with Calm Emotions, Blink, Phantasmal Force, Plant Growth, Dominate Beast and Seeming being situational at best (also non-scaling.) Dominate Person and Greater Invisibility are nice, but they don't really outweigh the rest of the spell list.
Fey Presence: Makes enchantment-susceptible creatures in a 10-foot cube frightened or charmed...for one turn. And you have to short rest before you can use it again. And they get a save to avoid it. It makes a decent panic button, but overall does not measure up to the other patron's first-level options.
Misty Escape: A decent get-out-of-painful-facebeatings card. Limited by the fact that it requires you to take damage but not be knocked unconscious (not a huge limitation, admittedly) and the recharge time. Still one of the stronger features of the Archfey patron.
Beguiling Defenses: Nifty little ability which renders you immune to charm and gives you the ability to turn charm attempts back on the caster. Unfortunately, there's not a ton of monsters with charm effects in the monster manual, and most of those have immunity to charm and/or high will saves. If this was longer duration, it would be an excellent choice for a political intrigue-style game, but the fact that it only lasts for one minute makes using it as an information-gathering tool kind of useless. Which is a pity, because it's a cool and flavorful ability.
Dark Delirium: Single-target save or suck ability. The caster gets to choose whether the creature is charmed or frightened for the duration, which I honestly don't see the point in, as the creature explicitly can no longer see or interact with you. Also, the effect is broken if your concentration fails or if the creature takes damage. Also, creatures immune to being charmed/frightened are immune. Kind of a situational ability, to be honest-If the party is facing a (non-legendary) BBEG with their minion, this could conceivably take them out of the fight long enough to mop up. That being said, the number of restrictions on it's use make this ability underwhelming compared to the other patron's 14th level abilities.
Great Old One:
Spells: A decent array of disabling and utility spells. Tasha's Hideous Laughter is always a good low-level disable, while clairvoyance increases a Warlock's divination abilities. Dominate Person, Evard's Black Tentacles, and Telekinesis round off the top end of the spell list. Detect thoughts, though situational, combines nicely with Awakened Mind's ability to project telepathically into someone's brain--use it to have a nice, silent conversation, or drive them insane with your apparent knowledge of their deepest secrets! Overall, the Great Old One's spell list packs less initial punch than the Archfey's, but ends up being a bit more well-rounded.
Awakened Mind: Lets you telepathically communicate with creatures within 30 feet of you. Usefulness is partially dependent on what the DM rules your mental 'voice' sounds like-if it just sounds like you speaking, you can't really use it to screw with people who you've already met, as they'll likely recognize your voice. If it sounds like a horrifying, alien consciousness touching their mind, the potential for driving people insane and/or manipulating them is somewhat greater. Either way, it makes a decent way of communicating plans with your allies without being noticed, and it minimizes the difficulty posed by any language barrier you encounter.
Entropic Ward: Give an attacker disadvantage, if they miss, you get advantage on your next attack. This would be a lot better if you could expect the Warlock to actually have a decent AC. However, unless you multiclass or take feats, your AC is likely not going to be higher than 16 or so at this point (mage armor+16 dex) and could easily be less. That being said, disadvantage to an enemy is never a bad thing, and could save your bacon. However, I'd say that it's probably the weakest of the level 6 patron features-the Archfey one can get you right out of danger, while the Fiend feature helps immensely against save or die/sucks abilities (which are pretty common in 5e.) This ability is probably best on a bladelock, as they don't necessarily WANT to flee combat when hit, and can make use of the advantage on attack rolls without cancelling it out by casting eldritch blast in melee. Of course, Great Old One isn't exactly the best patron for a bladelock.
Thought Shield: Your thoughts can't be read, and you gain resistance to psychic damage. Also, any creature dealing psychic damage to you takes the half you resisted. This doesn't prevent you from using Awakened Mind, (otherwise it would suck pretty hard.) Psychic damage is pretty rare, but the monsters that use it tend to be fairly terrifying (Illithids, Intellect Devourers, etc.) I'm tempted to rate this Blue purely because it renders you functionally immune to intellect devourers (no sight, hunt by reading thoughts, etc.)
Create Thrall: Touch an incapacitated creature, PERMANENTLY make it your willing lackey. NO SAVE. Of course, the charmed condition is a little less debilitating than in 3.5, but even so, this is good way to get a (potentially powerful) cohort. There is NO LIMIT on the number of times you can use it, either. I mean, sure, the previous casting expires when you use it again, but that doesn't mean you can't use it for an ever-renewing stream of disposable lackeys and/or meat shields. As added gravy, you can maintain a mental link with your servant as long as you are on the same plane, allowing you to direct them from afar and use them for information gathering or infiltration purposes. This ability is far and away the most versatile-if not the most overtly POWERFUL patron feature in the game, and to be perfectly honest, it outclasses a number of other classes' level 20 capstones.
Spells: Blasting, blasting, battlefield control, debuffs, and a nice buff by way of hallow. Most of the spells scale in some way, or at least remain useful over the adventuring career. Burning hands is decent at low levels, scorching ray is good on turns where you REALLY need the damage over your eldritch blast, and fireball is amazing as always. Wall of fire and stinking cloud give solid battlefield control options, and blindness/deafness is a very decent SOL spell, if those are your style. If this list has one major flaw, it's the over-reliance on fire damage, which is quite commonly resisted-of course, you always have eldritch blast to fall back on, so it's not as debilitating as it could be for a draconic sorceror.
Dark One's Blessing: Whenever you drop an enemy, gain temporary hit points. This is excellent at low levels, and while it does lose some of it's ooomph at higher levels, it's still a nice little HP buffer. Enter battle with Armor of Agathys up, then switch to dark one's blessing HP when it's used up. temporary HP do NOT expire until you take a long rest, so feel free to gain those pact magic slots back! Any warlock can benefit from this, but a bladelock is likely to need it the most, as a secondary frontliner. Note that you have to be the one getting the killing/disabling blow to gain the temporary HP, so you might find your fellow PCs get tired of your kill-stealing over time.
Dark One's Own Luck: Once per short rest, you can add a d10 to a saving throw or ability check AFTER seeing the roll (though before knowing if you passed/failed.) Given that save or lose abilities show up as early as CR 2 (Intellect Devourer) and continue to be fairly common throughout the adventuring career (Banshee at CR 4, etc.) this ability can be a godsend (well, a fiend-send, I guess.) I would say it's probably the best of the patron 6th level defensive abilities.
Fiendish Resilience: gain resistance to one damage type. You can change it every short rest, but magical and silvered weapons ignore it. By level 10, there are going to be quite a few things which ignore this resistance, so I would suggest sticking with the elemental resistances, by and large. If playing a dragonborn or a tiefling, you can get pretty decent elemental coverage between your racial resistance and this ability.
Hurl Through Hell: What an ability! When you hit an enemy with an attack, you can choose to (effectively) stun them for one round, dealing 10d10 psychic damage to most targets. The damage type is solid, and while (average 55) damage isn't really over the top at level 14, it can be tacked onto a full attack action (ranged or melee.) Also, no saving throw whatsoever for the enemy makes this an excellent combat ability. While it's not as good as create thrall, I think you'd be hard pressed to find an ability in ANY class which has that level of combined power and versatility. This is a very, very strong ability, limited only by the once/long rest requirement. It gets +10 points for flavor, too.
Picked up at 3rd level, the pact boons add another layer of customization to your character. None of them are strictly poor choices (which, IMO, is good design) but the decision you make should reflect the roles you your warlock to play. Also take note of the invocations associated with each pact.
Pact of the Chain: (rating depends on DM interpretation of Quasit/Imp's 'Magic Resistance' rule)
With this pact you gain access to a severely buffed version of the Wizard spell 'find familiar.' Instead of being limited to regular animal forms, you can have your familiar be an imp, a quasit, a pseudodragon or a sprite. Finally, you can forgo your own attack to make your familiar attack for you. In terms of utility, choosing this pact means that:
1) You familiar will have a flight speed, making it an even better scout
2) 3 of the 4 improved familiar forms have invisibility, making them nearly undetectable through conventional means
3) you gain a (highly situational) attack, which can either add poison damage (Imp, Quasit) or has a chance of disabling the opponent (Sprite, Pseudodragon.) Since the sprite's attack is ranged (and the sprite has an INSANE +8 stealth mod) the likelihood of being able to repeat this tactic is fairly high.
4) You can still cast touch spells through the familiar, and share senses with it within 100 ft. Doing so does NOT count as an attack action, so it shouldn't break invisibility. Of course, the warlock doesn't have many touch spells, but that can be worked around.
5) You can change your familiar's form every time you summon it (which can get a bit jarring, RP wise, if your fiend-gifted quasit is also a part-time sprite.) Still, this gives you a lot of flexibility in terms of your familiar-you can access the sprite's arrows, the imp's shapeshifting, the Quasit's scare ability, and the pseudodragon's...mild telepathy more or less whenever you want.
6) You can have your familiar perform other actions than 'attack' without issue-aid another, hinder, scatter caltrops, all that good stuff a normal familiar can do.
7) You MAY get a passive magic resistance ability (advantage on all saves vs. magic.) This feature is not in the PHB version of the Imp or Quasit, but it IS in the Monster Manual. The only issues I see with it are that it's an extremely powerful ability, and not really in line with the benefits given by the other pacts at all. Additionally, the way the ability is written, it's pretty clearly intended to give the familiar an opportunity to betray the master at an opportune time, making it a dubious protection at best-however, the wording of 'find familiar' states that the familiar always obeys your commands to the best of it's ability, so just ordering the familiar to never revoke the protection should prevent any betrayal. Check with your DM before trying to pull this on them.
-->Personally, I'd rule that the imp/quasit's ability to revoke protection vs. the 'always obeys your commands' portion of find familiar is a case of specific vs. general, and thus, the familiar retains the ability to betray the master.
8) You gain access to the Voice of the Chain Master and Chains of Carceri Invocations.
Overall, a great pact for scouting, intelligence gathering, and general out-of-combat utility, with a few passive/support applications for combat. I personally like the flavor of this pact, though I find the lack of a proper familiar for the Great Old One patron disappointing (damnit, I want a little non-Euclidean golem.)
Pact of the Tome:
You gain access to a 'book of shadows; holding 3 cantrips from any class's spell list. The wording is not 100% clear as to whether you have to choose one class, and take all your cantrips from their spell list (class's implies singular) or whether you can pick and choose from a number of different lists. I tend to think the latter is what was intended, but by a very strict reading of RAW, it's actually the first.
Choosing good cantrips: Warlocks already have what is arguably the best damaging cantrip in the game, so stay away from things like fire bolt - they don't really add much to your capabilities. If you want to take damaging cantrips, they should be ones with goods secondary effects - shocking grasp is a good choice, as it lets you get away from melee without AOOs, as is the bard's vicious mockery - though the damage on that one is fairly unimpressive. Shillelagh lets you mimic a bladelock, at least for a few levels, and gives you a decent weapon for AOOs, while Spare the Dying helps keep your party members alive, especially if you don't have a cleric. Guidance has some useful out of combat applications, but is not overall the best choice.
For a well-rounded warlock, my personal choices for Pact of the Tome would be Shillelagh, Shocking Grasp, and Spare the Dying.
Other things to consider with Pact of the Tome:
1)The book of shadows burns to ash when you die, even if you're revived a minute later. You can recreate it, of course, but what happens to any ritual spells you've inscribed in it (with the Book of Ancient Secrets invocation) is ambiguous. I'd imagine you'd keep the two you get from the invocation (if not, you could simply switch it out and take it again) but what happens to the others is unclear, and up to DM discretion. Also unclear is whether you get to choose new cantrips each time you replace the book-as a DM, I'd tend towards 'no,' but YMMV.
2)You gain access to the Book of Ancient Secrets invocation. If you have pact of the tome, you should definitely consider taking this, though the necessity decreases substantially if you have another ritual caster in your party.
Pact of the Blade:
Okay, I'm probably going to take some flack for this, but I personally do not like Pact of the Blade. Which is strange, because I've played a gish in virtually every Dungeons and Dragons game I've ever played. It's not a bad option, and there's definitely a thematic appeal to playing a bladelock, but I don't think it stacks up mechanically against the other two options.
Let's look at what you get:
1) a variable weapon which can take any form, summonable with an action. Decent for overcoming specific damage-type resistances. Currently there's a lot of discussion about using monster weapons with this feature (minotaur greataxe, dao maul, etc.) By RAW, this application is ambiguous, and the developers have stated that this was NOT RAI. Generally speaking, unless your DM is exceptionally liberal-minded, I'd consider the forms available to be restricted to size-appropriate versions of the weapons in chapter 5 of the PHB (and whatever PC weapons options are listed in former books.) I'll talk more about this later in the 'exploits' section, including my rationale on why it should not work.
2) you automatically have proficiency with the chosen weapon while wielding the pact blade
3) the weapon counts as magical for bypassing resistances and immunities
4) you can make any magical weapon your pact weapon with an hour-long ritual, automatically gaining proficiency with it
5) You gain access to the Thirsting Blade (extra attack) and Lifedrinker (+charisma modifier to damage) invocations.
Okay, so with all that, why am I not all over pact of the blade? There's a few reasons:
1) you don't get it until level 3. This is about the time when magic weapons start showing up (at least in the published adventures) which makes the value of the weapon being magical lower than if it was obtained at level one. Additionally, warlocks already have numerous ways of hurting magic immune or resistant creatures, with eldritch blast being the most obvious.
2) The damage doesn't appreciably exceed that dealt by an eldritch blast wielding warlock. At level 12, the height of a bladelock's DPR potential, they'll deal 2d6+9 damage (x2) assuming they put all their ability increases into strength and charisma, and are wielding a greatsword. average DPR is 32. In contrast, a warlock with Eldritch blast deals d10+5 (x3) at level 12, for an average DPR of 31.5. Magic weapons skew this total by a few points, but the damage is only nominally greater for a bladelock than a blastlock. In addition, the blastlock has an additional ability increase or feat to throw around, and doesn't have to stand right next to the enemy to deal damage. At level 17, a blastlock gets ANOTHER d10+5 damage, for an average of 44 DPR-even if the bladelock has 20 strength and charisma at that point, and a +3 weapon, they're still only dealing 40 DPR.
3) It makes you MAD. less so with the Dex-based bladelock (though the damage is a bit lower) you're going to need good strength, reasonable dex and con, and good charisma. Ideally, you want at least a 16 in strength and cha at level 1, with a 14 in dex and con. With a standard point buy or average rolls, this is difficult to manage. If you roll well, you may be able to pull it off, but it's not something to count on.
4) Opportunity cost. I already touched on this with the ability score increases and MADness, but something else to consider is the fact that a bladelock needs TWO invocations to perform one par with a bog-standard blastlock with ONE (not to mention that you'll probably STILL want agonizing blast for situations where you can't/don't want to get up close and personal with a monster.) It's a significant investment for what is overall not a particularly great improvement in combat efficacy.
5) The warlock chassis is not made for frontlining. You have a d8 hit die, only light armor proficiency, and no shield proficiency. your AC will not be especially high, not will your max HP. sure, you can buff it with armor of agathys and dark one's blessing for temporary HP, but it doesn't change the fact that you're going to be squishier than any other front-line character. There are ways around this (multiclassing, playing a mountain dwarf, variant human +medium armor proficiency feat) but they are all fundamentally ways of forcing the warlock to perform decently at a role it is not particularly well designed for, rather than making it excel at what it does best.
6) Summoning your blade requires an action, which could have been spent doing something useful (like casting Eldritch Blast!) This further reduces your average contribution in terms of damage over the course of a fight.
This is not to say that pact of the blade is bad-it's not, and it fully deserves the Blue rating. What it means is that building a decent bladelock requires significantly more planning and effort than the other pacts to make work, and the optimization ceiling is lower than you might assume at a glance.
Of course, please note that the needs of your actual party may make playing a bladelock more desirable-If you've got a wizard, a sorceror, and a rogue in your party, you'll probably need the extra staying power on the front lines, which makes a (well-built) bladelock a better choice than it is in a theoretical optimization-vacuum.
Last edited by Oncoming Storm; 2014-10-18 at 01:19 PM.