The 5e warlock is so weird. It’s a class with a ton of built in lore that carries an incredible amount of theme, and the design is unlike any of the other classes that exist within the book. We aren’t talking about a few features here and there to separate it, but rather a complete retooling of what is contained within a class. Unlike other classes, you don’t make a single specialization choice, but two specializations choices. You first pick a patron, and then pick a physical item to be the focal object of devotion to this patron. These objects of devotion sometimes, but not always, play into the invocations you select, which are basically boons from your patron. These invocations change the way certain spells or abilities act, grant you new spells or abilities, or allow you to exchange one spell or ability for another. Additionally, warlocks have a much smaller spell base, in exchange for having an ability that acts as a spell slot for high level spells that are otherwise unobtainable, and is usable once per short rest.
This is a bold design choice, and one I commend, but unfortunately it ends up being cool in theory, and bad in practice. There are too many moving parts that don’t quite seem to line up, and what should be a series of gears in a well-oiled machine ends up being a mess of gears grinding against each other and popping out a sharp spring through your sternum. Let’s start with some of the problematic areas that I will attempt to fix:
- Archfey warlocks and their issues with creature immunity
- Individual patron differentiation
- Pact Boons and Invocation Taxation
- Eldritch Blast as the one, true cantrip
- Spell Slot limitations
- Eldritch Invocation options
Warlocks and Creature Immunities
I have never been a huge design fan of immunities, especially as you see them implemented in so many table top settings. A Fire Elemental is immune to fire! Sure, but how do those guys duke it out on their home plane? I guess they just drag race for pink slips or something. Anyway, that’s not the thrust of this, or at least not entirely. The Archfey Warlock has a Bad Problem, akin to attempting to pizza when she should have tried to french fry. In order their Otherworldly Patron powers grant them the following.
- Charm or Frighten as an Area of Effect, once per short or long rest
- 60-foot teleport and invis
- Immunity to all mind-affecting magic (pretty broad category), and you can attempt to reflect charms back on the caster
- Mind-altered Maze that is Charm or Frighten based
This is seriously problematic. There are so many things immune to charm or frighten, and even another Archfey warlock would be immune to your Patron benefits. This is pretty thematically off, as the Archfey conspire and scheme against each other, often using their innate gifts to gain the upper hand. While I like the beguiling and terrifying themes, this puts the Archfey warlock at a stark disadvantage, as their powers just don’t work against so many things. This also extends in a larger sense to several Warlock spells, as the Poison damage type is pretty wretched. Acid and Poison both exist, for some reason, but so many creatures are immune to Poison. This continues to narrow the non-trap options for Warlock, which is unfortunate, as the Warlock is ostensibly all about choice.
With all that in mind, I wanted to correct this problem while simultaneously providing some customization based on what Otherworldly Patron you are bound to serve. As an example, following the Prince of Frost should manifest differently than following Oberon, consort of Titania of the Summer Court. This is now conveyed through description and roleplay, as it should be, but it should also have some mechanical flavor to support the theme and choice. As such, I came up with Patron’s Wrath.
When an Otherworldly Patron is selected, select a damage type that is supported by the theme of the Patron. For example, fire or radiant damage might be appropriate for Oberon of the Summer Court, while cold or necrotic might be appropriate for the Prince of Frost. Acid, cold, psychic, or necrotic might be appropriate depending on the fiend selected, as well as for many of the Great Old Ones.
Whenever a creature would otherwise be immune to an Otherworldly Patron ability or warlock spell, Patron’s Wrath deals damage equal to the damage specified in the spell or ability or 1d8 per two warlock level for spells and abilities that otherwise cause no damage. This damage is of the type selected when this feature is gained. This damage is subject to immunity and resistance, and this damage may be halved with a successful Will save equal to the warlock spell DC.
Pact Boons and Eldritch Invocation Taxation
Each warlock gets to pick a pact boon at third level. This is Pact of the Chain, Pact of the Tome, and Pact of the Blade in the core rule book. Each one gives a benefit to the caster, Pact of the Chain grants you find familiar as a ritual and lets you have a strange familiar that can act if you forego your action, Pact of the Blade lets you create an Otherworldly Patron appropriate weapon that acts as magic in terms of overcoming resistances and immunities (if you have a better magic weapon, you can perform a ritual to let that be your pact weapon for Invocation purposes), and Pact of the Tome allows you to learn three cantrips from any class and those don’t count against your known cantrips.
That’s all you get from these abilities, other than the fact that you now meet the requirements for many eldritch invocations. At any given time, you know between two and eight invocations. These eldritch invocations are abilities gifted to you by your Otherworldly Patron, and you can swap them out as you level and so on. Eldritch Invocations tend to fall into a few categories: new spell or ability without cost, new spell or ability in exchange for a spell slot, enhancing an existing spell or ability, and enhancing a pact boon.
For the purposes of this section, I want to focus solely on the final segment, enhancing a pact boon. For Pact of the Tome, the big invocation that most characters desire to pick up is Book of Ancient Secrets. This allows you to inscribe magical rituals, you gain two first-level spells from any class with the ritual tag, and these spells do not count against your known spell total. This is the only Pact of the Tome required eldritch invocation. Pact of the Blade is very similar, in that Lifedrinker allows you to add your Charisma bonus in damage with attacks made with this pact weapon, and Thirsting Blade allows you to make an additional attack with your pact weapon. If you are playing Pact of the Blade, you are absolutely going to pick up these eldritch invocations, without question. Pact of the Chain fairs a little better, in that Chains of Carceri lets you get a free hold monster against celestials, fiends, or elementals once per long rest, which is cool and you probably would take it, but it doesn’t quite reach the level of thematically required. However, Voice of the Chain Master gives you all of that wizard familiar stuff, and also lets you speak through your familiar. You will probably end up taking this one if you want to have your familiar factor into your play at all.
The argument for not changing this is that a warlock does get eight eldritch invocation slots, so what is one to two eldritch invocation tax in order to play up your pact boon? My counter argument is that the warlock doesn’t really get eight choices, and thus that number presented in the class table is a false number, and not truly representative of class choice. It’s all well and good to come up with builds that don’t require these eldritch invocations, but a warlock who goes Pact of the Tome and wants to be scholarly is going to take Book of Ancient Secrets every time, the martial warlock will always take the two Pact of the Blade invocations, and the warlock that wants familiar play will always take Voice of the Chain Master.
These abilities should really be rolled into the Pact Boon feature. Thus, Book of Ancient Secrets would be core for Pact of the Book at 3rd level, Pact of the Blade would gain Thirsty Blade for free at 5th, and Lifedrinker for free at 13th, and Pact of the Chain would get Voice of the Chain Master at 3rd, and Chains of Carceri for free at 15th. This leads to at least five new eldritch invocations to be created to fill this gap, which will be covered later.
This next issue is probably the most polarizing of any of the listed issues. So many people feel strongly about eldritch blast and the retention of the cantrip being the main thing a warlock wants to do every round. The reason behind this is the design of the spell itself, and the accompanying eldritch invocations that make it just crazy good. In fact, there are three invocations that deal solely with making eldritch blast more awesome. This is more than is set aside for the pact boons, and two out of the three of them are basically mandatory if you are going to have eldritch blast as a cantrip (pro-tip: the design space here says if you aren’t, you are doing it wrong).
Unlike most other cantrips, which gain scaling damage as your level increases, eldritch blast gains additional rays that can target individual targets. This sounds fine, but when coupled with the Agonizing Blast eldritch invocation, which grants charisma bonus to damage, and Repelling Blast, which pushes any target hit with an eldritch blast up to ten feet away from you in a straight line, with no saving throw, things start to get problematic. The third eldritch invocation dealing with eldritch blast is Eldritch Spear, which gives the eldritch blast a range of three hundred feet, which is more practically line-of-sight. Now, the most common reading of Agonizing Blast means that you apply your charisma bonus in damage to each ray. This means a level 17 warlock can reasonably expect to do an average of 46 damage per casting of eldritch blast, knock four foes back 10 feet, and do so within sight range.The fact that the damage type is force doesn’t help matters, as force is rarely resisted and almost nothing is outright immune to it. Pretty crazy stuff when you compare it to any other cantrip, and really the rest of the warlocks cantrips or even slotted spells.
It’s the multiple applications of the damage bonus that give it the win here, damage wise, but coupled with passive, unstoppable crowd control, albeit minor crowd control, it starts to really pull away. Finger of Death, a seventh-level spell is averaging 61.5 damage, with the subsequent zombie kicker on death, but it is necrotic damage, and a save halves the damage. Eldritch Blast gets no save to mitigate the damage, but it is four separate attacks at top end. It can critically hit, it is not really significant enough to alter the average damage over one hundred uses. Now, it’s not incredibly fair for me to compare damage to damage, since a warlock mostly gets utility spells. That’s part of the problem. The warlock is expected to use eldritch blast and make it as awesome as possible if they want to do damage at all. That is really the only option that is presented. That’s three eldritch invocations dedicated to this cantrip, and then another one or two eldritch invocations dedicated to your pact boon. This leaves half or less than half of the eldritch invocation slots available for true customization.
The fix I am offering is three fold, it reinforces the pact boons being meaningful, and the choice of patron again comes to the forefront.
Pact of the Blade: You may expend a spell slot as a bonus action when you hit, excluding your mystic arcanum, to deal additional damage of the type granted by your Otherworldly Patron. This deals 2d4 damage for a first level spell, and an additional 1d4 damage for each subsequent level, to a maximum of 5d4.
Pact of the Chain: Whenever you cast a cantrip or spell, you may have your familiar cast an identical copy of the spell as your bonus action. This echoed spell deals half damage and all targets have advantage on any saving throws the spell may possess, including subsequent saving throws. Spells that have a hitpoint threshold may not be echoed. If the spell requires concentration, your familiar may concentrate on the spell as its bonus action, but may perform no other action besides movement. Spells cast by familiars do not expend the warlock’s spell slots.
Pact of the Tome: You may apply your charisma bonus to the damage of any cantrip that you cast. You gain a spell slot when you select your pact boon, and gain additional spell slots at fifth, eleventh, and seventeenth level.
Eldritch Blast now has a ten-foot knockback attached to one ray, any charisma bonus may only be applied to a single ray, and the range is now three hundred feet.
Patron’s Fury is a class feature gained when the warlock selects an Otherworldly Patron. Once per long rest, the warlock may expend a spell slot or mystic arcanum to deal 2d6 per level of the expended spell slot or mystic arcanum to a chosen target within 120 feet, and creatures within a ten foot radius of their target. The damage deals the damage type as selected in Patron’s Wrath. A successful Constitution save against the warlock’s warlock spell DC causes this ability to deal half damage. Creatures that are immune to this damage are instead restrained and blinded until the end of the warlock’s next turn. A successful save for the immune creature causes no additional effect.
For those keeping track, this is now eight eldritch invocations that need to be created to fill the gap.
Spell Slot limitations
The warlock doesn’t actually get a ton of options when it comes to spell casting. They are a weird hybrid thing, and the idea is that the spell slots will make up for lack of top end in a day because they are replenished by a short rest. This is still pretty interesting design space, and not a whole lot needs to be done here when you take the rest of the changes made above into account. The main area for change is the extension of mystic arcanum downwards, and increasing the spell slots very slightly overall.
Having mystic arcanum apply at every odd level down to one, first level granting mystic arcanum (first level), third level granting mystic arcanum (second level), and so on, goes a really long way to fleshing out the spellcasting warlock. The only other change I would consider is slightly adjusting the number of spell slots to increase from two to three at fifth level, three to four at eleventh level, and four to five at seventeenth level.
With the rest of the changes, this should put the warlock into some pretty good space.
Eldritch Invocation options
With the above changes, there are now eight eldritch invocations that need to be created at a bare minimum. However, let’s first look at the different types of eldritch invocations. There are passive eldritch invocations, spell slot consuming invocations, and spell or ability granting invocations. One thing to keep in mind is that at this point the warlock is either choosing between three or four invocations to cycle in, as it is likely that three would be consumed by the ones dedicated to eldritch blast and one to two others dedicated to the pact boon. Passive eldritch invocations and the spell or ability granting invocations will certainly round out your other options. There are too many ridiculously good options here that require no sacrifice to use. Hell, you might go solely with passives. Devil’s Sight allows you to see normally in darkness, both magical and non-magical. Eyes of the Rune Keeper allows you to read all languages. Witch Sight allows you to pierce illusions, transmutations, and shape-shifting on a creature. These are up all the times, without even the barest of inconveniences that the at-will eldritch invocations provide.
Speaking of the at-will eldritch invocations, I don’t really understand the design behind them, other than the fact they are all non-offensive in nature. Offensive eldritch invocations are all cast from spell slots, which is a fine in theory, but it doesn’t really hold up because the applications of the utility and quality of life eldritch invocations are just so good. They are just flat out better than the eldritch invocations that require a spell slot trade. It’s not even as if the at-will eldritch invocations all have level requirements and thus gated so that you pick up some of the ones that require a spell slot trade, and then trade them out as you level. Worse, the eldritch invocations that require a spell slot trade are also only available once per long rest. The kind of choice you are looking at here is something along the lines of Minions of Chaos, which allows you to use a spell slot to cast conjure elemental once per long rest, against Ascendant Step, cast levitate at-will without components, and Otherworldly Leap, cast jump at-will without components. The elemental is cool, but if you lose concentration, and the spell is, of course, concentration in duration up to one hour, the elemental becomes hostile and attempts to kill you. So not only does it need a resource from you, with a per long rest limitation, it also can turn into a straight up detriment.
As you continue to advance, other at-will options open up, like disguise self, alter self, detect magic, silent image, false life, invisibility, and so on. Even though things like bestow curse, bane, slow, and polymorph are all great, the limitations behind them make them fairly unattractive, especially with good at-wills and passives on the table. This is problematic, to say the least. This is all a long winded way of saying that offensive eldritch invocations need a redesign, and eight additional options need to be created in order to fill the gap left by other design changes.
Offensive Eldritch Invocations
The options for combat that the current eldritch invocations provide aren’t bad in and of themselves, except for conjure elemental. Sorry, I just dislike the idea of “fail a concentration save right away, waste the spell, screw your party” as a mechanic. Once again, double punishment isn’t really ideal. You’ve already lost the spell, but now you’re actively hindering your group. It’s just not great design space, and the tension added isn’t positive tension. Anyway, let’s set that aside and forge ahead. The offensive eldritch invocations both consume a spell slot for that short rest, and are only usable once per long rest. I understand that this is to limit combat options, but a warlock already has precious few spell slots at all levels, and it’s hardly a situation where the warlock has an arsenal of spells at her disposal. Even with the additional spell slots I propose above, the warlock isn’t exactly swimming in spells.
The options here as I see them are either remove the per long rest requirement, or remove the spell slot cost requirement. I’d probably just opt for the first requirement, and let the warlock just use the spells out of a slot once per short rest. What this becomes is essentially the warlock being granted these spells as known spells, and it not counting against the maximum. It can still only ever be used once in a combat. For the cost of an eldritch invocation, this is hardly overpowered and it is a good narrative about the patron providing the warlock with mystical secrets that shape the warlock’s power.
New Eldritch Invocations
The final bit here is to include at least eight new eldritch invocations to fill the design space that I moved around. Once again I want to look at carrying through on the theme of pact boons and choice of patron, but I also want to play in the reaction design space. Warlocks are always presented as quick, flexible thinkers, and I think that a choice of reaction-centric eldritch invocations would be cool. My hope here is the new pact boon-centric eldritch invocations will not come across as mandatory.
When using an Otherworldly Patron feature, the lingering presence of the Otherworldly Patron clings to the warlock. Until the end of her next turn, all attacks that target the warlock, and only the warlock, suffer Disadvantage.
When afflicted with a condition, the warlock may use a reaction to attempt to make the source suffer the same fate. The creature that must make a Will save against the warlock’s spell DC or be subjected to the same condition that the warlock suffers. This eldritch invocation may be used once every short rest.
The warlock may use a bonus action to grant an ally within sight 1d4 bonus damage s of the type selected in Patron’s Wrath. This ability may be used a number of times equal to the warlock’s charisma bonus per short rest.
Dirge of the Patron
As a reaction to an ally falling in battle, the warlock may grant resistance to the damage type that caused her ally to fall to all allies within sixty feet. This resistance lasts until the end of the warlock’s next turn. This eldritch invocation may be used once every short rest.
Grasp of the Pact
This eldritch invocation functions differently depending on the pact boon taken. Pact of the Blade warlocks may spend a spell slot to turn any single target mystic arcanum spell into a thirty foot line emanating from the warlock. Pact of the Chain warlocks may spend a spell slot to turn any single target mystic arcanum spell into a five foot radius blast emanating from the warlock. Pact of the Tome warlocks may spend a spell slot to turn any single target mystic arcanum spell into a fifteen foot cone emanating from the warlock.
When the warlock suffers damage that would otherwise cause her to fall unconscious or die, the warlock may spend a reaction to cause damage equal to the amount being dealt to the warlock in a 10 foot radius emanating from the warlock, and have resistance against the attack. This damage is of the type selected by Patron’s Wrath.
Offering to the Master
This eldritch invocation functions differently depending on the pact boon taken. Pact of the Blade warlocks may sacrifice a mystic arcanum to gain an additional attack with their pact weapons as a bonus action. Pact of the Chain warlocks may temporarily send their familiars to serve the Otherworldly Patron. Doing so allows the warlock to cast any spell slot as a bonus action. Pact of the Tome warlocks may opt to receive disadvantage on all arcana and religion rolls in order to be able to cast a cantrip as a bonus action. Once this sacrifice has been made, it is active until the warlock takes a long rest.
Web of Many Fates
The warlock may swap places with a willing ally as a reaction when taking damage from a source other than herself, as long as the ally is visible and within sixty feet. The ally then takes the damage in place of the warlock. No reactions are provoked from this movement. This eldritch invocation may be used once every short rest.
Thus ends the ridiculously long reworking of warlock. I hope you stayed with me this long, and I am interested in thoughts and feedback. The next thing I might tackle like this is ranger, but that hot mess needs even more TLC.