In a past article I mentioned customized warlock pacts in my fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons Spelljammer campaign.
It came up again during a live chat with Nate the Nerdarch.
With my feet now held to the eldritch fire by publicly mentioning it twice, I’d better put money where my pact-making mouth is and get into it.
This material is an evolving work in progress stemming from my home game.
Although it’s inspired by the Spelljammer setting, it can be adapted for any D&D campaign.
The stars my destination for Spelljammer warlocksOne of my favorite things about fourth edition Dungeons & Dragons was the star pact warlock. The idea of drawing power from remote incandescent points of light in the sky fascinated me. The unusual names of many of their powers evoked thoughts of Marvel Comics’ Doctor Strange, with things like glow of Ulban and flames of Phlegethos.
I was a little crestfallen to discover only a few of these unusually-named spells made it into D&D 5E, like armor of Agathys and hunger of Hadar. Fortunately, Unearthed Arcana revived some of these thematic abilities as invocations. The Warlock & Wizard material and Revised Class Options include several throwbacks to earlier cosmic warlock powers in the form of new invocations.
In today’s D&D, the Great Old One pact is akin to the old star pact. Instead of striking a bargain with the stars themselves (or whatever mysterious entities they might represent) a Great Old One pact cuts out the middle man and puts the warlock in direct contact with a being of immense eldritch power. These entities might reside in the Far Realm or deep beneath the earth as often as beyond the stars in the vastness of space.
But we’re talking Spelljammer here!
There is no “beyond the stars” when you can hop on a ship, settle into the spelljamming helm and travel to those distant points of light in the blackness of wildspace. Because space travel is front and center as a focus of the campaign setting itself, the catchall Great Old One pact felt a little boring. Especially for the warlock character in the party, it began to get dull. Entities of vast cosmic power play a significant role in the overall campaign, and his patron was one such entity. Why would he – and every other creature who strikes a bargain with such a being – have the same gifts bestowed upon them?
Enter the void
Long before the D&D campaign set a course for the second star to the right, the warlock player’s backstory included allusions to space. He is dragonborn, and in the world his people have the greatest civilization. Their desert kingdom is ruled by wizards. Intelligence is highly valued and in addition to arcane studies society prizes academic pursuits. But the warlock character has low intelligence. Wizardly and scholarly pursuits were not for him.
The backstory described how his father, a brilliant astrologer, created instruments to peer closer at the stars. While experimenting with the instruments himself (something he was forbidden to do) the warlock character made a connection with an entity lurking in the blackness of space. A bargain was struck – magical might in return for undefined services in the future. And why not? He would never succeed in his people’s culture without such power. He’d show them how great he could be!
Thankfully the totally awesome Tome of Beasts from Kobold Press provided exactly what I needed to represent the character’s warlock patron. A void dragon is the perfect mix of cosmic power and Great Old One madness for a D&D warlock patron. Once Spelljammer elements were injected into the campaign the void dragon became even more appropriate. Looking for ways to customize the warlock’s experience, Kobold Press again provided the solution.
Deep Magic: Void Magic by Nerdarchy friend Dan Dillon is a supplement for D&D 5E detailing a new school of wizard magic – the Void school. The book contains a new arcane tradition, feats, spells and lore related to the Void.
“The speech of the void is oblivion given form. It corrupts and degrades physical reality. The Great Old Ones murmur it to their followers in nightmares, and it is whispered by creatures that dwell in the silent, cold expanses between the stars. Void magic is anathema to existence itself. Only the mad, desperate, or power-hungry seek to wield it—and you are one of them.” – summary of Deep Magic: Void Magic from Kobold Press
Although Void Magic is designed for D&D wizards, the material captures the essence of how I want to portray the void dragon and its influence on our Spelljammer campaign. Such a powerful entity has minions and agents and the Void speech described in the book is a terrific way to add flavor to these forces. Void speech is also a wonderful roleplaying tool. As the warlock grows in power and his pact becomes stronger, his understanding of Void speech develops. He begins to understand what these creatures are saying. Likewise the whispers in his mind from his patron become clearer over time.
Modifying the feats, spells and arcane tradition in Deep Magic: Void Magic for a warlock was a easy task, too. I’ll go over these tweaks in a broad sense. For details on what these feats, spells and abilities do you’ll have to pick up a copy of the book for yourself. The PDF is $2.99 for the 10-page book.
New warlock Otherworldly Patron featuresThe level-based abilities granted through the Void arcane tradition are used basically as-is straight from the book. Warlocks in the Player’s Handbook are granted Otherworldly Patron features at levels 1, 6, 10 and 14. Similarly, Arcane Tradition features are earned at levels 2, 6, 10 and 14. Nearly identical level breaks, except for the first one. Since my Spelljammer campaign leans into a bit more powerful characters frequently facing deadly threats, it works out okay.
I let my player keep his warlock’s 1st level ability in addition to granting the new one. This decision was based on introducing these elements after the characters were already 3rd level. I didn’t want to take away Awakened Mind and would have made the same decision as regards Fey Presence or Dark One’s Blessing. In retrospect, it would have made for a compelling decision point for the player to choose. But I really wanted for the patron to tempt him towards accepting these new powers from the Void and I knew he’d never give up telepathy!
Comparison and contrast with official warlock material is focused on the Great Old One pact specifically, since that is how I’ve used these things in my D&D game. The same guidelines and issues should apply to the Archfey and Fiend pacts, as well as those in Unearthed Arcana playtest material or Xanathar’s Guide to Everything content.
- 1st level: Whispers of the Void – lets the caster use a bonus action before casting a spell to utter Void speech and weave dark magic it into the spell to disorient targets. Introducing this ability was great fun. The party barely made it through a Madness-infused dungeon, hearing whispered Void speech the whole way. The final chamber was utterly silent. This was the first time the warlock’s patron directly contacted him, offering to impart knowledge of Void speech so he could cast spells in the battle.
- 6th level: Rebuke from Beyond – Like Entropic Ward, this ability gives you a reaction when attacked. Unlike Entropic Ward, instead of preventing damage, the destructive power of Void speech causes damage. I tweaked the damage type, too, because reasons.
- 10th level: Powerful Echo – Thought Shield is pretty good, no doubt about it. Opening your mind to a cosmic entity has some nice perks! On the other hand snagging an extra target is nothing to sneeze at. A bonus for Concentration checks is icing on the Void cake.
- 14th level: Manifestation – A terrific capstone for a patron from space, this lets the warlock pluck a bit of Void from the dark recesses and cause grief to their foes. Like Rebuke from Beyond I tweaked the damage type.
Alternatively, you could use any of the above Otherworldly Patron features as new invocation options for a warlock. If I’m honest, I’m still fiddling around with these ideas and concepts. We fly our Spelljammer ships by the seats of our pants. As invocations I would make make prerequisites for Rebuke from Beyond 5th level, Powerful Echo 9th level and Manifestation 15th level.
New warlock Void spells
I don’t want to give spoilers for any of the spells in Deep Magic: Void Magic, so I’ll just list them here with a brief description and thoughts. Cantrips are cantrips. Spells level 1-5 make for a handy pact-based Expanded Spell List for a Void pact warlock. Spells level 6-9 simply become new additions to the warlock spell list that a warlock can acquire through Mystic Arcanum at levels 6, 13, 15 and 17.
- Cantrips: crushing curse, word of misfortune – it’s going to be nearly impossible to compete with eldritch blast when it comes to warlock cantrips. These are extremely thematic and add a bit of utility along with a hard-to-resist damage type.
- 1st level: protection from the void – a nice buff spell.
- 2nd level: destructive resonance, maddening whispers – The former is a great AOE attack spell with nice utility attached that also scales up. The latter is a wonderful single target crowd control capable of locking down a foe for up to 1 minute. It’s comparable to hold person but with a void-y flair that lets opponents know they’re messing with something beyond their understanding.
- 3rd level: void strike – Absolutely amazing. A concentration spell that allows the caster to consistently deal solid damage with added utility. The first time my player used it I realized it might be a tad overpowered, especially for warlock. It circumvents the limited spell slot resource through Concentration and dishes serious punishment. On the other hand, it means I can up the threat level for the party. So, win for the DM!
- 4th level: nether weapon – This excellent spell lets the warlock turn weapons into delivery instruments of straight-up Void. As a bonus, a creature who takes damage from the enchanted weapon is temporarily unable to regain hit points.
- 5th level: conjure minor voidborn, living shadows – I’ve always loved me some summoning in D&D, and aberrations are my favorite creature types. This conjuration spells nails it for me, adding aberrations to the list of creature types a spellcaster can summon. Tome of Beasts has a few intriguing choices to compliment the nothics, gibbering mouthers, intellect devourers and more in the Monster Manual. Fiends can also be summoned but, seriously, why be so pedestrian? Get weird with it. Meanwhile living shadows adds more crowd control options, this time draining energy from creatures caught in the shadowy grasp.
- 6th level: life drain – What do you think it does? Yeah, that. And a lot more. Let’s just say the whole party will thank you, even if it’s at least mildly disturbing.
- 7th level: conjure voidborn – Like the minor version except MOAR aberrant power! How about a gauth, mindwitness or (yuck) otyugh?!
- 8th level: glimpse of the void – Look into my eyes and despair! This literally makes everything in a rather large area go insane.
- 9th level: void rift – It doesn’t get any more space-y than this spell that tears open space and pulls anything nearby into the Void. Creatures in a wide area around the actual area of the spell are pulled ever closer towards oblivion while the warlock concentrates.
Heart of darkness
Playing around with class abilities in D&D is a lot of fun, and fifth edition’s streamlined design lends itself to customization.
If you take out all the mechanical language, each class has a basic template. With that structure you can plug in different concepts to try our new ideas.
In a follow up installment to this article, we’ll look at the counterpoint to the Void warlock in my D&D Spelljammer campaign – the Star warlock. Like the dark version, warlocks aligned with celestial bodies of light utilize a terrific Kobold Press product, Deep Magic: Illumination Magic.
If you’re looking for even more warlock goodness, check out the E-Zine from Kobold Press. Available through their Patreon, this booklet delves into dark fantasy genre content for tabletop roleplaying games.
There is even an expansion article for Void Magic in the first issue, written by the author of Deep Magic: Void Magic himself – Dan Dillon!
While working on the follow up to this I realized the feat contained within Deep Magic: Void Magic was left off! There are two feats in the book as a matter of fact. Both utilize Void Speech for different effects, giving the Void warlock a chance to delve deeper into oblivion. Any character can make use of either feat, too, adding an element of the Void to their abilities.
With Void Channeler, the character learns a snipped of Void Speech and gains an Action to speak it aloud at a single target and frighten it for 1 minute. Others within earshot may suffer unsettling effects, too. There is no mechanical effect, but there’s a great opportunity for flavoring the situation. The cool thing about this feat is, while it recharges after a short or long rest, the character can use it more than once – but they’ll take necrotic damage for doing so. Further uses create cumulative stacking damage.
Utilizing the written form of Void Speech, the Void Scribe feat allows a character to inscribe a void glyph on an object. While Concentration is maintained, the object is vulnerable to necrotic damage and takes 1d6 of such damage at the end of the character’s turn. A further stipulation requires success on a DC 10 Constitution saving throw to even maintain the Concentration. If I’m honest, I don’t see this being used very often. It could destroy something like a barrier or lock, but then again so can bashing an object with a hammer and I don’t often see players do those sorts of things either.
As a side note, I think either of these feats could be adapted into invocations. Void Channeler is strong, but with the drawback of damaging yourself through repeated use I am comfortable without a prerequisite level for it. Void Scribe, while I don’t see a huge benefit from it, smacks of being the sort of thing a player might find a way to abuse so I might give that a prerequisite of 5th level. Then again, it’s a feat that could potentially be gained at 1st level by a variant human.