5E D&D Warlocks are Dumb (or) Eldritch Blast Spammers
It’s only clickbait when the crucial bit of information you really want to know is omitted! But since you’re here reading you might as well stick around. After years of fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons games playing all but one character class I’m nearing the end of my first campaign playing a warlock for the first time. I have thoughts. Spoiler alert: these thoughts are about reconciling what always bothered me about warlocks, how spamming eldritch blast is the way to go and to a lesser extent confirming what I’ve always suspected — The Undying Otherworldly Patron sucks. So let’s get into it.
My first warlock experience
Prior to the warlock I’m playing right now on Tuesday nights over at Nerdarchy Live my experience with this 5E D&D class never got past character creation. Say what you will about how versatile warlocks are and how they get Eldritch Invocations and yadda yadda yadda I can’t get past the severely limited spell slots. It’s about now I think it’s worthwhile pointing out if you’re expecting a deep dive into mechanics and mathematical breakdowns go ahead and bail. Or go check out Treantmonk’s Temple on YouTube. I’m in this for the first impressions and snark.
Starting with spells since this has been my main warlock hang up choosing the ones my character knows is hard. We started the campaign at 5th level, which means three cantrips and six known spells to use up two 3rd level spell slots. Before going further I’ll point out since I decided to play my least favorite class I went all in with choices based on themes and flavor I imagined rather than optimal mechanics. Don’t dismiss this out of hand just yet though. It provided some good practical experience and led me to settle on a firm position on a frequent topic of warlock discussion I’ll get into a little later. The warlock I’m playing is inspired by a popular NPC in my campaign setting so the choices I made stemmed from there.
The NPC has neither a creature stat block of a character sheet. They’re sort of a revenant and in all her appearances in my games no one ever cracked through her unfriendly shell. I wanted to bring the character more to life if only for my own amusement so my warlock is a variant human and their feat is Hollow One. This felt appropriate since it’s kind of like a Supernatural Gift. If everyone’s character got something like this it would have been an even playing field but since they don’t Nerdarchist Ted and I agreed the feat variant humans get fit the bill. Revenant-esque status covered I felt like The Undying Otherworldly Patron complimented the concept nicely. As a bonus this Otherworldly Patron always seemed like the worst one to me so it gave me an opportunity to test this out too. Test results are positive in the sense my hypothesis proved true for me — it straight up sucks. The NPC version is an amnesiac who was a holy knight in life and in undeath she still carries her sword despite living as a simple fishing boat crew person and this is reflected by my warlock character carrying a greatsword without the proficiency to wield it properly.
All this is to preface spell selection. I felt like this warlock is really tough with their patron features, Pact of the Talisman, at will false life and so forth. I imagined staying in the thick of things and sticking to enemies like gum they can’t scrape off entirely. Knock her down and she’ll pop right back up in your face. I did not want to take eldritch blast for a couple of reasons. It’s cliche for one thing and I wanted her magic to buff her defenses or melee offense. I knew if I had eldritch blast I’d just use it all the time and if you caught on to the title of this post you might guess I’ve got buyer’s remorse for not buying into this line of thinking. I did take hex because hex and since I figured it would come up a lot I avoided other spells requiring concentration and focused on those requiring attack rolls.
Hex truly is terrific and once a warlock hits 5th level (or starts the campaign there) it lasts up to 8 hours. This is a great benefit and at the same time forget about casting another concentration spell because remember — only two spell slots. It’s worth mentioning this has a lot to do with a group’s playstyle. If a party takes short rests often then great. Cast your warlock heart out. But the way most of us Nerdarchy nerds play and especially in two hour online games there’s probably only one combat anyway. On top of this the campaign we’re playing centers on a fantasy team competition called Dungeons & Delving. Each run through the dungeon is timed and scored and so far they’ve all been a challenging exploration segment culminating in a fight against a big monster. In other words stopping for a short rest penalizes our team. If you’re following along closely you might realize how hex hasn’t turned out to be very useful for this either.
The cool thing about the campaign is between dungeon delves teams spent their time trying to increase our popularity with fans, acquire sponsorships, mess with other competitors and so forth. But like so many RPG campaigns this high concept kind of took a back seat to other developments arising through our gameplay and emerging story. A lot of the choices I make along the way were made with this structure in mind. Since we’ve deviated a bit I’ve heavily taken advantage of the ability to replace spells and Eldritch Invocations (thanks Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything!) when we level up to adjust. Also since part of the campaign involves our showmanship I decided to never cast the same spell twice. Always be hustling y’all.
So I’ve got my warlock all tuned up the way I imagine — an unkillable revenant sword enthusiast with amnesia and occult powers. She’s even got a cool talisman, which is a miniature version of her greatsword. On paper this warlock character operates the way I envisioned. In practice though not so much. But oddly it’s not because the mechanics don’t work. Instead it feels more to do with expectations from players.
Wave your eldritch blast flag high
I’m not saying this makes me any kind of expert or authority but working in this business and the exposure to lots of 5E D&D players from all over the world both directly and indirectly leaves me with the conclusion the stereotypical eldritch blast spamming warlock is indeed the way to go. It’s not the only way to play a warlock and perhaps not even the best way (remember — I’m not the deep mechanical analysis nerd on the team). But it is what other players generally expect a warlock to do and if I’m honest my perspective it’s the best direction to lean towards for playing one.
For starters there’s five Eldritch Invocations to enhance eldritch blast so by 9th level a warlock could have all of them, which would all apply to both beams creating when this cantrip is cast by a 9th level warlock (or 7th level if the 4th level Ability Score Improvement is substituted for the Eldritch Adept feat).
- Agonizing Blast. Add your Charisma modifier to the damage
- Eldritch Spear. Increases range to 300 feet
- Grasp of Hadar. Moves the creature in a straight line 10 feet closer to you
- Lance of Lethargy. Reduce that creature’s speed by 10 feet until the end of your next turn
- Repelling Blast. Push the creature up to 10 feet away from you in a straight line
Prior to playing this warlock I felt like it was unfair to expect all warlocks come packing eldritch blast. When I’d experience players shocked and dismayed by warlocks without it I thought, geez, let people play their characters however they choose. While I still believe this is the best practice I suspect the pigeon hole advocates really mean to do the warlock players a favor, either consciously or subconsciously. It’s just what warlocks are really good at and aside from The Hexblade it’s simply low hanging fruit. Leaning on eldritch blast gives you an awesome, consistent and effective combat option and leaves all your other choices open. Granted there’s countless playstyles, campaign varieties and different kinds of stories emerging through 5E D&D games where a warlock’s very versatile and customizable options allow for tremendous variety. But in general I feel confident adopting the perspective of eldritch blast spammer just makes sense. If the game intends to involve combat in any way, just cast it and you won’t regret the decision.
The Undying can go gently into that good night
The final component of my warlock experience to unpack is this Otherworldly Patron. I thought it looked pretty lame when I first saw it back in Sword Coast Adventurers Guide, I’ve continued to feel this way over the years and now that I’ve played one I’m 100% certain. Here’s why.
Your best features come into play when you’d otherwise be dead.
This sounds great until you realize The Undying’s tanky nature manifests when they fail in combat. And guess what? Without those same class features provided buffs or other abilities useful for, you know, conscious characters it means you’re going to get more use out of them more often. This is a lesson I’ve learned the hard way. What I believed would make for an awesome warrior who could harry opponents no matter how much they get knocked down instead plays like a dud. Even worse than this is every time my warlock character did go down I would get really excited. Finally a chance to show off their unkillable nature! That is until literally any other character took their turn and cast healing word or similarly brought her up to consciousness. That’s right, The Undying warlock’s super power is draining their allies resources.
In the campaign we’re playing now we’ll play our last two sessions as 10th level characters. Will my warlock get to turn charmed effects back at their source? No. Gain temporary hit points after every short or long rest? No. Cast Evard’s black tentacles for free and without the possibility of losing concentration AND snag temporary hit points when it’s cast? No. Gain damage resistance of my choice? No. Provide a safe sanctuary for myself and five others? No. Totally negate an attack against me? No. My warlock will possess the amazing ability to hold her breath and go without food, water or sleep (and age slower, which is moot since they’re a Hollow One).
tl;dr The Undying warlock experience
If I ever play another warlock I’m gonna do what so many people advocate. Focus on eldritch blast, adjust the other choices to fit the campaign for utility and play literally any other Otherworldly Patron besides The Undying. And probably choose Devil’s Sight instead of Eldritch Spear because I’ve never in my life needed to hit a creature from 300 feet away and standing in impenetrable darkness shooting out force beams everywhere is just what warlocks do best. No wonder it’s what everyone expects from these characters.
*Featured image — If I play another warlock someday I can totally do all those things I just mentioned with The Norn as my Otherworldly Patron. This is one of two warlock options we created for Frost King. You can learn more about The Norn and find some new Eldritch Invocations we came up with just for them in this post right here on the website. [Illustration by Askhan Ghanbari]