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5th Edition – The Warlock: Are You Playing It Right?

One of the grumblings I sometimes hear or read about fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons concerns the warlock class. Almost always these center around the fact the warlock has so few spell slots, only one initially and then only two until 11th level, eventually ending with a maximum of four at 17th level. While it’s true the warlock does not have as many spell slots as other spellcasting classes, and it’s true the warlock does not have the diversity of spells available to many classes, the warlock has so many unique abilities I am left wondering if some players simply are not sure of how to play a warlock.

A warlock as depicted in the fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook. Good luck trying to play one of these as a pacifist. Eldritch blast doesn’t exactly scream “I don’t want to hurt you!” [Image courtesy of Wizards of the Coast]

Warlocks in 5E D&D

Admittedly there is no real wrong way to play a character but it might be a boon to some players to consider the warlock’s advantages. The warlock does not easily fall into the traditional role of a magic user as artillery but the class can act as a backup to such a role if necessary. Besides, 5E D&D more than any other version of the game breaks away from these basic roles allowing players much more freedom in party creation and balance. Also, though it might not have the sheer magical might, the warlock is a more versatile class than wizard or sorcerer and in many ways might be the most versatile class in all the Player’s Handbook with the possible exception of bard.

First off with 1d8 hit points per level the warlock has a survivability advantage over most of the other magical classes. Combined with the Fiendish Vigor and Armor of Shadows Eldritch Invocations, and possibly decent Dexterity and Constitution scores, warlocks can potentially stand up against even fighters.

Speaking of Eldritch Invocations I believe these are often an overlooked strength of the warlock class. To my way of thinking Eldritch Invocations truly differentiate the warlock from other spellcasters, even more so than the Otherworldly Patrons and the Pact Boons. Yes, many of the Eldritch Invocations are just low level spells but they always come with some sort of bonus making them more powerful than the original spell, and the ability to cast those spells as often as the warlock wishes. Imagine the power a wizard or sorcerer would wield if he or she could cast some 1st level spells as often as cantrips. This is a power known only to the warlock.

About cantrips and spells, I feel the warlock also is underestimated. Again, they don’t have the wider variety of spells as other casters but warlocks have more than enough offensive and defensive spells to handle themselves in combat, and noncombat spells combined with Eldritch Invocations allow the warlock to fill other needs a party might have. For instance, if a warlock takes the Eldritch Spear Eldritch Invocation they suddenly have a range of 300 feet with eldritch blast, something no other class can accomplish even with the Spell Sniper feat. And a warlock with both Eldritch Spear and the Spell Sniper feat is throwing out eldritch blasts at 600 feet — extreme longbow range.

And don’t forget the warlock recovers spell slots after only a short rest, something few other classes can enjoy.

Getting to the meat of this class there are the Otherworldly Patrons, which provide some special abilities even at 1st level, something not common to most other classes, and some additional spell choices and other powers at higher levels. Then at 3rd level there are the Pact Boons, which give warlocks some nifty powers also not common to other classes. The Pact of the Blade can build a warlock with combat abilities only second to the fighting classes, the Pact of the Tome provides extra magical power and the Pact of the Chain allows for a unique companion in a familiar. All of these abilities are either not available to the other spellcasting classes or are not easily attained.

Then there is multiclassing. A warlock who also is another spellcasting class can swap spell slots quite easily. What other class offers this possibility?

All in all I would be glad to take my chances playing a warlock, and I have on occasion. For that matter I would be willing to take a warlock of my own build and have him or her face off against any other class of equal level. I’m not suggesting my warlock would always win, but they would stand a decent shot at it and at the least would be remembered as a worthy foe.

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Ty Johnston

A former newspaper editor for two decades in Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky, Ty now earns his lunch money as a fiction writer, mostly in the fantasy and horror genres. He is vice president of Rogue Blades Foundation, a non-profit focused upon publishing heroic literature. In his free time he enjoys tabletop and video gaming, long swording, target shooting, reading, and bourbon. Find City of Rogues and other books and e-books by Ty Johnston at Amazon.

4 Comments

  • Dana Sheik
    August 24, 2015 at 3:52 am

    I enjoyed your article, but I felt like at the end it was lacking. I was hoping for some actual concrete examples or recommendations on how to play a warlock well. If you do a Part 2, I'd really be interested in common pitfalls to avoid when playing a warlock. Or more details on how to best integrate with a party, or strategies when to take advantage of their strengths and unique qualities.

    In truth, I'm a huge warlock fan. And I would love to play in the party entirely of warlocks. I guess what I'm really interested in is the synergies with other classes and between warlocks themselves. Your thoughts?

  • Lucas De Sá Martins
    May 15, 2017 at 1:22 am

    ive been playing a warlock level 1 to 7 and it was so underpower that it looks like that they didnt want someone to go this class in vanilla. and thats why im multiclassing. ill give only some examples of warlock being a weirdly desing.
    sculptor of flesh (do what even some clerics do but less often spending eldrith invocations and spell slot, those that are both very limited)
    oh so a wizard would be strong doing low level spells at will? what would that wizard ever do ?
    (warlock 3 wiz 17 (or even 1/19)
    you get both spells from warlock that are really good at level 1 (armor of agathys and hex) and probably use better. do you want to speak inside peoples head? take GOO and you got it at lvl 1.
    also you with a lvl 6 spell slot can cast armor of agathys stronger than the warlock could ever dream and also you dont need to use the precious warlock slot casting hex, you can use one of your own. rant aside, i like the warlock class, its not bad its just so underpower that hurts, lvl 1 to 6 the collest thing i do is eldritch blast with darkness from a friend and hex but honestly get 3 levels from warlock and de sorcerer does this even better. last session i became a t-rex to face a dragon and then i noticed that the freaking cleric of trickery always have this spell prepared and i never felt so useless. this is my first time playing dnd, weve been playing for a year and if a really wasnt in such a high warlock level and really did wanted to take true polymorph at level 20 id have dropped this character)

  • Esper the Bard
    January 5, 2018 at 10:23 pm

    This article was very disappointing. You lead with “Do you know how to play a Warlock right?” and essentially went on to just paraphrase a few things from the PHB. Yes, we can all read the class and understand what it does. Unfortunately, the warlock is lacking in 5E (as was the ranger, but WotC already fixed it with an update). Compare the warlock to the cleric, another d8 hit die spellcaster. There is really no comparison. It’s a shame how half-baked the warlock is.

  • jarlaxledaerthe
    March 25, 2018 at 9:01 pm

    Totally agree that the warlock is underpowered, but it matters a great deal what sort of campaign your playing and matters even more what your DM will allow you to do. The warlock starts off decently strong especially with chain depending on what your DM will allow from your familiar. But by level 5 most other classes have far outpaced the warlock, in my experience at least. I am tempted to do what the other comment suggested and multi class. But by doing this you miss out on what seems to make the warlock powerful, his Mystic Arcanum. This allows him to choose spells that can be cast once per long rest, and doesnt count against your spell slots. But Mystic Arcanium doesnt start until level 11. and deosnt end until lvl 17. But I also wonder if a lvl 17 sorcerer might be just as if not more powerful anyway.

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