Warlocks in D&D miscast my cantrips
I heard some rumblings here and there for awhile, but a recent video by Dawnforgedcast has forced me to sit down and contemplate on the weird class that is the fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons warlock. In the video he presents the issue that the reliance many warlocks have on eldritch blast is repetitive and even boring, purposing a fix action to raise other warlock cantrips a little higher on the effectiveness scale, to give a bit more incentive to use them. After my viewing of the video, sitting in contemplation and paying special attention to warlocks at my table, I believe I’ve come to a conclusion. Eldritch blast did nothing wrong. Hear me out, maybe these one-hit wonders are working just as intended.
If eldritch blast looks this slick , I’ve got no problem casting it a lot. This amazing piece is from concept artist and illustrator Jeff Chen. Click the image to visit his website. [Art by Jeff Chen.]
My relationship with warlocks in D&D 5E
I’m going to be perfectly honest with you and lay it all out here. I have not been kind to the warlock over the years. When I was first learning 5E, it was a much different system than I was used to. At the time, I was exclusively playing relatively complex systems with, in hindsight, overly complex rules systems compared to my taste as a Game Master and player. I scoffed at 5E when I saw it hit the shelves, thinking how cute that D&D would try to come back. Then I gave it a chance and was floored.
Well, mostly floored. The system was already a huge gear shift for me and the biggest obstacles were unlearning everything older editions had taught me. I was carrying on fairly well, grasping on and really engaging with the content. Then I got to the warlock. I was barely able to hold on to the spell slot system and here was a class that all but ignored it, not to mention the limited supply of slots, coupled with Eldritch Invocations… It was a lot for me to take in before I’d rolled a single die with the system. I simply closed the book and told my players, “Please don’t pick warlock as I don’t understand it yet and just want to try out the system to see if I like it.” It wasn’t too much of an issue as no one in my group really had any intention of playing a Warlock anyhow.
“Please don’t pick warlock as I don’t understand it yet and just want to try out the system to see if I like it.”
The thing is, I DMed that campaign for over a year and never went back to warlock. It became this blind spot I just ignored while I got more comfortable with the classes at the table and the system as a whole. I also wasn’t playing as much 5E back then as I am now. When it first came out, I was still running a Pathfinder campaign and two Black Crusade games. My focus was very split and it didn’t afford me time to branch out beyond what I needed to know.
Time moves on, campaigns end and my love for 5E grew. I wanted more, so I found more campaigns to run in it. This increase of exposure afforded my time to really learn the Player’s Handbook front and back, no longer split by other systems. I eventually learned the warlock and… well, was very unimpressed. I thought the class was too powerful, gimmicky and needlessly fiddly compared to the rest of the system. However, I had enough of a grasp that I was willing to give it a shot. My campaigns and players became more numerous in the system and warlocks started popping up. I found warlocks to be just okay. Limited, but nothing terribly special about them. Warlocks I and just kind of had a “live and let live” agreement for awhile.
Then, my awakening happened. I’d been playing 5E for three years and, at risk of bragging, had become very knowledgeable in the system. One would hope I’d pick something up doing an activity four times a week for the better part of three years. My curiosity began to grip me and I reached a level of understanding where power and effectiveness really weren’t issues on my radar any longer. I was more concerned with narrative potential and the ability to share spotlight.
I grew to understand the warlock and even like them for what they are. The narrative juice that comes with them right out of the box is enough to make me excited when a player suggests playing one. So what’s all this rambling mean? Simply put: I’ve spent a lot of time trying to better understand warlocks and my opinion has changed almost annually, but I think I’ve got it.
Eldritch blast: What is it good for?
A star pact warlock from fourth edition Dungeons & Dragons [Art by Chris Seaman]
Well, quite frankly, a lot. But why? Why is eldritch blast so damn good? Were the designers out to lunch on this one? I think not, I think it is imperative that warlocks have this kind of relationship with eldritch blast due to their extraordinarily limited spell casting potential. DFC just barely touches on this in his video, but I think it’s really the crux of the issue…just not his issue and probably why he didn’t hammer into it. His issue appears to be not that eldritch blast is too good, but why aren’t the other cantrips closer? He doesn’t want to tamp eldritch blast down, but instead wants to build incentive for other cantrips. This is admirable and honestly, if his tables are having fun with those cool Eldritch Invocations he created, then that’s brilliant. However, I do think the other two direct damage spells already have enough utility compared to a flat eldritch blast, that’s it’s not needed.
Let’s take chill touch. Same range, a die step down in damage, prevents healing and has that kind of vicious mockery effect on the undead. This is a really good cantrip. Yeah it’s single target unlike eldritch blast, but that’s the norm for cantrips. One of my players really impressed me as their warlock did all the normal effective choices of grabbing up eldritch blast boosting Eldritch Invocations. Normally just firing off these blasts, the party had to go toe-to-toe with a group of trolls. The party composition had almost no fire damage prepared and these trolls were doing some work.
Instead of beating his head into the proverbial brick wall, he had the clever idea to switch to chill touch. Yeah, a little less damage but he was gambling this would stop their regeneration. It paid off and the damage increase he probably would have had with eldritch blast was leveled out a bit by the hit points he was preventing from coming back. This opened my eyes to yet another way chill touch is such an amazing spoiler spell.
I know a lot of people are down on poison spray, but hear me out. Yeah, it’s got limited range. Yes it’s a Constitution saving throw and generally monstrous foes are pretty hearty and yeah, poison is frequently resisted or completely ignored. However, I think there are some strengths to this cantrip we might lose if we throw the baby out with the bath water.
The range I don’t find an issue at all. Chill touch and eldritch blast (especially with Eldritch Spear) have you covered on farther foes. But what happens when you’re restrained by a foe, engaged by an enemy, or are just simply given disadvantage for a myriad of reasons but still have your sight? You can take your chance and fire off one of your other cantrips at disadvantage, or you can poison spray that fool for some potentially massive damage. A d12 is nothing to sniff at, no pun intended. Twenty-ish damage on a single roll to a foe that thought they had the upper hand can be pretty alarming.
Leave warlocks alone
With their limited spellcasting potential tied with their heavy reliance on resting that, frankly, is not always an option, warlocks need a stop gap compared to the other casters. While other casters start getting to 20+ prepared spells and a dozen or more spell slots, warlocks are still sitting on 3, maybe more spell slots if they’re lucky and maybe half the non-ritual spells at their disposal. Eldritch blast acts like a bridge to keep warlocks from being completely out-shined by other spellcasters in the party. It’s quite effective, but so too can be five fireballs in the row the wizard threw out in a single combat. Warlocks in D&D don’t have this.
I find the warlocks in D&D and their eldritch blast perfectly fine in their weird little way. If you think eldritch blast is repetitive and don’t want to cast it all the live-long day, then play how you want to. If that means Pact of the Blade, great. If that means never playing a warlock, I don’t blame you. However, I would implore you that, if you plan to change warlocks at your table, you spend some time searching your feelings and digging down into what the true problem is, not just treat a symptom.
Do you think eldritch blast is perfectly fine? Eldritch blast OP, plz nerf pl0x or are warlocks just misunderstood? Why don’t you share your experience with warlocks or even your relationship as a player with the class. Let me know in the comments below.
Did you enjoy this post? Nerdarchy’s awesome volunteer staff of writers and editors do their best to create engaging, useful and fun content to share. If you like what you find here on our site, consider patronizing us in a good way through Patreon.
On top of reaching our goal of paying our writers, pledging gets you exclusive monthly content for your D&D game, opportunities to game with Nerdarchy, access to patron-only channels on our Discord and more.
With your generous support we’ll continue to create quality content between our YouTube channel and blog, invest in equipment to increase recording quality, and keep creating original publications and products to enhance your tabletop roleplaying and gaming experience.
Thank you for your consideration and as always, until next time stay nerdy!
[amazon_link asins=’B001H1UQBE,1634528530,0399580948′ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’nerdarchy-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’e5fb083f-75e3-11e8-a8fc-6fe0e3b2397a’]