Thursday, August 29, 2013

Warlocks in D&D Next

Last week I posted a little Swordmage homebrew for D&D Next, and people seemed to like it.  Got a goodly amount of feedback on it, some truly awesome folks followed a few of the Google Ads through to whatever sites they were advertising, and bottom line, I felt good about having put something out there that got people interested.  Plus, Swordmage seemed like kind of a logical homebrew considering that it doesn’t seem like Wizards of the Coast (WotC) plans to include an independent swordmage and/or bladesinger (gish) class in D&D Next—at least in their initial rules releases, anyway—which means that if you feel the need to have one in the game, you’re gonna have to homebrew it any which way you slice it.  
That’s a shame because, as I noted last week, a fighter/mage and a swordmage are not exactly the same thing.  To me, a fighter/mage is like an engineer who boxed in college.  Yeah, he knows how to fight, and yeah, he may also know how to design a bridge or a building, but these skill sets are not in any way related.  They simply exist at the same time in the same multi-talented body.  Contrast that with a true Combat Engineer, however, and you can see the difference.  True, our Boxer/Engineer and Combat Engineer may not have mutually exclusive skill sets, but that doesn’t mean that they’re going to fight in anything like the same kinds of ways.

That said, I came away from last week’s exercise convinced that there definitely is a good way to design a close combat mage within the extant framework of D&D Next.  But it’s probably more a matter of which spells are available than it is anything else.  Yeah, you can add weapons proficiencies and armor proficiencies and an aegis or swordbond, and that stuff is interesting and flavorful, but it’s also mostly window-dressing.  Fact is, D&D Next already offers a good mix of close-range battle evocations, so if you have a way for mages to learn additional weapons proficiencies, then all you really have to do is give them spells that let them channel magic through their weapons, and there you go.  
Perhaps all of that is possible via multi-classing, so long as you have the right spell-effects available.
As I was thinking about it, though, it occurred to me that what was missing from my personal write-up of the Swordmage was additional survivability.  What I needed was a way to add leather armor proficiency… and maybe something else.  Like a way to lightly-obscure our theoretical swordmage’s outline when he moves.  Or something like that.  But that, of course, already exists, at least in D&D’s Fourth Edition (4e), in the form of the Warlock.  Moreover, once I started thinking about it, I realized that Warlock had been one of my favorite classes in 4e from the get-go largely because of the fact that it was one of the easiest arcane classes around which to build a flexible, melee-capable PC right from the start.  In fact, my favorite 4e character was a Warlock, a dragonborn astrologer (Star Pact Warlock) who used a rapier for a Pact Blade and had taken a couple of the Warlord Multi-Class feats.  That was a terrific character!
Clearly, I’m not the only one who realized that Warlocks were among the best melee spell-casters because a lot of WotC’s later design work created new ways to make Warlocks more effective in the close fight.  They created a really cool glaive-based Warlord/Warlock build, invented a weapons-based variation of the Eldritch Blast called Eldritch Strike, invented a dozen variations on the idea of the pact blade for various races like dwarves and eladrin (Pact Hammer, anyone?), and finally created an entirely new build of melee Warlock for the Essentials line called the Hexblade based on the classic fantasy character Elric.  By the time all was said and done, I think it’s no exaggeration to say that Warlock was (easily) the most popular class in 4e, and that the designers therefore spent at least as much time on that class as they did on any other.  They just kept adding powers and pacts and different takes on different builds until, by the end of 4e’s development, a Warlock could be pretty much anything.  And while that’s not exactly a complaint, it did sort of water down what the class was meant to be.
Which makes it a little surprising that we haven’t seen more in the way of Warlocks as part of D&D Next, but what are you gonna do?  Yeah, I hope they create a decent melee spellcaster class—or at least give us the option to build one if we really, really want to—and yeah, I think the Warlock class is one of the more logical ones with which to set about creating that kind of close-fight arcane archetype, but absent anything written, there’s not much we can do besides theorize and homebrew.

That said, it seems clear that Warlocks are not going away.  First off, we’ve already seen some initial Warlock development in one of the earliest Playtest packages.  And then, too, author Erin Evans has written the third book of the Sundering series, called The Adversary (due out in December 2013), and it features her signature character Farideh, who is a Warlock.  These Sundering books are meant to bridge the gap storywise from 4e to D&D Next, and I don’t for one minute think that WotC would include a Warlock as a key part of that effort if they weren’t planning to tie the class closely into the launch of the next iteration of D&D.  That’s just not the way they work.  Those books are meant to show the game world in a fictional setting.
So.  The question isn’t if we’ll get a Warlock with the official launch of D&D Next, it’s what kind of Warlock we’re going to get.  And yeah, it’s tempting to go through and homebrew something up by way of speculation, but the fact is, I don’t think that’s actually necessary.  A couple of folks have already done bang-up jobs.  My favorite by far was the one that Points of Light did (“D&D Next: Warlock Homebrew”), but there’s also one from Harbinger of Doom (“D&D Next: A Revised Warlock”) that I think is worth reading if you’re into that sort of thing.  Both include melee options for the Warlock as a basic part of the class, and Points of Light in particular does a nice job of balancing the Warlock’s at-will powers with its more potent stuff by means of “favors” from the character’s patron.  That “favors” idea seems to have come out of the Playtest packet from last year.  Anyway, some of what he has doesn’t scale with the latest Playtest rules, of course, but his ideas are solid, and I’m sure you could build a working class out of it.  
Given all that I’ve read about this, including some of the Legends and Lore stuff from last year, it seems likely to me that your Warlock is gonna start with just the basics.  He won’t even have a Pact at first level, he’ll have learned just enough Forbidden Lore to maybe Curse somebody and fire off an Eldritch Blast or something like that.  Then at second level, he’ll begin to learn some invocations and start getting into a bit of truly dark magic—perhaps without even understanding exactly what it is that he’s channeling.  At third level is when he’ll actually contact some extra-planar entity as his Patron and make his Pact, and as with most of the other classes (at least as of now), that’s when you’ll begin to see him really become what we think of as a full-fledged Warlock.  Things like Pact Boons and Favors will begin to show up, and well, who knows what else.
At this point, it’s all sort of a mystery, isn’t it?


  1. Thanks for the shout out. I kept meaning to add more to the warlock as 5th Edition continued to develop, but stopped due to the constant changes and removal of content: I would rather wait for something more finalized.

    That being said, while I would not mind the idea of a warlock that derives her power from an unknown source (out of ignorance or desperation), I would not enjoy it as the default approach.

    Part of what made 4th Edition's warlock so appealing was the diverse spells themed toward specific patrons. If 5th Edition is going to start you out as a vanillock each time (which seems likely due to the removal of most choices), then...bleh.

    Frankly I think that even the most basic "mode" of the game should still allow for meaningful choices. There is no reason to lock in every 'lock's (or any class for that matter) class features until they are 3rd-level.

    1. I saw on your blog that you'd kind of turned on D&D Next, and while I can certainly see your point, I personally would counsel patience. What they released recently was very obviously the most stripped down version of the ruleset--so much so that even my 8-yr-old followed it, easily--and while that was fine for what it was, I very much doubt that the final rules with all of the optional add-ins is going to be anything like that.

      Which doesn't mean that you'll like it; it does, however, mean that it's not a done deal yet.

  2. I am definitely withholding judgement until I see a finalized product, but I AM going to continue to criticize what I see so as to help ensure that there will be something in it for gamers like me.

    I am hoping that modules will give me the flexibility and choices that I want, ideally without being too difficult to implement.

    1. It's a shame you're not in Stratford because the one thing that will definitely make you a believer in the Apprentice Levels concept is trying to teach the game to 9-year-olds and play it with them. The simplified version is terrific for that.