Tuesday, January 20, 2015

D&D 5e: Adapting the Infernal Captain's Pact

Last week, I wrote a bit about the forthcoming Princes of the Apocalypse storyline, including some mention of the “Infernal Captain’s Pact” from Dragon Magazine #369 (November 2008).  Since then, I’ve been thinking about ways to adapt the Pact to D&D’s 5th edition.

The Infernal Captain’s Pact was first described in an article called “Class Acts: Warlord.  Devilish tricks from the ancient warmongers of Bael Turath!”  The article was written byStephen Radney-MacFarland, illustrated by Sam Wood, and featured a tiefling in robe-like armor fighting a pair of gnolls with a glaive atop a barren hellscape spire.  The implication was that this was an infernal battle in some far away realm, though it could as easily have been a typical mountaintop encounter, lit from below by a campfire.  
Most of the article covered new Daily and Encounter powers for the 4e Warlord, and although they had diabolical-sounding names, they were uniformly Strength-vs.-Defense powers with terrestrial applications, mostly involving polearms.  This highlights one of the strengths of 4e, which was that fighting with different types of weapons often gave a fighter (or a warlord) different options in combat.  This particular article focused on warlords wielding polearms--a niche area if I’ve ever seen one--and gave them a bunch of interesting tricks involving their weapons’ reach.  There were several sliding and tripping attacks, a few that let you shift, one that let you vault over your opponent using your polearm as a stick, a reach-and-mark power with obvious every-encounter utility, and a 13th level pulling attack that also would have been useful on an every-encounter basis.  This was all interesting but strictly in line with other “Class Acts” articles, especially in the early stages of the 4th edition’s publication.
Assorted polearms and glaives
Things got more interesting at the article’s end, however.  That’s where Radney-MacFarland laid out a trio of Warlord/Warlock multiclass feats, along with a new magic item called “The Devil’s Tongue Polearm”.  Warlord/Warlocks made mechanical sense in 4e because both classes relied on a certain amount of Charisma and Intelligence, but since WotC had not yet released the hybrid class rules, there was not much depth behind the conceptual “Warlord of Hell’s Legions,” though this archetype makes obvious sense for a tiefling warlord.  In any event, all of the new feats required the Warlord class with the Pact Initiate[1] feat as prerequisites, and all stayed with the Warlord’s core class theme, aiding allied attacks rather than dealing additional damage on their own.

  • The Infernal Captain’s Pact feat strengthened your feat-based pact bond, allowing you to place an “Infernal Captain’s Curse” on a target with an effect similar to a Faerie Fire spell.
  • Infernal Captain’s Fury was a paragon feat that again strengthened your pact bond.  It allowed allies to deal curse-like damage to targets under the effect of your Infernal Captain’s Curse.
  • Finally, Hell’s Implement allowed you to use a polearm as a Pact Blade.

The early days of 4e multiclassing were all about taking a full class’s powers and then dipping into another class for flavor.  This particular “Class Acts” article therefore succeeded magnificently, giving your Warlord a range of encounter powers which reinforced its existing class themes while allowing him to access a few critical elements of the Warlock’s class on an encounter-power basis.  The cost was two feats; you could have a working Infernal Warlord by 4th level.  As we approach our potential 5e conversion, this is a benchmark to keep in mind.
I found this guy on Pintrest.
First, let’s start with the obvious: with 5e’s extant ruleset, we can already get most of the way to our Infernal Captain archetype.  Start with the Fighter, choose the Battle Master archetype at 3rd level, and then take the maneuvers that today represent what was once the 4e Warlord.  There are several.  Commander’s Strike is the most obvious, but Distracting StrikeGoading AttackManeuvering Attack, and others are all on theme for the Warlord.  At 4th level, you then take the Magic Initiate (Warlock) feat, and voila!  You have something close to a 5e Infernal Captain.  Granted, we still don’t have Pact Magic or much in the way of flavor to tie the build together, but we’re reasonably close.  Alternately, we could use the 5th edition’s strengths and simply take a full level of Warlock at 4th level, giving us a fully realized Warlord-build Fighter with a smattering of Pact Magic and the ability to take more as the character progresses.  There remains the issue that we have no way to replicate the Infernal Captain’s Curse, but this can be remedied by altering the Warlock’s spell list slightly, adding Faerie Fire while giving up something in return, say Burning Hands or Command if you are adapting the Infernal Pact to suit this particular build.  Finally, we could create a Fighter build that supports Pact Magic in the same way that the Eldritch Knight supports wizardly magic.  Our wouldbe Warlock Knight could be built along identical lines, adapting the Eldritch Knight as needed and perhaps gaining the ability to use a glaive as an implement in lieu of the Weapon Bond feature.  Granted, this build has little to differentiate it from the a simple Fighter/Warlock, especially considering that the Warlock’s spell list is a little more limited than is the Wizard’s, but I would probably allow it at my table.
All things considered, these are acceptable solutions.  I would very much like to write a melee build for the Warlock, leveraging legacy spells like Eldritch Strike and/or Hideous Blow, but it’s not necessary to create the Infernal Captain archetype.  The only thing we really need now is an adaptation of the Devil’s Tongue Polearm.  Let’s call it the Hellsglaive.


Polearm, Uncommon
This ancient glaive is made from stout black iron, inscribed with Infernal runes.  When you hit a target with a melee attack using the Hellsglaive, you can use a bonus action to wreathe the target in Hellfire.  If you know the spell Hex and have it prepared, you can cast that spell as part of this bonus action.  
While the target is affected by the Hellsglaive, it glows as if it were a torch, shedding bright light for 20 feet and dim light for an additional 20 feet.  This effect lasts for 10 minutes or until the target is knocked unconscious or killed.  While the target is wreathed in Hellfire, it grants Advantage to all attacks and cannot benefit from the effects of Invisibility or Concealment.  Once you have used this power, you cannot use it again until you have completed a short or long rest.
If you are proficient with polearms and can use Infernal Pact Magic, you can use the Hellsglaive as an implement to cast Warlock spells.

Drakar of Fortress Abbadabas
Hellknight of the Blackened Glaive
Medium Humanoid (tiefling), Lawful Evil

Armor Class 18 (plate) 
Hit Points 71 (11d8 + 22)
Speed 30 ft.

        STR        DEX        CON        INT        WIS        CHA
        16 (+3)        11 (+0)        14 (+2)        12 (+1)        11 (+0)        17 (+3)

Saving Throws Con +4, Cha +3 
Senses passive Perception 10 
Languages Common, Infernal, Draconic
Challenge Rating 6 (700)

Brave. A Helllknight has advantage on saving throws versus being frightened.

Spellcasting. Drakar is a 3rd level Warlock.  His spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell save DC 13, +5 to hit with spell attacks).  He has 2 spell slots with the following spells prepared:
        Cantrips: Eldritch Blast, True Strike
        1st Level: Burning Hands, Hex
        2nd Level: Crown of Madness, Misty Step
Infernal Captain’s Curse. When Drakar hits with a melee attack, he can use a bonus action to cast the spell Hex and to wreathe his target in Hellfire.  While the target is wreathed in Hellfire, it glows as a torch, grants advantage to all attacks, and cannot benefit from concealment or from being invisible.
Multiattack. Drakar makes two attacks melee attacks or a melee attack and an Agonizing Blast attack.
Hellsglaive. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target.  Hit: 9 (1d12 + 3) slashing damage.
Eldritch Blast. Ranged Spell Attack: +5 to hit, range 300 ft., one target.  Hit: 8 (1d10 + 3) force damage.
Leadership (Recharges after a Short or Long Rest). Drakar utters an Infernal word of power, and for the next minute, all of his allies within 30 ft. who can see and hear him add 1d4 to their attack rolls and saving throws.
Hellish Rebuke. Drakar can cast the tiefling racial spell Hellish Rebuke as a 6th level character.
Fortress Abbadabas is home to one of the most feared religious orders in the Sentralian Empire, the Order of the Blackened Glaive.  Members of the order are commonly called “Hellknights”.  Though dedicated to the service of the Mars and the Empire, the Hellknights are consecrated to Orcus, the Punisher of Broken Oaths, and charged with finding and rooting out heresy wherever it exists.  The Hellknights’ connection to Orcus gives them access to the infernal powers of the Pit of Tartarus, and it is this power which drives their relentless quest for purity of thought and deed across the breadth of the Continent of Sentralia.  
Hellknights of the Blackened Glaive are widely feared, and for good reason.  Members of the Order would rather punish a hundred innocents than allow a single heretic free reign to contaminate the purity of Sentralian thought.  Even Sentralian Emperors have been known to fear the Hellknights, though the Order is, in theory, subordinate to the Imperial throne.
Drakar is one of the Order’s captains.  Like many of its officers, he is a half-demon, his connection to Orcus coming in part from his infernal nature and in part from the sacred vows he has taken on the Order’s behalf.  

In battle, Drakar leads a company of some fifty men, organized into four squads of ten with a sergeant to command each squad.  The remainder of the company forms Drakar’s personal bodyguard, called Shieldbearers.  Drakar typically allows his men to engage the enemy and shape the battlefield, using his infernal magic from afar.  As the battle unfolds, he commits himself personally to battle at the weakest point in his line, bolstering the resolve of his men and punishing any sign of weakness.

Like all Hellknights, Drakar wields a Hellsglaive, a powerful magical polearm imbued with the force of the Pit of Tartarus.

[1] The Pact Initiate feat stood in for multiclassing before the hybrid class rules were released.

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  1. Good stuff here! One other avenue to get to this concept is a twist on the Oath of Vengeance Paladin, replacing Paladin spellcasting in whole or in part with Warlock spellcasting. I like that there are so many valid approaches to this character concept in the 5e environment.

    The Hellsglaive granting single-target _faerie fire_ in addition to letting you cast _hex_ is boss as all get-out, and I like it. =)

    1. Thanks Brandes. I was worried that the Hellsglaive would be overpowered, but with the single target restriction and no bonus to attacks and damage rolls, hopefully it's not too bad. It's on theme, anyway, and I know you like that.

    2. The only real balance question is "is this thing rated to a high enough rarity?" and the only answer to that is "I have no idea." 5e magic items are LOT more art and a LOT less science than 3.x or 4e; some people are comfortable with that (I know I am), and others are not.

      And hell yes. Once you pass a minimum bar of mechanical cohesion (which you do, with plenty of room to spare), theme and interesting story are all that actually matters in the game.