Tuesday, February 3, 2015

D&D: Warlocks of the Angelic Pact

I was a little surprised this week when one of the guys from my gaming group said that he’d read last week’s D&D article and that he thought I was wrong, that we actually do need an Angelic Pact for Warlocks.  

In D&D, angels have a very specific look.
My Players are currently at 4th level.  The group has a Bard, a Rogue, a Warlock (Fey Pact), a Wizard, and my friend’s character, a great weapon-style Paladin who is the group’s only melee combatant.  The group is newly formed, and currently in the midst of their first big encounter, and they are…  Well, I don’t want to say that they’re getting their asses kicked, but they ran up against a trio of Minotaur Skeletons and a Manticore, and their lack of melee combatants has nearly put my friend’s Paladin on the ground twice.  Admittedly, the encounter rates Deadly on the scale given in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, but against that, I will argue that my Players are all working professionals and experienced RPGers with enough intelligence that one can hardly run easy encounters and expect them to struggle.  Playing with adults is not like playing with kids.  Adults who know the game and understand its inherent synergies play at an entirely higher level than do my normal players, most of whom are between nine and eleven years old.
Melee-based Warlocks have been a discussion point amongst my group for a while now.  As I noted last week, one can make a compelling melee-based Warlock pretty easily using the extant ruleset, especially if one is willing to make the character Dexterity-based, but the build has de facto racial restrictions unless one is willing to accept serious weapons proficiency restrictions for the first two levels.  Granted, you could start your game at 3rd level--I actually like the idea of starting at 3rd level unless you’re trying to teach the game to a bunch of ten-year-olds using the apprentice levels--but the adventure paths that Wizards of the Coast (WotC) has released or have planned for released all start at 1st level, so it seems silly to assume that most people are starting at 3rd.  This leaves us with some tough choices.  We can make our melee Warlock a dwarf or an elf and pick up racial weapons proficiencies but suffer from a lack of inherent Charisma, or we can play him/her as a drow and get both the Charisma bonus and proficiency with the rapier... but also risk the derision of our table-mates.
I like R.A. Salvatore, but this is where his books are a pain in the ass.
I should note that I’ve partially solved this problem in my home game by simplifying the drow, making them elves from the Underworld who worship Hades, the Underworld’s patron deity.  This is an easier sell than the psychotic nonsense required of drow who worship Lloth, but unfortunately, it only works at my house.  In any event, drow in Wanderhaven may still face persecution, but this owes entirely to their appearance and their scarcity rather than to the malevolence of their assumed religion.  I also think it makes more sense for them to be albino white with white hair rather than dark of skin, but that's just because the sun never shines in the Underworld.
Regardless, we can’t simply make a Dragonborn Warlock and expect him to function right out of the box.  His armor class will be garbage, and his best weapon will be a quarterstaff or a greatclub, and who wants that?  It’s almost as serious a social faux pas as playing a drow.
My friend who plays the Paladin pointed out another issue, though.  In the 3rd edition Warlocks were assumed to have pacts with infernal beings, but the 4th edition introduced the Star Pact, with its adherents using a combination of psychic and radiant damage via their connection to the bizarre beings of deep space.  5th edition has changed this, however, making it almost unrecognizable.  The Star Pact has become the Pact of the Great Old Ones, and it’s now entirely psychic--and cthulhu.  If you want to build a Warlock Astrologer (as I often do) or if you simply wish to play a Warlock whose main damage type is radiant (for mechanical purposes), nowadays you have to find another way.
I’ll add one more thought on the reasoning behind building an Angelic Pact Warlock: Evil gods.  D&D’s cosmology is a mash-up of various real world mythologies, liberally mixed with the musings of a bunch of fantasy-fiction storytellers from the past hundred years.  That’s part of what makes it awesome.  We have good gods and evil gods, and we have Hells with devils and Hells with demons and divine planes that are both beautific and horrifying.  You can take whatever of that is useful in your game and run it straight up without alteration, and there are worlds of possibilities.  This is great.  However, it leaves us with something of a conundrum, at least in terms of core cosmology.  Good gods have angels for servitors, Demon Lords have lesser demons, and the Princes of Hell have devils and the remnants of damned souls, but what do the actual Gods of Evil have?  
In Greek myth, Nyx was the goddess of night.
Even Zeus feared her.
As it stands, they have very little.  Lloth may dispatch yochlols to do her bidding, but this is because she is both a goddess and a Demon Queen, and yochlols are a kind of demon.  What about Bane (or Ares)?  What about Cyric (or Nyx or Hecate)?  Evil gods must either subvert angels for their own fell purposes, or they need some new kind of divine servitor, someone to speak for them in the service of conquest and madness--and even if we refuse to call these new beings angels, it hardly changes what they are.

The source material supports this assertion.  Much of D&D's core cosmology is drawn from Greco-Roman, Norse, and Sumerian sources, but the ancients--especially the Greeks, Romans, and Norse--didn't conceive of angels and demons in anything like the way that modern monotheistic religions do.  In Greek myth, daemons were spirits that could at worst be considered neutral.  Meanwhile, the gods themselves--even the "good" gods--were as like to punish mankind and to send down plagues as were the gods that men construed as "evil".  The Greeks didn't even have a Hell.  They had an Underworld and a Pit of Tartarus, but though Nyx and her ilk were said to make their homes in the Pit, it was still not a place where damned souls went for punishment.  It was merely the inpenetrable citadel of a powerful goddess, home to the personifications of many of mankind's ills.  With this in mind, I find it easy to imagine Nyx or the Fates or the Furies taking a mortal through what we might call a Warlock Pact as a means of influencing the world or designating a mortal champion.  All that's needed is a celestial intermediary to act as the arbiter of the pact.  I'm choosing to call that intermediary an angel.
Another Nyx.  She hardly
looks scary at all.
However, I don't know that we actually need a new Warlock Pact to model the idea of an arcane caster who channels the power of a divine entity.  We can do this already by creating a multiclass character with levels of both Cleric and Warlock or with levels of Warlock and Paladin.  I personally would want to mix my Warlock with levels of Cleric from the Trickery domain--gaining better armor but not better weapons--but if what you’re looking for is a melee Warlock, the War Domain is obviously a better option.  Paladin works too, of course, but at some cost to your spellcasting, although all of the excellent Paladin Smites go a long way towards making up for whatever you’ve lost via reduced spellcasting.  There is still some room, though, for a wholly new build of Warlock.  Neither of the cases above describes the feel of 4e’s old Star Pact, and I think if we’re careful, we may yet carve out a little niche in the absence.

Otherwordly Patron: The Angel
Your patron is an angel, a divine messenger and avenger in the service of one of the gods of creation.  Its motivations and schemes are inscrutable; its lifespan and perspective that of the ages.  It has offered you power and seeks to use you in the world for the ends of the one whom it serves.  This is not an offer to take lightly.  Beings of the sort to offer Angelic Pacts include Planatars and Solars, divine representatives who sit in the courts of the very gods themselves.
This is how the angelic pact
always starts.
Angelic Pact Expanded Spell List
1st: Divine Favor, Detect Evil & Good
2nd: Detect Thoughts, Magic Weapon
3rd: Daylight, Protection from Energy
4th: Freedom of Movement, Fire Shield
5th: Geas, Planar Binding
Divine Defense
When a creature makes a melee attack against you, you can use your reaction to flare with radiant light.  The attacker must make a Constitution saving throw against your spell save DC or be blinded until the start of its next turn.  An attacker that cannot be blinded is immune to this feature.  A creature who is vulnerable to radiant damage makes its saving throw with Disadvantage.
Once you use this feature, you cannot use it again until you have finish a short or a long rest.
At 6th level, you gain the ability to glimpse a short way into the future.  The first time an enemy would hit you with an attack in an encounter, you can use your reaction to impose Disadvantage on its attack roll.  If the attack misses, you teleport 10 feet.
Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or a long rest.
Angelic Resistance
Beginning at 10th level, your association with angels grants you protection.  You are resistant to necrotic damage, though damage of this type that is inflicted by silver or magical weapons ignores this resistance.
Hurl Through The Heavens
As the Fiend Pact “Hurl Through Hell”, but the effect deals radiant damage rather than psychic damage.  Angels and other astral or divine beings are immune to this effect.
Eldritch Invocation: Gaze of Intent
When you look into a creature’s eyes, you can use a bonus action to know its alignment.  Once you have used this feature, you gain Advantage on Wisdom (Insight) checks made to understand the creature’s intentions and motivations and to detect whether or not it is telling the truth.  This knowledge of the creature persists for 1 hour.


  1. I like it. I'm not big into Evil characters or those that consort with "questionable" beings. This is a great alternative for those that want the Warlock, but want to be >ahem< on the side of angels.....

    1. Glad to help.

      I'll admit that I rarely consider the morality of this stuff. It's all just story to me. And then, too, in the historical context, the gods were as likely to screw you over as were the fiends or any other kind of celestial being. But... I can well imagine someone arguing that the Infernal Pact is Evil and should be avoided. If that's the case, then maybe this is a workaround.