Patrons and Warlocks, Warlocks and Patrons. The two are intrinsically tied together in 5e DnD. But patrons themselves are a mysterious part of the game. While the rules do paint in the general brush strokes of what patrons are and how they provide warlocks with power, they leave a lot of gaps for you to fill in yourself.
Today we’re setting out to fill in those gaps and discuss how to make a patron for a DnD warlock. We’ll look at the existing framework for patrons and break down the process of setting up and using patrons of your own design.
Warlocks in DnD
Warlocks are a character class that was introduced initially as a non-core class in 3.5e DnD. The class has changed a lot since then and is now a core class in DnD 5e. Warlocks are powerful spell casters that derive their power from a greater power, known as their Patron.
Unlike clerics, paladins, or druids who worship and gain power from great spiritual forces and deities, the warlock’s powers are granted instead by a direct agreement and willing servitude to an external force. A warlock’s patron essentially has control over them in some way or another and the warlock gained their power because of this arrangement, which constitutes their pact.
Despite this unnatural and potentially complicated arrangement, warlocks are still a very flexible class for players to use and role play. This flexibility comes from the choices that can be made in the design and use of a warlock’s patron. Not all patrons are evil demons. There’s all sorts of things that want to lend out power… for a price.
Because of this no two warlocks need be the same and they can easily fit into just about any campaign or story.
What is a Patron?
Warlocks, upon creation, have a few options for their patron. The core rule book outlines three sources of power: The Archfey, The Fiend, and The Great Old One. These are categories, not specific patrons. Archfey are creatures representing the forces of nature. Fiends are evil creatures offering power at a price. Great Old Ones are mysterious unknowable entities from the Far Realm and seem like alien and eldritch creatures.
In just the three options present in the core rule book, patrons can come in wildly diverse forms and suit very different characters. Oversimplification of these categories really hides the diversity that’s present. Within these groups you can fit a ton of different patrons and almost any reason for taking on a pact. And that’s only the core rules. There are three more options between the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything (The Undying, The Celestial, and The Hexbalde).
A patron is a powerful entity that has some reason to lend its power out for a price. The price isn’t specified in the rules, and often players don’t make that call specifically, the DM does. This opens up any warlock player as an opportunity for story, dynamic tension, and interesting character development.
No matter the patron, the DM now has a new tool in their arsenal to nudge the player in interesting directions and add more fun to the game. As a note, do make sure warlock players are okay with their class being used for direct story elements before you go off plotting something like that; not everyone wants to be the center of attention.
How To Make a Patron for a DnD Warlock
Excellent, you’ve got a warlock in your game, so how about we make them a patron?
Basic Patron Creation Outline
- Have the player choose their Patron type
- Ask the player their motivation for the pact
- Create or choose the patron entity
- Define the Patron’s goals
- Create terms or tenants the warlock is bound by
- Develop consequences for rebuking their patron (optional)
The Player’s Role
The player should have a heavy role in the development of their patron. Even if they choose The Fiend you want to make sure what you build with them will be fun to play. Steps 1 and 2 are both player driven choices about their character and should be the driving motives behind all your future decisions. The patron you design can still challenge your player and add to their character without being something they don’t want to play.
Step 2 in the list is very important. Why did your player make their pact? Was it for fame, power, or wealth? Perhaps they have noble reasons for making a deal. It’s even possible they didn’t realize they were making a pact and simply stumbled upon forbidden knowledge that binds them to their patron. You should know this information before defining the player’s patron further.
Choosing a Template vs Designing One From Scratch
There are almost no restrictions for patrons and their powers. They can be almost any powerful supernatural or immortal force. It’s important to note that while they are not gods, they may possess or wield godlike powers.
If the Patron you’re designing doesn’t need to be completely new, you can choose a powerful creature type as a base. An aboleth, an immortal fay creature, or an ancient dragon all work as potential patrons. While not all creatures work for this immediately, you can come up with reasons why any creature has ascended to the level of power that would be necessary to be a patron. Even high level wizards could potentially be patrons with sufficient justification. The template you draw from is up to you, and it saves a lot of work to start with something known.
If you want to take choosing a predefined template to the extreme, Wizards has put out an Unearthed Arcana pdf for pacts with the Raven Queen. This is a great example of a patron being fully fleshed out. The Raven Queen is a powerful entity that exists in Shadowfell and is a clear cut patron.
On the other end of the spectrum, you can make something entirely new for your players. No need to bind yourself down to a template at all! If you go this route, it is a good idea to give the patron at least some sort of form and still think about how and where they exist, even if they’re a Great Old One.
In Service to a Patron
Patrons, just like their warlocks, have goals of their own. These goals may align with their warlocks or directly oppose them. A lawful good character might make a pact with a fiend to protect others, but the fiend is making the pact to corrupt or influence the character.
Each type of patron likely has different motivations, but they should be flexible. The Archfey generally represent a natural order or force they want to maintain. Fiends are hateful evil creatures that crave destruction of everything, including their warlocks. Great Old Ones are beyond the simple desires of plains and could want anything. These entities could be curious, they might want a way to invade reality, or they might not even realize they are pact bound with a warlock, who is insignificant to their reality bending scale.
Regardless of how you define a Patron, you should clearly understand its goals. These will come into play during your campaign at some time or another, so be prepared. For your player, having even a surface level understanding of their patron’s desires can be critical to how they role play. Working this out with them really sets both you and your player up for a better game.
The Conditions of a Pact
Warlocks don’t have any rules about breaking their pacts spelled out in the core rule books. Furthermore, they don’t have any rules about upholding terms and conditions of the pacts they make. DnD 5e warlocks are created on the honor system. This is really cool because it essentially says: Hey, there’s a bunch of cool rules and systems here, but you should make them up and have fun with it.
When you get a warlock in your party it is highly encouraged that they understand the terms of their pact. This might be as simple as cause chaos and destruction, or I’ll take your powers away. Or it could be nuanced and subtle like performing a certain ritual every month and sacrificing an albino squirrel. Why? We answered that in step 4 when we defined the patron’s goals. The terms of the pact should align to fulfill these in someway, even if it’s not clear to the player why they’re doing something.
The terms are perhaps one of the most fun parts of warlocks that have no explicitly written rules. When you design these, you’ll want to take into consideration both the character’s goals and the patron’s goals. If they align, a contract may be more simple and direct. If the goals are opposed, the pact may be complicated and have trade offs for each party.
It’s important to remember that patrons often need their warlocks for some purpose. A patron might not be able to enter the material plane and needs a warlock to project their will. Alternatively, they might have many warlocks because their ambitions require an army of individuals to achieve. These considerations help make crafting terms more purposeful.
Optional Rules, Pact Breaking and Consequences
A pact binds a player and a patron in some way. If it’s broken, it should have consequences. These can be small or large and depend on the flavor of the warlock being played.
Consider how a warlock’s spells work. Do they draw magic directly from their patron, or did their patron teach them how to draw upon magic themselves? This might not seem like a huge distinction, but it makes a big difference when it comes to pact breaking. In the first case, if a pact is broken the player might lose all spell casting ability. In the second case, if a pact is broken the player retains spell casting ability but might not be able to learn new spells.
Warlocks who made pacts with fiends might have collectors come after them if they’re disobedient. Warlocks who betray a Great Old One might go progressively more insane (if they aren’t already). Archfey patrons might just turn you into a frog. There is a whole host of consequences that can be applied to a warlock’s pact. Choosing these and adding them to your campaign can be an incredible opportunity for character development.
When developing consequences, keep in mind that you’re doing so for story purposes and fun game play. Warlocks should get some leniency and interpretive license on how these terms and consequences play out. If they’re too rigid or too loose you’ll end up with the player either forced to play a certain way or have no real connection with the role play aspect of their pact.
With all of these steps considered and complete, you have a newly developed patron ready to go. Now we just have to look at how to use them.
Using a Patron in Your Campaign
When implementing your newly created patron in your world, it’s important to think about the impact they have on the story. Patrons are not gods, but they certainly can tip the balance of power in a campaign if they have a very active role in it. When putting them into the story, make sure not to over humanize them and think carefully about the freedom with which players can interact with their patrons.
Direct communication with a patron is almost always ill advised. This lowers the status of the Patron by bringing them to the player’s level. Communication makes them seem more like peers and tarnishes the relationship.
As a DM you have a lot more room for storytelling mistakes when you role play a highly powerful character. It’s often difficult to act out and put yourself in the place of a creature a step below a god. It’s not impossible, but limiting direct communication helps maintain the structural framework and mystery of a warlock patron relationship.
Beyond direct communication, indirect communication comes into play. Warlocks may be influenced by their patrons in a variety of ways. The patron’s emotions and will might spill into the character, which could guide them towards a goal. A warlock might take on a physical trait tied to their patron, such as change in eye color or beginning to grow horns.
Patrons might also send signs to their warlocks that are open to interpretation. A warlock might see the mark of their patron that no one else sees. All of this guides the player and helps them role play a better warlock.
Another way patrons make their presence felt in a game is through the effect of a player being a warlock. Player characters and NPCs alike may notice a warlock and fear or shun them. If the patron demands rituals and tribute, it can become a serious concern for those around the warlock, who has little choice but to perform these tasks. The patron may not make their presence directly known, but the actions of the warlock, help bring their will to life in the story and game play.
An Easier Way to Make a Patron: Become One!
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