More than any other class, choosing a Warlock brings story. Of course, clerics, monks, paladins and druids all start with a purpose; a direction and a strong link to something bigger and pre-existing in the world (or an adjacent plane). And the intention of the character creation system in fifth edition is to give even the most straightforward of classes (hi, fighter!) the possibility of fleshing out into a person that’s wrapped up in history, intrigue and connection (hi, disgraced Iluskan noble, sentenced to death but now free with a new name, having earned her freedom as a gladiator, and now determined to get even with the powerful family that betrayed her!).
But Warlocks get a head start, and a certain inevitable influence on the direction of a campaign. As a DM, it’s very difficult to ignore that even a day one, level one group with a warlock, are shadowed by a vastly powerful extra-planar entity, its plans and designs entwined with theirs.
Or not? What if the deed – the mortal obligation in this pact – has already been done? That’s the case in my campaign. Lythrin, an outlander raised by elves in Neverwinter Wood, was persuaded to do something terrible in exchange for Power. But this ‘something’ was only a catalyst for a greater evil, a component of a ritual that has, perhaps, caused far greater harm. So, even though the pact and its intent are in the past, the stone dropped into the pond has made ripples that are still moving, bouncing back and forth, and changing the game world in unforeseen ways.
Either way, it brings us to motivation. An evil Warlock character, working consciously and nefariously for his dastardly patron is generally straightforward. A demonic patron from the Abyss could be particular so – your basic Demon being up for destruction, at varying levels of potency and sophistication. On the other hand (claw?), a Fiend from the Nine Hells desires power, and that potentially leads to more intrigue and subtlety. And a Great Old One’s machinations will likely be alien and unfathomable, but rarely leads to nice things happening to the good people of Faerûn.
But what about a Warlock that isn’t evil? What if they’re just a mortal at the wrong place at the wrong time, promised greatness, and now having to deal with the fallout? How would they feel about the creature they’ve done a deal with? And how would they like that relationship to proceed? The shadow hanging over them is not quite their friend, and not quite their enemy. So, what ya gonna do? Some options:
- Make your way in the world and hope this whole awkward, hellish matter goes away.
- Recognise that you are but a vessel for a vast and unholy darkness, and give yourself fully in service, and worship, to your patron.
- Delve into the mystery, the trickery, of your pact. Become a detective investigating a great crime, where the victim was you.
- Dedicate yourself to making amends for your transgression, striving against Evil in all its forms.
- Get payback. Seeking out the means to destroy the beast whose dark magic has part empowered you, part enslaved you.
- Severing the link. Is there a way out of this arrangement? What did the small print say? Maybe, just maybe…
- Something entirely unexpected.
- Two or more of the above.
As I said, a Warlock come preloaded with story. Which direction any particular campaign goes is obviously down to the particular Warlock and his fellow adventurers. It could become a memorable subplot. It could become the theme that frames the big story. Or it could be the main event.
Sooner or later, your pact is going to come back to haunt you.
In a good way.