D&D: Patrons, Warlocks, And Relationships – A Guide To Eldritch Power And Responsibility
We all know Warlocks gain their eldritch power from a mystical, sometimes sinister patron. But what does that relationship look like?
Whether they’ve bargained with a fiend, managed to deal with the fae and retain their freedom, or dealt with more esoteric entities like an elder abomination or a magical unicorn that grants celestial power, Warlocks have a vast number of options available for potential patrons. Except for Hexblade warlocks, even if you reflavor your patron to be something else, you’re just selling your soul to a magic sword in disguise. And not a very good one.
But whatever your patron, a Warlock’s relationship to their patron is sure to be an intensely personal one. Here are a few things you can try to create a deep, personal relationship.
First things first, you need to consider the surface goal of the relationship. It is, after all, explicitly a bargain the Warlock made with this being–some price for power. Has your character kept up their end of the bargain? Or does it feel like the character may not be done paying the price? The status of that initial bargain is one aspect of the character that could generate further adventure. The Great Old One makes a demand, or drives the Warlock crazy, one of the Fiends gets the Warlock’s soul, etc. But the interesting thing is–that power, once given, cannot be taken back.
And presumably, there’s a chance for the Warlock to renege on their agreement, or trick their patron, which makes me think of a Charlatan type character who appears to have bargained away their soul, but really is actively trying to outwit their Fiendish patron. Or maybe they reneged on an agreement and now are being pursued by hellish minions at every turn.
Or it could make a great plot device: the Great Old One or Fiend or even Arch fey possesses the character at night when they are “sleeping.” Or it could be a good justification for a get out of trouble card at the last minute–after all your patron has to protect their investment. Which is both a relief and ominous.
The point is, it’s a background part of the character that you can use to flesh out story stuff for your Warlock just as much or as little as something like where your character is from. Think about what their relationship to power is like–also of interest in this video: a cleric can apparently turn against their deity and still wield Divine magic. I love that little bomb shell just hiding out in this Warlock video.
That too could make for an interesting story. But we’re here to talk relationships–and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything has some ideas on how to flesh out your Warlock and her patron.
My attitude is ‘you’ve always got to be willing to lend a hand…’
A good relationship is a two way street, and takes everyone’s feelings into account. And that means considering how your patron feels about you. Ate they kindly? Have they helped you or people you know? Are they fickle, pleasant one time, menacing the next (very fey like)? Do they view this as a chance to get to act in the world still, through your powers? Did they get the better of you in your pact? Did it leave you to your own devices, and the more power you get, the more you know it will one day demand in return?
Special Terms of the Pact
Or what, exactly, have you agreed to. A good relationship relies on clear expectations–regardless of what you might expect of the other person, it’s important that you both know what those expectations are. So it goes with the terms of your pact. Do you, on occasion, have to take out an enemy of your patron? Or is it more like restrictions imposed on you, no alcohol or the like? Is it somehow more sinister–a spreading of influence like carving your patron’s name on a wall? Is there abrogated really weird you have to do, lime never wrapping the same outfit twice or constantly say their name when invoking their power?
What, if any, mark does your character bear to show they’re in an eldritch pact with a being of untold power? Do they hide it? Bear it with pride?
Examples include one of your eyes looking lime one of your patron’s eyes, which could either be a sexy David Bowie kinda situation or you could have a bad case of Cthulhu eye. Or each time you wake up, there’s a small blemish on your face, but it’s always in a different place. Maybe you appear to be suffering from some malady, despite feeling no ill effects from it (very Lovecraftian). Or maybe you just look weird.
Either way, the Warlock’s patron can be a fine tool for developing the character and getting you both into, and out of, many a sticky situation. So the next time you’re considering a Warlock, or trying to think how to challenge them, think about their Patron. It’s an excellent relationship to lean on, because the Warlock definitely needs them on some easy to have their powers.
Got a favorite Warlock patron or story hook? Let us know on the comments!