Warlock Patrons: Their Role at Your D&D Table
The Warlock class comprises a number of different elements. From Invocations to Pact types and high charisma, nothing is as important to the role-playing experience as the Patron. Warlocks borrow or bargain their abilities from beings of immense power in the multiverse. In exchange, the warlock’s loyalty is expected and all their actions are easily observed.
What is a Patron?
A Patron can theoretically be anyone or anything. With options from great demons, beautiful archfey, unknowable eldritch monsters, righteous angels, and even powerful sentient weapons, Warlocks have a large scope of who or what they can potentially swear loyalty to.
The Patron that a Warlock chooses impacts what powers they develop, including both spells and invocations. The Patron is the being that shares their power with the Warlock, offers them guidance as they grow as a character, and maybe gifts items, quests, or allies throughout the adventure.
Depending on what kind of Patron the Warlock has chosen (or been stuck with) will influence the way in which the party interacts with it. A typical example of this would be a good-aligned Cleric or Paladin interacting with a Fiendish Patron. This is obviously very difficult as the Fiends are well known for their evil temperament. Dynamic inter-party conflict similar to this might prove difficult, yet rewarding, to resolve.
How Does the Patron Affect my Warlock?
At the start of the adventure, Warlock Patrons can very much shape the character who has become bonded to them. Fiendish Warlocks might be more prone to acts of random violence or become pyromaniacs in order to align with their Patron’s interests. A Great Old One Warlock might begin the adventure with a tenuous grip on reality and become decreasingly stable as the campaign continues. Looking closely at your Patron can really help to flesh out some role-playing and character development opportunities.
Keeping a Patron Involved with Your Party
Keeping the Patron involved with the party can be difficult. As the result of a Patron often holding more power than the adventurer or their party, it can be tempting to ask the Patron about every problem or magic item the party encounters. Unlimited information can spoil a lot of important plot points or moments of intrigue if you allow it to happen.
Alternatively, allowing the Patron easy access to the party can prove useful. Perhaps they take over the Warlock, offering a brief moment of sage advice to the party in their own raspy voice, only for the Warlock to have no memory of this encounter. For others, it might be as simple as treating their Patron as a deity, asking for guidance and hoping for an answer. Depending on the Patron’s personality, they might receive it.
This can be more direct, however. If the player is sworn to an Archfey or a Celestial, the Patron may offer specific quests to their Warlock which line up with the parties’ interests; perhaps the party is commissioned to halt a Demon incursion on the behest of a Celestial Patron.
If the Warlock is bonded with an evil-aligned Patron, such as a Fiend, they would most likely try and disrupt good-aligned quests by offering alternative rewards or directly sabotaging the party. A possible example would be the Patron causing the player’s to end up sacrificing the Baron’s son rather than saving him.
Making the Patron Unique
The big issue that many players run across is that the Patron ends up becoming a power-hungry cliche. In order to avoid this, define the relationship between the Patron and the Warlock early on. Here are a few ways to avoid the cliches of all-powerful beings.
The Parent- having a traditionally evil Patron redefined as a parental figure can be extremely interesting. An example would be to take Camozotz, the Demon Lord of Bats and Fire, and altering him into a civilized and caring demon lord who aims to build up a court of Warlocks and bat demons as his surrogate children. His behavior for the Warlock would be supportive, but also slightly aloof and potentially over-protective.
The Monarch- taking a Patron who is often seen as kindly and good, and making them distant and hard is another option. The Warlock may have sworn to an ancient Spirit Naga and discovered the Patron has little interest in them as a person or the party, but simply sees them as a tool to influence the world. This Patron may act rude, entitled, or abusive towards their host and their companions.
The Friend- another great option is turning player expectations on their heads. Many know Old Ones from the works of H.P. Lovecraft to be unknowable beings from beyond our reality. But what if the player’s Patron was instead the most minor Old One imaginable? Lonely, adrift in the cosmos, and looking for a friend? A high-pitched and intrusively friendly Old One now lends itself to a number of comedic & tension-building scenarios for the party.