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DnD 5e - The Warlock Handbook

Last Updated: December 3rd, 2019

Disclaimer

I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.

  • Red: Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
  • Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances
  • Green: Good options.
  • Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.

I will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, even if it is my own, because I can't assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. I also won't cover Unearthed Arcana content because it's not finalized, and I can't guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.

Introduction

The Warlock is likely the easiest of any spellcaster to play. You get only a handful of spell slots at a time, and never have to juggle multiple spell slot levels. Warlocks have a list of spells known, so you don't need to worry about changing your spells on a daily basis. Warlocks also get the most powerful damage cantrip in the game, giving them a solid, reliable option for violence in between your big spells.

The Warlock typically fills the party's Wizard-equivalent requirement, offering options as a Controller and Striker, and with some minor investments the Warlock can also serve as the party's Face. The Warlock falls a bit short in terms of Utility spell options, but that can be mitigated with Pact of the Tome and a few Invocation choices if your party can't compensate for that shortcoming.

Warlock Class Features

Hit Points: d8 is pretty good for a dedicated spellcaster.

Saves: Wisdom and Charisma saves are great for resisting things like mind control and paralysis which might subdue you, but Warlocks will have lots of issues with effects that affect their bodies.

Proficiencies: Light armor and simple weapons are fine since you definitely won't use weapons, but the skill list is frustrating. You get two skills and access to a couple of Face skills, but most of your non-Face skills are Intelligence-based.

Otherworldly Patron: See "Subclasses - Otherworldly Patrons", below.

Pact Magic: Warlocks have a completely unique form of magic. Unlike other spellcasters your spell slots are all the same, and you only get a handful of them, but they recharge on a short rest. This means that you will need to rely much more heavily on cantrips, and use your slotted spells when they can be the most effective. Because Pact Magic works different from other spellcasting, be sure to double-check the Multiclassing rules before you look at other spellcasting classes.

Eldritch Invocations: You get a total of 8 invocations over the course of 20 Warlock levels. You can't get everything, so stick to options which solve problems which your party can't solver otherwise or to options which you can apply frequently.

  • 2nd-Level:
    • Agonizing BlastPHB: Nearly every Warlock takes this. The damage is simply too good to pass up. The damage grows multiplicatively as you get additional rays, so it will range from +3 at 2nd level to +20 at 17th.
    • Armor of ShadowsPHB: You already get light armor, and Mage Armor is only +1 AC over studded leather. You don't get enough invocations to justify wasting one on this.
    • Beast SpeechPHB: Very situational.
    • Beguiling InfluencePHB: Very helpful if you want to be a Face, but you already get Deception as a class skill, and you can pick up Persuasion from your background.
    • Devil's SightPHB: Darkvision can be an immense tactical advantage, but it's negated by a torch. Devil's Sight allows you to use magical darkness, including the Darkness spell, to gain a massive advantage over your foes.
    • Eldritch SightPHB: Nearly every spellcaster gets Detect Magic and can cast it as a ritual. The only advantage your get with this is that it works faster.
    • Eldritch SpearPHB: 120 feet is usually enough for most encounters. If the encounter takes place at greater range than that, you can always walk closer.
    • Eyes of the Rune KeeperPHB: Pick up Book of Ancient Secrets or the Ritual Caster feat.
    • Fiendish VigorPHB: At a 1 hour duration and without requiring Concentration, you can cast this repeatedly until you roll the maximum hit points every time you have a few rounds to do so. Unless you're sleeping, you should always have this running.
    • Gaze of Two MindsPHB: Very situational. I can't think of a time to use this repeatedly.
    • Grasp of HadarXGtE: If you're using Eldritch Blast enough to justify investing in it,` you generally want to keep enemies away from you. However, the option to pull enemies closer may be helpful for your allies.
    • Lance of LethargyXGtE: A minor nuisance. Effects don't stack with themselves, so you can't use this to repeatedly reduce the target's speed.
    • Mask of Many FacesPHB: In a game involving stealth or intrigue the ability to disguise yourself is a big advantage. The ability to do it at a moments notice at no cost allows you to be anyone any time.
    • Misty VisionsPHB: This won't remain competitive as you level.
    • Repelling BlastPHB: This can be especially nice as you gain additional rays to keep enemies well out of melee range, but it's not always useful and at low levels the 10 foot push won't make a huge difference.
    • Thief of Five FatesPHB: A great debuff at any level, but at low levels it may not affect enough creatures to be worth the spell slot.
  • (Requires Pact Boon)
    • Aspect of the MoonXGtE: If you really feel like you need this, you should have played an elf.
    • Book of Ancient SecretsPHB: This is essentially the Ritual Caster feat. The effects of a feat for the cost of an invocation is pretty great, and since you are your party's Wizard-equivalent you might need to be able to access important ritual spells. It also replaces the need for several of the invocations which give you access to ritual spelols, including Beast Speech, Eyes of the Rune Keeper, and M
    • Gift of the Ever-living OnesXGtE: This includes healing spells like Healing Word and Cure Wounds, but it also includes Hit Dice rolled while resting. If you're a melee warlock, Pact of the Chain might be a good option so that you can pick this up.
    • Improved Pact WeaponXGtE: In a campaign with no magic items, this could be really great. Even if magic items are available, many magic weapons don't offer +1 to attacks and damage, and any bonus to attack rolls is great. The ability to conjure longbows also means that melee warlocks can easily switch to ranged combat, and can entirely forgo Eldritch Blast and the invocations which warlocks typically spend to optimize it.
    • Voice of the Chain MasterPHB: Familiars make great scouts, so exploring dangerous places through your familiar is a great way to do things. It's also helpful for communicating with other creatures at a safe distance.
  • 5th-Level:
    • Cloak of FliesXGtE: This remains in effect until you dismiss it, making it an excellent buff both offensively and defensively. Melee warlocks can capitalize on this by diving into groups of enemies and attempting to catch as many as possible in the area. If enemies attempt to flee, take opportunity attacks, then chase them down on the following turn. Against enemies that are especially hard to hit, force them into a corner, block their escape, stand next to them, and Dodge. The damage is guaranteed and doesn't allow a save, so against many enemies you can stand still and wait for them to fall over.
    • Eldritch SmiteXGtE: I don't think this is worth a spell slot to activate. The damage is decent, but you can usually do a lot more by using that spell slot to cast a spell, even if the spell only does damage. Knocking enemies prone is tempting, but it also makes them hard for you to hit with ranged attacks.
    • Gift of the DepthsXGtE: Only useful in aquatic campaigns, and if you're in an aquatic campaign you probably want the ability to function underwater much sooner than 5th level.
    • Maddening HexXGtE: 5 damage as a Bonus Action. If you run Hex all day long, this will be free damage during most rounds.
    • Mire the MindPHB: Slow is a fine spell, but it doesn't scale with spell slot and you only get to use it once per day. Save your spell slots for other crowd control spells.
    • One with ShadowsPHB: Invisibility is extremely useful. Unfortunately, you need to remain in one place and not do anything to remain invisibile.
    • Sign of Ill OmenPHB: Bestow Curse has a short duration and only affects a single target, and doesn't scale with spell level.
    • Thirsting BladePHB: Helpful for Hexblades to keep pace with more conventional melee characters who get Extra Attack at 5th level, but you may do better with a melee cantrip like Booming Blade. See my article on Melee Cantrips vs. Extra Attack for a breakdown of the math comparing melee cantrip spells to normal martial attacks.
    • Tomb of LevistusXGtE: This is a great panic option, and at 10 temporary hit points per warlock level it should be able to absorb basically anything that hits you unless you're fighting something with a CR well above your level. However, you're incapacitated for the turn after you use this, which means you give up your turn to use it. Unless your allies can come to your aid, that could be a serious problem. Because 5e's death mechanics are so gentle, it may actually be safer to take the damage and fall unconscious, and have an ally heal you later.
  • 7th-Level:
    • Bewitching WhispersPHB: Compulsion is a fun crowd-control effect, but it doesn't scale with spell slot level, and you only get to use it once per day.
    • Dreadful WordPHB: Confusion is an unreliable debuff in the best of cases. I would take Mire the Mind over this any day of the week.
    • Ghostly GazeXGtE: The ability to see through walls, even with limited range, is a huge benefit for adventurers. Knowing what's in the next room of a dungeon can often turn a difficult fight into a cakewalk, or it might help you totally circumvent a problematic encounter.
    • Relentless HexXGtE: Potentially useful for melee warlocks. Your movement is typically sufficient, but if an enemy is especially fast or there are barriers in the way you may find this situationally useful.
    • Trickster's EscapeXGtE: Situational. Freedom of Movement is occasionally great, but you don't get enough Invocation options to make this an easy choice.
    • Sculptor of FleshPHB: Even once per day, Polymorph is a fantastic single-target save-or-suck spell, combined with a fantastic utility spell. Turn your enemies into harmless animals, or turn yourself or an ally into something which allows you to escape, explore, or fight better. However, remember that the target's mental statistics change, so don't go turning your allies into animals or they might forget who they are temporarily.
  • 9th-Level:
    • Ascendant StepPHB: Warlocks get access to Fly, but it's hard to justify spending your precious few spell slots on a buff for yourself. Levitate gets you the biggest benefit of flight (distance from the ground) at much lower cost. However, you still need to concentrate.
    • Minions of ChaosPHB: Only works one per day, but with an hour duration you can get quite a bit of use out of a pet elemental.
    • Otherworldly LeapPHB: Jump is a 1st-level spell, and by this level you can cast Fly.
    • Whispers of the GravePHB: Speak with Dead is one of my favorite divinations because it grants you easy access to information which is otherwise lost forever. With the ability to cast it at will with no cost means that you can interrogate every random mook you kill in your long, sorded career of murder-hoboing.
  • 12th-Level:
    • LifedrinkerPHB: A must for Blade Warlocks. The bonus stacks with your Charisma (for Hexblades) or Strength/Dexterity (for everyone else) to damage, so you're going to have a very solid static damage bonus to your attacks.
  • 15th-Level:
    • Chains of CarceriPHB: By this level you won't see any elementals, but Celestials and Fiends at this level are very powerful. Hold Monster is a fantastic way to disable single targets, and this allows you to completely lock down encounters with three types of monsters.
    • Master of Myriad FormsPHB: If you want to disguise yourself, Mask of Many Faces has been available for a long time. By this level the natural weapons option is terrible, and the aquatic adaptation option is too situation to make this worthwhile.
    • Shroud of ShadowXGtE: If you have a free moment, you should turn invisible. The only times you should be visible are when you're talking to people or when you've broken invisibility.
    • Visions of Distant RealmsPHB: Arcane Eye is one of my favorite scouting options, and the ability to cast it at will makes it even better. Never go into a room without knowing exacty what's inside.
    • Witch SightPHB: Invisibility is an illusion, and locating invisibile creatures is important for a class so dependent on ranged attacks. The 30 foot range is a big problem, unfortunately.

Pact Boon: Where Otherwordly Patron defines where you get your powers, Pact Boon defines how to apply them. Pact Boon offers several options which all offer very different abilities.

  • BladePHB: The Blade Warlock faces several problems. It attempts to shoehorn melee capabilities onto a class with absolutely no business in melee. Since you're stuck in light armor you almost certainly need to rely on a finesse weapon like a rapier or whip, and even then you're adding a frustrating amount of MAD to a class which works just fine on one ability score.

    Compared to a conventional Warlock who would depend on Eldritch Blast for damage, the Blade Warlock will always deal less damage. A Warlock with Eldritch Blast deals 1d10 damage, as much as many two-handed weapons. Agonizing Blast allows you to add Charisma to damage, at least matching a weapon's damage bonus from Strength/Dexterity. You get two Eldritch Blast attacks at level 5, and can get a second attack with your pact weapon thanks to Thirsting Blade. At 11th level Eldritch Blast gets a third ray, adding another 1d10+5 damage at no cost, while the Blade Warlock is stuck picking up Lifedrinker for a damage boost totally 10 damage per round. At this point the blade Warlock has given up range and spent an additional invocation slot for the same damage. The math gets worse when Eldritch Blast adds a 4th ray at 17th level.

    Fortunately, Hexblade fixes these issues. Medium armor and shields dramatically reduce your need for Dexterity. Using your Charisma for Attacks and damage means that you're likely dealing 1d8+10 once you pick up Thirsting Blade, which will be comparable to Eldritch Blast damage with Agonizing Blast, especially once you consider additional buffs which Hexblades can use to boost their melee damage. However, Pact of the Blade is still not essential by any means.

    The biggest appeal is the ability to bypass damage resistance to non-magic weapons, so if your campaign uses magic items this may be less useful. The ability to change the weapon's form is still nice, but most of the time you'll be fine carrying a couple of backup weapons most of the time.

  • ChainPHB: Chain gets you a better familiar than is normally available to other spellcasters. This is fun, and everyone loves having a familiar, but if you have a Rogue in the party there is little reason to keep a pet Scout.
    • Imp: Flight, a laundry list of resistances and immunities, improved Darkvision, Devil's Sight, shapeshifting, and invisibility for free. The Imp is an absolutely incomparable scout. The poison attack may be effective when you first get the imp, but the DC never scales so it won't be effective for long. Imps also have human-like hands, if the art is to be believed, which offers some opportunities like turning door nobs and using tools. The Imp is far and away the best option, offering the best attacks, the best special abilities, and the best resistances. If you're concerned about bringing your imp into places where an imp isn't welcome, it can turn into a raven which increases its flight speed by 20 ft. and doesn't remove its ability to deal poison damage or turn invisible or anything. In fact, you may just want to keep your imp as a raven perpetually.
    • Pseudodragon: Excellent flight speed and Keen Senses, but can't match the Imp's capacity as a scout.
    • Quasit: Very similar to the Imp, except that it can't fly in its natural form.
    • Sprite: Flight, invisibility, and human-like hands, but that's all.
  • TomePHB: Warlocks get one fewer cantrip than most dedicated spellcasters, and two more can give you a lot of useful options. You probably won't need offensive options, so pick up utility options like Shape Water of Thaumaturgy. Tome also plays well into several invocation options which help to reduce the utility gap between the Warlock and a more conventional caster.

Mystic Arcanum: Pick your favorite spells. Remember that the spell slots for these spells don't scale, so it's fine to pick spells which won't scale with spell slot level.

Eldritch Master: This is really disappointing for a capstone ability. You could already get your spell slots back with a short rest, so all this does is save you 59 minutes of standing around. If you have an issue with rests taking too long, find a way to cast Catnap.

Subclasses - Otherworldly Patrons

The ArchfeyPHB

Focused on illusion, deception, and enchantment. The abilities provide severaldefensive options.

  • Expanded Spell List: The 2nd- and 3rd-level options aren't great, but the rest are fantastic. Remember that these options expand your spell list, not your spells known, so you can still choose not to learn the new options which you don't like.
    • 1st-level Spells: Faerie Fire makes things very easy for any Rogues in the party, and it's a great way to handle invisible foes. Sleep is usually an option which Wizards dump after low levels because it's not good enough to spend high-level spell slots on, but Warlocks cast every spell with their best spell slot, so there's no reason why Sleep can't remain a go-to option for a Warlock.
    • 2nd-level Spells: Calm Emotions is very situational. Phantasmal Force is really cool for messing with your enemies, but the fact that it only affects one creature and requires concentration can make it very difficult to use.
    • 3rd-level Spells: Blink is a very effective defensive buff, but Plant Growth is very situational.
    • 4th-level Spells: Dominate Beast is very situational, especially since you won't be running into many beasts by the time you can cast 4th-level spells. Greater Invisibility is an absolutely fantastic spell.
    • 5th-level Spells: Dominate Person is among the best single-target control/debuff spells in the game. Seeming is basically a mass version of Disguise Self with a huge duration. The ability to target unwilling creatures opens up some hillarious tactical options like disguising everyone in the room (including enemies) as the same creature.
  • Fey Presence: A 10-foot cube centered on you means that you need to be adjacent to whatever you want to affect. The effect is helpful if you get caught in melee and don't want to be, but try your best to never need this.
  • Misty Escape: This is a great way to get away from a big enemy with multi-attack or from damage-dealing area effects which leave lingering effects. Or, if you don't have a good teleportation option have your party members slap you around a little and "escape" from them.
  • Beguiling Defenses: Situational.
  • Dark Delirium: A decent single-target debuff, but by this level you've got plenty of spells which can provide similar effects. Still, the flavor is absolutely beautiful.

The CelestialXGtE

The Celestial offers two tempting options: access to some cleric spells, and access to some sources of radiant/fire damage. Unfortunately, it doesn't do either especially well. The radiant/fire damage options will still lag behind your core Warlock options, and the Cleric spell options are so limited that they're only good in a party where having a real divine spellcaster is not a possibility. If you're desperate for some healing options but also need to be a warlock for some reason, the Celestial is fine. Otherwise, it's a mediocre mix of healing and blasting.

  • Expanded Spell List: Most of the options are poor attempts to introduce fire damage to the Warlock's spell list, but there are a handful of useful options mixed in with the garbage.
    • 1st-level Spells: You don't really need either. Cure Wounds is always tempting, but you get Healing Light which will provide comparable healing without eating your extremely limited spell slots.
    • 2nd-level Spells: Both good options, but Lesser Restoration should be left to your party's divine spellcaster if possible. Flaming Sphere is looks tempting with Radiant Soul, but Radiant Soul only applies to one damage for a given spell, so you don't get to apply it every time your sphere hits something..
    • 3rd-level Spells: Get Revivify. Let me clarify: you should really get Revivify. It's really good.
    • 4th-level Spells: Wall of Fire is one of the most iconic area control spells, and it works very well in the warlock philosophy of spending one spell slot to massively reshape an encounter before reverting to cantrips. Unfortunately you still only get to apply Radiant Soul once each time you cast it.
    • 5th-level Spells: Both are good spells. Flame Strike will apply Radiant Soul to everything it hits because it's all one damage roll, and Restoration is an important healing option. However, spending a spell slot just to do damage is generally a poor idea for warlocks, and you should probably leave high-powered healing to your party's divine spellcaster if you can.
  • Bonus Cantrips: Warlocks don't have a way to create light with a cantrip, so light is nice. Sacred Flame won't matter often, but more cantrips never hurt.
  • Healing Light: Roughly equivalent to Healing Word.
  • Radiant Soul: Warlocks deal the vast majority of their damage with Eldritch Blast. Celestial warlocks get Sacred Flame, which is probably the best way to make use of this. If you pick up Agonizing Blast (you should, it's amazing) this will almost never come up. If you don't, Sacred Flame might do slightly more damage than Eldritch Blast. The Celestial's expanded spell list offers a handful of extra spells that deal radiant/fire damage, but most of them aren't a great use of your warlock spell slots.
  • Celestial Resilience: This will save a ton of your party's healing resources. It's not quite as good as the Inspiring Leader feat, but it's very close, and you don't need to give your party a pep talk to make it work.
  • Searing Vengeance: There is no save on the blinding effect, so you can stand up and safely walk yourself to somewhere safe before going back to lasering stuff to death.

The FiendPHB

Straightforward and effective, The Fiend offers mostly offensive options which improve the Warlock's ability to kill stuff, but also offers some extremely potent defensive abilities. The Fiend is a blaster first and foremost, and is heavily dependent on fire damage, so consider taking the Elemental Adept feat.

  • Expanded Spell List: Warlocks don't get any AOE blast spells, which means that they often have trouble against crowds of enemies. The Fiend's spell list offers several excellent options to address this.
    • 1st-level Spells: Burning Hands is a great AOE, especially at low levels. Command is a great control/debuff effect and scales really well with your spell slots.
    • 2nd-level Spells: Blindness/Deafness is a powerful debuff, but allowing repeated saves can make it unreliable. Scorching Ray is a bit redundant with Eldritch Blast, but it scales very well.
    • 3rd-level Spells: A good AOE blast and a good area control effect.
    • 4th-level Spells: I don't really like Fire Shield, but Wall of Fire is one of the best area control spells in the game.
    • 5th-level Spells: Flame Strike is a bit redundant with Fireball, but the damage will be better. Hallow is very situational.
  • Dark One's Blessing: This makes Fiendish Vigor considerably less important. It also makes it important that you occasionally pick off weak foes to ensure that your temporary hit points are up before you focus on more important foes. RAW the creature just needs to be hostile, so a permissive DM might allow you carry around a bag of angry rats and kill one whenever you need temporary hit points.
  • Dark One's Own Luck: Adds an average of 5.5 to your roll, which is about what you get from Advantage. Save this for crucial saving throws.
  • Fiendish Resilience: It doesn't specify energy damage or weapon damage, so if you want to do Slashing for a while then switch to Radiant, you can do it. This is one of very few ways to get resistance to Psychic, Radiant, and Necrotic damage.
  • Hurl Through Hell: Only works once per day, but 10d10 damage is pretty great on top of whatever your attack was.

The Great Old OnePHB

An eclectic mix of options, the Great Old One focuses on drawing power from something unknowable and being appropriately crazy. Some of the abilities are very potent, but just as many are situational and won't see much use. The end result is that the Great Old One Warlock (Often shortened to "GooLock") feels a lot like an Enchanter Wizard.

  • Expanded Spell List: A really diverse mix of debuffs, are control, and utilities.
    • 1st-level Spells: Two great single-target control effects.
    • 2nd-level Spells: Both options are situational, but can be extremely potent if you're clever.
    • 3rd-level Spells: Clairvoyance is a fantastic scouting option if you have a normal number of spell slots, but Warlocks really need to save their spell slots for something more significant and impactful. Sending is situational.
    • 4th-level Spells: Dominate Beast is very situational, especially since you won't be running into many beasts by the time you can cast 4th-level spells. Black Tentacles is one of the best area control spells.
    • 5th-level Spells: Dominate Person is among the best single-target control/debuff spells in the game. Telekinesis is a great utility.
  • Awakened Mind: This is basically free permanent Tongues combined with Telepathic Link. With high Charisma and access to Face skills, you can use this a lot.
  • Entropic Ward: Not as reliable as other mechanics which respond to being attacked, and since most of your attacks are at range you will frequently need to find a way to move out of your foe's reach before attacking.
  • Thought Shield: Both effects are situational. Psychic damage is extremely uncommon.
  • Create Thrall: It's not quite Dominate Person, but it's very similar.

The HexbladeXGtE

Warlocks who want to go into melee will be hard-pressed to find a better option than the Hexblade. Access to better armor, shields, and better weapons solves many issues which warlocks have faced since 5e first released. But beyond mere proficiency improvements, the Hexblade has a lot to offer. Hexblade's Curse is amazing, and the ability to use Charisma for attack and damage with your favorite weapon makes the class very SAD without detracting from the Warlock's excellent spellcasting capabilities. Combining all of the Hexblade's new options, including its expanded spell list, the Hexblade is a truly fearsome threat with a weapon, often meeting or exceeding damage from Eldritch Blast+Agonizing Blast, though the dependence on spell slots for buffs means that the Hexblade's damage output is more "bursty" than other warlocks.

  • Expanded Spell List: The Hexblade's expanded spell list introduces several Smite spells from the Paladin spell list, but since they don't scale well (if they scale at all), they're a poor use of Warlock spell slots. Consider taking for a level or two when you first get them, but retrain them after that when better spells become available.
    • 1st-level Spells: Neither option scales with spell level, so if you take them plan to replace them as soon as something more interesting comes along.
    • 2nd-level Spells: Blur is a tempting defensive option, but you can probably do more with your spell slots. Searing Smite scales with spell level, but not especially well.
    • 3rd-level Spells: Finally some good options! Elemental Weapon is especially good. Keep in mind that the pact weapon granted by Pact of the Blade counts as a magic weapon for the purpose of overcoming damage resistance and immunity. It's technically not a magic weapon unless you bind a specific magic weapon.
    • 4th-level Spells: Phantasmal Killer scales really well with level since the spell's damage gets applies every round, but Staggering Smite isn't a good use of your spell slots since it doesn't scale at all. Both cause the creature to suffer Disadvantage on attack rolls, but Phantasmal Killer works at range and last longer.
    • 5th-level Spells: A good option for problematic single targets, and a good option for swarms of weak enemies.
  • Hexblade's Curse: The damage bonus will be comparable to Hex, so don't feel bad about using this instead. If the target is especially strong, you can always use Hex on a later turn. You only get this once per short rest, so be sure to save it for especially strong enemies. You want to make as many attack rolls as possible, so at high levels this will frequently work best when combined with Eldritch Blast since Warlocks can't get more than three attacks (assuming Thirsting Blade and either two-weapon fighting or Crossbow Mastery). Since this comes in at 1st level and scales based on your proficiency bonus, it's very tempting for class dips into Warlock.
  • Hex Warrior: Medium armor means that you no longer need a ton of Dexterity to pad your AC, making you much safer in melee. Shields are a great option, too, though juggling your weapon to cast spells can get annoying. Allowing you to use your Charisma for attack and damage rolls in place of Strength is crazy powerful. Not only does it make Pact of the Blade considerably easier, but it makes Paladin/Warlock multiclass builds massively more effective.
  • Accursed Specter: At low levels this is a powerful companion, but even when supplemented with temporary hit points and an increase to its attack rolls, it won't contribute significantly at medium or high levels.
  • Armor of Hexes: That's a 50% miss chance. If your AC is passable, you're going to avoid a ton of attacks from the target.
  • Master of Hexes: Fantastic. Moving the effects of the Hex spell require a bonus action, so you can move both before you start making attacks on an ensuing turn. Unfortunately you need to be able to see the creature when you move Hexblade's Curse, so you won't be able to stretch it between encounters like you can with Hex.

The UndyingSCAG

The Undying seeks to make the Warlock survivable, but hardly manages to do so any better than other patrons. Most of the options are situational and reactionary, and grant the Warlock very few options to actively address problems.

  • Expanded Spell List: A few options are good, but most of the options on the Undying patron's spell list don't add anything important to the Warlock's existing abilities.
    • 1st-level Spells: False life is a bit silly considering you can get Fiendish Vigor. Ray of Sickness is passable, and scales with level, but isn't very exciting so you'll probably replace it very quickly.
    • 2nd-level Spells: Two options for debilitating foes: one more martial foes, and one for spellcasters.
    • 3rd-level Spells: Two situational options, but Speak with Dead is extremely useful in a game where you frequently kill things with useful information.
    • 4th-level Spells: Both options are situational.
    • 5th-level Spells: Contagion is versatile and very powerful, but doesn't scale with level. Legend Lore is situational, but it's essentially "Ask the DM About the Plot" as a spell, which makes it very potent.
  • Among the Dead: A free cantrip, and perpetual Sanctuary against a really common creature type.
  • Defy Death: This is really cool, but only works once per day. You generally want to save this for when you are dying because the healing will bring you back to consciousness. Using it when you stabilize an ally just gives you normal, boring healing.
  • Undying Nature: Very little in-game effect.
  • Indestructible Life: Not a lot of healing, but arcane casters have very few healing options.

Abilities

Charisma is all you need unless you're going for Pact of the Blade and not also taking Hexblade for some reason.

Str: Dump. Melee Warlocks might want a bit to resist grapples and similar issues. If you take a class dip to pick up heavy armor, melee Warlocks can emphasize Strength, but with Hexblade it's still easier to focus on Charisma.

Dex: Melee Warlocks need 14 Dexterity to pad their AC, but Hexblades use Charisma for attack and damage. Other Warlocks still need some for AC.

Con: Everyone needs hit points. You don't need a ton because you can depend on Fiendish Vigor for an easy hp boost, but you still don't want to skimp on Constitution.

Int: A bit for Knowledge skills is nice, but if you don't have any you can dump it.

Wis: Only needed for saves.

Cha: Spells.

Chain/Tome Blade
Point Buy Standard Array Point Buy Standard Array
  • Str: 8
  • Dex: 14
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 10
  • Wis: 10
  • Cha: 15
  • Str: 8
  • Dex: 13
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 12
  • Wis: 10
  • Cha: 15
  • Str: 10
  • Dex: 15
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 8
  • Wis: 8
  • Cha: 15
  • Str: 10
  • Dex: 14
  • Con: 13
  • Int: 12
  • Wis: 8
  • Cha: 15

Races

Charisma bonuses are crucial. Blade pact Warlocks will also want a bonus to Dexterity.

AarakocraEEPC: Flight is fantastic, but the Aarackocra's abilities don't do anything for the Warlock.

AasimarVGTM: The charisma increase and damage resistances are fantastic.

  • Fallen: Good for a bladelock, though you'll have AC problems if you go for Strength-based weapons.
  • Protector: Wisdom isn't especially useful for warlocks, but Radiant Soul is very exciting and can provide useful options in a pinch.
  • Scourge: Excellent for a bladelock, though you'll want to rely more on spells until your get an Ability Score Increase or two to get your Strengh or Dexterity past 16.

BugbearVGTM: Nothing useful for warlocks.

Dwarf: Nothing useful for the Warlock.

  • DuergarSCAG: Nothing useful for the Warlock.
  • HillPHB: Nothing useful for the Warlock.
  • MountainPHB: Nothing useful for the Warlock.

DragonbornPHB: A possible option for a Blade Pact Warlock. The breath weapon helps to supplement your limited spell slots.

ElfPHB: Dexterity is helpful for Blade Pact Warlocks, and Perception is always nice. Drow and Eladrin both make fine choices, but options which provide larger Charisma increases may be better.

  • Drow: Bonus Charisma and some free spells, but Sunlight Sensitivity can be a pain.
  • EladrinMToF: Dexterity and Charisma are a great spread for warlocks, and free teleportation on a short rest means that you don't need to spend one of your spell slots to do it.
  • High Elf: A Wizard Cantrip gets you access to a lot of useful options. Normal Warlocks likely want a Utility option, but Blade Pact Warlocks may want Green-Flame Blade or Booming Blade.
  • Sea ElfMToF: Nothing useful for the Warlock.
  • Shadar-KaiMToF: Nothing useful for the Warlock.
  • Wood Elf: Nothing useful for the Warlock.

FirbolgVGTM: Nothing useful for warlocks.

GenasiEEPC: Nothing useful for the Warlock.

  • Air: Nothing useful for the Warlock
  • Earth: Nothing useful for the Warlock
  • Fire: Nothing useful for the Warlock
  • Water: Nothing useful for the Warlock

Gith: Nothing useful for the Warlock.

  • GithyankiMToF: Nothing useful for the Warlock.
  • GithzeraiMToF: Nothing useful for the Warlock.

Gnome: Nothing useful for the Warlock.

  • Deep (Svirfneblin)EEPC / SCAG: Nothing useful for the Warlock.
  • ForestPHB: Nothing useful for the Warlock.
  • RockPHB: Nothing useful for the Warlock.

GoblinVGTM: Nothing useful for warlocks.

GoliathEEPC: Nothing useful for the Warlock.

Half-Elf: Bonuses to all of the Warlock's useful abilities, Darkvision, and a great selection of options from the variant half-elves.

  • AquaticSCAG: Only if you're in an aquatic campaign.
  • DrowSCAG: With a very limited number of spell slots, free spells provide fantastic utility.
  • High/Moon/SunSCAG: Wizard cantrips are great for utility, but you already have the best damage cantrips. If you're a Pact of the Blade warlock, consider Green Flame Blade or Booming Blade to improve your damage output.
  • Keen SensesSCAG: The sidebar describing half-elf variants specifices that you can take Keen Senses in place of Skill Versatility, or a trait based on your elf parentage. Keen Senses give you a single fixed skill, and you're giving up proficiency in any two skills. It should be immediately apparent that this is a terrible trade.
  • WoodSCAG: Nothing useful for the Warlock.
  • VanillaPHB: Two free skills are great, especially if you're the party's Face.

Half-OrcPHB: Nothing useful for the Warlock.

HalflingPHB: Dexterity is helpful for Blade Pact Warlocks, and everyone loves Lucky.

  • GhostwiseSCAG: Nothing useful for warlocks.
  • LightfootPHB Bonus Charisma.
  • StoutPHB Nothing useful for the Warlock.

HobgoblinVGTM: Nothing useful for warlocks.

Human: Versatile and fantastic at everything.

  • Vanilla: Warlocks really only need Charisma, so most of the bonuses are wasted. Try to capitalize on odd base scores.
  • Variant: You still get a crucial bonus to your Charisma, and you can get an awesome feat at level 1.

KenkuVGTM: Nothing useful for warlocks.

KoboldVGTM: Nothing useful for warlocks.

LizardfolkVGTM: The Lizardfolk's natural durability could be appealing for Hexblade warlocks, but their lack of a Charisma increase means that both your spellcasting and your weapon usage will lag until you've picked up some ability score increases

LocathahLR: No Charisma increase.

OrcVGTM: Nothing useful for warlocks.

TabaxiVGTM: An excellent option for a blade pact warlock. Dexterity boosts your AC (and possibly your weapon attacks depending on your ability scores), and Charisma boosts your spells.

Tiefling: Bonus Charisma and some useful spells. The Flames of Phlegethos feat is tempting for Infernal pact warlocks, but it may not be worth the feat with the Warlock's limited pool of spell slots.

  • AsmodeusMToF: A perfectly fine option, but the Intelligence is wasted and you can find better spells from other subraces.
  • BaalzebulMToF: The Intelligence is wasted, but access to Thaumaturgy could be nice.
  • DispaterMToF: Dexterity means better AC, and the spells are great if you want to be sneaky or tricky.
  • FiernaMToF: The Wisdom is largely wasted, but the spells are great for a Face.
  • GlasyaMToF: Dexterity means better AC, and the spells are great if you want to be sneaky or tricky.
  • LevistusMToF: Constitution means more hit points, and the spells offer a nice mix of defensive, offensive, and utility options.
  • MammonMToF: The Intelligence is wasted, and the leveled spells are highly situational.
  • MephistophelesMToF: Flame Blade is tempting for blade pact warlocks, but Zariel is still a better option.
  • ZarielMToF: Strength is wasted, but that doesn't matter much. The big draw is the smite spells.
  • Variant: FeralSCAG: Dexterity is normally fine for a melee build, but for Warlocks you'll be using your Charisma thanks to Hexblade.
  • Variant: Devil's TongueSCAG: Arguably better spell options for a Warlock.
  • Variant: HellfireSCAG: Burning Hands is about as good for the Warlock as Hellish Rebuke, but doesn't require you to be hit to use it.
  • Variant: WingedSCAG: Flight is fantastic, especially for a class so dependent on ranged combat.

TortleTP: Despite the lack of a Charisma increase, Tortles can be a great choice for a Pact of the Blade Warlock. 17 natural armor means that your AC is as good as a comparable warlock with 20 Dexterity, allowing you to focus on quickly raising your Charisma instead without worrying about your AC.

TritonVGTM: A fantastic option for blade pact warlocks. Good ability score increases, and the innate spellcasting provides some good utility options.

VerdanAcInc: Constitution and Charisma is a perfect combination for a Charisma-based spellcaster, and getting Persuasion for free is great. You'll almost certainly be your party's Face, and the Verdan's Telepathic Insight can go a long way to address language barriers despite its limited capabilit.

Yuan-Ti PurebloodVGTM: Good Charisma, some innate spellcasting, Magic Resistance, and Poison Immunity.

Setting-specific races are address below. Not every setting allows every race, and while most races presented in the core rules and in content for the Forgotten Realms can be used in other settings, races specific to settings like Ravnica aren't typically allowed in other settings. Talk to your DM about what races are allowed in your game.

Races of Eberron

BugbearERLW: See above.

ChangelingERLW: Charisma is a great start, and the flexible increase works well in either Dexterity or Constitution. Shapechanger is like a superpowered version of Disguise Self, but Mask of Many Faces fills the same function.

GoblinERLW: See above.

HobgoblinERLW: See above.

OrcERLW: See above.

KalashtarERLW: A Charisma increase, and you'll be really good at Wisdom saving throws despite not being proficient. The Kalashtar doesn't support any specific part of being a warlock, but it's a fine starting point for a warlock of any kind.

ShifterERLW: None of the Shifter's subraces offer a Charisma increase.

  • Beasthide: Bad ability spread.
  • Longtooth: Bad ability spread.
  • Swiftstride: Bad ability spread.
  • Wildhunt: Bad ability spread.

WarforgedERLW: The flexible ability increase goes into Charisma, and the Warforged's other traits will make you more durable than a typical sorcerer before considering spells. A warforged with Mage Armor would have an AC of 14+Dex totally unequipped, allowing you to meet the AC of characters in light armor and a shield. A warforged hexblade can do even better: half-plate, a shield, and 14 Dexterity brings you to 20 AC with very little effort.

Dragonmarks

While the design intent for Dragonmarks was that they would offer some innate spellcasting for everyone, every dragonmark includes an expanded spell list which is arguably a more significant benefit than most of the provided racial traits. Because the expanded spell options are such an important part of the dragonmarks, if you're not playing a spellcaster you're giving up a huge part of your racial traits, which makes it exceptionally difficult to justify playing a dragonmark character who can't cast spells.

Dragonmarks are uniquely helpful for the Warlock. Any amount of extra spellcasting can significantly improve your capabilities since your spell slots are so limited. Because your spell slots work differently from other spellcasters, spells which scale when they're cast with a higher-level spell slot can often be good options even though other spells on a specific dragonmark's spell list aren't interesting.

Dragonmarked DwarfERLW: Dragonmark traits replace your subrace.

  • Mark of Warding: Bad ability spread.

Dragonmarked ElfERLW: Dragonmark traits replace your subrace.

  • Mark of Shadow: The ability score increases are great, the innate spellcasting is good, and there are several dragonmark spells which warlocks can normally only get from specific patrons.

Dragonmarked GnomeERLW: Dragonmark traits replace your subrace.

  • Mark of Scribing: The ability score increases work, and several of the dragonmark spells are new to the Warlock's spell list, but most of the spells aren't very good.

Dragonmarked Half-ElfERLW: Dragonmark traits replace some of your normal racial traits, as described in the entry for each Dragonmark.

  • Mark of Detection: The ability score increases work, and with the exception of two spells available to great old one warlocks, every spell provided by Mark of Detection is new to the Walock spell list. Many of the spells are powerful divination options, offering great utility and scouting options.
  • Mark of Storm: The ability score increases work, and while most of the spells aren't very good they're quickly replaced by better options as you gain levels, and easy to replace spells known, and several of the better spells aren't on the Warlock's spell list.

Dragonmarked Half-OrcERLW: Dragonmark traits replace ALL of your racial traits.

  • Mark of Finding: Bad ability spread.

Dragonmarked HalflingERLW: Dragonmark traits replace your subrace.

  • Mark of Healing: Bad ability spread.
  • Mark of Hospitality: The ability score increases work well, and the spellcasting is surprisingly good for the Warlock. The innate spellcasting offers useful utility options, and the low-level spells include great options that scale well with spell level.

Dragonmarked HumanERLW: Dragonmark traits replace ALL of your racial traits.

  • Mark of Finding: See Mark of Finding under Dragonmarked Half-Orc, above. Mechanically, the final racial traits are identical.
  • Mark of Handling: The ability score increases can work, but many of the racial traits depend on you always having Animal Friendship and Speak With Animals prepared, and neither of them scale as you gain levels. Spending a 5th-level spell slot on a mediocre 1st-level spell feels terrible, and it's rarely useful as you reach mid-level.
  • Mark of Making: The ability score increases can work, but the spellcasting isn't especially useful. Magic Weapon won't work on pact weapons, hexblades already get elemental weapon, and there aren't enough other good options on the spell list to make up for how many options aren't useful for you.
  • Mark of Passage: Dexterity and Charisma are great, free Misty Step is excellent, and nearly every one of the dragonmark spells is new to the Warlock's spell list.
  • Mark of Sentinel: Bad ability spread.

Races of Ravnica

CentaurGGTR: Nothing useful for warlocks.

GoblinGGTR: See above.

LoxodonGGTR: Nothing useful for warlocks.

MinotaurGGTR: Nothing useful for warlocks.

Simic HybridGGTR: The constitution increase is helpful, especially if you're considering Hexblade. Animal Enhancement offers several excellent options as you gain levels, and saves you the trouble of getting those effects from your limited number of spell slots.

VedalkenGGTR: Bad ability spread.

Skills

  • Arcana (Int): One of the most important knowledge skills in the game.
  • Deception (Cha): Important for any Face.
  • History (Int): Situational, and frequently useless in many campaigns.
  • Intimidation (Cha): Important for any Face.
  • Investigation (Int): Helpful, but you probably don't have enough Intelligence or skill choices to justify it.
  • Nature (Int): One of the more important knowledge skills in the game, but the creatures which you can identify with Nature diminish greatly in number as you gain levels.
  • Religion (Int): One of the most important knowledge skills in the game.

Background

This section does not address every published background, as doing so would result in an ever-growing list of options which don't cater to the class. Instead, this section will cover the options which I think work especially well for the class, or which might be tempting but poor choices. Racial feats are discussed in the Races section, above.

Since Warlocks already have high Charisma and access to two Face skills, look for Persusasion, bonus languages, and possibly Insight. If you have high Dexterity, you could also pick up some Rogue skills and Thieves' Tools proficiency.

  • AcolytePHB: Insight, two languages, and a knowledge skill.
  • CharlatanPHB: Fun, but not terribly useful for a Face, and the idea of being a real spellcaster pretending to be a spellcaster is just silly.
  • City WatchSCAG: Insight and two Languages, but Athletics is essentially worthless.
  • Cloistered ScholarSCAG: Two Knowledge skills and two languages.
  • CourtierSCAG: Exactly what you need to be a Face.
  • CriminalPHB: Good if you want to be your party's Rogue-equivalent.
  • Faction AgentSCAG: Insight, and you can pick whatever Face skill or Knowledge skill you want. Two languages, too!
  • Guild ArtisanPHB: Two Face skills not on the Warlock's skill list, plus a language.
  • Knight of the OrderSCAG: Persuasion, a knowledge skill, and a language.
  • Mercenary VeteranSCAG: Persuasion is the only useful bit.
  • SagePHB: Two languages and two knoweldge skills.
  • Urban Bounty HunterSCAG: Good if you want to be a Face or if you want to be your party's Rogue-equivalent.
  • UrchinPHB: Good if you want to be your party's Rogue-equivalent. Probably better than Criminal since you can already get Depecption.
  • Waterdavian NobleSCAG: Persuasion, a language, and a bad knowledge skill.

Feats

This section does not address every published feat, as doing so would result in an ever-growing list of options which don't cater to the class. Instead, this section will cover the backgrounds recommended in the "Quick Build" section of the class description, as well as other backgrounds which I think work especially well for the class, or which might be tempting but poor choices. The possibility of custom backgrounds also means that it is literally impossible for me to provide comprehensive analysis of every potential background in existence.

  • AlertPHB: Warlocks only get a few spell slots, so when you use them they need to have a huge effect on the challenge at hand. Going first makes a lot of your spells more effective because you can get their effects up and running before enemies can respond.
  • AthletePHB: Awful.
  • ActorPHB: In a highly social game, this opens up some interesting options and allows you to further capitalize on your excellent Charisma.
  • ChargerPHB: Even Blade Pact Warlocks should just use Eldritch Blast if you're at a range long enough to justify charging.
  • Crossbow ExpertPHB: Use Eldritch Blast.
  • Defensive DuelistPHB: Blade Pact Warlocks might enjoy this to help compensate for the Warlock's lack of AC.
  • Dual WielderPHB: Blade Pact Warlocks only get one pact weapon, and two-weapon fighting usually isn't a good option without the Fighting Style.
  • Dungeon DelverPHB: Warlocks don't have the skills to back this up.
  • DurablePHB: Pick up Fiendish Resilience, and it will go a long way to compensate for a lack of healing options.
  • Elemental AdeptPHB: The Warlock's most iconic spell, Eldritch Blast, deals force damage and isn't compatible with Elemental adept.
  • GrapplerPHB: Warlocks don't get Athletics.
  • Great Weapon MasterPHB: Hexblades can make effective use of two-handed weapons, which makes this a possibility. Hexblade's curse allows you to score a critical hit against the target on a 19-20, which makes it more likely that you can trigger the first portion of the feat. If you use Darkness with the Devil's Sight invocation you can easily get Advantage, making the second half of the feat a safe and reliable option.
  • Heavily ArmoredPHB: Tempting for a Hexblade, but the Strength requirements for full plate make heavy armor unappealing.
  • HealerPHB: Find a Cleric.
  • Inspiring LeaderPHB: You have the Charisma to back this up, and it removes the need for Fiendish Vigor.
  • Keen MindPHB: Awful.
  • LinguistPHB: Use magic.
  • LuckyPHB: Good on anyone.
  • Mage SlayerPHB: Too situational.
  • Magic InitiatePHB: The cantrips are tempting, but if you really need these abilities you should select Tome Pact.
  • Martial AdeptPHB: Not useful enough with only one superiority die.
  • Medium Armor MasterPHB: Heavy armor isn't appealing for Hexblades because of the Strength requirements to wear it, so medium armor master can allow you to match heavy armor AC without caring about Strength. That's nice, but it's also only a difference of +1 AC, and you need 16 Dexterity to make it happen. That's a lot of cost for little pay off unless you're using Dexterity for other things like Stealth.
  • MobilePHB: Blade Pact Warlocks might enjoy this so that they can remain safely out of reach, but you still need to have another melee character to tank for you.
  • Moderately ArmoredPHB: If you're not getting by in light armor as a non-hexblade, you need to go straight to heavy. Multiclass.
  • Mounted CombatPHB: It's hard to play a mounted character without a special mount ability of some kind.
  • ObservantPHB: Warlocks don't have the skills or abilities to support this.
  • Polearm MasterPHB: Hexblades can make effective use of polearms. I would probably stick to a quarterstaff or spear (spear was added in errata in 2018) so that you can use a shield to compensate for the Warlock's relatively poor AC and low hitpoints, but maybe you're braver than I am.
  • ResilientPHB: If you were going to be good at a save, your class would have given it to you.
  • Ritual CasterPHB: Pick up Tome Pact.
  • Savage AttackerPHB: This is a bad feat. The largest damage die (d12), yields an average of 2 extra damage per turn.
  • SentinelPHB: It's hard to justify this for a Blade Pact Warlock, but you might be able to make it work.
  • SharpshooterPHB: Warlocks don't use ranged weapons.
  • Shield MasterPHB: Warlocks don't get Shield Proficiency by default.
  • SkilledPHB: Warlocks can get all of the skills which they're any good with from their class and background.
  • SkulkerPHB: Sniping is for Rogues.
  • Spell SniperPHB: Removes the need for Eldritch Spear, and makes Eldritch Blast (and many other spells) more reliable.
  • Tavern BrawlerPHB: Unarmed Warlocks aren't a thing.
  • ToughPHB: Blade Pact Warlocks might consider this since Warlocks don't really have enough hit points to be a melee character.
  • War CasterPHB: If you're a Hexblade, you want this. Juggling your weapon to cast spells is annoying, but the ability to reliably maintain Concentration when you take damage means that you can reliably maintain Hex even while drawing a lot of attacks.
  • Weapon MasterPHB: You get all of the weapon proficiencies that you need to function.

Weapons

Only Blade Pact Warlocks actually need weapons, which means that only Hexblades should be using them. Your choice of weapon matters fairly little, and Pact of the Blade allows you to change your weapon easily (unless you've bound a magic weapon), so you can easily choose a weapon to suit the situation. Hexblades get proficiency with shields, and since warlocks have relatively low hit dice and hexblades still only get medium armor I think a shield is a good idea most of the time.

  • Whip: One-handed and reach mean that you don't need to be in enemies' reach to attack, and you can still hold a shield in your other hand.

Armor

  • Leather: Starting Gear
  • Studded Leather: The best armor most Warlocks can hope for.
  • Half Plate: Hexblades' best armor.

Warlock Spells

This is not a comprehensive guide to every available spell, as that would be an exercise in madness. The following is a brief compilation of the most notable spells available to the class. Spells available via Magic Initiate are also excluded; for suggestions for Magic Initiate, see the "Feats" section, above.

Cantrips

  • Booming BladeSCAG: Keeping an enemy in melee is surprisingly difficult in 5e since movement is so easy and opportunity attacks are often fairly gentle. Booming Blade is a great solution to this issue. However, unless you're a Hexblade it's not an option you want to use. See my article on Melee Cantrips vs. Extra Attack for a breakdown of the math comparing melee cantrip spells to normal martial attacks.
  • Create BonfireXGtE: Passable are control, especially for a cantrip, but it requires Concentration so it locks out important options like Hex.
  • Eldritch BlastPHB: The second highest damage of any cantrip in the game (at least bade damage; Agonizing Blast puts Eldritch Blast well ahead of everything else), and it deals Force damage, so almost nothing is immune to it. Since you get multiple attacks it's more reliable than other cantrips which are hit-or-miss, but you're also more likely to only deal partial damage compared to single-attack cantrips. Be sure to pick up Agonizing Blast for a spectacular damage boost.
  • Green-Flame BladeSCAG: If you are a Hexblade and you don't take this, you are making a mistake. Until you get Thirsting Blade, this is a straight damage boost. Even when you get Thirsting Blade, Green-Flame Blade may do more damage in some circumstances, and Green-Flame Blade will continue to scale in damage long after you stop getting additional weapon attacks.\ See my article on Melee Cantrips vs. Extra Attack for a breakdown of the math comparing melee cantrip spells to normal martial attacks.
  • Lightning LureSCAG: Situational, but potentially useful for hexblades.
  • Poison SprayPHB: Use Toll the Dead.
  • PrestidigitationPHB: Almost too useful to forgo.
  • Sword BurstSCAG: Dealing with crowds of enemies is often difficult for weapon users, and the Hexblade is no exception. Even with Thirsting Blade, Swird Burst will deal consistently more damage any time you're facing three or more adjacent enemies. See my article on Melee Cantrips vs. Extra Attack for a breakdown of the math comparing melee cantrip spells to normal martial attacks.
  • ThunderclapCGtE: Swordburst, but it deals sonic damage and targets Constitution saves. Constitution saves tend to be high, so Swordburst is a better option.
  • Toll the DeadPHB: Enemies spend most of their time in an encounter with less than full hit points, so the d12 damage scaling will occur more often than the d8 scaling. Between that and targeting Wisdom saves instead of consistently high Constitution saves, Toll the Dead is already a massively better spell than Poison Spray. Of course, Agonizing Blast will make Eldritch Blast do considerably more damage, but Eldritch Blast suffers Disadvantage while you're adjacent to an enemy, so Toll the Dead is a good backup option.

1st-Level Spells

  • Armor of AgathysPHB: Exclusive to warlocks and a truly excellent defensive option, this both protects you and harms enemies. The scaling is fantastic, too, so it remains powerful and effective at every spell level. At high levels this may do more damage than casting offensive spells, especially against foes that make numerous attacks with relatively low damage. However, it requires that you be attacked and damaged with melee attacks, so if your AC is too high it won't work and if you're standing behind a defender it won't matter.
  • Arms of HadarPHB: It's more fun than taking the Withdraw action, but otherwise it's unremarkable. The damage scaling is passable, but I wouldn't consider this a go-to combat option. It may be worth consideration if you're a non-hexblade with a bad habit of getting dragged into melee, but otherwise skip it.
  • Cause FearXGtE: Disadvantage on ability checks usually doesn't matter in combat unless a grapple is happening or if someone is dispelling or countering a spell, but preventing a creature from moving toward you can be enough crowd control to win an encounter while you and your allies shoot it to death.
  • Hellish RebukePHB: Warlocks don't get enough spell slots to devote one to this. The damage is decent and the scaling is good, but Armor of Agathis is better by a massive margin. For the Warlock, Hellish Rebuke's only redeeming quality is that it is cast as a reaction.
  • HexPHB: An excellent damage boost, especially once you get multiple rays with Eldritch Blast. As you gain levels you'll eventually be able to make one casting of Hex last all day long, limited only by the need to concentrate. Melee warlocks will face issues maintaining Concentration unless they pick up War Caster, and the need to concentrate on this makes it difficult to use other spells which require Concentration.
  • Protection from Evil and GoodPHB: An excellent defensive option at any level, but since it requries Concentration you'll need to drop your Hex.
  • Witch BoltPHB: A solid option at very low levels because you can get so much out of a single spell slot, but the secondary damage doesn't scale so this becomes obsolete when you can do more than an average of 6.5 damage with an action. Agonizing blast will get you over that threshold almost immediately, though the guaranteed damage from Witch Bolt's secondary damage may still net more damage than potentially missing with Eldritch Blast.

2nd-Level Spells

  • Cloud of DaggersPHB: It's hard to guarantee that this will deal damage unless you have a good way to keep an enemy in the area of effect. An ally who likes to grapple will work, but that's hard to guarantee, and it's an extra point of failure. The damage will roll reliably because it's spread over multiple small dice, but even then the damage won't be great unless you can hold a single target in the area for several rounds. If you want single-target damage, go for something with more damage up front. If you want area control, go for something with a bigger area. If you're fine with putting area damage into a single square, cast Create Bonfire.
  • Crown of MadnessPHB: This spell is borderline unusable. The creature must attack before it moves, so you may be able to make it attack an ally once immediately after the spell is cast, but it retains control over its movement so it's free to walk away from its allies. On top of that, you need to spend your own action to maintain the spell rather than simply concentrating, so you're eating your own turns for the remote chance that the target will wander up to another of its allies.
  • DarknessPHB: Warlocks are the only class that provides a way to see in magical darkness, and other than devils there are almost no creatures that can see in magical darkness. That makes magical darkness a massive tactical advantage for you.
  • EarthbindXGtE: Situational and not terribly effective. If you're worried about flying enemies getting out of range, hit them with Lance of Lethargy or Grasp of Hadar.
  • Hold PersonPHB: Save or suck, and as you get higher-level spell slots you can affect multiple targets.
  • InvisibilityPHB: An essential scouting and infiltration tool, and as you get higher-level spell slots you can affect more of your party.
  • Mirror ImagePHB: Great for wizards, but less useful or warlocks. The duration is too short, the effect can be worn down too quickly, and the spell doesn't scale with spell level. Armor of Agathys is probably a better option.
  • Misty StepPHB: Teleport as a bonus action with only verbal components. Teleport out of grapples, ropes, manacles, etc.
  • Ray of EnfeeblementPHB: Garbage. The targets you want to use this on will have good Constitution saves.
  • Shadow BladeXGtE: Unfortunately, Shadow Blade won't work especially well for the Hexblade because you can't use it as your Charisma for attack and damage. It's tempting for other Warlocks, but it's not a good reason to invest in Dexterity to get good with it.

3rd-Level Spells

  • CounterspellPHB: Essential in any party.
  • Dispel MagicPHB: Essential in any party.
  • Enemies AboundXGtE: Astoundingly few enemies have good Intelligence saves, especially big scary melee monsters. Throw this on something tanky and horrifying that's there to protect squishy enemies from you and your friends, and watch it freak out and kill its buddies for you. The duration is only a minute, and obviously this only works in an encounter with multiple enemies, but that doesn't make the spell less awesome.
  • FearPHB: A great way to disable groups of opponents, but it doesn't scale with spell slot level so you may want to trade it out at some point.
  • FlyPHB: A great way to get around, but it requires Concentration so you can be knocked out of the air any time you take you take damage. As your spell slots gain levels you can affect more creatures so your entire party can fly.
  • Gaseous FormPHB: Situational, but a fantastic way to safely infiltrate or scout an area.
  • Hunger of HadarPHB: Exclusive to warlocks, but no spell slot level scaling. The damage is decent, and the area control effects are great for keeping enemies in the area to guarantee that the damage will apply more than once. This is a great spell to cast into a room before locking the door and leaving its occupants to their fate.
  • Hypnotic PatternPHB: AOE save or suck.
  • Thunder StepXGtE: Basically Misty Step with added damage, but it has an Action casting time. The damage is nice, but there's a small window of levels where casting this will do more damage than using Misty Step and casting Eldritch Blast in the same turn.
  • Summon Lesser DemonsXGtE: You can't control the demons, and they're probably not strong enough to win an encounter on their own. The material component may also be problem since it has a 24 freshness timer.
  • Vampiric TouchPHB: Migrants from previous editions should note that this spell is no longer a single attack: The spell lasts a minute and you can repeat the attack every turn. Unfortunately because the range is "Self", you can't cast this through your familiar, so if you want to use this you'll need to wade into melee. This spell is a great option for hexblades who are trying to get by on their d8 hit dice and whose temporary hit points didn't hold up.

4th-Level Spells

  • BanishmentPHB: Save-or-suck on anything extraplanar, and even for native creatures you can lock them out of a fight for up to a minute. Charisma is a great save to target because relatively few creatures have high Charisma. Higher-level spell slots allow you to affect multiple creatures, but you'll max out at 2 targets because Pact Magic spell slots max out at 5th level.
  • BlightPHB: Warlocks don't get enough spell slots to spend one on such a relatively small amount of single-target damage. On top of that, Constitution saves tend to be high among monsters, so enemies are likely to pass the save and take reduced damage.
  • Dimension DoorPHB: You can get the most important parts of Dimension Door from Misty Step, and Misty Step has a bonus action casting time. Of course, you're using the same spell slot for either, so this is a good candidate to pick up after you've run out other interesting spells of 5th level and below. To be clear: This is by no means a bad spell, it's just a bad choice for a Warlock when they can first select it at level 7.
  • Elemental BaneXGtE: Removing damage resistance is great, but many of the Warlock's spells do necrotic, thunder, or force damage, so resistance is almost never a problem.
  • Hallucinatory TerrainPHB: Situational.
  • Shadow of MoilXGtE: Combine this with Armor of Agathys and make attacking you a really bad idea.
  • Sickening RadianceXGtE: One of the Warlock's only ways to reveal invisible creatures. The damage is decent, too.
  • Summon Greater DemonXGtE: Potentially very useful, but Summon Greater Demon is a double-edged sword. The demon is only under your control so long as it keeps failing Charisma saves, so you want to pick something with poor Charisma saves to keep it under your control as long as possible. In a pinch you can use the option to create a safe space and bottleneck the demon in a room full of enemies, then walk away and let the demon run wild. Even at this level a CR 5 is still decently powerful, and thanks to 5e's flat math a CR 5 will remain a meaningful addition to the party for a reasonably long time. As your spell slot levels improve, you can summon more powerful demons, which keeps the spell useful for a long time. It may wane in effectiveness a few levels after you max out at 5th-level spell slots, but if you can find a demon with good utility options Summon Greater Demon may remain viable long past the end of its usefulness in combat.

5th-Level Spells

Pact Magic's spell slots max out at 5th level. All spells available to warlock as higher-level spells are "Mystic Arcana", and work differently from Pact Magic spells. Once you reach 5th-level spell slots at 9th level, you also learn new spells much less quickly. Hopefully you've picked up the essentials already, so plan to go back through the list of lower-level spells for anything which is still useful at high level.

Considering it's the Warlock's highest-level spell slot, it's frustrating that there are so few options on the Warlock spell list.

  • Contact Other PlanePHB: This is a fantastic divination. You can gain a ton of useful information from a handful of yes or no questions. Unfortunately, Intelligence is a dump stat for Warlocks so the save will be very difficult even at a DC of just 15. Try to pad your save bonus however you can: bardic inspiration, Guidance, whatever you can get. Oh, and don't cast this unless you can safely endure the 6d6 damage and spend the rest of the day tied to a bed.
  • Danse MacabreXGtE: As a DM, I'm going to ask you a personal favor: Don't cast this spell on anything except human corpses. The Monster Manual contains only a handful of skeleton and zombie stat blocks, and if you do something silly like raise a bunch of zombie wolves your DM is going to need to generate a new stat block for them in the middle of a game session. At some point I'll write a "Big Book of Skeletons" and "Big Book of Zombies" to convert every living creature in the Monster Manual, but that's probably a long ways off.
  • DreamPHB: While this spell on its own can be very powerful, it's only usable outside of combat, and there are a lot of limitations on its usage. If it were easier for the Warlock to change their spells known this would be fine, but you get an extremely limited number of spells known and you want those options to be consistently useful. If you really want this, make sure that you have plenty of other spells known that can cover your needs in combat.
  • EnervationXGtE: Remember Witch Bolt? Remember how it was a decent use of a spell slot at first level when you had very few spell slots to throw around? Enervation is startlingly similar, but with some notable exceptions. First, Enervation requires a Dexterity saving throw rather than attack roll, and Dexterity saving throws tend to be poor for both big tanky creatures and small squishy casters. Second, it does necrotic damage, which is objectively more useful than lightning damage. Third and finally, Enervation heals you for half the damage it deals, so you can cast this at the beginning of a fight, spend the whole fight using it to deal automatic damage, and walk out at full hit points. The biggest issue I see is that the ongoing damage will probably be lower than what you can get out of Eldritch Blast with Agonizing Blast. You get three rays not long after you get this spell, and 3d10+15 (avg. 31.5) is higher than 4d8 (avg. 18). Save this for enemies with high AC or for when you're low on hit points.
  • Far stepXGtE: Misty Step, but you can activate it again every turn for a minute. The only drawback is that it requires Concentration, which means that you need to drop concentration on other spells to cast this even if you don't need to teleport more than once.
  • Hold MonsterPHB: Single-target save or suck, and it works on non-humanoids.
  • Infernal CallingXGtE: If Summon Greater Demon was a frustrating gamble, Infernal Calling is even more difficult. You need to negotiate with your summoned devil, and unless you're playing to the devil's nature or doing something actively eveil you may find the whole spell totally unreliable. Casting Summon Greater Demon will get you a creature of the same CR, which will likely be sufficient, and doesn't require so much real-world work. There's an option to summon individual devils using their talisman, but getting one of those would be a plot point which the DM would need to include, so don't gamble on that happening.
  • Negative Energy FloodXGtE: Much like Danse Macabre, this requires the DM to produce zombie statistics for creatures on the fly, so I'll politely ask you not to use this on anything which doesn't already have published monster stats. On top of that, it's really hard to time this so that you'll get a zombie. Enervation is probably a better choice.
  • ScryingPHB: Technically situational, but it's a situation that comes up frequently. Any time that you want to know what the BBEG is up to, cast Scrying and take a look. The spell gets easier the more you know the target, and after one face-to-face encounter you could easily make off with something tying you to the target to penalize their saving throw.
  • Synaptic StaticXGtE: Good AOE damage, and creatures that rely on weapon attacks typically have terrible Intelligence saves.
  • Wall of LightXGtE: Less of a wall and more of a hostile opaque rectangle. This is a great area control effect, especially in long corridors. If you can trap enemies inside the area, the 10 minute duration will allow you to do massive amounts of damage with relatively little effort. However, the limitations on the shape of the wall mean that it won't be a great option in every case.

6th-Level Spells

Your first Mystic Arcana. Remember that you only get to cast the spell once per day, unlike your normal spell slots.

  • Arcane GatePHB: Far too situational to consider. Cast Fly and have your party fly the 500 ft. distance instead.
  • Circle of DeathPHB: Decent damage in a huge AOE. Not super exciting, and the 500gp material component is annoying, but the spell doesn't consume it so you can carry around the same bag of dust forever.
  • Conjure FeyPHB: With an hour-long duration, a pet fey can get a lot done for you. Unfortunately this requires concentration, so you can't use Hex at the same time, but the versatility of summoning any Fey of CR 6 and below is probably the best you can get from the only 6th-level spell that you'll ever cast.
  • Create UndeadPHB: Adventuring tends to produce a lot of dead medium humanoids, which gives you plenty of fodder for this spell. Since you never get another 6th-level spell and you can only cast this once per day, you're permanently committed to three pet ghouls, which honestly isn't a bad commitment.
  • EyebitePHB: A signifigant departure from previous editions, Eyebite gives you up to a minute to target one creature each turn. The best option is to put things to sleep, followed by Sickened.
  • Flesh to StonePHB: Single-target save-or suck, but they get three saves.
  • Mass SuggestionPHB: Difficult to use in combat, but potentially a great way to avoid a fight.
  • Mental PrisonXGtE: Decent single-target save-or-suck. Almost nothing has good intelligence saves, which makes this a solid go-to option. The target can't see or hear outside of the mental prison, but you're free to shoot them to death while they decide whether or not to try pushing through the imaginary walls. The spell's biggest problem is that it leaves a lot up to the DM. A brave or stupid creature might try to shove their way through the walls immediately, in which case this is just 15d10 damage with some complications. That's a lot of damage, but you stil lwant more from one of your once/day Mystic Arcana.
  • Investiture of FlameXGtE: The "investitute" spells are hard for warlocks. Each has merits depending on your situation, but warlocks only get one 6th-level spell, so you need to pick one that's always a good go-to option. Flame isn't a great option; the 1d10 damage to adjacent enemies isn't enough to be scary at this level, and the line of fire will do less damage than Eldritch Blast+Agonizing Blast unless you manage to hit two or more creatures.
  • Investiture of IceXGtE: A decent option for Hexblades, the difficult terrain area makes it hard for enemies to get away from you in melee, and the AOE is good for handling groups of weak enemies.
  • Investiture of StoneXGtE: The damage reduction is great, but knocking enemies prone with your action will only help if you have melee allies acting immediately after you in the initiative order.
  • Investiture of WindXGtE: If you want flight, cast Fly. The attack option doesn't do enough damage to be appealing, and if you want to push/pull enemies there are Eldritch Invocations that do it better.
  • ScatterXGtE: Too situational to be locked into it permanently. You could build your spell list to have a bunch of nasty AOEs then use this to drop enemies into them, but that seems silly when you could just use your Mystic Arcana to kill stuff.
  • Soul CageXGtE: This can be really good if you're still facing humanoid enemies frequently at such high level, which certainly isn't a guarantee.
  • True SeeingPHB: Too situational to be locked into every day with your onyl 6th-level spell.

7th-Level Spells

  • Crown of StarsXGtE: Not very exciting, but a solid boost to your damage output. The hour-long duration means that you can easily cast this before going into one or more encounters and use it as-needed, and you don't need to Concentrate to maintain the spell so you can combine it with Hex.
  • EtherealnessPHB: Too situational. Aside from specifically dealing with etheral creatures, you can handle challenges addressed by Etherealness using spells like Gaseous Form.
  • Finger of DeathPHB: Excellent single-target damage, and since there's a flat +30 you're guaranteed to not roll too terribly. The free zombie is nice, too. Unfortunately it's a Constitution save, and those tend to be high.
  • ForcecagePHB: Trap one or more creatures. No save, and the only way out is to use magic. Against non-spellcasters, this is a death sentence. Throw down a damaging AOE like Hunger of Hadar, throw the cage on top of it, and go take a nap.
  • Plane ShiftPHB: Combination travel/banishment in one spell. You can easily replicate teleportation by casting Plane Shift twice to get where you want to be on the same plane. You can also banish a creature to a plane where they'll be really unhappy, like a living creature banished to the plane of fire, or a demon banished to Celestia. The spell requires a Charisma save to resist, and many monsters have terrible Charisma saves because they're horrifying monstrosities.
  • Power Word PainXGtE: A good debuff, but the things you want to affect with it will have too many hit points. Hit them with a save-or-suck instead.

8th-Level Spells

  • DemiplanePHB: A really cool spell, but you only get one 8th-level spell, and you don't need to cast Demiplane on a daily basis.
  • Dominate MonsterPHB: See that horrifying monster over there? Go drive it around for an hour.
  • FeeblemindPHB: A perfect counter to Sorcerers and Warlocks, but I've always found this spell difficult to manage for other enemies. 1 Intelligence and 1 Charisma is obviously very poor, but what is the victim capable of? If they're a cleric, can they still cast spells? What are they smart enough to do in combat? There's a lot of room for the DM to interpret how this works, and while that could be fun it also makes the spell's effect totally dependent on the DM.
  • GlibnessPHB: In many cases you'll know that conversations will take place ahead of time, which makes glibness's hour-long duration fantastic. By this level your Charisma should be 20 already, so you're effectively rolling 20+proficiency bonus on every Charisma check. Counterspell and Dispel Magic also call for ability checks with your spellcasting ability, which means that this even has a use outside of social situations.
  • Maddening DarknessXGtE: Hunger of Hadar's horrifying big brother. Equal parts area control and AOE damage. If you have Devil's Sight, you can see into the area and shoot the unfortunate creatues inside it.
  • Power Word StunPHB: Power word spells are hard because you don't know how many hit points a creature has, but if you can target an appropriate creature this is very effective. This also works on Cosntittuion saving throws, which means that its best reserved for physically frail enemies like spellcasters who have low hit point maximums to behind with.

9th-Level Spells

  • Astral ProjectionPHB: Too situational, too expensive. Use Plane Shift.
  • ForesightPHB: If I woke up one day, not knowing anything about what was going to happen that day, and was told "pick one 9th-level spell right now", I would pick Wish. But Wish isn't on the Warlock spell list, so take Foresight instead. It's difficult to overstate how effective this buff is on literally any character. You do everything for 8 hours with Advantage, and every attack against you is made with Disadvantage. Unless someone hits you with Dispel Magic, you're basically unstoppable. Imagine how many times you're going to score critical hits while you're rolling four rays with Eldritch Blast and Advantage on every one of them.
  • ImprisonmentPHB: This is an incredibly interesting spell, and it's incredibly effective for handling problematic foes who have a habit of rising from thd ead or other such nonsense. However, it is insanely expensive to use even once. It's also not totally clear to me what happens to the material component when you cast the spell. Since nothing is specified, I presume that you're lefting holding the component. That means that you're now responsible for ensuring that no one ever casts a 9th-level Dispel Magic on that component, and you're also not allowed to use that component again for fear of releasing the previous target. If you weren't locked into this spell permanently, it would be fine, but for the Warlock who gets just one 9th-level spell, it's simply too restrictive and too exprensive.
  • Power Word KillPHB: 100 hit points is a very low cap, but it's hard to argue with how effective it is to outright slay a creature with no rolls involved. As an example, a 20th-level wizard with 12 Constitution will have 102 hit points (6+19*4+20), so basically nothing which is scary at this level will be immediately vulnerable, but if your allies can deal a bunch of damage quickly you may be able to use this in round 1 of a fight.
  • Psychic ScreamXGtE: Intelligence saving throws tend to be poor, and this affects up to 10 creatures. The damage is decent, but it is absolutely not the primary appeal of the spell. It's the fact that you can make creatures' heads explode. Or if that's not appealing it's the ongoing Stun effect which again targets those low Intelligence saves. The stun has no limit on its duration, so creatures are stunned until they get a lucky roll, leaving your plenty of time to deal with them and their allies.
  • True PolymorphPHB: Powerful, versatile, and it lasts an hour. This is a spell that really rewards thorough knowledge of 5e's monsters, so go sit down with the Monster Manual etc. and do some reading. You'll want a go-to combat form at CR 17, 18, 19, and 20 for when you need to turn yourself or an ally into a monster, but you should also look for a good CR 9 in case you need to polymorph an object into a pet. Remember that the spell becomes permanent if you keep it running for an hour, so you can also use this to permanently turn yourself or someone else into a monster or a dragon or something. You'll lose all of your Warlock stuff because you assume the creature's statistics, but honestly a CR 20 dragon is much more powerful anyway. The spells final option allows you to turn a creature into an object with no save. Turn them into a flower pot, then either drop them from high enough to deal maximum fall damage (the extra damage carries over to their regular hit points when they revert), throw them into a demiplane, plane shift them somewhere unpleasant, or dispose of them in some other permanent and irrevocable fashion.

Multiclassing

  • Bard: One levels gets you some basic spellcasting. Two gets you Jack of All Trades. Three gets you Expertise and a college. Bards are also Charisma-based spellcasters, so multiclassing between the two is relatively easy.
  • Fighter: Starting as a Fighter gets you heavy armor and shields, which opens up a lot of options for a Blade Pact Warlock. Fighting Style is also nice. Two levels gets you Action Surge, but you won't get a lot from a martial archetype.
  • Paladin: Like a Fighter, you can get heavy armor and shields, which is good for Blade Pact. Two levels gets you Charisma-based spellcasting, a Fighting Style, and Divine Smite which allows you to burn your spell slots to add a bunch of radiant damage to the attack. It's a great way to capitalize on Warlock spell slots refreshing on a short rest, but you will usually be able to do much more with your spell slots by casting spells than by adding a few d8s of damage to a weapon attack.
  • Rogue: Sneak Attack only works with weapons.
  • Sorcerer: Sorcerers are also Charisma-based spellcasters, but their abilities are very level dependent, so you need to devote yourself to leveling as a Sorcerer to benefit from them in any meaningful way.

Example Build - Tiefling Warlock (Fiend)

I can either lean into the "I look like the devil and I deal with the devil for power" stereotype, or I can go for the "I was born this way and I made a pact against my will" angle, and either way it's going to be a cliche.

This is a "Staple Build". This build is simple, and relies on options from the SRD and the Basic Rules wherever possible. If you need a functional build with nothing fancy or complicated, this is a great place to start.

The combination of Tiefling and Infernal patron place a lot of emphasis on fire damage. This is fine in most cases, though you'll have issues against enemies with resistance or immunity to fire damage. Fortunately warlocks can always fall back on Eldritch Blast.

Abilities

Because we're not using feats, there's little incentive to spend the extra points to start with 15 Charisma, so we'll make some adjustments to the ability scores presented above to get the most out of our points. You could switch some points around to raise your Intelligence and/or Wisdom, but neither are important to the build so we won't worry about it.

Base Increased
Str 8 8
Dex 14 14
Con 14 14
Int 11 12
Wis 11 11
Cha 14 16

Race

Tiefling. The Tiefling's ability scores line up nicely for the Warlock, and their racial spells are a nice complement to the Warlock's limited spell slots.

Skills and Tools

With suck high Charisma it's easy to build the Warlock as a Face, so we'll take Deception and Intimidation.

If your party already has a Face, it may be helpful to adjust your ability scores to raise your Intelligence, then pick up options like Arcana, History, Nature or Religion.

Also keep in mind that certain Eldritch Invocations can give you proficiency in more skills.

Background

None of the options in the basic rules are an especially good fit for us as a Face, unfortunately. Criminal gets us a redundant proficiency in Deception which we can trade for Persuasion, and Noble gets us Persuasion on its own, so either of the two will work. If you pick Criminal, Thieves' Tools proficiency and Stealth will help you act as your party's Scout, too.

If you chose to emphasize knowledge skills over Face skills, look at Acolyte or Sage.

Feats

With a singular focus on Charisma and a starting score of 16, there's plenty of room for feats in this build. Elemental Adept (Fire) and Flames of Phlegethos will both help keep your fire damage options useful, and Magic Initiate can help pad your spellcasting options.

Levels

At this level you can cast Hellish Rebuke as a racial spell, so knowing it as a Warlock spell is less useful. You don't want to need Hellish Rebuke frequently, so consider replacing Hellish Rebuke with another 2nd-level spell like Mirror Image.

Level Feat(s) and Features Notes and Tactics
1
  • Otherworldly Patron (The Fiend)
  • Dark One’s Blessing
  • Pact Magic
  • Spells Known:
    • Burning Hands
    • Hellish Rebuke
  • Cantrips:
    • Eldritch Blast
    • Mage Hand

For your starting equipment take a light crossbow and 20 bolts, either a component pouch or spellcasting focus (I like the focus because it feels cooler even though they're functionally identical), either pack, leather armor, any simple weapon you like (you won't use it), and a dagger.

The Warlock starts immediately with a relationship to their patron. This means that you can learn spells from your patron's spell list (provided that they're of a spell level which you can cast), and you get a patron ability. In our case, that's Dark One's Blessing. This is a great way to pad your hit points, and even though you're only getting 4 temporary hit points at this level that's still almost half of your normal hit point maximum (10 at this level).

Pact Magic starts of slow. You get just two spells known and just one spell slot to share between the two, so your spell slot needs to do a lot of work between short rests. Normally I recommend hex as the go-to option at this level, but Hex isn't in the Basic Rules or the SRD, so we'll look elsewhere. Use Burning Hands to handle multiple enemies, or save your spell slot for Hellish Rebuke if something gets into melee with you.

For cantrips, take Eldritch Blast for fighting and Mage Hand for utility. I would normal say Prestidigitation, but you get Thaumaturgy for free as a Tiefling, which I think provides enough magical miscellany to get you through first level.

When combat breaks out, your go-to option is either Eldritch Blast or your crossbow. Your crossbow will deal more damage (1d8+2 avg. 6.5 vs. 1d10 avg 5.5), but your Eldritch Blast is cooler and will be slightly more accurate. The differences are minor, so don't stress about the decision too much. If you get dragged into melee somehow, you're decent with a dagger, but if you're injured you're better served by running away than by trying to trigger Hellish Rebuke.

I typically recommend Hex as a good 1st-level spell for the Warlock because you can get so much mileage out of one spell slot. Unfortunately, Hex is omitted from the SRD, so we'll skip it for this build.

2
  • Eldritch Invocation:
    • Agonizing Blast
    • Devil's Sight
  • New Spell Known: Protection from Evil and Good

At this level you get your second spell slot, and you get Agonizing Blast. Agonizing Blast adds your Charisma bonus to the damage dealt by Eldritch Blast, making it truly your go-to option for combat. Unfortunately you won't get a third spell slot until 11th level, so get used to managing the two you have between rests.

At this level consider learning Protection from Evil and Good. it's a solid, reliable defensive spell that's always good to have on hand, even if you don't need it for a while.

3
  • Pact Boon (Pact of the Chain)
  • New Spell Known: Darkness

At third level you get to pick a Pact Boon. Pact of the Tome is probably the most effective choice, but the intent of this build is to focus on simple yet effective options so we'll take Pact of the Chain. To fit the theme of our Fiend patron warlock, we'll take an Imp.

The Imp is easily the best familiar option available. See my assessment of Pact of the Chain above. At this level you might consider sending your imp to attack rather than casting Eldritch Blast. If it hits, your imp will deal 1d4+3+3d6 (avg. 16) damage compared to just 1d10+3 (avg. 8.5) with Eldritch Blast, and you and the imp have the same +5 attack bonus. However, this also places your familiar in harm's way, and repeatedly spending 10gp to cast Find Familiar can become a drain on your limited funds.

This level raises your spell slots to 2nd level, so you can start learning 2nd-level spells. We took the Devil's Sight invocation at 2nd level so that you can see in magical darkness, so learn Darkness at this level so that you can start using the two. Keep in mind that your allies probably can't see in magical darkness, so if you cast Darkness expect to do a lot of work on your own. Send your familiar to use the Help action to assist your allies, which will offset the Disadvantage for attacking in the dark.

4
  • Ability Score Improvement (Charisma 16 -> 18)
  • New Cantrip: Any
  • New Spell Known: Invisibility

Your first Charisma does a lot for you. Your attack bonus with Eldritch Blast is now higher than your imp's attack bonus, but you may still want to send your imp to attack for its considerably higher damage if that has proven to be a good tactic for you.

At this level you learn a new cantrip. I suggest a utility option like Minor Illusion or Prestidigitation, but you may want Chill Touch if you really want more offensive options for some reason.

By this level we have a defensive spell (Hellish Rebuke), an AOE spell (Burning Hands), and an area control spell (Darkness), so a utility spell or crowd control spell is a good addition to our arsenal. I recommend Invisibility, but Enthrall and Spider Climb are great options too.

5
  • New Eldritch Invocation: Voice of the Chain Master
  • New Spell Known: Fly
  • Retrain Spell: Burnings Hands -> Fireball

At 5th level you get access to some new invocation options. There are several great options, but I really want to lean into how great your familiar is so we'll take Voice of the Chain Master. This opens a fun combination: Voice of the Chain Master allows you to speak through your familiar. Thaumaturgy (which you get as a racial spell) allows you to triple the volume of your voice. Your imp can turn invisible. So you can have your imp turn invisible, fly somewhere, and you can speak through your imp like a terrifying invisible megaphone. I don't know exactly what you would use this for, but the fact that it's possible makes me boundlessly happy.

5th level brings 3rd-level spells, which is really exciting. The SRD doesn't include any exciting offensive options on the Warlock list, but your patron gives you access to Fireball, so we'll replace Burning Hands with Fireball. We'll learn Fly with the new spell known because flying is really cool.

At this level you gain the ability to cast Darkness as a racial spell. That's a good excuse to retrain Darkness into another new spell, but we'll need to wait another level because we're retraining Burning Hands at this level.

Finally, 5th level adds a second ray to Eldritch Blast. Two rays at 1d10+4 damage easily outdoes your imp, so it's time for the imp to go back to a support role rather than an offensive one.

6
  • Dark One’s Own Luck
  • New Spell Known: Counterspell
  • Retrain Spell: Darkness -> Dispel Magic

Dark One’s Own Luck add a nice backup when you roll poorly on a saving throw. Of course, a d10 will range wildly in value, so you can't always rely on it to save you.

At this level we'll retrain Darkness, and add two crucial utility options to our arsenal. Counterspell allows you to shut down enemy spellcasts (though it will feel like a disappointing way to spen a spell slot) and Dispel Magic will allow you to remove problematic ongoing magical effects.

7
  • New Eldritch Invocation: Repelling Blast
  • New Spell Known: Wall of Fire

7th level brings 4th-level spells and another invocation. Unfortunately, the SRD's options for 4th-level spells aren't great, and there are few invocation options that are especially interesting at this level. We'll learn Wall of Fire and Repelling Blast so that you can put up a wall of fire and use Eldritch Blast to push enemies into it.

8
  • Ability Score Improvement (Charisma 18 -> 20)
  • New Spell Known: Banishment

At this level we're at maximum Charisma. More attack and damage with Eldritch Blast and a higher save DC with everything else.

There's not much else going on at this level. Grab Banishment so that you can one-shot powerful extraplanar enemies.

9
  • New Eldritch Invocation: Whispers of the Grave
  • New Spell Known: Hold Monster

At this point you have a lot of options for your invocations, and deciding can be very difficult. Whispers of the Grave is a nice, universally-appealing option. Adventuring involves killing a lot of things, and sometimes those things know things that you want to know.

Finally we've reached 5th-level spells. This is where your spell slots reach their maximum effectiveness. From here on you'll continue to learn more spells, but remember that your normal spells known can only be of 5th level or lower. When you run out of good 5th-level spells to select, look at lower-level spells which are still useful like utility options or spells which scale with spell slot level.

At this level we'll learn Hold Monster. It works in nearly any fight, and sometimes it can even prevent a fight from happening.

This level also marks a turning point in how the Warlock advances. You no longer gain new spell levels, and you gain interesting new class features slower. Even at 20th level, your 5th-level spell slots are the most important parts of your spellcasting arsenal beyond Eldritch Blast, so be prepared to look for creative ways to apply your spells as you face new challenges.

10
  • Fiendish Resilience
  • New Cantrip: Any

Fiendish Resilience is a difficult ability to use. You can change the damage resistance when you rest, but it's often difficult to know what you're going to face ahead of time. If you're ever not sure, select Slashing.

With the limited options in the SRD, we're quickly running out of interesting options for spells known. From here on, you'll want to go back to lower-level spells to look for good options.

11
  • Mystic Arcanum: Mass Suggestion
  • New Spell Known: Any

Our first Mystic Arcanum gets us accustomed to the mechanic. You get to cast each of your Mystic Arcanum spells once per day, so you want each option to be broadly useful. In this case I suggest Mass Suggestion. We have plenty of options for hindering and killing enemies, but we have very few less lethal options. Mass Suggestion allows you to conveniently remove 12 creatures. Tell them to go take a long walk, or march out of the dungeon to gather food, or something else that conveniently removes them without actually harming them.

12
  • Ability Score Improvement (Any)
  • New Eldritch Invocation: Any

It's difficult to provide specific guidance at this point. You have everything that you need to function. If you want more AC consider increasing Dexterity, otherwise you probably want to increase Constitution. You can select any invocation available at this point, and hopefully by now there are some options that you've been eying for a while.

13
  • Mystic Arcanum: Force Cage
  • New Spell Known: Any

Force Cage is a really cool spell. It's really easy to use it to eliminate single foes or groups of foes, and in a pinch you can use it as a place to hide, as a bridge, to block a hallway, or even as a place to take a short rest (the duration is conveniently 1 hour, the same as a short rest).

14
  • Hurl Through Hell

Hurl Through Hell is a once per day damage boost. It applies on top of the effect of an attack, but there's no limitation on what kind of attack, so you can apply this to a target hit by your Eldritch Blast or by any other spell which requires you to make and attack roll.

15
  • New Eldritch Invocation: Witch Sight
  • Mystic Arcanum: Dominate Monster
  • New Spell Known: Any

15th level opens up the highest tier of Eldritch Invocation options. Normally I would suggest Visions of Distant Realms, but you can get most of that function from your familiar thanks to Voice of the Chain Master.

For this level's Mystic Arcanum, we'll take Dominate Monster. Like Mass Suggestion it allows us to non-lethally remove a problematic creature, but it gives you more direct control over the target. If you do it right, you can dominate one monster and walk it into the next encounter or two like an extra party member.

16
  • Ability Score Improvement (Any)

Not much going on at this level.

17
  • Mystic Arcanum: Any
  • New Spell Known: Any

This is the most notable level for a while. 17th level adds the fourth and final ray to Eldritch blast, and you get your final Mystic Arcanum. I recommend Foresight or True Polymorph, but if you just want to kill stuff go for Power Word Kill.

18
  • New Eldritch Invocation: Any

Your final Eldritch Invocation slot.

19
  • Ability Score Improvement (Any)
  • New Spell Known: Any

At this level your Charisma is 20 and you've had two other Ability Score Increases, so your ability scores should be excellent. This level also gives you your last new spell known.

20
  • Eldritch Master

20th level is a bit dry, unfortunately. Eldritch Master lets you ask for your spell slots back once per day without completing a short rest, which saves you 59 minutes once a day.