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DnD 5e - The Warlock Handbook

Last Updated: March 17th, 2020

Disclaimer

This guide uses 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.

After reading this handbook, I encourage you to read my Warlock Subclasses Breakdown and my Warlock Spells Breakdown.

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: Warlock subclasses are briefly summarized below. See my Warlock Subclasses Breakdown for help selecting your subclass.

  • The Archfey: Fey are tricky, unpredictable creatures, and warlocks who swear pacts to The Archfey gain spells and abilities to confuse, surpise, and charm other creatures.
  • The Celestial: Some warlocks swear pacts with celestial creatures, gaining the ability to heal their allies and to cast some spells from the Cleric spell list, including several crucial healing options.
  • The Fiend: The iconic warlock patron, The Fiend grants you a mix of abilities both offensive and defensive, including numerous sources of fire damage.
  • The Great Old One: Your otherworldly master grants you abilities to assail the minds of your foes while protecting your own.
  • The Hexblade: Forge a pact with a mystical force known only as "The Hexblade", gaining the ability to use Charisma for weapon attacks and other fantastic combat abilities.
  • The Undying: Sworn to an undead master, you gain abilities to defy death and to keep undead at bay.

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.

For help selecting spells, see my Warlock Spell List Breakdown.

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 option, 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 you get with this is that it works faster than spending 10 minutes to cast it as a Ritual.
    • 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. The best case I can think of for this is if you're heavily reliant on are control spells like Hunger of Hadar or Sickening Radiance which rely on ongoing damage being applied over several rounds. In those cases, reducing creatures' speed can help keep enemies in the area. Of course, you can accomplish the same thing by pushing targets with Repelling Blast, and since Repelling Blast can work more than once per target it's likely to be more effective.
    • 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: A clever player with a DM who is willing to play along can accomplish a lot with even a basic illusion. A 15-foot cube is a huge amount of space, too. Place illusory walls, doors, statues, or other objects which creatures don't expect to move or produce other stimuli like heat or smells, and in many cases that's just as good as creating something. If creatures don't realize that your illusory wall is an illusion, they're going to treat it like a wall.
    • 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 fine debuff at any level, but at low levels it may not affect enough creatures to be worth the spell slot and at high levels you should be doing much more than just penalizing attacks if you're going to spend one of your precious spell slots.
  • (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 like Detect Magic. It also replaces the need for several of the invocations which give you access to ritual spells, including Beast Speech and Eyes of the Rune Keeper.
    • 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. This is good, especially if you take damage a lot, but you shouldn't be drawing enough fire that this is important.
    • 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. Still, I wouldn't take this on any warlock except the Hexblade, and Poison damage is commonly resisted so you can't always count on it to be effective.
    • Eldritch SmiteXGtE: This is rarely 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. Your best bet is to reserve this for when you score a critical hit, at which point you can choose to use Eldritch Smite and double the damage dice.
    • 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 good spell, but it doesn't scale with spell slot and you only get to use it once per day. Save your spell slots for more powerful options.
    • 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, only affects a single target, and doesn't scale with spell level.
    • Thirsting BladePHB: Crucial 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 unless you're also looking at options like Great Weapon Master or Sharpshooter. 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, you only get to use it once per day, and it's not effective enough to justify an Invocation.
    • 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 or to make this an easy choice, and the fact that you can only target yourself doesn't help.
    • 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. Unfortunately, it won't scale with level and you don't get to pick what you summon, so I recommend using this for a few levels then retraining it when you can get higher-level Invocations.
    • 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. But keep in mind that the target isn't compelled to tell you anything helpful, so this isn't always reliable.
  • 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: Hold Monster is really good, but limiting the targets to three specific creature types dramatically reduces how useful it is. You do get to use this at will, though, which is tempting. You can't use it on the same target until you complete a long rest, but if you're facing creatures of the right types you can use this several times in a day, making it a go-to option similar to Eldritch Blase. But, again, it's limited to just three creature types.
    • 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. You might choose to replace Mask of Many Faces with this since Alter Self's Change Appearance options has some advantages over Disguise Self (it's not an allusion), but remember that Alter Self requires Concentration so it's not strictly better in every way.
    • 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, and by this level you've had plenty of time to learn how to handle invisible creatures with AOE spells like Hunger of Hadar and Sickening Radiance.

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 can 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.

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, but there's little else that's truly a must-have so there's lot of room to explore the benefits other racial traits.

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 the Warlock.

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

DwarfPHB: Nothing useful for the Warlock.

  • DuergarSCAG: Nothing useful for the Warlock.
  • HillPHB: Extra hit points are nice, but that's not enough.
  • MountainPHB: Medium armor and Constitution are a significant increase in your durability, but if you want medium armor you're likely to select the Hexblade as your patron.

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.

  • DrowPHB: 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 ElfPHB: 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.

GnomePHB: 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 the Warlock.

GoliathEEPC: Nothing useful for the Warlock.

Half-ElfPHB: 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.

HumanPHB: 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: With a familiar (or a conveniently-place ally), Pack Tactics can give you easy Advantage. While the Kobold doesn't get a Charisma increase, Advantage on spell attacks can easily make up the difference, especially since the Warlock relies so heavily on Eldritch Blast. Avoid offensive spells which rely on saving throws, and you should do fine.

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.

  • AsmodeusPHB/MToF: 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: Interesting for short-range fighting, but that's not a place that you want to be unless you're a Hexblade.
  • ZarielMToF: Strength is wasted, but that doesn't matter much. The big draw is the smite spells, and Hexblades are the only ones who would use them but they already get 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 under the general Races section.

ChangelingERLW: The Changeling's flexible ability increase can stack with their fixed +2 to Charisma, allowing the Changeling to start with 18 Charisma (the only race capable of doing so). This deviates from core race design concepts consistent across other races, but the difference appears to be intentional. Charisma is the only thing that the Warlock absolutely needs, and starting with a Charisma modifier +1 higher than anyone else in the game is a big advantage. Hit 20 Charisma at 4th level, then you've got the rest of your character's career to explore feats or increase other abilities. Shapechanger is like a superpowered version of Disguise Self, but Mask of Many Faces fills the same function so it's less interesting. If you're playing a Changeling, it's either for the flavor or for the Charisma.

GoblinERLW: See above under the general Races section.

HobgoblinERLW: See above under the general Races section.

OrcERLW: Bad ability spread.

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 under the general Races section.

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.

Races of Theros

CentaurMOoT: See above under the general Races section.

HumanMOoT: See above under the general Races section.

LeoninMOoT: Bad ability spread.

MinotaurMOoT: See above under the general Races section.

SatyrMOoT: Dexterity for you AC, Charisma for your spells, Magic Resistance to keep you alive, and two free skills to help you serve as your party's Face.

TritonMOoT: See above under the general Races section.

Races of Wildemount

AarakocraEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

AasimarEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

BugbearEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

Dragonborn: Wildemount presents two new Dragonborn variants, each replacing the standard Dragonborn's ability score increases and damage resistance.

  • DraconbloodEGtW: Roughly equivalent to the standard Dragonborn, but if you're playing your party's Face you might enjoy Forceful Presence.
  • RaveniteEGtW: Bad ability spread.
  • StandardPHB: See above.

ElfEGtW: Wildemount elves share the core traits of core elves, but Wildemount adds two new elf subraces. See above for information on core elf traits.

  • Pallid Elf: No Charisma increase.
  • Sea Elf: See above.

FirbolgsEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

GenasiEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

GoblinEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

HalflingEGtW: Wildemount halflings share the core traits of core halflings, but Wildemount adds a new halflings subrace. See above for information on core halflings traits.

  • Lotusden: No Charisma increase.

HobgoblinEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

GoliathEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

KenkuEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

OrcEGtW: See above, under "Races of Eberron". Wildemount uses the updated Orc racial traits rather than the original traits published in Volo's Guide to Monsters.

TabaxiEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

TortleEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

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.

If you're having trouble deciding, here are some suggestions:

  • 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.
  • 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 feats which I think work especially well for the class or which might be tempting but poor choices.

  • 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: Hexblades can abolutely make Crossbow Expert work. Hex and Hexblade's Curse both benefit greatly from additional attacks, and even Eldritch Blast+Agonizing Blast can't keep up with Crossbow Expert, especially once you add Lifedrinker. However, this requires your Bonus Action for two rounds to set up, and in that time other warlocks are happily doing other things which don't require resources that need a short rest to recharge. Since combats generally last around three rounds, in most cases you can except to get your combo set up and start using the Bonus Action attack from Crossbow Expert an average of once per encounter.
  • Defensive DuelistPHB: Blade Pact Warlocks might enjoy this to help compensate for the Warlock's lack of AC.
  • Dual WielderPHB: Two-weapon fighting usually isn't a good option without the Fighting Style, but the Warlock has some unique interactions here. Hexblades can apply the benefits of Hex Warrior to two weapons: one that you touch after a long rest, and then to your Pact Weapon. However, without the Fighting Style (Two-Weapon Fighting), you still don't get to add Charisma to your damage rolls with the Bonus Action attack. You do still add other damage bonuses like Hex and Hexblade's Curse, but that places a ton of strain on your Bonus Action. This will take two turns to set up, which is a hard commitment when combats can only be expected to last around 3 turns.
  • 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.
  • 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. However, the weapon which you touch with Hex Warrior can't have the Heavy property, and all two-handed weapons have the Heavy property so you can't use Great Weapon Master with that weapon. Once you gain Pact of the Blade, your Pact Weapon can be two-handed, and Hex Warrior extends to your Pact Weapon.
  • 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. A feat is too previous for so little.
  • 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: Proficiency in Constitution saves really helps with Concentration, not to mention how common Consitution saves are. If you care primarily about Concentration it's easy to compare this to War Caster. Advantage works out to a little more than +3, so once your Proficiency Bonus hits +4 Resilient becomes the more effective option of the 2.
  • 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 Concentration even while drawing a lot of attacks. For other subclasses, consider Resilient (Constitution) instead because mathematically it's more effective than Advantage as your Proficiency Bonus increases.
  • 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.

Multiclassing

  • Bard: One level 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 so I wouldn't go that far.
  • 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, so Hexblade is the only good combination with rogue unless you're taking a class dip solely for Expertise. If you're going Hexblade+Rogue, I would go Hexblade Warlock 2/Rogue X rather than building around Warlock, and if that's your plan you should be looking at the multiclassing section of my Rogue Handbook.
  • Sorcerer: Sorcerers are also Charisma-based spellcasters, but their abilities (with the exception of Metamagic) are very level-dependent, so you need to devote yourself to leveling as a Sorcerer to benefit from sorcerer levels unless you're just take a class dip for Metamagic. If you go that route, it's probably so that you can quicken Eldrith Blast. 3 levels of sorcerer gets you two types of Metamagic, and if you convert all of your Sorcerer spell slots to Sorcery Points you'll get a total of 11 per day and recharge 3 on a Short Rest alongside your warlock spell slots. Your subclass can offer some useful stuff, too, but you'll only get the 1st-level feature unless you go all the way to 6th level. Draconic Bloodline is a good, easy choice, and Shadow Magic's 1st-level features are very powerful even if they're a bit more complicated.

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.