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DnD 5e - The Hexblade Handbook

Last Updated: September 9th, 2020

TEMPORARY NOTE: RPGBOT is undergoing a massive update for DnD 5e content to accomodate rules changes and new content introduced by Tasha's Cauldron of Everything. Please be patient while these changes are made. I maintain this site as a hobby, and I got access to the book on the same day as everyone else and I am rushing to catch up as quickly as I can. Please check "Last Updated" date below the title of each page. If it was updated before November 17th, it has not been updated to include the new content. To watch for ongoing updates, please follow me on Twitter.

Disclaimer

RPGBOT 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.

The advice offered below is based on the current State of the Character Optimization Meta as of when the article was last updated. Keep in mind that the state of the meta periodically changes as new source materials or released and this article will be updating accordingly as time allows.

Introduction

Hexblade warlocks are an interesting subclass: they can easily be a trap because their apparent versatility can leave you wanting to have many tools at your disposal only to discover that none of them quite satisfy the way that the more specialized subclasses can. That said, with a little work you can fill your niche as a primary damage dealer in the front lines while staying reasonably safe thanks to your spells and later parts of your kit.

This guide is specifically for the Hexblade Warlock, and omits sections of my typical class handbooks when those sections aren't meaningfully different from other members of the class. For more information on the Warlock, see my Warlock Handbook.

Hexblade Subclass Features

  • Expanded Spell List: While several options on this list are very good, many of them require Concentration. In particular, even though all the smites are Bonus Actions (good for your action economy) they require Concentration to ensure that you’re able to actually get the effect off as long as you hit sometime during the next minute, but this prevents you from running other excellent Concentration buffs like Blur and Elemental Weapon from the very same expanded list. Furthermore, since the smite spells don't scale well (if they scale at all), they're often a poor use of your limited Warlock spell slots. Consider using them for a level or two when you first get them, but replace them after that when better spells become available (even if it's just the next smite spell).
    • 1st-level Spells: Shield is fantastic... on any other spellcasting class. It costs a precious spell slot, and offers no benefits for upcasting, so it's only helpful until you get access to 2nd-level slots for Armor of Agathys. If you aren’t running another Concentration spell, Wrathful Smite into Booming Blade is staggeringly good damage at low levels, assuming the target moves and triggers the secondary damage. The Wisdom save for fear is a nice touch, though your defenses aren’t really turned on yet so maintaining Concentration can be a challenge in melee. To summarize: tempting options at low levels, but you'll abandon them in favor of other options almost immediately.
    • 2nd-level Spells: Blur is just a superb spell. Turn it on if you have more than one thing attacking you and/or your Armor of Agathys doesn’t look up to the job. Branding smite fills some excellent niches, but is not otherwise overly helpful. It’s probably the only way you’re going to be able to deal radiant damage (you’ll be very grateful if you ever come across zombies) and it also prevents invisibility if your party can't cast Faerie Fire, Invisibility Purge, or something else along those lines.
    • 3rd-level Spells: Blink would be interesting if it wasn’t random in the fashion it is. Elemental weapon’s primary benefit is making a weapon magical if for some reason you aren’t running Pact of the Blade, and I'm not sure why you would skip Pact of the Blade (and the Invocations which require it like Thirsting Blade) and still use a weapon. It still runs into the Concentration problem, interfering with smites and defensive buffs, but it adds a small amount of extra damage (which will increase when your spell slot levels increase). 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, so you can use your Pact Weapon with Elemental Weapon.
    • 4th-level Spells: Phantasmal Killer is still an excellent spell, although the fact that it never scales past 5th level for warlocks is disappointing at higher levels. Staggering Smite would be much better if the effect lasted more than one round. Both spells cause the creature to suffer Disadvantage on attack rolls, but Phantasmal Killer works at range and lasts longer.
    • 5th-level Spells: Banishing Smite is a big pile of damage on a Bonus Action and the rider effect doesn't allow a saving throw. 50 hit points is a reasonably large window, and banishing the target could dramatically affect the outcome of an encounter. Cone of Cold is a helpful way for you to do area of effect damage, but apart from being a big pile of damage does little else for you.
  • Hexblade's Curse: Are you ready to confuse literally every new player by being the only thing that gets proficiency to damage? Then Hexblade is for you. Note that you can both Curse and Hex someone if you like to track several effects at the same time. In all seriousness though, this is a fantastic ability.

    You only get this once per Short or Long Rest, so be sure to use it where it will matter. You want to make as many attack rolls as possible while this is running, 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 Expert). However, since this only works once per Short or Long Rest, remember that you may still have better results focusing on other parts of your build, and focusing on being effective with weapons is often a better choice for the Hexblade than Eldritch Blast even though you may get fewer attacks.

    Since this comes in at 1st level and scales based on your proficiency bonus, it's very tempting for class dips into Warlock, totally disregarding how good Hex Warrior is.

  • Hex Warrior: This is probably why you picked the subclass. You get medium armor and shields so that you’re able to exist in the front line without dying immediately, but far more importantly you get to be a melee character and still have Str and Dex be dump stats. You do still need enough Dexterity to fill out Half Plate's Dexterity cap, but that's not hard.

    Using 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 for the Warlock, it makes Paladin/Warlock multiclass builds massively more effective. Keep in mind that by default Hex Warrior's weapon effect works on a weapon which you touch at the end of a long rest, but if you later take Pact of the Blade the effect extends to that weapon too, so you can affect have two weapons with which to attack using Charisma. This is important if you plan to explore two-weapon fighting or if you want a backup weapon or something.

  • Accursed Specter: Not only does it have to be a humanoid, but you personally have to get the killing blow. That said, if you can get one, Specters are a phenomenal companion to have with you. They are effective in combat (although they never scalebeyond the tiny amount of temporary hit points and the attack bonus which you give them) and, while they can’t speak, they will follow your verbal commands allowing a creative person to use one for scouting and have it report back. However, they have no ability to speak, to their ability to report their findings is limited to gestures like nodding, pointing, and pantomime.
  • Armor of Hexes: Take the already excellent Hexblade's Curse and put an astonishing and unique defensive buff on it. Somewhere, a 40k player is wondering how 4-up saves got into their D&D. This is a 50% miss chance on top of whatever other defenses you might have running (Blur or Shadow of Moil, for example),
  • Master of Hexes: The only problem with Hexblade’s Curse was that it could feel wasted if you used it on something and then ran into something more threatening before your next rest. That is now slightly mitigated by allowing you to chain it through a whole fight. You do need to be able to see a new target creature when you move Hexblade's Curse, so if you're facing hidden or invisible enemies you may need to keep that in mind before you finish off your current target.

    Clever players might try to move the effect to an angry rat which you keep in a sack (the old "bag of rats" trick) to allow you to carry one use of Hexblade's Curse all day, but wise DM's should explicitly disallow such shenanigans.

Abilities

Unlike other Warlocks, you will need to invest some into Dexterity to make best use of that medium armor you’re now allowed to wear and boy will you need it. Otherwise, focus on Charisma.

Str: You can't afford to have high ability scores in four abilities, and Strength simply isn't useful enough.

Dex: Warlocks have notoriously poor AC, and anything you can do to address that will still require high Dexterity unless you multiclass or something to get heavy armor.

Con: Being in melee means you want hit points and a better chance of passing Con saves when targeted by things you’re making angry.

Int: Dump.

Wis: Dump.

Cha: You are powered by Charisma.

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

Races

Ability scores are absolutely critical for the Hexblade Warlock. Look for some combination of Charisma and either Dexterity and Constitution in most cases.

The list of races below is intentionally reduced to omit races which I believe are not viable to make an effective Hexblade Warlock. For full race coverage, please see my Warlock Handbook.

AasimarVGTM: The charisma increase and damage resistances are fantastic.

  • Fallen: The Strength doesn’t matter, but Necrotic Shroud is nice.
  • Protector: Wisdom isn't especially useful for warlocks, but Radiant Soul is very exciting and can provide useful options in a pinch.
  • Scourge: It gets you stats you want and the ability to do extra passive damage and damage on attacks for a minute per Long Rest. The damage to yourself will probably just be chewing through some of your Armor of Agathys, and even though it’s rounded up, remember that you have resistance to it. You won’t take 2 damage per turn using this ability until level 7.

DragonbornPHB: You don’t need the strength as a Hexblade, but the other benefits are nice.

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.
  • Sea ElfMToF: Nothing useful for the Warlock.
  • Shadar-KaiMToF: Nothing useful for the Warlock.
  • Wood ElfPHB: Nothing useful for the Warlock.

Half-ElfPHB: The abilities work great, and bonus skills are always nice, but Variant Human is likely better. You could argue that Darkvision is appealing, but that's what Devil's Sight is for.

  • 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.

HalflingPHB: The Dexterity lets you shift some of your starting pool to bolster a dumped save stat like wisdom or take some Int if you’re picking up a knowledge skill, and everyone loves Lucky.

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

HumanPHB: Versatile and fantastic at everything.

  • Vanilla:Hexblades need a few more stats, so having multiple bonuses is nice. 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.

TabaxiVGTM: The double dash and climb speeds make this race extremely attractive even if you don’t really need the dexterity.

Tiefling: Bonus Charisma and some useful spells.

  • 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: Flame Blade will be worse than just using your weapon.
  • ZarielMToF: Strength is wasted and you already get 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: Good options for a standard Warlock but doesn’t help a Hexblade.
  • 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 even if you're built for melee because it offers you a way to engage enemies trying to use flight to stay out of reach.

TortleTP: The natural armor is decent, but your access to medium armor and shields allows you to reach these numbers while picking a race with a Charisma bonus.

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

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.

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.

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

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.

Races of Theros

HumanMOoT: 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

AasimarEGtW: 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.

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.

TabaxiEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

TortleEGtW: See above under the general Races section.

Skills

The Hexblade's skill requirements are no different from that of other warlocks. You might enjoy Athletics or Acrobatics to help escape grapples, but beyond that my Warlock Handbook provides advice for how to handle skills.

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.

Feats

My Warlock Handbook details advice for warlock feats in general, but a selection of feats which many hexblades enjoy are presented below.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. The total damage output roughly matches that of a Crossbow Expert build and will have higher AC, but you give up the advantage of range.
  • 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.
  • SharpshooterPHB: Warlocks don't use ranged weapons with the possible exception of Hexblades, but even then Crossbow Expert is a better choice.
  • 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.

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.

Also keep in mind that Hex Warrior doesn't allow your touched weapon to have the Two-Handed property, so if you want to use a two-handed weapon you'll definitely need Pact of the Blade. Versatile weapons still work, though, and the difference between a longsword and a greatsword isn't huge.

  • Crossbow, Hand: The go-to for Crossbow Expert builds.
  • Crossbow, Heavy: A good ranged option until you get Crossbow Expert and/or Extra Attack.
  • Glaive / Halberd: Great for two-handed melee builds, it has reach, and it works with Polearm Master.
  • Greatsword: Your go-to for two-handed melee builds unless you want reach and or intend to take Polearm Master.
  • Longbow: A decent ranged weapon, but it can't come close to the damage output of a Crossbow Expert build so it's not a good primary weapon. If you're built for melee, the Longbow will be a good ranged option once you pick up Extra Attack.
  • Longsword / Rapier: Interchangeable if you're using Hex Warrior. A good go-to for sword-and-board builds unless you want the reach from a whip.
  • Spear / Quarterstaff: Want to combine the durability of sword-and-board with the number of attacks (and therefore the damage output) of Crossbow Expert or two-weapon fighting? Grab a spear or a staff and pick up Polearm Master.
  • 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. The damage difference of 1d4 vs. 1d8 from something like a longsword seems significant, but when you consider the flat bonuses added by your various class features, the difference of 2 damage on average is negligible.

Armor

  • Leather: The Warlock's starting armor unless you take the 100 gp starting equipment variant. The Warlock's starting gear was written long before the Hexblade, and it doesn't account for the possibility of medium armor proficiency.
  • Scale Mail: Take the 100 gp starting equipment variant so that you can start with scale mail or you'll be pinching coppers until you can afford decent armor before you can risk diving into melee.
  • Half Plate: Your permanent armor.
  • Shield: Great since you're in medium armor with d8 hit dice, but many hexblades go for two-handed weapons or Crossbow Expert so they're force to give up a shield.

Hexblade Warlock Spellcasting

The Hexblade Warlock likely needs to keep a melee weapon in-hand both for attacking on their own turn and for making opportunity attacks. They also probably have a shield. Unfortunately, that means that you'll need to constantly draw/store your weapon to get a free hand with which to cast spells unless you're using a two-handed weapon or a hand crossbow.

If you need to draw a Spellcasting Focus or Material Components, it could require you to spend your item interaction on two successive turns to switch from a weapon to a focus or from a focus to a weapon. Because this can be a problem and will often leave you empty-handed between turns, try to use spells that lack Material and Somatic components whenever possible unless you intend to take War Caster.

The Warlock Spell List Breakdown already includes notes about Hexblade/Pact of the Blade uses for spells but let me just plug Armor of Agathys again here. It has some of the best scaling in the game. When you get access to 5th level slots, even if something hits you twice for 24 damage each time, it’s still going to take 50 damage and you’re only taking 23 of the 48 you could have been taking.

Multiclassing

My Warlock Handbook details advice for warlock multiclass options.

Example Build - Verdan Warlock

I wished so hard for the racial history I didn’t have that I instead went and got a timeless patron. Now let me tell you all about it.

Abilities

We will assume the point buy abilities suggested above.

Base Increased
Str 8 8
Dex 14 14
Con 15 16
Int 8 8
Wis 10 10
Cha 15 17

Race

Verdan. They’re still good for all the reasons listed above. Having advantage in the saves you’re proficient in also just feels really good.

You could switch out to really any race with the right stat adjustments with no extra effort.

Skills and Tools

Take Arcana and Deception.

Background

Take Faction Agent to get proficiency in Insight and Intimidation so that you are proficient with literally every Face skill.

Feats

We'll start at 16 Charisma, so two ability score increases will go into Charisma, but we'll have three more to spend. Starting at 15 Constitution means that we can take Resilient to bring it to 16 and also gain proficiency in Constitution saving throws. Great Weapon Master is a fabulous choice if you’re planning on having your pact weapon be two-handed.

Levels

Level Feat(s) and Features Notes and Tactics
1
  • Otherworldly Patron (The Hexblade)
  • Hexblade’s Curse
  • Hex Warrior
  • Pact Magic
  • Spells Known:
    • Wrathful Smite
    • Hex
  • Cantrips:
    • Eldritch Blast
    • Booming Blade/Green-Flame Blade

For your starting equipment, take the money instead of the regular starting equipment and buy yourself scale mail, a longsword, and a shield. I choose a component pouch because a Verdan would love to explore what components create what effects.

Your AC is already up to 18 and you want to get into melee as quickly as possible to start dishing out those Booming Blade or Green-Flame Blade hits.

At this level, you've got one spell slot and you've got Hexblade's Curse, and managing those two resources until you reach a short rest is crucial. With your spell slot, you need to decide if Wrathful Smite or Hex is a better choice. Wrathful Smite only works on one hit, but you don't need to worry about maintaining Concentration for very long and the fear effect may be very helpful. Hex will deal more damage in total and the other effects can be useful, but it may be hard to maintain Concentration and it can be redundant with Hexblade's curse since the damage boosts are similar. Hexblade's Curse only works on one target and can't be moved, so save it for something which you know will take a lot of damage to bring down.

Eldritch Blast is still your primary ranged attack and will be forever since we're focusing on melee for this build. You could technically change your pact weapon to a bow temporarily, but usually you won't use it long enough to justify the actions to change weapons.

If you will be your party's primary defender, take Booming Blade. Otherwise take Green-Flame blade. Being a primary defender is not advisable as a warlock, but that certainly doesn't have to stop you.

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

False Life is great for temp hitpoints until Armor of Agathys starts scaling so we’ll use that for now. Devil's sight allows for excellent shenanigans later on.

3
  • Pact Boon (Pact of the Blade)
  • New Spell Known: Armor of Agathys
  • Retrain Fiendish Vigor ->Improved Pact Weapon.
  • Retrain Spell: Protection from Evil and Good -> Blur

Remember that part where spellcasting in melee was a chore? Not any more as Improved Pact weapon not only increases your chance to hit and damage but also turns wherever weapon you use into a focus, meaning life is much easier on the front lines. Our spell slots also turn into 2nd level which means that our new spell gives us 10 temp hp and does 10 cold damage to attackers a minimum of once.

Blur loses some of the niche protections against the handful of creature types covered but you really want that disadvantage on being attacked to apply to everything. It’s also one minute instead of 10 but that will rarely matter.

4
  • Ability Score Improvement (Charisma 16 -> 18)
  • New Cantrip: Sword Burst
  • New Spell Known: Darkness

Darkness an area, then Booming Blade an enemy and watch them take damage as they try to escape to a place where they can see. Take your Reaction to attack them with advantage as they leave. It’s a good time.

Now that you’re a little more durable and can cast while holding your weapon, Sword Burst becomes your damage of choice on 3+ targets (at least for the next four levels), see my article on Melee Cantrips vs. Extra Attack for a breakdown of the math comparing melee cantrip spells to normal martial attacks.

5
  • New Eldritch Invocation: Thirsting Blade
  • New Spell Known: Fly

Flying is always good, even if you’re primarily a melee character. Thirsting blade is going to do some real good work for you later on when we transition to a two-hander and it’s pretty good already.

6
  • Accursed Specter
  • New Spell Known: Counterspell

Nothing interesting at this level, but Counterspell is an excellent way of shutting down casters trying to keep your sword away from them.

7
  • New Eldritch Invocation: Relentless Hex
  • New Spell Known: Phantasmal Killer

Relentless Hex can be triggered off the spell or off your Curse which means that the Big Whatever isn’t getting away from you any time soon, even if it’s faster than you.

Phantasmal Killer is a great choice for locking down something you expect to fail the save. Make it afraid of you and leave it in the corner.

8
  • Feat: Great Weapon Master
  • New Spell Known: Shadow of Moil

So now your playstyle radically changes. You have the tools available to protect yourself enough that the shield is no longer necessary and you can transition to having two swings of a great sword as your action. This is enormous damage, particularly if the target is remaining stationary trying to hit us back.

Shadow of Moil is truly one of the best things that ever happened to us. Reactive damage is the gravy on top of having advantage on all attacks and disadvantage to your attackers. With Curse on something letting you crit on 19s and two attacks a round, that’s a 35% chance of a crit per turn.

The only issue is the expensive material component which is why we don’t take this immediately at 7. But if you can get those gem-encased eyeballs, you’re going to have a real good time.

9
  • New Eldritch Invocation: Whispers of the Grave
  • New Spell Known: Banishing Smite
  • Retrain Spell: Wrathful Smite -> Cone of Cold

Pact Magic means that having more than one smite is fairly useless, so just take the best one. Sure frightened was a little cute but if you really want something frightened on a spell slot you have phantasmal killer anyway.

We take cone of cold for Area of Effect because it’s the one thing we can’t really do right now.

There are no Invocations at level 9 we really care about as a Hexblade so feel free to Levitate yourself instead or really whatever suits your fancy

10
  • Armor of Hexes
  • New Cantrip: Green-Flame Blade/Booming Blade

Your curse target now has an even harder time hitting you on top of whatever magical defenses you’re wearing.

I would personally wait this long to pick up Green-Flame Blade because more things resist fire than lightning and Booming Blade might make things stay next to you which you often want

11
  • Mystic Arcanum: Conjure Fey
  • New Spell Known: Any

You don’t have much utility, and having a once per day anything from a huge flying snake to carry yourself and a friend for an hour to getting a legend lore and/or scrying out ot your summoned dusk hag is a pretty great deal.

12
  • Ability Score Improvement (Charisma 18 -> 20)
  • New Eldritch Invocation: Life Drinker

We cap Charisma and get the final invocation we’re likely to care about adding our newly bumped charisma modifier to damage... again. If we take the penalty to hit, each weapon swing now deals +21 damage. It’s a good life.

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

Force Cage is still good for all the same reasons. Trap a big scary thing in it while you cleave through all its friends and then go back to finish it off last.

14
  • Master of Hexes

Ignore the ability name, start Hexblade’s Cursing things more often. It’ll now spread through fights, although you don’t get the heal if you make it jump to a new person. At this level though that’s another +5 damage per weapon hit which will help you cleave through hordes.

15
  • New Eldritch Invocation: Visions of Distant Realms
  • Mystic Arcanum: Dominate Monster
  • New Spell Known: Any

You are now also the nearly the best scout in existence. Cast Arcane Eye and send it wherever you need. Between this and your fey you have a surprising amount of utility for someone who swings a big heckin sword.

For this level's Mystic Arcanum, we'll take Dominate Monster. 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
  • Feat (Warcaster)

Is it a little late? Yes. Is it better than never? Also yes. Now you can attack someone on your turn and still booming blade them if they try to walk away. Advantage on concentration is also very nice.

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

What if the best parts of Shadow of Moil lasted 8 hours and didn’t cost anything? Foresight.

18
  • New Eldritch Invocation: Witch Sight

Witch sight? This one of course.
19
  • Ability Score Improvement (Con)
  • New Spell Known: Any

Nothing notable here, but you're even more durable than you were before.

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.