DnD 5e - Warlock Pact Boons Breakdown
Last Updated: February 12th, 2021
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.
- : Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
- : OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances.
- : Good options.
- : 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 are released and this article will be updating accordingly as time allows.
In addition to your Otherwordly Patron (the Warlock's subclass), warlocks also select a Pact Boon at 3rd level, offering a second major decision point for the character. Like your subclass, your choice of Pact Boon is hugely impactful for how you play your character, and choosing a pact which suits your play style can do a lot to determine how effective your character is.
Several Eldritch Invocations are limited to warlocks who select a certain Pact Boon. Those invocations are referenced below, but I still recommend reading my Eldritch Invocations Breakdown for advice on selecting and using individual invocations.
Pact of the BladePHB
The Blade Warlock faces several problems. It attempts to shoehorn weapon usage into a class with little business using weapons. Since you're stuck in light armor you almost certainly need to rely on a finesse weapon like a rapier or fight at range, and even then you're adding a frustrating amount of MAD to a class which otherwise works just fine on one ability score.
Compared to a conventional Warlock who would depend on Eldritch Blast for damage, the Blade Warlock will typically 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 for the cost of one cantrip and one invocation. Compared to the 2 to 3 invocations needed to keep Pact of the Blade relevant, Agonizing Blast looks very appealing.
To elaborate on the math: You get two Eldritch Blast attacks at level 5, and can get a second attack with your pact weapon thanks to Thirsting Blade, so from levels 3 through 10 the options are roughly comparable in terms of damage output, especially if you're putting Ability Score Increases into Dexterity instead of Charisma for some reason.
At 11th level Eldritch Blast gets a third ray, adding another 1d10+5 damage at no cost, while the Blade Warlock must spend another Invocation on Lifedrinker, giving the blaselock a damage boost totalling up to +10 per attack, provided that you can get both Dexterity and Charisma to 20. At this point the bladelock has spent an additional invocation slot for slightly less damage (3d10+15 avg. 31.5 compared to something like 2d8+20 avg. 29). The math gets worse for the Bladelock when Eldritch Blast adds a 4th ray at 17th level, and that doesn't include Improve Pact Weapon, which is yet another invocation tax on the bladelock. The additional of the spell Hex puts Eldritch Blast further ahead of the bladelock, widening the gap for each additional ray that Eldritch Blast provides beyond the two attacks available to most bladelocks.
Fortunately, Hexblade fixes these issues. Medium armor and shields dramatically reduce your need for Dexterity defensively, and using your Charisma for attacks and damage means that you don't need to sacrifice spellcasting to be effective with weapons. However, without using Hexblade's Curse your weapon damage will still be slightly behind Eldritch Blast+Agonizing Blast, so without that buff you're trading some of Eldritch Blast's damage for additional durability and the ability to use a weapon effectively.
Combining Pact of the Blade with Crossbow Expert or Polearm Master is a popular and highly-effective build. You get three attacks, and with the damage bonus from Thirsting Blade at 11th level you can easily outpace Eldritch Blast+Agonizing Blast's damage output. These builds are expensive, requiring your Pact Boon, three Eldritch Invocations, and a Feat, but they're very effective.
Pact of the ChainPHB
Pact of the Chain gets you a better familiar than is normally available to other spellcasters, but the improved familiar options are not the only reason that Pact of the Chain is interesting: Pact of the Chain has some very powerful invocation options, including Chains of Carceri and Investment of the Chain Master.
The biggest problem with Pact of the Chain is that you're heavily invested in your familiar, and your familiar has at most 10 hit points (the Imp has 10 hp), so your familiar is likely to die frequently. You get no special means to summon your familiar again, so expect to spend 70 minutes and 10 gp to cast Find Familiar several times a day while adventuring.
To succeed with Pact of the Chain, you need to master how familiars work. Remember that familiars act independently of you and act on their own initiative. They'll take commands from you which you'll usually issue verbally unless you can use telepathy or something. You can make your familiar attack using their Reaction by trading one of your attacks during the Attack action, and Invesment of the Chain Master allows you to make your familiar attack again as a Bonus Action on your turn, but those two attacks are made on your turn rather than on your familar's turn, so if your familiar isn't in range to attack you may be out of luck.
You also need to figure out how to keep your familiar alive, so having them turn invisible or Dodge on their turn is often your best bet in combat. Ideally, you want your familiar's turn to occur immediately after yours so that they can break invisibility by attacking them immediately turn invisible again before anything can kill them. Unfortunately you'll rarely get that lucky. The Ready action may help, but remember that it also consumes your familiar's Reaction so you may need to sacrifice an opportunity for your familiar to attack in order to keep your familiar invisible.
New familiar options:
Flight, the highest hp of any familiar choice at 10 hp, 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 unless you take Investment of the Chain Master. You may also struggle to have the Imp attack on your turn since its poison sting is a melee attack and familiars act on their own initiative, potentially creating a lot of time where enemies could move away from your Familiar before you can command it to attack.
Imps also have human-like hands, if the art is to be believed, which offers some opportunities like turning door nobs and using tools.
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.
The Imp is the most durable familiar option, and if you plan to send them off on their own to scout, the Imp is hard to match. They also work well if you enjoy using magical darkness, and doing so can create an easy way for your familiar to fight in combat without needling to juggle invisibility.
Excellent flight speed, Keen Senses, Darkvision, and Blindsight. The Pseudodragon's tail sting imposes the Poisoned condition for a full hour and may even knock the target Unconscious. When combined with Investment of the Chain Master, the Pseudodragon's sting a powerful debuff which you can apply once, then send your familiar off to hide for the rest of the encounter, allowing it to be extremely impactful while taking minimal risk to its own safety.
The Pseudodragon can't quite match the Imp's capabilities as a Scout, but with Blindsight and Keen Senses it's very effective to keep your Pseudodragon nearby to look for hidden things and invisible enemies. Blindsight also allows your Pseudodragon to overcome magical darkness, making it easier for you to use your familiar in combat, which is especially crucial since the Pseudodragon can't make itself invisible.
Very similar to the Imp, except that it can't fly in its natural form, so expect your quasit to spend most of its time as a bat. The Quasit trades some of the Imp's capabilities as a scout (namely Devil's Sight) and some of its poison damage to add the Poisoned condition to its attacks. That seems like a pretty good trade, especially with Investment of the Chain Master to raise the DC, but the Quasit still faces the challenges of using melee attacks without the tactical option to abuse magical darkness since it can't see in magical darkness. You'll need to settle for juggling invisibility, and at that point why not use a sprite since they can attack at range?
Flight, invisibility, and human-like hands. On its own, that's pitiful compared to the Imp. But add Investment of the Chain, and the Sprite's bow attack suddenly becomes an easy vehicle for the Poisoned condition, making it easy to debuff enemies for the duration of a fight and massively hindering martial enemies while putting your familiar at minimal risk.
The Sprite's arrows can knock creatures unconscious, but their Constitution save result needs to be 5 or lower (rather than merely failing by 5 or more) for that to happen, and since Constititon saves tend to be high that will be unlikely throughout most of your career.
The Sprite is very much a glass cannon. While they have the highest AC of any familiar at 15, they have just two hit points so if they get hit they're almost guaranteed to die immediately. Fortunately, they can attack at range so many enemies are simply unable to reach them. Against enemies which can attack at range you'll want to keep your sprite invisible as much as possible.
The Sprite also lacks anything beyond flight and Stealth which makes them an effective scout. No Darkvision or anything. If you need to send your familiar to scout, expect to give them a light source, have them turn invisible, and hope nothing notices that light is emanating from mid-air with no visible source
Pact of the TalismanTCoE (Optional)
Note that Pact of the Talisman is an Optional Class Feature, and therefore may not be available in your game. If you want to use Pact of the Talisman, discuss it with your Dungeon Master and refer to the Optional Class Features section of my Warlock Handbook for guidance on how to include it in your game.
Pact of the Talisman is the simplest Pact Boon, requiring no actions on the part of the warlock and requiring little further investment to make the talisman useful. If you want to focus on other parts of the Warlock and Pact Boon holds little appeal for you, Pact of the Talisman is a great choice. It also has the unique benefit of allowing you to share the talisman with another creature, turning it into an interesting support option, and if you're nervous about the complexity of playing a warlock, sharing your talisman can be a great way to offload some of that complexity to someone else in the party.
The unique invocations for Pact of the Talisman add additional benefits to the Talisman, all of which are defensive in nature. They'll work well to help keep you alive, but you may find that the Talisman is more effective if you lend it to an ally who will be drawing a lot of attacks, especially once you learn Rebuke of the Talisman.
Pact of the TomePHB
Pact of the Tome leans into the Warlock's capabilities as a spellcaster, giving them more spellcasting options, plus the option of ritual casting with the Book of Ancient Secrets invocation. Access to ritual casting is a massive asset, providing a ton of utility which the Warlock typically can't provide due to their limited pool of spell slots.
Warlocks get one fewer cantrip than most dedicated spellcasters, and adding three more when you get Pact of the Tome can give you a lot of useful options. You probably won't need offensive options since Eldritch Blast is so effective with so little investment, but don't feel limited to Eldritch Blast. Remember that the cantrips can come from any spell list, so options like Shillelagh and Vicious Mockery may be worth a try.