While running a game of DnD, Warlock Patrons can be utilized in a couple of different ways. Often times, in my experience, they are used for character creation and then utterly ignored. In a recent game, a player wanted to contact their Patron in order to ask for advice. I think it went decently well but it got me thinking, “Surely there must be a better way to integrate Patrons into a campaign.” So I’ve brainstormed a couple of things that I’ll be utilizing moving into the future, and don’t call me Shirley.
In this article I’ll discuss:
- What are Warlock Patrons in DnD?
- Discussing Warlock Patrons with the Player
- Patrons are People too! (sort of)
- The Relationship between Warlocks and Patrons
What are Warlock Patrons in DnD?
In Dungeons and Dragons, all spellcasters get their magical powers from somewhere or something. Wizards study really hard (fuckin’ nerds) to uncover arcane secrets. Sorcerers have magic in their blood from Dragons. Clerics devote their life to the service of a god or goddess. Etc, etc. Warlocks receive their powers from a Patron, which is a bit of a catch-all term that boils down to “powerful entity that is similar to a god but isn’t really a god“. This includes but is not limited to: a sneaky forest aristocrat, a literal devil, or a spooky space monster that you can’t even comprehend or your head will explode.
Somewhere along the line – either knowingly or unknowingly – the Warlock made a deal (referred to as a Pact) with one of these Patrons and received Eldritch Blast, err… I mean a variety of powers and abilities. Some Pacts might require the Warlock to complete an odd task, a small piece in an a century-long plan, for the Patron. Other Pacts may not require anything during the Warlock’s life, however the Patron might enslave their soul after death.
Discussing DnD Warlock Patrons with the Player
One of the simplest things you can do to improve DnD Warlock Patrons is to sit down with the player and have a discussion. Often times the players will have a general idea of which Patron they’d like their Warlock to serve. If so, great! Start with that and have the player discuss their backstory – in regards to their Warlock’s Patron – with you. Use all of this information as a launch-pad for fleshing out the Patron and figuring out how they fit in.
If your player has absolutely no idea which Patron to go with, stick with the basics: Archfey, Fiend, or Great Old One. Take a second to briefly explain the differences in each of these and help them decide the best fit.
After they have chosen their Warlock Patron, discuss the following questions with your player:
- How did the Warlock end up meeting and making a deal with the Patron?
- They may have been tricked, it could have been a fluke, or the Warlock may have purposefully sought out the Patron in an effort to gain power.
- How much does the Warlock know about their Patron?
- A Warlock may understand a Patron’s true motivations and goals, or they might be completely clueless if they’ve only met their Patron once.
- How involved does the player (and potentially any other players) want the Patron to be in the campaign?
- Ensure that you are on the same page with the player about how large or small of a role their Patron will play. The Patron could be central to the entire plot, or they may just exist quietly in the background the majority of the time.
Patrons are People too! (sort of)
After talking with the player about their Warlock’s Patron, it’s time for you to do a bit of the ground work and fill in some of the details that are lacking from the character’s backstory. It’s important to treat Patrons the same as any other important NPC, they’re basically just people who are insanely powerful and live a long time (the biggest notable exception here is with the Great Old One, since their whole ‘thing’ is that they are literally incomprehensible). Who the hell is this Warlock’s Patron and what do they want anyway?!
Basically I’m saying that you should take some time to ask yourself some of the following questions:
- What does the Patron look like physically?
- Some Patrons might have a single form that resembles a humanoid. Others might be able to transform into anything, but have a preferred form or a handful of forms for different tasks.
- What is the Patron’s history within the realm?
- To mortals, the history of a Patron may be completely unknown or lost to the sands of time. However, this doesn’t mean that Patrons themselves don’t have a rich backstory. The more in-depth you can answer this question, the easier it will be to determine the Patron’s goals and motivations. Be sure to consider how the Patron fits into the worldbuilding of your campaign.
- What is the Patron’s personality like?
- They could be a condescending asshole, a prim and proper smooth-talker, or they could just be completely batshit insane (cue Sheogorath as a Patron. Note to self: using Daedric Princes for Warlock Patrons sounds fucking awesome). Think about their personality just as you would with any other NPC.
- What are the Patron’s goals?
- What is the Patron trying to achieve by granting a small amount of power to a mortal being? Perhaps the Patron requires some assistance gathering relics on the material plane. Rather, the Patron may be trying to bring about maximum destruction and cause society to collapse. Keep in mind that, although it is common, Patrons are not required to be evil or chaotic.
- What are the Patron’s motivations?
- At first glance this question is very similar to the previous one. The biggest distinction between the two is essentially this: the goal is the ‘what’ that the Patron wants, while the motivation is the ‘why’. Why are they trying to achieve their goal? Classic motivations include fame, power, and wealth. Take these motivations and pump them full of demigod-like steroids.
- What powers does the Patron have, or what domains do they control?
- As with many of these answers, this one heavily depends on which type of Patron the Warlock has chosen. One Patron might be the keeper of arcane secrets, while another could rule over a chunk of Hell.
The Relationship between Warlocks and Patrons
This final section will help you determine how you want to handle the relationship between Warlock and Patron. These questions will help guide you through practical situations and will be the most relevant on a session-to-session basis. The Patron may not have much of a relationship with their Warlock – again, looking at you Great Old One – but I’m assuming since you’ve made it this far into the article that you and your player want something more involved.
Use these questions to determine how a Warlock and their Patron interact:
- How often do they communicate?
- This is also something that you may want to discuss with the player. They may have a desire to be totally-super-BFFs with a Patron, or they might only turn to the Patron in times of great need. In addition, be sure to consider how the Patron may feel about communication. If the Patron doesn’t feel like communicating, they may rarely answer or be very short in their answers.
- Another option is to have the Patron only communicate with the Warlock when the Warlock levels up. They could use this time to give advice, or explain any new powers. If you’re thinking that your other players wouldn’t be super keen on just sitting around and listening to you and the Warlock roleplay some power-transfer stuff, consider sending them an email/text before the next session begins (I always have the party level up in-between sessions… I’m not sure why anyone wouldn’t do this) with the details of some interaction.
- How do they communicate?
- There are plenty of awesome ways that you can have Warlock Patrons interacting with the character, and, again, you’ll want to consider which type of Patron the player chose. Some ideas to get you thinking: a voice in the Warlocks head, cryptic visions during long rests, messages conveyed through flames, or the Patron may physically manifest and just talk with the player. I really like the idea of having the Patron manifest as a normal NPC (little old lady, shopkeeper, etc) to everybody but the Warlock who is able to see them for what they are.
- The communication method may also be dependent on which Pact Boon the player chose. For example, a Warlock with Pact of the Blade may have some ritual involving their sword that allows them to commune with the Patron, while a Pact of the Tome Warlock may leave messages in the back of their book – in the style of Tom Riddle’s diary.
- What are the specific terms of the Pact?
- The specific Pact terms offer the greatest opportunity for an evolving relationship between Warlock and Patron. Just what the heck did the Warlock sign up for? Think back to the Patron’s goals and motivations. These will direct and guide the specific terms of the Pact. For example, a whimsical Archey Patron may dictate that anytime the Warlock is directly asked a question, they must answer in a rhyme simply because the Archfey decided it would be entertaining.
- Consider how involved in the campaign the player (and the rest of the party) wants the Patron to be. A highly involved Patron may have all sorts of demands, terms, clauses, and conditions, while a non-involved Patron might only require a single thing such as that the Warlock continues to seek knowledge.
- What happens if a Warlock breaks the terms of their Pact?
- You can get creative and do all sorts of cool stuff, but don’t be a dick about it. It can be a fun character development moment, but shouldn’t completely suck for the player. Also, for what it’s worth, Sage Advice dictates that Patrons cannot remove the powers they have given to a Warlock. But, hey, its your campaign. Do whatever you want.
That’s all I’ve got for now! Hopefully this will help you design and run better DnD Warlock Patrons during your campaigns. How do you use Patrons in your homegames? Let me know by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
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