New Invocations for the Pact of the Chain 2


I don’t know if this is going to be one of my Unpopular Opinions, but I think it’s easy to look at the warlock Pacts (not Patrons, just Pacts) and expect them to deliver more than the designers seem to have intended. Today I want to talk about the Pact of the Chain, because I think there’s some significant space between what it offers and the archetype it represents. Also, before I really get going, make sure you check out Stands in the Fire’s thoughtful work on issues with the warlock, and his specific changes to Pact of the Chain.

The Archetype

I think that the three Pacts from the Player’s Handbook are giving us the Pure Caster (Tome), the Fighter-Mage (Blade), and the Pet Class (Chain), and to some extent that’s what we get. I’m seeing the Demonology warlock from World of Warcraft, and comparable pet-class spellcasters from other video games, as a significant influence on what “warlock + pet” can and should look like – and that isn’t what the Pact of the Chain gives us. There’s a lot of room to disagree with me on this, of course.

Let’s dig into what the Pact of the Chain from the PH and XGTE does offer. I’ll be paraphrasing.

The Pact itself grants the find familiar spell (including its ritual form) and expands your list of options for a familiar. When you use the Attack action, one of your attacks can be your familiar attacking instead.

  • Not making you pay a Spell Known slot for find familiar is nice of them.
  • Gaining its ritual form is a huge help, because Pact Magic slots are precious if you need to get your familiar back mid-adventure.
  • Your expanded list of options includes imp, pseudodragon, quasit, and sprite. It would be a significant mistake to choose an option that is not one of these four – the Pact offers them to you, where find familiar usually doesn’t, because they are better.
    • Within that list, it’s very easy to miss that the imp, pseudodragon, and quasit confer their Magic Resistance to the warlock. The sprite doesn’t have Magic Resistance, but its Heart Sight could be useful. The imp’s invisibility is incredible for scouting or surveillance.
    • The Monster Manual sidebars for imps, pseudodragons, and quasits are phrased in such a way that it sounds like anyone can choose them as familiars. It’s only from the find familiar spell that you’d know that you need the Pact of the Chain to choose them.
    • The one strong option not on that list is the owl, because Flyby Attack with Help is just unbelievable. There’s a lot of room to debate free Help every round vs. Magic Resistance.
  • Replacing one of your attacks with an attack by your familiar is very good if you’re willing to risk your familiar, until your attack cantrips start improving. If this had a scaling function of any kind, that would help.

Chains of Carceri is one of your Eldritch Invocation options, at 15th level. It lets you cast hold monster for free on one celestial, elemental, or fiend, 1/long rest per target.

Hold monster is great, and once per long rest per target is just great. It’s not a great argument for the first 14 levels of Pact of the Chain, but at least it’s an Eldritch Invocation to cast a spell that doesn’t cost your Pact Magic. This sells chain, and control over outsiders, but that’s a secondary or tertiary part of the theme, to my mind.

Voice of the Chain Master lets you communicate telepathically with your familiar and project your voice through them.

This is great for expanding your familiar’s scouting and diplomatic roles – why go have a conversation that could turn into a fight, when you could send your 10-gold-piece familiar instead? No combat help, as such, but this looks like enough fun that I’d expect most Pact of the Chain warlocks to want it.

Gift of the Ever-Living Ones (XGTE) maximizes dice for healing you receive while your familiar is within 100 feet.

This is nice to have, but I don’t see a lot of narrative connection there. I would have been more impressed with a Second Wind-like feature, or hit point sharing with your familiar (not that your familiar options have enough hit points to spare any).

There are also some conjurations – some of them very cool and risky – that give you control over an elemental, fey, or fiend. I love these spells, but I don’t think they come together into a playstyle that you’d want to use in every fight. Good use of summon greater demon is more art than science, is what I’m saying. Also, that material component doesn’t say it’s consumed on use, but if you read the spell, it clearly is.

Pet Classes

You probably don’t need me to remind you of the general problems of pet classes, but let’s sum it up as “action economy.” Does your pet act on its own, or does it take part of your turn? What does your pet do if you don’t issue a command? The second big question is scaling.

Let’s just try some stuff and see what happens.

Bond of Blood
Prerequisite: Pact of the Chain

As a bonus action, you can order your familiar to make a single attack. If you don’t give your familiar a command, it uses the Dodge action on its turn.

Thoughts: This is an pure action-economy fixer, and has the possible downside of setting the Pact of the Chain apart as the best damage-dealing warlock. Oh, sure, you aren’t doing this in the same round that you’re casting or reassigning hex. The tension here is between hex’s potential +1/2/3/4d6 damage and the damage of various possible familiars.

I’m thinking about folding something with the Help action (the warlock Helping the minion) into this, but it needs some more work.

Infernal Minion
Prerequisites: Pact of the Chain, 7th level

When you cast find familiar, you can choose an infernal legionnaire. This silent guardian has a fearsome diabolic visage beneath its blood-red half-plate armor. An infernal legionnaire could be mistaken for a tiefling if not subjected to too close an inspection.

Infernal Legionnaire
Medium fiend, lawful evil

Armor Class 15 (half plate)
Hit Points equal to five times your warlock level + your Constitution modifier + your Charisma modifier
Speed 30 ft.

Str         Dex       Con       Int         Wis       Cha
14 (+2)  11 (+0)  14 (+2)  9 (-1)     11 (+0)  11 (+0)

Damage Resistances cold, fire, poison
Condition Immunities poisoned
Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 10
Languages understands Common and Infernal, but doesn’t speak

Ironclad Pact. The following numbers increase by 1 when your proficiency bonus increases by 1: the bonuses to hit and damage of its weapon attacks.

Devil’s Sight. Magical darkness doesn’t impede the infernal legionnaire’s vision.

Actions

Longsword. Melee Weapon Attack:+5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 1d8 + 5 slashing damage.

Whip. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 1d4 + 5 slashing damage.

Cú Sídhe
Prerequisites: Pact of the Chain, 7th level

When you cast find familiar, you can choose a cú sídhe. This massive creature looks like a hunting dog the size of a bull, with shaggy green fur.

Cú Sídhe
Medium fey, chaotic neutral

Armor Class 15 (natural armor)
Hit Points equal to five times your warlock level + your Intelligence modifier + your Charisma modifier
Speed 40 ft.

Str         Dex       Con       Int         Wis       Cha
14 (+2)  14 (+2)  14 (+2)  6 (-2)     12 (+1)  11 (+0)

Skills Perception +4, Stealth +5
Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 14
Languages understands Common, Elvish, and Sylvan, but can’t speak

Vassal of the Queen. The following numbers increase by 1 when your proficiency bonus increases by 1: the cú sídhe’s skill bonuses and the bonuses to hit and damage of its bite attack.

Fey Ancestry. The cú sídhe has advantage on saving throws against being charmed, and magic can’t make it sleep.

Keen Hearing and Smell. The cú sídhe has advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on hearing or smell.

Actions

Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 2d4 + 5 piercing damage.

Loathsome Wretch
Prerequisites:Pact of the Chain, 7th level

When you cast find familiar, you can choose a loathsome twin. Born of a nearby timeline, it is a naked, twisted version of you, forever glaring with malice. It has a rudimentary intelligence, an awkward alien way of moving and making guttural sounds.

Credit – and deepest revulsion – for this idea goes to Garrick Andrus.

Loathsome Twin
Small or Medium aberration, neutral evil

Armor Class 15 (natural armor)
Hit Points equal to five times your warlock level + your Intelligence modifier + your Charisma modifier
Speed 30 ft.

Str         Dex       Con       Int         Wis       Cha
14 (+2)  14 (+2)  14 (+2)  8 (-1)     12 (+1)  8 (-1)

Skills Insight +4
Damage Resistance psychic
Condition Immunities charmed
Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 11
Languages understands languages that you speak; telepathy 30 ft.

Twin. The following numbers increase by 1 when your proficiency bonus increases by 1: the loathsome twin’s skill bonuses and the bonuses to hit and damage of its slam attack.

Actions

Slam. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 1d8 + 5 bludgeoning damage.

Foul Spit. Ranged Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, range 20/60 ft., one target. Hit: 1d6 + 5 acid damage.

Design Notes

There are some more standard creatures I considered using, but – inspired by the Battle Smith of the recent UA Artificer – I thought it best to just build the stat block that does the thing I want, rather than try to spindle, fold, and mutilate three existing stat blocks. If this general approach looks good upon testing, I’d want to explore a further upgrade at 15th level or so.

Expanding the warlock to have a pet-class option that isn’t even their subclass, as such, is obviously a huge move. Sure, it costs them 1-2 Eldritch Invocations as well. What I would say is that digging into how useful a pet is really going to be is complicated, because it’s good in straightforward situations but amazing in corner-case or tactically unusual situations.


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2 thoughts on “New Invocations for the Pact of the Chain

  • Craig Cormier

    I have to say that any options that turn the Pact of the Chain into something more closely resembling the WoW warlock pet options are cool by me. I have found it strange that Find Familiar has no scaling options like the Find Steed and Find Greater Steed for paladins. Make a 3rd or 5th level version of the spell that lets anyone gain a quasit or a minor elemental or something as a familiar. I think back to 3.5e and its Improved Familiar feat trees with the dozens and dozens of extraplanar options and it makes me sad that there is nothing comparable in 5e.

    I have to say that StandsinFire’s blog entry was interesting, though seemed completely broken. He proposed granting all warlocks 2-3 free invocations in addition to several potent damaging abilities at 1st level & 6 additional spell slots over the course of 20 levels of play, all without removing or curtailing any other abilities. But some of his solutions would work nicely once toned way down.

    • Brandes Stoddard Post author

      While I don’t want to speak for him too much, Stands-in-Fire’s proposals for the warlock aren’t remotely intended to be power-neutral. I think he’s absolutely intending to increase the warlock’s power, because – especially in campaigns that don’t emphasize 2+ short rests a day – the warlock really struggles to keep up. If you start with the assumption that the warlock is fine, then yeah, you’re not going to like what he wrote.