Okay, we’ve moved out of the fey in this discussion of warlock patrons and the Piety mechanic. Sure, 5e canon indicates that some Archfey are outside the Summer and Gloaming Courts, but I’m more interested in covering a lot of different warlocks pretty well than in covering every Archfey warlock exhaustively. This time out, I’m giving baatezu their day in the sun. Well, in the fire, anyway.
Devils/Baatezu: Positive Relationship
Most people wouldn’t describe service to Hell as driven by virtues or high-minded ideals, but of course that looks different from within. Many of Hell’s warlocks believe they can serve the bureaucracy of Nessus through strictly rational principles, resulting in something purely fair. Others do so to serve the demands of cosmic justice, albeit one unsullied by mercy. Some believe that energetic competition between all of Hell’s servants is a refiner’s fire to bring the best and purest to the top. (The purest what, one might ask.)
A few even believe that they have seen through some cosmic conspiracy, and Asmodeus is the true good in the world – or at least their best opportunity to oppose the Abyss with force. No matter your ideals, though, never take your eye off the machinations of the Court.
(I assume that most people who have infernal Patrons prefer antagonistic relationships, because it’s a more heroic path, but I want to show that seeking infernal favor is at least a valid starting point of a narrative arc.)
How did you enter your pact or relationship with the hierarchy of Nessus?
1 You wanted revenge against the person who seduced your true love away from you, and all it took was your name on the line and not reading too much fine print.
2 This particular devil has been part of your family’s lore and tradition for generations.
3 The slow justice of the local magistrate angered you. Hell is nothing if not swift and decisive.
4 Frustrated in your ambitions in the royal court, you sought preferment in a court where humble origins were no bar to advancement.
5 After a terrifying encounter with the power of the Abyss, you committed yourself to fighting on the front lines of the Blood War someday, and that meant serving Hell itself.
6 You are philosophically devoted to rationality and strict legalism, so enforcing oaths in the name of Hell was a natural next step.
As you dedicate yourself to Hell’s service, consider replacing or adding one of the following to your ideals.
1 Ambition. In the Court of Nessus, I can rise as high as my talent and drive can carry me.
2 Fear. The laws of Hell are ironclad, and the fear they inspire is all that stands between us and chaos.
3 Truth. The structures of the Material Plane and Upper Planes are built on lies that I must destroy.
4 Greed. There is no law against grabbing everything I can while the getting is good.
5 “Rationality.” If I can torture one to save two, or kill three to save four, I do it eagerly.
6 Revenge. No one will ever make me feel weak again. I’ve joined the winning team.
Earning and Losing Piety (Favor)
You increase your Piety score with Hell when you inspire fear, bind others in painful bargains or oaths, and expose hypocrisy in others.
- Exposing a corrupt merchant or tax collector
- Ruthlessly avenging insults against any of the archdevils
- Ensnaring priests, paladins, or nobles in infernal contracts
- Punishing those who have broken oaths or contracts
- Acquiring souls or blood sacrifice for Hell
- Destroying symbols of forgiveness, redemption, or freedom
- Making hard (or expedient) choices that others are too weak to make
- Extinguishing hope
Your Piety score decreases if you show sincere loyalty to other powers. All devils understand that their warlocks may need to hide their allegiances at times, however. In cases where there is doubt as to a warlock’s motives, they may face open – or secret – inquiries or audits. (That’s real bad.)
- Breaking an oath or contract, or helping someone else do so
- Concealing evidence of corruption (it’s expected and normal to cover up one’s own “minor errors”)
- Speaking ill of one’s hierarchical superiors
Piety 3+ Hell
You learn the spell command, which doesn’t count against your Spells Known. You can cast it once as a bonus action immediately after you hit a creature with an attack. Once you cast it as a bonus action with this trait, you can’t do so again until you finish a long rest.
Piety 10+ Hell
When you deal fire or necrotic damage to a creature and your current hit points are less than half your maximum hit points, you regain hit points equal to the lesser of the damage dealt or your warlock level. You can use this feature once, and regain use of it when you finish a short or long rest.
If you have access to the Diabolical Cults section of Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, warlocks might instead gain the features associated with cultists of an appropriate archdevil.
Piety 25+ Hell
You gain an additional Eldritch Invocation or supernatural gift that is appropriate to your Patron.
Piety 50+ Hell
You can increase your Constitution or Charisma score by 2, and also increase your maximum for that score by 2.
As I mentioned above, most heroic Fiend warlocks are likely to oppose, rather than serve, their Patrons, possibly fighting other warlocks that do gladly serve. Opposing Hell might mean allying with the Upper Planes, serving another major power, or rejecting all of the powers of the cosmos.
Tier 1, 1st to 4th level
- Help another creature escape a magical contract
- Acquire a soul coin, which you don’t intend to use or spend
- Slay a group of least devils or one lesser devil
Reward: You can cast detect evil and good without expending a spell slot. You can use this feature a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus, and you regain expended uses when you finish a long rest.
Tier 2, 5th to 10th level
- Slay a warlock who faithfully serves your Patron
- Convince a warlock who serves your Patron to break their Pact
- Destroy a shrine or place of sacrifice dedicated to your Patron
- Defeat a group of NPCs sent by your Patron to capture or kill you
Reward: You can cast magic circle without expending a spell slot, and you can expend two Hit Dice in place of the expensive material component. Once you use this feature, you can’t use this trait again until you finish a long rest. Charisma is your spellcasting ability for this spell.
Tier 3, 11th to 16th level
- Free a prisoner from your Patron’s fortress in the city of Dis
- Reveal your Patron’s violations of the laws of Hell
- Steal the token that signifies your bond with your Patron
Reward: You can cast dispel evil and good with this trait, requiring no material components. Once you do so, you can’t cast it in this way again until you finish a long rest. Charisma is your spellcasting ability for this spell.
Tier 4, 17th to 20th level
- Slay or banish your Patron
- Arrange for your Patron to be demoted in the hierarchy of Hell
Reward: You can increase your Intelligence or Charisma score by 2, and your maximum for that score by 2.
I will say, it’s a lot harder to come up with a wide variety of on-theme Iconoclast powers that aren’t just cherry-picking from the school of Abjuration. That may call for some revision once I’ve finished the first pass of all of the patrons.
Next up, demons and the Abyss. Let’s find out together if I have the wherewithal to also cover yugoloths. I hope you’re enjoying the ideas in this series!