With the impending release of Book of Heroes: Heroic Fighter Archetypes, I am setting up the framework for the next few installments. One if them is warlocks, because I love warlocks. It’s a solid class mechanically, and it has a back story built right in. My first 5e character (post playtest) was a warlock—Sir Tim von Daggerdale. He’s fun. I haven’t played him in years, but I enjoyed the fun times I had with him.
From the point of view of the in-game characters that choose to be a warlock, let’s moment and analyze the biggest choice for the character: the otherworldly patron. The PHB has 3 in there: the Fiend and let’s just call them Fey and Great Old One. Specifically, I am only looking at flavor reasons why a character would choose to make a deal with these; I’m not looking at the game mechanics.
First just being a warlock means a number of things. You made a deal with a being for power. So you lacked the patience to study to become a wizard, the innate ability to become a sorcerer, the faith and devotion of a cleric or a paladin or any of the other prerequisites for the other classes. This deal is or power plain and simple. Without that deal you believe you would be simply average. The real question is, “Is that true or is the deal holding you back from what you are meant to be?”
The deal you make with a fiend is never what you expect. Even if you think you found all the loop holes, you haven’t. This deal always benefits the fiend far more than it benefits you. So what does it say about a person that reaches out to a demon or a devil for power? It could say you are ambitious and are willing to make sacrifices to see that ambition come to fruition. It could say you desire to rule over others, stopping conflicts by making others see what is obvious to you. One could even choose the fiend pact out of a desire to preserve life, believing that taking such power is required to make others hear what you have to say. No matter what the reason, choosing the fiend pact is a far more complex option than simply believing that the devils have it right.
Harry Dresden made a deal with Queen Mab for power after he broke his back. She pursued him for a long time but it refused until he felt he had no option left except a deal with her. So what does it say about him and–back to the main topic–any character that makes a deal with Mab or some other great and powerful fey? First off unlike the other two you stand for life. Fiends and Cthulhu want the character’s soul (or the souls of others) while fey promote the natural world. So if you choose the Fey as your patron, you promote life not death. You may promote the life of animals and other non-intelligent creatures over humans but it is still life. You may find something appealing about civilization becoming a less potent force in the world. Perhaps you just enjoy being a force for chaos or a trickster.
Great Old One
While the cultist that is a true believer and wants to see the world end in fire or drown in water is the stereotype, it is far from the only kind of character that would make a deal with a Great Old One. I prefer a passage from the Roger Zelazny book A Night in the Lonesome October.
“I hunted rats and ate out of dustbins and saw my kittens killed and was hung by my tail and abused by wicked urchins,” Graymalk said suddenly, “before the mistress found me. She was an orphan who’d lived on the streets. Her life had been even worse.”
Here, Greymalk the cat is telling Snuff the dog why they support opening the gate and the Great Old Ones destroying the world. Greymalk and her mistress had terrible lives and the two want their own pain to stop, want the pain for others in their situation to stop and to make all those that inflict such pain to pay for their crimes. While a character in a 5e game might not want to go to such lengths, those in a position to be recruited by a Great Old One frequently have had something bad happen to them and it stayed bad for a very long time. Someone who has made a deal with an otherworldly being that wants to destroy the world wants to lash out, particularly at anyone causing pain. Those who take the power offered by Cthulhu and others of his kind may very well be good people willing to do bad things to bad people because of the pain inflicted upon them. So what does a deal with a Great Old One say about your warlock, that you’ve been hurt. Hurt quite a bit.