Homebrew Homebrew: The Dread Knight (Warlock)

Disclaimer: A5e is a new system and I don't claim to have an expert grasp of it. After reading through the core rulebooks I had some ideas for warlock archetypes that I put together, and this is my favorite so far. If you like it, if you hate it, any feedback is appreciated, but in particular I'm interested in feedback about potential multiclass exploits or balancing issues. If you want to take this archetype and use it or make it your own, feel free, but if you use it with minuscule changes I request that you make it clear that this archetype is intended for A5e (but is not official—all that good OGL stuff) and reference the original author (me). As is the case with many examples of homebrew, aspects of this archetype are inspired by or adapted from existing material, specifically the Eldritch Smite and Eldritch armor abilities, but I have adapted and tweaked them. As far as I am aware I am not committing any copyright infringement with those two abilities, but if anyone notices anything legally troubling please let me know.
That out of the way, let's begin!

The Dread Knight

Anti-paladins, blackguards, martial sadists, and bringers of nightmares. Dread knight warlocks exist to sow fear and confusion, going before their dark masters to prepare the world for a resurgence of darkness. Some few dread knights choose this path not for the evil or chaos they may cause, but simply for the fearful respect that dread knights inspire in others. Regardless, nearly all dread knights seek power as their ultimate goal.

Dread Knight Expanded Spells
In addition to the spell list options in the Adventurers Guide, you may choose the following list as your one expanded spell list. If this list is selected, these spells count as warlock spells for you.

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Author's Note: A rare spell? On an expanded spell list? I personally doubted that the designers intended to do that in any official content. I chose Sigismund's Spiteful Divine Favor over Divine Favor because I always intended to change the bonus damage to Necrotic for dread knights. Then when I saw this rare spell I thought, "Might as well since it's already in the book!"


Hell’s Arms
At 1st level, your patron strengthens your martial prowess. Choose one of the following options:

Eldritch Maneuvers: You gain the ability to use combat maneuvers. You gain proficiency in two combat traditions from the following list: Adamant Mountain, Mirror’s Glint, Spirited Steed, Tempered Iron. You learn one maneuver of your choice from one of the traditions that you are proficient with.
You do not gain exertion. Instead, you use your maneuvers by spending warlock spell points. You use the Rogue table to determine when you learn more maneuvers from a tradition you are proficient with and what Maneuver Degree those maneuvers may be.
Whenever you learn a new maneuver, you can choose one of the maneuvers you know and replace it with another maneuver of the same level from a tradition you are proficient with.
Finally, while you are wielding your pact weapon you may use your Spell Save DC in place of your Maneuver Save DC.

Eldritch Smite: Once per turn when you hit a creature with your pact weapon, Eldritch Scythe, or Eldritch Whip, you may expend a number of spell points up to your proficiency bonus to deal additional force damage. (This additional force damage is not added to Eldritch Scythe’s bonus damage or Eldritch Whip’s temporary HP gain but may be increased by a critical hit.) You deal 1d8 damage per spell point spent. Additionally, you may spend one additional spell point to knock the target of this attack prone if it is no more than two size categories larger than you.
Author's note: As far as multiclassing is concerned, I figured that the dread knight warlock would handle exertion the same way that heralds do: if they get a pool of exertion they can use it to fuel maneuvers. Since this does not raise concerns of unbalance for heralds, I figured that it would not for dread knights either. I also think that, as abilities that are intended to be roughly equivalent, Eldritch Smite should be able to be fueled by Exertion in the case of multiclassed dread knights, but I did not explicitly mention that in the text because I am more worried about balancing issues for Eldritch Smite than I am for the maneuvers.


Hell’s Armor
Also at 1st level, your patron grants you a blessing of defense. Choose one of the following options:

Eldritch Armor: While you are not wearing any armor or a helmet, your armor class equals 10 + your Dexterity modifier + your spellcasting ability modifier. If you gain proficiency in shields you can use a shield and still gain this benefit.
You may choose to have this magical defense manifest as a visible suit of fiendish armor wreathed in flames or crackling with necrotic energy. You may make this magical defense visible or invisible as a bonus action.

Armor Appropriation: As an action, you can touch a suit of armor that isn’t being worn or carried by anyone or anything (including a corpse or mannequin) and instantly don it, provided you aren’t wearing armor already. You are proficient with this suit of armor until it’s removed and may use your spellcasting ability score to meet the armor’s Strength requirement, if any. You may not don a suit of armor with an AC greater than your spellcasting ability score (the magical bonus of enchanted armor is not included in this calculation).


Hellrider
At 6th level, your patron gives you access to the stables of Hell. You may spend one hour and 100gp performing a ritual to summon and bind a nightmare into your service. This ritual may be performed over a short rest. After this ritual is performed a nightmare appears next to you. This creature is entirely loyal to you and willingly serves as your mount and companion. After this ritual has been performed you may dismiss your nightmare back to Hell’s stables and resummon it as an action. If your nightmare dies, you may perform this ritual again no earlier than dusk at least 24 hours later to summon and bind a new nightmare. You may only have one nightmare at a time gained through this feature. Your nightmare is unique in the following ways:
  • Your nightmare loses its fly speed as well as its Ethereal Shift ability
  • Your nightmare’s size is always one larger than your own
  • Your nightmare uses your spell DC in place of its own and uses your spell attack modifier in place of its attack modifier
  • Your nightmare is proficient in light and medium barding
  • Your nightmare may not use the Attack action unless you use a bonus action to command it
  • Your nightmare’s hit point total is halved
While mounted on your nightmare, you may treat your nightmare’s space as your own when determining the reach of melee weapon attacks, Eldritch Scythe, and Eldritch Whip.
Your nightmare becomes a fell nightmare at your 10th warlock level. Your nightmare regains its fly speed and Ethereal Shift ability at your 14th warlock level.
Author's note: It is my understanding that, per A5e rules, a Medium creature on a Large mount needs to use a reach weapon in order to attack a creature next to its mount. The point of the sentence "While mounted on your nightmare, you may treat your nightmare’s space as your own when determining the reach of melee weapon attacks, Eldritch Scythe, and Eldritch Whip" was mostly to allow Eldritch Scythe to be used from horseback, but I didn't see any harm in extending it to these other abilities as well.



Author's note: The nightmare that the dread knight receives through Hellrider improves at levels 10 and 14 in ways that I think are both consistent and significant, but I didn't want those abilities to be the only abilities that dread knights received at later levels. As such, I intentionally based the following abilities off of critical hits to make them less reliable and consistent, but still flavorful and useful, (I hope) in contrast to the nightmare improvements that should always be reliable and consistent.
Baleful Blows
At 10th level, your patron magnifies your fiercest blows. The critical hit range for your pact weapon, Eldritch Scythe, and Eldritch Whip increase to 19–20. If you already have a feature that increases the range of your critical hits, your critical hit range increases by 1 (maximum 17–20). In addition, choose one of the following features:
  • Fearful Blows: When a weapon attack, Eldritch Scythe attack, or Eldritch Whip attack that you make is a critical hit, the target of that attack is Frightened of you. This effect lasts for one minute. At the end of each of the target’s turns it may make a Wisdom saving throw. On a success it is no longer frightened and may not be affected by this ability for the remainder of the encounter.
  • Noxious Blows: When a weapon attack, Eldritch Scythe attack, or Eldritch Whip attack that you make is a critical hit, the target of that attack is Poisoned. This effect lasts for one minute. At the end of each of the target’s turns it may make a Constitution saving throw. On a success it is no longer Poisoned and may not be affected by this ability for the remainder of the encounter. This ability affects creatures that are immune to the Poisoned condition if they are not immune to poison damage.
  • Bewildering Blows: When a weapon attack, Eldritch Scythe attack, or Eldritch Whip attack that you make is a critical hit, the target of that attack is Confused. This effect lasts for one minute. At the end of each of the target’s turns it may make an Intelligence saving throw. On a success it is no longer Confused and may not be affected by this ability for the remainder of the encounter.


Muster the Damned
At 14th level, your patron makes your deadliest strikes call forth the legions of the damned. The critical hit range for your pact weapon and Eldritch Scythe increase to 18–20. If you already have a feature that increases the range of your critical hits, your critical hit range increases by 1 (maximum 17–20). In addition, when any weapon attack, Eldritch Scythe attack, or Eldritch Whip attack that you make is a critical hit, and if the target of the attack is a Small or Medium-sized beast, giant, humanoid, or monstrosity of at least CR 1, that creature is cursed until the beginning of its next turn, at which point the curse fades away. A creature that has been cursed by this feature may not be cursed again for 24 hours.
If a cursed creature dies, it rises again one round later as a ghast. This ghast obeys your verbal commands to the best of its abilities, including commands that may harm or destroy it. After one hour has passed, the ghast is freed from your control and may act according to its own desires, including attacking you and your companions if it feels the risk is worthy.
You may have no more than a number of ghasts equal to your spellcasting ability modifier gained from this feature under your control at a time. While you are at this maximum limit your critical hits do not inflict this curse upon new creatures. You may dismiss a ghast from your control as an action.


Final thoughts: For anyone familiar with 3.5, I always loved the Blackguard but never felt like it lived up to the hype. Warlock seems to me to be the best class to build a spiritual successor of the Blackguard around, and I hope that this archetype grants the right feel. I also had many of the features of this class affect the warlock's pact weapon as well as two Eldritch Blast options, Scythe and Whip, so that warlocks who don't just want to take Pact of the Blade aren't forced into it when they take this archetype. Plus, Scythe and Whip best fit the melee/martial feel that this archetype is intended to have.
 

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I guess a final note from the author: the final features of this archetype, Baleful Blows and Muster the Damned, probably need limited uses per day to be balanced properly. I get that. But the warlock is the one class built almost exclusively around at-will and short rest abilities. I just get cranky when I see it given cool abilities on a warlock that are tied to long rests. (Long rest abilities do have the advantage of, typically, being able to be used more before needing to take a rest, while many short rest abilities are very commonly only available once or twice per short rest. This means that Long rest abilities are more likely to get extensive use during an adventuring day while short rest abilities are more likely to get shafted if the party doesn't feel like taking more short rests. I hope that A5e closes the gap between these two types of resource management systems, particularly with martial fighters having exertion and, most of them, suddenly benefiting from taking a breather every few fights.)
 

Sepaulchre

Villager
I love this idea, and would love to see a warlock subclass with maneuvers, but these first level features are not even close to balanced. Spell points grow much faster than exertion pools, and are both short rest resources. And compare your eldritch smite feature to the Brute fighter’s.
 

timespike

Adventurer
I've got a warlock subclass called the "Martialist" designed for the upcoming 3PP project I'm working on with some of my fellow designers. Interesting to see some of the similarities and differences. For example, I also have a feature called "Eldritch Armor" but it works completely differently and shows up much later. I also have maneuvers as an option, but they're implemented differently, and there's no mounted component to my subclass at all.

It's always cool to see how different people approach the same basic goal.
 

First of all, thanks for the feedback! :)
Spell points grow much faster than exertion pools, and are both short rest resources.
Absolutely true! Here's the reasoning behind it to see if I can change your mind about potential balance. Using spell points to fuel maneuvers has an analogue with heralds using spell slots to fuel maneuvers, so this idea already exists in A5e. Both heralds and warlocks (if you used this archetype) can get a significant amount of exertion over other martial classes, but it comes at the cost of their spellcasting, which, as a full caster, is a bigger sacrifice for the warlock than the herald.

However, I do think there's a potentially strong argument to increasing the spell point cost to activate maneuvers—maybe it would be more balanced to have to pay the exertion cost of a maneuver plus one, in spell points. That way the cost of a level one maneuvers is analogous to the cost of a level one spell. I hesitate to do that, though, because then the dread knight warlock would be able to use significantly less maneuvers per short rest and it would eat up all ability to cast spells. Here's a comparison between warlock and fighter:
Level 1: Warlock has 2 spell points. Fighter has 4 exertion points. Warlock can do half the maneuvers the fighter can do (even less if you make the spell point/exertion conversion worse), will have less hit points, and may have worse armor, depending on which Hell's Armor option you choose.
Level 2: Warlocks and fighters are now tied in spell points/exertion, but if we increase the cost of maneuvers warlocks still do less per rest and won't be able to cast many, if any, spells.
Level 3: Warlocks start to pull ahead of fighters in spell points versus exertion, but they also get more expensive spells that they can't cast if they use exertion. Meanwhile, fighters are getting other abilities that don't cost any exertion. (Warlocks might be in the same boat depending on how they manage Eldritch Blast and invocations.)

I think a better comparison is the adept, a class that gets bonus exertion but still won't get as much exertion as warlocks get spell points. The Adept also has the same HP as the warlock and more comparable AC to the dread knight, particularly if you choose Eldritch Armor. But then again, the adept only uses exertion for martial abilities, while the warlock has spells as a main class feature that it needs to balance against maneuvers.

In my mind, the balance comes from conceptualizing a dread knight's maneuvers as an extension to its spellcasting—kind of like more spells known, these ones just require a weapon in hand to cast. The dread knight doesn't give the warlock more resources to use, just more ways to spend those resources.

Of course, without playtesting, I can't be certain which direction is ultimately the most balanced.

Anyway, thanks for making me think this out a lot! Your comments made me directly compare the warlock spell point progression to the exertion progression of fighters or adepts, which I hadn't done before, and I think it improved my conceptual image of this archetype, even if I don't feel that it needs to be changed—yet.
And compare your eldritch smite feature to the Brute fighter’s.
Thanks for the comparison! I had forgotten about the Brute fighter ability that's analogous to this. That actually makes me want to increase the spell point cost of the dread knight's smite across the board because, unlike the Brute's ability, the dread knight's smite also knocks enemies prone.
 

Sepaulchre

Villager
Sorry, I’m horrible at using the forums on my phone.

I totally think spell-points-for-exertion is a viable idea, I’d focus on balancing for levels 3–8 more than anything else. I think your best bet is probably to require a temp exertion pool at the start of a turn, with a little tax on the conversion. That’s not elegant though, for sure.
 
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For example, I also have a feature called "Eldritch Armor" but it works completely differently and shows up much later. I also have maneuvers as an option, but they're implemented differently, and there's no mounted component to my subclass at all.

It's always cool to see how different people approach the same basic goal.
Thanks for sharing! I'm really curious how your "Eldritch Armor" works. My version—well, the two different options—was born of the following:
  • A desire to provide multiple comparable class options at more levels, which seems to be general A5e design that I quite like
  • A desire to give martial warlocks eventual access to heavy armor (for those that don't want to focus on Dexterity; for those that do, pick the option that's basically berserker Unarmored Defense but with a different ability)
  • An effort to keep things balanced, especially with regards to potential multiclass shenanigans
The mounted component, believe it or not, was born from the arguments people have been having over how Eldritch Scythe and Thirsting Blade worked (whether they were compatible or not). My original vision was for this archetype to be able to use Eldritch Scythe or Eldritch Whip in place of weapon attacks with maneuvers, but I was very concerned about balance issues, particularly with the incredibly high damage ceiling of combinations like Polearm Savant and Eldritch Scythe. I'm glad I got scared off of that direction, though, because I think this version has a stronger flavor to it, at least until level six. I have mixed opinions about the later-level abilities. It just seemed wrong to make a dread knight without having some sort of fear and undead element to it, but just giving warlocks Animate Dead is busted and they already have Fear on their spell list...
 

timespike

Adventurer
Thanks for sharing! I'm really curious how your "Eldritch Armor" works. My version—well, the two different options—was born of the following:
  • A desire to provide multiple comparable class options at more levels, which seems to be general A5e design that I quite like
  • A desire to give martial warlocks eventual access to heavy armor (for those that don't want to focus on Dexterity; for those that do, pick the option that's basically berserker Unarmored Defense but with a different ability)
  • An effort to keep things balanced, especially with regards to potential multiclass shenanigans
The mounted component, believe it or not, was born from the arguments people have been having over how Eldritch Scythe and Thirsting Blade worked (whether they were compatible or not). My original vision was for this archetype to be able to use Eldritch Scythe or Eldritch Whip in place of weapon attacks with maneuvers, but I was very concerned about balance issues, particularly with the incredibly high damage ceiling of combinations like Polearm Savant and Eldritch Scythe. I'm glad I got scared off of that direction, though, because I think this version has a stronger flavor to it, at least until level six. I have mixed opinions about the later-level abilities. It just seemed wrong to make a dread knight without having some sort of fear and undead element to it, but just giving warlocks Animate Dead is busted and they already have Fear on their spell list...
Mine works closer to something like armor of agathys in that it's a pool of temp hp that retaliates with damage when struck. For more details, you'll have to wait until that project is done. We may tease some more of the material we've been working on as we get closer to a release date.
 

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