5E Warlock build advice...

Flobby

Visitor
Long time D&D player but first time playing 5e. (I've had the main books forever though so I'm pretty familiar with the rules and all.)

Starting at 3rd level and I'm thinking of making a Warlock.
I want to be fast Dex-based sword wielder, but I want to go with the archfey for flavory reasons and pact of the chain (because I'm a dork and just really want a pet dragon...)

I'm not too nuts about optimizing the character (obviously...), but at the same time I don't want a useless character at the same time. So my question is... is it just hopeless to have a melee-focused warlock who is not a hexblade or blade pact? Do you think it would be doable by taking a few levels in fighter first?
 
You can build a perfectly good melee warlock without hexblade. One way to avoid MAD is to choose pact of the book, and learn S[FONT=Verdana,Arial,Tahoma,Calibri,Geneva,sans-serif]hillelagh, Booming Blade and/or GFB.

Otherwise you can go pact of the blade and max out dex first. You can still get Dex 20 Cha 16 by level 8 with the right race. You will be relying on Hex to keep your damage competitive.
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ccs

39th lv DM
I'm not too nuts about optimizing the character (obviously...), but at the same time I don't want a useless character at the same time.
You'll have to be more specific as to what you think a "useless" character/Warlock might be. :)

So my question is... is it just hopeless to have a melee-focused warlock who is not a hexblade or blade pact?
It's not hopeless, just limited.
If you go this route realize that you are forever only getting 1 attack/round. And while stabbing things you won't be able to command your familiar to attack & that it'll (probably) interfere with casting. You're also only proficient in light armor & simple weapons class-wise.

As you stated dex based, sword wielding, with fey patron, am I correct in guessing you're thinking maybe Elf (possibly Drow) as your race?
Mechanically being a Drow would be the best elf choice giving you Dex+2 (for AC, initiative, pairs nicely with finesse & ranged weapons), Cha+1 (your spellcasting stat), 120' darkvision, & proficiency with Rapiers, short swords, & hand xbows (oh look: finesse & ranged weapons!) + additional limited cantrips/spells from Drow Magic. You would have to deal with that pesky sunlight sensitivity though.... as well as making sure Drow are allowed as player options.
Alternately you could do a mountain dwarf for the Str+2 & medium armor prof & try and talk the DM into letting you switch out one of the weapon prof for a sword. Of course you still want your dex/cha & now your looking for more str.

If you aren't an elf of some sort, then you'll need to figure out a way to get proficiency with whatever sword you aim to use.
You could do that as a variant Human & using your feat. Or you could take at least 1 lv of a class that provides it to start with, say: Fighter 1, Warlock x. You will need to qualify stat wise for multi-classing though.

Spell wise you're also really limited as a warlock. In # of spells known, spell selection, & most importantly in spell slots. For most of this characters career you're only going to have 2-3 spell slots per short rest.
Yes, I know. You look at the Wizard & think "they don't have that many more slots than I do since mine come back after a short rest" But those short rests? Access to them is 100% dependent upon the game you find yourself in.
This makes choosing what spells you know very important. Choose well.

Do you think it would be doable by taking a few levels in fighter first?
It would be very doable. And probably even the smart choice mechanically as you'd start with armor, shield & weapon proficiencies + a fighting style as you want to be in melee.
You could even combine that with being an Elf/Drow....

Of course the very best combo of race/class/etc? Is whatever let's you best express the character that you're envisioning. Even if that's not the optimal mechanical choice. Whenever in doubt, go with the character vs just optimal mechanics.
 

ccs

39th lv DM
You can build a perfectly good melee warlock without hexblade. One way to avoid MAD is to choose pact of the book, and learn Shillelagh, Booming Blade and/or GFB.

Otherwise you can go pact of the blade and max out dex first. You can still get Dex 20 Cha 16 by level 8 with the right race. You will be relying on Hex to keep your damage competitive.
You're flat out ignoring that the OP wants a pseudo-dragon familiar. Wich all but requires the chain pact.
Having something cool always > optimal damage.
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
Let me put it this way:
Wanting to be a swordsman despite having absolutely no character investment in actually learning to swing a sword better is about as far from anything resembling optimization as you can get.

Yeah, there is the Short Sword+Booming Blade you can fall back on, but that's more of a stopgap to prevent yourself from falling too far behind someone just casting Firebolt for damage. Being Dex focused and a fey lock really limits what supplemental spells you can bolster your damage with. You have Hex, and that Darkness + Devils sight combo, and not a lot else.

Because you are up for it, yes, taking Fighter levels will make you stab better. You are going to want 2 levels, that gives you the controversial Rapier, coveted action surge, and some great defensive boosts (the mighty CON save, HP, second wind, shields, medium armors, maybe even your fighting style if you really want it). Unfortunately, that means putting the rest of what you want off for quite some time after you start playing. Also you will need to meet the multiclass requirements, and miss out on some ASI goodness, so it's not without costs. And in the end you are still going to rely on Booming Blade to carry you after level 5.

Instead it might be able streamline this concept down to the MAP. Just tweaking something to get either Hexblade or Blade pact isn't going to have the world descend upon you and brand "munchkin" on your forehead.

The easy change is your Patron. Because it's for flavor, and flavor is in the hands of the player. The Lady of the Lake could be portrayed by either an Archfey or a Hexblade Patron. You could also swear by Corellon's lost sword, Sahandrian, for instance, and still be subject to Fay type bargains. The best part about this change is that you can still keep the rest of your character. Dex based melee backed up by spell list designed for such a thing (Smites!), and you can still get Pact of the Chain for your dragon pet.

If you can't ditch the Archfay patron: Do you really need a Psudodragon familiar? Is there perhaps a way you could get it without going for pact of the chain, like talking to your DM? Just going Blade pact lets you use a Rapier and spend your invocations on all the stuff that makes your sword hurt more without having to go for any kind of Fighter levels. It will make stabbing feel better, for you, at least.
 
You're flat out ignoring that the OP wants a pseudo-dragon familiar. Wich all but requires the chain pact.
Having something cool always > optimal damage.
As per monster manual you can take a pseudodragon for a familiar without needing to be a warlock at all.

But if qualifying for a warlock familiar is the priority, then the minimum 3 levels of warlock and the rest fighter (Eldritch Knight might fit the theme) is the best way to go.
 

Fenris-77

Explorer
Melee Warlock is probably best built as either Hexblade or with a fighter dip, as you really want that second attack if at all possible. The best option that keeps as much flavour as possible but still kicks some butt is to go Hexblade but with chain pact for the familiar. Hexblade works just fine without blade pact. You can dip fighter or not at your leisure.

The kind of game you'll be in does matter a lot too. As mentioned above, the Warlock is hugely short rest dependent, so you'll want to make sure your DM plans on allowing short rests. There is also the question of the actual campaign itself. Is this a dungeon crawl, wilderness exploration, or an urban intrigue type game? The Warlock has some strong options in the social interaction pillar as a CHA based class, so if there's going to be enough social interaction you could make that a key facet of your build and settle for being a blaster/control type combat character. Dipping rogue and building as an infiltrator works really well for Warlocks - Disguise Self at will plus the friends cantrip is awesome in the right game, even better with a good set of skills and expertise stacked on top from some Rogue levels (or just one).
 

Sword of Spirit

Adventurer
I'm going to slightly disagree with some of the advice and say that booming blade or green flame blade plus hex might be able to get you what you are going for, depending on how non-optimized you are willing to go.

Assuming you place Dex before Cha, just taking green flame blade is giving you an at-will attack with primary target damage about on par with an evoker's d8 cantrip. Adding hex on to it moves it clearly higher. Plus you are getting some decent second target damage, which really will make a difference if you can regularly hit two targets. If not, booming blade gives damage or control. You won't be winning any contests with dedicated warriors, but you might still be able to feel good about your contribution, as long as you choose your melees and don't charge every behemoth you see.

But by no means should you ever take Agonizing Blast, unless you can convince your DM to nerf it so it works like all the other similar powers (ie, ability mod applying to only one attack rather than all). Because if you have Agonizing Blast swinging a sword will feel completely and utterly pointless, like waving a butter knife when you have an assault rifle.
 

Fenris-77

Explorer
Yup, that's the rub, without some work Warlocks are far better blasters than they are crumpers. Agonizing Blast is the Warlocks signature go-to move. Its also the easiest way for them to do reasonable combat damage without resorting to MC dips or Hexblade. The Archfey Chainlock that was the original idea would be fine in combat going that route, and could focus the rest of his build on control spells, familiar use, and whatever else he wanted the character to be good at. It's way less investment for similar return.

The problem with melee is that the Warlock needs more than just the offense side. Green Flame Blade is pretty good, as is Booming Blade. But that doesn't solve the problem of the Warlock being significantly squishier than most melee characters. Some defensive spells would help, but only to a point. You really need either Hexblade or a MC dip to make it work well (not even great, but just well).

One option to look at is the Swashbuckler from XGE. That has some solid combat abilities based one Dex and Cha (eventually), and at level three gets some decent mobility and initiative abilities so it could work for a Warlock. The problem there is it needs at least three level of rogue to come online, so you'd be waiting a bunch of levels to get rolling in both classes. That's not the end of the world, but its a consideration. If you're going to be a little bit squishy, it's best to be super mobile, so some levels in rogue would be helpful.

Another MC option that works thematically with the Archfey is to aim for three levels in Ranger and go Gloomstalker, which gets you some good stealth and ambush skills, plus some extra spell goodies, a fighting style, and better weapon and armor proficiency.

You need to pick based on your level of patience. If you want a Warlock that works out of the box you're limited with options that are good at melee (Hexblade is about it), but not so much if you build a blaster. If you can be patient and work a MC build you have a lot more options for melee builds.
 
Actually, with 7 levels of Eldritch Knight, you can use Agonising Blast then follow up with a rapier attack as a bonus action.
 
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akr71

Explorer
While there is a lot of sound advice above, have you considered multiclassing? For what you describe, a couple levels of Fighter or Rogue would really round out the character. Looking at the MC Proficiencies (pg 164 PHB) you don't really lose much by taking either of those classes second - the Rogue loses access to some weapons if not the first class taken.

Ideally, you'll eventually want to get to 5 levels of Fighter for that Extra Attack or 5 levels of Rogue to get Uncanny Dodge. Both give you access better weapons. The Rogue gives you the ability to do a lot with your bonus action and sneak attack which can outweigh that eventual extra attack.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
Long time D&D player but first time playing 5e. (I've had the main books forever though so I'm pretty familiar with the rules and all.)

Starting at 3rd level and I'm thinking of making a Warlock.
I want to be fast Dex-based sword wielder, but I want to go with the archfey for flavory reasons and pact of the chain (because I'm a dork and just really want a pet dragon...)

I'm not too nuts about optimizing the character (obviously...), but at the same time I don't want a useless character at the same time. So my question is... is it just hopeless to have a melee-focused warlock who is not a hexblade or blade pact? Do you think it would be doable by taking a few levels in fighter first?
My suggestions would be this...

Start as Rogue for 1 level (sneak, expertise, key weapons)
Consider fighter but it's really not needed. If not fighter maybe second level rogue because cunning action really helps a mobile combat type.
Then go warlock and look for most attacks now being green flame with hex and sneak added on.

This sequence - even if you went two non-warlock levels - gets you full warlock-3 by 5th level when you leave the "intro" levels of 1-4. So your core desired features are good to go at the start of tier-2.

After that its gonna come down to creating in play the combos that get you the overall strengths that the numbers dont provide.

If I had to choose... overall package...
Half-elf who catches grief over half-status - questions about family history - becomes loner/scout to help serve but not be crowded and after tragic events in field gets "saved by" or "saves" new fry patron who "plays on" or "tries to assuage" the character's isolation and loneliness. That helps set/explain the dex-fighter type in before the warlock stuff kicks in and also helps explain why the familiar is do very key to the character.

The "loner joins party" would be not just convenient but a deliberate push by Patton, familiar etc to drag the character forward into society.

I could have a **lot** of fun with basically having the familiar be the more outgoing part of the pair, the "agent" in a way, maybe seeming to some to be the "boss".

Ok so, now off to DDB to spec this.

oh yeah - once you hit 3rd at warlock - shadowblade provides another angel for scaling up your weapoin strikes if you are not using hex at the same time. its maybe a matter of pacing as to which is the optimal choice, so it at least deserves a look at.
 
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tglassy

Adventurer
I love that you know what you want, and Warlocks are flexible enough to accommodate, just keep in mind that if you insist on not taking one of the Melee routes, then it is harder to be as effective in melee.

But lets go with what you want: Archfey Patron, Pseudodragon, Melee fighter. Since you’ve already picked your Patron and Boon, you now have to choose your Race, spells and Invocations.

As a Melee fighter, you need a few things. First is proficiency in the weapon you want, second is a decent AC. You only get Light Armor and Simple Weapons from your class, so unless you are willing to just use a Quarterstaff, you need a Race that grants weapon proficiency. Elf or Dwarf is good. Human can work if you take a Feat, but using a Feat to grant proficiency in weapons is…well, not usually a good choice. But if you’re not doing Hexblade or Blade Pact, your only option if you don’t want to use Simple Weapons is a Race that grants the weapon you want.

As for AC, you have a few options. Light Armor can be fine if you’re going to max Dex, but it’ll only ever give you a 17 AC, and that’s with Dex maxed. You’ll be pretty easy to hit for most of your early and mid days. This is where an Invocation can help. Armor of Shadows basically gives you permanent Mage Armor, which is 13+Dex, basically giving you an 18 AC when your Dex is maxed. It’s better than Light Armor, but not as good as straight Medium with a Shield. The Medium Armor Feat gives you both of these, so Human Variant will give you those at lvl 1. Alternatively, you could wait until lvl 4 to grab that Feat, and it’s a Half ASI, so you are still getting one ASI point. If you use your race to get Weapon Proficiency, and your lvl 4 ASI to get the Moderately Armored Feat, then when you get a Breastplate, you’ll have an 18 AC, which is respectable. You could have a 19 if you can get Half Plate armor. And you’d only need a 14 Dex, giving you plenty of leeway to build your Charisma.

One more option for AC is at the expense of Martial Weapons, you could go Variant Human with the Moderately Armored Feat, then grab the Heavily Armored Feat at lvl 4, so you could use Plate Armor and Shields, giving you a full 20 AC. But you would be stuck with Simple Weapons. Not that this is necessarily bad, and that’ll be next.

The other thing is how to keep up with damage, and this is where your spells will help. Hex is a must. Green Flame Blade can work with any melee weapon, and add damage as you level up. One of them will be required to make this work, otherwise you’ll be done, at most, 1d8+dex damage, once a round, for your entire career. With Green Flame Blade, even a dagger can do decent damage, as all the bonus power comes from your spell, not the weapon. You will do a LITTLE less damage than if you used a longsword (1d4 vs 1d8), but the bonus damage would be the same. Because you will never get an Extra Attack, using the cantrip is the only way to be viable in combat.

My recommendation, after all this, is to take a Race that gives weapon Proficiency, then the Moderately Armored Feat at lvl 4 so you can use Shields. Here are a few options:

If you’re using a Rapier, be a Dark Elf, put a 15 in Dex to start so after racial’s you’ll have a 17 dex, then take Moderately Armored so you can put a point in Dex to bring it to 18 and then 20 at lvl 8, focusing on Charisma after that, or grabbing Medium Armor Master so you can increase your AC by 1, since you’ll have the Dex for it. You’ll also start with a 16 in Charisma, which isn’t bad.

If you’re using a longsword, go High Elf with a 15 in Str and a 12 in Dex so after Racials your Dex will be a 14, and when you get Moderately Armored, put 1 point in Str to bring it up to 16. You’ll have a 14 in Charisma, which is ok, but you’ll not be relying on Charisma spells for a good, long while.

If you want an axe, then go Hill Dwarf, put a 15 in Str which will give you a 17 after Racials, and a 14 in Dex, grab Heavily Armored at lvl 4 to bring Str up to 18, and then bring it to 20 at lvl 8. You’ll only have a 13 in Charisma, though. That’s what you give up for getting both Medium Armor and weapon proficiency in the race and getting Heavy Armor at lvl 4. But your AC will be a straight 18 with Plate Armor, which is nothing to sneeze at, and you’ll be able to use a two handed Axe for even more damage.

If you don’t mind using Simple Weapons, the best one is a Quarterstaff which is not a Finesse weapon, so go with Human variant with the Moderately Armored Feat, put Str at 15, bump it to 16 with Racials and 17 with Moderately Armored, grab Heavily Armored at lvl 4 to make it an 18, then push it to 20 by lvl 8. Put Charisma at 14, don’t worry about Dex at all with this build. Take Athletic as a skill to take advantage of your high strength. Don’t forget about Grapple, it can be a game changer if you do it right, and it’s an Athletics check. It’s similar to the Dwarf, except you have a 20 AC instead of 18, and your weapon damage suffers a little. So there’s a trade off.


As for Invocations, there are a few that will help with melee combat, but you’ll likely use them more for Out of Combat Utility. Armor of Shadows is a waste, since I think you should just use Medium Armor. But Misty Visions, casting Silent Image at will, can be amazing. Voice of the Chain Master is a given. Cloak of Flies at lvl 5 does Charisma Damage to anyone standing next to you, and you can have it up indefinitely if you want(if you don’t mind having flies buzzing around you at all times). Maddening Hex and Relentless Hex are also good for extra damage. They all key off Charisma, so better for the Dark Elf, but if you wind up playing to higher levels, you’ll wind up with a 20 in Charisma in almost all of these builds eventually.

As for spells, Hex is important, and Armor of Agathys is amazing for defense. Besides those two, go to town. Experiment. You have combat taken care of, so don’t be afraid of taking utility spells. Don’t forget with all these builds, Charisma suffers until higher levels, so some spells will be better than others.

And lastly, don’t forget about your Patron abilities and the Pseudodragon. Use the familiar to grant Advantage on everything, let it scout ahead and trip traps for you, and see if your DM will let you harvest its poison. And with an Archfey, you can charm or frighten once a day.

You COULD start as a Fighter or something to gain proficiencies and armor. One level of Fighter means you can grab Heavy Armor and any weapon you want for any race you want. You just need a 15 str for Plate Armor, and your set. Dump dex, boost Str and Cha, and go to town. You could even do Variant Human, Heavy Armor Master, put 15 in Str, +1 from racials, +1 from HAM for a total starting str of 17, then just boost Str and Cha with your ASI’s. But I wanted to look at options for a pure warlock, because there is something to be said at actually getting your higher level abilities and spells when you’re supposed to.
 

Zardnaar

Hero
Fighter1/fiendpact XYZ starting as 1st level fighter for the heavy armor.

Your spells like hex and armor of agathys are there to buff the fighter part, and the fiend pat temp HP when you kill stuff make you fairly tanky.
 

Dausuul

Legend
5ekyu's approach is a good one and I recommend it. Here is another build you could consider:

Race: Half-elf (put the stat bonuses in Dex and Con)
Stat allocation: Str 13, Dex 15+1, Con 13+1, Int 8, Wis 9, Cha 14+2

Levels 1-2: Paladin. Take the Duelist fighting style, and fight with rapier and shield (describe the shield as a buckler).
Levels 3-5: Warlock. Take Pact of the Chain. Be sure to pick up green-flame blade and/or booming blade right away.
Levels 6-8: Paladin. Take Oath of the Ancients.
Level 9: Warlock.
Level 10: Paladin.
Levels 11+: Any mix of paladin and warlock levels you like.

This has the advantage of keeping your entire build on theme (using Oath of the Ancients), and offers some nifty synergies. You don't get Extra Attack until level 8, so you'll be behind the curve from levels 5-7; but green-flame blade and/or booming blade can tide you over in the meantime, the fighting style also helps, and you can take advantage of those fast-refreshing warlock spell slots with Divine Smite.

At level 8, you get Extra Attack, which gets you back on track. At level 9, you pick up your second ASI and reach Dex 20. Level 10 gives you Aura of Protection, which does very nice things with your high Charisma. After that, you can mix and match warlock and paladin levels however you like.
 
Long time D&D player but first time playing 5e. (I've had the main books forever though so I'm pretty familiar with the rules and all.)

Starting at 3rd level and I'm thinking of making a Warlock.
I want to be fast Dex-based sword wielder, but I want to go with the archfey for flavory reasons and pact of the chain (because I'm a dork and just really want a pet dragon...)

I'm not too nuts about optimizing the character (obviously...), but at the same time I don't want a useless character at the same time. So my question is... is it just hopeless to have a melee-focused warlock who is not a hexblade or blade pact? Do you think it would be doable by taking a few levels in fighter first?
Use shadowblade spell and booming blade. Take the mobile feat. Rely on hit and run tactics. Would work great as a wood elf for extra speed and dex bonus. Consider starting with a level of fighter or dragon sorcerer for con saves and an ac fix.

At level 5 you can do 4d8 +mod damage. And if the enemy moves you will do extra damage. Mobile allows you to move away without oa.

You can invest in more fighter or sorcerer levels latter to improve your damage if you fell it falling behind. Action surge or meta magic twin or quicken would be great for you.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
5ekyu's approach is a good one and I recommend it. Here is another build you could consider:

Race: Half-elf (put the stat bonuses in Dex and Con)
Stat allocation: Str 13, Dex 15+1, Con 13+1, Int 8, Wis 9, Cha 14+2

Levels 1-2: Paladin. Take the Duelist fighting style, and fight with rapier and shield (describe the shield as a buckler).
Levels 3-5: Warlock. Take Pact of the Chain. Be sure to pick up green-flame blade and/or booming blade right away.
Levels 6-8: Paladin. Take Oath of the Ancients.
Level 9: Warlock.
Level 10: Paladin.
Levels 11+: Any mix of paladin and warlock levels you like.

This has the advantage of keeping your entire build on theme (using Oath of the Ancients), and offers some nifty synergies. You don't get Extra Attack until level 8, so you'll be behind the curve from levels 5-7; but green-flame blade and/or booming blade can tide you over in the meantime, the fighting style also helps, and you can take advantage of those fast-refreshing warlock spell slots with Divine Smite.

At level 8, you get Extra Attack, which gets you back on track. At level 9, you pick up your second ASI and reach Dex 20. Level 10 gives you Aura of Protection, which does very nice things with your high Charisma. After that, you can mix and match warlock and paladin levels however you like.

Adding in my agreement - a paladin works too and syncs well with the warlock - maybe better than the rogue.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Shadow Blade and Booming Blade is definitely the way I’d go to make a non-hexblade, non-pact of the blade melee warlock. Mobile is a good idea to keep you from getting too beat up since you’ll be squishy (go Variant Human to get it at 1st level so you can spend your other ASIs on Dexterity). Probably best to keep a dagger in your off hand so if two enemies get in close you can attack them each once and escape without having to spend your action to disengage.
 

Dausuul

Legend
Just a note with shadow blade: It is a concentration spell, and concentration is very difficult to sustain in melee. The Mobile feat will help a little, but you'll still be a lot closer to the enemy than a concentrating caster wants to be. If you go this route, consider taking your first level in a class that gets proficiency in Constitution saving throws.
 

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