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D&D 5E Warlock Spell Selection: Does the PC or the *player* choose their spells?

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
This is ... really trivial, but I think it could have some interesting RP consideration.

Now I am NOT suggesting that the GM should choose the spells! That's an entirely different kettle of fish.

However, let us say that, at level 7, the warlock takes one of those weird warlock-only spells, like Shadow of Moil. Although wizards are the masters of the arcane, there are some deep secrets that even they cannot master.

So where am I going with this? Well, these deep secrets, it would be mighty strange if all patrons knew it wouldn't it be?

So at the table, of course it's the warlock's player that decides to take shadow of moil! But in game, does the warlock decide that is the spell they want, or is that the secret that the patron can/decides to share? If we choose the later, it means that basically, the player is writing the fiction of what secrets his warlock's patron happens to have...
 

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cbwjm

Hero
I do like to focus on the expanded spell list, picking up a few of those as secrets that the warlock picks up/is shared by the patron. Often I will avoid spells that seem like they don't fit the patron.
 

MarkB

Legend
Why do you assume that warlock-only spells are deep, dark secrets, as opposed to just something you can't easily do without a patron? We don't assume that Cleric-only spells are obscure or secret.
 



Depends, of course, on the patron.

But if the patron is directly managing the warlock, or otherwise is highly involved in the details of the warlocks training/mission, it might make sense that in-fiction the patron is picking for the character. But unless it's a brand-new player who just wants to zap things and not really learn rules, I'd have the player chose the spells. But if it's a pregen, this is a good way to fluff that.

On the other hand, I don't assume patrons are that involved. If the patron is aware of and involved in the warlock's training, they probably aren't doing that day-to-day. They create a conduit to power and teach some baseline skills, but the warlock is doing the bulk of the learning through experience as they adventure. Patrons are, by and large, rather busy beings with a lot of other things to pay attention to. Asmodeus doesn't check on every fiendlock who made a deal with a him until he needs them to do a thing. It's closer to a cleric's relationship, but the initiation is more personal.

Then there are patrons who aren't aware of the pact, where the warlock finds a way to access the power despite anyone's permission. Most such patrons know about the concept of warlocks using their power, but only learn about specific warlocks through more normal means.

Then there are Great Old Ones, who aren't really aware of mortals in general.
 

I don't know if I actually understand the question.

Are you asking, "Is it explicitly always in-story that every spell is an elective choice of the character?" Well...no, I wouldn't think so anyway. Or are you asking, "Is it even possible in-story that a spell could be an elective choice of the character?" Well...yes, I would consider that an absolute given, unless contextually forbidden. Yet those two answers seem trivially obvious to me, like asking "does EVERY soda have to be fruit-flavored?" or "can ANY soda be fruit-flavored?", so I feel like I have to be missing something really important that pushes this out of such obvious answers.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Why do you assume that warlock-only spells are deep, dark secrets, as opposed to just something you can't easily do without a patron? We don't assume that Cleric-only spells are obscure or secret.
Why do I assume that? Because Wizards.

Wizards are obsessed with magic, and with mastering it. It's not from a strange bloodline, it's not from devotion to gods or entities. It's mastery through study, repetition, skill and will.

It's no wonder their spell list is so large and comprehensive! Any magic that a wizard cannot duplicate easily must be peculiar indeed.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Why do I assume that? Because Wizards.

Wizards are obsessed with magic, and with mastering it. It's not from a strange bloodline, it's not from devotion to gods or entities. It's mastery through study, repetition, skill and will.

It's no wonder their spell list is so large and comprehensive! Any magic that a wizard cannot duplicate easily must be peculiar indeed.
Any magic that a wizard can't replicate must ... hmm, empirical evidence says "be given by someone", be it a deity or patron.
 


Lakesidefantasy

Adventurer
Well, as one who plays a warlock in real life, I can tell you, with absolute certainty, those "spells" (as you call them) were not chosen by poor Malocchio. No, the relationship between Hastur and Malocchio is unwelcome and non-consensual. Malocchio was just a mild-mannered astrologer's assistant before Hastur took notice and "gifted" him with unwanted deep secrets. After 8 levels he has finally freed himself from the nuisance and lives a happy life retired from adventuring, thank you very much.

I don't take the names of spells as anything more than functional fun. Fun, as in cool sounding and laced with Dungeons and Dragons game history (i.e. Drawmij = Jim Ward). Functional, as in mildly descriptive and alphabetically arrangeable. I routinely change the names and descriptions of spells to fit my needs. If the Dungeon Master forbids it...then I defiantly do it in my head where nobody can see, except me. Lucky for me that's also where all the action is taking place.
 
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Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
I don't know if I actually understand the question.

Are you asking, "Is it explicitly always in-story that every spell is an elective choice of the character?" Well...no, I wouldn't think so anyway. Or are you asking, "Is it even possible in-story that a spell could be an elective choice of the character?" Well...yes, I would consider that an absolute given, unless contextually forbidden. Yet those two answers seem trivially obvious to me, like asking "does EVERY soda have to be fruit-flavored?" or "can ANY soda be fruit-flavored?", so I feel like I have to be missing something really important that pushes this out of such obvious answers.
I'll build an example that might help get my point across, which I may not have explained sufficiently.

So imagine a character concept of an older "wizard" who is actually a scholar with not a whiff of magical talent, who "made a deal with the devil", gaining arcane power in the process. So tome fiend warlock.

The mechanical build is a blaster - EB+AB, fireball, that kind of stuff.

But here is where who chose the spell "in game" (the warlock or the patron) becomes important. If the scholar is the one choosing their spells and they are taking blasting spells, it shows that this is what the scholar wants - to have the power to blow stuff up (vs more finess/utility magic).

However, if the patron is the one who chose the spells, then perhaps the relationship between the scholar and their magical powers becomes fraught. The scholar is dismayed, even afraid, of their own powers. Perhaps the scholar wanted tongues and hypnotic patterns, but instead got fireball and summon shadowspawn.

I mean you could say that the patron and the scholar both want to blow stuff up, and in that case it doesn't matter who chose. But if the patron is the one making those choices, it opens up a different roleplaying direction.
 


So at the table, of course it's the warlock's player that decides to take shadow of moil! But in game, does the warlock decide that is the spell they want, or is that the secret that the patron can/decides to share? If we choose the later, it means that basically, the player is writing the fiction of what secrets his warlock's patron happens to have...
One of the reasons I prefer warlocks, sorcerers, bards, rangers, and artificers* to clerics, druids, wizards, and paladins is the extra layer of character customisation that I as a player picking my character's spells gives. Sometimes this is what the character worked for, sometimes it's what they lucked into, sometimes it's what they were given, and sometimes it's what they tried fr and didn't want. And yes the player is writing the fiction of which secrets the warlock's patron was willing to share.

* Artificers get to pick their spells in character - but infusions have a similar effect.
 


TwoSix

Unserious gamer
I mean you could say that the patron and the scholar both want to blow stuff up, and in that case it doesn't matter who chose. But if the patron is the one making those choices, it opens up a different roleplaying direction.
I think you pick whatever option opens up the more interesting fiction for the character. Last time I played a warlock, for example, the patron was definitely in the driver seat, and the character was simply along for the ride.

I certainly would never advocate that the rules or fluff compel you into one direction or the other. That's totally the player's call as to how they want to narrate it.
 

Iry

Hero
Whatever the player wants. I might decide on the fiction if the player prefers me to surprise them, which does happen from time to time. Otherwise, they decide if their character is making the choices or being given them.
 

jgsugden

Legend
D&D is a role playing game. You're telling a story. In this story, the DM and the PC work together to make it fun. Here, I think you're just looking for what makes the best individual story.

This is often a glossed over nuance between DMs and players, which I think is fine, but I have had some players establish how they learned their new spells. In each instance, we worked out the story elements together. I can remember how we did it for 2 different warlocks.

Warlock 1: Great Old One patron (of a made up Far Realm entity). The player picked the spells, invocations, etc..., but the PC just received all of their new abilities as strange gifts that kept developing inside them without the PC's input. The first time they used it, the PC would be surprised that they could do it. They made a few 'suboptimal' choices just because

Warlock 2: Hexblade that was in the service of a Lich that had a phylactery in a weapon. The lich (actually a simulacrum of the lich) spoke to the PC in their dreams and spoke of arcane lore, mystical secrets and such. It gave the PC the option on what to study and learn, and showed the PC how to do the tricks and secrets that came with class abilities. The PC was under the impression they were in the service of a very different (and cooperative) creature until level 9 or so.
 

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