Welcome everybody to a brand new installment in our Underrated or Underpowered series! We’re going to start cracking into some of my favorite classes, so I figured we’d start off with one of the outliers, Pact of the Blade. Let’s get right into it!
Ahh Warlocks. How much I love you, but hate you at the same time. While the various patrons, invocations, and pact boons allow you to Build-A-Bear your way through the character creation, the simple addition of Eldritch Blast and invocations that boost this cantrip seem to kind of bottle neck the Warlock into an Eldritch Blast spamming bot, defined by their cantrip use rather than things like you know… their patron, or their pact boons. More on that later though, today I want to talk about one of the three pact boons and the one that appeals most to melee warlocks, Pact of the Blade!
Eldritch Gifts From Beyond
Pact of the Blade is the go to for any Warlock that’s looking to get into the fray and fight with the big boys. The boon allows you to summon a weapon into your hands as an action. You are proficient with the summoned weapon and it is magical for the purpose of overcoming resistances and immunities. The weapon will disappear if it’s more than 5 feet away from you for over a minute, you dismiss it, or if you die. You can also bind yourself to a magical weapon, assuming it is not an artifact nor a sentient weapon. You can then treat it the same way as any other weapon you summon with this feature.
At a base level, this ability is pretty great. Being able to summon any weapon and have proficiency in it is incredibly helpful, especially since Warlocks only get proficiency in simple weapons (unless you’re a HEXBLADE). Additionally, the weapon you summon bypasses magical resistances and immunities. Chances are your martial classes won’t have a magical weapon that can do the same for quite some time, so you gain a large advantage if you’re fighting undead, fiends, or other magically resistant creatures early on. Finally, being able to shunt the weapon in and out of existence is just… really cool. Pulling a longsword out of the fabric of reality, summoning a battleaxe in your hands in the face of adversity, I think the flavor of the boon is incredible and honestly? A lot cooler than holding onto a dusty book or having a quasit follow you around.
Another thing to look at is the invocations the boon grants. Each boon grants certain invocations, and Pact of the Blade does not shy away from giving you some good ones. If you’re just using the PHB, you get access to Thirsting Blade at level 5, which functions just like multiattack. You also get access to Lifedrinker at level 12, which lets you add your charisma modifier in necrotic damage whenever you hit an enemy with your pact weapon. Things get a little crazy if you add in Xanathar’s Guide. That supplement grants you two boon specific invocations and a couple ones that work great with a melee warlock. Eldritch Smite lets you become a faux-paladin and use your spells to empower weapons as well as knock the target prone. Improved Pact Weapon lets you use the weapon as a spellcasting focus and grants it a +1 to attack and damage rolls. Finally, Relentless Hex lets you use a bonus action to teleport to any space within 5 feet of an enemy as long as they are within 30 feet of you, allowing you to close distance very easily. Overall, I think Pact of the Blade has an incredible array of invocations to choose from to truly make it more powerful.
One final thing to add before we look at the cons. This pact boon is neither underrated nor underpowered for the Hexblade Warlock, it is incredibly good. Being able to use Charisma with your weapons as opposed to Strength or Dex lets you summon longswords, warhammers, battleaxes, and any other weapon and use it effectively. Going into cons, we’ll mostly be looking at any subclass that isn’t the Hexblade, since they are a special case.
Run… And a Spear Will Find Your Back
After looking at the pros, you’d think that this is an incredible pact boon and may be wondering, why not always pick it? Well, there’s a few reasons…
Firstly, Warlocks will almost never be built with Strength. Because of this, your options for weapons are extremely limited, only being able to use shortswords, rapiers, scimitars, and whips (assuming you’ll be using Dex for your weapons). While you could use Strength, we’ll talk a bit later about why this generally doesn’t work out. While invocations such as eldritch smite and thirsting blade allow you to stay competitive, having to rely on another stat (Dexterity) that isn’t your main stat (Charisma) is never a fun situation to be in, especially when you consider your Constitution, Wisdom, etc.
The next problem that stems from Strength vs Dexterity is armor. Your average Warlock only has proficiency in light armor, while Hexblades get medium armor proficiency. If you were to go strength to take advantage of greatswords, greataxes, or mauls, you’d be putting yourself at a disadvantage in terms of armor. You’d have to pick up feats to be able to reach that heavy armor. In contrast, a Dex build combined with Armor of Shadows (mage armor at will) will net you a pretty decent AC without feat investment, but will limit your weapon selection so your best choice is the rapier.
In short, the biggest problem with Pact of the Blade is it turns you into a psuedo-paladin in a sense. It makes it so you have to rely on one stat for all of your casting and social skills (which the Warlock often excels at) and another stat for your weapon usage. In a perfect world, you would’t have to worry about spreading your abilities thin (looking at you Hexblade). However, this is not a perfect world, and in the end you’ll most likely end up as a second rate paladin in combat, with just a bit better casting prowess (of course you’ll always have your best friend, Eldritch Blast).
The Final Verdict
So I’ll admit to you guys, this is actually a really difficult decision. I can’t simply exclude the Hexblade from my decision, and we haven’t even cracked the egg of multiclasses into things like Paladin or Sorcerer. Because of this, I’m going to go ahead and call this pact boon Underrated. Even for a Fiend Warlock that doesn’t multiclass, the invocations and ability to slice through resistances as well as effectively gain proficiency in any weapon is incredibly strong. If you forsee yourself wanting to take to the front lines, Pact of the Blade will give you the tools necessary to succeed!
That’s a wrap folks! This article really picked my brain more so than any other article. In the future I do plan to write some more on classes/abilities that I am very familiar with and hold close to my heart, so I hope you’ll stick around to listen to me ramble on and on. Thank you all so very much for reading and I look forward to seeing you next week!