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Been looking over the warlock because I thought it would be cool to make a spellcaster that can also mix it up in melee combat. After all how awesome isn't it to conjure up a magical weapon and start swinging.

Except after a careful read through of the warlock's abilities I can't help wonder why a warlock would do anything in combat except spam eldritch blast over and over?

It does a 1d10 in damage at level 1 so right from the start it's more powerful than all weapons except the big two-handed ones, which a warlock is unlikely to use anyhow due to somatic spell-restrictions and finesse builds.

Sure, a warlock's magical weapon can be boosted by two incantations to add charisma bonus to damage and give it an extra attack. But eldritch blast gets the same damage bonus plus two other boosted abilities from incantations AND the number of its attack increases at set levels to a whooping 4 attacks at level 17.

Now I was drawn to the warlock because I wanted to make a swashbuckling style of caster except now it feels like with the exception of a few other situational spells doing anything else except spamming eldritch blast in combat feels unnecessary and only done for role playing reasons. Sort of a self-nerf to look cool rather than be effective.

Things doesn't get better when you realize that the warlock's proficiency in light armour is pretty much for show too. As it gets an incantation that lets it cast mage armour on itself without any cost which gives you better AC than any light armour but have the requirement that you don't wear any armour making the ability to wear armour redundant.

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Dealing 1d10 while better than the 1d8 of the cleric or wizard cantrips is not nearly as good as a 1d8/1d10/1d12 + mod damage for anyone making a physical weapon attack. –  Joshua Aslan Smith Aug 24 '14 at 18:10

6 Answers 6

You are absolutely right, an Eldritch Blaster is usually stronger

After the 2nd level, when you get Agonizing Blast you can do d10+Cha damage, the same as a Longsword two-handed, if you are Strength primary. You can attack twice with both on level 5. At level 11 Eldritch Blast pulls ahead with 3 attacks, and the Charisma bonus on the Pact Weapon damage on next level can not compensate for this, unless you take the Polearm Master feat.
Add to this that a Blaster only needs Charisma, while with a Pact Blade you need Strength if you want to do good damage and Charisma for the spells.

However, I think you look at it all wrong.
A melee Warlock is is on par with a Ranger on most levels, somewhat smaller base damage and HP, same number of attacks, same AC, but better versatility. This shows it is viable as a build.
The Eldritch Blast is just a bonus. Not using it is indeed self-nerfing, but only in a way playing a Rogue instead of a Fighter is self-nerfing.

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You're correct that melee is inferior to eldritch blast, but why is the warlock more versatile? –  Strill Oct 11 '14 at 6:09
Because they are also a spell caster, for one. –  Axoren Oct 11 '14 at 7:49
So are rangers, though. –  xanderh May 22 at 13:41

So there are a few things which you are not correctly taking into account.

  1. You get a limited number of invocations. So while you can specialize all your invocations into Eldritch blast, you are really missing out on versatility. Same with choosing Armor of Shadows over Light Armor.

  2. Eldritch blast is 1d10. (avg 5.5) A summoned longsword is 1d8+dex/str and you can later use an invocation to also add your charisma bonus. (1d8+str+cha for example) So it's likely going to be 1d8+2 (avg 6.5) and then at level 12 1d8+7 (avg 11.5). If you use a two handed weapon, it become even better. Making the summoned weapon better than eldritch blast. In order to be better than your static damage modifier, you generally need to go up 3 dice sizes.

  3. Eldritch blast is a ranged attack, and so suffers from the same drawbacks that all ranged attacks have. Being able to both used Eldritch blast, and a melee weapon gives you greater versatility.

  4. While Eldritch blast or your pact weapon are an at will go to attack options, you have many other spells that you will likely want to use, and should not just limit yourself to your "basic attack".

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Regarding 2. But you can use an invocation to add your charisma bonus to Eldritch blast's damage too at level 2. And while versatility is always good it's usually only useful when unique and unusual situations pops up in combat. –  Chryckan Aug 24 '14 at 10:48
@Chryckan you get your Dex or str bonus without an invocation. –  GMNoob Aug 24 '14 at 16:50
@Chryckan "it's usually only useful when unique and unusual situations pops up in combat." This is only true in very limited, dungeon-crawl-only type games. Perhaps that's all you play, but to clarify for other readers, that is absolutely not universally true. –  Travis Aug 25 '14 at 16:10
Downvoted because #2 is false and grossly misleading. Pact Weapon with equal resource expenditure will not reach the power of Eldritch Blast without great sacrifices. If you use a 2-handed 2d6 weapon you get slightly better damage than Eldritch Blast, but have to deal with MAD, causing either your hit bonus or spellcasting DCs to suffer. If you instead use a d8 finesse weapon, your damage is inferior at all levels. Once you reach level 11, Eldritch Blast pulls ahead in all scenarios assuming equal resource expenditure. The only pro of pact weapon is attacking in melee without disadvantage. –  Strill Oct 11 '14 at 6:06
Furthermore, #1 is false and misleading as well. Pact Weapon has two damage-boosting invocations while Eldritch Blast has one. Yet both of Pact Weapon's invocations still cannot match Eldritch Blast with one invocation. Eldritch Blast is the option with superior versatility. Your criticism should be against pact weapon, not Eldritch Blast. On top of all that, Eldritch Blast has Repelling Blast, one of the most powerful and versatile abilities in the game. Pact Weapon has nothing remotely comparable. –  Strill Oct 11 '14 at 6:14

A pure warlock will be using EB a lot most likely. But with very little work, you can build a Warlock that is a melee monster.

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1s7vTgl1KRuR78BDTmMIdJDLbWaRs3RTLhx3CE6QLrDE is the one I've worked out. Pretty solid at range (low CHR), but can nearly keep up with the melee classes in the long haul, has a few pretty solid nova options

  • Armor of Agathys plus rage is gross--he'll do more damage passively in the first round than the fighter will in 2 rounds)
  • In the right situation nothing beats a fireball
  • Sitting in darkness and spamming blasts (he can see, they almost certainly can't) He also has a few out-of-combat options (minor illusion, fly, see in nearly any darkness to 120')

I think similar options exist for a paladin.

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A paladin who can throw fireballs? *grin* –  Mason Wheeler Nov 10 '14 at 19:39
That character should have 13 AC, not 16. –  Johan Nov 11 '14 at 10:03

So far, my personal experience is building the same kind of character you are speaking about, a swashbuckling-style Warlock. Now, while I don't have all the theorycrafting knowledge these other guys do, I can tell you what I'm planning on and I think it'll work out rather nicely.

Human Warlock, Pact of the Blade, Archfey. First off, the feats I'm planning to pick up are Medium Armor Prof, Warcaster, and Defensive Duelist. If it feels right, I'll pick up Medium Armor Master too. What that does is it gives me incredible survivability without taking away my ability to spellcast in melee combat.

The general idea is to use a Rapier, since I'm a dex build (8str) and a shield in my other arm. That, plus MAP/MAM gives me a pretty high AC. That can get even higher if I use Defensive Duelist. Yes, it takes up my reaction, but it can be used AFTER a confirmed hit. Generally you get told if you're hit or automatically hit (they rolled a 20) so if they auto-hit, you don't waste it.

Combo this with Mirror Image. No concentration, 3 images, and you roll to see if they hit those instead of you. They don't have nearly the same AC I do but that's fine, they're there to take one hit and poof. Now, if I'm not auto-hit, and they don't hit an image, but hit me directly, I can use DD to add my proficiency bonus to my AC and force them to attack THAT number. Since my AC would already be pretty high, I've got a good shot at going over 20 with that boost, which is hard to hit. So it's a pretty safe bet that I'll deflect almost everything coming at me.

This makes me sort of a tank, just not as good as an actual tank, and it requires a lot of feats, hence variant human. What this DOESNT do, is eat up my invocations. I only need to spend 2 on the Pact of the Blade boosts, and those only come at 5th and 12th. This leaves me open for casting False Life at will, so I almost always enter combat with 8 temp HP. That has saved my ass pretty well so far in Horde of the Dragon Queen. Devil's Sight is nice too, seeing through even MAGICAL DARKNESS. BBEG casts Darkness, you're fine, go up, stab him in the face. It doesn't delay you until your cleric(if you even have one) uses Daylight.

Part of the reason I picked Archfey is because I wanted the flavor of it, the other part is all the abilities work best when you're in close. Fey Presence can only hit a 10-foot square adjacent to you, so if they're not near you, it's useless. Fear for 1 turn is nice, and can make low-wis characters like the Big Stupid Fighter turn and run for long enough to give your party breathing room. Misty Escape lets you get the heck out of dodge if you are in trouble, and in melee, you're likely to get in trouble more often than if you're at range. Another reason is Greater Invisibility gets added to your spell list. It can be great for getting a good positioning on the boss, and with the added staying power of the rest of the build, you can actually hold that position well and deal good damage.

Spells will always hit harder than weapons, and some cantrips are more useful or powerful than weapons, that's just the way it is. But it's not really a big nerf to choose to build for melee combat, since you can then do something no Eldritch Blast spec warlock can: hold the line for the party.

So far, I'm only level 4, but I can see this playing out very nicely in the long run. It'll only get more effective the more levels you gain, which is the mark of a good build. Anything truly effective should get better with time(and EXP!).

I hope this helps give you ideas!

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You're correct. Melee warlocks are weak. However, there are a few things that may give the melee warlock greater potential in certain scenarios.

Caveat: I'm not saying the following points are enough to compensate, but they should be considered.

1. Melee attacks don't take Disadvantage

Eldritch Blast is a ranged attack, and gets disadvantage when used in melee range. Pact Weapon does not.

2. Multi-class potential

While a single-class Warlock is relatively limited in options, multiclassing as a Warlock has the potential to compensate for the class's weakness in melee. For example, starting as a level 1 Fighter or Paladin gives you heavy armor proficiency and a fighting style. Paladins can also make great use of Warlock spell slots with their Divine Smite ability.

3. Feats Can Help

While Eldritch Blast surpasses melee damage with equal resource expenditure, if you're willing to spend additional resources, it's possible to match or surpass Eldritch Blast. With Polearm Mastery, melee attacking can exceed Eldritch Blast's damage at levels 1 - 10. However, at levels 11-20, you'll also need reliable reaction attacks in order to continue to surpass Eldritch Blast.

Also note that this build suffers from MAD unless you have heavy armor proficiency. It's likely that either your +hit bonus or your spellcasting attribute will suffer if you choose this route without multiclassing. You also won't benefit from Repelling Blast.

4. Weapon Attacks Synergize with Spells

Eldritch Blast cannot benefit from poison, or spells like Haste or Elemental Weapon.

Warlock damage is a conundrum. Pact weapon's two invocations give the warlock nigh-identical damage to a Paladin of their level, but Eldritch Blast is still much stronger and requires fewer resources spent in it. So from one perspective, Pact Weapon could be said to be balanced against Paladin damage, but from another perspective, it's not balanced against Eldritch Blast. Improve Pact Weapon and then Paladin damage is too weak. A houserule that lowers Eldritch Blast's damage is the only thing that could truly solve this issue.

Ultimately this problem renders single-class melee warlocks somewhat of an afterthought. Your most obvious benefit will be the ability to attack in melee without disadvantage, but it'll cost you several invocations if you want to keep your damage up, and even then you still won't be doing as much as Eldritch Blast. Not using Eldritch Blast also means you don't get to benefit from Repelling Blast, one of the most powerful abilities in the game. You also lose out on the powerful benefits of the other two Pact boons. Ultimately your optimal strategy will be to use Eldritch Blast the majority of the time regardless, with the Blade Pact serving as a fallback option, not a primary specialization.

It's possible to be a melee warlock if you really want to, but it's unlikely that you'll be anywhere close to optimal unless you find some multi-class combos.

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The analysis of EB vs. Blade is forgetting that we haven't even seen most of the magic weapons yet.

Maybe withhold judgement until the DMG is out?

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