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I'm playing a Hexblade with Pact of the Blade, and I was wondering whether the weapon you use as part of the Hex Warrior ability counts as an arcane focus, or only if it's a pact weapon and you have Improved Pact Weapons Invocation?

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A Hex Weapon isn't an arcane focus automatically

The Hex Warrior class feature (XGtE, p. 55) says:

Whenever you finish a long rest, you can touch one weapon that you are proficient with and that lacks the two-handed property. When you attack with that weapon, you can use your Charisma modifier, instead of Strength or Dexterity, for the attack and damage rolls. This benefit lasts until you finish a long rest. If you later gain the Pact of the Blade feature, this benefit extends to every pact weapon you conjure with that feature, no matter the weapon's type.

Nowhere does it mention anything about the weapon being an arcane focus, so it isn't one.

As you've noted, the Improved Pact Weapon eldritch invocation (XGtE, p. 57) can allow you to use your weapon as an arcane focus, since it says:

You can use any weapon you summon with your Pact of the Blade feature as a spellcasting focus for your warlock spells.

So you would need this eldritch invocation to use your hex weapon as an arcane focus. However, your hex weapon would also need to be your pact weapon, since it says "with your Pact of the Blade feature", so you would need to choose your hex weapon as the magic weapon you shunt out of existence and resummon with Pact of the Blade, as per the PHB (p. 107):

You can transform one magic weapon into your pact weapon [...] You can then dismiss the weapon, shunting it into an extradimensional space, and it appears whenever you create your pact weapon thereafter.

If you were to choose your hex weapon as your pact weapon, then it would count as a pact weapon to satisfy the Improved Pact Weapon eldritch invocation. At that point, your hex weapon could be used as an arcane focus.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Even if it didn’t say “with your Pact of the Blade feature,” the weapon chosen for Hex Warrior is not a pact weapon (unless you choose to make it so by choosing it as the magic weapon you shunt out of existence and resummon with Pact of the Blade, in which case it meets both requirements). See this answer for more details. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Dec 21 '18 at 13:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan I thought I'd covered that by my last sentence, but I have expanded it and made that more explicit. Thank you. \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Dec 21 '18 at 13:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ It might be noteworthy to mention that XGtE features a common magic item, Ruby of the War Mage (page 138), which can be attached to any weapon to turn it into a spellcasting focus. Of course, if you can get this item depends on your DM, but if you only want to use your weapon as a focus, it could be the way to go (e.g. if you already have a magic +1 weapon and won't benefit from IPW as much, since the +1 bonus is wasted) \$\endgroup\$ – PixelMaster Dec 21 '18 at 14:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PixelMaster I hadn't forgotten about that nifty little item, but since this question was asking about whether the Hex Warrior feature makes a weapon an arcane focus by default, and not "What are all the ways my warlock can use their weapon as an arcane focus?", I eventually decided against including it. \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Dec 21 '18 at 14:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ Well, that’s your choice—I admit that I had taken your quotation marks to indicate an actual quotation from the question, which I didn’t double-check, and now that I have I see the question is fairly narrowly-focused on Hex Warrior, unlike your quotation. (I would personally add such a value-add to this answer, but then that is strongly my preference and by no means everyone’s.) \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Dec 21 '18 at 16:22

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