22
\$\begingroup\$

A friend of mine invited me to a short campaign. I chose to play as a Hexblade warlock since I thought that it would be interesting to have a sentient weapon as a patron. As part of my character I thought that it would be interesting if I owed my patron a certain amount of dead that scaled with my level each month as per my contract.

When we were doing introductions in the party, I explained this part of my contract. My DM asked me to roll Deception, stating that rules didn't say anything regarding contracts, so I didn't have such an obligation and as such I was lying to the group.

Was he right to shoot me down like that, or is it within my rights to customize my contract however I want?

\$\endgroup\$
  • 27
    \$\begingroup\$ This sounds like a social problem. \$\endgroup\$ – Akixkisu Jun 10 at 17:15
  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ is it within my rights to customize my contract however I want This attitude is potentially a source of continued friction with your DM (and possibly the group) if you don't get on the same page before the first play session. Please take a look at this related question on the SPT. Also, a related question, but likely not a dupe, here \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 10 at 17:29
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ Changing dead to debt invalidated some parts of existing answers. That's never a good thing, especially without any sign that it was actually just a spelling mistake. Owing deaths to sentient weapon makes perfect sense. \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Jun 10 at 23:26
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Mołot: That was my mistake; I thought it was a simple misspelling and hadn't considered the alternative possibility. I've changed it back now. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jun 10 at 23:56
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Contracts don't have tenets, they have clauses. \$\endgroup\$ – Richard Jun 11 at 12:16
33
\$\begingroup\$

The specifics of the contract should be developed between yourself and the DM

The Hexblade provides some broad stroke information on the contract:

You have made your pact with a mysterious entity from the Shadowfell — a force that manifests in sentient magic weapons carved from the stuff of shadow. The mighty sword Blackrazor is the most notable of these weapons, which have been spread across the multiverse over the ages. The shadowy force behind these weapons can offer power to warlocks who form pacts with it. Many hexblade warlocks create weapons that emulate those formed in the Shadowfell. Others forgo such arms, content to weave the dark magic of that plane into their spellcasting.

Because the Raven Queen is known to have forged the first of these weapons, many sages speculate that she and the force are one and that the weapons, along with hexblade warlocks, are tools she uses to manipulate events on the Material Plane to her inscrutable ends.

The specifics of what it means to your character and what that contract is really should be done along with your DM much in the same way that it's best to work with your DM on your backstory and character traits.

This way they are on the same page as you, they can work with you on your personal story arc(s), and it also keeps you 'honest' as to what your story is an can ask you to roll for Deception when you're straying.

\$\endgroup\$
24
\$\begingroup\$

Ultimately, the terms of a Warlock Pact have to be negotiated between the Player and DM

Nominally speaking, your DM was right to shoot down your claim: this wasn't something you hashed out with the DM, and by default Warlock Pacts don't mechanically insist on things like "you must sacrifice X people to keep your power" or other requirements. So until the DM decides that this is a thing in the diegesis of the game world, it doesn't exist.

There's two ways of going forwards: either work with your DM to find a way to incorporate this element into the character's mechanics, or narratively justify it by having your character, within the diegetic space of the game itself, attempt to contact their patron and offer to perform wicked deeds on their behalf in exchange for additional power.

Ostensibly, this is the diegetic justification for why any Warlock gains additional power as they level up.

Be wary of "My Guy Syndrome"

Be aware that a character who is compelled, contractually or willfully, to murder characters in the game world will have knock-on effects on the rest of the game in substantial ways. If the other players (and DM!) are okay with your character being compelled to murder NPCs in the game, then there's nothing else to worry about, but if they might take issue with this, it's probably best you not make this a part of the character.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ diegesis = A narration or recitation. \$\endgroup\$ – TimothyAWiseman Jun 10 at 17:27
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Is there a word for the variant of "my guy" syndrome where it's not that the player is trapped into bad decisions because they want to be faithful to the "concept" but where they intentionally pick a backstory which will require a certain (often sociopathic) behavior which they can now justify? \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Jun 11 at 0:16
  • 14
    \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm That’s just My-Guy. The player is still ultimately in control, and they’re responsible for picking a background that isn’t disruptive, or otherwise figuring out how to make it non-disruptive \$\endgroup\$ – Pingcode Jun 11 at 2:58
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I guess — but it's very different from the scenario described in the My Guy link above. Like, almost completely different. \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Jun 11 at 13:09
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm Seems pretty straightforward to me. The character is obligated to cause X deaths per month, scaling up with level. When he eventually finds himself needing to kill someone that didn't deserve it to meet his quota, he'll disclaim responsibility (as a player) by saying he HAD to because of the contract. But that contract is only forced on the character because the player chose it. It's His Guy. To be clear, I don't think OP is doing this maliciously. He's new to the game and probably assumes there will always be "enough monsters," but it still fits the definition. \$\endgroup\$ – Steve-O Jun 11 at 14:36
10
\$\begingroup\$

Well, basically this is a bad situation all around.

A couple of points:

  • The rules for Warlocks specify nothing about the terms of contracts with your Patron. It doesn't even specify there has to be any sort of formal contract at all, and even gives an example of a Great Old One Warlock where neither the Warlock nor the Patron have much knowledge about each other, the bond having been formed completely by accident.
  • Normally, your character details, including your characters backstory, are almost entirely up to you as a player. A DM can ask for changes or veto aspects if they don't work within the setting or for the playstyle, but on principle as long as it makes some amount of sense they should give you leeway for it.
  • Normally skill checks like persuasion, intimidation or insight don't apply to the party, or rather to conversations within the party.
  • Even if you were houseruling that in this instance, your character wasn't lying. Your DM was vetoing your backstory, which is an out of game matter and can't be resolved with in-game actions.

"Customize however you want" is perhaps the wrong way to put it, but the rules leave plenty of free space to fill out with your own ideas, including the details of your relationship to your patron. However, as this also affects part of the larger world you should ideally clear such things with the DM before the session even starts. Opinion wise, in this case the DM acted out of line by insisting that you were "lying" because they apparently didn't like your backstory; However, the correct way to address such problems isn't trying to find some rule that says you're allowed to do that (because it doesn't exist) but rather to sit down and have a chat with your DM about your characters background, and what they will or won't accept w.r.t. to it. It sounds like you have a rather inexperienced DM at hand, so you might want to inform that the rules for classes are meant to mostly give mechanics for the classes, they are not meant to be complete backstories and as such the presence or absence of some fluff text within the class description does not mean you can or can't put things into your character backstory.

At the same time, you also can't force the DM to accept a part of your characters background - D&D is a cooperative game, and players - including the DM - are expected to work together on such things.

\$\endgroup\$
8
\$\begingroup\$

Your direct question poses a false dichotomy:

Was he right to shoot me down like that, or is it within my rights to customize my contract however I want?

You ignore the possibility, which I believe to be the case, that you are both in the wrong.

You are in the wrong for taking too many liberties and not clearing them with the GM. Page 106 of the Player's Handbook exhorts all warlocks (not just Hexblades) to work with their GM to determine the parameters of the warlock pact. It's a common misconception for players to think that they can add any burden they like to themselves (because it is often allowed) without consulting the GM, but that's not actually the case. Adding a detail or a burden like this may be materially changing something about how warlocks work in that world, or how the patron acts, etc, that the GM doesn't want to happen or engage in.

This is especially relevant since the keyword 'debt' just got un-revised back to 'dead' as I am typing this answer in. That is a drastic change to make to what is essentially a pivotal NPC-- your patron-- without checking with the GM.

Your GM, on the other hand, chose a particularly harsh and inflexible method of correcting your behavior, if the surface telling of it is all there is. That is to say, if he publicly insisted your character was lying and stuck to that interpretation with no other warning or reprieve, that is extremely harsh. If, on the other hand, that was his opening gambit but you were allowed to back down and change your course of action with no harm done... well, that's still more harsh than I would play it, but it is also much more reasonable.

The best approach I have seen to situations like this is for the GM to temporarily halt, explain that this really isn't how things work (and if at all possible, why) and ask again politely, "Is that really what you want to do? Because if you do that, your character will basically be lying and I'll have to play it that way."

\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ "This is especially relevant since the keyword 'debt' just got un-revised back to 'dead' as I am typing this answer in. That is a drastic change to make to what is essentially a pivotal NPC-- your patron-- without checking with the GM." - The question already originally mentioned "dead"; I thought it was a misspelling of "debt" and edited it, but I see the alternative interpretation now and have changed it back. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jun 11 at 0:09
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast I know, I spotted the edit before I started the answer and was amused to see it edited back as I was answering. No worries on this end. I think it causes issues either way, honestly, but 'dead' makes the overall point much more stark. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Jun 11 at 0:12
6
\$\begingroup\$

You can propose anything - the DM role plays your patron's response

As this edition of the game is built, the DM can do what you described.

The source of pact magic powers are indeed the patron, as you noted. (PHB, Warlocks, p. 105-108). What you may have forgotten to take into account is that a contract (a pact) is a two-way negotiation with both an offer and an acceptance - and a bundle of conditional statements that both parties finally agree to.

In contractual terms: your proposed contractual promise was your offer of (this many dead per this time period, conditional upon character level) but your patron seems to have rejected that offer. The DM is playing the role of every NPC and deity, and every other circumstance in the universe (DMG, NPC) - you and the other players play the PCs. The DM can indeed role play it that way, or rule it that way.

What do I do now? (In Character)

Re-open negotiations with your patron (i.e, with the DM) and see if you can work out a deal that is acceptable to both characters: your Player Character, and the Patron (who is a Non Player Character - in the strictest sense - played by the DM).

What do I do now (Out of Character)

Experience based point, FYI: character generation works best as a collaborative effort between the player and the DM. If your discussion begins with the tone you presented here

Was he right to shoot me down like that, or is it within my rights to customize my contract however I want?

then I suggest you take the time to have a one-on-one discussion with your DM rather than calling them out. I am confident that you'll both work something out that fits the group you are playing with.

Something to think about, given the nature of the pact idea you had - which certainly fits with both the Raven Queen and a sentient blade, the paragon of which was Elric of Melnibone's Stormbringer: what if the DM's internal reaction (which wasn't spelled out point blank to you at the table) was something like this? I've no idea what the DM's thinking was, but let's look at this from a DM's point of view: a pact that required you to become a walking abattoir might not have been something that fit into his world's cosmos. Anyway, have a chat and work it out. And have fun.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I don't quite agree with your assessment here - this wasn't an in-character negotiation. The player was explaining something that from their perspective was already established history as a character background. This isn't an in-character issue, this is a "people sitting at the table" issue. \$\endgroup\$ – Cubic Jun 10 at 19:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Cubic I think we seem to disagree on what the problem is here, which may be a symptom of the X-Y problem. My answer is rooted in how the DMG presents what the DM does, and what the DM's roles are. There are other answers approaching this from different angles. Thanks for your comment. The larger part being chargen works best as a collaborative effort between player and DM, rather than as assertion of rights. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 10 at 22:01
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I think what Cubic is pointing out is that the player wasn't attempting to act out a current negotiation with the patron; they simply assumed that that backstory was already valid, and was having their character explain it to the other PCs. The DM then assumed (or declared) that that backstory was invalid, and thus the PC was lying to the other PCs. Given this incompatibility of beliefs, it needs to be established and agreed-upon out of character what the nature of that warlock-patron relationship is, as a result of a conversation between the player and DM (as you now point out at the end). \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jun 10 at 22:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast Sometimes, we are supposed to make the answer first, and then challenge the frame. That is a little bit of what I did, but I had not gone far enough into the "chargen is best as a collobrative process" so Cubic's comment did get me to flesh that out. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 10 at 22:25
5
\$\begingroup\$

You definitely should have cleared it with the DM first. I almost-certainly would have allowed it, but I can imagine campaigns where I would not have wanted something like that in the game, and more broadly the are definitely conceivable contractual obligations I would nix.

Effectively, the obligations demanded by your patron are, ya know, up to your patron. As in, a non-player character. As in, not something you as a player can unilaterally control. Obviously there may have been a negotiation, things your character wouldn’t have agreed with, but maybe killing people wasn't something your patron would have ever asked for. It’s not your call to say it would.

Which is why a conversation prior to the game is the right way to handle this. I’m not wild about the DM unilaterally deciding your statement was a lie when you meant it to be sincere, but you did spring it on them, and maybe they thought it was supposed to be a lie.

Anyway, better late then never: since it didn’t happen before, now you really need to have that conversation. Outside of game time, out of character, etc.

\$\endgroup\$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.