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The warlock's Pact of the Chain option looks really bad in comparison with other options for the Pact Boon feature. You just have a better familiar than other people.

One the other hand, you have Pact of the Blade (with a subclass based one the pact, and almost all invocations are at least super useful), and the Pact of the Tome (aka Pact of the Chain that comes later but less good with an invocation + all rituals of the game + 3 cantrips - with the Book of Ancient Secrets invocation). Unless you are the group tank, and you have multiclassed into warlock to have the "any healing spell always make me their maximum healing" invocation - Gift of the Ever-Living Ones - it looks like an always-bad choice.

Am I missing the point, or is Pact of the Chain just a bad option?

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I'm currently playing a Pact of the Chain warlock, at 5th level. I chose Great Old One patron.

Number one thing is having a familiar. Pact of the Chain allows my familiar to take four additional forms over the common ones that find familiar can produce; partly for thematic reasons, and partly for abilities, I chose an imp.

The Pact of the Chain familiars are the only summonable ones in the game that can attack (in the imp's case, with the stinger on its tail), using the master's action; the imp can also fly, change shape (I normally command it to take the shape of a raven), become invisible, has Devil Sight (120' darkvision that penetrates magical darkness), and can speak without requiring me to take an invocation (over another, potentially more useful or better fitting for the concept) to speak through it. With one invocation, I can communicate with my familiar, and use his senses, anywhere on the same plane -- giving me an incredible ability to spy.

As with any other familiar, I can also dismiss the familiar at any time, and resummon it (as long as it wasn't "killed") within thirty feet, effectively a free teleport from wherever it's gotten, back to the master.

Different pacts are good for different things. I could say much the same you have, about Pact of the Tome -- with only two or three spell slots until some level most players will never reach, knowledge of a bunch of spells is really only practical for ritual casting -- which you can get with a feat in any class you choose to play.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ A question concerning the invocation you mention. It is Voice of the Master right? Isn't it a lvl3 invocation? \$\endgroup\$ – 3C273 Mar 4 at 23:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @3C273 Maybe Zeiss meant not yet high enough level to get another "invocation slot" and doesn't want to swap another one out for that one? But yes, the one you're thinking of is available to 3rd level warlocks... \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Mar 5 at 8:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ Funnily enough, I did the same character as yours not too long ago. I think one with ahadow is the "invisible if immobile" one. Pretty sure voice of the master only need Pact of the Chain, so lvl3 min. \$\endgroup\$ – 3C273 Mar 5 at 12:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @illustro Any familiar summoned by a Pact of the Chain warlock can attack (in lieu of one of the summoner's attacks); it is a feature of the pact. The "better" familiars Chainlocks get actually have attacks worth using in some cases. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Mar 5 at 13:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @illustro Fixed that. \$\endgroup\$ – Zeiss Ikon Mar 5 at 13:40
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It depends on what you want to do with it.

For combat, Pact of the Chain is by far the worst option. Hands down, no if's, and's, or but's. Then again, Pact of the Blade is the worst to have for anything that doesn't involve combat. Pact of the Tome has some pretty big utility options, and is a bit of a middle ground between Blade and Chain, but you don't actually get anything that you couldn't already pick up with the feats Magic Initiate and Ritual Caster.

Chain gives you a permanent and effectively unkillable (and usually invisible) way to spy on your enemies, a scout, a pocket assassin, advantage on most skill checks, and a means with which to communicate with allies across limitless distances.

Tome gives you lots more utility. You can pick up Find Familiar due to it being a ritual spell, but it's much weaker, since you only get the list of standard options of toads and cats and such. You also get 3 new utility cantrips of your choice (since none of the attack ones are as good as EB) which can be helpful sometimes, especially if you can be creative. The main draw is the access to all of the other ritual spells, like Comprehend Languages, or Leomunds Tiny Hut.

Lastly, Blade is for the "I want to beat them to death" Warlocks. You mentioned that it was the only Pact that had a Patron designed to go with it (The Hexblade to be precise). This was actually due to the Blade being perceived as the weakest originally. You see, with only d8 hit dice, and light armor proficiency, along with a lack of focus on Dex, Warlocks are shockingly not the best for a melee class. After all, why would you even want to attack someone with any type of weapon when you could just throw a Blast at them? With the introduction of the Hexblade however, the class has become much more playable outside of it's original singular build. It removed the necessity of taking Agonizing Blast and Repelling Blast on every Warlock ever.

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    \$\begingroup\$ And water breathing. :) (Tome ritual spells) My celestial lock/tome added that to her book of andicnt secrets ... can't wait to get LTH. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Mar 4 at 19:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ "[...] you don't actually get anything that you couldn't already pick up with the feats Magic Initiate [...]" - Except that your extra cantrips are based on CHA (because they count as Warlock cantrips for you) rather than whatever ability score Magic Initiate would force you to use, as well as being able to mix-and-match from all spell lists rather than being restricted to one. For example, it doesn't make any difference for guidance, but for shillelagh, that's now based on CHA instead of WIS. Much better for a warlock than Magic Initiate (depending on the cantrips...) \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Mar 5 at 8:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NathanS While it's true that Magic Initiate only gives you access to a single spell list and you don't always use Cha, as a Warlock, you already have the hands down best damage cantrip in the game, so you shouldn't be going for damage anyways, just utility, which doesn't rely on your casting stat. \$\endgroup\$ – RevenantBacon Mar 5 at 13:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Eldritch Blast is the best cantrip, yes, but not for melee combat it's not. Eldritch Blast will be made with disadvantage at that point, so Shillelagh would serve you better in that scenario. Anyway, this was just an incidental point. I'm just quite fond of Pact of the Tome... \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Mar 5 at 13:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NathanS As I pointed out in my answer, Warlocks are poorly suited for melee combat without the Hexblade patron, which itself entirely negates the need for Shillelagh. If you're a Warlock who has been engaged in melee, your best option is not to fight back, but to disengage and put your beat-stick party members between you and the enemy. \$\endgroup\$ – RevenantBacon Mar 5 at 14:37
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Pact of the Chain is a fantastic scout

In a campaign now dormant, my Pact of the Chain Warlock, Archfey patroon, had a Sprite familiar.

The invisible scout was an immense boon to the entire party. It could fly and scout ahead of where we were going in all environments other than underwater. Sprites have bonuses to Perception(+3) and Stealth(+8). As we did not have a Rogue, nor a Bard, nor a Monk, my Warlock took on the scout role.

You could use an imp as well to be an invisible scout. (Per Zeiss Ikon's answer)

You ask if you are missing the point.
I answer that "good scouting prevents a lot of surprises and TPK's. Good scouting can also provide information to the party thanks to that little invisible spy listening to NPCs and Monsters, and the Warlock being privy to that information."

That seems to me to be a large part of "the point."

Another handy feature is that the familiar can offer you the help action (roll with advantage) for nearly any skill check (save lock picking and forcing open doors?). That's nice.

The pact choice may be campaign dependent, and party dependent

If you already have someone in your party who is a superlative scout, Pact of the Chain may not give you what you think that you need out of an arcane caster. In that case, pick a different pact.

I suggest to you the following before you reach third level.

Look at your party. How good is your party's scouting function?
If it is excellent, you may want to choose a different pact.
If it isn't excellent, Pact of the Chain gives your party a superb scout. And you still get to cast spells, etc.

At higher levels, there is an invocation that lets you cast hold monster without using a spell slot or needing material components:

Chains of Carceri
Prerequisite: 15th level, Pact of the Chain feature:
You can cast hold monster at will — targeting a celestial, fiend, or elemental —without expending a spell slot or material components. You must finish a long rest before you can use this invocation on the same creature again.

I have only seen this in play once, but when it worked (fiend failed the save) the held monster got slaughtered by the rest of the party.

As regards the gift of the ever living, its value will depend on how much healing your party, and your warlock, needs during an adventure day.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ for the gift of the ever living, I was meaning for multiclassing \$\endgroup\$ – Rorp Mar 4 at 21:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, changing the question like that after answers start coming in isn't a great idea, but as you've gotten three answers of varying value to your question, I hope we have as a team been helpful to you . :) (FWIW: I'd not MC into Warlock for three levels just for that benefit of "gift of the living" but tastes will differ. ) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Mar 4 at 21:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ well, yeah, you don't multiclass 3 levels just for that. But warlocks have so much to give: Paladin have 2 free lvl2 smite per hour, and others tanks can take the celestial to have the possibility to heal themself, or the fiend to get some temporary hp on kill. \$\endgroup\$ – Rorp Mar 5 at 7:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Note that for Chains of Carceri, you only need to do a long rest before you can use it on the same creature again. \$\endgroup\$ – DoubleDouble Mar 6 at 14:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ I do know one limitation is that it is a concentration spell - so really you could only do one at a time \$\endgroup\$ – DoubleDouble Mar 6 at 14:49
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Pact of the Chain can give you Advantage on your attacks.

Since it’s capable of attacking, the familiar granted with Pact of the Chain can use the Help action each round to grant you Advantage on your first attack each round, unlike a normal familiar gained through the Find Familiar spell.

This is in addition to the utility granted by having an invisible scout, as noted in several other answers.

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