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I'm gathering lore about Warlock class origins in D&D.

A quality answer would have more than just a release date, and would ideally cover what makes each edition's version different from other editions.

When did Warlocks make their first appearance in D&D and how do they differ between editions?

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1974, 1990, or 2004, depending

In each of these years, a new option was introduced to D&D that was labeled “warlock.” It wasn’t until 2004 that the warlock was its own class, but 1990 had warlock as a wizard kit (similar to 5e’s subclasses), and 1974—that is, the original books for D&D—had warlock as a title held by magic-users of a particular level.

1974—Original D&D, first use of “warlock” for anything

Men & Magic, the original 1974 “player’s handbook” for the original version of Dungeons & Dragons, included “level titles.” That is, your title changed depending on what level you were in a class, so as a magic-user leveled up, rather than being a 1st-level magic-user, 2nd-level magic-user, and so on, they were a “medium” at 1st level, a “seer” at 2nd level, and so on, until finally at 11th level they became a “wizard” (after that the number would be used, so “12th-level wizard,” “13th-level wizard,” etc.).

Under this sytem, “warlock” was the 8th-level title for the magic-user class. So a “warlock” was just someone who had the magic-user class, and also was 8th level.

Basic and advanced D&D also used this system, and the warlock title.

1990—Advanced D&D 2e, first use of “warlock” for a unique character choice

1990’s Complete Wizard’s Handbook introduced “witch” as a “kit” (somewhat similar to 5e’s subclasses) for the wizard class, and indicated that rare male witches “are also possible, commonly called Warlocks.” Witches get their magic from extraplanar sources (e.g. fiends), and according to the book, usually prefer “enchantment/charm” though “Conjuration/summoning and necromancy are also good choices.”

2004—D&D 3.5e, first time “warlock” is a fully-independent class

2004’s Complete Arcane for D&D 3.5e was the first time that warlock was presented as its own separate D&D class. It established many of the tropes still associated with the D&D warlock today:

  • Pacts—every warlock got their power from a pact forged with a powerful (but non-deific) being, but the warlock themselves didn’t necessarily need to be the one who agreed to the pact. In 3.5e, these pacts could “taint” entire bloodlines, making it possible to become a warlock because of something one’s ancestor agreed to.

    Numerous places within the text refer to pacts as being made with fiendish or fey beings (which is reflected in the requirement that warlocks be Chaotic and/or Evil), but the nature of the pact doesn’t actually change anything for a 3.5e warlock (they still get “fiendish resilience” etc. even if their pact is fey in origin—the authors seemed to forget non-fiendish warlocks were possible).

  • Eldritch blast—every warlock was able to use eldritch blast by default, which fired a ray of arcane energy at a target, dealing damage.

  • Invocations—the primary magic of the warlock class was invocations, which in 3.5e meant at-will spells.

2008—D&D 4e

The 4th-edition Player’s Handbook presented the warlock for that edition, which was similar to the Complete Arcane version but subtly different in significant ways:

  • Pacts—now warlock pacts have mechanical significance, with different pacts signifying the different powerful beings capable of making warlocks. Moreover, each warlock must personally make a pact with something—no more “inheriting” the pact any more.

  • Spells—prior to the Essentials line, every class in 4e used the “AEDU” system, referring to At-will, Encounter, Daily, and Utility powers that were gained at fixed intervals that were the same for every class. Because warlock was an arcane class, these powers were known as spells—even the at-will and per-encounter ones. As such, “invocation” wasn’t really a term in 4e, nor was the warlock’s use of arcane magic as fundamentally different from other classes as it was in 3.5e.

2014—D&D 5e

And once again, with a new edition, we have a new warlock, again right there in Player’s Handbook. The 5e warlock again changed a few things up:

  • Pacts and patrons—in 5e, warlocks can make independent choices about the type of pact they make as well as which patron they make it with. So not only can the warlock choose to have a fiend or a fey as their patron, they can also choose to make a pact of the tome or pact of the chain with either of them (and more besides). Each choice has mechanical implications and differentiation.

  • Invocations and spells—in 5e, warlocks are back to having “invocations” as a unique thing that warlocks do, and these are again often at-will magic abilities as they were in 3.5e (though not always).

    Warlocks also have spells, which are refreshed after a short rest instead of a long one—making them similar to 4e’s Encounter powers. And since the AEDU system is gone, and all other spells are, in 4e’s terminology, “Dailies,” warlocks once again have a unique niche of being able to use spells more frequently, somewhat reflecting their 3.5e roots.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd totally forgotten about 'name level' in AD&D!! Thank you for this thorough answer AND a walk down nostalgia-lane!! \$\endgroup\$ – aaron9eee Mar 10 at 1:25
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2004

The warlock first appeared as a non-core class in Complete Arcane in 2004 for 3rd edition. They were an original core class in the Player[']s Handbook for 4th and 5th edition.

The iconic features of all versions are Eldritch Blast and a pact with some sort of higher being.

Mechanically these have been different because the different editions of Dungeons and Dragons are different games. 3rd edition warlocks had "at will" invocations; not spells. 4th edition warlocks had spells but 4th edition didn't use Vancian magic. 5th edition warlocks have a little from column A and a little from column B.

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In 2E, Warlocks appear in the Complete Wizard's Handbook as a kit for the Wizard class. They are easy to miss, because the kit is labeled "Witch", but within it mentions that the rare male version is called a Warlock.

The Witch is a wizard whose powerful magical abilities are extraplanar in origin. Though wizards typically learn the basics of spellcasting at magic academies or from learned mentors, Witches learn magical skills from entities and their minions from other planes of existence, or from other Witches. Occasionally, these extraplanar entities contact youthful humans or demihumans for magical instruction; other times, humans and demihumans seek out the entities through arcane rituals and petition them for instruction.

The vast majority of Witches are female, but male Witches are also possible, commonly called Warlocks.

Witches also appear as a PC/NPC class in 1E via Dragon Magazine, most notably issues 20, 43, 114. 114, however, is the only one that mentions the male Warlock version, and 114 is the only one where the Witch/Warlock has the same extraplanar/demonic/devilish ties. The earlier ones are more 'nature powered'.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Great call. I spent pretty much the entirety of my junior high years with my nose buried in those 2e class and race handbooks. \$\endgroup\$ – Alex M Mar 9 at 19:25
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