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I'm pretty new to DMing and I'm working on writing a campaign in which it's important to the plot that the characters not know at first that the BBEG is a multiclass wizard-warlock. Basically, this character is an Elf Prince who is widely known to be a modestly skilled wizard, but he's also secretly taken on a warlock patron and is the leader of a small rebel cult.

Other than dropping hints about his patron, are there mechanics that can allow my PCs to discover his class, similar to a detect magic spell or an Arcana check? I'd like to avoid relying on meta-knowledge like "oh, that's a warlock spell" as much as possible.

How can my PCs discover an NPC's class if they are trying to hide it?

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Attempting to discover class is missing the point

Class is a metagame concept. Although it maps to the game world, there is no way for a PC to know it. Besides, that's not really what you are trying to ask.

Put class out of your mind completely, ask yourself "how can my PCs discover that this character has secretly taken on a warlock patron and is the leader of a small rebel cult?" This is a much easier question to answer, you can probably think of many ways that this could be discovered.

How can my PCs discover that this character has secretly taken on a warlock patron and is the leader of a small rebel cult?

  • Observing the NPC communicating with their patron
  • Finding some paraphernalia related to their patron (an amulet?)
  • Finding something that just doesn't add up (a candlelit room filled with demonic sigils)
  • Interrogating cultists ("we have friends in high places!")
  • Finding something that links the NPC to the cult (all cultists are marked with a tattoo)
  • Linking them to the cultists in some other way (in a conversation about the cultists, the NPC seems off)
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this answer does truly go to the intent of the question. OP can also wrong-foot the party should she wish by using misdirection. In this case, the NPC could dress as a cleric, wield a (fake) holy symbol, and pretend that their new-found powers are from a benign deity rather than some ancient evil bent on world domination. \$\endgroup\$ – Geoff Atkins May 20 at 4:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks very much! I genuinely appreciated all the comments/explanations of NPC class vs spellcasting etc because I'm trying to get better at not metagaming, but this is actually what I was more meaning to ask. I've never played a warlock before and was having trouble coming up with what a character with a warlock patron would act. These are some helpful suggestions! \$\endgroup\$ – RatMan May 20 at 20:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Natasha No worries, reading up on the Warlock class page may be helpful. There's some flavor at the top and for each patron. You can go full cliche and have the NPC speak to their patron through a bowl of blood or a mirror covered in evil sigils or something. It doesn't have to be subtle, that may risk your players missing the point! \$\endgroup\$ – gszavae May 20 at 23:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Class is only sort of metagame. Clerics are those people beholden to gods. Warlocks are those people having a pact. \$\endgroup\$ – user2617804 May 21 at 23:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @user2617804 Clerics exist in-game, warlocks exist in-game, but the concept of class itself is metagame. \$\endgroup\$ – gszavae May 27 at 3:10
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Class is a game mechanic, not an identification 1

As explained very well in this answer, there is no such thing within the game as a "class". It is just a tool to help players design their character, a set of rules by which the game is played, and a label for quickly describing concepts.

There can be no in-game tool to reveal such a thing. It would be like giving a player a "Ring of Dice Determination" which let's the character know that someone is using plastic dice, metal dice, or an electronic dice rolling app. Or a divination spell to know someone's Experience Points.

More to your point, saying that "the characters not know at first that the BBEG is a multiclass wizard-warlock" has no bearing. I may be a good cook, but I would never call myself a "multiclass developer/chef". The characters can figure out motives and backgrounds, but they can't grasp "class"

1 Now it is possible that within any given campaign, certain classes must perform a specific action or set of actions. Such as, all Wizards need to go to designated schools to learn. Or Fighters go through gladiatorial training. It still doesn't tell anyone what "class" you are, only that you're trained a certain way.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd add to that that even seeing the guy cast a warlock spell is not necessarily proof, since NPCs don't have to take their spells from a specific spell list. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells May 18 at 23:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ Perception check, natural 20 : "As you look around, you see several giants rolling gigantic shapes with numbers on them. Your companions seem to have turned into toys, and the landscape around you appears flat, like a map. You blink once, and everything is back to normal once again." \$\endgroup\$ – Mazura May 19 at 10:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin Jun 1 at 4:29
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NPCs don't follow the same rules as PCs. They don't necessarily have any class at all, just a collection of abilities. Look at the Archmage, for example:

Spellcasting. The archmage is an 18th-level spellcaster. Its spellcasting ability is Intelligence (spell save DC 17, +9 to hit with spell attacks). The archmage can cast disguise self and invisibility at will and has the following wizard spells prepared:

While it casts wizard spells, note that it is an "18th-level spellcaster", not an "18th-level wizard".

It has no other features of a level 18 wizard other than what is listed in its statblock.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Has this changed so significantly since 3rd ed? As I recall, in 3rd ed every NPC had a specific class level, not to mention the "NPC classes" (non-hero-worthy classes). \$\endgroup\$ – Marandil May 19 at 8:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Marandil: Yes it has changed significantly since then, although MivaScott's answer could still apply in 3E too unless you want to take a literalist interpretation of the rules as describing the game world in character (no-one stops you doing this, although it often lends itself more to comedy than to immersion). \$\endgroup\$ – Neil Slater May 19 at 9:36
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To hide that he is a warlock from the players meta knowledge, do not describe his abilities with meta terms. When he casts an Eldritch Blast, don't say Eldritch Blast, but instead describe that he invokes some magic.

An Arcana check would then be a good tool for them to find out more about that magic ingame. But you already know that one.

From there you only need to give them hints and opportunities to clue them in that they are a Warlock. They could see him reading in a book which he then quickly hides, if they are interested they could try to get their hands on that book. They could see him in a Situation where he has to use his Warlockpowers, and could then use the Arcana check to see if they know something about the magic.

No other specific mechanic comes to mind, and as other answers have mentioned the players wont be able to find out that he is of the Warlock class (because that doesn't exist ingame). But they can find out that he is what people in your world refer to as a Warlock by observering his actions in your world, and comparing that to what people in your world generally refer to as a warlock.

In most worlds that would be stuff like: He reads forbidden grimoires, he sacrifices life to gain power, and so on. But in your world it could be whatever NPCs say it is: Maybe you notice Warlocks by a Marking they have somewhere on their body, maybe they sleep during the day, maybe they don't like Brocoli.

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The only thing that comes to mind for me is an ability that the Fighter subclass Battlemaster gets at 7th level. If you spend a minute interacting with someone outside of combat, you can learn whether you are superior to, inferior to, or the equal of the other creature in one of a number of stats. One of those stats is total level. It won’t outright say “hey this person is a Wizard 4 Warlock 12” but if your level 10 Battlemaster looks at what ought to be a “modest” wizard and learns that he is the wizard’s inferior in total class levels, it might raise eyebrows. The same feature can also determine current HP, which could also clue a lower-level party that the person they’re talking to is more than he appears.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, I think this is the closest you can get to actually knowing the raw facts and numbers of a creature according to the rules. \$\endgroup\$ – Michael May 19 at 15:52
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@MivaScott's answer is correct in terms of how the question is precisely phrased (can my PCs detect an NPC's class mechanically). However, if your intent is to allow your PCs to discover that this NPC is indebted to a patron and gets power from them, which I think is your real goal here, your players could take a look at this question on ways to detect alignment or use a spell like Divination or Commune to get answers about this NPC. However, I do think that in-game hints and sleuthing will probably be the most satisfying and reliable way to encourage discovery, as to take any of these actions your players would still need some reason to do so.

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