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Intent

A complaint I often hear about Warlocks is that, unless they choose Pact of the Blade/Hexblade, they are effectively pidgeon-holed into playing a caster that sits in the back, blasting foes from afar.

This homebrew cantrip attempts to remedy that by providing an alternative to Eldritch Blast that is nonetheless compatible with Eldritch Invocations, such that the fantasy of a magical melee warrior is attainable while being usable with a variety of Patrons and Pact Boons, all the while utilizing the full breadth of customization that Eldritch Invocations provide.

Variant: Eldritch Blade

Warlock 1st level feature.

Whenever you learn Eldritch Blast, you can choose to instead learn Eldritch Blade. This cantrip is considered the same cantrip as Eldritch Blast, with the modifications listed below.

Eldritch Blade

Evocation cantrip
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 5 feet
Components: S, M (a hilt or hilt-like rod worth at least 1 GP)
Duration: 1 minute

You create a blade of crackling magical energy in your hand that lasts for the duration or until the spell is cast again. As part of casting this spell, and as an action for the remaining duration, you can strike at a creature or object within range. Perform a melee spell attack against the target. On a hit, the target takes 1d10 force damage, or 2d6 force damage if you hold the blade in both hands while making the attack.

The magical blade emanates from the hilt used to cast this spell, or wraps around an existing blade if it is attached to the hilt. Using an existing blade confers no additional benefits to the attacks made with this spell. If you release the hilt, the spell ends.

This spell magically amplifies the fervor of your attacks, such that you can attack more than once with this spell when you reach higher levels: two attacks at 5th level, three attacks at 11th level, and four attacks at 17th level. You can direct the attack at the same target or at different ones. Make a separate attack roll for each attack.

Eldritch Invocations

Any Eldritch Invocation with a prerequisite of Eldritch Blast affects Eldritch Blade as if it were the same cantrip. The following Eldritch Invocations have their effects replaced:

Eldritch Spear: when you cast Eldritch Blade, its range is 10 feet.

Grasp of Hadar: Once on each of your turns before attacking with Eldritch Blade, you can magically teleport to an unoccupied space within 5 feet of the target of your attack, provided you can see the creature, and the creature is within 15 feet of you.

Analysis

The characteristics and usage of Eldritch Blade closely follow those of Eldritch Blast, except that the spell can only be cast at melee range.

Components: the hilt component is given a gold cost so that the component cannot be replaced with a spellcasting focus. This is mainly to evoke imagery of a fantasy lightsaber blade that is emitted from the hilt. Additionally, the spell's wording allows the user to use an existing weapon as the spellcasting component, as if using magic to fuel their attacks. The magical blade cannot be given to an ally, so there's no room for cheesing the system by giving your allies magically creating blades.

Damage: in order to compensate for the significant reduction of power associated with Eldritch Blade's reduced range, I've given it the option to be wielded with two hands for moderately increased damage. This increase is deliberately similar to the increase in damage from a longsword to a greatsword.

Eldritch Invocations: Eldritch Spear normally provides an ~2x improvement to the range of Eldritch Blast, so I've followed the same logic. Grasp of Hadar is more tricky; within 5 feet, you cannot pull a target any closer to yourself, so instead I've changed the wording such that a user can move themselves closer to a distant target. The increased utility of teleportation for escaping grapples comes at the cost of reduced safety, as the ability can only be used to teleport next to the target.

How is this different from Pact of the Blade/Hexblade? For starters, this option allows Warlocks to choose a different Pact Boon. This cantrip uses the Warlock's spellcasting ability, meaning that it uses Charisma for attack rolls. This cantrip is still a spell, so it has none of the benefits of magic weapons (i.e. bonuses on attack and damage rolls, additional effects on hit, etc.), and none of the benefits of Pact of the Blade like its associated Eldritch Invocations.

Conclusion

Is this homebrew spell balanced? I've combed through the list of Eldritch Invocations and I'm confident that I've identified any potentially strange interactions. Thank you for reading.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you supposed to be able to learn both this and Eldritch Blast? It's not particularly clear from the wording. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Oct 30 '20 at 7:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ What would be used for the roll to hit? Summoning the blade is the magic casting part but actually hitting sounds more like a martial weapon skill. \$\endgroup\$ – Lio Elbammalf Oct 30 '20 at 7:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LioElbammalf it says "Make a melee spell attack", so it uses the spellcasting modifier (Charisma for a Warlock) \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Oct 30 '20 at 8:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ So, have your hexblade and eat it too? \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Oct 30 '20 at 11:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you thought about taking Crossbow Expert feat instead? Just flavour your Point-blank Eldritch Blast as being a blade you attack with. \$\endgroup\$ – Nick Oct 30 '20 at 15:08
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I'd be wary. A character built around this is likely to be overly fragile.

First, is it overpowered? No. As a warlock, giving up Eldritch Blast is a big deal, and the numbers you're pulling out of the result aren't all that terrible.

Damage compared to a standard (non-hexblade, non-Blade Pact) Warlock:

  • Your damage output is near-identical overall, except that you're melee instead of ranged - your ability to pick your targets is more limited, your ability to stay away from the enemy is limited, but you can handle it better if they get up close and personal. In general, ranged damage is more expensive/valuable than melee damage, so that's okay, even with the +1.5 avg damage you could be getting by two-handing it. The Grasp of Hadar change is a potential issue, but we'll get back to that.

Damage compared to a melee class

  • With one invocation, you're up to the damage level of a longsword. You can add another 1.5 damage to your average by going two-handed, but that's still pretty reasonable, and you're missing out on things like fighting style that would be cranking it up further. You also have a lot less ability to benefit from feats and magical items. You get your second attack at 5, as normal, your third at 11th (as the fighter) and your fourth at 17th. Overall, though, you're going to be doing exactly the same amount of at-will damage as a standard EB warlock - respectable, but generally lagging behind the weapon-based builds.
  • With Eldritch Spear, you get to take it up to a reach weapon, which effectively makes your attack a marginally upgraded (though unenchanted) glaive (with no feat support). It's not bad. Eldritch Blast isn't bad. It's nobody's game-breaker, though.
  • If your'e pretending to be melee, the fact that you still don't have a meaningful opportunity attack of your own starts being a serious issue. Sure, you could fix that with a feat, but that's a feat. Feats are pretty tight for a warlock.

The real issue, though, comes in the form of survivability. Specifically, the character becomes melee-primary but doesn't have anything in particular to help them survive in melee. A standard warlock is going to be a lot more fragile than any class that's intended to work in melee, and you're already turning down the Hexblade (the easiest way for the warlock to grab a defense upgrade). You could take Medium Armor proficiency, but if you're willing to throw around feats like that you could also just take Crossbow Expert and not have to lose out on your (class feature) ranged option. I'm not saying that this is insoluble, but it's the sort of thing that will take real work.

...and it's with that context that I look at your modifications to Grasp of Hadar. From some ways of looking at things it's strong. Being able to move around while ignoring opportunity attacks is indeed powerful, especially when that movement is free as part of an attack. In this case, though... its ability to get you away from melee is limited, because it's fundamentally pulling you into melee. It might be cool for getting you on top of a caster for lockdown purposes, but the limited range hurts you there (if you're not pretty close to the caster in the first place, then you'll still have to take an opportunity attack disengaging from someone) and you'll need to actually have an opportunity attack available before "lockdown" starts meaning anything. Sure, it's potentially quite useful... but it's not the game-breaker that it might look at first. Further, quite a lot of its functionality (teleport to a location adjacent to a foe, and still have your action and move left) is duplicated by the Relentless Hex invocation, which also allows a great deal more in the way of shenanigans (especially if you happen to have a flying familiar). On the other hand, Relentless Hex requires level 7. So... maybe put a level requirement on this version? It's not like they won't have other things to spend their invocations on in the meantime.

In the end, I think this is overall weaker than standard EB, though not so weak that it's unplayable. I'd be concerned that the character may have more difficulty surviving in melee than standard melee builds. I might suggest putting a level minimum on Grasp of Hadar. It's certainly not overly strong overall.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Accepted this answer as it has the most wholistic analysis. Excellent breakdown! \$\endgroup\$ – Andrendire Nov 1 '20 at 16:33
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The spell seems balanced. The invocations do not.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the cantrip. It is quite simply eldritch blast but melee range with some two-handed flavor/mechanics. It has the downsides of not being able to use your pact-weapon and needing a free hand to cast it initially (unless you have the War Caster feat).

The invocations though, are incredibly powerful. Reach is such a powerful mechanic because it is one of the few ways to attack at a distance without having disadvantage against enemies within 5ft. So making your invocation increase that range is strong and not nearly thematic enough.

The magical teleport is also incredibly strong. Attack of Opportunity free movement is a valuable DnD commodity. Having it as a freebie when normally it is a full class feature or feat is too strong.

Instead, I propose

Eldritch Reaction

while holding the eldritch blade, you may make a singular strike against an opponent with your reaction anytime you could make an attack of opportunity.

This allows something that would be more thematic for a Hexblade which isn't quite as strong as a full feat and bypasses not being able to use a spell for attack of opportunity.

Eldritch Might 9th level, Hexblade

You may apply smites to the attacks made with your eldritch blade.

This removes a restriction of using a not being able to apply smites to a spell attack. Normally, Smites have the following text "The next time you hit with a melee weapon attack" which does not apply to melee spell attacks. Allowing you to forgo traditional weapons in favor of a spellcasting weapon is limited to beyond 9th level so that its not too strong early.

Note: This is not playtested by me but, feels right thematically and about right power level wise.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Eldritch Might as you've written it is really very weak. Eldritch Smite is already in the useful-but-not-amazing camp. It's really not worth it to take Eldritch Blade if you already have a viable melee alternative (as having the original Eldritch Blast is so valuable). Eldritch Might as written, then, requires you to take two different invocations in order to use the Eldritch Smite effect, and the first one does essentially nothing for you until after you take the second. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Oct 30 '20 at 19:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BenBarden: I think the intent is that Eldritch Might replaces Eldritch Smite, not that you need both to be able to smite with the cantrip-blade. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Cordes Oct 30 '20 at 23:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PeterCordes It would be the only thing allowing the Hexblade smites (branding, blinding, etc) to be used with a spell attack. It won't allow Eldritch smite to work because Eldritch Smite specifically says Pact Weapon and Eldritch blade is a spell not a pact weapon. \$\endgroup\$ – IT Alex Nov 1 '20 at 3:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ITAlex: Right, so if you want to use this cantrip, you take Eldritch Might instead of Eldritch Smite. Then you can "smite" or whatever you call it with the cantrip, but not with a pact weapon. (You presumably wouldn't take this cantrip at all if you went Hexblade; that combo doesn't have to be optimal. But you could word Eldritch Might to also allow using spells like 2nd level Branding Smite with the cantrip attack, in case people want to multi-class Paladin, or they do for some reason take this cantrip as a hexblade but maybe not pact of the blade?) \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Cordes Nov 1 '20 at 3:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you really intended that you'd need Eldritch Might as well as Eldritch Smite to use Eldritch Smite, that seems pretty weak and I'd agree with Ben. It seems like you'd maybe want the ability to use smite spells with this cantrip-weapon as baseline, so maybe word that into the cantrip (but that gets clunky). The smite spells are already a costly tradeoff for a spell slot, especially for a warlock. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Cordes Nov 1 '20 at 4:05
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This does not look balanced to me

This single cantrip (with a few of your invocation slots) basically makes half of Pact of the Blade and half of Hexblade pointless, while providing a more powerful benefit.

It also grants you a default 4 attacks per turn, which is the Fighter's most powerful and unique feature on top of essentially being a full caster. The Eldritch Knight can cast spells up to 4th level, you get Arcanum's that go up to 9th, with the same melee striking power.

If you add the invocations, you're also getting the option of 10ft Reach on a Greatsword (which nobody can replicate) and the ability to teleport up to 10ft per turn as an at-will. And it's still going to be your "when I run out of powerful spells" options.

I think melee weapon specialists are going to feel pretty sad near you.

And finally, I don't really see the point. The Warlock already has 2 different options for being a spellcasting melee specialist (which you mention), why are you adding even more? What this does is basically replicate the existing options but far more powerfully. It doesn't seem to add anything special to the game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ EB already grants 4 attacks a turn, I do not see your point. Also, the max teleport range is 10ft (once per turn, 5ft from a creature 15ft from you). \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Oct 30 '20 at 8:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov I don't really agree. If a cantrip replicates most of what makes an entire class unique, there's a problem with the balance. (Either of the cantrip or the class, but something is off) \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Oct 30 '20 at 11:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ Right, I mean that toe-stepping, in and of itself, does not necessarily mean “imbalance”. If no one at the table is a fighter, there is no one to care that the Warlock gets four melee attacks. \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Markov Oct 30 '20 at 11:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is less powerful than taking CrossBow Expert and simply blasting with Eldritch Blast, both near and far. Well, the 2D6 damage is more powerful, but if you remove that it seems balanced. Losing your powerfull ranged attack is pretty huge. \$\endgroup\$ – Nick Oct 30 '20 at 12:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ Eldritch blast is functionally a warlock class feature. This sacrifices that class feature for a melee option... and before you start talking about melee specialists feeling sad, I'd encourage you to take a look at the comparative DPR. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Oct 30 '20 at 14:36
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Consider using the multiclassing variant rules instead

All classes are fairly narrow in focus, however with the multiclassing variant rule you can create classes that fit your specific fantasy. By combing warlock with other classes, and especially archetypes, you can fulfill your idea of "a magical melee warrior" without using the hexblade archetype.

Some example builds

Eldritch Knight 3 / Great Old One 3 - access to magic in 2 ways, you have your invocation and your pact boon. GOO has Awakened Mind which helps communicate with your party in battle, and at level 6 you get a nice boost to melee survivability.

Swashbuckler 3 / Fiend 3 - a great build for a build that can be used with finesse to strike at vulnerable parts of the enemy's formation, then slip away without harm. Dark One's Blessing in combination with Fancy Footwork allows you to go on, get the kill, then retreat without harm or create some buffer HP.

There are tons of other fun builds, college of swords bard, path of the zealot, so many fun things to try! You do not need to homebrew to solve this problem!

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Mind that Awakened Mind only allows for uni-directional communication toward one creature at a time. \$\endgroup\$ – Kogarashi Kaito Oct 30 '20 at 8:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ Multiclass builds like this are pretty much always going to be weaker than single-class characters. Also, you're completely ignoring the multi-attribute dependency problem, which is one of the core issues driving the original question. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Oct 30 '20 at 14:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BenBarden I believe that both concerns are immaterial. Are you saying that a single class warlock without pact of the blade / hexblade playing as a melee fighter is going to be more effective than a warlock/fighter multiclass? No, you are saying that by some metric going full fighter will be "better" - but it does not fit the brief. Your XY solution is "just play something else" which doesn't help anyone. None of these builds suffer from MAD unless you want them to. If your goal is to make something as powerful as the most optimal builds, then it will not be balanced or fair. End of story. \$\endgroup\$ – user-024673 Nov 3 '20 at 3:05

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