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Fiends and Archfey could be killed by a rival trying to usurp their power.

If this is not covered in the 5e RAW, is there a good resource from another edition that could be helpful in determining how the death of the being with whom a Warlock has a pact with affects a Warlock?

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There is no RAW answer, so it's up to the DM.

The way I would rule is that if there is no Patron there is no power. I would do this with the divine classes as well. I don't do it to be mean to the player, but for the cool story options it provides.

From a story perspective, there is a really cool way you can handle this (I've done it but used a Cleric and their deity):

Steps:

  1. Talk to the player, make sure he is okay with losing his powers for an entire session.
  2. Talk to the party, make sure they're okay playing an entire session about the Warlock.
  3. Have the Warlock loses his Patron (and power) and then run an entire session about him getting it back. Take the party to wherever Archfiends/Archfey reside in your world and let the Warlock find a new patron. There are lots of ways for the Warlock to get a new patron: maybe the party defeats an Archfiend/fey and demands that it enter the pact with the Warlock, if the patron is a devil maybe the party goes to a higher devil and demands recompense which should work because they're lawful (but have a price because they're evil), maybe the Warlock begs.

There are lots of options for a Warlock to get a new Patron which could provide a fun and interesting adventure for your group.

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    \$\begingroup\$ As a DM, I would have so much fun with this. To go even further, the type of patron might have an effect. In folklore, Fey creatures are bound by promises (if you've read the Dresden Files, this will be familiar) so if your patron is fey, then the obligation might fall to their heir, or even to whoever killed them, if they're a fey as well. For a fiend, it might be that their killer has the chance to take on the patron's former wealth, including vassals like warlocks, so there's a power play there. For Great Old Ones... who knows? Perhaps a quest to meet a strange and ancient being? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 12:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ You're free to do whatever you want in your game, of course, but from the way warlocks are described in the PHB they would not lose any powers from a patron dying. Warlocks don't use the patrons powers directly like a cleric does. The patron gives them access to knowledge that the warlock studies to unlock their powers. It would make sense to make the PC unable to gain additional warlock levels though. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 4, 2023 at 10:24
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Short version:

Due to the lack of RAW information on a warlock's power, the outcome of such an event should be determined by the DM. Plausible outcomes are determined by the nature of a warlock's power (which is determined by the DM). If the power comes directly from a given entity, it would mean power loss, and if it comes from some other place and the "pacted entity" simply made that connection, then it is possible that the power will remain.

For the purpose of the story the DM may decide, for example, that another entity will inherit the pacts of the original archfiend/archfey, which may make sense depending on circumstances.

Long version:

To my knowledge, 5e's description of warlocks amounts to half of a page of text, which gives very little insight on the warlock's relationship with their pacted entity, and zero information how the pact was made or how the warlock's powers function.

Source books from 3.5 (Complete Arcane and Complete Mage) speak of warlocks, and there's additional mention of them in Fiendish Codex II. However, none of this books actually bother to explain warlock powers, which means that it is mostly left for the DM to decide.

Now, putting aside that killing some fiend was quite hard and you needed to do that on their home plane (otherwise they would reform later - whether it is true or not in 5e remains to be seen), there's pretty much two ways for a warlock's power to function:

  1. Warlock gains powers directly from its "master". This is similar to relationship between cleric and deity.
  2. Their "master" enables them to gain power from somewhere else. The warlock performs a ritual and creates a conduit with greater power source, such as "essence of the nine hells", "chaos of the abyss" and such.

The obvious consequences are that in scenario #1 if the "master" is slain then the warlock will lose all powers or most of them. In scenario #2 if the "master" is killed, then the warlock retains all powers, unless connection with the actual power source has been severed. If a pacted entity is the Archfiend, it is reasonable to expect that there's some safety mechanism that terminates pacts once the archfiend is dead.

The main difference between the 3.5 and 5e warlock (aside from warlocks having spellslots now) is that in 5e the warlock is in service and the "master" checks on the warlock periodically. That is a much closer relationship than what 3.5 warlocks had and is somewhat similar to a cleric's relationship with their deity. This means that complete power loss upon the death of a "pacted entity" is more plausible in 5e than it was in 3.5e (where infinitely recastable spells suggested a connection to some infinite power pool).

From the perspective of the story, another fun thing a DM could do is to make some other entity inherit all of the pacts of a slain entity. It makes sense if the archfiend you pacted with was slain by another archfiend. It makes less sense if it was slain by someone else.
I saw this kind of plot in action, it was a big shock for the warlock character to discover that the entity he planned to kill was already slain by someone else and that a NEW fiend held the warlock's pact.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Uh, you should probably restore all those articles. This is not grammatical English and is substantially harder to read now. Articles are not optional in any variety of English. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 3:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ As SevenSidedDie says, articles are kind of important in English; a native English speaker, this abuse of the language offends my eyes, and makes the answer less clear. -1. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 4:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ I fixed the numerous errors in syntax and punctuation, and a few bits of grammar and formatting. @SevenSidedDie Amen to your comment. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 28, 2021 at 16:00
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The rules imply that they ought to keep their class abilities and change their subclass.

While there's no RAW answer for what happens when a Warlock loses their patron, there is precedent in RAW for events that cause a character loses access to their subclass abilities. As a Warlock's subclass is determined by their patron, we can look to this rule for guidance.

RAW: If a Paladin breaks their Oath, they don't lose access to their class abilities. They change subclasses and become an Oathbreaker.

A paladin who has broken a vow typically seeks absolution from a cleric who shares his or her faith or from another paladin of the same order. ... If a paladin willfully violates his or her oath and shows no sign of repentance, the consequences can be more serious. At the DM's discretion, an impenitent paladin might be forced to abandon this class and adopt another, or perhaps to take the Oathbreaker paladin option that appears in the Dungeon Master's Guide. (PHB, pg. 86)

RAI can be derived by generalizing this rule: catastrophic game events can cause a PC to keep their class abilities, while changing their subclass to a subclass that is defined by disconnection from their previous subclass.

Applying this concept to all classes that derive their power from external sources, we could create the following homebrew:

  • A Warlock who loses their patron becomes a Pactless Warlock
  • A Cleric who leaves their faith becomes an Apostate Cleric
  • A Druid who leaves their circle becomes a Circle of the Outcast Druid

Sample homebrew for a Pactless Warlock:

Pactless Warlock

Your pact opened a door that cannot be closed. With your patron gone, you now have direct access to the Weave.

Expanded Spell List: Choose one spell from any spell list for each level between 1st and 5th. These are added to the warlock spell list for you.

Wild Pact Magic: Without the guidance of a patron, your pact magic is wild and unpredictable. Starting at 1st level, when you cast a spell of 1st level or higher using a pact magic spell slot, roll a d20. If you roll a 1, you unleash a Wild Magic Surge.

Elemental Experimentation: Your pact magic is fluid and unconstrained. Starting at 6th level, when you cast a spell using a pact magic spell slot that deals a type of damage from the following list, you can change that damage type to one of the other listed types: acid, cold, fire, lightning, poison, thunder.

Shield of Defiance: Your ability to bend the weave to your will grows in power, allowing you to partially deflect incoming attacks. Starting at 10th level, you can use a reaction to gain resistance to all damage until the end of the current turn. You can use this ability a number of times up to your proficiency bonus, and you regain any spent uses when you finish a long rest.

Pact of the Pactless: Acting as your own patron, you have gained the ability to share your pact magic with others. Starting at 14th level, whenever you cast a spell using a pact magic spell slot, you can choose to imbue a willing creature you can touch with the spell instead of casting it normally. If you do, the spell doesn't take effect. Instead, the creature gains the ability to use an action to cast the spell without components, using your spellcasting ability modifier. The imbued spell lasts until it is cast, or until you take a short or a long rest.

Effect on the Game

Practically speaking, this allows the player to look for a new patron (as another answer suggested) over the course of an adventure instead of a single session. Considering that finding a new patron is a huge event for that character, it's advantageous to have the option of exploring the search over time. It also allows the player to continue to be useful to the party during the search, and it doesn't put game balance at risk by playing a character without abilities. Furthermore, it allows the player time to explore the world of a warlock without a pact, which is an interesting and rare opportunity in D&D 5e.

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Even if this comes of late, there's something interesting:

In 5e, your spell slots are yours, and yours only: It's a measure of your PERSONAL power. It doesn't matter how much a deity/nature/an eldrith patron loves or hates you: These spell slots come from you, your personal power and training.

And BY RAW, the patron "Teaches you" some spells. It's not a rented power but a knowledge that it's in you, just like a sorceror knows his spells. Yes, an angry patron could take them away from you, just like it could take away a memory or something (They are otherwordly patrons, after all!)

Edit: One example is the description of Arcanum: "At 11th level, your patron bestows upon you a magical secret called an arcanum". The patron doesn't give you a "power" but a "secret"

So, if your patron dies, you may not get some new class features, but at least you should keep the secrets that you were give and the power that you naturally built during your adventures. And some other features (like A.S.I. or the proficient bonus) should also grow up even if you are patronless.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You claim “BY RAW” but don’t provide any references to written rules. If you’re going to claim something is “rules as written”, I really need to see some written rules. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 3, 2023 at 23:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ how exactly is this RAW? Downvoted for now but might reverse if you edit to provide references for your claims. \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Commented Nov 5, 2023 at 15:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Please, don't signal edits in text. Edited answer should be one coherent whole. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 8:48

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