I'm interested in playing a witch character in a D&D 5e game. The things I want to emphasize in playing a witch are the importance of family, in particular the bond of sisterhood, and that a witch's magic offers an alternative to both physical and political power. I see these as the sort of 'subversive' aspects of witchcraft and that's what I really want to play up. I think a case could be made for the Cleric class (follower of Hecate perhaps) or an enchanter Wizard, but the clear intent of the designers was that players would use the Warlock class in building an archetypal witch – they can access a book of shadows, 'witch' is in the name of two eldritch invocations, and of course 'warlock' often gets used colloquially to mean simply 'male witch.'

When I talked to my DM about the character, he indicated that to his mind the pact and the patron are the real core of the Warlock class. His idea seemed to be that a patron could, and most likely would, expect my character to do things that she otherwise wouldn't agree to. I was planning on going with an Archfey patron, who I hope would not command acts as despicable as would a Fiend or Great Old One. To be sure, the pact can be both a source of power and a burden, but I was left feeling like my DM was going to place the emphasis on burden. I guess I'm less interested in the pact if it's played as just another unequal power relationship (something the enchanter Wizard wouldn't have to put up with).

I take inspiration for my character from the admittedly more modern and light-hearted depictions of witches in media such as Charmed and Practical Magic, where witches don't get their power from pacts. And saying a witch got her power by making a deal with the devil sounds more like an excuse to burn her at the stake than the basis for a heroic character. But I'm worried if I try to downplay the pact concept, my DM will say that I just want the benefits of the class without the restrictions.

My question: How do I persuade my DM to play my patron (a rather significant NPC) in a way that honors my vision for my character?


6 Answers 6


Your problem isn't that you need to persuade your GM to change how the Warlock class works. Your problem is that you've fallen prey to what I'm going to start calling "the Nomenclature Bugbear."

Each character class is a collection of abilities built around a concept frequently found in works of fantasy fiction. These classes are given names, presumably because it gets awkward saying "I'm playing a person-who-uses-weapons-and-armour-really-competently!" all the time. For example, the fighter class can use armour and weapons well, and the wizard class uses magic and keeps spells in books. You'll have worked this out in a few minutes of reading the class descriptions.

However, being a member of a class doesn't mean your character identifies herself with the name of that class. A Fighter could be a Viking raider, a knight errant, a conquistador, or any of a thousand other possibilities. Similarly, there are loads of characters in fiction who cast spells and keep a library, and most of them aren't called "wizard." The Nomenclature Bugbear arises when we forget that class names are a convenience of game jargon and start thinking that they're recognised in-universe.

To be fair, this is an easy trap to fall into, as often the words used for class names do exist in-universe: They were taken from the fiction that inspires the game, and most campaign settings are also inspired by that same fiction. Most D&D settings do have people called wizards, and most of them are members of the wizard class, because the wizard class is pretty good at representing what wizards are in that setting. You just need to remember that in many such settings, in-universe nomenclature doesn't necessarily line up perfectly with the game terminology: In most settings, you can introduce yourself as a "thief" and people won't assume your character is a Rogue with the Thief archetype, because the only in-setting qualification to be a thief is to steal things, and any class can do that.

Getting back to your example...

You want to make a character who's a witch in the campaign universe, a person who uses subversive magic as an alternative to physical might and social prowess. You want this to be supported by the game mechanics and your GM. Those are reasonable goals. To achieve them, you need to do two things: (1) You want to find a class that fits with your concept, and (2) you want to work with your GM so that you have a shared understanding of what your witch is intended to be.

As your GM has pointed out, the warlock class isn't really what you're looking for. But your concept is still pretty broad, and that means it's flexible. With your GM's permission, you can simply pick any class that fits it, perhaps wizard, cleric, or - well, anything that uses magic - and have your character call herself a "witch" in conversation.

Once you've picked a class whose list of abilities sounds like your vision of a witch, explain your idea to your GM. It sounds like your GM doesn't object to your character's concept, so I expect he'll be receptive. As long as he agrees that there's no major dissonance between what your character can do and what she calls herself, you'll find that this solves your problem. It might take a bit of back-and-forth if he has existing nomenclature plans for magic-users in the setting, but eventually you'll have a character that you're happy with, and which your GM understands well. It's win-win!

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    \$\begingroup\$ A nature domain cleric seems like a great idea, because the idea there is that your powers stem from an entity that probably won't compel you to do something you won't already want to do. \$\endgroup\$
    – detly
    Commented Mar 15, 2016 at 9:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ Last year I played in a very fun game where my character dressed in blue robes with stars, wore a pointed hat to match, had a long gray beard, carried a staff with a gem on top, did minor flashy magic flourishes all the time, and introduced himself to everyone as a "wandering wizard" — but he was actually monk class. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Mar 15, 2016 at 10:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Solid points. As I was writing the question I started to wonder if the issue was that I needed to change my perspective. I'm sure I've fallen into this trap before, and I've seen other players do it to. Very helpful to be able to recognize it and put a name to it. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$
    – A. Foster
    Commented Mar 15, 2016 at 11:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @detly Agreed. The wording in the PHB is that a patron will 'expect significant favors'. Now, I can totally see my character inconveniencing or even endangering herself for someone she cares about. A divinity who she knows shares her values would fit that role better than some inscrutable archfey. \$\endgroup\$
    – A. Foster
    Commented Mar 15, 2016 at 12:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ Obligatory OOTS: The Samurai class? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 15, 2016 at 19:24

Not only are you falling into the nomenclature trap as a player, but your DM may be falling into the patron pidgeonhole.

The nomenclature trap

Just because a class is called something doesn't mean it exactly implements that concept or archetype, nor does it mean that it is the only way to implement that concept or archetype. Take for instance the concept of a mage-knight: while the obvious implementation may be in terms of an Eldritch Knight Fighter, the Warlock class is just as capable of implementing it if not more so -- in the active 5e campaign I am in, the EK Fighter player actually changed over to being a Warlock due to the relatively poor performance of the Eldritch Knight.

In your case, while it sounds like that enchanter wizards and seminarian clerics (i.e. schooled magi) may not fit what you are trying to do with the character, nor are you looking to deal with an innatist (sorcerer), there is still room in the Cleric family tree for wandering-ascetic clerics, which would be a good fit for your character concept with the correct deity and domain choices. Another option could be to work with your DM to construct a custom Druid circle, playing her more akin to the notion of a shamaness.

The patron pidgeonhole

Your DM is correct that the pact and patron are a central part of the Warlock class; however, what he may not understand is that Warlock patrons are much more diverse than the stereotype of someone selling their soul to the devil, and not all of them are malevolent in nature or would require despicable acts from those who pact with them. In fact, Titania and Oberon, the rulers of the Seelie Court (i.e. the home of good-natured fey such as pixies and sprites), are explicitly called out in the 5e PHB (p. 108) as examples of Archfey patrons.

Furthermore, 5e actually narrows the set of defined patrons mainly for the sake of out-of-the-box playability of the class -- nothing stops you and your DM from working out custom patronage, and previous editions left the door open to more unusual choices such as elemental lords, powerful ghosts, and even celestials.

In short, while a warlock is often required to serve their patron from time to time as a payment for their powers (making patrons a quest-giver of sorts which the DM can leverage), nothing forces that patron to send the warlock out on missions of a vile nature, or that patron to be of any sort of vile or fiendish nature themselves. Furthermore, such an assumption violates the open multiclassing system in 5e when multiclassing is in play -- as an example, Paladin/Warlock is a viable combination in 5e partly due to the wide array of Warlock patrons available. For instance, it could represent a Lovecraftian Spawn using the Oath of Vengeance combined with a Great Old One patron and Pact of the Tome, or a fey-court knight somewhat akin to those from the Dresden Files books using the Oath of the Ancients coupled to an Archfey patron and the Pact of the Blade.

From all of this, while a world that restricts patrons to fiends and other such evil entities is a legitimate thing for a DM to set their campaign in, it should be declared upfront as an intentional choice of the DM, and not left to surprise players (such as you) who are trying to make use of the flexibility the Warlock class offers as-written. Your question to the DM is "is it intentional that your world restricts patrons to vile and despicable beings?" as that is the heart of your problem -- if he says "yes", you can still use the wandering-ascetic cleric as a basis for your character, and if he says "no, you're right, I am viewing this too narrowly", now you have a good basis for discussing what would be an appropriate patron for your character concept instead of simply arguing about it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that multiclassing is optional at the DM's discretion. Showing that rules contradict a DM's actions, when permitting those rules is at the DM's discretion, is a weak argument structure at best. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 3:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie -- what I'm saying is that the DM has the option of forbidding that, but they must be upfront about it, instead of leaving it to be a trap for unsuspecting players in their campaign. \$\endgroup\$
    – Shalvenay
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 11:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer lacks sufficient bugbears. \$\endgroup\$
    – Yakk
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 15:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Shalvenay It seems to me that 'during character creation, before the campaign has started' should be plenty upfront about the way they intend to run a feature of a character's class. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 3:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Weaveworker89 -- I get the feeling he's not being explicit enough about who he expects patrons to be. \$\endgroup\$
    – Shalvenay
    Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 11:34

The answer, as is typical with these types of questions, is to talk to your DM about it. Unfortunately, no one can provide you a surefire way to persuade anyone to do anything, but there are ways to approach the discussion that might help.

If the issue is a moral one, you can likely tell your DM that, and they may or may not adjust accordingly. However, you can't really get out of a patron expecting things of you.

In general, the patron/warlock relationship is ultimately up to the DM and the player to determine. Ask for an example of what to expect from your patron, and see if you think it's unreasonable. You might have gotten the wrong idea because your DM was vague. If you feel that your character concept is not being respected, or that undue burden is being placed on your character, these are valid points to bring up.

On the other hand, perhaps your DM feels like your character doesn't fit the campaign, or feels like you're trying to game the system. These are questions you should ask directly. They don't even have to be uncomfortable questions.

The bottom line is that you're both involved in the process, so be involved. Just bear in mind that your DM is also involved, and may have legitimate qualms with your ideas.

  • \$\begingroup\$ You make a great point: I need to honor and respect my DM's campaign concept, just like I want him to do the same for my character. And I agree that an open and honest discussion is what's needed. This answer will definitely help me to approach it with the right frame of mind. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$
    – A. Foster
    Commented Mar 15, 2016 at 13:01

If you really do want to be a warlock, you can still be one and not be controlled by your god.

Maybe you don't feel like you have a nomenclature problem. That's okay! That problem exists because people recognize the tropes of certain classes. If you're playing a character based on those tropes, you may want to be a warlock anyway.

For a Patron of the Old God, the PHB states

The Great Old One might be unaware of your existence or entirely indifferent to you, but the secrets you have learned allow you to draw your magic from it.

In this way, you "follow" a god in as much as a scientist follows science. You are not beholden to it, but rather you use it for your own wants and needs. Maybe your god hands out power to any who offer him a gift. Maybe your god doesn't know you exist and you simply use knowledge of him to become powerful. Maybe the god is like a parasite to you, not requiring certain actions but just draining you of something. Maybe you are a parasite to it.

Work with your DM when you choose a god this way. Request that a certain type of interaction with the god is important to you as a player and to your character. If your character is not the type to bend his will to another, then there are still many options left (see above). Give your DM a few options you'd be comfortable with and let him pick one. In addition, when you choose your god, discuss with your DM how you expected this god to behave to make sure your expectations are the same.

Finally, remember that your DM is a player just like you. He/she is running this campaign because it is fun, and he/she may try to turn your character from a 2 dimensional character into a 3 dimensional character; that is, he may try to assist you in developing your character. This is what makes a story good and for many people it's what makes role-play interesting. My point is this: don't be afraid to change your character if the circumstances call for it. Don't be so rigid! You can't control your DM, you can only work together to ensure you both have fun. Roll with the punches, and if he does something you don't particularly care for, talk to him about it afterwards. Maybe, down the road, your character would become a slave willingly to a god.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a good point, but the "might" is a problem. The OP said "[The DM's] idea seemed to be that a patron could, and most likely would, expect my character to do things that she otherwise wouldn't agree to." \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 1:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Jack still doesn't sound definite to me, and people can be persuaded, which is what this question is about. "How can I persuade my DM to play my warlock's patron in a way that respects my character's concept?" \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 14:19

Even though the answers cover pretty much all sides to the issue, I'd like to point out a couple of in-character points that could come in handy when talking to the DM:

  • A warlock should take a rational choice on which patron to contact. So, one would expect a warlock to actually enjoy or at least find useful the actions ordered by a patron, or at least to obtain enough power to offset the discomfort caused. If your patron is a devil from Nine Hells, then you better enjoy evil. Since you're taking the Archfey, then I'd expect your character to back up actions that expand the power of Faerie, for example. A patron has an agenda to fulfill, but merely causing discomfort in followers is not a good way to progress it.
  • Even though a sorcerer might be a better fit (I don't see the rigid training of a wizard really fitting the character), they tend to be much more individualistic characters, so it would not suit your "sorority" concept. The fact that your character and the other warlocks share goals with the patron do cause, in my opinion, a greater bond between them, while respecting your individuality in a greater extent than a god would with a cleric/priest.

I hope these are useful. Above all, both of you keep calm and have fun!!! :)

PS: I'm afraid I have to compare with the GURPS approach. If you take a Power with the Pact limitation, then you know exactly what you're getting into, and you know how many "Pact" points your power will be worth. Otherwise, you might take a simpler Power Investiture with a Disciplines of Faith (Ritualism) limitation, which might suit e.g. a shaman of a lesser spirit. Theshold magic is also useful to represent spirits angry at being robbed of their power, as opposed to mana based magic.


I would like to add a few comments to the answers that are already here:

One, it sounds like no matter what, you don't actually want to have a warlock patron. In the end, it is an unavoidable "unequal power relationship", in that the power a patron bestows comes with inevitable strings. The title of the second section of the class description is "Sworn and Beholden". True, it does not have to be played that way, the gm could fiat that the Archfey or other patron never calls in the debt, but that's not the way it's written. I think that means that the warlock class is right out for the character concept you have in mind.

Two, the things you said are important: family, the bond of sisterhood, and magic as an alternative to both physical and political power, are all doable with almost any caster class. You need to decide what class features are important to you. Familiar? Healing spells? Damage spells? As you mentioned, Cleric sounds like a pretty good possibility, but again, the potential for an unequal power relationship exists. I think your character can be done with the existing mechanics, but in some ways you really need a custom class. Will a cleric of Hecate or an evoker witch be truly satisfying? I hope so, but I think you have to ask yourself that.

Three, some additional really interesting fictional concepts of witches are the witches books by Terry Pratchett, in particular the Tiffany Aching series starting with Wee Free Men, and the Darkwar trilogy by Glen Cook, beginning with Doomstalker.

I really like your thoughtful approach to developing a character concept. I hope your gm will work with you to come up with something great. Good luck.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I suspect that the problem isn't just the balance of power between warlock and patron, but a narrow view by the DM of who a warlock patron can be -- in the case of my Paladin/Warlock combination, I fully expect the DM to give her quests from the fey courts. HOWEVER, given the character and her patronage, I also expect the balance of the quests to be tilted towards the "rescue puppies" vs. the "kick puppies" side of the equation. This is still well within the Warlock class as written, but you assume that "patron will want your char to do bad things" is an ironclad class feature. \$\endgroup\$
    – Shalvenay
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 22:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Shalvenay - good point, but more that it is an unavoidable unequal power relationship, or that the DM could certainly play it that way. Pretty much says that on the label. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 15:17

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