Your Warlock Pact And YOU - The Evolving Relationship

September 21, 2021

Handling 'life-long' contracts in-game.

The other day my player character asked: 'what does my patron want?' - i had to admit, it was a good question. This triggered a cascade of yet other very valuable queries:

  • What 'payment' does it / he / she get in return for giving a mortal heroic superpowers?
  • How often do we talk per day or week or month or ever?
  • What say does my pact lord have in a warlock's day-to-day life?
  • Is my contract 'till death (and beyond i.e. 'owns my soul') or could i just 'buy out' the remains of my contract with a high enough bid like a house mortgage?

These were all good questions. In fact, a bit too good - they had no answers in any of the books in any of the editions. It honestly makes no sense that a demon lord (or any equivalent power) would have both the time and spare energy to dump Infinite Heroic Power on one ultra-weak pion with no questions asked. Yes, it is suggested that the Dungeon Master has to make up (or at least moderate) this - but no outline is given.

So, today we change that.

Ten Steps To A Better Warlock

1. Your Contact Matches YOU

You do not start off with a demon lord or arch-fey. Instead you make a connection with some powerful entity that is around your challenge rating - perhaps a bit higher. This need not even be an extra-planar creature, so long as it has clear and obvious connections. A hag would have both the time and the interest to hook you up with the right fiend. A dryad would release you from captivity should you make an appropriate 'gift' or offering to their High Princess. A paladin's triad, finding you guilty in that Circle of Truth would be more than happy to relay your conviction and sentencing to the Infinite Oracle when you successfully claim that you wish to mend your ways. In each of these circumstances they would not pass you on to the next step until they were sure you would not embarrass or humiliate you in front of their superior's superior.

This progressive 'contract ownership' need not ever go smoothly.

Contracts get bought, sold, lost, duplicated, bent, folded &/or even mutilated. Contract owners face similar concerns. Which brings us to the next question:

2. What The Contract Holder Wants

There is only one true limit on what the contract holder could ask for - this pends on the relationship between the DM and the player. As such, even a lawful and good owner could ask for these things, pending their circumstance:

  • Money: They will probably ask you to give &/or 'donate' it to some cult, group or interest that matches their long term goals. Unless your patron is a 'dragon' - then they will just want it placed in a drop-zone so a minion will add it to their lair's goods.
  • A game / 'winner takes the pot': This can be a riddle, duels, games of dragon-chess or even a game of Hide & Seek. Whatever the game, regardless of who wins, the plot moves a step forward. If a player 'loses', they may still get their level up, their change of powers or something that re-establishes their relationship. If the contract owner loses, they may surrender what you want or even allow your contract to pass to a more powerful patron.
  • Sex: Even a good, decent and kind 'lesser' angel would greatly enjoy leaving their child to make a mark in your wicked world. This one is touchy though: if you do this with a player's character be sure to discuss it before hand and make sure such a plot device is okay with them.
  • Sacrifices: Sometimes destroying things &/or killing creatures generates power in the spirit realm. It is not clear how this works (this information isn't in any of the books), but lore and mythology say this is the case. Explaining how this might function in D&D-verse would require a whole new article.
  • Contact / information: There are many places where lords, angels and even demons fear to tread. It is also possible for the most chaotic and evil being to get lonely and this would be the perfect excuse to make your pet keep in touch.
  • Stranger Things / odd trinkets & stuff: It isn't just player-characters that make stuff. The patron may want gear for themselves or anyone they like. They may even be researching spells - or even building a magical item.
  • Quests, favours or even a To Do List: The locals need help! And, thanks to a warlock at their bidding, the job will probably get done - possibly even on time.

3. Contract Expansion, Changes - & Cashing In

Both the patron and the warlock are presumably on some schedule with prices and fees all established right from the start - even the how's and why's for how this relationship could change is usually very clear. This is especially with demons and other 'chaotic' beings that cannot be trusted.

A DM may offer bonus features in any contract:

  • A price for getting assistance in combat (or other stressful situation): A fiendish patron may rent out a few Imps or Quasits for a pool of blood from innocents. A fae patron may require that the town elders dance naked at the next full moon for a spontaneous handful of elven barbarian-warrior-berserkers. A patron giving you valuable equipment other than your usual spell-book, weapon or familiar - who can put a price on that?
  • Unless you have a very specific reason, any character (belonging to player or not) is expected to know their contract. Even a 'fiend' patron that demands one sell their immortal soul still requires a conscious read-through else the thing is non-binding and not valid. Clever (and kind) DMs will leave lots of loopholes, exceptions and escape clauses for warlocks to finagle in times of interest.
  • The contract should be able to change hands under specific circumstances. Lore and myth are filled with wonderful stories of creatures seeking outside help to escape their contract. If your players want to try out redemption &/or corruption, work with this material and play it out as best you can.

4. The Multi-Level Marketing Sales Pitch Is Infinite

Even a celestial nobody that is trying to do the right thing to regain access to the Stairway To Heaven - one that brings their warlock cookies, milk and bedtime stories to their bed every night - will still be pitching their sale. They want their follower to do Goodie Two-Shoes stuff (help orphans, save the good king, steal from the corrupt, give to kind souls without hesitation and so on). They may also offer a first-level warlock multi-class to anyone who is willing to listen - especially to paladins and bards, those that understand lore and faith. A fiendish patron would listen extremely carefully to the needs of EVERYONE and offer underhanded temptation to anyone and anything willing to deal.

This last one is the one that is dearly missing in any campaign: making deals with any powerful being is a dangerous process: their motives are unfathomable and infinite. Even arch-angels see 'death' as a momentary awkwardness ('it isn't like their SOUL was harmed'), the End is justified by nearly any means and sacrifice is a daily necessity. Most angels are actually, according to literature, glorified hitmen. Fae will seek to twist contracts with an immortal and possibly selfish perspective. Fiends will go at great length to 'win' (sometimes even at their own expense). Those patrons from The Ultimate Beyond will have motives of no known design - their demands may not even be in a language you could recognize without magic.

Just Like A Party Member - But Behind The Scenes

You can see a patron as being a bit like the warlock's special thingy (be that a spell book, a familiar or a weapon) is similar to a sentient magic item with a special purpose. Although it does not command as much presence as a typical NPC, it plays behind the scenes, watching and waiting, always planning for their next chance to make things their kind of 'right'.

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