The Warlock's Relationship to their Patrons in Dungeons & Dragons
Todd Kenreck: The way that a warlock interacts with their patron is unique when compared to the dynamic a cleric has with their god. I talked to Mike Mearls about this distinction and what makes the warlock's relationship unique.
Mike Mearls: It really, in practical terms really just depends on that you want to do with your campaign. In my campaign the warlock has a pact with an actual villain that they're dealing with and so that's actually something that they have to, not exactly work around, 'cause I'm not using it to hose the player or take power away or anything like that, but that's just part of the campaign background. In your campaign it's just a matter of how much do you want to use it. It's like a god. Do you want the deity to be giving proclamations and giving quests and being very active or do you just think that's more of a background element. It's like being a member of a guild, it's just part of your character and you make it what you will.
But cosmologically, what we see in the physics of D&D as far as we can [inaudible 00:00:54] think of it, it's not something we've put a ton of effort into describing. I had to put a little asterisk on everything I say 'cause this might change a bit as we talk. You have gods in D&D and then you have things like demons and devils. In the past whenever we've had somebody who serves a demon or a devil we've depicted them as a cleric but that's never been, that's never felt satisfying to me because to me, cleric means deity and while Asmodeus is a god, the other arch devils and demon lords, they're not deities. It sells them short by just saying they're just like gods but they're just a little bit different. That's lame.
The idea is that there's another layer of power. Something equivalent, say, to a demon lord or an archfey or an angel or things, an archangel, things like that, that can share power with specific people, not on the same scale of a god. For gods it more like divine magic is really available to anyone who really studies it and masters it and the way I see it is each temple, each religion teaches a different technique and that how you get a different domain. But at the end of the day, divine magic is like arcane magic, it's this background force in the universe. You can turn against your god, you don't lose your magic.
But the idea of a warlock is, it's a little bit more specific and it's a bargain. You're giving something to the patron in return for the power you're getting. Now, that power once given, this is where it's a risk for the patron, the entity, they can't take it back. There's a pact here, there's a bargain. But it also means that potentially the warlock owes something to the person who gave them power. [inaudible 00:02:25] in the game we've already assumed you've already paid that price that's in your past unless you want to make it something that is part of your character's ongoing story.
Typically these are entities that have much more tactical concerns than gods. Gods are remote. These are more creatures like demon lords that want to enter the material plane. They want to meddle very specifically with certain people, certain institutions, certain things. That would be a little bit one of the major differences whereas deities are more impersonal. You could imagine a god like Helm just wanting his followers to protect the weak and be vigilant and all that stuff. It's more general. Here's a way to act but then leave it to you to figure out in specifics situations what to do. A warlock patron might be more specific. Find this specific person and do this to them. Kill them or trade them, take this from them or give this thing to them. It's much less like here are my principles and more like here are my specific things I want you to do.
Again, that's just something up to the DM, how much they want to bring that into the game. But that's how I've always seen it and that how when we write about the game, we operate on this level that warlock patrons are more, they're lower power than gods and are more smaller in scope in terms of what they want their followers to do.
Todd Kenreck: And even that connection. A warlock could turn against the patron that they once served.
Mike Mearls: Yeah.
Todd Kenreck: Once that deal is made, then magic is part of them forever.
Mike Mearls: Exactly. We didn't do that just for ease.
Todd Kenreck: It's a bit of a hack as a magic user.
Mike Mearls: Yeah.
Todd Kenreck: It's like, I want to have magic but I don't want to study.
Mike Mearls: Exactly. I don't want to study.
Todd Kenreck: I wasn't born with it.
Mike Mearls: I wasn't born with it. I don't want to deal with a church.
Todd Kenreck: So maybe I'll do this one deal with you.
Mike Mearls: Yeah, and I'll get this power. These creatures are effectively mortal so a mortal running around for a few hundred years with power, whatever, that person's going to die soon in their reckoning of things, in a blink of an eye.
Todd Kenreck: In your vision of this then why does a warlock give someone a weapon or the ability to summon a weapon?
Mike Mearls: That to me, would just be that reflects the nature of the patron. That patrons are like gods have domains, patrons have their pacts which are pacts that are even more specific than a domain is. The domains can be a little bit general, the forge domain, anything related to making things. Whereas the pacts are much more specific. Again, it's this idea of you reduce scope. You go from concepts to specifics. Here you get a book of shadows, you get this thing rather than here's this general idea of being able to make things. What do you want to with it?
Todd Kenreck: It's a very Sauron type of thing.
Mike Mearls: Yeah.
Todd Kenreck: Here's some rings and we know how it goes.
Mike Mearls: Or like in Dark Sun, the sorcerer kings, is beings very similar that Templars might be. Templars are the servants of the sorcerer king, they get power from the sorcerer kings, that feels like a warlock pact. Now in Dark Sun there is a difference in that the sorcerer kings can essentially, some of them can essentially instantly kill a Templar that displeases them because it's a two way street. It's not just power, it's also you give the sorcerer king power over you.
Todd Kenreck: Thank you Mike Mearls for being on dndbeyond.com. I'm Todd Kenreck, thank you for watching.