An ancient power lurks within magical blades across the cosmos and seeks to find purchase in the shadows of your soul. Its inscrutable intelligence subtly guides your actions in ways that you could never comprehend. Your patron exists beyond the borders of this reality in a vague and amorphous form, but it manifests its power through the edge of a blade. Perhaps many blades throughout the world answer to its irresistible call. Only your adventures will reveal the extent of your mysterious patron’s power.
The Hexblade warlock patron transforms the warlock from an atypical spellcasting class into a formidable front-line warrior. A warlock who forms a pact with the Hexblade might be obsessed with learning the identity of their patron, or perhaps they embark upon a quest to find one of their patron’s personal blades, like the legendary artifact Blackrazor.
Emulating Hexblades from Fiction
The most prominent Hexblade warlock in the popular D&D consciousness is Fjord (Travis Willingham) from Critical Role. As far as we currently know, Fjord’s story defies the explicit text of the Hexblade as described in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything in favor of a more personalized story, but this is to be expected from Matthew Mercer and his world of Exandria—in which everything is familiar, but just different enough to keep people guessing. Fjord does, however, face a quest that involves learning the identity of his patron and understanding its massive and presumed-boundless power.
One thing that’s clear in Critical Role is that Travis is being surprised at every turn by the story Matthew is weaving for his character. This is a great option if you want to unravel a mysterious story surrounding your patron… but it only works if you have a DM who is a consummate storyteller like Matthew Mercer, and is willing to put in all the time and effort it takes to create a storyline like that.
Be nice to your Dungeon Masters, folks.
Of course, another option is for you to come up with a story for your patron and hand it to your DM, and then say “go wild with it.” You’ve just made life easier for your long-suffering DM, and you suddenly have a say in the lore of the world. If you’re willing to put in the work to do this, I promise you that 19 out of 20 DMs will love you for coming up with free lore for them.
The classic hexblade-like character from fiction, however, is Elric of Melniboné, created by Michael Moorcock. The tales of Elric were a major inspiration for the pulp fantasy-loving Gary Gygax when he created Dungeons and Dragons with Dave Arneson in the early ‘70s. Elric, a sickly and drug-dependent emperor, discovers the arcane blade Stormbringer, which is actually an ancient demon that has taken the form of an ebon-bladed and rune-etched sword. The legendary blade Blackrazor, first appearing in the D&D adventure White Plume Mountain, is so closely inspired by Stormbringer that the resemblance may transcend inspiration. But that’s neither here nor there. As it stands, Elric drew great power from Stormbringer—allowing him to become a great warrior and spellcaster, free from his dependency on life-saving drugs, but it came at a great cost. Stormbringer needed to consume the souls of the living, and Elric needed Stormbringer.
There was only one option. Though Elric despised the accursed blade, he is compelled—sometimes literally compelled by Stormbringer’s magic—to satiate his “patron’s” dark hunger.
If that’s not a Hexblade, I don’t know what is. Some of the requisite traits for a Hexblade are: possessing a powerful, sentient sword (or having a relationship with a dark power that manifests through a sword), possessing some sort of magical power, and facing a great moral choice—perhaps temptation towards power-hungry cruelty. Not every Hexblade warlock checks all these boxes, but they're all good starting points. Other examples of hexblades in pop culture include Sadlygrove ("Tristepin") and his sentient blade Rubilax from the French animated series Wakfu, and Siegfried Schtauffen and the demon sword Soul Edge—and thus, Siegfried's blade-possessed alter ego Nightmare—from the Soul Calibur arcade game series. What other characters fit this bill?
Playing a Hexblade Warlock
The Hexblade patron was introduced in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, and accompanying it were a slew of eldritch invocations that improve your ability to fight in close combat. The simple fact of the matter is, making a pact with the Hexblade is your best option if you want to be a front-line damage dealer. It turns you into something akin to an eldritch paladin. That’s not to discount other options; Astrid Sunglow is a character in my current campaign, and she is a Celestial warlock who has made a Pact of the Blade, allowing her to split her focus between raw damage and healing. Astrid feels very much like a character right from Sailor Moon, being able to both punish evil and protect her friends.
If pure damage and personal survivability is all you want, though, there’s no better choice of patron for a Pact of the Blade warlock than a Hexblade. Pairing your Hexblade patron with other pacts (Pact of the Tome or Pact of the Chain) is an interesting and valid option. Pact of the Tome is more valuable than Pact of the Chain when paired with the Hexblade, because many of your class features trigger off of your own attacks—and not just weapon attacks; your spell attacks count too, so eldritch blast to your heart’s content! Regrettably, attacks made by the familiar you gained through the Pact of the Chain do not count as your own attacks.
At 1st level, you gain the Hexblade’s Curse and Hex Warrior features. The latter feature is quite powerful, as it grants you a slew of proficiencies that make you a capable warrior. It also grants you the ability to make weapon attacks using your Charisma modifier instead of your Strength or Dexterity. Just like Elric gaining power through Stormbringer despite his physical frailty, so too does your magical blade grant you supernatural battle prowess.
Your Hexblade’s Curse is similar in applicability to a warlock’s hex or a ranger’s hunter’s mark, in that it allows you to choose a single creature to suffer increased damage when you attack them. It also grants you an improved critical range against that creature and the ability to restore hit points when you damage them. It’s very powerful, but do mind its short rest recharge time.
At 6th level, you gain the Accursed Specter feature. Once per long rest, you can ensnare the soul of a humanoid that you dealt the killing blow to, and cause it to rise as a specter under your command. It’s eerie, flavorful, and fairly powerful. Most importantly, it’s disposable. This isn’t a beloved animal companion or honorable steed you have to worry about. This is an eldritch phantom bound to your will; do with it as you see fit.
At 10th level, your Hexblade’s Curse improves in power when you acquire the Armor of Hexes feature. Now, when the target of your curse attacks you, you can spend a reaction to impose a flat 50% chance to miss on their attack, regardless of their attack roll. You were already powerful in single-target encounters; this makes you stronger still. Cut down boss monsters with impunity!
Finally, your 14th level feature is Master of Hexes, which grants yet more power to your Hexblade’s Curse. Now, when the target of your curse dies, you can cause the curse to instantly “jump” to another nearby creature.
Throughout your warlock career, you also gain special spells granted by your patron. This is just like every other warlock patron, but yours are particularly martial in theme, with spells like branding smite and elemental weapon making their mark on your spell list.
Playing a Hexblade Your Way
Looking between iconic hexblades like Fjord and Elric, it’s already clear that there’s more than one way to play a warlock with a Hexblade patron. Consider the lore insinuation that the Raven Queen herself might be the true source of your Shadowfell-inspired power. Is this the route you want your story to take? Do you even care about learning the identity of your mysterious patron, so long as they continue to grant you eldritch power?
Warlocks are classes with a powerful aesthetic. Feel empowered to make your hexblade dramatic, and really own your character. With so many mysteries surrounding your character, don’t squander this opportunity to really have fun with your backstory!
James Haeck is the lead writer for D&D Beyond, the co-author of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and the Critical Role Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, the DM of Worlds Apart, and a freelance writer for Wizards of the Coast, the D&D Adventurers League, and Kobold Press. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his partner Hannah and his feline patrons, Mei and Marzipan. You can usually find him wasting time on Twitter at @jamesjhaeck.