As our hosts stressed in the show today, not all warlocks are evil. But some are. Or they at least serve evil patrons. I'd like to delve into the darkness to explore these unsavory characters and the malicious powers they serve.
The first question that we should ask is what evil being is served. In the Player's Handbook, we have the Fiends and Great Old Ones. Fiends encompass demons and devils. If a warlock serves a demonic patron, they are likely to be agents of chaos. Think Warhammer-style chaos gods in terms of motivations and level of service. Of course, you could also look at some of the various demon lords like Demogorgon or Jubilex. By looking into their goals and desires, you can get a clear picture of what they might expect of their servants. Likewise, a servant of a devil would follow first and foremost the dictates of their patron. Asmodeus and the other archdevils are involved in a lot of scheming and manipulation, and they are more than willing to use warlocks as pawns in their great games. When choosing which type of fiend you want the character to serve, I suggest looking at alignment. Demons are chaotic, and Devils are lawful so aligning the character with an appropriate patron would likely lead to a more harmonious relationship. Though these characters should always be aware that an evil patron likely cares little for the character in the end.
Enter the Great Old One. These beings are unfathomably ancient and have enigmatic motives, but their desires are rarely for the good of mortals. Unspeakably profane acts performed in the service of these eldritch beings can lead one to madness, as can merely associating with or even knowing the existence of these entities. As a general rule, grab something out of the works of H.P. Lovecraft and you're good to go. These are the weird and unnatural sort of evil, rather than the predatory or manipulative evil of the fiends.
In light of the above, a character who serves these powers are likely (but not always) evil. As mentioned in the show, the power given to a warlock is sort of "on loan," so if the warlock doesn't perform the evil deeds that appease their patron, they usually aren't keeping up their end of the bargain to keep the patron happy, and thus are punished with a loss of power or other terribly inconvenient affliction. This is a good excuse for an NPC warlock to be a villain. Regardless of the reason the bargain was initially struck (which was probably for nefarious purposes anyway,) simply maintaining the pacts of an evil warlock will likely put them in conflict with any decent minded person.
So when running your games featuring warlocks, feel free to lean into the evil. While any class has the potential for evil by choice, warlocks have it built into their portfolio by association with powerful and often malevolent beings. This makes them great antagonists, and the patrons they serve make great impetus for antagonism in the plot. Because their foul motives often actively bring harm to anyone who doesn't bend to their malicious will.
I hope you enjoyed this and the rest of the content by Digital & Dice. For more on the topic of great evils and their servants, consider checking out my earlier post, "GM 202: Quick tips for Villains." Until next time...Game on Internets!
-Draconick, Digital and Dice Contributor
I, Nick “Draconick” Johnson, am a writer and roleplaying enthusiast with over ten years of experience in various tabletop roleplaying games both as a player and as a GM. I am also somewhat involved in other forms of tabletop gaming such as wargaming, board games, and card games. It is my hope that by creating and maintaining this website that I can share my unique take on all things within our hobby and to foster a community of like-minded individuals.