While many character classes in 5e Dungeons & Dragons largely describe their vocation, suites of abilities for how they typically solve problems, some classes come with the additional burden of considering the will and dictates of a higher power. Clerics, paladins, and most notably, warlocks, all operate under this stricture.
Among these classes, only the warlock’s explicitly said to have formed a pact, a contract, with their patron whom grants them power in exchange of some manner of bargain, up to and including their soul. Warlocks in Dungeons & Dragons are characters that by the virtue of selecting the character class, one that has made a pact with a powerful otherworldly entity, a player’s explicitly inviting Dungeon Master’s intrusion into the character’s life. While the nature and severity of this intrusion is up for discussion between player and Dungeon Master, we don’t play RPGs to play simple, humble farmers and mundane merchants, we play them to inhabit heroes with complex and dramatic existences.
If you’re going to chose to play a warlock, there has to be some level of accepting the role of a character that has become bound to a strange power at best and at worst has made a compact with a grim and malign being.
I recently sat down to watch “Errementari: The Blacksmith & the Devil” on Netflix and found it to be a great exploration of the relationship between warlock and a fiendish patron. The film’s somewhat awkwardly dubbed in English and if that bothers you, I’d suggest giving it a watch in its original Basque dialogue with subtitles. The film’s a mixture of horror, old folk-lore, and even has great moments of humor, and is a re-telling of a Basque folk-tale. In this version of the tale, the blacksmith, Patxi, fought in a 19th century war in Spain and trades his soul to the Devil in exchange to return to his wife. Without spoiling any of the details, as with most dealings with fiendish entities, the bargain is fulfilled to the letter of the agreement, but tainted such that the blacksmith’s left with only sorrow and ash as his wife passed shortly after the Patxi’s journey home.
While this does play into the D&D stereotype of “everyone my character ever loved is dead” trope, it’s still a perfect backstory for a fiend pact warlock complete with the background suggestion of guild artisan. In fact, I find it has just the right amount of background explanation for most Dungeons & Dragons character backstories, a few brief sentences that create plot-hooks.
I’m a blacksmith that was conscripted to fight in a war and desperately wished to return from the battlefront to my wife alive, so desperate that I entered a contract with an infernal creature to do so. The bargain was honored to the letter, but corrupted and now I adventure to avenge myself on the fiends.
From this backstory, we know that either a war is still going on or has recently ended, the character’s a deserter and may have consequences to deal with from that, and the family of the deceased wife and townsfolk in the area may have their own interpretations of events. Deals with the devil aside, this story’s rife with interesting conflicts to mine for campaign plot arcs!
Early on in the film we’re given glimpses of the Patxi’s grim and hermetic lifestyle due to the toll that his pact with the devil has placed on him, we’re shown a portrait of a man whose soul’s damned and there’s little he can do about it, which is just brimming with inspiration for how a fiend pact warlock might act! The gruff blacksmith lives out his days in a sepulchral smithy with jagged ironworks strewn about, beating steal into macabre implements and torturing a demon he has captured.
There’s a great moment when the blacksmith’s smithy is invaded and we see him wield a hammer, rough-hewn wrought-iron shield, and wear a featureless helmet with just eye-holes, this plain, forlorn gear further helps establish so much about the character (and leading me to cast Patxi as a pact of the blade warlock). The great, brooding visuals aside, we’re also treated to some great moments of tension and antagonism between the demon and the blacksmith/warlock.
If you’re a player considering running a warlock character or a Dungeon Master with one in your game, you’ll find Errementari: The Blacksmith & the Devil to be an inspiring and enjoyable watch.
While the relationship between warlock, patron, player, and fellow gamers is a balancing act for everyone involved (and ensuring everyone’s having fun), a warlock’s patron is a built-in plot device, antagonist, and sometimes ally that begs a Dungeon Master’s use. And if a player has little desire to be so overtly beholden to such a powerful being, I’d recommend that they make another class selection because the warlock’s granted power, but there certainly are chains attached.