Wednesday, May 21, 2014

What *is* a Warlock?

I have been thinking and talking a lot about warlocks of late.

More specifically "what is a warlock?"

Research on the word reveals that it is Scottish in origin and was first used in the early 1700s and has a few cognates. So what is a warlock?
A wizard: Well that doesn't help. We have those already in Pathfinder. Ditto for sorcerer and magus.
A male witch: No. That doesn't work so well either. Besides a male witch is a witch unless you want a male witch to be a wizard. But why have a witch at that point?
A spellcaster: No. Half the classes are "Spellcasters" in one way or another.
There is evidence that word shares roots with lēogan and wǣrloga, but those only tell me the roots of the word, not what the word is itself.

And more to the point, what does a warlock mean in my games? What is it's role? What does it do?  This isn't a history or linguistic text I am working, it is a game book, so I have to think about this in terms of what is good for a class and what is good for the players.

Recently I spoke about them on my blog back in April (W is for Warlock), but I have never really sat down to define them in terms of role and powers.  Powers might be important mechanically speaking, but if the class doesn't fill a role in my game then the powers could or should go to someone else.

A while back on my blog I reprinted what Tom Moldvay, author of the D&D Basic set, had to say about witches.  These came from Dragon Magazine #43 which was presenting their version of the Witch class.

According to Moldvay a witch has:  1. The ability to use herbs for healing and magic.  2. The power of fascination, like a super-charm ability.  3. A combination of both Clerical and Magic-User abilities. 4. The ability to practice sympathetic magic.  5. Be worshipers, in secret, of a religion otherwise forbidden in a particular era. 6. Powers based on nature and the cycle of seasons, similar to Druidic* powers.
I added a 7th, the ability to form into covens.

I would like to take these as a basis for the Warlock class, since the witch and warlock are so intertwined historically.

1. The ability to harm using magic.  Warlocks, if anything, are seen as evil.   But players should be able to choose their own alignments for their characters. So an "Evil" act would be to use magic to directly harm.  One thing D&D/Pathfinder is missing is a magical blaster class.  Sure the Wizard and Sorcerer could do this, but it is a side effect of their spell use, not a feature of the class.

2. Combination of Witch, Cleric and Wizard powers. Like the witch the warlock is an arcane spell caster that deals with otherworldly powers. They are a bit cleric, a bit wizard and a lot of something else.  I think this should allow them access to the Witch spells.  This also ties the two classes closer together.

3. Witches have sympathetic magic, warlock have this too but in order to do harm.  This is best exemplified by curses. But warlocks need something more than just that.  Correspondences will be important to warlocks too. Their magic is tied closely to their patron. The rituals they perform to learn and cast their magic also bind them closer and closer to their patron. Their magic needs to be reflected in this.

4. Like witches, warlocks are in league with otherworldly powers for their own benefit.  These are stereotypically demons, devils and lost gods, but they are also Arch Fey Lords and Ladies, areas of magical power, even elementals and primal creatures.  These pacts are a way for the warlock to gain power without having to do all of the learning that wizards do. They also do not have the sorcerer's magical bloodlines, so power for the warlock must be taken where it can.

5. Warlocks, again like wizards and witches, form into groups that aid them. Wizards have their schools, witches have covens, and warlocks have cabals. Where covens are more centers of worship for the witch, a cabal is place for like minded warlocks to share secrets. It is similar to the wizard school in that there is shared learning.

Additionally I would like to see the warlock have some form of corruption happen to them. Their pact ties them body and soul to their patrons.  This should be reflected in the physical presence of the warlock.  The Oracle class has their curse for example and the anti-paladin has their auras.

In the Strange Brew Kickstarter I mention I want the witch to be more than just a distaff wizard.  I also want the warlock to be more than a male, maybe evil, witch.


Greyhawk Grognard said...

It is also almost certainly cognate to the Old Norse "varðlokkur", meaning magic song, warding song, magic charm, etc. That is the word used to describe the song sung in Erik the Red's Saga when the volva visits the farm and communicates with the land-spirits.

Unknown said...

Modern witches, in particular Wiccans equate the word with "oathbreaker" for what it is worth.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

I have seen "varðlokkur" before, but only have some vague ideas at the moment on what to do with something like that.

I have gone down the "oath breaker" path in other books too. I wanted to take a fresh look at warlocks for this one.

jdh417 said...

Yeah, I equated the term with "oathbreaker" as well.