Patronal Courts

This should be the last post about Warlocks. So far it’s been largely mechanical stuff (new patrons etc) but I want to take moment to talk about something I touched upon yesterday – choosing a patron.

The PHB provides plenty of guidance on how to choose a patron type (Arch-fey, fiend, old one) and I’ve given some thoughts on expanding that (vestiges, lords of nothing) but that’s only half the question. Once you’ve chosen a type, it’s time to think about choosing a name of your patron.

Now, you can absolutely just invent one, and work out the details with your GM. This is a great way to go about it, especially because it gives you a bit of authorship over the world – by naming your patron, you are saying “This power exists in the setting, and is almost certainly doing stuff”.

If you go this path, then I recommend that the GM ask a few specific questions to help flesh out the patron. Specifically:

  • What is the patron’s name?
  • What is the patron’s agenda?
  • Who/what is the patron’s nemesis?
  • Who/what is the patron’s tenuous ally?

The agenda gives you a sense of what the patron wants to do. Maybe it’s something as grandiose as ‘destroy the world’, but that is honestly a little bit boring. “Corrupt the Innocent” is a little bitter specific, but still very broad. “Unseat Oberon as Lord of the Fae” is a good kind of specific because it suggests plots, and it introduces some very specific ideas into the setting (that Oberon is lord of the fae, for example, and that he could be unseated).

Agenda and Bond
Once a Warlock has named his patron and come up with its agenda, then the player may want to consider using the patron when he writes ups his Bond. “My patron is a Fiend and wants my help scouring the world of elves” is a pretty awesome bond

The nemesis is important because it is likely to name another patron and, by extension, create potential enemies and rivals for the Warlock (and everyone needs enemies). It also gives the player a little more authorship about the nature of his patron and what it deals with.

The tenuous ally offers a lot of the same world building benefits of the nemesis, but offsets the enemies. This also suggests the patrons for other Warlocks, but those are more likely to be rivals or even allies.

Between the agenda, nemesis and ally, you’ll have a decent sketch of what your patron is up to and how it works in the grand scheme of things.

Patronal Courts

If you want to go a step further (as a GM or a player) then you might want to describe the patronal courts of you setting, which is to say, name and (loosely) describe the available warlock patrons. You can easily follow the guidelines in the PHB (using the named arch-fiends ad fiend patrons, for example) or draw from other sources (such as dipping into Lovecraft for your Old Ones) but you are also free to deviate from expectations to really put your mark upon the world. If you’re playing Eberron, for example, perhaps the Old Ones are the Lords of Dust (patrons of the Rakshasa). Perhaps you want to take a page from 13th age and the Icons of your setting (some or all of them) enter pacts with Warlocks.

This is a HUGELY powerful world building tool, because Patronal courts and easily turn into drivers for an entire campaign, depending upon how they integrate with the world and the other powers.

Sample Court: The Lords of Nothing

Lets say the Lords of Nothing are a Patronal Court in my game. They are composed of the Grey Tyrant, The Maw, The Sleeping Queen and the Last Trumpeter.

The Grey Tyrant Seeks the destruction of the chaotic races (Slaad especially) and is allied with the Sleeping Queen against The Maw.

The Maw waits to consume the last of the universe, and has been tainted by beings who reject the orderly procession of matter. It fathers monsters of the void, and seeks to open the walls between worlds.

The Sleeping Queen will sleep through the end of the universe and wake to the birth of the next one. She hoards the greatest treasures of this universe according to no mortal understanding, to be reborn with her. The Maw’s agenda is anthetitical to her, so in her dreams, she has allied with the Grey Tyrant.

The Last Trumpeter was one of the first beings created and will the the last to pass with our universe. He is, however, less impatient than the other lords, and seeks oblivion that comes only with the end of all things. To that end, he is indifferent to the plans of the Queen and the Maw, and willing to ally with either only to speed along the end, whatever form it may take. His willingness to support chaotic destruction puts him at odds with the Grey Tyrant.

7 thoughts on “Patronal Courts

  1. Goken

    Rob, there’s something about warlocks that I’ve always struggled with. They’re all about bargaining with a sinister or inscrutable entity. What that really makes me want to do is dangle even more power in front of the character, but for a profound price. Something that most warlocks would have to think carefully about or be very desperate to pay. But I don’t know how to make that work mechanically. How would you do it in D&D? Or FATE?

    Reply
    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      It is REALLY hard to do well. So much depends on the player having a respect for the price of power, and weirdly, mechanics diminish that. If there’s a mechanic, then the player treates it as an opportunity cost calculation.

      WHen I’ve seen it work, there is usually a mix of known and unknown consequences. The player knows there’s a price, and knows SOME of the deatils, but also knows there are prices beyond that. At our table, the shorthand for that is “The dark powers are ALWAYS willing to helps”‘

      I think the trick is to understand what the patron wwants, and move towards that. If the Ptron is generically evil, that tends to fall flat. If the Patron has an agenda, and prices move it forward, that tends to have a lot more purchase.

      Reply
  2. Goken

    Thanks Rob, that’s fantastic advice! I’ve shared it with my fellow players and they concur. Now I’m excited to see warlocks at the table again!

    Reply
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