Bang, Bang – My Baby Shot Me Down… (War of the Warlocks)

Pouring over the arcane exploits of the newly released Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Advanced Class Guide’s arcanist, I couldn’t help but be reminded of something older…

Several years ago an ancestor of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game introduced a class they called the warlock. This class sparked a lot of interest because it moved the sorcerer’s concept of limited options, more uses to an even more extreme point of a few options, infinite usage. Smart folks might have realized it was likely a toe tip in the waters of a very different lake but a small group of the ancestral pathfinders fell in love with the warlock.

Now, with such a favorite locked behind an OGL-related barrier it meant that official and derivative works, usages of the class, and even continued support was impossible. Fortunately warlock is an actual word and pretty much impossible to copyright and the game allows for similar mechanics that are not exactly the same just fine…

What’s a “Warlock”?

While its true that no one has ever claimed to have the best Pathfinder Roleplaying Game compatible “warlock”, people looking to play something similar to it from any edition of similar fantasy roleplaying genre have a lot of consideration to do if they are in a permissive game allowing for all the options. Looking back at the class dynamics roles and extended “5th wheel” roles we see that an “old-school” warlock had:

Ranged Damage (Moderate, Sustained) – The Burn – Endless blasters of arcane doom! This was at the core definition of the old warlock class and with small exceptions the reason while detractors disliked it so much as that it went against a traditionally vancian spell slot system. The base damage we started with 1d6 and ended with 9d6 with the possibility of adding abilities to enhancing area or type at the cause of less support or debuff options. A medium BAB backed up things when everything else failed.

Support (High, Self Only) – The Rise – Warlock possessed a small selection of amazing self-enhancement magic. Flight that lasted all day, phenomenal saving throw bonuses, and other unique offerings like teleportations that also summoned into your previous location. But you only got about a dozen options to split between this, enhancing your damage, and control elements.

Debuff/Control (Moderate, Sustained) – The Dark – If you didn’t go all in on self-augmentation this class also offered blinding, sickness and a host of other debuffs not available to most classes. Like all abilities of the class these abilities had near limitless uses.

War of the Warlocks!

I am not a reviewer. I am a gamer, a designer and a permissive (subtype: very) GM. The class options here are all interesting and fun. Being a believer that most “balancing” lies in the hands of the GM I am NOT in anyway intending to say one of these is “better” than another, but there are so many great options to look at in “Warlock Alley”:

Contender: Arcanist – The newest core arcane class from the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game’s base classes. The similarity to a “warlock” feel is scattered among its options but assembling one is relatively easy.

  • The Burn: Arcane exploits offer a number energy based blasts. The general blasts are more powerful than “old-school” getting stat mods and higher caps at 10d6. As a supernatural ability these also zip right past spell resistance. As a downside they have a small usage pool on these but they are better in almost every other way. Low BAB means not a lot to fall back when spells and blasts fail (so make sure the baddies are ash first).
  • The Rise: Holy crap, full casting and access to the best damaging effects in the game and top end support magic. Limited durations compared to “old-school” but not a terrible way to go.
  • The Dark: Debuffs and controls a plenty here but again duration rears its head. While more than capable and FAR more versatile than “old-school” they may burn bright and short in sustained situations. But what will be standing by then?

Contender: Witch – The obvious offering of the actual witch, inspired by a slightly more standard mythological basis. It is quite a departure from “old school” but still has an better than honorable mention in the list.

  • The Burn: The biggest departure from “old school” here, a few patron and weather themed spells give the witch a moderate amount of damage but generally less in sustained situations than “old-school”. And again a low BAB.
  • The Rise: Support hexes are decent reminders over older invocations of power being close to unlimited in use and relatively solid benefits, they still pale to the classes wheelhouse of hex usage…
  • The Dark: Debuffs are the witches hex bread and butter. Sleeps, sicknesses, curses and all sorts of quality dark pour from our characters here. If this was your major joy in looking at the old version of the warlock, then you are in luck because you have it all here.

Contender: Warlock (Adamant Games) – That’s right the warlock’s successor is the warlock. A warlock… one of a few. But seriously, Adamant Games was one of the first responders to third party Pathfinder Roleplaying Game development and one of the earliest to notice warlocks absence in the offerings.

  • The Burn: The abilited to choose wizard school powers of unlimited uses made this one feel very “old school” initially but allowed for some increased versatility. One of the most talked about was the at will use of summon monster II for infinite fodder. Admittedly powerful at low levels, this ability becomes an annoyance at higher levels. Anyone looking at the class is strongly encouraged to select its “arcane bolt” power to sustain you in the mid-level game. Damage for this one ramped slightly better (10d6 cap) than “old-school” but had less options for status and area effects.
  • The Rise: Armor. That’s right this bad boy gets real deal armor including heavy at higher levels. At will teleports and shapechanging don’t hurt either. A good amount of options are present but more wouldn’t have hurt.
  • The Dark: A small selection of the school powers provide debuffs but this is probably the least favorable comparison to “old-school”. If you loved laying down the curses look elsewhere.

Contender: Ethermancer (Interjection Games) – A stellar themed universal power conduit, the ethermancer might be one of the most “old-school” of the new school. A point pool endlessly refilling allows for some glory-day warlock action.

  • The Burn: Etherblasts start smaller 1d3+CHA mod… but eventually climb to 10d10+CHA making it a very burny burn. Except that it is bludgeoning unless you allocate points to make it fire… And drain more pool points… unless you down blast… or take a break setting up sonic disruptions… and… You can see where I am headed here. This class is complex with a K but might be the perfect answer for the “old school” feel without being too bored with its lack of choices. Low BAB seems to be a plague among later-day warlocks.
  • The Rise: Good News Everyone! Ethermancer’s got buffs! Lots of them. And you can use them as often as you have points… they just burn out faster than most spells and certainly faster than “old school'”s but hey a few seconds from now you can light them again!
  • The Dark: Debuffs are also present! And a good amount of them. Much as your buffs, the debuffs collapse at alarming rate, so your infinite power has to keep pouring it on to keep up the penalties and controls.

Contender: Cryptic (Dreamscarred Press) – What? A psionic class you say? Madness? Not remotely. Cryptics are oozing “old school” vibes. An entropic blast power that caps out at 10d6. A tight suite of augmenting abilities and battlefield traps.

  • The Burn: Disrupt pattern is the default blast of the cryptic class and it is a very solid one. Supernatural ability avoiding spell resistance and untyped energy damage. Amazing. And for bonus points an archtype allows you to wrap disrupt pattern power around weapon attacks and the classes medium BAB is nothing to sneeze at.
  • The Rise: Psionic defensive tattoos and a host of stealth, shapechanging, and movement enhancing powers. Buff treasure trove. Your power points are limited with some of these but you get the flexibility of mixed use and spend wisely when you need to conserve.
  • The Dark: A bit weaker here than most other options having a small index of trap-related tattoos but your other categories more than make up for it if you don’t need the debuffing power or don’t plan on focusing on it. If the loss is a deal breaker consider the expanded power feat and pick up some telepathic powers to close the debuff gap.

Contender: Warlock (Flying Pincushion) – This jewel is hidden in a lovely product about oracles. It combines the classic blasting strength of “old school” with the powers of oracles revelations… at the cost of all of spellcasting power of an oracle That is a hefty price tag but it may be your fit if you want something a bit different.

  • The Burn: Eldritch blast is here again with a similar progression to most “new gen” warlocks, capping at 10d6. It does, however, require spell resistance which is a pretty big downer. In exchange we get built in iterative attacks with blasts and medium BAB. Not too shabby.
  • The Rise: Revelations are a mixed lot but some fun stuff is out there and may be worth the lost spellcasting. Note: You don’t get a curse, which while mostly roleplaying at higher levels, can be a great benefit in the low game. Lastly, you get built in luck bonuses to your saves equaling your CHA. This is really great, but you get them spread over your level progression so don’t plan on dipping.
  • The Dark: Debuffs aren’t a huge part of this one, but they do get a built in counter-spelling power which can be a great thing in the right situations This pool is limited however and probably isn’t going to scratch the debuff itch too well in the long game.

Contender: Riven Mage (Rogue Genius Games) – Another point pool user with a good deal of variability and thematic richness the riven mage’s major strength is action economy.

  • The Burn: Blasts and bolts pour from a riven mage directed in an “old school” direction and the combat riviner ability at 6th level will allow a riven mage to lay down the boom. Add to this the marvel rivenspell (think a limited limited wish here) and the potential of the class to do damage is impressive. Supernatural abilities ignoring spell resistance and the ability to swift cast from low levels make riven mages a great option for low level survivability. Medium BAB rounds it out nicely.
  • The Rise: Plenty of options for enhancement, from shapechanges to magical weapons, here and again marvel (but it gets spendy the more you use it each day) take this class to enormous buff potentials in the mid-levels. Decent armor abilities with zero failure chance (yay supernatural abilities!) add some nice stand and deliver to the class.
  • The Dark: Again debuffs are not the strength of this one but as a strong mitigation class, the riven mage may suck up “tanking” duties if no one else is moving into that place creating a new feel for a “old school” role.

Honorable Mention: Alchemist – With bombs, mutagens, and selection of extracts the “old school” vibe is definitely present in our favorite potion-swilling junkie, but when it comes to the raw waves of crushing boom look toward breath weapon discoveries and extracts that grant similar blast effects.

Original Recipe or Extra Crispy?

Don’t forget that the Pathfinder Role Playing Game is based in strong reverse compatibility with its ancestral system so playing an “old-school” ‘lock is totally on the table in a lot of current games. The War of the Warlock is yours to win as these eldritch adepts nuke their way into your heart. There are a ton of amazing options to select from out there in a permissive game… Consider the choices, match your style and the story you want to tell with your friends… and GET BLASTING!

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