[RPG] How to persuade the DM to play the warlock’s patron in a way that respects the character’s concept


I'm interested in playing a witch character in a D&D 5e game. The things I want to emphasize in playing a witch are the importance of family, in particular the bond of sisterhood, and that a witch's magic offers an alternative to both physical and political power. I see these as the sort of 'subversive' aspects of witchcraft and that's what I really want to play up. I think a case could be made for the Cleric class (follower of Hecate perhaps) or an enchanter Wizard, but the clear intent of the designers was that players would use the Warlock class in building an archetypal witch – they can access a book of shadows, 'witch' is in the name of two eldritch invocations, and of course 'warlock' often gets used colloquially to mean simply 'male witch.'

When I talked to my DM about the character, he indicated that to his mind the pact and the patron are the real core of the Warlock class. His idea seemed to be that a patron could, and most likely would, expect my character to do things that she otherwise wouldn't agree to. I was planning on going with an Archfey patron, who I hope would not command acts as despicable as would a Fiend or Great Old One. To be sure, the pact can be both a source of power and a burden, but I was left feeling like my DM was going to place the emphasis on burden. I guess I'm less interested in the pact if it's played as just another unequal power relationship (something the enchanter Wizard wouldn't have to put up with).

I take inspiration for my character from the admittedly more modern and light-hearted depictions of witches in media such as Charmed and Practical Magic, where witches don't get their power from pacts. And saying a witch got her power by making a deal with the devil sounds more like an excuse to burn her at the stake than the basis for a heroic character. But I'm worried if I try to downplay the pact concept, my DM will say that I just want the benefits of the class without the restrictions.

My question: How do I persuade my DM to play my patron (a rather significant NPC) in a way that honors my vision for my character?

Best Answer

Your problem isn't that you need to persuade your GM to change how the Warlock class works. Your problem is that you've fallen prey to what I'm going to start calling "the Nomenclature Bugbear."

Each character class is a collection of abilities built around a concept frequently found in works of fantasy fiction. These classes are given names, presumably because it gets awkward saying "I'm playing a person-who-uses-weapons-and-armour-really-competently!" all the time. For example, the fighter class can use armour and weapons well, and the wizard class uses magic and keeps spells in books. You'll have worked this out in a few minutes of reading the class descriptions.

However, being a member of a class doesn't mean your character identifies herself with the name of that class. A Fighter could be a Viking raider, a knight errant, a conquistador, or any of a thousand other possibilities. Similarly, there are loads of characters in fiction who cast spells and keep a library, and most of them aren't called "wizard." The Nomenclature Bugbear arises when we forget that class names are a convenience of game jargon and start thinking that they're recognised in-universe.

To be fair, this is an easy trap to fall into, as often the words used for class names do exist in-universe: They were taken from the fiction that inspires the game, and most campaign settings are also inspired by that same fiction. Most D&D settings do have people called wizards, and most of them are members of the wizard class, because the wizard class is pretty good at representing what wizards are in that setting. You just need to remember that in many such settings, in-universe nomenclature doesn't necessarily line up perfectly with the game terminology: In most settings, you can introduce yourself as a "thief" and people won't assume your character is a Rogue with the Thief archetype, because the only in-setting qualification to be a thief is to steal things, and any class can do that.

Getting back to your example...

You want to make a character who's a witch in the campaign universe, a person who uses subversive magic as an alternative to physical might and social prowess. You want this to be supported by the game mechanics and your GM. Those are reasonable goals. To achieve them, you need to do two things: (1) You want to find a class that fits with your concept, and (2) you want to work with your GM so that you have a shared understanding of what your witch is intended to be.

As your GM has pointed out, the warlock class isn't really what you're looking for. But your concept is still pretty broad, and that means it's flexible. With your GM's permission, you can simply pick any class that fits it, perhaps wizard, cleric, or - well, anything that uses magic - and have your character call herself a "witch" in conversation.

Once you've picked a class whose list of abilities sounds like your vision of a witch, explain your idea to your GM. It sounds like your GM doesn't object to your character's concept, so I expect he'll be receptive. As long as he agrees that there's no major dissonance between what your character can do and what she calls herself, you'll find that this solves your problem. It might take a bit of back-and-forth if he has existing nomenclature plans for magic-users in the setting, but eventually you'll have a character that you're happy with, and which your GM understands well. It's win-win!