This one comes as a request from one of my Instagram followers. He was hoping for a variant on the Pact of the Hexblade, specifically the 6th level feature Accursed Specter.
Let’s take a moment to dig into the Hexblade Warlock and see what it’s all about. Then I’ll take the information therein and make adjustments.
What is a Hexblade Warlock?
Hexblades make pacts with mysterious entities from the Shadowfell which gives them cool weapons made of shadow. Here are what their powers look like:
- Expanded Spells. Hexblade warlocks get a bunch of stuff that helps them in close combat. They get shield at first level and then the entire array of smites. They also get blur and blink to help them in combat, and later get (randomly) phantasmal killer and cone of cold. I’m 99% sure they tossed in cone of cold out of lack of a better choice.
- Hexblade’s Curse. The hexblade’s first 1st level power allows it to curse a creature as a bonus action once between rests. This gives you against that target bonus damage to rolls, crits on 19 and 20, and if the target dies, you regain hit points equal to your warlock level plus your Charisma modifier.
- Hex Warrior. Also at 1st, the hexblade gets proficiency with medium armor, shields, and martial weapons. Then, it can add its Charisma modifier instead of Strength or Dexterity (yowzas) for attack and damage rolls when using a specific weapon. For this reason, Hexblade Warlocks are one of the most “dipped” 1st level classes around since they basically turn any Charisma-based caster into a powerful war machine.
- Accursed Specter. Here’s where the random part comes in. At 6th, you can make someone you slay return as a specter. Now, this is pretty powerful stuff, because unlike other classes that give you companions, this thing has its own action economy and all you need to do is give it verbal commands without spending your own actions. I think the gist of it is that it’s supposed to give you “extra attacks and AC”, basically powering you up without offering an Extra Attack a la fighters, barbarians, fighters, etc.
- Armor of Hexes. At 10th level, your curse is more powerful. Now, cursed creatures have an additional 50% chance of missing you even when they hit.
- Master of Hexes. Finally, when a creature you cursed dies, you can bounce the curse to another creature within 30 feet of you. The tradeoff is that you don’t get to heal from the death, but by 14th level, who cares?
What does all this mean?
Sort of in the same vein as the Bard College of Swords, War Domain Clerics, and War Mages, this is the “combat ready” warlock. Despite being a full caster, this guy or gal is fully capable of getting in the face of his/her enemies and locking them down. Toss in the specter, and in a lot of ways, it reminds me of a cleric that relies heavily on its spiritual weapon to give it back up.
What does the 6th level power really do?
First, let’s examine on what that 6th level power really does.
- Limitations. The accursed specter rises only after you slay a humanoid. Of course, this isn’t too much of limitation unless you’re stuck in a place that doesn’t have many humanoids, ie a place full of undead, or the fey wild, etc. Also, your specter only remains until the end of your next long rest. Finally, you can only bind a specter once per long rest. In other words, there’s not a whole lot of limitations here.
- Defensive capabilities. A specter is a challenge rating 1 creature with 12 AC and 22 hit points. Kinda meh, right? Well, it’s also resistant to almost every type of damage there is and immune to necrotic and poison. Therefore, its hit points are effectively twice what they truly are. Plus, it gets bonus hit points equal to half your warlock level (so 3, which become 6 with the resistances). It can also fly, which is huge (a virtual bump of +2 in the AC department according to the DMG) and has incorporeal movement. As far as meat shields go (or meatless shields, I guess?) it’s a pretty tough critter.
- Offensive capabilities. Specters do some pretty impressive damage. They hit with a +4, which seems weak until you remember that it gets a bonus equal to Charisma modifier, which by level 6 should at least be +4. So this thing hits with a freakin’ +8! Then it does 10 points of necrotic damage which has a chance of reducing a creature’s maximum hit points, too. The other big thing to remember here is that the specter can flank for you on command (and should have an easy time doing so with 50 fly and incorporeal movement) which gives both you and it an effective +5 on your hits. Whhaaaaat the hell. And people call my builds broken!
Okay, that is A LOT. By 6th level, you’re essentially looking at doubling your action economy each turn, a creature that’s very hard to hit backing you up (and doesn’t go away easily), and just about a permanent +5 to hit every round thanks to the advantage its flanking will give you.
The only trouble I see is that its effectiveness goes away after you start getting to higher levels because half your level in hit points isn’t so great, and once you get 8th level’s ASI, that’s the highest its Charisma attack bonus will probably ever go. At that point, you just have a little buddy that can help you flank until something big whacks it and makes it go bye-bye.
TL;DR: super OP for the second tier, but lame-o in third and fourth.
So how can we fix the 6th level power?
The real trick here is keeping it balanced with what is already there (otherwise, we might as well create a whole new class). Kind of a wild idea I had when looking over the class was instead of the soul manifesting itself in the form of a separate specter, just allowing it to beef up you and your weapon in ways that are already similar to what’s there and giving it a reasonable timeline for how long it lasts.
That would mean that once you killed a humanoid with your hexblade, you would effectively get two attacks per turn with advantage and you’d have a bonus to your hit points and armor class. Kinda like a variant haste spell.
The Hexblade (DMDave Variant)
At your DM’s discretion, you may replace the normal Hexblade features outlined in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything with those listed below. I’ve outlined in red (or simply crossed out) the changes I felt need to be made to keep it relatively balanced. Feel free to pick and choose what you will.
Expanded Spell List
The Hexblade lets you choose from an expanded list of spells when you learn a warlock spell. The following spells are added to the warlock spell list for you.
|1st||shield, wrathful smite|
|2nd||blur, branding smite|
|3rd||blink, elemental weapon|
|4th||phantasmal killer, staggering smite|
|5th||banishing smite, steel wind strike (XGtE p166)|
Starting at 1st level, you gain the ability to place a baleful curse on someone. As a bonus action, choose on creature you can see within 30 feet of you. The target is cursed for 1 minute. The curse ends early if the target dies, you die, or you are incapacitated. Until the curse ends, you gain the following benefits.
- You gain a bonus to damage rolls against the cursed target. The bonus equals your proficiency bonus.
- Any attack roll you make against the cursed target is a critical hit on a roll of 19 or 20 on the d20.
- If the cursed target dies, you regain hit points equal to your warlock level + your Charisma modifier (minimum of 1 hit point).
At 1st level, you acquire the training necessary to effectively arm yourself for battle. You gain proficiency with medium armor, shields, and martial weapons.
The influence of your patron also allows you to mystically channel your will through a particular weapon. Whenever you finish a long rest, you can touch one weapon that you are proficient with and that lacks the two-handed property. When you attack with that weapon, you can use your Charisma modifier instead of Strength or Dexterity, for the attack and damage rolls. This benefit lasts until you finish a long rest. If you later gain the Pact of the Blade feature, this benefit extends to every pact weapon you conjure with that feature, no matter the weapon’s type.
Starting at 6th level, when you slay a humanoid, you can cause its spirit to temporarily invigorate you. While you are invigorated in this manner, you gain 11 + half your warlock level in temporary hit points. As long as you have these temporary hit points, you also gain the following benefits:
- You have resistance to the following types of damage: acid, cold, fire, lightning, thunder; bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical attacks. Plus, you are immune to necrotic and poison damage.
- You gain a +2 bonus to your AC.
- You gain an additional attack on each of your turns.
- You have advantage on all of your melee attack rolls.
- Once per turn, you can use one of your attacks to fire a spectral blast from your weapon at a target that you are aware of within 50 feet of you. Make a ranged spell attack. If the attack hits, you deal 3d6 necrotic damage.
These effects remain until the end of your next long rest or until you lose your temporary hit points.
Once you use a soul to invigorate yourself, you can’t use the feature again until you finish a long rest.
Armor of Hexes
At 10th level, your hex grows more powerful. If the target cursed by your Hexblade’s Curse hits you with an attack roll, you can use your reaction to roll a d6. On a 4 or higher, the attack instead misses you, regardless of its roll.
Master of Hexes
Starting at 14th level, you can spread your Hexblade’s Curse from a slain creature to another creature. When the creature cursed by your Hexblade’s Curse dies, you can apply the curse to a different creature you can see within 30 feet of you, provided you aren’t incapacitated. When you apply the curse in this way, you don’t regain hit points from the death of the previously cursed creature.
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Now, I’m sure there’s some controversy here. However, my thought is that the new 6th level power at least focuses more on keeping the Hexblade a fighting force, versus getting a temporary companion.
The other changes (nerfing Hex Warrior, different expanded spell) are totally up to you to use.
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See you next time!
Art by Phazone.