The Magical Vampire (Warlock, Pact of the Tome, Undying Patron)
Resources for this build:
- Players Handbook: Warlock Pact of the Tome, Warlock Spells, Background
- DM’s Guide: Cloak of the Bat
- Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide: Undying Patron
- Xanathar’s Guide to Everything: Warlock Spells & Invocations, Smoldering armor, dread helm
- Planeshift Ixalan: Vampire race
Who is the Warlock Vampire – Mina Harker
As noted in my first vampire build post, I had a new player who wanted help building a vampire for their PC. The specific request was for a character that was beautiful, deadly, magical, could make people fall in love with them, was able to pick up anything and be good with it, move so fast they seem to teleport, etc. A lot of the positives without the emo baggage the World of Darkness dumps onto their vampires basically.
What I decided to do for this player, because they were not only new to D&D but actually new to roleplaying entirely, was to make 3 variations of the character. One would be dead simple (barbarian with an emphasis on the animalism), one would be complex (this warlock version with heavy emphasis on magic), and one in the middle (blood-hunter with emphasis on the transformation). Then she could play all three at least once, decide which she liked and stick with the favorite for the rest of the campaign. Because I am a slacker, this has all happened and I just never finished my write-ups. In an effort to get caught up, here is the magical vampire, built using the Warlock with Undying patron and Pact of the Tome.
Previously I published my write-up of Eli a vampire based on the monster-like transformations from the 2004Van Helsing movie. Technically, this character, Grilsha, was created and played before Eli, so it was her first experience with D&D. I sort of figured try the complicated one, see if she could handle it, and if not, at least she knew the others would be easier.
Grilsha is a noblewoman from Boldavia, aPrincipality of Glantri in the Mystara setting, which is an official D&D product but not 5e Adventurer’s League legal. She uses the Ixalan and Zendikar Vampire race, which is similarly a WotC product but not Adventurer’s League legal. The Undying Patron and one of her spells are from the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, most of her Warlock abilities and spells plus a couple items come from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. Whatever is left comes from the PHB and DMG. In terms of optional rules this build uses no multiclassing or feats. I used two home rules in this build: 29 points for the stat buy instead of 27 (something I do for all of my characters, not unique to this character), and I allowed the cantrips from Pact of the Tome to use 2 classes instead of just 1 class (cleric and druid). You would have to do a lot of rebuilding to use her at a convention, but DMs should find very little in here to complain about in regard to use at a normal table. If the home rules are a problem, it is not hard to drop them both. I recommend taking Guidance for the cantrip (because it is useful in virtually every circumstance, plus representative of Vampires being generally good at everything), and pull the stat points from str, wis or int.
A quick note on optimization. The Undying Patron is by far the weakest choice of patron for warlocks, and it gets a lot of hate rightfully thrown at it for how mechanically weak the higher level abilities are. Do feel free to buff the hell out of them. In my game, this is a non-issue because of how powerful the social abilities are, so this character is actually well above average within the party. In a more traditional combat heavy game the choice of patron is likely to be a problem. This is partly why I allow a lot of fudging with the cantrips. I also allowed her to use both the noble features not just one or the other. I am still exploring what I want to do with the higher level powers, at least they are very cool in flavor.Sidebar on patron choice and relative power
Let’s start with a quick review of the request and the vampire traditions used. The player had four major requests for the character: Beautiful but transforms and kicks ass; so fast it seems to teleport; can pick up almost any weapon or item and be dangerous with it; able to charm people and make them fall in love with her or do what she wants them to. The GM is using the following conceits from modern vampire movies, TV series, and novels: sunlight is not fatal (Zendikar/Ixalan vampires don’t even have sunlight sensitivity); vampires don’t need to be evil (5e doesn’t forbid anything to any alignment); matching powers to the sources we will aim for “close enough” as the benchmark (the goal is “feels thematic and is fun”).
This vampire build is based on the classic powers of Brahm Stoker’s Dracula as envisioned by the movie League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’s Mina Harker merged a bit with more modern versions of the theme. There is also a decent influence from several D&D vampire-focused books as well. 5e is a great edition to play a vampire, not only because of the Curse of Strahd campaign hardback, but also because Planeshift brought a bunch of Magic the Gathering settings to D&D including Zendikar, Ixalan, and Innistrad, which all feature vampires quite heavily including rules for player vamps. Older D&D resources I drew on for some vampire magic ideas include the ever amazing Van Richten’s Guide, and the Glantri Gazetteer.
In Stoker Mina Harker is just a victim, however Dracula himself has some interesting powers such as transformation, telepathy, and possibly weather control. In League, Mina has all that plus more. She can become not just a bat but a swarm of bats that move so fast they nearly teleport. She can get into sealed and secret places, track people who leave no visible trail, and kill so fast that she seems to be a whole squad all by herself.
Now that we know who the build will be, lets look at what choices are available to make her come to life.
Race and Background
In Glantri all of the nobles must be spell casters by law and the fact that you have to both claim your title and defend it in mage duels means that non-casters simply cannot even try to change the system from within. One entire territory is ruled by vampires, and they have their own secret wizard school, so this thematically is a great fit. There are multiple ways to resolve a bite attack in 5e but I went with the Planeshift vampires who cause 1 piercing damage 1d6 necrotic and heal equal to the necrotic. If a Zendikar sub race kills with the bite the victim rises as a thrall, and the Ixalan after every bite get advantage on str and dex both saves and checks plus 10 speed for 10 minutes. While the minmaxer would want a supply of thralls, it is a super annoying thing to deal with at the table. Plus, the Ixalan buffs work after every bite and fit the request for speed. So we will use Ixalan. If the GM allows feats then Ixalan vampires have access to a feat that lets them fly once per short rest. While this would totally fit the character, the build doesn’t have a feat slot to spare yet, but maybe at 12 or 16. Could also swap the level 8 stat gain for a half-feat that gives +1 Cha.
For the background, we have to go noble. Position of Prestige is a powerful option and has awesome synergy with charm abilities. This build uses retainers, but that is the GM knowing the setting and a noble without servants lacks prestige so the retainers actually open more doors socially than just the reputation alone. In a campaign more focused on travel and without a home base, the reputation is likely the superior option. For all the reasons mentioned in my Transformation based vampire build, courtier is also a fantastic background choice.
In addition to the Gazetteer, information on Glantri can be found at the official TSR/WotC-approved Vaults of Pandius. Specifically, Grilsha is from the house of Igorov, she has a small keep (2 rooms, a wall, with some extra outbuildings, making it a moderate castle by medieval standards). She is the lady of two villages, four hamlets, and a small town. But she does answer to much older and more powerful vampires who hold back her ambitions. She is sent to the council in Darokin originally as an insult to Darokin, but she ends up making it work for her.
So, why warlock for a magical vampire and not one of the other classes? Cleric would be hard, they just don’t have enough of the right types of spells and armor doesn’t really fit vampires other than the Underworld film series (but those have no significant magic). Druid could work, especially one focused on the wolf/rat/bat animal side of things and wild shape handles the ability to become a wolf. Glamor bard has awesome beauty powers and charm, but lacks the “whack ‘em” potential and it needs to track and remember a lot of powers, like two types of inspiration dice, which charms require concentration and which don’t, which work in combat and which out of combat, etc. Too fiddley for a first-time player. Several sorcerer archetypes could be recolored to fit the mold, and they have the subtle spell which allows using charms and other spells without people knowing you’re casting anything. The warlock had one thing going for it: weird magic rules that are more like reliable powers than D&D spells.
Overall I loathe Vancian magic. The whole concept of spell levels and slots and preparing, but they only take a second to cast, blah blah blah, I just have nothing positive to say about D&D magic except that it is easier to understand than White Wolf’s model. It is also a bitch for new players, though thankfully we don’t need to have the “what does memorizing the same thing twice even mean?” discussions anymore. But running out of powers and cool things to do, especially for a new player, is not fun. Good players can always find a dramatic way to use a skill or the environment even if all their character can do is make a basic attack roll, and they can make it sound awesome. A new player doesn’t always feel that confident or creative and can get stuck. Warlock powers rarely run out.
In 4e and 5e spell casters never have the “I’m all out of spells so I’ll just act like the world’s weakest fighter until we sleep” scenario. Cantrips and a few at-will abilities ensure that there is always at least 3 things they can do with magic forever. (this is not to say that they won’t whine like little babies after blowing their load on the first battle of the day “can we sleep yet, can we sleep yet, can we sleep yet?”) Warlocks take this even further with pact magic spells that recharge on a short rest, and eldritch invocations that are mostly at will. They do have a handful of daily abilities (Mystic Arcanum and a few of the invocations) but generally speaking, warlocks can always apply magic to every situation, even during the 11th encounter of the day.
So, what can the Undying Patron Warlock bring to a vampire?
Among the Dead is cool. If the somatic component (physical gesture) for Spare the Dying is declared to be putting one drop of the vampire’s own blood on the dying person’s lips then we have a great vampire trope of the blood being used to prevent death, it fits the touch range of the spell and at will. Undead don’t attack also fits because she’s a vampire, could be useful.
The bonus spells are ok, Legend Lore, dream and Speak with Dead are the best thematic fits. The rest are not horrible.
Defy Death is a small bit of healing when you cheat death. As a GM I’d totally allow it as bonus healing after a bite too. It is one of the few daily abilities so it can’t really be abused and it is undeniably weaker than most other class abilities of the same level.
Undying Nature is a nice bit of fluff, no need to breathe, eat, or seep but still need short/long rests is cool. If Ixalan vampires weren’t already immortal the slow aging would be cool too. Again, thematic, fun RP, not useful in a fight. Great potential for not needing to eat or breathe though in a lot of traps, etc.
At 14th level the bonus action heal and re-attach limbs is ok. I think it might be the weakest capstone for any archetype in the game, but I also be it will get used every short rest so there is that. Personally, if she gets to this level I plan to buff it for use at my table.
For the warlock pact I went Tome selecting Thaumaturgy from the cleric list, and Primal Savagery (claws), and Shillelagh from Druid. Yes, I home ruled this but if your GM is even more of a jerk than me and thinks being able to make your eyes glow and talk is scary voices at will is going to break their game—find a new GM… No, either drop shillelagh and Primal Savagery for Guidance and any other cleric cantrip of your choice, or drop Thaumaturgy and get any druid cantrip of your choice (druid craft and using it “totally wrong” so instead of being one with nature you make animals uncomfortable around you and plants wither when you touch them, or Guidance would be my choice).
Now, the rest of the build is 5 invocations, 1 mystic arcanum, 11 spells that get cast at 5th level from 3 slots that refresh on a short rest, and 4 cantrips. All three vampire builds get the same magic items: Cloak of the Bat, a magic weapon (Rod of the Pact), and a RP item (Smoldering armor in this case), Lets break this up by type of action instead of by choice.
Levitate at will, fly via cloak of the bat, transform into a bat THEN fly, gaseous form spell, and potentially +10 speed from biting someone. Then relentless hex allowing teleportation and being particularly thematic as you can pop adjacent to a marked enemy over and over for harassing attacks and to make it basically impossible for them to escape. Can also teleport to a charm or mind spike target, not just hexed ones. So this is going to see a lot of use. The mystic arcanum investiture of wind comes into play here, combined with the smoldering armor and some other powers you can do a good impression of Mina Harker’s bat swarm wiping out a whole squad of guards (see youtube video above, I really can’t believe no one made a gif of that scene).
The request was to pick up anything and be dangerous with it, so a lenient GM can use shillelagh for that rather than only club-like-objects. A strict GM can go with one of the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide melee cantrips Lightning Lure (recolored as “shadow lure” same spell different visuals) and/or improvised attacks. But the main melee attack is going to be primal savagery for 3d10 damage. There’s also eldritch blast (three per round), vampiric touch for a potential 50d6 damage and half that much in healing, mind spike for 3d8+3d6 and mark, grab then bite, and of course hex adding a bonus d6 to everything. I also took the eldritch invocation for the aura of flies but recolored it to an aura of bats that does the exact same thing. So anyone nearby takes poison damage, plus advantage on intimidation and disadvantage on all other charisma checks (but you have the friends cantrip which can cancel out the disadvantage if you need to).
Half damage from Necrotic, undead pretty much won’t attack are constantly in effect. Counter spell is nearly mandatory given the backstory of being a noble from Glantri, so that’s in the build. In Glantri all nobles are expected to both claim and defend their titles in wizard duels. You have spare the dying for your allies and using the latter provides a small bit of healing to you via Defy Death. Biting enemies also heals you, so does vampiric touch. All in all, the party healer can probably ignore you for the majority of most fights. And if you have a prisoner, you can use them between fights as a blood doll for 1d6 healing per round until either they kick it or you are full up; you can even use allies’ extra hit dice this way. Maybe. If they let you (remember friends gives advantage on Cha checks at will, lol). “you get 5 dice back on the rest and have only used 2, let me drink the other three… I’ll make it hurt (insert seductive voice) REAL good.”
Bonus Actions and Reactions
Some good choices here, some meh, but can reliably use the bonus action nearly every round which is nice. Can hold a dagger off-hand for a little bit of extra damage with your claws or vampiric touch. It’s not a great option, but it is there if nothing better is available. Teleport will be available a LOT. Cloak of Shadows (the poison aura supposed to be flies) was already mentioned, but they are bonus actions. You also move your hex as a bonus action. A subtle bonus action is bewitching whispers, once per day you can compel a victim to move where you want them to every round for 10 rounds. Great for convincing someone to leave a defensive location, make an opening for you to exploit, leave a room when you don’t want them to interfere, stay out of melee range while you feed on their friend, etc. And, of course, Counter spell, the main defense, is a reaction.
Charm Monster @ 5th level from pact magic hits 2 targets each time and can be used to provide the wolf/bat/rat (plus magical variations) servants that traditional vampires have access to. Dream is straight out of Stoker and can do a lot more than just cause damage, it can be used for long-distance communication, setting up actions in advance, learning secret, etc. Pair Dream and Dark Whispers with minor illusion, friends and charm for some super easy success in the right social encounters. It is a powerful spell with a creative player. Again, bewitching whispers is a very powerful and flexible charm for both combat and non-combat situations, but only works once per day.
On the lesser side, minor illusion, thaumaturgy, and friends are all cantrips that can be used at will. These synergize with the skills of Persuasion +9, Deception +5, and Intimidation +9 (advantage at will via friends, cloak of shadows, etc.). And don’t forget that the retainers can be used to support many activities in combination with most charms (even dreams) by delivering messages, acting out conversations or dreamed scenes, interacting with a minor illusion to make it more believable, etc.
Vampy Magical Stuff
What about just generic classic movie vampire powers? We already mentioned charm monster. Speak with the Dead and Dance Macabre give you that “lord of the dead” feel, and are both very potent when used at the right time. Does it make me a bad person that I think Bewitching Whispers and Charm in order to take someone prisoner, drinking them to death, then interrogating their soul and compelling their corpse to serve you deserves and inspiration?
Silence means no one can hear your prey screaming for help. One with Shadows letting you become invisible almost at will, keeps them off guard and ensures you can get away when you need to. And, finally, Legend Lore is in there for those times you just can’t find the right person, living or dead (hello again Speak with Dead), to interrogate.
Alternate Spell Choices
Far Step gives some extra teleports which are always handy. Hold Person is a reliable control and very thematic: Bela Lugosi did it often in the old black and white movies by glaring at people. Suggestion is again a great control and charm spell, very appropriate choice and lasts for a looooong time from a 5th level spell slot. Contagion from the Undying bonus list could represent the diseases that some of the people around Dracula caught. Death Ward, use your blood to keep an ally from dying. Feign Death, appear like the corpse you are and at 5th level its rather a big boost in temp hp. Blindness/deafness is an alternative to silence that is a bit more battlefield oriented and less RP/Story oriented. With a 5th level spell slot it hits 4 targets and is a great way to isolate prey or maintain a secret or just shut down an entire band of reinforcements.
There are a whole lot of spells that could fit if you just replace part of the name with “shadow” or “dark”. For example, let’s say you don’t like Shillelagh or Toll the Dead, then the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide Lightning Lure spell could be renamed “shadow lure” or Booming Blade could be “shadow blade” and either would be an effective and appropriately themed option.
Multiclass or Stay Focused
Druid for a few levels would really synergize here, and give the shapeshift into an animal that Dracula as known for. But Wis is dump stat so this requires modification and works best as a dip. You will want to focus on spells that are cast on yourself or allies rather than battle magic if you go this route, because your Wis isn’t high enough for good DCs or attack rolls. My recommendation is circle of spores if you can get it (work with your GM to re-flavor it to little less moldy and more undead-ish but still a bit moldy), or moon if not.
Sorcerer would work if you want more spells (especially battle magic) as it uses Cha so they can still be powerful enough. Quicken spell might not be the ideal go-to on metamagic here because of competition for the bonus action. Subtle Spell is pretty much mandatory because of the options it opens with casting in social situations. Shadow Soul is the most obvious fit for the theme adding some additional stealth and synergy. Giant Soul keeps the mix of “mostly magic but not afraid to be scrappy” and there are giants in the remote mountains of Glantri.
Bard college of whispers is another decent option that uses Cha for spells and you can be selfish with your inspirations using them for damage. Expertise in social skills is not to be underestimated either. Sword and Valor colleges also have inspirations that you can use selfishly and bring 2 attacks to the table. Glamour doubles down on the charm and seduction.
Rogue is a good choice to bring more combat damage within the theme. Even a small dip brings sneak attack to almost every round if you want. More levels yield extra mobility, expertise, and every archetype is at least thematically relevant story wise. Assassin or mastermind would be my go-to choices, but I can see a swashbuckler who uses action-movie fighting poses to look fabulous while abusing the inhuman speed against enemies. Not to mention sneak attack when you are alone against an enemy is super appropriate for this build. So rogue is a great match in that any amount is viable from a small dip to a full split.
A barbarian dip for the wolf totem is oddly less trouble than for most other spell casters because 3 pact magic slots means you sometimes don’t use spells during battle, so rage isn’t much of a barrier. It also makes you much more popular with your party.
A fighter dip is not horrible to get action surge, fighting style, and maybe an archetype. But overall seems more meh, than wow.
I’m not going to lie, this character has a lot going on for a newbie. Especially someone who is not only new to D&D 5e, but totally new to paper and pen RPGs. So, I made a guide to all the action options broken out by type of action. This strategy worked and she had fun playing in both of the two sessions where she used this build.
Overall, I think this build is my favorite of the three. It is both flexible and devastatingly powerful in social encounters, while still contributing meaningfully in battle. Because of the short rest and above average self healing, it has exceptional endurance for those long days when your wizard and paladin are crying like little babies begging for a long rest but your fighter and rogue want to push on for another couple encounters. It does lack burst and is not a tank by any means.
- Charm: Trained in persuasion & has advantage on Cha skills at will. Charm, compulsion, dream and more. Some subtle, some blunt and fearsome mental powers.
- Speed: Can move pretty fast with feast of blood active. Extra options include gaseous form, levitate at will, fly with cloak of the bat and has the requested teleport.
- Able to pick up and use anything: Shillelagh with a lenient DM (or Guidance if a stingy DM) means pretty reliable ability to use most things to hurt people effectively (or be good at every skill). Lots of ways to get advantage on skill checks when needed like Friends, Feast of Blood, etc.
- Looks beautiful but transforms and becomes scary: No actual transformation, but can use the cloak of the bat, aura of bats, investiture of wind, thaumaturgy, and minor illusion to ramp up the intimidation and fear factor when needed.
I’ll rate it a solid 4 out of 5.
Link to Fantasy Grounds character export