The dark side of the warlock class
If classic literature has taught us anything it is that pride always comes before a fall, shortcuts always come with a price and the cliffnotes version is usually enough to pass the class. These first two lessons are deeply ingrained into the core of the warlock class. Well, at any rate they should be, after all warlock section of the PHB reads like an infernal thesaurus. The trouble is that for all the flowery language in actual game mechanics the warlock’s shortcuts and dark dealings have no more drawback than his more industrious cousin, the wizard. A dedicated roleplayer can really play up the dark side of his character even if the rules don’t back him up, luckily there are also some things you can do as a DM to keep that evil mojo flowing.
1 – Side effects may vary
A surefire way to keep the price of his pact fresh in his mind is to have him carry them around with him. A few cosmetic changes can go a long way towards giving the warlock that unique “I crave forbidden arts” feel. Starting small an infernal warlock could be unusually warm to the touch, a fey follower could have a floral scent and a star pact could come with a distant, blank stare. As the character levels so too does this taint of eldritch power, at higher levels he could breathe smoke, bear incomprehensible astrological sigils that run up his arm, hear the whispered giggles of the fey watching the adventure through his eyes. By the end of his career the warlock could have rams horns, vestigial wings, autumn leaves constantly falling in his wake and the swirl of galaxies in his eyes. These powers should be cosmetic but as the warlock increases in power they should clearly mark him as something otherworldly and leave the player with a mix of fear and intrigue to see how his powers will next manifest.
2 – Fear and loathing
Now that our warlock is clearly marked how will people react to him? Will those passing in the street avert their eyes from his gaze? Will the commoners staying at the same put lines of salt in front of their door at night to ward off the evil spirit? Perhaps farmers with bring gifts of produce to the warlock to curry favor the fey. Adventurers are always treated differently by the common folk, but if the warlock is a particularly uncomfortable and polarizing figure it can make the full weight of the pact clear to the player and the character.
3 – The flavor of dark arts
Most characters benefit from fleshing out the flavor of their powers but the warlock in particular has rich sources to draw from. The player should be given some free reign over how his powers work. Perhaps he regains his daily powers every morning by drawing a symbol for each on his skin in his own blood or every full moon the player must map the stars. Maybe the lights dim for a moment or there is a cold breeze when he curses a foe. Or those slain by the warlocks power cry tears of blood after death. As long as the flavor does not change the mechanical abilities of the power or provide a great advantage there is a lot of room for the player to customize.
4 – The dark bait
Any one of the above three makes for a great story hook for the above warlock when taken to the extreme. It could be that as the warlock is increasing in level his hands are becoming wretched and useless claws and he must find a way to reverse the process. The warlock could find himself the quarry of an avenger who wants to stamp out those or practice the forbidden arts, even for good ends. Equally likely he found find himself the target of another warlock who wants to use him for study or to demonstrate superiority to their shared master. The warlock could be passing through town when some of the village’s children go missing, he had best rescue them and clear his name before those accusing glances become something more. Perhaps the warlock’s master has altered their deal and demands some lost artifact or other tribute the warlock and his friends must obtain or else the warlock will be stripped of his powers.
Flawed characters are more fun
It is important that these measures are not intended to punish the player for choosing the warlock nor is it intended to make him the star of the party at the expense of everyone else. Hopefully the warlock should be an exciting and dangerous class, a player and DM working together to live up to that potential will make for a roleplaying experience you talk about at the table for years to come. Be sure however that your player wants any part of this, if he wants to play an arcane striker with no consequences than the rules as written suit him just fine. If he wants to be something more than a wizard variation than I hope the above suggestions work out.
Good luck and good rolling (I’m sure there’s some dark powers that could help you out with that).