On a whim, I pulled out some of my Dungeons and Dragons books a couple weeks back, and convinced a buddy of mine that we should pick up where we left off in one of our old games. Since then my head has been wrapped around Zalekios Gromar, Vasharan Warlock on a mission to kill the gods that spited his people in millennia past. And while the Eldritch Blast of D&D isn't exactly the same as WoW's Shadow Bolt, it certainly got me in the mood for role playing.
There was a time between my adventures near Northshire Abbey, and my discovery that I had a passion for group content while I was fighting a torrential updraft of trolls in Zul'Farrak, when RP was my primary reason for playing the game. And while you don't usually see me walking through Stormwind these days, there was a time when I was Lord Sentai Grehsk, The Corpseseeker. A Warlock driven by the horrors of war to seek world peace at any cost, regardless of how many people he needed to quietly murder to achieve it.
Back when I was a more active role player, I wrote several lengthy discussions on how to role play as a Warlock. Obviously there's no 'right' way to role play a character, but it's important to be cognizant of the trappings of a character's life, if you want to be able to fully characterize them. For example, Orc Warlocks come from a people who were oppressed and mind controlled by demons--who exerted much of their power through Warlock minions--until only recently. An older Orc Warlock was probably party to those misdeeds against his own people, even if he was only a front line spellcaster during the wars, and if he now serves Thrall's horde, then he probably deals with an immeasurable amount of guilt for his past deeds, and struggles with whether or not his continued pursuit of the Warlock's art is worth the cost to his soul. Conversely, a young Warlock is making a calculated choice to embrace something viewed as horrible and destructive by the people in his social circles. A young Orc Warlock's family and friends would likely react to his or her choice of class the same way we would react if one of our friends took up heroin.
There are dozens of such issues to be considered, and it can be very thrilling to work through all of those issues. The what and why of a character make the game far more entertaining, and not just for role players. These days I certainly wouldn't consider myself a role player, but I still know why my character was motivated to charge out of his retirement and into Northrend when the Lich King reared his ugly head. Giving your toon a personality, and a purpose, makes the playing the game a much more impacting and powerful experience, even if you never spend any time walking slowly through town. With that in mind, lets take a look at Warlock minions from a role playing perspective.
There's really only five pets worth considering in earnest. Summoning the Infernal or the Doomguard is a fantastic way to pump out some DPS, but not many people want to spend the reagent cost just to be seen walking around with a hulking behemoth of a minion trailing along behind them. Of course, there's nothing quite like summoning an infernal meteor from the sky to land on top of a congregation of Paladins (the self-righteous jerks would spend all their time executing Warlocks if we let them get too cocksure of themselves, after all) but for the most part, the imp, voidwalker, succubus, felhunter, and felguard are going to be your staple RP-pets.
I think it's fair to say that imps are, well, impish. The cowardly little things would much rather spend their time pulling chairs out from under people, and unscrewing salt shakers, than plotting world domination or sacrificing virgin's blood to appease the old gods. Their servile position means they'll probably spend more time casting fireballs and slipping poison into some noble's drink than they'd like, but do not doubt that they will find some way to play a trick or two while they go about their master's work.
Two types of Warlock/imp relationships come to mind for me.First is the stuffy Warlock who is all-business about his evil deeds. He has serious goals, and needs the imp to do its part in achieving those goals. In this relationship the imp would be a constant annoyance to its master, and provide a minor comedic foil which--frankly--is very badly needed in a lot of the more melodramatic role playing that goes on. This imp would always be looking for loopholes in its master's instructions, aiming to follow the letter of the law and have as much fun as it can along the way, because the punishment at the end of the day will be brutal. Such a Warlock would probably avoid using his imp if he could, but no other demon can match the imp's combination of size, dexterity, intelligence, and craftiness.
There's no real reason, though, that a Warlock needs to be a harsh taskmaster to their imp. It's just as likely that the chaotic nature of Warlock power would attract the type of person who happily acts as co-conspirator in an imp's mischief. Why bother stabbing the outspoken anti-Warlock Paladin in his sleep, when you can simply defame him by casting Curse of Tongues on him during his next inflamatory speech? Master and imp can be laughing their robes off at the Slaughtered Lamb while Mr. Self-righteous is being subjected to a heresy inquisition.
The voidwalker is the exact opposite of the imp. It's large, as minions go. It's also slow moving, dim-witted, and not much of a talker--at least that's how I figure it. The way the thing likes to stand on top of any NPC I'm trying to click on, it's either dim-witted or malevolent. Most of the time such a creature would only serve to slow a Warlock down, but as we've learned from bond villains, it's always handy to keep some muscle around. So long as you don't ask the voidwalker to act on its own, he serves well as a stand-in for a 7 foot tall Russian dockworker with arms as wide as my head. On several occasions I would summon my voidwalker if I needed a wounded ally carried away from the site of some conflict, since my spindly spellcaster arms weren't up to the task. Lacking a fel guard, the blueberry also came in handy when I needed doors broken down, or furniture moved around my hut.
Role playing with the succubus holds a special place in my heart. As I figure it, the Warlock / Minion relationship is all about power struggle. There's a reason we can only summon Doomguards for 15 minutes at a time, and why we can't summon things like Pit Lords at all: they're too powerful for us. But just because a minion isn't powerful enough to resist their Warlock master, doesn't mean they stop fighting. Sure, an imp may be happy working with a Warlock who shares in its mischief, and a voidwalker may be indifferent, but I doubt the femme fatale of the minion lineup would give up anywhere near as easily--and they take the struggle for power to a whole new level.
When I was more active in the role playing community on my server, I was known as a teacher of sorts. Low level Warlocks came to me seeking help unraveling the mysteries of the forbidden magic. I can think of at least a dozen Warlocks who spent some time as my pupils, and one who placed herself under my tutelage from level 6, through level 70 (when Wrath came out her character was turned into a Death Knight, like all the other Warlocks.) Whenever one of my students reached level twenty, and prepared to summon a succubus, I warned them that the succubus would try and gain power over them in more subversive ways than their previous minions had. I further cautioned that if they succumbed to the advances of the succubus, then I would be forced to kill them, rather than let an agent of the Legion control somebody who knew the secrets of my teachings. I've spent a great many hours RPing the student / teacher relationship, and the level 20 talk is by far one of my favorite events.
A Warlock who keeps a succubus at their side is confident, in control, and as subversive or moreso than the minion herself. These Warlocks have more than overcome the allure of their succubus, they have mastered it and turned it into a weapon. They should be wary, though, of the attention the succubus attracts. The imp is small enough that he goes largely unnoticed until his mischief manifests, and the other pets are relatively well behaved. But one suggestive slap and moan from a succy is sure to garner a bit of attention. She's not very good at impulse control.
A Warlock who RPs with his felhunter, in my estimation, is a lot like a person who enjoys the company of a big, aggressive dog, like a Labrador or a Rottweiler. They don't want a companion that can talk back, or even one that's intelligent enough to develop its own agenda--just one that's powerful and reliable. These Warlocks enjoy a quiet relationship with their favored minion, enjoying something approximating a friendship with it, but constantly restraining the beast from pouncing on every potential prey it trots past. It's not a complex relationship, but not every character needs to have a tumultuous depth of emotional complexity.
Finally comes the felguard--more raw physical strength than a voidwalker, with the malicious intelligence of a succubus. The felguard won't try to seduce you, but it will constantly assail you with a force of will strong enough to knock an unprepared Warlock on his ass, right before the vengeful demon splits his master's head with an axe for attempting to enslave him.
While Warlocks might use the voidwalker to perform menial tasks that require physical strength, the felguard combines that strength with enough speed and skill to make him an intimidating force. If I had a Demonologist high enough level to summon this minion, I think I would play at a 'ice and fire' contrast between Warlock and minion. While on the one hand the Warlock would be suave, soft spoken, and courteous, the felguard would enact swift and brutal retribution when its master's calm demeanor didn't result in the desired effect.
I'm interested in hearing from some of my fellow Warlocks about how they characterize their minions. Do you think I'm relatively on-the-money with how I approach pets in RP, or do you see things differently?