I decided to jump out of order here and do Warlock because I realized if I kept going in alphabetical order I’d just end up with Sorc/Warlock/Wizard as the last 3 and they’re all basically just flavors of magic-user, so that would get tedious. BTW, I totally want to bring magic-user back as preferred nomenclature for casters, but that’s just me.
My favorite idea for an acolyte warlock, and I really feel this should be the default, is as a cultist. You were raised in the church of the holy C’thulhu, and you prepare for his arrival and the utter destruction of the universe, and you’re such a devoted cultist that you’ve been granted powers! Now, go spread the word!
I still have no idea why charlatan is the default. Ideas I’ve seen floated, that work for me, are things like, “You were such a good conman you convinced yourself you could trick the devil himself, only you lost that bet, and now you work for him.” In fact, that’s it. That’s the character idea I’d go with.
I like the idea of a ‘reformed’ criminal who traded their soul to get out of a long prison sentence (or an execution) and has now put their former profession’s skills and abilities to use as a follower of a fiend or fey creature who helped them escape punishment for their crimes. Will pledging your life to some other creature be worth it in the end? Let me know in 99 years when your prison sentence would have ended.
So many good blues reference ideas. The lute player who sold his soul to a devil in exchange for more talent. The actor who convinced a fey to engineer him a leading role in the latest hit play. Now your career has taken off, you’re relatively famous, and the bill has come due. Your benefactor is asking you to do him some favors…
Warlock Folk Hero
Another good background for the warlock from a story perspective because I can very easily see the eager young buck who wants to save his village from a monster or invading army giving up their soul for some magical powers that would help them save their friends and family. And then after becoming the local hero, well you have to disappear. It was a tough choice, and now you have to pay the piper, but it was worth it to save your little town, wasn’t it?
Warlock Guild Artisan
You could go like the entertainer with the guy who traded his soul for some great artisan skill, but I like the idea of a Lovecraft/Stephen King Horror writer novelist (Scribe) who has terrifying dreams given to him by his benefactor, and he’s just started writing them down and now he’s a (semi) famous horror novelist. “Where do you get your ideas from?” they always want to know. You don’t want to tell them, but you got some cool abilities out of it. Even if you aren’t getting much sleep…
You’ve always been plagued by bad luck. People around you get hurt. After much soul searching you abandon society, go out to live on your own and…discover that it’s actually some fey creature that you’ve managed to piss off somehow, and he’s been screwing with you. Now he’ll agree to stop screwing with you, but you owe him. He’ll give you some magic, but you’ve now got a petty, annoying fey who keeps asking you to do asinine things in exchange for not messing with you again.
The family secret is “We’re rich because we made a deal with the devil!” The family curse is “Oh yeah, now you have to work for him or he’ll consume our family’s souls in the bowels of hell!” Great. Thanks, grandma.
Here’s where I love the outlander idea. You’re from a society where everybody sells their souls to a higher power for magic. It’s not even weird. It’s like, what everybody does. Like going to college. What do you mean you don’t all do that? How do you all learn magic? What do you mean you don’t all know magic? This place is weird.
After much study I’ve discovered the way to true power. And that way is through an entity known as “C’Thulhu”. Have you heard of him? Listen, I have tons of books on this guy, and I think I can control him. He’s going to grant me powers, and it seems like I’ll have to do him some favors, but in the end…well, what could go wrong?
I like the idea of a GOO (Greater Old One) warlock whose patron is actually an undersea leviathan. Like a whale sized aboleth, or a Godzilla that’s stuck under a shipwreck or something. But there’s lots of cool water themed ideas here, and if you were a sailor in a stom praying for help when your ship caught on fire… Hey, come to think of it, C’thulhu is underwater.
The initial thought was guy who trades his soul to survive a war, but the more I think about it, I like guy who trades his soul before the war starts so he can win the war. The ultimate patriot. My soul for my country. And now we’re at the next stage. The war is over. We won (or lost?) and now I have to pay the patron back for his power. But did his powers even help us in the war? There’s some good RP struggle to be had.
I traded my soul for a house is too obvious. However, I like kidnapped kid who was going to be used in a ritual to appease some fiend, and the fiend, with his wicked sense of humor, lets you take revenge on the kidnappers, and turns you into his badass cultist commando as long as you do his bidding. I’d be down for that if I was a homeless kid that was about to get gutted by some asshole cultists.