As a dutiful nerd and lifelong comic book fan, I went to see “Spider-Man: Homecoming” on opening weekend. There will be no spoilers for the film in this article, but I will say that it is a fantastic movie. It’s also worth noting I’m typically not that much into action movies in general and my critical eye is more than average when it comes to superhero movies.
But all that aside, what I’ve really been thinking about all day is a character build to represent Spider-Man in fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. The Nerdarchy YouTube channel has a long history of D&Dizing fictional characters and objects, and it sounded fun to take a shot at this iconic, beloved Marvel Comics character. My previous crack at D&Dizing something – the Sword of Omens from Thundercats – was tons of fun to work on.
Fictional characters and items tend to be extremely powerful in D&D 5E terms. Spider-Man is no exception. Fitting in the essentials for a character like Spider-Man of course requires multiclassing, and with his amazing array of powers, skills and abilities ol’ Webhead certainly isn’t a low-level character. For this D&Dizing project I took Spidey all the way to level 20. Working backwards from there to deconstruct the character, what I came up with is quirky, unusual and maybe a bit off-the-wall for a D&D campaign…maybe not completely off-the-wall though – it is Spider-Man after all.
D&D 5E Spider-Man build
Basic building blocks
Variant humanThis might seem like a no-brainer, but it took some time to commit to this decision. On the one hand – and this is evident in most of Nerdarchy’s D&Dize videos – the character is clearly human. In the source material, Spider-Man is a human teenaged boy in his origin story. In the comics, he’s progressed into adulthood by now of course. Choosing the human race in the D&D 5E Player’s Handbook is an obvious choice.
On the other hand, I tend to think about more than that when D&Dizing fictional characters. In the comics, there are no elves, dwarves, halflings and the like. I’m sure Professor Bill from Comic Book University could cite some, like Malekith for instance. But for the sake of argument there’s no fantasy, D&D analogs in the Marvel Universe.
For Spider-Man, my short list for races included human, wood elf, lightfoot halfling, and half-elf. Each of these have appealing mechanical attributes.
Settling on the variant human was one of the last choices I made while sussing out this D&D 5E Spider-Man build. It came down to looking at the handful of feats to squeeze in and the mechanics of optimizing the ability scores to wind up with even numbers.
Friendly neighborhood heroWhile still in the mulling stage sage was leading the way for background choice. One of the core concepts of Peter Parker is his scientific prowess. Sage would represent that admirably. Arcana and History skill proficiencies would be excellent examples of the sorts of things a studious young man might learn in a D&D campaign setting. Arcana is sort of like fantasy science, and history is a broad catchall topic.
Hermit was another contender, but really only because of the feature. Discovery could be something along the lines of the web fluid that Spider-Man developed on his own. But outside of that nothing about hermit speaks to the concept of Spider-Man. Next!
Folk Hero felt like a great fit. Spider-Man is definitely a hero. His good nature leads him to help out anyone in need, whether it’s a purse-snatcher on the street or a cosmic threat to all existence. What turned me off about this background is the skill and tool proficiencies. Animal Handling, Survival and Vehicles (land) don’t exactly scream Spider-Man.
In the end I opted for the Customizing a Background option and came up with the Friendly Neighborhood Hero. As a smart kid from the neighborhood, this background gives skill proficiency in History and Persuasion to represent time spent in school as well as on the streets. Gaining knowledge from studies comes alongside talking Flash Thompson out of an altercation as Peter Parker or a bank robber out of a fight as Spider-Man. (I didn’t say the Persuasion is always a success!)
To go along with his school education, our Friendly Neighborhood Hero has tool proficiency with alchemist’s supplies. Peter Parker is, after all, a chemistry nerd.
Rounding out the background is the Rustic Hospitality feature from Folk Hero. Spider-Man has proven time and again he is a hero for the people. He’s earned the respect and admiration of the common folk. It’s not a stretch of the imagination that they’d stand up for and protect him if he needs help. Additionally, the Folk Hero’s Defining Event is perfect for Spider-Man: he was bitten by a magical spider!
ClassReady to get weird? After thinking about a D&D 5E Spider-Man build all afternoon, the next step was making a list of all the different things Spidey ought to be able to do in D&D terms. The most important aspects were his quips, webs, wall-crawling and spider sense. Similarly to the race perspective, the Marvel Universe super heroes don’t derive their powers from magical spells (yes, I know Doctor Strange and so forth).
Bear with me, as one of the ways I consider sorcerers in D&D 5E is like a fantasy version of mutants like the X-Men. They manifest various powers and are able to manipulate and control these powers through force of will.
With that perspective, and some creative refluffing or reimagining how certain spells manifest – without changing their mechanical aspects – it’s much easier to D&Dize fictional characters. In the case of Spider-Man, the breakdown as a 20th level D&D 5E character build came down to…
Bard (College of Lore) 6
As a College of Lore bard, Spider-Man gains access to several traits that form the bread-and-butter of his adventuring style. First and foremost, he gets the awesome cantrip vicious mockery that he can use to banter with the bad guys, hurt their brains and throw them off in a fight. Classic Spidey.He also gains Bardic Inspiration that he can use to bolster his friends and allies with encouraging words or simply by his selfless actions. Even better, as a College of Lore bard he gets to use Cutting Words. Along with vicious mockery this gives Spider-Man two ways to employ his famous quips in battle to confound his enemies.
Expertise from the bard gives Spider-Man a serious bump to his Perception and Acrobatics, representing his spider sense and agility. Jack of All Trades demonstrates how smart Peter Parker is with a bump to any skill he’s not already proficient in.
I considered leaving bard at 3rd level, but there was one more feature to hold out for at 6th level. Additional Magical Secrets lets Spider-Man pick up two spells from any class, up to 3rd level. One of these, which is crucial to the whole concept, is spider climb. The other, arguably just as crucial, is thorn whip. With a little tweaking and refluffing, thorn whip becomes Spider-Man’s signature web shooters. Change the “vine-like whip covered in thorns” to a web-like tendril that does bludgeoning damage instead of piercing and voila! You might not be able to web-swing through the dungeon, but you can pull Large or smaller creatures closer and by 20th level this web whip will dish out 4d6 damage.
Rounding out Spider-Man’s bard abilities is Font of Inspiration to recharge those Cutting Words with a short rest, and Countercharm. The latter lets our D&D 5E Spider-Man utilize his legendary teamwork to help his allies overcome fear or charm effects from enemies.
Sorcerer (Favored Soul) 6
But Spider-Man isn’t magic! True, but he does have latent power waiting to be tapped. And for that, we go to the sorcerer. The sorcerous origins options in the Player’s Handbook don’t fit the Spider-Man concept very well, though. So it’s off to Unearthed Arcana we go. We arrive at the Favored Soul.
And sometimes that divine source is bestowed through the bite of a magical spider, as is the case with our D&D 5E Spider-Man build. For flavor and storytelling purposes, sorcerer is the class our D&Dized Spidey begins his adventuring career with. It’s not optimal from a min/max standpoint, but the drawbacks are mitigated elsewhere. Also, it gives Spider-Man proficiency with Constitution saving throws, which could be potentially life-saving since spider climb is a Concentration spell.
“Sometimes the spark of magic that fuels a sorcerer comes from a divine source that glimmers within the soul.”
– Unearthed Arcana: Sorcerer
Thematically, Favored Soul gives our Spider-Man access to a couple of spells from the cleric list that will be useful, like resistance and sanctuary. Both of these spells help further represent Spidey’s spider-sense through better chances of making saving throws and making him very difficult to hit. Favored by the Gods adds another layer to this concept. The ability lets him add 2d4 to a failed saving throw or missed attack roll once per short or long rest.
Supernatural Resilience bumps up the hit points by 6, which isn’t a huge deal but it’s something. And finally, Blessed Countenance doubles Spider-Man’s proficiency bonus to any Charisma check. I considered stopping with sorcerer at level 4 after the Ability Score Increase, and putting the other 2 levels towards monk for Diamond Soul. But Spider-Man’s charisma in the source material won me over. I figured being able talk his way into deceiving, persuading or even intimidating bad guys sounded pretty cool.
As for the sorcerer core class features, Spider-Man of course gets access to Sorcery Points and Metamagic. He can burn Sorcery Points to get more mileage our of web and other clutch spells. With spell slots higher than the level of spells he knows he can generate a lot of Sorcery Points. Or he can Quicken and Twin his thorn (web) whip and other Spidey-esque spells over and over.
Monk (Way of the Open Hand) 12
With all that spellcasting from bard and sorcerer, what’s monk got to do with it? Our D&D 5E Spider-Man’s spell list consists mostly of buffs, debuffs and crowd control, so he needs something to wallop the bad guys with!
Monk forms the core of our Spider-Man’s combat prowess. He getsall the monkish goodness D&D 5E players have come to expect. Martial arts, flurry of blows, extra movement and unarmored defense give Spidey the means to KO those creatures he pulls in with his twinned web whip with extra attack and stunning strike.
Deflect missiles and evasion gives him additional defenses (and spider sense representin’). If spider climb fails him he’s got slow fall to soften the landing. On top of all that he’s immune to disease and poison, can end charm or fear effects on himself, heal himself through focusing his internal energy and get an extra, fee sanctuary once per long rest.
Ability Scores and FeatsWith a multiclass bard, monk and sorcerer build for the 5E D&Dized Spider-Man, the most important ability scores are Dexterity, Wisdom and Charisma. Thankfully, there’s a nice overlap with these between the three classes. In the source material Spider-Man’s Strength, Intelligence and Constitution would also be high. In fact, most of his ability scores would be completely off the charts in D&D terms.
For the sake of game balance and mechanics I’m focusing on these three ability scores. This means Spider-Man will have great armor class, to-hit and damage bonuses for his Martial Arts and decent DCs for his bard and sorcerer spells. To generate ability scores, I stuck with the Nerdarchy standard of using the standard array, which I typically use in my own home games, too. It’s worth noting that, as a multiclass character, Spider-Man will need a minimum ability score of 13 in Dexterity, Wisdom and Charisma to meet the prerequisites.
Starting ability scores (Standard Array 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8)
Strength 8 – It had to go somewhere, and this build doesn’t rely on Strength
Dexterity 16 – Started with 15, +1 from Athlete feat
Constitution 10 – Like Strength, it had to go somewhere
Intelligence 12 – Optimally would switch with 10 Constitution but Spider-Man is smart, darn it!
Wisdom 16 – Started with 14, +1 from human, +1 via ASI
Charisma 15 – Started with 13, +1 from human, +1 via ASI, odd number not optimal but that’s how it shook out
With these ability scores and classes, the D&D 5E Spider-Man build will have 122 hit points at 20th level, using the fixed amounts gained at level ups.
Skill proficiencies will be: Acrobatics (with expertise), Arcana, Athletics, History, Insight, Investigation, Perception (with expertise), Persuasion, Stealth. Tool proficiency with alchemist’s supplies is also part of the package.
Alert is a key feat for this D&D 5E Spider-Man build, it almost screams spider sense. Between this and all the other specialized defenses in this build, it will be incredibly difficult to get the drop on Spider-Man and lay a hand on him. This is the feat granted from the variant human race. It comes right along with the magical spider bite that bestowed his magical powers.
Athlete is a feat I was on the fence about. Giving it up for the ASI would give more flexibility to the ability scores, but it does give a bump to Dexterity that makes it an even number. On top of that, Athlete reflects our Spidey’s speed and agility. He can bounce around, climb and jump better than anyone.
Lucky is a phenomenal feat no matter the sort of D&D character. As yet another way to portray spider sense, Spider-Man can turn an enemy’s potential hit into a miss, or one of his own failures into a success three times per long rest. So it does have a thematic reason for being included.
Mobile is another terrific feat that happens to fit the theme as well. Our Spider-Man can get around the battlefield like crazy, climbing, jumping, running and flipping all around while avoiding a great deal of enemy attacks. With this feat he can also ignore difficult terrain during a Dash.
War Caster seems like an odd choice, and is another one I was on the fence about. The advantage on Constitution saving throws to maintain concentration soothes my fears of losing spider climb while high above the ground. But what really won me over is the though of casting web whip on a hostile creature provoking an attack of opportunity. Not so fast!
This got pretty complicated. In some cases, there were choices to make that didn’t have any clear great options. In others, there were spells that didn’t make the cut because there weren’t enough resources to go around.
In the end, the spell list provides a well-rounded selection of options to represent the sorts of things Spider-Man can do. In many cases, the spells ask for some reimagining or refluffing to fit the theme. Others require seeing them in the spirit of the character rather than any direct translations.
Through multiclassing, the D&D 5E Spider-Man build has the following spell slots. It’s worth noting this character’s spell list only includes spells up to 3rd level. So these 4th, 5th and 6th level spell slots will provide excellent fodder for Sorcery Points, pumping up lower level spells or a steady stream of web.
1st: 4 2nd: 3 3rd: 3 4th: 3 5th: 2 6th: 1
Spells known: 9 (plus two from Additional Magical Secrets)
Cantrips: friends, mage hand, vicious mockery, thorn whip
1st level: feather fall, healing word, heroism, Tasha’s hideous laughter
2nd level: enhance ability, enthrall, hold person, locate object, spider climb
3rd level: plant growthFriends doesn’t feel like a great fit for Spider-Man, but none of the other ones jumped out at me either. For mage hand if this spell appears a as skeletal hand in Ravenloft, there’s no reason it can’t appear as a web line for Spider-Man. Vicious mockery and thorn whip those have already been discussed above.
Feather fall could take the form of webbing that helps slow the descent. With this and slow fall this Spider-Man build should have almost no trouble with falling. Healing word comes via Spidey’s encouragement to his allies, as does the heroism he inspires in others through his own. And even though his jokes and quips are usually corny as heck, the occasional one might be hilariously funny and cause creatures to fall into fits of hideous laughter.
Enhance ability represents Spider-Man’s will to fight on, perhaps by finding the Strength to lift the rubble off of himself. Enthrall keeps the enemy’s attention on Spidey. Hold person can easily take the form of webs that paralyze the target, and those higher-level spell slots let him nab multiple targets. Throw a twin on there and you can immobilize quite a few bad guys at once. Locate object doesn’t really have a good analog for Spider-Man, unless you want to think of it like classic spider-tracers.
Plant growth…is the only 3rd level bard spell that made any sense to me. And only then if you imagine the area are being covered in webbing. The imagination stretch breaks down with the spell’s secondary use, so maybe just don’t ever use that and stick with picturing a sticky webbed area. I almost left 3rd level alone to go with dissonant whispers but that felt too creepy for Spider-Man.
Spells known: 7
Cantrips: blade ward, ray of frost, resistance, shocking grasp, true strike
1st level: expeditious retreat, jump, sanctuary, shield
2nd level: web
3rd level: haste, slow
Say what you will about blade ward and true strike these can both be handy, especially is you quicken them to cast as bonus actions. Our D&D 5E Spider-Man isn’t exactly a tank. While he has multiple defensive layers, resistance to weapon attack damage is more than useful. True strike isn’t the best spell in the world either, and nine times out of 10 you’ll have better options. But, it fills a space and might come in handy some time. Ray of frost is another one to reimagine as webbing; change the cold damage to bludgeoning. Like thorn (web) whip this one provides a little crowd control on top of the damage.
Expeditious retreat gets Spider-Man around much quicker, and combined with the Mobile feat makes difficult terrain irrelevant. Jump along with the Athlete feat is a nice combination. Sanctuary and shield are both part of the spider-sense concept, making Spider-Man very difficult to pin down and hit in combat.
Web is…web. It’s Spider-Man. ‘Nuff said!
Haste is one where, sure, you can cast it on others and especially with Twinned Spell you almost certainly will. But if you just want to cast it on yourself all the time, Spidey’s speed and agility would be well reflected. With slow we’re looking at one more way to imagine a web-based visual version of the spell.
Face it, gamer…you just hit the jack pot!
One part of this D&Dized Spider-Man build that I attempted but gave up on is breaking down is the journey to 20th level. For thematic reasons sorcerer is the beginning of the path. But when to branch into bard and monk eludes me.
So if you ever get a chance to play a one-shot or campaign that begins at 20th level, you’re welcome – you have Spider-Man ready to go. There are certainly magic items that will ramp up everything this D&D 5E build can do. That being said, this Spider-Man build is totally theoretical as well, so there’s a good chance it would not earn Spidey his “‘Amazing” epithet. Maybe spectacular though. It’s at least spectacular.
The alternative to a full character build – and a better and more concise option – is creating an creature-style stat block for ol’ Web-head. That way the abilities don’t require strange multi-classing and periphery powers off-theme. Is that something you’d like to see here on the website?
Let me know what you think about this D&D 5E Spider-Man build in the comments below. If you’re interested in a streamlined stat block version of Spidey for D&D let’s hear it – I’ll be happy to work that up for you fine folks.
Until next time true believers, Excelsior! I mean uh…stay nerdy!