Let's Build Spider-Man in 5e D&D
…and do whatever a spider can.
By MARK WILSON
I love Spider-Man. I’m not ashamed to say that. Growing up, the story of Peter Parker resonated with me to an extent that I find difficult to describe. Additionally, as Peter matured and evolved in the comics – and in popular media – I found a humble, heroic model for many of the personal qualities that I continue to value into adulthood. I have a really nice Spidey cosplay costume that I’ve worn to various events, and I spent the better part of a year getting in shape simply so that I could pull off the costume well. Spidey deserved my best.
So it’s no surprise that one of my “dream builds” in D&D is something that approximates Spider-Man. I’ve given this quite a bit of thought, and while it can be difficult to map a character from outside D&D perfectly, I think there are some options that work really well if you want to play as a Spider-Man-like character.
Quick note, everything below can be mapped onto any race in the game, as well as your desired gender. The focus will be on capturing the essence of the character, both from a roleplaying perspective and mechanically.
There are plenty that get kind of close, but that I think miss the mark in several pertinent ways.
Because of his rooftop-hopping in NYC, it’s tempting to build a Rogue Thief, with their climbing and the Second Story Work ability that you get at level 3. But Spider-Man can be a stealthy rogue-like type occasionally, but I don’t think it matches his combat style quite as well. I also think we can get the climbing abilities elsewhere.
There’s also a thematic case to be made for Druid, since there’s a strong primal, totemic vibe to a lot of the weirder Spider-Man stories from the comics. But in no world do I see Spider-Man as a full caster, and Druid doesn’t have access to a handful of spells that I consider to be a necessity for the build.
“I love Spider-Man. I’m not ashamed to say that.”
Base Build (Monk)
Every build I’ve considered seriously has had Monk as the base class. No armor, hand-to-hand fighting, and with several mobility powers to allow him/her to hop around the battlefield. It just fits so much better than anything else for Spidey’s default fighting style.
At level 3 you get Deflect Missiles, which matches with a lot of fancy dodging and redirection Spidey is capable of. And at level 4 you get Slow Fall, which is great for rooftop escapades. I’d also probably try to talk my DM into letting me pair Slow Fall with a grappling hook throw, to be able to swing between buildings.
Level 4 also gets you access to Feats, and I’d definitely go for the Athlete feat. With that, climbing doesn’t cost extra movement and you can jump more easily.
As for archetype, there isn’t one that screams “pick me!” but I think Way of the Shadow works best. The spells you can channel with your Ki points map fairly well to a noctural spider-like creature. Between your climbing, swinging, slow fall, and stealth abilities from the spells, there are a lot of places you’ll be able to get in and out of easily.
There are two spells that you need as Spidey. Web and Spider Climb. I consider these non-negotiable to any D&D build that claims to approximate Spidey.
So we need to multi-class into something that will have access to those. It’s worth remembering this during character creation, as you’ll want to have Charisma or Intelligence high enough for the multi-class. There’s more than one option here, and the first good option in my mind is the Sorcerer. And specifically, the Shadow Magic Sorcerer. At level 3, you’ll be able to get both of the aforementioned spells and your metamagic will allow you make them a bit more potent. While the additional shadow spells made available to you (Darkness and Darkvision) overlap with the Monk’s Ki spells, this will allow you to focus your Ki on other spells like Silence and Pass Without Trace.
The Wizard Option
Pete is a nerd, so why not a Wizard? I’ll admit, it might make a little more sense from a roleplaying perspective, so I consider this a viable alternative. You’ll also have access to all the relevant spells (including those listed below).
As for your school of magic, I think there’s only one that makes any sense: Divination. This is solely because the Portent ability maps really, really well to Pete’s spider-sense ability.
I like the mechanical synergy with the Sorcerer, and I think the Metamagic options make it more powerful in a 3-level dip than the same in Wizard. But the RP and Portent ability on the Wizard side are great. So there’s no bad option in my opinion.
The Other Spells
Plenty of other spells can remain thematic. Among them:
The Infestation cantrip (imagine a tiny spider swarm)
Shocking Grasp (if you want to go with a Miles Morales Spidey build instead of Peter Parker)
Jump (for obvious reasons)
Detect Magic (maybe with a “spider-sense” interpretation to it)
So, Monk 4 (Way of Shadow), Sorcerer 3 (Shadow Magic), or Monk 4, Wizard 3 (Divination) is where I’d start. Beyond that, it’s really up to you. At that point, I think you have everything you need for a believable Spider-Man D&D build, one that will give you a lot of roleplaying and combat options, and abilities to get you in and out of all kinds of tight spots.
Is it an “optimal” min-maxing build? Hell no. But would it be fun to play? Personally, I’m itching to try it out. I tend to be the DM more often than not, so my chances to play in full campaigns are limited. But this is definitely one I’ll be trying at some point.