Spider-Man: Into the D&D-Verse

How the coolest movie of 2018 showed us not to worry about party composition

By MARK WILSON

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was my favorite movie of 2018, full stop. Now, I’m a huge Spidey fan, but part of that fandom has included being critical of some of the past entries in the various series. I’m not an apologist for Spider-Man 3, nor the two Amazing Spider-Man films. There were scattered elements that I thought they did well, but on the whole they were very flawed productions. But “Spider-Verse” might be the best superhero film I’ve ever seen, and I don’t make that statement lightly. If you have yet to catch it, I highly recommend it.

But I’m not writing a movie review, but rather looking at it through a D&D lens, because I think there’s an instructive element in it as it pertains to building a party.

The “All {Insert Class}” Party

Most groups, once they play for long enough, have a story about the campaign that they ran that was all bards. Or all druids. Or all whatever. Almost invariably, these are fun stories and fun groups. But I also see groups and players avoid this. They’ll wait to pick their class to “see what the party needs” or something else related to balance. Or they don’t want to steal the thunder from the other player who is also that class.

I can relate. Hell, I’ll waffle between menu items at a restaurant until others order, to make sure my order isn’t redundant. There’s no real reason for it, but it’s a weird habit I can’t shake.

But this is unecessary. And I think Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is an amazing example of why this is.

“Hell, I’ll waffle between menu items at a restaurant until others order, to make sure my order isn’t redundant. There’s no real reason for it, but it’s a weird habit I can’t shake.”

Does Whatever a Spider Can

I’ve long contemplated what the ideal Spider-Man build is in D&D. I haven’t settled on a combo I’m completely happy with, but it involves Monk plus…something. But whatever Spidey’s D&D class would be, the movie shows us how variations on the Spider-Man theme can feel and play very differently.

The biggest way the movie does this is through backstory and personality. The disparate personalities in the movie dominate the tale, and it’s hard to imagine two characters as diametrically opposed as Spider-Man Noir and Spider-Ham. But, at their core, they have a similar power set. Yet they never seem to step on the others’ toes. And this is true of the half dozen they throw at us in the film. They’re never in each others’ way, because they each have a distinct personality, motivations, aesthetics and backstory.

The other way the movie separates them is through specialization. Think of it as D&D’s archetypes that you choose at Level 3. Especially if you start to include materials from beyond the Player’s Handbook, you soon have tons of options for customization. In the movie, the protagonist (Miles) can turn invisible and produce an electric shock through his hands. This is comically easy to map onto a D&D spell list (Invisibility and Shocking Grasp, respectively), and boom, you have a Spider-Man that’s essentially the same in most ways, but has 1-2 things that allows him to specialize where others can’t.

What Makes You Different, Makes You Spider-Man

That sub-heading above is a tagline from the movie, and it applies to D&D as well. What makes your character different? What makes you as a player different? Is it the clothes they wear, the character’s sense of humor, or lack of one? Their tragic past? The chip on their shoulder? The apathy they’re trying to overcome? The promise they want to fulfill? Or the few spells you take that make you an expert at a certain thing, outside of your core class abilities? Whatever it is, that’s what makes your character unique. And that’s why you’ll never have to fear overlapping with someone else.

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