One of my favorite YouTube channels is Building Character by Tulok the Barbarian. Twice a week, Mr. The Barbarian builds a well-known character from pop-culture in Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition. It’s great. Check him out.
Thing is, though, he only very rarely does the same character twice. That’s kind of a shame, because not only are there vastly different interpretations of characters out there, but oddly enough, D&D is often flexible enough to accommodate these vastly different visions of a character. So, if you want to play D&D as a specific iteration of one of your favorite characters, I got you.
So, for my first foray into character builds, I give you: Batman.
Anyway. Some ground rules, which will be applicable to all my D&D builds.
- For each build, I’ll give a list of priorities.
- When possible, I’ll follow the narrative progression of the character. But sometimes that’s not possible if the character arrives fully-formed.
- Only official published rules and, very occasionally, Unearthed Arcana. No homebrews.
- Stats will be generated via Point Buy or Standard Point Array.
- No magical items, unless you get them from Artificer infusions.
- Feats are in play. (Of course they’re in play, they’re probably the most popular “optional” rule in 5e.)
- As I wrote about here on The Public Medievalist, Ability Score Increases being tied to species is racist as hell. Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything happens to agree. So Origin Ability Score Increases can be reassigned according to the rules in Tasha’s.
- I’ll give you the build at 1st, 5th, 11th, 17th, and 20th level—though realistically many of these characters are a few levels shy of a cap, if you know what I mean. That said, I’ll let you know at what level the character closely matches their pop-culture counterpart.
- All things being equal, I will try to make builds as different as possible, because there’s no point in just doing the same thing over and over.
- If you have any issues with my choices: https://youtu.be/95N85bGdzw4?t=104
Building Batman: Adam West
Batman, the TV series, was the first successful TV/Film adaptation of the Caped Crusader. It originally ran from 1966–1968 on TV, and spawned a film based on the series in 1966. It starred Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin. It’s camp, it’s bizarre, it’s funny, it is definitively camp, and it is maybe the most faithful adaptation of a comic book character in tone and style.
It may not be the best Batman, but it might be my favorite.
For this build, here are our priorities:
- Pow! Biff! Ooof!: This batman is a brawler, and he does his own stunts.
- Pretty fishy, what happened to me on that ladder…: This Batman may be the world’s greatest detective, but his method of deduction is a bit… unorthodox… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tUGCQXLq9wk
- Shark Repellent Bat Spray!: This batman has all the gadgets he could ever need at his disposal.
- Do the Batusi: This Batman gets doooooown. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RsYA8Gr5NTY
- Holy junkprint, Batman!: This Bat-suit is built for agility and style, not protection.
Core Bat Stats
Species: Batman is a human, but I think you’ll agree with me that he’s a very variant human. Variant humans get a language, two +1 ability score increases, a skill proficiency, and a feat. So let’s give our Batman…
Language: I don’t know… halfling?
Origin ASI: +1 Strength, +1 Intelligence
Feat: Tavern Brawler is a perfect feat for this Batman, and a great feat for any comedy character. It gives you +1 to Strength or Constitution (we’ll take Strength), but more importantly makes us proficient with improvised weapons and allows us to grapple as a bonus action after hitting with an unarmed attack. Pow, biff, oof indeed!
Starting Stats: We’re going to use the Standard Point Array of 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, and 8. We’ll give Strength our 15; our bat needs to be able to fight with his fists. Charisma gets the 14; this Bat has some moves. Dexterity gets 13; Intelligence gets the 12. Constitution gets the 10, and Wisdom gets the 8.
Background: Noble. This is going to be a consistent for all of our Bats Men—as Batfleck put it, his superpower is being rich. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2Z3rJMpCJY
That nets you skill proficiencies in history and persuasion, a gaming set proficiency (take your pick, but a Chess set seems appropriate). Languages don’t quite map, so take your pick; I’ll go with Gnomish (since Riddler isn’t an option).
Level 1: Rogue 1
[Str: 17 | Dex: 13 | Con: 10 | Int: 13 | Wis: 8 | Cha: 14]
Proficiencies: Insight, Perception, Performance, Athletics
Expertise: Insight, Investigation
Features: Sneak Attack, Thieves’ Cant
Starting Equipment: Boomerangs (Batarang).
Commentary: At this level, you’re barely Batman, but the foundations are there. This Batman solves crimes as much via insight as via investigation (probably more, let’s be real). Your sneak attack works with the Batarangs, but not your tavern brawling (sadly)—though if I were your DM I’d allow it. And critically, you’re proficient in performance. That’s Batusi, baby!
Level 5: Rogue 4—Swashbuckler | Fighter 1
[Str: 17 | Dex: 13 | Con: 10 | Int: 13 | Wis: 8 | Cha: 14]
Rogue Features: Cunning Action, Fancy Footwork, Rakish Audacity
Fighter Features: Fighting Style (Unarmed Fighting), Second Wind
Commentary: There are a few ways to build an unarmed fighter in D&D, and this is one of them. With the combination of the unarmed fighting style, plus the grappler feat and the tavern brawler feat, you can hit someone (for d8+3), then grapple them with your bonus action. Your next turn, you can try to pin them, which allows you and your allies to mash them into a fine pulp. Honestly, this might be too good a combo for our Adam West.
We’re also taking Swashbuckler as our roguish archetype, which feels appropriate for the swinginest Batman around. That gives you Fancy Footwork, which lets you hit a creature and avoid any opportunity attacks if you choose to back off, and Rakish Audacity (which may be one of the best names for a D&D skill), which gives you a bump to your initiative and lets you use your sneak attack more often (oh please oh please can I use sneak attack for unarmed attacks DM? Please?).
Level 11: Rogue 4—Swashbuckler | Fighter 4—Battle Master | Artificer 3—Alchemist
[Str: 18 | Dex: 14 | Con: 10 | Int: 14 | Wis: 8 | Cha: 14]
Fighter Features: Action Surge, Combat Superiority, Student of War (…Jeweler’s Tools?), Maneuvers (Evasive Footwork, Rally, Trip Attack)
ASI/Feat: +1 Str, +1 Dex
Artificer Features: Infusions, Artificer Infusions (Cape of Billowing, Rope of Climbing, Wand of Secrets, Enhanced Defense), The Right Tool for the Job, Tool Proficiency, Alchemist Spells, Experimental Elixir
Spells: Cantrips [Light, Message] Level 1 [Disguise Self, Healing Word, Identify, Ray of Sickness, Snare]
Commentary: At this point, we’ve achieved all our goals for a basic, functional Adam West Batman. I’ve made him a Battle Master fighter, which gives him superiority dice that he can spend on special moves like knocking opponents to the floor (tripping attack), dodging henchmen’s attacks (evasive footwork), or helping his old chum Robin recover from a sock to the jaw (rally).
In terms of melee fighting, we’ve created a pretty proficient pugilist. And while on the one hand you might think this Batman is more MMA than comedy fighting, a lot relies on how you flavor it. Fisticuffs in media exists on a spectrum from comedy to serious that broadly goes like this:
Looney Tunes –> Batman –> Jackie Chan –> WWE –> MMA
So long as you and your DM flavor what you’re doing to stay in that sweet spot between Jackie Chan and Bugs Bunny, you’ll do just fine.
And we’ve given this Batman a few levels in artificer to give him all the Bat-contraptions he could ask for—and alchemical skills that will let him brew up some Bat Shark Repellent to have at the ready. But it is telling that the first, most obvious pick is for him to make a Cape of Billowing, which has no purpose other than to make the wearer look just that little bit more badass.
But what if we went…. Further…
Level 17: Rogue 6—Swashbuckler | Fighter 8—Battle Master | Artificer 3—Alchemist
[Str: 18 | Dex: 13 | Con: 10 | Int: 14 | Wis: 8 | Cha: 14]
Barbarian Features: Rage, Unarmored Defense
Fighter Features: Maneuvers (Tactical Assessment, Quick Toss), Extra Attack, Know Your Enemy
Rogue Features: Uncanny Dodge, Expertise (Persuasion, Athletics)
ASI/Feat: Lucky, Tough
Commentary: Okay, here’s where it gets a bit silly. The extra four levels in Fighter nets us an extra attack (always welcome), two more maneuvers (I chose Tactical Assessment to help his investigations, and quick toss for batarangs—but there are a bunch of good and thematic options), and Know Your Enemy lets you understand some (very) basic information about the supervillain you’re facing this week. The Rogue levels get us uncanny dodge, which is a great way to reduce incoming damage (which our Batman is going to be taking a lot of), and expertise in some of his preferred skills.
For ASIs/Feats, I picked up lucky and tough. Lucky might be the most appropriate pick of this whole build, as it is perfect for practically any comedy character who manages to succeed in spite of themselves. I also grabbed tough because this Batman is going to be taking some hits, and he’ll need all the help he can get not being floored by them.
But what if we went… too far?
Level 20: Rogue 9—Swashbuckler | Fighter 8—Battle Master | Artificer 3—Alchemist
[Str: 18 | Dex: 16 | Con: 10 | Int: 14 | Wis: 8 | Cha: 14]
Rogue Features: Evasion, Panache
ASI/Feat: +2 Dex
Commentary: For the final three levels, let’s bring Swashbuckler up to level 9 to get Batman the excellent skills Evasion and Panache—Evasion lets our Batman avoid the worst brunt of area of effects (like Poison Ivy’s gas cloud), and Panache allows our Batman to taunt an enemy into attacking him rather than Robin or Batgirl.
Is this Batman Build Viable?
In some ways yes—it’s a pretty decent unarmed fighter (that’s not a Monk!), and with the combo of offensive skills brought by Fighter and Defensive skills brought by Rogue, the fact that he’s got 151 HP at level 20 isn’t the very worst thing. Also being based on a rogue core, he’s got some decent skills.
But it’s also a bit of a mess. I intentionally didn’t max out any of the ability scores because it doesn’t quite seem appropriate—like so many TV/Film characters, he’s kind of good (but not amazing) at everything. I had to get Intelligence to 13 to make this build rules legal, but those points could be much better spent making him better at fewer things (and honestly, this Batman is more lucky than adept). And even with the Artificer infusion, his AC is only 14 at level 20. This Batman’s going to get his ass beat.
Making a better Adam West D&D Batman?
Alright, if you want to play an Adam West Batman, let’s focus up and try to do fewer things, but do them better. Ditch the potion making, and let luck and intuition largely cover the investigative skills. Let’s focus on punching people and being a swingin’ guy while doing it. Here’s my improved Adam West Batman.
Level 20: Rogue 9—Swashbuckler | Fighter 11—Battle Master
[Str: 20 | Dex: 16 | Con: 12 | Int: 8 | Wis: 8 | Cha: 14]
Trading out artificer for three more levels of fighter allows you to pick up a third attack per action, which improves your damage output considerably (though let’s be honest, it’s still fairly mediocre at 3d8+15, for someone at level 20). The key issue with rogue/fighters like this is that the rogue’s best friend, sneak attack, only works for finesse or ranged weapons, and your fists are not finesse weapons (no, not even if you take Monk levels). So your best bet is to have a secondary weapon that you use for sneak attacks—either a boomerang or dart styled as a batarang, or a dagger if you can style it into something character appropriate—and then switch over to the unarmed strikes.
Even with an 8 in Wisdom, with Expertise you can still get a respectable +11. And for the love of all that is holy, put some pants on; get your Batman some armor; even basic studded leather brings him up to a less-terrible 15. Bumping our constitution to 12 means we now have 174hp, which helps his survivability.
So, ultimately with this build you’ve got a showboating unarmed melee fighter who can grapple anybody to the floor or dance them off it, with a million other tricks up his sleeve. And when all of those run out, he still seems to have all the luck in the world on his side.
Meaning, effectively, I’ve swapped out Adam West for Dwayne Johnson.
I regret nothing.
What is your favorite version of Batman? What would you like to see me build next?