Black Widow’s original release date was May 25th, which means that if not because of current events, we would have seen the film already. Since we have to wait until November to do so, let’s take this opportunity to write a piece on this amazing character. Despite her origins as an agent of evil, Natasha Romanoff has become a force for good in the world of covert intelligence and super heroics. Like her namesake arachnid, Romanoff is stealthy, precise, and absolutely lethal. Let’s welcome Black Widow to the world of Dungeons & Dragons.
«Love is for children; I owe that man a debt.»
Before we start, it’s best if we are reminded of the rules we set as our standard in order to transform pop culture icons into D&D characters:
- This will be done following the rules for the 5th Edition. Core rules, official supplements and Unearthed Arcana content are fair game.
- Sometimes we’ll pick a rules element for mechanic purposes. If it’s just for that, we’ll probably suggest flavorful re-doings for such elements.
- The build is not meant to be optimized, but to reflect the character as much as possible.
- Finally, we will follow the step-by-step character creation process as it is shown in the Player’s Handbook, but brace up for the unexpected when it comes to going beyond first level.
And now let’s set our goals. Ruthless, efficient, and exceptionally skilled, Natasha strikes fear into the hearts of her enemies. Although she once operated on the side of evil, her innate heroism allowed her to overcome her upbringing and defect, setting her on a lifelong path of redemption. Gifted spy Natasha Romanoff is more than worthy of her moniker, Black Widow.
Black Widow is a deadly one-woman fighting force. Her extensive training in the Red Room made Natasha into a warrior with few peers. She is skilled in many forms of martial arts including aikido, judo, karate, savate, and boxing. In addition, she is an amazing gymnast, and uses her acrobatics to gain an edge in combat. She also possesses superhuman strength, speed, agility, and endurance. As deadly in darkness as she is in light, Natasha stands among the greatest covert assassins in the world. And in addition to her deadly skills, Romanoff also ages at an incredibly slowed rate thanks to a variant of the Super-Soldier serum that she was once given.
Finally, she never comes unprepared and brings many gadgets to help her combat her enemies. Her black body suit is composed of a kevlar-like substance created for maximum protection. It is equipped with two bracelets on each wrist that fire the “widow’s bite”, a high-frequency electrostatic bolt with a range of 20 feet that discharges up to 30,000 volts, able to stop even a superhuman opponent. Her belt occasionally contains discs with the explosive power of four pounds of TNT.
The Sting of the Widow
Our very first step is selecting the race. Born in the Soviet Union, clearly we’re dealing with a human. She’s not just any human, though: she was chosen given her abilities to endure the Red Room training, so we have made her a varian human, which will provide a useful feat (Athlete) and skill proficiency (Athletics).
Regarding class, it’s easy to say Black Widow is an assassin, and that’s is a Rogue archetype. Nonetheless, and given her amazing unarmored martial skills, as well as her uncanny ability to avoid harm in combat, we have come to the conclusion she must have some levels of Monk. Besides, maybe assassin may not be the best archetype for her, but we’ll get there in the next section. In the meantime, let’s start with Rogue and the following proficiencies:
- Light Armor
- Simple weapons, hand crossbows, longswords, rapiers and shortswords
- Thieves’ tools
- Dexterity and Intelligence saving throws
- Acrobatics, Investigation, Persuasion and Sleight of Hand skills
We picked Athletics and Acrobatics for the Expertise benefit. Sneak Attack speaks by itself, but we’ll make a quick change to Thieves’ Cant, replacing it with a secret language: the Red Code. Having been trained by the Red Room cabal (an espionage agency), our hero and her peers have developed a secret method of communication which they can use to hide messages in seemingly normal conversations. Only another member of the cabal can understand such a message, and it takes longer to convey such a message than it does to speak the same idea plainly.
Being such a mobile athlete and super spy, Black Widow is plainly screaming to have her highest score set to Dexterity (and there’s a +1 to her score given by the Athlete feat). Second in the list is Charisma, as she relies on her acting and interrogation skills to get the job done hoping there will be no combat (and no evidence of her presence). Wisdom and Intelligence come tied in third place representing wit, smarts and willpower. As she doesn’t excel in brute force or stamina, we’ll be dumping both Strength and Constitution.
Even if she starts as a villain, Black Widow evolves into a hero and for moments she sticks to the right side of the law and government, but not for long. We think it’s very clear that her alignment has a chaotic element as she has freedom as a top priority and she never hesitates into going off-the-grid when a government wants to force her hand. With a criminal variant background as a Spy, we’ll round up her skills tray with Deception and Stealth.
- Personality Trait: «I always have a plan for what to do when things go wrong.»
- Ideal: «Chains are meant to be broken, as are those who would forge them.»
- Bond: «I’m guilty of terrible crimes. I hope I can redeem myself for it.»
- Flaw: «An innocent person is in prison for a crime that I committed. I’m okay with that.»
As for her equipment, she must deal with using what she has on hands, so she only stays with a diminutive version of a hand crossbow that she can (usually) conceal very well. Other signature equipment, such as the «widow’s bite», will be represented by class features in the following levels.
Web of Intrigue
As we mentioned above, Black Widow’s combat style (including that famous leg scissor choke in IronMan 2) made us think she also shares some of the Monk features.
For her second level, Natasha will multiclass as a Monk, and from there, she will be alternating levels as Rogue and Monk. The first few times she gets an ability score improvement, she will instead pick a feat. The progression we suggest goes as follows:
- Rog1 – as described above
- Mnk1 – Unarmored Defense, Martial Arts
- Rog2 – Cunning Action
- Mnk2 – Ki, Unarmored Movement
- Rog3 – Roguish Archetype: Mastermind (Master of Intrigue and Master of Tactics)
- Mnk3 – Deflect Missiles, Monastic Tradition: Way of Shadow (Shadow Arts)
- Rog4 – Feat: Crossbow expert
- Mnk4 – Slow fall, feat: Alert
- Rog5 – Uncanny dodge
- Mnk5 – Extra Attack, Stunning Strike
- Rog6 – Expertise: Deception, Stealth
- Mnk6 – Ki-empowered Strikes, Shadow Step
- Rog7 – Evasion
- Rog8 – Ability Score Improvement
- Rog9 – Insightful Manipulator
- Rog10 – Ability Score Improvement
- Rog11 – Reliable Talent
- Rog12 – Ablity Score Improvement
- Rog13 – Misdirection
- Rog14 – Blindsense
We have picked these archetypes because they fit pretty well into Black Widow’s modus operandi: intrigue and subterfuge are the main focus of the Mastermind and the Way of Shadow. Master of Intrigue allows her to impersonate native people of any land she is visiting, and Master of Tactics makes her a valuable ally in the middle of combat as she points weaknesses in their enemies. On the other hand, Shadow Arts and its darkness, darkvision, pass without trace, silence and minor illusion effects can be reflavored as the gadgets she always has in hand. In the same manner, Stunning Strike is precisely her «widow’s bite», effectively leaving an opponent incapacitated for a short time. Later on, Shadow Step and Misdirection provide extra mobility and all those special moves Scarlett Johanson has immortalized in the MCU, as Insightful Manipulator allows her to assess their enemies and get a clear idea of their powers and abilities.
Alternatively, if certain magic equipment is not available for her in middle tier, Magical Adept might provide additional gadget effects, such as shocking grasp, message and disguise self. It can be selected by 14th level, instead of the Rogue’s 8th level Ability Score Improvement. This trait can be used when selected to augment Dexterity and Wisdow until getting the maximum score possible.
- Race: Human (variant) (PH 104)
- Classes: Rogue (PH 94), Monk (PH 54)
- Background: Criminal (PH 129)
- Feats: Athlete, Crossbow Expert, Alert (PH 165)
- Archetypes: Mastermind (XGtE ), Way of Shadow (PH 80)
So, what do you think? Are you planning to give Black Widow a place in one of your character sheets? Do you have any other ideas to better represent her, maybe just as a full assassin? Leave your comment below along your best roundhouse kick!