Perhaps the most famous superhero of all time (and certainly the one with the biggest number of film adaptations under his utility belt) is Batman. A stand-out in the DC universe, Batman has no superpowers barring his colossal wealth and indomitable willpower, but he doesn’t let that stop him from taking on challenges ranging from street gangs, to homicidal clowns, to alien invasions. For those who want to bring a touch of the Dark Knight into a Pathfinder game it’s actually a lot easier than you might think.
For my Avengers character builds, check out this link.
If you’re more interested in a Spider-Man build, then go here.
As with any hero it’s important to begin at the beginning. Batman is a human, which gives him a bonus skill point and a bonus feat at character creation. He doesn’t really have a dump stat, but strength, dexterity, intelligence, and charisma are going to be some of the most important stats. Use your +2 to one stat carefully, and remember that it’s better to have several middling-to-high stats than a single, superhumanly high one with this build.
Lastly you’re going to need to choose two traits. There are a huge number of options, and there’s no right or wrong choice; there are simply some traits that will be more effective than others. For this build I recommend taking dangerously curious which provides a +1 bonus to the use magic device skill, and reactionary which provides a +2 bonus to initiative. Other options are viable depending on which approach you’re taking with the character, but your traits should always be used to provide the most actionable bonuses possible.
There may have been more arguments about what class best fits Batman than any other topic in superhero-related character builds. Some people argue for ranger, since he knows his city intimately and has studied criminals and creatures for years to gain an edge in fighting them. Others argue for the inquisitor, who uses guile, grit, and divine magic to weed out injustice. For this build however we are not going to give Batman any magic, or have him pray to any gods for assistance in his crusade. He has his wits, his skills, his tools, and a reserve of inner spirit that allows him to occasionally do things that look impossible.
For our purposes Batman is a ninja.
Class Skills and Abilities
The ninja is located on page 13 of Ultimate Combat, and it provides our dark avenger with a slew of skill choices. To best mimic the skills we so often see Batman use in his films and comics we need to include Bluff and Diplomacy (for interrogations), Acrobatics and Climb (to maneuver on the battlefield and get to those high places he’s so fond of), Disable Device and Escape Artist (because there are no security measures that can keep him out or locked up), Perception and Stealth (to see but not be seen), and Use Magic Device (because of all the gadgets he’ll be throwing around). Those use the nine skill points a ninja is guaranteed (8+1 for being human, assuming no intelligence modifier), but if you have bonus points to spend after that useful skills include Sense Motive, Knowledge (local) [this one’s really a priority], Disguise, Craft (Alchemy) [if you’re making your own equipment], or Linguistics.
As far as a ninja’s class abilities there are several that your Dark Knight can use to his advantage. At first level you gain poison use, which can be used to tip the odds startlingly in your favor (and allow things like knock-out shuriken if you apply just a hint of Drow poison onto the little batarangs). You gain sneak attack, which is the order of the day for Batman, and you also add in abilities like No Trace which makes you harder to track. Uncanny Dodge and Improved Uncanny Dodge are on the list, and you even gain a ki pool.
Much like rogues, ninjas gain access to a series of tricks. This allows you to build a more specialized ninja, as well as one with a certain flair for a given set of abilities. You gain a trick at every even-numbered level, and for those who want to become a terror in their own right these tricks can help a lot. Recommended tricks are as follows, but you can change up the order if you feel different tricks would be more helpful earlier on.
– Flurry of Stars Spend a ki point and throw an additional shuriken when making a full attack action, though all rolls are at -2 (Ultimate Combat 15).
– Vanishing Trick Spend a ki point to vanish as invisibility for 1 round per level. (Ultimate Combat 15)
– Fast Stealth Move at full speed while using the stealth skill at no penalty. (Ultimate Combat 15)
– Smoke Bomb Allows ninja to throw a smoke bomb that acts as a smoke stick for 1 ki point. (Ultimate Combat 15)
– Poison Bomb Add any inhaled poison you have to a smoke bomb. (Ultimate Combat 16)
– Choking Bomb Living creatures inside a smoke bomb must make a fortitude save or be staggered for 1d4 rounds; may be combined with poison bombs. (Ultimate Combat 15)
– Blinding Bomb Living creatures inside a smoke bomb must make a fortitude save or be blinded for 1d4 rounds; may be combined with poison but not choking bombs. (Ultimate Combat 17)
– Ghost Step Spend 1 ki point to walk through solid objects as if incorporeal for 1 round. (Ultimate Combat 17)
Again, this is just a recommended list. Some players might feel that the Darkvision trick or See the Unseen are better for their Batman builds. Unarmed Combat Training is another good one for those who are going to be going hand-to-hand. As long as the tricks function and help achieve the goal, then go right ahead and take what you want to.
Batman would require practically every feat in the book in order to build him accurately to the comics. Since you don’t have that option it’s important to prioritize which feats get used and which get thrown by the wayside. Especially since ninja don’t gain any bonus feats (but really, do they need them?). The list below is merely a recommendation; as always, different players might have different feat trees or abilities they’d rather focus on.
– Point Blank Shot +1 on ranged attacks within 30 feet. (Core Rulebook 131)
– Precise Shot Ignore the -4 penalty to ranged attacks when target is in melee. (Core Rulebook 131)
– Quick Draw Allows you to draw a weapon as a free action (ideal for full attacks with shuriken). (Core Rulebook 131)
– Improved Unarmed Strike Deal lethal or non-lethal damage with unarmed strikes, and do not provoke attacks of opportunity. (Core Rulebook 128)
– Dodge Gain +1 to your armor class. (Core Rulebook 122)
– Mobility Gain +4 to your armor class against attacks of opportunity provoked by moving. (Core Rulebook 130)
– Spring Attack You may move up to your speed, and make an attack at any point during that movement without provoking any attacks of opportunity from the target. (Core Rulebook 134)
– Leadership You attract loyal followers, including a cohort. What’s Batman without a Robin? (Core Rulebook 129)
– Skill Focus (Stealth) This feat grants you a +3 on stealth, and a +6 once you have 10 or more ranks of it. (Core Rulebook 134)
– Hellcat Stealth You may make stealth checks in bright light, or while being observed. You take a -10 to these checks, but they can be made. (Cheliax: Empire of Devils)
Tools of The Trade
One of the most iconic things about Batman is that he is prepared for every, possible situation. He always has spare batarangs, a hidden lock pick, a holdout block of plastic explosive, or something else equally useful for the situation at hand. So while your ninja abilities and feat selection are impressive, some of the biggest keys to building an effective Batman come from what you keep in your utility belt.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, alchemical items are your friend. Here is a list of some of the best items you can have, but it’s important to keep as many options open as possible. From tanglefoot bags and troll styptics to anti-venom and anti-toxins, these alchemical bonuses can be game changers when it comes time to fight against impossible, overwhelming odds. Especially if the rest of the party goes down and you need to get the job done with a little bit of creativity. It’s important to use these items to create concealment, entangle the enemy, and to shift the odds until you can swoop in and wreck your enemies properly.
As was famously said in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns Batman puts a target on his chest because he can’t armor his head; the same is true of the ninja. Light armor is the order of the day, which is why it’s important to get as much protection out of it as possible. A mithril chain shirt is useful, but one with slick or shadow on it will likely be the best bet for your Batman. If you want other suggestions for improving your armor class, check out this article.
Batman’s weapons tend to be his fists, and the ninja’s main weapon is sneak attack, but you can still accessorize. Blunt trauma is not always the way to go, and if someone lacks a magic weapon then many creatures are capable of shrugging off a lot of punishment thanks to damage reduction. That’s why it’s a good idea to have a variety on hand.
Shuriken are a no-brainer, as the batarang is a trademark weapon. You can add poison to them, but you can also get magical shuriken in small bundles to make sure you have something for every situation. Fire, ice, acid, bane, holy; whatever you need, it fits right at your hip. Cestus, spiked gauntlets, and even brass knuckles allow you to add magical weapon bonuses to your unarmed attacks, as well as to add piercing damage into your repertoire. It’s also never a bad idea to put the ninja’s shortbow proficiency to use, particularly with magical or alchemical arrows.
Lastly, while they might not seem like weapons in the traditional sense, never underestimate the usefulness of a net or a lasso. Both of them are exotic weapons, but both of them function off of touch attacks. Both of them cost silver pieces, and both of them leave your enemies entangled. The lasso actually means they can’t get away until they take the time to escape from, break, or cut the rope.
Every infamous item on the Dark Knight’s utility belt can be duplicated with relative ease if you have the funds and know where to look. While the belt of many pockets remains a Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 item, a Handy Haversack (Core Rulebook 516) will get the job done just as well. The iron bands of binding (Core Rulebook 521) is a handy, projectile weapon for locking a large or smaller creature into immobility, and they can be used once per day. The cloak of the bat (Core Rulebook 506) is a natural pick for the stealth bonus and flying abilities, and it pairs well with the boots of elvenkind. Sat-enhancing items are universally useful, from belts to headbands, but it’s important to prioritize what gets the biggest bonus first. Remember a ninja’s saves are determined by his charisma score. A vest of escape (Core Rulebook 532) is great for getting past traps and getting out of sticky situations, which makes it a necessary purchase along with the gloves of reconnaissance (Ultimate Equipment) which allow you to see through up to 15 feet of material just by putting your hands on it. The ultimate combination for those who need a last-ditch effort though is to purchase fogcutter lenses (Rise of the Runelords Anniversary Edition or Ultimate Equipment), and then to pair those with an eversmoking bottle (Core Rulebook 512). The result is a field of fog where you can see them, but they can’t see you.
Every Batman build should keep a few wands on his person (especially if those wands are paired with spring-loaded sheaths, which is the only way to pull a wand as a swift action). A wand of force hook charge (Ultimate Magic 220) can easily duplicate the grapple gun we all know and love, and wands for everything from cure spells to protection from evil can give you and your allies the edge in combat. Just because a spell is low-level that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good one to have on hand. Just as a hint, a wand of color spray will be your best friend until about level 5.
Lastly, it’s a good idea to keep a few scrolls handy. Whether it’s something as life-saving as heal or breath of life, or just one of those spells like planeshift that only comes up once in a blue moon it’s good to be prepared for everything the DM and the world can throw at you. If you know that you’re going into a land filled to bursting with undead monsters, fire-breathing dragons, or mechanical monstrosities, then make sure you prepare accordingly and use your one-shot spells sparingly.
Bringing it All Together
Having the abilities, the tools, and the skills is a good start. You need one more thing though; smarts. Not a high intelligence score or an extra feat, but the knowledge of strategy and methodology to breathe life into the character and how he (or she if you’d prefer to make your Dark Knight a woman) accomplishes tasks. Part of that is battlefield positioning, using the environment to your advantage, and making sure that you have a plan that can account for any spell that’s cast, or any ability that’s used. The rest of it is making sure you have a story that fits the world, and that you know what it is your caped crusader wants out of the situation.
Is your Batman the child of privilege, trained in a monastery after the murder of his noble-born parents who stalks the streets to bring law and order to his city? Is she perhaps an agent of the crown, who uses her skills to bring down dictators and to save the lives of people who will never actually know her name? Or was your Batman born in the gutter, taken in by a clan of ninja who is beginning to gather a private army in order to combat the wrongs of the world as they see them? Once you know who your Batman is, and what he or she wants, then you’ll know what goals the character has and in what way those goals are going to be achieved.
If you’ve ever wondered why superheroes wear costumes, your answer is right here.
For more gaming goodness check out my gaming blog Improved Initiative.