“All I am surrounded by is fear… and dead men.”
Beware the dark lord of the Sith, Darth Vader! Sorry about the delay folks, had some real life issues crop up but we’re back this week with my personal favorite movie villain of all time. I took to the Internet in search of the wisest nerds and gamers, all to figure out the best way to represent Darth Vader at the everyman’s gaming table. If you haven’t had the ultimate plot twist in Star Wars spoiled for you yet, what are you doing here!? Let’s embrace the dark side and get started!
Once a Jedi Knight named Anakin Skywalker, Vader was seduced by the dark side of the Force. In a selfish attempt to keep his loved ones from dying, he was driven ever closer to madness and brought tyranny to the galaxy. Only in death was Vader redeemed, sacrificing himself to save his son, Luke.
Vader is easily comparable to a level 20 character in his own universe, canonically the being with the most potential in the Force in history. Only Yoda and Palpatine can hold a candle to him in his era, though his maiming at the hands of his former master Obi-Wan Kenobi made sure he could never become as powerful as he could be. Still, Vader was feared for good reason over the course of the 20 odd years he was active as a Sith lord. Let’s take a look at how you can build the Emperor’s apprentice at your table.
“He’s more machine than man.” Old Ben Kenobi’s words to Luke are something we’re going to take a bit literally today as we take a look at what makes Vader tick. Sure, under the 4 metal limbs, heavy armor, vacuum sealed pressure suit and host of life support systems there’s a pasty white burn victim, but for the most part Vader’s practical bits are all durasteel. We’ll be building Vader as a Warforged from the Unearthed Arcana: Eberron test play material. If you’re going for a pure AL build, substitute something like Variant Human or Aasimar to represent his natural giftedness.
- +1 to STR- Vader’s fighting style utilizes the lightsaber, a longsword that’s basically comprised of refracted plasma. Vader needs his mechanical limbs’ enhanced strength to cleave through his enemies’ defenses.
- +1 to CON- The suit that houses Vader is his prison, but it is also his armor. Vader can take crushing blows and keep fighting, even surviving impaling himself with his own lightsaber to kill his enemy. He’s one hardcore edgelord.
- Composite Plating- The armored portions of Vader’s suit, like his gloves, greaves and pauldrons, have been treated with lightsaber resistant materials. Vader isn’t winning any awards for his agility, so his extra +1 to AC that this feature gives him makes a difference.
- Living Construct- Incredibly fitting for Vader, this ability lets the Warforged become immune to disease, eliminates the need to breathe or eat, and only require an inactive period of 4 hours daily for rest, during which they are aware of their surroundings. Vader’s life support system breathes for him and his suit contains enough oxygen for him to survive the vacuum of space. His suit’s filters make him immune to disease, and the pain he is constantly experiencing makes it nearly impossible for him to sleep. Instead, Vader meditates, focusing his power in the dark side to channel his pain into rejuvenating power. Really super thematic!
Like all of our builds, we’re going with a 27 point buy. We’re trying to get the flavor of Vader, but clearly you can add points where you’d like if your GM gives you that opportunity. At the end of the build, hopefully we’ll have an incredibly effective and awe-inspiring Vader to whip out at your next level 20 one-shot!
- STR: 15 (+1) Vader wants this as high as possible starting out. In canon, he has crushed throats and bones with his cybernetic hands, so his enhanced strength from his cybernetics is clear. He’ll be a deadly swordsman to be sure!
- DEX: 8 Vader’s sword strikes are fast, and he can even motivate the old cybernetic limbs with the Force if he needs to, but compared to the average organic, Vader is clunky and awkward. He’s adapted his fighting style to minimize the need for dexterity, relying instead on endurance and power.
- CON: 13 (+1) We need the points elsewhere, but just know that between his armor and his 14 starting CON, Vader should be able to take a decent amount of hits. He’ll be a frontline combatant, so boost this and STR when you can.
- INT: 10 Vader was always a natural at physical activities like lightsaber combat, but outside of mechanical knowledge he was never an academic. Neither was he an idiot, so this score stays average for a Player Character.
- WIS: 10 Vader’s judgment has improved from when he was Anakin Skywalker, but not -that- much. He is driven by fear and self-hatred, and is vulnerable to fits of rage. It took many years for him to finally see through the lies of the Emperor, and even longer to oppose him. So, not the most outstanding wisdom score.
- CHA: 15 This is a fun way to represent Vader’s commanding presence. He’s not charismatic in the way one would normally describe it, but much like Snape, Vader commands a room immediately. From his intimidating height and armor to his crimson red blade, few stand before Vader without terror in their heart.
Anakin Skywalker was a Jedi Knight, and a good friend to Obi-Wan Kenobi until the young knight betrayed his Order. But before his betrayal, he was a key figure in the Clone Wars, the conflict that threw the galaxy into upheaval before the establishment of the Empire. As this war was a key reason for Anakin’s mindframe before his transformation into Darth Vader, we’ll be giving him the Soldier background.
- Athletics & Intimidation Proficiency- Anakin was a skilled military commander, often turning the tide of battle with his presence alone. Storming a Separatist base on his own was often an option for him, and he was a fast mover. Though his suit has reduced his agility, Vader can rely on his cybernetics to pick up the slack for feats of athleticism. His ability to intimidate and cow others into submitting to his orders was a skill he developed in the war, but honed to perfection as a Sith.
- Land Vehicle Proficiency- Although Anakin was a very gifted pilot, there’s really no good comparison for that in D&D 5e. If your campaign features flying vehicles or animals, feel free to approach your GM about trading this for Flying Vehicles/Animal Handling.
- Gaming Set proficiency- Not really relevant to Vader any more, he probably played a round or two of Pazzac or Sabbac to pass the time with his clone troopers. Might be handy for spotting a cheat to be proficient at cards.
- Feature: Military Rank- Vader is technically outside of the typical Imperial command structure, reporting only to the Emperor or whomever the Emperor assigns him to report to. Otherwise, Vader may command any Imperial soldier or officer with impunity.
This will be one of the more complex builds that we’ve done here on Building Character, mostly just because of the staggering range of abilities Vader brings to bear. A nearly peerless swordsman and uncannily powerful Force user, how can we translate that neatly into a character? The answer is: Not perfectly, I’ll tell you that much.
Fortunately, the build is doable in a few different ways. The one we’re going with is all derived from the Player’s Handbook & Xanathar’s Guide, but if you really wanted to stretch out the UA Mystic class, there’s some sick things you could create with Vader in mind.
First, Vader will begin his career as a Paladin. This gives us some pretty baller proficiencies and a few skills to sweeten the deal. We want 10 levels of Paladin by the end of the build, Oath of Conquest subclass. It’s not terrifically important where we mix in the other classes, feel it out and supplement martial/arcane class features where required.
We’ll start mixing in some Divine Soul Sorcerer when we want to really kick Vader’s Force powers into high gear. This also gives him more spell slots for those kickin’ Divine Smites, so that’s a bonus! We’ll mix in no more than 8 levels of Sorcerer.
Finally, it’s a good idea to gussy up Vader relatively early with 2 levels of Fiend patron Warlock. This gives a feeling of “the dark side” that Vader has pledged himself to, and really lets us play around with a few features that add a ton of flavor. Let’s explore his features now!
- Starting Proficiency- Starting with proficiency in heavy armor and martial weapons is a grand place for Vader to begin his conquest of the galaxy. Wisdom saving throw proficiency is solid, and although Charisma saving throws are rare, spells like Banishment would really throw off Vader’s groove. We’ll look at his grand total of skills in that section.
- Divine Sense- Being able to sense a powerful opponent is cool in-game, but this works even better if your GM lets you flavor it as detecting light or dark side Force users nearby.
- Lay On Hands- Not really one to heal others, Vader can sustain himself when critically injured through the overwhelming power of the dark side.
- Fighting Style- Needing to adapt to his bulky new armor, Vader re-tooled his acrobatic fighting style from his time as a Jedi into something much more suited for his new… situation. We’re going with the Defense style to boost his AC by 1. Between this and being Warforged, we can avoid using a shield and still get that super sweet 20 AC!
- Spellcasting- I’ll go into some sample spells that we can give Vader in the Spellcasting section of this build.
- Divine Smite- Flavor this as channeling the might of the Force into Vader’s blows, and go nuts as you hack your way through his enemies.
- Divine Health- Superfluous since we’re already a Warforged.
- Sacred Oath- Conquest works here a bit too well to ignore. If they ever put the term “Lawful Evil” in a dictionary, Darth Vader’s face will be right next to that entry.
- Channel Divinity- Being able to strike fear into men’s hearts with his very presence is classic Vader. His other channeling option, Guided Strike, almost certainly guarantees a hit on an attack, representing Vader’s incredible swordsmanship.
- Extra Attack- Relentlessly moving forward and striking is kinda what Vader does.
- Aura of Protection- I like to flavor this as the sheer terror that a creature feels facing Vader makes them less confident in their abilities, giving Vader a better chance to evade/tank their abilities.
- Aura of Conquest- Capitalize on your opponents’ fear by rooting them to the spot, helplessly awaiting your unstoppable arrival and crimson blade.
- Aura of Courage- If Vader is commanding his troops, they probably wouldn’t fear anything that their enemies can throw at them; the scariest thing in any given star system is on their side, in the room with them.
- Divine Soul- We’ll be going with the Evil alignment spell option, Inflict Wounds. Very dark side.
- Favored By the Gods- More like favored by the midichlorians, amirite? But seriously, a common theme amongst Vader’s foes is their inability to grasp how he gets so lucky all the time. Go read the current Marvel run of Vader’s comics, and you’ll see how underestimating Vader’s tenacity & resilience is often the last mistake his enemies ever make.
- Font of Magic- Incredibly helpful for pulling off some fun, thematic spells. Quickened Hold Person/Grasp of Hadar-ized Eldritch Blast, anyone?
- Metamagic- My personal pick of options for Vader to really get thematic are Quickened Spell and Subtle Spell, but you can really play around with your choices here for some crazy goodness.
- Empowered Healing- Like before, Vader doesn’t really heal others. But in almost any circumstance where the dark lord is tested, he grits his teeth and channels the dark side to keep himself moving. Really cool to make Vader an unrelenting monster of a combatant.
- Otherworldly Patron- Going with the Fiend means that we will be encouraged to keep killing, feeding on the dark side to sustain us as we’ll see next.
- Dark One’s Blessing- Constantly gaining temporary HP from killing enemies is amazing flavor for giving into the dark side and sustaining yourself on its power. Quick and easy, but not necessarily long lasting.
- Eldritch Invocations- Grasp of Hadar and Repelling Blast are awesome flavor options to turn Eldritch Blast into Force Pull/Push. Damaging an opponent while grabbing them by the throat and ripping them closer to your blade is pure Vader, baby.
Since we start with Athletics & Intimidation from our background, we only have 2x extra skills to use from our Paladin starting class: Insight, and Religion.
Insight is a fun skill for Vader to have, since he’s constantly having to deal with weaselly Imperial officers trying to explain why it’s somebody else’s fault that the attack plan failed. It’s also thematic that he looks deep within near the end of his life to know what the right thing to do is. Like passing an incredibly high Insight check at long last.
As for Religion, Vader is one of the last surviving beings in the galaxy with working knowledge of the Force. He can recognize when people use the Force, and knows how to recognize places and objects of power in the Force. Arcana would work if we wanted to replace it with a background skill, but I like the idea of Vader having his “sad devotion to that ancient religion”.
SUN. BLADE. Pester your GM for a Sun Blade, and never ask them for anything ever again. Full Stop.
Let’s take a look and see if there’s anything you can squeeze in between boosting Vader’s STR, CON, and CHA.
- Blade Mastery- From the Feats UA, if you can snag this one you should! Really lends to the flavor of Vader being a master swordsman.
- Sentinel- Hit them so hard they stop moving. Then hit them again. And again.
- War Caster- Being able to maintain concentration in combat and keep both hands on your weapon? Hella dope.
Vader’s spellcasting should be geared towards making him as close to his canonical power level as possible. Here’s a look at some ways for Vader to tap into the power of the Force:
- Command- Force Dominate your foes.
- Detect Magic- Open your senses to the Force.
- Hold Person- Force Stasis!
- Eldritch Blast- Force Push/Pull with crushing power.
- Mage Hand- Fine manipulation of small objects.
- Haste- Channel Force speed for when Vader needs to be faster!
- Counterspell- Turn aside your opponents’ Force powers.
- Feather Fall- Levitate down from tall heights.
- Catapult- Bombard your foes with whatever’s on hand!
HERE is a link to the character sheet folder for the site, containing Vader’s to start with. Beginning this week and continuing into the future, I’ll be posting all of the completed character sheets for these builds into this Google Docs folder, so anyone can access and download them.
That’s it for this week! Tune in next week, where we’ll be building…
Morrigan, the Witch of the Wilds from Dragon Age! Seeya next time!