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We always planned pop culture character builds as part of our site content. In fact, when we first started designing the site, a Moon Knight character build was one of our sample articles. When it came time to actually launch Splitting Image, however, Venom was the obvious choice.
Not only do Eddie and his symbiote alter ego wear the black “pudding” especially well, they’re in the midst of a resurgence in popularity. Marvel Comics is in the middle of a massive crossover event—King in Black—that has Eddie and Venom at the center. These characters have also launched a successful movie franchise with a sequel set to make landfall soon.
When Marvel Comics introduced Venom, it brought the Spidey-verse face-to-face with three classic horror elements: cosmic horror, body horror, and psychological horror. Since then, Eddie and Venom have been many things, including being dubbed Marvel’s “Lethal Protector” after the seminal six-issue character arc.
Like the character—Venom’s backstory is a little over the place—but the areas we wanted to define our build were both its horror roots, and this idea of Eddie being a lethal protector, a man of principle broken, and handed a living weapon hungry for violence.
- Eddie and Venom’s symbiotic relationship is paramount to the character. It must be unsettling, and terrifying.
- Riding shotgun with a symbiote gives Eddie access to a malleable form and endless transformations.
- Venom must have access to bite and claw attacks plus high resistance, defense, and healing.
- Venom should have high perception and alertness a la Spidey Sense, and great tracking abilities.
- The symbiote must have an ability to infect others as it grows more and more pervasive.
This was a surprisingly challenging choice to make. Changeling is probably the clear option, with the ability to alter their appearance. Kalashtar would be a fun way to implement the dueling—and dual personalities—between Venom an Eddie. Shifters have the ability to change between two forms, and have a bite attack, which is classic Venom.
Ultimately, though, I took a page out of Curt Conners’ book and went Lizardfolk. I know, I know, Venom is nothing like a lizard, but if we hand wave the scales, what we get from the racial traits are quintessential symbiote. Lizardfolk not only get a bite attack, but they can use that bite to regain hit points. They also have natural armor, because our man in black only needs the symbiote. Additionally, Hunter’s Lore buff their skills when tracking down pesky little spiders. Lastly, Cunning Artisan might require some more narrative hand waving, but I appreciate the idea of Venom seeing something from a slain enemy and emulating it in symbiote form. If there’s a trademark of the symbiote, it’s fashioning all kinds of weapons out of horrifying sludge. That’s something we can get behind here at BLACKPUDDING.
With Hunter’s Lore, Venom gained proficiency in Stealth and Survival. For hunting prey.
Since we missed the opportunity to capture Venom’s shape-shifting ability when picking a race, we’ll make up for it with class selection. The Druid’s access to Wildshape is the most obvious choice to introduce transformations, even if Venom is more about weapons than beasts. Fortunately, Circle of Spores exists and helps brings body-horror elements to the front.
For the skill proficiencies provided by the Druid class, it made the most sense to give Venom Insight and Perception. Eddie might often be played for a dunce, but he’s a reporter by trade, so we want to show that he’s observant and has plenty of street smarts.
To keep it consistent, for Venom’s ability scores, we used the standard array.
Wisdom (15) +1
Constitution (14) +2
The aforementioned street smarts put Eddie’s Wisdom on top as a function of class need. Constitution is next, as Venom is one hardy—ahem—badass. Dexterity and Strength are ultimately a toss up (and should both be higher), but I prioritized Dexterity as it will allow Venom to multiclass without restriction. Eddie’s fairly likeable, but he’s also a jerk so Charisma is next and Intelligence is the dump stat. Venom’s more likely to eat brains than use them.
The Faceless background works perfectly for Venom and Eddie, giving them proficiency in Deception and Intimidation, while unlocking the Dual Personality feature, and access to the Abyssal language. Proficiency in Disguise kits helps mechanically support Venom’s skill in changing their appearance.
Choosing the starting equipment option gave Venom a sickle, a spear, leather armor, explorer’s pack, a druidic focus, disguise kit, and a costume.
It was mandatory for Venom that starting spells help define its symbiote-based abilities, so we chose the following:
- Primal Savagery: the ability to turn hands and teeth into gnarled, acidic claws and fangs at will is a must.
- Thorn Whip: Venom’s tendril game is deadly and on point.
- Entangle: Venom covers the area with a roiling, symbiotic mess, impeding everyone’s ability to move.
- Jump: Venom has hops for a big man.
- Fog Cloud: When Venom or their allies need to slip into darkness, it creates an inky plume.
- Cure Wounds: While Eddie’s inside the symbiote, he’s all but impossible to kill.
At only first level, this is a pretty diverse, and character-driven list of spells including symbiote-fueled offense, control, utility, buffs, and healing.
At level two, Druids gain the ability to select their druid circle. For Venom, the obvious choice is Circle of Spores and all its symbiotic goodness. Only for them it’s a ravenous alien instead of mushrooms. Under this circle, Eddie gains access to the following:
- Chill Touch (spell): A skeletal (see: symbiote) hand reaches out and inflicts 1d8 necrotic damage and envelops the target preventing it from being able to heal.
- Halo of Spores (feature): Eddie is encased in symbiotic spores that can be flung at enemies as a reaction for 1d4 necrotic damage any time a creature comes within ten feet of him.
- Symbiotic Entity (feature): It’s all in the name. Turns Wildshape into fueling Venom’s symbiotic abilities. Temporary hit points, advantage on Halo of Spores damage, and an extra 1d6 of Necrotic damage on melee weapon attacks.
For their additional 1st-level spell, Absorb Elements is a good way to emulate Venom’s Kylntar resiliency. Just make sure to “honor-system” it when it comes to fire or thunder damage types.
Levels three and four
Level three provides Venom with two circle spells (Deafness/Blindness and Gentle Repose). One does exactly as promised, and blinds or deafens the target while the other allows the symbiote to ward off death in another creature.
Venom also gets access to 2nd-level spells, that will go toward Enlarge/Reduce.
Fourth level is Venom’s first ability score improvement, with a few spots to shore up. Dexterity and Wisdom could use a boost, and there are a few feats that would help solidify build goals. Ultimately, the +2 Wisdom made the most sense.
Additionally Venom picked up the following spells:
- Poison Spray (cantrip): Sometimes you just need to splatter your enemies in literal venom.
- Spike Grotwth (2nd): This is Entangle, but way more lethal. Great to combo with his Thorn Whip tendrils.
- Pass Without a Trace (2nd): Venom can take any shape, dissolving into darkness.
This is another set of thematic spells for Venom that will have to hold them over for a few levels.
Levels five and six
With level five, Venom multiclasses into monk to become a lot more combat-focused. Of the martial classes to pair with Circle of Spores, monk made the most sense. Monk will make Venom hit harder, hit more often, and move in and out of combat faster.
At sixth level, Eddie sticks with monk and picks up the ability to use Ki (or in this case, rely on the symbiotic effects on his physiology) and gains Unarmored Defense (+10ft of movement).
Levels seven and eight
Here’s where Venom and Eddie can lean into their role as a lethal protector even more by choosing the Way of the Long Death monastic tradition. This immediately grants them the ability to gain temporary hit points any time Venom takes a life within five feet. At this level, Venom can also Deflect Missiles making it much harder to hit at range.
Level eight is another ability score improvement, and here we split the improvements on Dexterity and Wisdom. Additionally, Venom’s “got us” when it comes to falling great heights with the Slow Fall ability. Thanks to the optional class features in Tasha’s, he can also spend Ki points to access Quickened Healing and recover hit points.
Levels nine and Ten
This is where Venom jumps back to Druid, adding the following to its symbiotic abilities:
- Animate Dead (circle spell): Part of the symbiote sloughs off and “venomizes” a nearby corpse.
- Gaseous Form (circle spell): Venom’s not known for turning gaseous, but this is a good stand-in for both its malleable form, and web-swinging.
- Tidal Wave (3rd-level spell): Replace the term “water” and it becomes a massive swell of symbiote goo.
- Aura of Vitality (3rd-level spell): Enveloping the nearby area and anyone standing in it, Eddie’s symbiote keeps them all alive, including himself.
Venom’s next level of Druid opens up the Fungal Infestation ability which allows them to again “venomize” a recently deceased creature, turning it into in a symbiotic thrall. This time as a reaction.
Levels eleven and twelve
When Venom hits its seventh Druid level, it gains the following spells:
- Blight (circle spell): The symbiote swallows up a creature, draining its lifeforce for 8d8 necrotic damage.
- Confusion (circle spell): You know that scene in their movie when Venom uses confusion and terror to slaughter a lobby full of tactical guards? This is that.
- Stoneskin (4th-level spell): aka, Symbiote skin. Venom shrugs off bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage with resistance.
At level eleven is another ability score improvement, and this time Venom needs a feat. Taking Fey Touched will give them Misty Step, and Hex, while taking a +1 Wisdom to max it out. This will improve spellcasting, and Venom’s AC while allowing them to ooze around the battle inflicting extra necrotic damage with every attack and impairing skill checks, gunking up the works.
For spells, a symbotic Grasping Vine can lash out at enemies, and pull them across hazards or toward Venom’s hungry maw. This was a good time to go back and pick up Faerie Fire too, using “spidey sense” to understand their enemies and inflict lethal damage.
Levels thirteen and fourteen
With level thirteen, Venom keeps to druid, unlocking several new abilities:
- Cloudkill (circle spell): Venom fills the area with symbiote spores, inflicting 5d8 poison damage that hurts even those that don’t breathe.
- Contagion (circle spell): Venom’s melee attacks are violently infectious, causing blindness and failed saving throws, and causing damage vulnerability.
- Maelstrom (5th-level spell): The symbiote slimes a 30ft area five feet deep, causing rough terrain and 6d6 bludgeoning damage as writing tendrils pull the victim toward the inescapable center.
At level fourteen, Eddie and his alien buddy finally get another Circle of Spores improvement. Spreading Spores allows Venom to separate part of its symbiote, setting a trap for any poor soul sorry enough to step into it and taking Halo of Spores damage. This is situational, and takes away the utility of a reaction, but also allows Venom to batter victims over and over with their spores.
For spells, Venom snatched the Guidance cantrip, giving a little symbiote boost to Eddie’s skill checks. With their additional known spell, they went back for Hold Person.
Levels fifteen and sixteen
We’re down the home stretch with the demented duo, Eddie and Venom. It’s time to go back to the Monk class to pick up a few more subclass features.
Fifth level monks get a buffet of new abilities including Focused Aim (which gives them the ability to turn a missed attack into a hit), an extra attack, and the punishing Stunning Strike. Venom hits with such force it leaves enemies stunned.
The next level of monk lets them use Hour of Reaping. With an action, Venom can use their terrifying visage to strike fear in the hearts of any creatures within 30 feet. Before they eat them.
Venom’s strikes also count as magical for the purposes of overcoming resistance and immunity. They also get another five feet of movement.
At this point there’s really only two directions to explore with Venom. One, chase the tenth-level druid feature, or shore up Venom’s martial abilities as a monk. For this build, we’re going with the latter.
Seventh-level monks are granted Evasion (when area-of-effect abilities force dexterity saves to avoid half the damage, instead take none on a success), as well as Stillness of Mind (Venom just decides he’s a badass and can’t be charmed or frightened).
With their last ability score improvement, Venom took +2 to Dexterity to end with an ability score of 16.
Level nine monks can move along walls and across water, allowing Venom to slime their way across just about any surface.
For Venom’s capstone, they gain immunity to disease and poison, and get an extra five feet of unarmored movement for a total of 45 feet.
With this Venom build, I wanted to really lean into the idea of a “lethal protector” while still touching on some classic Venom abilities. The result is perhaps a little unexpected. There are so many different ways to do a Venom build, but I seized on the idea that the more lethal Eddie is, the tougher he is. This build gives them countless ways to pile up healing while staying in the middle of combat, or resist damage outright. It’s not a conventional tank by any means, but it works.
The pairing of druid and monk allow a wide range of attack and damage types, while maximizing action economy with actions, bonus actions, and reactions. While monk levels provide ample frontline skills and abilities, the chosen druid spells and circle features focus on area-of-effect spells, allowing Venom to turn the battlefield into a nightmare while continuing to go for blood.
It’s not without issue, however.
There are far too many spells that rely on concentration, limiting their usefulness.
By their very nature monks fall behind fighters in pure damage output, and splitting classes with druid does nothing to help that. This leaves Venom best served used tactically, creating situations where damage comes from the player’s control of the situation, and clever use of stalls and evasion while triggering various spells in the process.
Eddie’s middling ability scores make pretty underwhelming rolls when it comes to skill checks outside proficiencies. This is the lethal protector Venom, not the use soft skills one.
Chasing a build where the symbiote deals death while keeping the human inside alive is true to the character, but I could see many other ways to build Venom, chasing his alien savagery. Maximizing damage output while leaning into spellbooks that mirror symbiote abilities more than class features. Maybe this will convince you to pursue your own Venom build. Looking at you, martial warlock builds.
All in all, I think we really managed to create a truly lethal protector. It might not be min/maxed for ultimate output, but situationally, Venom is one tough symbiote.