- Class Features
- Sub Classes – Primal Paths
- Weapons and Armor
So you want to get Barbaric?
The classic Barbarian is featured in all kinds of media as a skilled warrior, under clothed and strong as an ox.
The Barbarian Class has been around since the dark old days of 3rd-ish edition of Dungeons & Dragons and nodded to in Prestige Classes even before that.
(From Leugren in the comments: “The Barbarian class first appeared in issue #63 of Dragon Magazine way back in 1982 when the first edition of AD&D was at its height. It then appeared again in the original Unearthed Arcana book in 1985.“)
5th Edition manages manages to reinvent the Barbarian warrior somewhat.
Melee combat is your Haunch and Yak Butter. As the Barbarian you’ll be expected on the front line of the party.
While other classes get power spikes you’ll steadily improve, hitting harder and more often. You don’t bring the kind of versatility other classes do (though the new sub-classes can add some variety).
While this 5E Barbarian charop guide is aimed at giving some crunchy advice on mechanics, remember that character optimisation means different things to different players.
In this guide we’ll be looking at a little more than damage dice and probability, as a truly effective character is more than the notches on the axe.
This guide builds on those that have come before it and adds new sub-classes from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything.
Be the Best Barbarian You Can Be
The first step to a becoming a great Barbarian is knowing what you are and what you aren’t.
A Barbarian warrior is not just a Fighter with a bigger health pool.
Where the Fighter is versatile, sharp and precise; the Barbarian flows with the raw, blunt and a force of nature.
As a Barbarian you’ll be playing an incredible game of Risk vs Reward. You have layers of survivability keeping you going as you enemies pile on.
You’re rocking D12s for hit dice, you’ll receive resistances while raging, and advantage against very common effects. You may even get the ability to fight past death itself… at least while the rage continues.
As a trade off, the Barbarian has the opportunity to make themselves easier to hit in exchange for more potential damage. Attacking recklessly as we’ll discuss below
But, the Barbarian has the ability to trade in some of that defence for some instant offence. It’s not always the ‘optimal’ choice, but it can be a brutal addition when it’s triggered.
Choose that moment wisely.
The Core of the Barbarian
Don’t worry about spreading yourself thin like a Paladin, Fighter or Ranger. Barbarians focus on Strength.
There is no strong Dex based option here (Well… there is discussion of finesse weapons in the comments). You need Strength.
Strength and Constitution will be your main focus… with some Dex thrown in to make you harder to hit.
When doing character optimisation guides we use the following colour coding:
Sky Blue = Top tier choice, well worth a look. Barbarian optimisation starts here.
Blue = Quality choices that will add to your ability. A very strong choice.
Black = Middle of the road and can work well for most situations. There are often better choices, sometimes not.
Purple = A little on the weak side. You may find use for it in niche circumstances. It may depend on your campaign, often there’s a better option.
Red = Mechanically subpar. If you’re going for something thematic for your character this could still be fine, but you’ll likely be less effective in a straight up campaign.
Note: We don’t have any “must have” or Gold ratings because ultimately you’ll know better than I do when it comes to your character’s theme. There’s also less in terms of “absolutely terrible” choices because you may find some gold under something mechanically weak.
- Str: Here’s where you get pumped. Your whole kit is tied to your Strength score with nearly half of your class features tied to this ability.
- Dex: Not your main focus, but good to have. You may not be bumping this past a +2 modifier, but getting a bit of juice in there will make your life easier.
Con: You’ll want to give this almost as much attention as your Strength. Hit points are just too important to let slide. If you want to stay unarmoured, it is doubly important.
- Int: Classic Barbarian dump stat. It hurts your Int saves, but there are ways around that.
- Wis: Perception and some of your class skills are tied into Wisdom so you don’t want it in a negative.
- Cha: Your weapon and rage does most of the talking. Intimidation may be a consideration for having a positive modifier. It’s not used for much else*unless* you go Path of the Berserker.
Half-Orc [+2 Str, +1 Con] The classic Barbarian choice. You get the Intimidation Skill, and the racial bonus to the stats are perfect, with bonus to Strength & Constitution. Darkvision remains a great choice. Savage Attacks with a great axe is super strong starting off at the start.
All in all a great choice for an offensively minded Barbarian. Relentless Endurance is a cool feature, but the Barbarian class does get something similar at level 11: Relentless Rage, but can be used only if you are raging, it’s not automatic & you get to do more than once.
Goliath [+2 Str and +1 Con] Ability scores are practically tailor-made for the barbarian, the free Athletics skill ensures easy grappling, and Stone’s Endurance makes an already durable character fiendishly difficult to kill. However, Stone’s Endurance will compete for other reaction options, so these guys are a step below the Half-Orc.
Aarakocra [+2 Dex] The ability score bonuses are okay, as +2 Dex helps with AC and potentially weapon usage, but what really makes these guys silly is their 50ft fly speed. Combine that with a polearm for reach and barbarian durability, and you have a character that likely just won’t ever die. The +1 Wis helps ensure this, as well, bolstering a fairly commonly attacked save.
Dwarf: [+2 Con] This is a strong choice for a Barbarian but the weapon racial adders seem to be wasted.
- Mountain Dwarf [+2 Str] gives very strong +2 bonus to Strength that is perfect for a martial class.
- Hill Dwarf [+1 Wis] is good with the hitpoint increase which helps with damage resistance tanking, but the loss of a +2 Strength for a +1 Wisdom bonus hurts.
- Duergar [+1 Str] gives a +1 Bonus to Strength, Superior Darkvision and Innate magic of Enlarge, invisibility makes it a good choice, but with Sunlight sensitivity makes him very limited. [SCAG]
Halfling [+2 Dex] An increase in Dexterity like the Elf, but you also get the Lucky Racial feature. I love playing a Halfling, the down side is being a small slow creature that gets disadvantage with the typical Barbarian weapons. I would dip a few levels of Rogue to take advantage of Sneak Attacks with finesse weapons (you can still use Strength with those).
- Stout Halfling [+1 Con] is the better choice of the two base subraces.
- Lightfoot Halflings[+1 Cha] being much lower that the Stout.
- Ghostwise Halflings [+1 Wis] puts it in the same boat as the Hill Dwarf except there is not hotpoint increase, only telepathy. Pass! [SCAG]
Dragonborn [+2 Str, +1 Cha] Strength is great, but the Charisma bonus is not needed. The benefits you get though are pretty decent. Resistance to an additional damage type is always welcome but is wasted at higher levels. You do get an Area of Effect Attack AoE attack that uses one of the Barbarian’s secondary ability scores (Constitution) for the DC. The Dragonborn makes for a great Barbarian with a magic trick up his sleeve.
Half-Elf [+2 Cha, and +1 to Str/Con] Not a typical pick for Barbarian with the bonus to Charisma being mostly wasted. However, there are some nice perks such as Darkvision, Fey Ancestry and extra skills. A little atypical for a Barbarian but isn’t terrible on paper.
- Half-Elf Variants [+2 Cha, and +1 to Str/Con] Reducing Skills for flavor. I don’t think it’s good for a Barbarian.
Genasi [+2 Con] You start off with a bonus to constitution. This might not be a bad choice, but there are 4 subraces [PotA]
- Air Genasi [+1 Dex] Might be a good choice for a Dexterity based Barbarian
- Earth Genasi [+1 Str] Not a bad choice, and you get to move over difficult terrain and get into the action quickly
- Fire Genasi [+1 Int] Darkvision, fire resistance and flame cantrip. I wouldn’t
- Water Genasi [+1 Wis] Might be a worse choice than the Fire Genasi
Elf [+2 Dex] The Barbarian Elf is not the best choice, but darkvision and sleep immunity are good mechanical choices for a martial class like a Barbarian. Here is how I would rank the three subraces:
- Wood Elf [+1 Wis] each of these gets a wasted weapon proficiency, but the Wood Elf has an increased speed gets you to the enemy quickly,
- Drow [+1 Cha] that would be a nope
- High Elf [+1 Int] gets a double nope.
- Eladrin [+1 Int] and a triple nope even with Misty step [DMG]
Human [+1 to All scores], The typical Human isn’t the best fit for a Barbarian. There is a lack of racial ability benefits that the other races.
- Variant Human [+1 to Str and Con and a feat] If Human Variant is allowed, that’s a whole different story. That turns the Human into one of the best choices for a Barbarian, from one of the worst. Slightly behind the Half-Orc, and even with the Dragonborn.
Gnome [+2 Int] Similar to the Halfling, because of the small size but without the benefits of Lucky or the Dex Bonus.
- Forest Gnome [+1 Dex], the bonus to dexterity is okay, and the speaking with animals is not needed with the Barbarian.
- Rock Gnome [+ 1 Con]. I just don’t see it, so Pass!
- Deep Gnome [ +1 Dex] Superior Darkvision and Dexterity bonus. Good for a Rogue, but lacking for a Barbarian. [SCAG]
Tiefling [+1 Int and +2 Cha] The stats don’t lie where you want them and the other perks fall flat for you. You can’t cast the spells while raging and you’re going to be raging a lot. The fire resistence looks nice but there are other races that can offer this up for you such as Dragonborn.
- Tiefling Variant [+1 Int and +2 Dex] Would be a great option along with Winged for a Dexterity based Barbarian, but you would lose Infernal Legacy. That’s cool because your Charisma is probably very low. [SCAG]
Aasimar [+1 Wis & +2 Cha] Darkvision, resistance and spells. This isn’t a great choice for a Barbarian. At all. Stick with Cleric or Paladin for this race. [Volo]
Bugbear [+2 Str & +1 Dex] Reach is great, carrying more could be useful for grappling and dragging if that’s your style. Getting extra damage on a surprise attack is just gravy. [Volo]
Hobgoblin [+2 Con & +1 Int] Not terrible but martial training and intelligence is wasted on you. Saving face is good if you’re in a big party. [Volo]
Goblin [+2 Dex & +1 Con] Darkvision, Fury of the Small, Nimble Escape [Volo]
Kobold [+2 Dex & -2 Str] Some interesting ideas here, but the cost is too high.
Kenku [+2 Dexterity, +1 Wisdom] Leave mimicry and forgery skills to the party face. [Volo]
Lizardfolk [+2 Constitution, +1 Wisdom] Bite, Cunning Artisan, Hold Breath, Hunter’s Lore, Natural Armor. Not bad, but the Wisdom is mostly wasted here. [Volo]
Tabaxi [+2 Dexterity, +1 Charisma] Darkvision, Feline Agility, Cat’s Claws, Cat’s Talent [Volo]
Triton: [+1 to STR, CON and CHA] Two of those stat bonuses are useful to a Barbarian. Aside from that, swim speed, breathe water and air, talk to water creatures, and cold resistance are going to be dependant on your campaign. Keep in mind that while only Gust of Wind actually uses your CHA for anything, you can’t cast that, Fog Cloud or Wall of Water while raging. [Volo]
Tortle [+2 Strength, +1 Wisdom] Claws, Hold Breath, Natural Armor, Shell Defense, Survival Instinct [Tortle Package]
Tuan-ti Pureblood [+2 Charisma, +1 Intelligence] The stats don’t line up, Spellcasting doesn’t work while raging. Give this a pass. [Volo]
Minotaur: [+2 Strength, +1 Constitution] Charging into battle with horns already sounds awesome. You’re getting points into core stats here and a raging bull kicks all kinds of ass. You get a slightly weaker form of the Charge feat for free, an improved unarmed strike, and a knock-back similar to a monk. The Goring rush makes the Berserker Frenzy a little less interesting with the bonus action competition. You can also look forward to building a labyrinth. [GGR]
With Race choice don’t stress too much. While the racial abilities and Stat boosts are nice early game, as you level up they’ll become less significant to your build.
At 15th level, that +1 to your stat has less impact in overall performance.
Just something to keep in mind when you’re figuring out your backstory. Sometimes a choice that is interesting can lead you to have more fun. Especially if you build around a way I haven’t considered here. We tend to look at survivability from our Racial abilities as that’s super handy in the tough early levels.
Barbarian Class Features:
Rage: You’re always angry cap. This is your primary mechanic. Your mead and yak butter. Rage is what defines the Barbarian as a force to be reckoned with separate to other martial classes.
Rage is an offensive and defensive layer all rolled into one. You’ll do more damage and take less damage in return, depending on your subclass you’ll also get more features tacked on.
When you announce that you’re raging, you’ll not rest until all your enemies are dead.
The Rage feature does have a few limitations, and they are important to note:
- You can’t wear heavy armour. Shields and Medium armour are ok though.
- The melee weapon bonus to damage only applies to attacks using Str. This means you won’t be using Dex to attack (Though you can still use finesse weapons if you’re attacking with Strength).
- Only works with Melee weapons. While you can throw a javelin with Strength the Rage bonus won’t count towards your damage.
- No Spells: While Raging you don’t have the ability to cast spells, you also can’t keep up any concentration spells that you had going already.
Raging does have some downsides, you’re limited to long rests to regain your Rages. So depending on how long your adventuring day is, you may want to ration these out a little bit.
One of the best parts of Rage in combat is the flat damage bonus. More numbers means you’re boosting the floor of your damage.
At low levels you’re also getting resistance to the 3 most common damage types. Especially at low level, pretty much all mundane damage will be halved while raging. This extra resistance (plus the increased health pool) helps the Barbarian stay alive in the thick of melee combat for longer.
Unarmored Defence: Adding your Con and Dex bonuses to AC when you’re not wearing armour is great. Even better if your DM likes to throw fights at you in the wee hours of the morning when everyone has taken their armour off to rest.
Note: You’ll want to have a discussion with your DM on how magic items will impact you. Most others players will be getting small AC boosts from magic armour. While you can match the AC of a chain shirt with +3 Con and +2 Dex, it’s when you try to reach higher than that you’re a little limited. You can still use a shield though if that’s the path you want to go down. Speak with your DM if you’re looking for non-armour items to boost this. (Just remember this doesn’t ‘stack’ with racial abilities, you choose the highest one.)
Reckless Attack: You allow your attackers to hit you with advantage, but so what? This doesn’t take an action to perform, and if they get a hit on you, the damage is halved when you are Raging. Might be a good reason to multi-class with Rogue to get automatic Sneak Attacks with finesse weapons.
Danger Sense: You have advantage on Dexterity saving throws against effects that you can see, such as traps or spells. Dexterity saves are very common, pair this up with Resilient Feat, and this class feature becomes sky blue.
Level 3, 6, 10, 14
Primal Path: These are the Barbarian sub-classes you need to choose. I go into further detail in their own sections.
At 3rd level, you choose a path that shapes the nature of your rage. Your choice grants you features at 3rd level, and again at 6th, 10th, and 14th levels.
- Path of the Ancestral Guardian [XGE]
- Path of the Battlerager [SCAG]
- Path of the Berserker [PHB]
- Path of the Storm Herald [XGE]
- Path of the Totem Warrior [PHB]
- Path of the Zealot [XGE]
Level 4, 8, 12, 16, 19
Ability Score Improvements:
When you reach 4th level, and again at 8th, 12th, 16th and 19th level, you can increase one ability score of your choice by 2, or you can increase two ability scores of your choice by 1.
This is pretty standard, as a Barbarian you’ll want to boost that Strength and Constitution up as quickly as possible so taking feats may be difficult.
Extra Attack: Hit more often, do more damage. This puts you in with other martial classes., only the Fighter does it better.
Fast Movement: I hope you weren’t wearing Heavy Armour, because now you can run faster without it. This comes into play more when you’re playing tactically. An extra 10ft is a great boost to get into range for more fighting.
Feral Instinct: Going first in initiative is excellent for Barbarians. You want to get your Rage on before enemies can start peppering you with damage. Avoiding losing actions when the party is surprised by Raging? Sure, you were probably going to rage anyway.
Level 9, 13, 17
Brutal Critical: Here’s where you start looking for ways to do some ‘crit fishing’. Now you’ll be even more interested in getting Advantage and/or attacking recklessly. Finding ways to increase your crit range can be another way to take advantage of this feature (3 levels of Fighter, for example). Note: The Half-Orc gets a racial feature similar to this. In fact, it stacks with this, making critical hits even more dangerous.
Relentless Rage: Another feature that syncs up with a Half-Orc feature. Keep on fighting even when you hit 0 hit points means you’re even harder to kill. This means you can play even more dangerously… though keep in mind, the enemy may have another attack that could kill your outright from 1 hp..
Persistent Rage: There’s not much worse for a Barbarian than having Rage end early due to being stuck out of range. Without Persistent Rage you would drop your Rage if you fail to attack or take damage. Any number of spells or battlefield configuration can cause this so it’s an excellent measure to keep raging.
Indomitable Might: This is a lacklustre level 18 feature. If you’re making Strength checks while raging you already have advantage. It does free you from fear of terrible rolls because you’re likely to have 20 Strength (or more with certain magic items)
Primal Champion: Now you’re into Demi-God level you can out lift even the greatest of foes. Getting ability scores over 20 is tough and requires a compliant DM most of the time. This feature raises both the Strength and Constitution scores (and their maximum) up by 4. This is the Barbarian capstone ability so it’s naturally very impressive. Isn’t that right Rangers?
Sub Classes: – Primal Paths
The Barbarian has access to 2 subclasses in the PHB, but with the addition of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything and Sword Coast Adventurers Guide you’ve got some more options.
These paths offer some pretty different flavour, and help flesh out the Barbarian in different ways.
- Path of the Ancestral Guardian [XGE]
- Path of the Battlerager [SCAG]
- Path of the Berserker [PHB]
- Path of the Storm Herald [XGE]
- Path of the Totem Warrior [PHB]
- Path of the Zealot [XGE]
Path of the Berserker:
For the Barbarian looking to get in their enemies face, have everything go red and wake up on top of a pile of bodies. Like Wolverine from Marvel comics you can enter a frenzy that lets you attack more, yet has some serious consequences.
There’s not much fancy or versatile to the Berserker, you can attack more and are harder to disable.
Frenzy: Here’s where you must balance Risk and Reward even more carefully. You gain another attack as a bonus action if you choose to go into a Frenzy when you begin your Rage (carefully note that this makes the ability pretty incompatible with TWF Barbarians).
In exchange for this extra attack every turn, you take on a level of exhaustion after the rage is over. Quite the price to pay and the cost goes up sharply. Exhaustion levels become a concern if you’re getting multiple a day, especially if you’re not getting many days to rest.
That being said, an extra attack every round for the entire combat is pretty darn strong.
|1||Disadvantage on ability checks|
|3||Disadvantage on attack rolls and saving throws|
|4||Hit point maximum halved|
|5||Speed reduced to 0|
Mindless Rage: You’re likely already a bit of a loose canon so stopping enemies from Charming or Frightening you and turning you on your allies is incredible.
Intimidating Presence: Here’s the one time you’ll want some points in Charisma. This is an interesting ability that adds thematic flavour to the Barbarian and can lock down an enemy. Requires an action and relies on one of your worst ability scores so isn’t that great in the end.
Retaliation: Oh hey! Another way to get an extra attack. Even more so you’re begging for enemies to take a swing at you. Does mean you’ll want to avoid a build that relies on reactions for something else. This is a great way for the Berserker Barbarian to squeeze out a little more damage each round. Don’t forget you can take reactions on YOUR turn if you can trigger an opportunity attack from an enemy.
Path of the Totem Warrior:
Barbarians walking the path of the Totem Warrior have a little more utility and support for their party.
While you may loose out on some of the extra damage of the Berserker you’ll have more interesting choices to make.
Spirit Seeker: Not super helpful. It’s very specific that these are rituals and are all animal related. A great thematic/flavour feature more than anything else. Could potentially find use in convincing a bear to join your cause.
Totem Spirit– 3rd Level You now get to choose between FIVE animals here. They don’t have to be the same one at each progression.
- Bear – Most of the bear options make you tankier and this is no exception. Gain resistance to everything except Psychic damage makes you incredibly hard to kill.
- Eagle – The idea behind this option is mobility. Dashing as a bonus action and be harder to hit with opportunity attacks. This isn’t the strongest feature if you’re supposed to be the front line focus, but it can have some fun impact in battle.
- Wolf – Here’s the support option. Allies will love you for granting advantage, especially Rogues or Champion Fighters. This is the teamwork makes the dreamwork option. Advantage doesn’t stack and isn’t hard to get, but a guaranteed one can be excellent with the right makeup. Obviously less useful if you don’t have any melee allies.
- Elk – Increased speed without armor. Meh. [SCAG]
- Tiger – Monk like jumping, some fun because like Tigger from Winnie the Pooh you can yell, “I’m gonna bounce” But that’s about it. [SCAG]
Aspect of the Beast – 6th Level Same 5 beast options, can be the same animal as before or different.
- Bear – You already have a surefire way of getting advantage on Strength checks through Rage. Plus I don’t know too many DMs that track carrying capacity on a granular level. Not useless, but a little too situational.
- Eagle – What do your elf eyes see? Some of these totem options let you do spell-like effects. This one’s nice but also a little situational. Not having disadvantage due to dim light is also great, if you don’t already have dark vision from your Race choice.
- Wolf Here’s another one that depends on your party makeup. If you already have a Ranger in the party you’ll be stepping on their toes a bit. If your campaign has a lot of tracking and traveling then this could be useful.
- Elk – Increased travel speed for you and up to 10 companions. Not bad, but not exciting either unless you have a lot of overland travel or a hexgrid to explore. [SCAG]
- Tiger – Additional Skills that you might already have. If you want to be a skill monkey I suppose [SCAG]
Spirit Walker – 10th Level A neat flavour option where you can talk to a spirit animal. The Commune with Nature spell can be great if you’re clever in using the information the DM gives you.
Totemic Attunement – 14th Level – Here’s the last totem beast you’ll choose. Out of 5 choices again:
- Bear – This has to be the best Tank ability, if you’re not tanking, then go Eagle
- Eagle – A good way to hit flying creatures.
- Wolf – You will sacrifice damage for utility. This is fun simply because there is no save. If you hit the enemy, then they go prone.
- Elk – Knockdown and damage with a Bonus action. This is against a DC that is Strength based. [SCAG]
- Tiger – Bonus action charge ability. Seems a little weak. [SCAG]
Path of the Battlerager [SCAG]
The one thing holding this back is that there is a Dwarf restriction. That’s mostly a hold-over from the novels so your DM may waive the restriction.
Battlerager starts off not so great, but with Reckless Abandon, it gets supercharged!
Battlerager Armor 3rd Level – Not much going for this. you get maxed out at 16 AC but you get a bonus action to hit a creature for 1d4 piercing damage. Seems like a waste.
Reckless Abandon 6th Level – Temporary hit points which will make you a super tank. Very Beefy.
Battlerager Charge 10th level – Dash action as a bonus so you can chase down prey. Not bad.
Spiked Retribution 14th level – Automatic damage against anyone hitting you. You can take on the hoards!
Path of the Ancestral Guardian (XGE)
For the barbarian that wants to protect their friends.
Path of the Ancestral Guardian is all about encouraging enemies to focus on you. It’s an interesting theme but there’s not much here.
Ancestral Protectors 3rd Level – Similar to the defenders mark ability in 4th edition.A great way to protect your friends. Interestingly it marks the first target you hit not the last. So if your attack kills a creature and you use a second attack on another… you’ve wasted this feature.
Spirit Shield 6th Level – Not quite as good as the Lore Bard’s Cutting words at reducing big attacks. A decent scaling amount of damage you can prevent every turn though. Does use your reaction so you’ll be doing less damage.
Consult the Spirits 10th Level – Isn’t this what Clerics are for? Not quite what I’m after for a 10th level ability. Typical Barbarian behaviour is to rush in without scouting first.
Vengeful Ancestors – 14th Level – This is a bit better, guaranteed damage along with reducing damage for allies. Force damage is often not resisted either. By the time you get this Spirit Shield is 4d6 too.
Path of the Storm Herald (XGE)
For the Barbarian who wants to get in the thick of things.
The Storm Herald Barbarian wants to be as close to the enemy as possible, the Auras are only helpful up close.
Storm Aura 3rd Level – You can swap your aura each time you level which is okay. The range is decent and it eats your bonus action to keep triggering these abilities while raging. If your campaign is expected to take place in any of these three environments they are rated better.
You can change your environment choice whenever you gain a level in this class. If your aura’s effects require a saving throw, the DC equals 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Constitution modifier.
- Desert. Every enemy takes unavoidable fire damage just for getting close to you? Wade into a pack of minions for maximum effect. Don’t stand near friends.
- Sea. Better damage but only on one target. Lightning is rarely resisted though so that’s nice.
- Tundra. Keep in mind temp HP doesn’t stack which doesn’t make this as good as it might initially appear. In a melee heavy party this might get stronger.
Storm Soul 6th Level –
At 6th level, the storm grants you benefits even when your aura isn’t active. The benefits are based on the environment you chose for your Storm Aura.
- Desert: Fire damage is widely resisted, but also a very common damage type on monsters. For the same reason that the damage aura is bad, the resistance here is good.
- Sea: Lightning damage is rare. But a swimming speed and underwater breathing is probably the most useful of the environmental advantages.
- Tundra: Cold damage doesn’t come up as much as fire. The ice-cube making effects are fluffy, but you’ll struggle to find a more practical use for it.
Shielding Storm 10th Level –
You now provide the resistance gained from storm soul to others of your choice in your aura. Desert is the real winner here, never fear a fireball again! The other damage types aren’t common enough to be as useful, though it may occasionally save your skin.
Raging Storm 14th Level –
At 14th level, the power of the storm you channel grows mightier, lashing out at your foes. The effect is based on the environment you chose for your Storm Aura.
- Desert: Better than the damaging aura, but not by much, and with the same restrictive damage type.
- Sea: A strong ability, potentially setting up both you and your allies with advantage.
- Tundra: Seems good at first glance, but the limited range of your aura (and the general flexibility of higher level monsters) make this less useful.
Path of the Zealot (XGE)
A path to make Tempus proud!
Mixing a good selection of damaging, defensive and utility options to make a very barbarian so good it’ll make you want to find religion.
Divine Fury 3rd Level – This doesn’t scale greatly, but a half-smite never goes out of style. In most campaigns radiant damage is very useful.
Warrior of the Gods 3rd Level – This depends on your campaign and how serious death is.
Also you’ll need to make sure that there’s someone with Revivify or similar nearby to help you out.
Fanatical Focus 6th Level – As a barbarian, charms and holds are more likely to take you out of a fight than raw damage. Don’t let the big bad turn you against your party or stop your rage. Boring but fantastic.
Zealous Presence 10th Level – This is good for bigger parties as the advantage can go on up to 10 allies. When you consider how many attacks and saves can occur in one round, this is substantial, but it’s use is extremely limited (once per long rest).
Rage beyond Death 14th Level – This is amazing. Just have a Goodberry in your pocket ready to go and you’re set. Failing that, you’ve got Warrior of the Gods to bring you back to life.
Skills & Backgrounds:
You have a skill in taking and dishing out damage. You’re not expected to be the skill monkey of the group. Leave that to Bards and Rogues with their tiny blades.
Having said that, Barbarians do gain advantage on Strength based checks while Raging. Athletics is naturally a Strength based skill, but remember that you may be able to do a Strength based Intimidation check with the right flair and a cooperative DM.
Don’t be afraid to use your skill choices to customize your character a bit. Even mechanically weaker skills can still offer a good benefit to the party as a whole.
Animal Handling: If you’re a Totem Barbarian and speaking to animals often this could come in handy. Most of the time this is up to the Druid or Ranger.
Athletics: This is the main Strength skill. You’re going to want to be proficient in this too. Includes climbing, jumping, sprinting, lifting. All the fun physical stuff.
Intimidation: Charisma likely wont be great for you, however this skill will serve you better than Persuasion or Deception. As I mentioned above though, there are ways to do a ‘Strength-based intimidation check’ so you want to be proficient in this.
Nature: Whilst thematically appropriate, Int is your traditional dump stat.
Perception: When the DM asks for a perception check, it’s almost never great to have a bad roll. Perception will be useful all through your adventure.
Survival: Very campaign specific, but thematically relevant and nice to have regardless.
Non Class Skills:
Acrobatics: Kind of useful. Less important to you than Athletics but can be handy if you like to jump from heights.
Sleight of Hand: Leave this to the Rogues and Bards of the world. You’re a little more direct. Could be fun if you don’t have those kind of people in your party.
Stealth: Can come in handy quite often. Usually so that you can lay a trap or get into position. You’ll already have some Dex modifier an minimal or no armour, so give it a go.
Arcana: Book learning? Magic? Gronk need not these things.
History: Unless you’re really into the lore and history of your tribe, this doesn’t play to your strengths.
Investigation: Almost everyone is going to be better at this. Let them investigate the remains of the room after you’ve destroyed it.
Religion: If you wanted religion you’d be a Cleric or a Paladin, unless you’re a Zealot.
Insight: Nice to know if someone is lying to you, or about to go for their weapon.
Medicine: You can just rub some dirt on there, leave it to the intellectuals to figure out what intestines OUTSIDE the body means.
Deception: Nice to have, but others in your group are probably better at it.
Performance: Perhaps you were a circus strongman before the adventure. If not, I’d avoid this.
Persuasion: There are two kinds of respect, fear and admiration. Nine times out of ten Barbarians are better off leaning on Intimidation.
Most backgrounds usually give you two extra skills, possibly tool proficiency or a language, and maybe a specialised perk. Better at fleshing out the story of your character than providing any huge mechanical benefit.
One of the best things you CAN do though is speak with your DM about what your backstory will mean in the world they are crafting for you.
Acolyte: [insight/religion] An atypical choice that may make for an interesting backstory. Religion as a skill isn’t the greatest, but Insight is decent. The extra languages can be useful, though it is not a traditional Barbarian specialty. The perk is fun and flavourful, though possibly campaign/DM specific.
Charlatan: [deception/sleight of hand] Another odd choice, but potentially fun. The two tool kits can add a really strange layer to your Barbarian. The perk can add some fun roleplaying opportunities. This takes most Barbarians out of their comfort zone, but it isn’t a bad choice.
Criminal: [deception/stealth] Stealth and Thieves Tools are very solid mechanical choices, especially if you are running without a Rogue in your party. The perk of having a criminal contact is campaign dependant, but not something to be ignored.
Entertainer: [acrobatics/performance] Mentally, I always think of something like the circus strongman with this combo. Acrobatics and Performance aren’t bad skills to have, but they don’t really hit the typical Barbarian. The perk does offer some fun character building opportunities.
Folk Hero: [animal handling/survival] Both skills are on your class list, but the tools can be useful. It’s a fun choice from a character standpoint, but it doesn’t wow with the mechanics.
Guild Artisan: [insight/persuasion] The sort of choice that can help define a character and offer some fun options. The rules on crafting things though make this very campaign specific. Without a lot of downtime, well…
Hermit: [medicine/religion] Mechanically, this is probably the weakest Background for you. The skills don’t compliment your abilities and the perk is barely defined. If I were to stay away from 1 Background, it would be this one.
Noble: [history/persuasion] Practically the opposite of a traditional Barbarian, it may take some good storytelling chops to pull this one off. The skills don’t mesh that well with you, but access to the Gaming Kit could be fun.
Outlander: [athletics/survival] Probably the most iconic Background for a Barbarian. The two skills are on your skill list already, but one of them is Athletics, which is great. An extra language is nice, and the musical instrument can add flavour to your character. The perk is nice, though it does step on the toes of the Survival skill a little.
Sage: [arcana/history] Like the Hermit, pretty atypical for a Barbarian. The two languages are nice, but the rest is rather “meh”.
Sailor: [athletics/perception] Two of the best skills for you. Add in a free Ship passage is great. The perk is campaign specific, but potentially useful. If you use the Pirate Variant, much fun can be had!
Soldier: [athletics/intimidation] Some great skill potential here as well. I find the perk pretty restrictive though. It practically requires DM benevolence for it to be useful.
Urchin: Who knew Urchins were this good? Stealth as a skill is great, and both Thieves Tools and the Disguise Kit are fun options. The perk is also pretty great, with tons of opportunity for it to shine in many campaigns.
Alert – Always a solid choice, but slightly diminished for a Barbarian who is less impacted by a Surprise round to begin with.
Athlete – Somewhat situational. The effects are great in an action/adventure style romp, but less impressive in a pure hack and slash.
Actor – Flavourful, but mechanical a poor choice.
Charger – Barbarians make the most out of individual Actions. This is a great way to gain extra oomph from them. Since you should be going first in combat very often, this is a way of getting to the enemy quickly and either doing damage, or arranging the battlefield.
Crossbow Expert – Ranged is not your forte. Pass.
Defensive Duelist – You don’t do finesse. Pass.
Dual Wielder – This is either a good way for extra damage, but be careful. This is incompatible with Frenzy, can’t be done in the same turn you Rage, or used with the Wolf Totem knock down. Otherwise, it does give you the chance to do extra Rage damage, which is good. It can work with careful planning, but may not be the best use of your Bonus Action. Approach with caution. The big issue with this feat is that if you go this route, you pretty much *have* to dip into either Fighter or Ranger to get the associated Fighting Style to be competitive. If you need to multiclass away from your core class to be viable, it’s likely not a top tier choice.
Dungeon Delver – Situational and you have class abilities that replicate some of the features. Flavourful, but maybe not the optimum choice.
Durable – Someone better at statistics needs to figure this one out. My guestimate is that it isn’t terrible, but it also isn’t a top tier choice.
Elemental Adept – Just trust me when I say no.
Grappler – As the Barbarian has a very natural affinity for Grappling, this feat can be a nice boon to have. This feat gives you the ability to restrain the enemy, which can be useful and also plays well into the Risk vs Reward style of play. It can be a little situational, but it’s absolutely a fun trick to pull out when it applies.
Great Weapon Master – If you plan on using a Great Weapon, there is zero reason not to take this feat. The cleave effect is really nice, but do make note that it eats up your bonus action. The second half of the feat that allows to take a penalty to hit isn’t my favourite, but I hate to have anything affect my to hit. Somebody better at math will need to figure out the specifics though.
Healer – This isn’t really the Barbarian’s bag.
Heavily Armored – Bad choice. Too many of your class features don’t allow for Heavy Armor.
Heavy Armor Master – See above.
Inspiring Leader – The Charisma investment is a little prohibitive for the typical Barbarian.
Keen Mind – No particular benefit for the typical Barbarian.
Lightly Armored – You already have proficiency.
Linguist – There are better ways for you to learn languages. Outside of character specific reasons, this falls outside of the typical Barbarian’s zone.
Lucky – This is a really nice feat if you want to improve on your tankiness. The extra rolls can really help in a pinch, and regaining them a long rest lets you tie them into your Rages pretty well.
Mage Slayer – While slightly specific, this feat works well with a Barbarian, especially one that focuses on mobility. Considering how a well played caster can wreak havoc, this ability can be a life saver.
Magic Initiate – You aren’t outfit well for casting. You can’t cast whilst in a Rage, and by and large outside of utility or character reasonings, you won’t get that much from this.
Martial Adept – Having only one Superiority Die hurts this ability a bit. It isn’t bad, but the impact of a single die at d6 isn’t terribly significant. There are better options available.
Medium Armor Mastery – Your Con is generally higher than your Dex, which may limit how useful the feat is. If you aim for the Medium armour route you may see some benefit, but your stats may line up better for the unarmored route, in which case avoid.
Mobile – If you are going for the high mobility route via the Eagle Totem, this can actually play nicely into your bag of skills. This one depends on your party makeup.
Moderately Armored – Nope.
Mounted Combatant – Do you want to play your Barbarian as a mounted warrior? If yes, take this feat. If not, skip.
Observant – Perception is so important to a group that this feat warrants a look at if your group needs a spotter. Still, others may have a more natural affinity for the role, so this will depend on what you want your character to focus on.
Polearm Master – This feat gets a lot of love from those building melee characters, and for good reason. The ability to use your opportunity attack on people closing in with your is great. Just be careful how you mix it in. If you are a Berserker and gain the Retaliation ability, this feat loses some steam. Just make sure you understand what you are spending your Actions on routinely, and what you *will* be spending your actions on in the future before grabbing this feat. That being said, the Barbarian can make amazing use out of this based on the Action economy of this edition. Plan your build accordingly.
Resilient – If you want to shore up your defences a bit, this is not a bad choice, but it is a sharp cost for very specific survivability. If your DM likes to toss out things like Hold Person at you on a regular basis, this becomes great. If not, it loses some oomph.
Ritual Caster – You probably won’t have the Int, but you may have the Wis to gain access to this. Honestly, this falls to a character specific choice. Does it fit your concept? Then go ahead. Otherwise, you should probably avoid.
Savage Attacker: Very, very good. This can turn a terrible attack into a great one. Whilst you can only use it once per turn, the more attacks you make, the more likely you will see this shining.
Sentinel – This feat is amazeballs. It increases your stickiness and punishes those that try and get cute by moving around you. Combined with the Bear Totemic Attunement, you have some great attention grabbing ability.
Sharpshooter – You are unlikely to used ranged attacks enough to really warrent a feat investment in them.
Shield Master – A great way to increase survivability. Taking zero damage from Dex related saves is great, and since you have advantage on those saves to begin with, that’s a ton of damage you can simply avoid. If you use a shield, this feat is a great pick.
Skilled – Honestly, unless you have a specific concept in mind, pass on this. There are better ways to gain access to skills.
Skulker – Atypical for the run of the mill Barbarian, but if you plan on going with a stealthy one (and it’s totally viable) this fat is very nice to have.
Spell Sniper – Nope.
Tavern Brawler – Very cool flavour, but outside of fulfilling your character concept, you aren’t likely to see a ton of use out of this unless your DM skews the campaign in that direction, or unless you really want to invest in a Grappler.
Tough – Someone better at math may want to chime in here, but I’m not sold on the value. Increasing your Con by 2 instead gives you 1 extra hit point per level, a better Con save and potentially an increase in AC. The Barbarian I think, can do better.
War Caster – You are not a caster.
Weapon Master – You are already proficient with every weapon in the game.
Here, I want to make just a quick look at some options, along with the concept of a “dip” to grab some goodies from another class.
I’m going to leave some of the finer points of multiclassing up to the individual though, especially anything that takes away from the character being majority Barbarian.
The biggest issue for Multi-Classing with the Barbarian are the stat requirements.
Whilst meeting the Str or Dex requirements are most certainly not an issue, Wis based classes are a little tough, and Int or Cha based ones are almost certainly not going to be doable.
I’m not going to color grade this section simply because it falls more into the character concept side of things than true optimization. I’ll simply offer a few thoughts per class.
As always, this is geared for characters that are primarily Barbarian. Meaning that is the character gets to level 20, at least 11 of those levels are Barbarian levels.
Bard – The CHA investment into Bard is too high for the typical Barbarian to make. Whilst this makes for a flavourful style of character, the mechanics don’t interact all that well. Since you cannot cast spells whilst Raging, it becomes tough to really justify the experience. Still, this is a path you can consider if you want to be more of a skill monkey, or perhaps have a small selection of spells to use in instances when you aren’t Raging.
Cleric – The Wis requirement may be a little tough for some races/builds, but it should at least be doable. The biggest issue you run into is that you don’t gain as much as other classes when you go down this route. Most others are looking for Martial Weapons (which you have) or Heavy Armour (which you don’t want). That being said, the Nature Domain is pretty thematically appropriate, and while it makes you an atypical Barbarian, the Divine Strike ability at 8th level can be a fun thing to have.
Druid – I’ll admit to a level of bias with this one. I love the idea of a shape shifting Bear Barbarian. A raging bear is just so much fun in my mind. Like the Cleric, the 13 Wis is a little build dependant, so it may not be the best choice.
Fighter – By far the most natural choice. Even just a few Fighter levels can give you a ton of versatility in your play style. The Champion sub-class may be your more typical match thematically, but I’m a huge fan of going the Battle Master route. Having on demand abilities that cause effects and up damage are great, especially when the recharge on a short rest. Most Barbarians won’t have the Int to make it as an Eldritch Knight, though it may actually be possible to do so using only Abjuration spells.
Monk – Again, the Wis could be troublesome depending on your build. The big issue with this pairing is that there is some innate incompatibility here. Martial Arts only functions with Monk weapons, which are pretty atypical for most Barbarians. You also can’t be using a Shield, which eliminates tank builds. This leaves you with either a dual wielding style build or with a Polearm Master build using a quarterstaff. The other immediate issue is that the Unarmoured Defence ability is wasted. I’m not saying that this is a bad build, just that it’s atypical and will require some outside of the box thinking to make work.
Paladin – You’d think a holy avenger Barbarian would be amazing, but the CHA investment is really rough. Rage stops spellcasting, but Divine Smite isn’t technically a spell. I like the flavor and fun of the pairing, but mechanically it just doesn’t work out. Maybe just go with a Path of the Zealot instead.
Ranger – You can fit into this pairing pretty easily as well. The only real issue is that for the most part, you get a lot more out of multiclassing with the Fighter than you do with the Ranger. Still, this is a very sound fit thematically, and it’s not bad, not at all, mechanically. Part of the issue though comes from the fact that a lot of the Ranger’s “oomph” comes from spellcasting. Since you can’t do this and Rage at the same time, it is a clunky fit at best. The odd thing is that a few levels with the Hunter archetype can actually help your tanking ability. Strange, but abilities like Horde Breaker and Escape the Horde can go a long way towards your multi-enemy abilities.
Rogue – This can work for a very thematic build, but the restrictions on Sneak Attack make it a tough one to mix with the typical Barbarian. Really, the money abilities that the Rogue gives you are Cunning Action, Uncanny Dodge and Evasion.
All of which can really help with your tanking. The Assassin Archetype gives you some useful kits as well as the Assassinate ability, which synergizes nicely with the Barbarian.
Sorcerer – The CHA requirement remains a big issue. The other problem rests in the fact that the Sorcerer relies so much on casting, and this just doesn’t mesh with Rage. It’s not an impossible mix, but you will likely face some issues when it comes to effectiveness in combat.
Warlock – CHA rears its ugly head once more… Warlocks are a bit of a strange beast insomuch as it almost looks like there’s synergy, but so much really depends on using spells that it just hurts the overall effectiveness of the character. For me, this looks mostly like a quick 2 level dip for some flavour abilities, but not much more than that.
Wizard – Yay! Not Cha! Boo! Int! Like the Sorcerer, the Wizard is just based so much on spellcasting that it become difficult to synergize with the Barbarian. Outside of a specific flavour build, there isn’t much to be said for the pairing.
More on a dip into Fighter levels
In essence, you grab a level or 2 of another class to gain some abilities/proficiency that you lack.
The Barbarian, as a whole, can benefit from this, but not quite so much as other classes. Given the Barbarian aversion to heavy armour, most of the traditional dips have less value.
So while other characters may grab a level of Fighter to gain Heavy Armor (taking the Fighter level at level 1), the Barbarian doesn’t get that benefit. This does give the Barbarian the benefit of not taking a level in another class first, which can really hamper your character concept.
Fighter 1 or 2 levels – The benefits here are pretty straight forward. A small self heal which is nice at low level, but loses oomph as you go higher, and the Fighting Style ability. The Fighting Style ability is really, really nice.
A tankier Barbarian with a shield benefits well from the Duelist ability to pop out additional damage.
A Two-Weapon Fighting Barbarian gains a great deal of extra damage as you’re adding ability modifier damage (and extra rage damage) to the extra attack.
The GWF related ability is also nice, and works well with bringing up the floor of your damage, but it’s a bit lower than the guaranteed damage of the other two.
The others in general don’t measure up quite as nicely.
If you want that third Fighter level, you have two options. If you are thinking about the crit-fishing route, the Champion Improved Critical ability is very strong. But it’s an all or nothing idea.
If you aren’t going to work at crit fishing, it may not be all that. On the other hand, the Battle Master gives you some great utility abilities, as well as some increased damage when using them.
Regaining your damage dice after a short rest is really nice too, as it gives you a little something between Rages.
Other dips are possible, but they don’t give you the same return on investment that the Fighter dip does.
The Barbarian has some odd limitations on what weapons are really effective for them. Rage requires a Str based melee weapon,
so finesse weapons and ranged attacks are out. Thanks to David in the comments for pointing out Finesse weapons can be used with either STR or DEX.
When Making an Attack with a finesse weapon, you use your choice of Your Strength or Dexterity modifier for the Attack and Damage Rolls. You must use the same modifier for both rolls.https://roll20.net/compendium/dnd5e/Weapons#finesse
This leaves you with Str based attacks generally using one of three setups:
Great Weapon – The simplest path to high damage, but not necessarily the best. Feat synergy is pretty strong, but it is feat intensive which will impact your stats. It’s classic Barbarian though, and still a very solid choice, and pretty economical in regards to your Actions.
Consider looking into the Polearm Master and Great Weapon Master feats, while also looking at Sentinel. Weapon wise, for pure damage you want to look at the Maul and Greatsword, or if you go the Polearm route the Glaive and Halberd.
Two Weapon Fighting – This build *really* benefits from that 1 level dip in Fighter to get your Str damage on your off hand weapon. It also pretty much requires the Dual Wielder feat (which has a small increase in AC, which is just gravy here).
This build will likely yield the most potential damage per round, you just have to be careful with your bonus actions. Remember that things like Rage take one, as do other feats and the knock down from the Wolf Totem ability.
Mixing damage types will likely yield the best results, so pick 2 of Battleaxe/longsword (slashing), Morningstar (piercing), Warhammer (bludgeoning). That being said, if your concept rocks two of the same weapons for visual synergy, then go for it!
Sword and Board – Increased survivability is always nice. A Barbarian with a shield makes for a nice tank. A Barbarian with a shield and the Shield Master feat makes for one of the best tanks in the game as your abilities synergies so well with it.
A 1 level dip into Fighter will help bring your damage up with the Duellist Fighting Style. Preferred weapons here are the battle-axe, long sword and war hammer.
Armor -vs- No Armor
Generally speaking, your stats will determine whether you should go the medium armour or the no armour route (light armour is seldom applicable). Which option works best will likely change as you level, and in direct relation to your wealth and your stats.
Your Dex modifier will likely range between +1 and +3, depending on race and stat allocation, whilst your Con modifier will likely be in the +2 to +3 area.
The sweet spot is AC 15-16. That’s the best you can afford in Medium armour at level 1, along with a +2 Dex mod. (If you care about sneaking, you’ll have a Chain Shirt and a base AC of 13, if you don’t you’ll have Scale Mail and a base AC of 14).
When your Con + Dex modifiers together give you an AC bonus of +5 or better, you are likely better off going unarmoured. If not, then it’s medium armour city for you.