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D&D Barbarian 5e Guide & Class Handbook [Aimed at Beginners]

The Barbarian is one of my all-time favorite classes in Dungeons and Dragons and I have played to the end of 3 different campaigns. While the class might be simple to play a barbarian guide can still help you out if you are starting this class for the first time in D&D 5e.

This barbarian 5e guide will cover everything you need to know about playing a barbarian class in 5e.

More intro stuff

The playstyle of the 5e DnD Barbarian

The 5e barbarian is your classic big, brutal and strong warrior. Barbarians are centred around raging, hitting things and getting hit. You will find yourself in the thick of melee, dishing out melee attacks and taking a ton of damage yourself. You tank all the damage because of your rage class feature and your critical hits are super nasty because of your brutal critical ability. You can do all this while running around in your undergarments and screaming like a madman.

If you like:

  • Screaming
  • Raging
  • Hitting things
  • Big numbers
  • Tanking
  • Simple melee builds
  • Conan
  • Not being the party face

The 5e barbarian might just be the D&D class for you!

Strenght of the 5e DnD Barbarian

  • Tough as nails with loads of hit points
  • Good melee damage
  • Super simple to build
  • Strong from level 1 and stays okay strong all the way
  • Loads of strong subclasses (called primal paths)
  • Many way to utilise your bonus action

Weaknesses of the 5e DnD Barbarian

  • Can be weak to some forms of damage
  • Can be weak to some crowd control spells
  • Not a lot of skills
  • Not a lot of utility outside of combat
  • You gotta be creative to not fall into “stupid warrior” cliches that might spoil some roleplay options for your party
  • Can be rough in political intrigue or very heavy roleplay campaigns
  • The barbarian class is centred around raging, which is a limited use pr. day ability
  • Bad saving throws
The feature image for the barbarian 5e guide

Barbarian class features and barbarian class progression

In the table below you can see the barbarian’s class progression. In the section below I will go through all abilities in detail and explain a bit about what they are and how to use them effectively.

LevelProficiency BonusFeaturesRagesRage Damage
1+2Rage, Unarmored Defense2+2
2+2Reckless Attack, Danger Sense2+2
3+2Primal Path, Primal Knowledge (Optional)3+2
4+2Ability Score Improvement3+2
5+3Extra Attack, Fast Movement3+2
6+3Path feature4+2
7+3Feral Instinct, Instinctive Pounce (Optional)4+2
8+3Ability Score Improvement4+2
9+4Brutal Critical (1 die)4+3
10+4Path feature, Primal Knowledge (Optional)4+3
11+4Relentless Rage4+3
12+4Ability Score Improvement5+3
13+5Brutal Critical (2 dice)5+3
14+5Path feature5+3
15+5Persistent Rage5+3
16+5Ability Score Improvement5+4
17+6Brutal Critical (3 dice)6+4
18+6Indomitable Might6+4
19+6Ability Score Improvement6+4
20+6Primal ChampionUnlimited+4

Disclaimer about my views in this guide:

This guide was written from the perspective of a player and DM that have played Dungeons and Dragons in a European context. The games I play tend to be lighter on combat, disregard the whole experience/encounter system, and have generally been more roleplay-heavy than many other styles of D&D campaigns out there.

This means I tend to value out of combat utility, class features for problem-solving, cool roleplay options and combat abilities strong in when you only have a few combat encounters per day/session.

Also, this guide is meant to help you as a new player – not be a guide about min/maxing or creating the most broken build over.

Hit Die: 1D12

Of the bat, you get hit dice 1d12 per level + your Constitution modifier (or 7+con modifier pr. level). This does not get any better, meaning you should walk around with a crapton of hit points.

Barbarian starting Proficiencies:

Weapon proficiencies

Starting out you get all weapon proficiencies, which is massive.

Armor proficiencies

You are proficient in light armor, medium armor and shields. So all armors except heavy armor. But, your rage will not work if you are not wearing heavy armor so that will never be a real option for you anyway. Most of the time you will be in medium armor or unarmored.

Savin Throws proficiencies

You are proficient in Strenght and Constitution saving throws. Con is super sweet, but strength is quite weak (so few things are strength saving throws when played by the book).

Tool proficiencies

You get sadly get no tools, which is a real bummer

Skill proficiencies

You get to pick 2 skills from:

  • Animal Handling
  • Athletics
  • Intimidation
  • Nature
  • Perception
  • Survival.

There are some okay options in there, but 2 skills is overall quite poor compared to other class. Skills are not the strength of the barbarian.

Starting Barbarian Equipment

Besides the gear you get from your background, you also get the following starting gear:

  • Greataxe or any martial weapon
  • Two hand axes or any simple weapon
  • 1 Explorer’s pack +4 javelins

The Explorer’s pack contains:

  • Backpack
  • Bedroll
  • Mess kit
  • Tinderbox
  • 10 torches
  • 10 days of Rations
  • Waterskin
  • 50 feet of Hempen rope

Not the best gear in the world, but you get some decent weapons to start off.

Rage: Gained at level 1

Rage is the basic and most important feature of your barbarian. Rage is limited to a number of daily uses, making it one of the few resources you need to manage as a barbarian. Especially in the start where you only have 2 rages per day, you need to consider if this is a combat that requires the power of your rage.

Benefits of Rage

You start your rage as a bonus action and the rage gives you some 3 super strong bonuses while it lasts:

1. You gain advantage on Strength checks (so checks, not attack rolls) and Strength saving throws

Advantage is always sweet, but strength saving throws come up very few times, so that is not as relevant. Having a way to get advantage on Strenght check can come in handy, but unless you are in combat your rage might end pretty quickly.

2. You have damage resistance on bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage.

This could also read: you gain half damage from melee and missile attacks. Ohh boy! This is the defining barbarian 5e feature. In most regular combat this doubles your effective hit points, damage resistance is just that incredible.

Also, it makes healing targeted on your character soo much better than normal healing would otherwise be. If you get yourself someone that can heal you, you can take unreal amount of damage!

3. On melee weapon attacks that use Strenght you gain bonus damage (rage damage)

Extra Rage damage is wonderful, andt makes it that more efficient if you can get an extra attack in with your bonus action. The extra damage scales as follows:

  • 1-8 level: 2 extra damage
  • 9-15 level: 3 extra damage
  • 6-11 level: 4 extra damage
  • 15-20 level: 5 extra damage

Number of Rages

You can rage a number of times per day depending on your level:

  • 1-2 level: 2 Rages
  • 3-5 level: 3 Rages
  • 6-11 level: 4 Rages
  • 12-16 level: 5 Rages
  • 17-20 level: 6 Rages

You get all of your rages back after a long rest.

Limitation on Rage

So while the Rage class feature is epic, it does come with some drawbacks:

  • You cannot wear heavy armor while raging
  • If you are able to cast spells, you cannot cast them while raging nor can you concentrate on a spell. So a multiclass spellcaster cannot buff himself, with a concentration spell, and then rage.
  • Your rage lasts 1 minute, unless it ends before that.
  • Your rage ends at the end of your turn if you: did not attack since your last turn or took damage since your last turn.
  • Rage also ends if you are ever unconscious (hard to be stay mad when you are out cold).

Unarmored Defense: Level 1

When you are not wearing armor, your armor class is equal to 10 + Dexterity modifier + Constitution modifier. So instead of only adding your dex, you get you con on top as well. You can also use a shield in combination with this ability.

The best AC you can get with medium armor is 17 (half plate 15 + 2 dex modifier). So you need to get dex and con up pretty high before unarmored defense becomes the best option for you. Unless of course, you want to run around naked and not be bothered with strapping on your armor in the middle of the routine night ambush your evil DM throws at you.

Overall unarmored defense opens up some pretty sweet options and makes the barbarian tanky and always ready for combat.

Reckless Attack: Level 2

So from level 2 forward, you can decide to take gain advantage on your strength-based melee weapon attack rolls, but when you do enemies have advantage against you.

You must decide to use it on your first attack in the turn, but the advantage last for the rest of your turn (so not on opportunity attacks you make later in the round). The disadvantage lasts until your next turn.

Reckless attack is a marvelous feature and something that you might consider using every attack roll if you really want to add on that damage. For other classes granting advantage to enemies against you would be quite brutal, but for the barbarian, it is not the biggest of deals. Things that gain advantage against you are attack rolls, so will most likely be sources where you have damage resistance. Getting advantage will mean that your damage is more consistent, you will crit more and that you can take greater advantage from things like the Great Weapon Master feat (which is likely okay on a barbarian, but maybe a trap on other characters).

Danger Sense: Level 2

With Danger Sense you get advantage on Dexterity saving throws against effects you can see (traps, spells, dragon breath etc.). You must not be blinded, deafened or incapacitated.

Your dex save is likely okay because of your ability scores, but getting advantage on dex saves is an enormous boost. It means that damage spells with dex saves are no longer that big a threat for the barbarian.

Primal Path: Level 3

Level 3 is where you have to pick your primal path which is what the barbarians subclasses are called. I am going to list the Primal Path’s here, but you can look further down this page for a breakdown of those and the abilities you get.

  • Ancestral Guardian
  • Battlerager
  • Beast
  • Berserker
  • Storm Herald
  • Totem Warrior
  • Zealot
  • Wild Magic

Ability Score Improvement: Level 4

So just like all classes besides the fighter, you get an ability score improvement on level 4, 8, 12, 16 and 19. You can do 1 of the following 3 things with your ability score improvement:

  • +2 on one ability score (up to 20)
  • +1 on two different ability scores (up to 20)
  • Take a feat and forego boosting your ability scores. This is an optional rule, so make sure your DM allows it (but he should).

We will talk later about what ability scores you should go for or what feats would be good for your barbarian build.

Extra Attack: Level 5

From level 5 forward you can attack twice instead of only once when you make an attack action. Getting the extra attack at level 5 is standard for full-blown melee warriors, but this does not make it any less useful.

Fast Movement: Level 5

When not wearing heavy armor, you gain +10 feet movement.

This is the last nail in the coffin for creating a barbarian wearing heavy armor. Getting more speed is very helpful for getting stuck into combat quickly, meaning you get more hits in and you take the focus of the enemies.

Feral Instinct: Level 7

You gain advantage on initiative checks. Also, if you are surprised and you are not incapacitated you can decide to start your round with raging and then you can act normally for the round (so you are essentially not surprised if you use the rage).

Advantage is an enormous power for you, as you really want to get stuck into melee and put pressure on the enemy. Avoiding surprise rounds is even more of a game changer. Charge!

Ability Score Improvement: Level 8

As described above, you get an additional ability score improvement on level 8.

Brutal Critical: Level 9

So by now you are getting fast into melee, striking twice each round (and hopefully one more time with your bonus action). You can also get advantage on attack rolls if you want to, so you are bound to make critical hits quite often.

And now you get brutical critical, making you add one weapon damage dice on the crits. So now if you land a critical hit with that greataxe, you roll 3d12 for the damage in total.

Relentless Rage: Level 11

By now you should be plenty tanky, but you might find yourself going down from time to time when you draw the focus of too many enemies. But no more!

Now when you drop to 0 hit points you can now try a DC 10 Constitution saving throw. If you make it, you instead stay on 1 hp. You can keep doing this over and over again, but each time you succeed the DC raises by 5 until you make a short or long rest.

Relentless Rage is absolutely game-changing for your character. Before it was very hard to bring you down with all of those hit points, but now even bringing you to 0 is not enough. You GM might find creative ways to avoid having enemies focus you…

Ability Score Improvement: Level 12

As described above, you get an additional ability score improvement on level 12.

(More) Brutal Critical: Level 13

Do you think your critical hits are brutal? Try getting 3 additional damage dice whenever you make a critical hit!

Persistent Rage: Level 15

One of the things you need to keep attention to with your barbarian is maximizing the time you are in rage, when you use one of your rages per day. So that means making sure you either make an attack roll or get hit each round. But by level 15 you gain Persistent Rage and now your rage just lasts 1 minute, until you fall unconscious or you decide to stop being so damn mad.

Ability Score Improvement: Level 16

As described above, you get an additional ability score improvement on level 16.

(Even more) Brutal Critical: Level 17

By now you should love to land those brutal critical hits, but they get more awesome. If you crit with a Greataxe you will roll 5d12 in damage!

Indomitable Might: Level 18

You are getting pretty high level now so your barbarian also needs to do some incredible feats to keep up with those casters in your party.

With Indomitable Might, you can decide to use your strength score instead of the roll of your D20 when making a strength skill check. It is very possible that you have 20 in your Strenght Ability score by now, so you will basically never roll less than that + whatever you have in that skill. Those doors will really start to fear you now!

Ability Score Improvement: Level 19

As described above, you get an additional ability score improvement on level 19.

Primal Champion: Level 20

So did we save the best for last with the barbarian class features?

At level 20 you gain +4 on your Strenght and Constitution ability score. This can make you go above 20 (which you normally cannot). On paper, this looks amazing and is pretty good for a melee fighter. But compared to level 20 abilities for other classes it falls a bit short.


An image depicting a barbarian in 5e raging
An image depicting barbarian rage

Picking a Primal Path and subclass for the barbarian

On level 3 you pick a Primal Path for your barbarian. This is the subclass of the barbarian and provides you with some nice bonus features at level 3, 6, 10, and 14. Below I will go through the abilities of each of them and talk about their different merits.

These are the following primal paths or subclasses available to the Barbarian in 5e DnD

Ancestral GuardianXanathar’s Guide to Everything
BattleragerSword Coast Adventurer’s Guide
BeastTasha’s Cauldron of Everything
BerserkerPlayer’s Handbook
Storm Herald
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything
Totem WarriorPlayer’s Handbook
Wild MagicTasha’s Cauldron of Everything
ZealotXanathar’s Guide to Everything

Make your own decisions with regards to your character

It is Important for me to note that you should always make your own decisions when it comes to creating your character. Playing something that you think is fun and cool is way more satisfying than playing something that people on the internet think is “optimal”. If you are not enjoying yourself, playing Dungeons and Dragons simply loses its purpose.

Ancestral Guardian Primal Path

The Ancestral Guardian is sort of a tanky controlling route. You get some funky ancestral ghosts that you can call upon to help you and your allies. The path is a decent option if you want to try something different and you like to help your friends while you smash a bit of face.

You get the following abilities with the Path:

Ancestral Protectors: Level 3

When you rage the first creature you hit each turn will become rebuffed. Until the start of your next turn that target has disadvantage on attack rolls unless they are attacking you.

So by unleashing your ghosts on an enemy, you are effectively taunting him into attacking you. A sweet ability that starts off very powerful, but slowly over times loses its value (more enemies and the AC of your squishy party members fall so far behind that disadvantage on a big boss is no hindrance to hitting your party members).

Spirit Shield: Level 6

You can use your reaction, and your ghosts, to reduce the damage by 2d6 when a friendly gets hit within 30 feet.

2d6 prevent damage is pretty solid at level 6. It raises to 3d6 at level 10 and 4d6 at level 14. Not a bad way to use a reaction for a tanky build.

Consult the Spirits: Level 10

You can use this ability once per short or long rest. You can consult with your spirits by casting either Augury or Clairvoyance spells. You do not use the normal, quite expensive, material components. Augury is straight-up good for deciding whether to do something really tricky or not (though some GM’s dislikes the spell and just says “Weal and woe” for everything that could otherwise glean a useful answer. With Clairvoyance you can summon a ghost and either hear through it or see like it could see. You can summon it in a familiar place up to a mile away. Wow, you suddenly got some utility!

Vengeful Ancestors: Level 14

When you use your Spirit Shield from level 6 you now deal as much damage to the enemy as your prevent. Not a huge amount of damage, but it is some. Also it is force damage so it makes you more useful in situations where your weapons do nothing.

Is the Path of the Ancestral Guardian any good?

I actually quite like this path and have played it once where the spirits really hated me, but wanted to keep me alive anyway. We played low level with only 3 people in the party, and I think that is where the abilities will truly shine. At high level or when a party of 5+, the abilities scale less well.

Thematically it is quite cool and different, so points for style and flavor.

Battlerager Primal Path

The Battlerager is by default locked to only be pickable by Dwarves. This is not a huge issue, as the dwarf is solid for the barbarian to pick.

The Battleragers shtick is to wear spiked armor and by up in people’s face with it.

Battlerager Armor: Level 3

You can use Spiked Armor as a weapon that deals 1d4 piercing damage + strength. When you are raging you can attack with the spiked amor as a bonus action. Also, when you use an action to grapple someone the target takes 3 piercing damage.

So using your bonus action to attack is not bad, and you get to add your strength and rage damage on top of it. The part about extra damage on a grapple is very weak. You have to take some feats to make it stronger, but it is flat 3 damage without extra strength or anything on top. It scales too poorly to be fun and try to use to consistently deal extra damage.

Reckless Abandon: Level 6

When you use Reckless Attack you can tempory hit points equal to your con modifier.

This can effectively give you 3-4 extra HP each turn which is not a bad little damage mitigation ability.

Battlerager Charge: Level 10

You can take the Dash action as a bonus action.

Not being in combat is bad for you, so getting to use your bonus attack to move in the first round and then attacking is quite strong.

Spiked Retribution: Level 14

When you are hit by an enemy within 5 feet they take 3 piercing damage from your spiked armor.

Try hitting level 14 and explaining to your party what cool new ability you got. This is not something that will wow your friends at all.

Is Path of the Battlerager any good?

While I do like the flavor of a mad dwarf bouncing around and this deadly spiked armor, the abilities fall a bit flat in my opinion. Bonus action attack, bonus action move, and temp hp are good. The rest is just silly low damage.

Beast Primal Path

Path of the Beast is a neat, quite flavorful path. It is a cross between a barbarian and a druid that wildshapes. Each time you rage you transform a bit into some sort of animal.

Form of the Beast: Level 3

When you rage you gain a natural weapon. It counts as a simple weapon that you can apply your strength modifier to. You pick one of 3 options each time you rage:

  1. Bite: You gain a bite attack that deals 1d8 piercing damage. Once a turn when you damage a creature with it you regain HP equal to your proficency – but only if you have less than half of your hp remaining.
  2. Claws: Both of your hands transforms into claws. A claw deals 1d6 slashing. Once each turn when you attack with a claw you can attack one addional time as part of that attack action.
  3. Tail: You grow a tail. It deals 1d8 piercing and it has reach. If a creature within 10 hits you, you can use a reaction to add 1d8 to your AC against that attack.

Off the bat, Bite seems a bit weak. It is only one attack, only 1d8 and the healing ability is not super strong.

The Claws are deceptively strong. When you first read it you might assume that you have to attack with boths hands to make it works. That is not the case. You can use a shield in one hand and attack with the other. This means you simple get 1 more attack when using claws, compared to what you would normally do. You add strength and rage damage as normal. The claws are a great way of using a shield and having great damage.

Tail also seems strong. Using a reaction to not get hit is not bad, and adding a d8 to your AC is quite a boost.

The best part is that you get to pick each time you enter rage, so it adds some utility and something to think about each fight. All of the options could be useful in the right circumstance.

Bestial Soul: Level 6

Your natural weapons now counts as magical. When you finish a short or long rest you pick between 3 bonuses to have:

  1. You gain swim speed equal to your walking speed and can breathe underwater
  2. You gain climbing speed equal to your walking speed and you can climb like a spider on diffucult surfaces and upside down.
  3. When you jump you can make an Athletics check and extend your jump by that many feet (that is looong).

All of the mobility abilities are very useful. Also, it gives you something to think about outside of combat which is never a bad thing!

Infectious Fury: Level 10

When you hit a creature with your natural weapon, you can cause them to go into a rabid fury. Enemy makes a wisdom save (DC equal to 8 + your Constitution modifier + your proficiency bonus). On a fail they take 2d12 psychic damage and must use their reaction to make a melee attack against another creature of your choice. You can use this ability up to your proficiency each long rest.

Very thematic ability. Okay damage and a potentially very strong attack from an enemy that hits another enemy. Not shabby at all.

Call the Hunt: Level 14

When you rage you can pick a number of willing allies up to your con modifier. You can 5 temp hp for each friendly you picked (that is a lot). Each turn your friends can gain +1d6 damage on one attack roll.

Up 25 temp HP and more damage from your allies? Talk about a good ability

Is Path of the Beast any good?

The Path of the Beast seems super strong. All of the natural weapons have some usage, the movement abilities are strong, the fury is somewhat strong and the Call of the Hunt seems awesome.

All in all Path of the Beast is a great mechanically and flavor path to take.

One of the best parts about the Beast path is that you get to select options each time you rage and each short rest, so it is a bit more tactical and leaves you room for thinking about what to do (compared to other barbarian paths that are very much set in stone). You get more damage, utility, some tankiness and some support. A bit of everything and nothing seems bad.

I once played a barbarian in Pathfinder called “Pig”. I multiclassed him with Alchemist to make a build that very much resembles the Path of the Beast. Can strongly recommend turning into a raging pig each encounter.

Berserker Primal Path

Ah yes, the Berserker. This is your classic “hit things hard” path. It excels at damage and is very friendly for beginners to use. If you got a friend that just wants to roll that d20 and deal the damage, this is a classic go-to build.

Frenzy: Level 3

When you go into a rage, you can decide to go really really mad. During the rage, you can make a normal attack action with your bonus attack. By the end of the rage, you gain one level of exhaustion.

So instead of being only a 1d4 attack, as the other ways of attacking with your bonus action are, this is an attack with your normal weapon. So there is more damage, but this only truly shines if you are going after maxing out a crit build.

Mindless Rage: Level 6

With Mindless rage you cannot be charmed or frightened while raging.

Not being controlled by pesky emotions, other than pure rage, is great!

Intimidating Presence: Level 10

You can use your action to try and frighten one within 30 that you can see, and that can see and hear you. Wisdom save dc 8 + prof + charisma modifier or be frightened until the end of your next turn. You can use your action to extend the effect.

While on brand for the zerker, it is only one creature, it is only turn, requires your action and hinges on you having an okay charisma. Most of the time you are better of trying to slay enemies in combat. But this does have some uses outside of combat.

Retaliation: Level 14

When you take damage from a creature 5 feet away, you can use your reaction to make a melee weapon attack against the enemy.

Now you can use your bonus action and often your reaction to try and hit more. Not bad

Is Path of the Berserker any good?

Some people think that the Path of the Berserker is one of the strongest while others thinks it is one of the weakest. I think this will largely depend on how detrimental exhaustion will be in your campaign. Is your DM the type of person to have the “standard” encounters per long rest and all that hullabaloo? Well. then it is likely that getting multiple exhaustion per day is super bad. Is it more likely that you will only have a few epic battle encounters each day, then the drawback of the path is not nearly that big of a deal. I fall in the camp of thinking the Berserker is a damn good path and I think it is very well suited for any beginner into Dungeons and Dragons. Also, Mindless Rage have saved me in some intense clutch moments, so do not sleep on it (you cannot deal damage if you cannot act).

I have played the classic Half-Orc crit Barbarian build through the Horde of the Dragon Queen and had a great time. Sure, my barbarian died but not from any exhaustion levels (DM’s don’t kill PC’s. Stupid decisions kill PC’s).

Storm Herald Primal Path

So this is a path where you get to pick various elements and gain bonuses from them.

Storm Aura: Level 3

When you gain this path you need to select from 3 different storm Auras. When you gain a new level in barbarian you can change your choice. The aura extends 10 feet. Saves are DC equals 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Constitution. The aura turns on when you enter rage and you can activate it each turn in rage with a bonus action

  1. Desert: All creatures in aura takes 2 fire damage. Damage scales with level up to 6 damage at level 20.
  2. Sea: Pick a creature in aura that must make a dex save. Half damage on save, 1d6 lightning. Increases to 4d6 at level 20.
  3. Tundra: Creatures you pick in aura gain 2 temp hp. Increases to 6 at level 20.

So you get to pick between a small AoE damage (that also hits friendlies), a bigger single target damage, and temp HP aura. I think all can be decent in the right circumstance, so a bit sad that you cannot select each time you rage (like the Beast path). The Storm you pick here is the Storm that effects the other abilities, so I think what you select will change depending on what level you are (as the later abilities are stronger).

Storm Soul: Level 6

You get a passive bonus depending on the Storm you currently have:

  1. Desert: You gain resistance to fire damage and do not suffer frem extreme heat. Also, you can set small things on fire.
  2. Sea: You gain resistance to lightning, can breathe underwater and gain swim speed 30 feet.
  3. Tundra: You gain resistance to cold and do not suffer from extreme cold. Also, you can turn water into ice.

The resistance are nice, but what is best is very dependent on the campaign you are playing. Of the 3, Sea looks to be the best because of the water utility (water can be pesky for a melee fighter).

Shielding Storm: Level 10

When friendlies are in your aura, they gain the resistance you have from the Storm Soul ability.

Raging Storm: Level 14

Your Storm Aura grows stronger.

  1. Desert: When a creature in your aura hits you with an attack, you can use your reaction to force a dex save on it. On a fail it takes fire damage equal to your barb level.
  2. Sea: When you hit a creature in your aura, you can your reaction to force a strenght save on it. On a fail it is knocked prone.
  3. Tundra: On activating your aura you can pick one creature in it. Strenght save or that creatures movement is reduced to 0 until the start of your next turn.

Desert seems like a lot of damage to dish out on a failed save each time you are hit with an attack.

Sea seems quite weak. Prone on a failed save? Not the best ability to get at level 14.

Tundra is a very strong crowd control ability.

So by level 14 I would likely pick either Desert or Tundra depending on if I need more damage or more crowd control.

Is Path of the Storm Herald any good?

The Path of the Storm Herald is an okay path that feels very on brand. Some people just love that element vibe and this is for them.

I think this Path should be able to pick Storm Aura each time they go into a rage. As it is now, it just does not seem strong enough for me.

Image depicting what I think a Barbarian totem animal looks like
How does a Barbarian totem animal look like?

Path of the Totem Warrior Primal Path

The Totem Warrior is another classic barbarian path and can make for a truly strong tank, and one that does necessarily have to expend a lot of damage to get very tough. Along the path you pick various totem animals that infuse you with power.

Spirit Seeker: Level 3

You can cast Beast sense and Speak with Animal as rituals.

Beast sense can be great for scouting. Speak with Animals can go from very strong to absolutely useless (depending on how your GM likes to rule the helpful capability of various animals).

Totem Spirit: Level 3

At level 3 you pick a totem animal. All of them only works while raging and some requires you to not wear heavy armor. You can pick between:

  • Bear: you get resistance to all damage except psychic damage (instead of only Piercing, Slashing and Bludgeoning)
  • Eagle: Opportinity attacks have disadvantage on you. You can use dash as a bonus action.
  • Elk: You gain +15 feet speed.
  • Tiger: You can add +10 feet on long jumps and 3 feet to high jumps.
  • Wolf: Your friends have advantage on enemies within 5 feet of you.

Elk some quite subpar when you can get Eagle instead and makes bonus dash actions. Tiger seems quite weak (are you really jumping that much?). Wolf is quite strong with the right party setup (rogues will love you). But man oh man that Bear is just super duper strong. I have DM’ed a few parties with Bear Totem Barbarians and oh man are they hard to bring down. So. Many. Hit Points!

Aspect of the Beast: Level 6

You pick another Totem Animal. You do not have to select the same as you picked on level 3.

  • Bear: Double carrying capacity and advantage on strenght checks to push, pull lift and break objects.
  • Eagle: You can see up to 1 mile away. Dim light does not impose disadvantage on perception checks.
  • Elk: Your travel pace and that of your party is doubled.
  • Tiger: You select two skills from: Athletics, Acrobatics, Stealth, and Survival.
  • Wolf: You can track creatures or move stealtily while moving at a normal pace

All of the level 6 abilities are more utility, so it really depends on what will fit your build or how you envision your character.

Bear might seem good, but you can gain advantage via using rage. I have tried running campaigns where carrying capacity was a thing, but was never fun for me nor for the players so it was quickly scratched. Your mileage may vary.

Eagle is kinda cool. Those Elven eyes!. Elk could be handy in the right road trip campaign and the same can be said for Wolf. Tiger would likely be my go-to, just to get some more skills loaded on your barbarian.

Spirit Walker: Level 10

You can cast Commune with Nature as a ritual. In the right campaign, it can be life-saving. In other settings might never be that relevant.

Totemic Attunement: Level 14

You pick another Totem Animal. You do not have to select the same as you picked on level 3 or 6.

They all only work while raging.

  • Bear: Enemies within 5 feet of you have disadvantage on any other targets.
  • Eagle: You can fly as fast as you can walk. You fall at the end of the turn (so it is more of a jump).
  • Elk: You can use a bonus action to pass through the space of a Large or smaller creature. When you do, the enemy takes a Strenght save (DC: 8 + prof + strenght modifier). On a fail it is knocked prone and takes 1d12 + strenght modifier
  • Tiger: If you move in a straight line 20 or more feet and make an attack at the end, you can make a attack action using your bonus action.
  • Wolf: When you hit a creature large or smaller, you can use a bonus action to knock it prone (no save).

Bear is great to help protect your allies and goes great with being a big HP sponge that is resistant to almost all damage types. Eagle is very strong for movement – as sometimes you can be a bit stuck with nothing to do in certain encounters.

Elk seems a bit weird. The prone is only on a save, but the damage is okay. I would rather take Wolf and just make sure to knock people prone left and right.

Tiger is an okay way of getting a bonus action attack, but there are other stronger ways that do not require you to run around all the time (and straight lines can be hard to get if there is a lot of action or terrain).

Is Path of the Totem Warrior any good?

Yes my friend, it certainly is. Getting Bear at level 3 is just such a game-changer for your tankiness. By then you can just take such a beating it is unreal. Wolf at level 3 can also be good, but it will be hard to pass up that much more effective hit points

The rest of the abilities you can sorta mix and match to your liking. Some are clearly stronger than others, but there is nothing I would consider a “must take”. The path is a strong start on a tank build or even just a tough build that wants to smash face.

Wild Magic Primal Path

Do you like wild magic, but think that the Wild Magic sorcerer is a little bit too extreme? This might be the barbarian subclass for you.

Magic Awareness: Level 3

As an action you can turn on your magic sight. Untill the end of your next turn you know the location of any spell or magic item within 60 feet. You can use this ability equal to your proficiency bonus per day.

Wild Surge: Level 3

When you enter rage you roll on the big wild magic table for the path. If an effect requires a save it is DC equals 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Constitution modifier. There are 8 options on the table.

  1. Damage on enemies within 30 and you regain hp
  2. You can teleport 30 feet
  3. Summon a pixi that explodes (you can summon it multiple times)
  4. You weapon becomes infused with magic and can be thrown
  5. Creatures that hit you take 1d6 damage
  6. +1 AC and allies within 10 feet gets the same bonus
  7. Ground within 15 feet of you are difficult terrain
  8. As a bonus action you can shot bolts of radiant damage

This is the real meat of the Wild Magic path and there are not options that can hurt you. Is it strong? Sometimes. And sometimes it is useless. If that is okay with you, this looks fun.

Bolstering Magic: Level 6

As an action you can buff a creature with 1 of 2 options:

  1. +d3 on attack rolls for 10 minutes
  2. Regain d3 expendes spell slots

You can use this ability equal to your proficiency bonus per day. Both options are strong. A small bless on attack rolls for that long (without requiring concentration) will yield more consistent damage.

The battery ability can be very strong if used on a good caster.

Unstable Backlash: Level 10

When you rage and take damage or fails a saving throw you can decide to roll again on the wild magic table. This replaces the old effect.

This ability makes your bread and butter ability perform more consistently, as you can quite readily change it up if you got a bad ability at the start of the round.

Controlled Surge: Level 14

When you roll on the table you can roll twice and pick the best option.

Again, more consistency for you wild magic ability.

Is Path of Wild Magic any good?

This is one of the those where you have to love the flavor to pick the subclass. Overall, I think the 8 effects on the table are okay, but I can see a lot of other abilities from different subclasses I would rather have. A lot of effects are put into making the wild surge table more consistent, but I think you need to have a very specific build in mind to make this work.

Fun, but not that great path.

Zealot Primal Path

The Zealot is a funky path. You are a zealot to some great cause, infusing you with energy that boosts your attacks and makes it so you just wont die.

Divine Fury: Level 3

While raging, the first create you hit each turn takes 1d6+ half barb level extra damage in necrotic or radiant (you pick when you get this feature).

Extra damage is never bad and this one comes without a lot of “buts” or circumstances it works under. Flat out good.

Warrior of the Gods: Level 3

When someone casts Raise Dead on you it does not cost material component.

So this build is clearly most effective if you have a person in your party that can cast the spell. But if you do, oh boy it is fun. How many times can you “die” in a campaign?

Fanatical Focus: Level 6

Once per rage you can reroll a saving throw and use the new roll.

Rerolls are never bad and this can be used several times a day. A good ability to soak up one of the barbarians weaknesses (saves and magic).

Zealous Presence: Level 10

As a bonus action you give up to 10 creatures of your choice within 60 feet advantage on attack and saves until the start of your next turn. Only usable once per long rest.

A round with advantage on attack and saves for your party? Pretty damn clutch. You can use it for that “ohh crap” round that always turns up in epic boss fights.

Rage Beyond Death: Level 14

When you rage, you do not get knocked out by going to 0 or below hit points. You still make death saves, but even if you get 3 fails you do not die until your rage ends.

Want to fight forever? Oh my this is for you. Talk about going out with a fight! There is potential for having a complete party wipe and still killing the end boss. Fun times indeed!

Is Path of the Zealot any good?

Path of the Zealot is one of those subclasses that people either love or hate. Is it strong to be raised multiple times in a campaign? That clearly depends on who you ask and what kinds of DM’s and campaigns they have played in. I think the extra damage and reroll saves are good and the “not doing” to be more utility than straight-up combat efficient. By level 14 the Zealot is obviously quite strong, so if your campaign goes for that long this subclass is clearly something you should consider.

The theme, as with all themes, is not for everyone.

What is the best Barbarian subclass 5E?

YouTube video
YouTube video

Optional and Alternative barbarian class features

A new thing for Dungeons and Dragons is optional and expanded class features. It is no secret that the power level between some classes can get pretty out of wack when you get to high level. The new and expanded features is an option your GM can use to even that balance a little.

But remember: this are not abilities and features you just get. It is something that your DM must decide, but if you ask nicely (and your character is not currently super tuned) you might a yes.

Primal Knowledge

At level 3 and at level 10 you can an additional skill from the barbarian skill list.

For a pure build of barbarian, this seems very reasonable to give the barbarian. It does not further his already fantastic combat prowess, but it does give the character some extra options to problem solve outside of combat. If you feel like out of combat is hard to do with your barbarian, ask for it.

On the other hand, if you as a DM feel the barbarian is constantly forcing a roll of initiative with that Greataxe, this might be a way to make them think more about what else their character could do than bash skulls in.

Instinctive Pounce

At level 7 you can move half your speed as part of the bonus action you use on activating your rage.

This will make the barbarian get into combat in the first round more consistently. If feel like you are outshined and outgunned by your other party members, talk to your DM about adding this to your build. This is in no way game-breaking as it just means you move 15-20 more feets in the start of combat.

Image of A weird looking barbarian in dungeons and dragons
A weird looking barbarian

Barbarian 5e Ability Scores: What are the Most Important Stats for the Barbarian in DnD 5e?

The Barbarian is pretty simple to build in terms of what stats to take. You will most definitely focus on the physical attributes. Also, you do not have a ton of different stats that add to various different class features.

So what are the most important stats for a Barbarian DND 5E?

In order of importance for the barbarian I would put the various stats/ability scores as follows:

  1. Strenght
  2. Constituion
  3. Dexterity
  4. Wisdom
  5. Charisma
  6. Inteligence

After going through all of the abilities your barbarian get, it should be no surprise that you really want to max Strenght and Constitution.

Strenght

You want Strenght because you are going to be hitting things a lot, and strength helps you land your blows more consistently and will add more damage. Also, it gives a boost to the Athletics skills that a lot of barbarians will end up getting. Sadly, strength saves are not that prevalent in a standard DnD campaign so that is not going to help you a lot. The higher the better.

Constitution

Constitution gives you a lot of added benefits as a barbarian. The obvious reason here is getting more hit points, as every hit point you get almost counts as double because of your rage damage resistance. Consitition saves are also quite important, so getting something added there is never bad. As an additional bonus you can use unarmored defense if your constitution and dexterity get high enough to be more than you can get out of your medium armor. There are some builds that will put constitution higher than strength. These builds will mostly wear a shield and try to be as tanky as they can possibly be.

Dexterity

You cannot skimp on Dexterity either. While you are not proficient in dexterity saves, you do get advantage on them by level 2 via danger sense. But still, a +2 or something like that will go a long way in avoiding those pesky fireballs that you are not resistant against. Also, +2 is the max bonus you can get with a half-plate (the best AC medium armor), making 14 dexterity the most likely sweet spot for most barbarians (that is unless you go for a super tanky build). Sadly, dexterity does not lend itself to any of the barbarian skills (but you could get some skills to use high dex via your class or background).

Wisdom

What will be most relevant between Wisdom and Charisma will depend a lot on the type of barbarian you are going to build. Wisdom is great because it is added to your Wisdom saving throw, which is crippling to fail (crowd control and other nasty spells) and your wisdom save is likely quite low. Wisdom also gets added to Perception and Survival, which both are likely picks for your barbarian skills.

Charisma

On the other hand, Charisma is just a great stat to have because Intimidation runs via this. And if you ever want to talk to anybody, it helps not having charisma of 8. On the other hand, charisma saves are very few and far between, making it less of a combat stat. If you can persuade your DM to allow you to use your Strenght modifier on some intimidation checks, Charisma will definitely be less exciting.

Intelligence

Last on the list of skills to get it Intelligence. Intelligence saves are unlikely to make a big impact in combat and unless you go out of your way to get some knowledge skills, you are also not going to use the stat in that department. Leave the brain work to your companions and make intelligence your dump stat.

[INSERT TABLE WITH COMMON STAT ARRAY, TANK BUILD AND PURE DAMAGE FOCUS]


Picking a Race for the 5e Barbarian

Customizing your Origin and Costum Lineage

In Tashas Cauldron of Everything new options for races were added. These totally shake what races are viable for what classes, because everything gets super customizable. This is great news if you hate playing tough dwarves or strong half-orcs!

Basicly it works like this: you pick what ability scores to improve. So instead of getting +2 and +1 to some specific scores, you get +2 and +1 and two ability scores you decide. You can also pick different languages, skills and proficiences. But make sure your DM understands that you are doing it (and try not to do it only for making a maximized broken build).

If your DM is up for it, there is also the possibility of picking a Costum Lineage. You to be medium sized, 30 speed, get +2 to an ability, a feat, and either Darkvision or proficiency in a skill. Not a bad solution at all.

There are a lot of races that fit the barbarian very well, but also quite a few that are genuinely bad for the barbarian in 5e (at least if you are not playing with customizing your races with the Tashas Cauldron of Everything rules). In section I am not considering the vast amount of options you get by looking at campaign-specific race options.

You will obviously be looking for a strength bonus, as this is your main stat. But unless you are running a very tank oriented build, you should also shy away from the small races. That is because they cannot wield the big two handed weapons that will give you damage (and will maximize the usefulness of the reckless attack ability and brutal critical hit).

Consitution is the natural second best bonus you can get from your race. Your AC will most likely be worse than melee fighters and if you reckless attack a lot you need those extra hit points.

If a race gives abilities that use a bonus action to activate, you have to consider those carefully. At the start of most combats you will want to use your bonus action for activating rage and after that you will most likely want to use your bonus action to get extra attacks in. That bonus action race ability gotta be pretty sweet to be useful.

Besides giving you more combat prowess and survivability, look for out of combat utility and skills that you can make work with the vision of your barbarian.

Another way of going about picking a race is to just go for barbarian + race that you find interesting, exciting, goes against the grain or otherwise is something you could find fun to play. There are a lot of half orc barbarians because they are strong in combat, but how fun would that be for you to play when not bashing skulls?

The best Races for Barbarian in 5E is basically the ones that give you strength and constitution + extra utility or combat prowess. Very good picks are Half-Orc, Mountian Dwarf, Human Variant and

My top 3 “Best Races for Barbarian in 5E” for a combat efficient character:

1. Half-Orc

There is likely not race better suited for the barbarian. You get +2 str and +1 con, darkvision, intimidation and+1 more damage to critical. Everything on that list is perfect, but on top of that you also get one more skill to stay standing when you reach 0 hit points – a once per day ability in the firm of relentless Endurance. You can decide to try to make the save via Relentless Rage and if you fail it you can use your orc ability instead.

All in all these abilities make the Half-Orc barbarian super-strong and likely the S-tier race for the barbarian.

2. Mountian Dwarf

Ahh yes, the dwarf. First of you get +2 constitution for being a dwarf and then +2 strength for being the Mountian sort of dwarf. You advantage on saves against poison and you get damage resistance on position, which couples very nicely with your normal rage resistances. Then you add darkvision which is always just great. You do get some proficines that you cannot really use for anything, but that is how it goes.

Overall the dwarf is a great fit for the barbarian!

3. Human Variant

Now the standard human is generally considered quite weak because +1 to all stats can be slightly useless. But the human variant on the other hand is always a consideration.

You get +1 on two different ability scores. Not amazing, but you get to pick your two best options so that is great. Then you get 1 skill of your choice, which is actually quite a lot considering that the barbarian get so few skills.

But the best thing here is the feat you get at first level. If your campaign will only run for say the first 3 levels, getting a feat is just a top option.

Also, humans have in my humble opinion always been the best.

My top 3 best base races for something different and not archetypal

1. Halfling

Why not build a totally against the norm small barbarian? There is just something about small very angry folks!

Yeah, being small really sucks because heavy weapons are not an option for you. But you could just use a longsword in two hands and still get 1d10 or just go full tank build and lug around with the shield.

The halfling +2 to dex is not useless, lucky is always great, advantage against frightened is good and you can move through enemy spaces that are large or more than that. Movement and position can sometimes be key and couple that with the +2 con and advantage and damage resistances against poison from being a stout hafling and you got yourself a super small tanky build!

2. Half-Elf

As a barbarian, you gotta figure out why the heck you are so mad. Where is all that rage coming from? In the background of your Half-Elf it could be easy to bake in all sorts of atrocities that you could be mad about.

Also, the Half-Elf is not super bad. +2 to charisma might not be perfect for combat, but talk about the cute rager! +1 to two different skills you can make work and 2 extra skills is pretty good. Darkvision and advantage when people try to charm you are not bad at all!

3. Tiefling

A bit like the Half-Elf, a lot of Tieflings background would give them plenty of reason to be mad! That said, you definitely need to find a cool Tiefling Bloodline to make this work (but some could be pretty sweet for a barb).


Skills the Barbarian has acces to

Skills are not a big part of the barbarian class, but you do get 2 skills at first level. In order of relevance I would put the barbarian skills like this:

  1. Athletics [Strenght]: Most of the time when you your party needs to break down a door or lift something heavy, they will look to you. Also, it helps with avoiding grapples or pushes (or making them), making Athelitics a very solid option for your first skill.
  2. Perception [Wisdom]: this skill is overall just amazing. If you got a party with at least two people with it you can decide to skip it, but having it is never a bad option.
  3. Survival [Wisdom]: Following tracks, hunting animals and surviving in the wilderness do come up a fair bit in most Dungeons and Dragons campaigns. Picking this up will fit into most kinds of barbarian builds.
  4. Intimidation [Charisma]: You should think being strong and fighting without pants on should make people fear you, but it is actually pretty hard for the barbarian to spare some points to boost charisma. If your DM will let you use strenght instead of charisma for intimidation checks, this is a very good skill to have.
  5. Animal Handling [Wisdom]: Do you like animals? This could be the one for you. You barb feels better among animals than humans (which explains his lack of social intelligence).
  6. Knowledge Nature [Intelligence]: Knowing something about nature is never a bad thing. That said, there is a weird overlap between this and survival, so depending on how your DM views things Survival might be the better option.

So those are the skills you get from your Class. But you can also get skills from your Background and from your race. Sadly, there is only Athletics that work of Strenght and nothing from Constitution, so not a lot of skills that tie directly into your best attributes.

But here are 4 skills that would likely be useful for a barbarian to get via the race or background:

  1. Acrobatics [Dexterity]: If you have a high dex and run around without armor, you might as well get the dex based physical skill. It can come in handy in plenty of funky situations.
  2. Sleight of Hand [Dexterity]: Another great dex based skill. Who said your barbarian is big and stupid? Well, jokes on them now you have their wallet!
  3. Stealth [Dexterity]: Stealth is just an incredible useful skill for the barb. You and that friendly rogue can make a great two-man alpha squad, going in first and taking folks out before they see what was coming.
  4. Medicine [Wisdom]: If you are going the Survival, Knowledge Nature and Animal Handling this is a good option. You can go all in on the wandering medicine barb (that eats his own concoctionsbefore battle).
Image of some kind of Elk Barbarian
Some kind of Elk Barbarian

Backgrounds that fits for a barbarian

Barbarians are not really a class that is dependent or uses skills a lot. This also means that you are more free to pick a background that you really like and that fits the theme of your barbarian, instead of trying to min/max getting all of the intelligence skills or what have you.

So either pick something that is cool or that has a feature that you can see your barbarian using in the game.

But it can sometimes be hard to get creative and get the brain thinking about the opportunites in the different options. So here is a list of backgrounds that could be good for a barbarian or that fits the barbarian theme:

Fisher

Your grandad was a fisherman. Your dad was a fisherman. And now you are a fisherman. At least, you were. Someone or something has destroyed your beloved fishing boat (called Marygold). It is simply gone, only a few bits and bobs remain. You are mad as hell and out for vengeance!

You get survival which is good and history which is… well you are not going to have a lot of intelligence to go along with it. You do get a language that you decide and some fishing gear. Also, you are damn good at fishing (and in some campaigns that would be really good).

Soldier

You fought in the army and you were damn good at it. But now you do not anymore. Are you are a disgraced soldier? Is that why you are so mad all the time?

You get Athletics and Intimidation which are great for you. You can drive vehicles and you get proficiency in gaming sets. You are also a soldier, which means that you might have a tie in with the city guard, the local militia or something else that can help you tie into the campaign and help your party out.

Far Traveler

You are not from around here, and everyone can see it a mile away. You find the customs strange, but people also look at you quite funny. While you find the fashion around here interesting, you do feel like most people are wearing way too much clothes on their bodies.

You get Insight and Perception, which is certainly not bad for you. You can pick proficiency in either a game or a musical instrument (the music instruments are always a fan favorite at my tables at least). You get a language and some bits and bobs in terms of equipment.

Folk Hero

You have saved a lot of people out and about in the farmlands. At least, that is what people say. Maybe you really love finding those damsels in distress. Or maybe you are enormously tired of people’s expectations every time you enter a town (more orcs they want me to slaughter. Grumble, grumble…).

Animal Handling and Survival are both tip top for your barbarian. You get prof in land vehicles (can be loads of fun) and some artisan tools of your choice. Also, you are a hero which has a lot of roleplay possibilities (for you and the DM).

Urban Bounty Hunter

You have made your trade catching the scum that nobody else can catch in the city. You are calm, cool and collected – that is until your prey decides to fight back.

Bounty Hunter just has this cool vibe to them, and the barbarian fits perfectly into this theme. You can pick two skills from Deception, Insight, Persuasion, and Stealth. You can get two of either gaming set, musical instrument of thieves tools (sweet). Also, but certainly not least, you get a cool Urban Bounty Hunter Outfit!

Utgardt Tribe Member

You are a proud member of the Uthgardt barbarian Tribe. You believe in the old ways, but as is always the case, the old ways are in danger. You have received the honor of traveling out in search of a solution to the tribe’s problems.

The Uthardt tribe is super classic Forgotten Realms, and who better to pick this background but the barbarian. You get two strong skills in Athletics and Survival, and instrument or artisan’s tool as well as a language you decide on. And you are part of one of the most iconic tribes in the whole Forgotten Realms!

Mercenary Veteran

You have sold your sword to the highest bidder your whole life. You have convinced yourself that all you did was a job and you had no part in any wrongdoing. If you did not do it, someone else would. But now, after retirement, you are having a crisis of faith. How could you possibly redeem yourself? You have found your old gear out and decided the least you can do is try…

As an old mercenary you get Athletics and Persusation, one gaming set and land vehicles. You also get ye olde Mercenary veteran gear. A classic background that fits the barbarian nicely.


Feats that are great for a barbarian

So, now we are at the feats. Feats are one of those things that can help you really take that character idea to the next level. That being said, some feats are not mechanically worth skipping +2 attribute points. And some feats are just more flavour than they are “worth it”. But gosh darn it, feats are so cool!

Do note that the Feats you pick will very much be the thing that mechincally sets you apart from all other builds with the same Primal Path as you. It is really here that you can make your build sing in terms of roleplaying and having some fun. Do not always go after the “best barbarian feats” out there. While optimizing can be cool, having a fun idea and having it work on the tabletop can be even more satisfying.

Here is my take on some Feats that can really suit the Barbarian playstyle and build:

Athlete

You gain a +1 Strenght or Dexterity + some more mobility. Not the strongest, but if you want to lean into to the quick mobile barbarian style it is pretty good.

Chef

You get +1 con, which is always great. Besides that you are an amazing cook! Sounds like a pure roleplay feat, but the mechanical bonuses are pretty good (extra HP on short rests or temporary hit points in combat).

Dual Wielder

Dual wielding just looks and feel awesome, and getting this feat will make it viable. It will likely never beat going two-handed plus any other feat, but you can never beat looking and feeling cool.

Fighting Initiate

You get two pick a Fighting Style from the fighter class. Not super strong and likely more usefull to just get 1-2 levels in fighter. But if you go spare feats, this is a way to do it.

Grappler

Ever wanted to be a luchador barbarian? This is how to do it. Grapple can be super broken or not useful at all, depending on how you DM decides to interpet the rules and what sort of monsters you are most up against.

Great Weapon Fighter

A feat that just screams Barbarian! If you make a critical hit with a melee weapon or if you kill an enemy, you can use your bonus action to make a weapon attack. That is super sweet, as you now have a semi reliable way of dealing damage with your bonus attack.

On top of that you can decide to take a -5 on your hit roll and gain +10 on damage. Some say this is broken, some say it is actually a trap. I find the feat to be super flavorfull and working great alongside reckless attack (-5 to hit is about on par with having advangtage, so should even itself out). It goes to reason that you should mainly use it on low AC monsters with more hit points than what you could do with a normal swing.

Lucky

Good old lucky. If your DM decides to allow it, and it fits with your roleplay idea to have a lucky character, this is certianly a great feat. Basicly you have 3 rerolls each long rest to use on a d20. You use the reroll after you know the what you rolled. You can also use it as disadvantage on an enemy attack roll. Lucky is simply outstanding.

Mage Slayer

Mage Slayer is a fun feat, that can help make a “suspicious against magic” barbarian. You get a reaction attack against enemies casting within 5 feet. Whenever you hit anyone that is concentrating they have disadvantage on the save and you get advantage on saving throws if the caster or creature is within 5 feet if you. Some strong mechanics, but wether this is usefull enough to warrant a feat is highly dependent on what sort of campaign you are in.

Mobile

Another good mobility feet. +10 feet movement, if you Dash you ignore diffucult terrain and when you hit someone you do not provoke attack of oppurtinty from that enemy for the rest of the turn. Good mobility, but is more suited for niche builds that want to jump in and out of combat.

Mounted Combatant

If you play in a campaign where mounting a steed is something that is not really akward, this can be a great feat. Otherwise, not worth trying to make work.

Piercer

A bit of a funky feat here, mainly used for maximising the damage of your criticals. You get +1 Str or Dex (so you can consider this costing 1 ability score). You have to use a peircing weapon to make the feat work. Once per turn you can reroll one of the attacks damage dice. But the best part is that you get an additonal damage dice when you crit.

The best weapon to use it with is a Pike, so if you can see that working out for you and you really want to crit stuff, this is a solid option.

Polearm Master

Polearm Master is one of those feats you will see be used a lot. You need to use either a Glaive, Halberd, Quarterstaff, or Spear to make the feat work.

When you make an attack with one of those weapons, you get to make an attack with your bonus action that deals d4. On top of that you get to make opportunity attack when people enter your reach (instead of only when they are leaving it).

The big kicker here is being able to consistently use your bonus action for more damage. It means applying your strenght and rage damage more times a turn, which will really kick your damage to the next level. Great feat, even though you are forced into using a specific weapon for it.

Savage Attacker

You get two reroll the damage dice of your weapon and pick which one to use. Will make your damage more consistent. Not a flashy feat, but adds damage overall.

Sentinel

Sentinel gives extra damage and adds your ability to control the battlefield.

Whenever you hit a creature with an opportunity attack, their speed becomes 0. This basically means that it is very likely that whatever you have in melee with you will stay there and not run around hitting your squishy casters in the back.

Also, the Disengage action does not work on you. And on top of that when creatures within 5 feet of you that make an attack against any other creature than you, you get to use your reaction to make an attack (not an opportinity attack, but still good).

Sentinel is just one of those feats that all barbarians should consider taking. The amount of combat control you get is just very powerful.

Skill Expert

If you find the lack of skils and your overall utility anoying, this might be the feat for you. You get +1 on any ability score, so only cost half a feat. You get to be proficient in any skill you would like and you get expertise (double proficieny bonus) in any skill you already have. Sweet!

You could also take skilled to just get proficieny in 3 different skills.

Slasher

A cool feat that is mainly combat control. You get +1 on str or dex.

You have to use a slashing weapon to make it work. When you hit a creature you can reduce the speed of the creature by 10 feet untill the end of your next turn. Also, when you score a critical hit that creature has disadvantage on attack rolls.

Not as powerful as the other combat feats, but some alright bonuses for “half a feat”.

Tough

Cannot get more hit points? Get this. You get HP equal to 2 times your level (so it is basicly equal to +4 constituon, without the added benefits of higher constition).

Orcish Fury

If you decide to go Half Orc, this might be a feat you should consider. You get +1 str or con. Each short or long rest you can add an additonal damage dice on an attack. Also, when you use the Half Orc Relentless Endurance you get to make one weapon attack. Not a lot of extra damage, but very thematic and good for only costing 1 ability score.

A barbarian doing some fighting

Equipment: Weapons and armor to use as a barbarian

This section is usually pretty complex, but for the barbarian, it is rather simple.

Best armors to use for barbarians

For armor you are either using no armor at all or using a medium armor. Not wearing any armor as a barbarian can work because you get your dex modifier + your con modifier on top of the normal 10 AC. So having an AC of 15-16 without armor and shield is not uncommon. With a shield it will be 17-18, which is not a bad armor class. Not wearing armor is great because you are always ready for battle and is also useful if you play in campaign where encumbrance actually matters.

If you go the armored route, mainly because your combination of dex and con is not super high, you are either looking to wear a breastplate or a half plate. You loose too many good bonuses if you ever wear a heavy armor, so that is not an option. The breastplate is 14 AC + max 2 dex modifier. THe Half plate is a bit better at 15 + 2 max dex modifier, but it incours disadvantage on stealth checks. A 14 dex, half plate and a shield would give you an AC of 19, which at low level is super good.

You can also go with a light armor, but that is only better if your dex is extremely high and your con is below 14 (which would be a weird combo).

So what is a good ac for a Barbarian?

A good AC for a level 1 barbarian is about 17 or 19 if you carry a shield. Below that can also work, especially if you are intending to use Reckless Attack every round and giving your opponents advantage anyway.

Best weapons to use for maximising barbarians melee weapon attack rolls

As a barbarian you can use all the different melee and ranged weapons in the game, including all martial melee weapon.

For a melee weapon you got a few different routes to go:

  1. You can for maximisng the lethality of your crits with a greataxe (1d12).
  2. You can go for a very reliable damage in the Greatsword (2d6)
  3. Sword and Shield is the tank way, with the any one handed weapon with 1d8 being good
  4. If there is a particular feat, that requires a specific weapon, you can go that route.

The big debate will be between going two handed or sword and board. If you go two handed the pick is between Greataxe and Greastword. If you look at the math, Greataxe underperforms against the Greatsword untill very high level or level 9 if you are a half-orc. But rolling a 1d12 feel super nice, so greataxe has been my go to for my two handed barbarians (I even had a barbarian called “Twelve” to fit the theme of only rolling d12’s).

For ranged weapons, anything can work if you have a good dex. But for short ranged, it will most be best to use a thrown weapon where you can apply your strenght modifier on the attack roll and damage roll. Handaxe and Javelin works great with 1d6 damage and a range of 20 and a range of 60 with disadvantage on the attack roll.


Multiclassing with the Barbarian

Multiclassinc barbarians is not a super complex proces. Because your abilities are mainly strenght, constiution and dextirity, you options are quite limited in what will work (caster classes are hard top combine with the barbarian).

Multiclassing the Barbarian with the Fighter

The obvious, and quite strong option, is getting some levels in Fighter. Getting two levels of fighter is terrific option and is quite popular when trying to optimize a multiclass build. At second level you get Action Surge. It gives you the option to get 1 extra action (e.g. one extra attack action, so from level 5 two attacks) each long rest. It gives your barbarian more burst damage, and level 1 Fighter gives you more survivability in the form of Second Wind and some cool bonuses in getting a Fighting Style.

You can also take 3 levels of fighter to get the Martial Archetype. That can either give you some combat utility via the Battlemaster or the ability to crit on a natural roll of 19-20 with the Champion.

Multiclassing the Barbarian with the Rogue

Not as strong as the Fighter multiclass, but going with the Rogue certianly holds some potential. Off the bat you get Sneak Attack, Expertise for betters skils and utility in Thieves Chant. Sneak attack locks you into using a finesse weapon, so rapier and sword will be the most likely combination of weapons. On paper the level 2 ability Cunning Action looks great for mobility, but most Barbarian builds trying to optimize for damage will try and use their bonus action for attacking.

There might be a Rogue Archetype at level 3 that really could fit your build, but you are straying very far from the normal “smash barbarian” and into a more utility oriented class (which can be great if you have some sort of cool idea in your head).

Multiclassing the Barbarian with other classes

The Monk would seem like a good option for the Barbarian, but their different abilities do not really function great together. The Monk hits a lot of times with great mobility. The Barbarian is more interested in hitting hard and taking the brunt of the attacks for his party. That said, there are some ways to make it work but it is that straightforward.

The Ranger and Paladin are both sort of melee, but with build in casting. Both are not very optimal to multiclass with as a barbarian, as you are not going to have the wisdom or charisma to utilize the good abilities.

This is even more the case with the full casters in the form of the Druid, Wizard and Sorcerer.


How to Create a barbarian and roleplay it

There are a lot of questions you should ask and think about when creating a barbarian character. Here are some to get your mind going:

List of other things you should ask your barbarian:

  • Why are you so mad?: The first question you should ask is why is this person raging and how do they rage? It might be because of something that happened in the past. Maybe it is just how your barbarian has been taught to fight? Is it a controlled rage or something you character can stop at will? Are his friends afraid of him when raging?
  • How barbaric are you?: the barbarian class quickly envokes images of a savage, uncivilizied person. But is this your barbarian type? Or is he more of a calm nature loving type?
  • What archetypical things does your barbarian not live up to: Maybe your barbarian is actually quite clever, not that tough, afraid of dying or more of a lover than a fighter?
  • The visuals of you barbarian: You got tribal tatoos? Loincloth? Maybe you run around in a dirty noblemans outfit? Do you collect trophies? In what condition is your gear?
  • How does your barbarian senses work?: barbarians are actuely aware of danger via abilities like danger sense. Is this sort of a spider sense? Is it because you are super nervous and suspicius?
  • Does your Barbarian Path work in some specific way?: one thing we like to do in my groups is to reflavor the subclasses we pick. So we had a Zealot that was afraid to die, an Ancestral Guardian that really hated his spirits and so on. Think of a cool way to twist the ability or theme and make it your own.
  • Once you reach certian capstones, what changes with your character: As an example, when you get persistent rage does something change in the way your characters acts in combat? Does he have a hard time ending his fury?

Check out our list of character concepts if you need some extra inspiration


List of famous and inspiring barbarians from fiction you can use as inspiration

  1. Conan the Barbarian
  2. The Bloody Nine
  3. Any old Viking
  4. Hulk
  5. Minsc
  6. Bremer Dan Gorst
  7. Wolverine

2 examples and samples of Barbarian 5e Builds

Half-Orc Barbarian Berserker 2-handed damage build (Reckless Attack for All Crits all Day)

When reading through all of the abilities, the first thing that pops into a lot of peoples head is trying to maximise your crits. This is a very simple build that will work great for now players. You just have to hit with your axe as many times as you can. It is also an effective build from level 1 all the way to the end.

To do that we want the biggest weapon we can find, Greataxe d12, and as much extra crit and extra chance to crit.

So we pair that Greataxe with the Half-Orc. You gain +2 Strenght, the ability to not go down when you hit zero and a few other bits and bobs. But the biggest thing here is Savage Attacks that adds one extra damage dice on a critical hit.

On each turn you will make use of Reckless Attack, as rolling with advantage will greatly increase the amount of crits you pull off.

The Path you take will likely be the Path of the Berserker, mainly to maximise the amount of times we attack (but Mindless Rage is also a good defensive tools). We can now attack with the Greataxe as a bonus action and at level 14 you can swing back as a reaction when anyone dares to attack you.

On level 4 you can either take more strength or a feat. The Great Weapon Master feat suits the build perfectly, as it just ads more damage (and you are getting bonus attacks via your Primal Path).

At level 8 you can get strength or a feat. Orcish Fury might be fun for more damage, but there are also other options that can boost your damage a bit more.

You get brutal Critical on level 9, you are hitting 3 times a turn (2 normal and 1 bonus action) all with 4d12 on a crit.

By now you should consider taking 3 levels in fighter. The first 2 levels will give you Great Weapon Fighting Style (reroll 1 and 2 on your 2-handed damage rolls), second wind AND action surge (this is amazing). But the 3 level of fighter is the real kicker with Champion Martial Archetype letting you crit on naturals of 19 and 20.

Tanking Build (Tanking: Take all the damage)

You are a tank so we want to be tough. Pick Hill Dwarf for more con and extra hit points from the Hill Dwarf part. The obvious path it the Path of the Totem Warrior with the level 3 bear totem giving you resistance to most damage types in the game.

Bump dex and con way up so we get as much AC and hit points as possible. Use a Shield for more AC.

When you hit 20 Constitution you can get the Tough feat for +2 hit points per level.

Springle in utility picks and try to get a healer and ways of gaining temporary hit points from your allies.

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