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DnD 5e - The Barbarian Handbook

Last Updated: January 4th, 2019


I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.

I will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, even if it is my own, because I can't assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. I also won't cover Unearthed Arcana content because it's not finalized, and I can't guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.

Temporary Note: I am currently waiting to include content from the Wayfarer's Guide to Eberron. According to Dragontalk (the official D&D podcast), it's in a semi-finished state and is still subject to change, which could mean that character options in the book will see major changes before final publication. Once the book is complete, physical copies will be released and I will update to address the new content.


Barbarians are all about getting angry and dealing damage. They have a ton of hit points, resistance to damage, and Rage gives a wonderful bonus to damage. Barbarians don't get much in the way of skills, so generally they're stuck as combat monsters, but they function equally well as a Defender and a Striker.

Barbarian Class Features

Hit Points: d12 is the biggest hit die available.

Saves: Strength saves are fairly rare, but Constitution saves are common and typically very problematic.

Proficiencies: Medium armor and martial weapons will get you a long way, but you get no tool proficiencies, and only two skills.

Rage: Rage is the Barbarian's defining class feature. The bonus damage isn't huge, but it's reliable and consistent. The resistance to damage makes Barbarians exceptionally durable. You can rage multiple times in the same encounter if you absolutely need to, but your number of rages per day is limited, so try not to do so if you can avoid it.

Unarmored Defense: This is great flavor for the Barbarian, but won't do much good for you unless your abilities are very high. Your Dexterity and Constitution modifiers need to total +7 to match the total AC bonus provided by half plate armor. That's generally achievable by level 8 unless you rolled for ability scores, and assuming that you started with 14 Dexterity and largely ignored Strength. More realistically, you should expect to hit 20 Constitution by 12th level, and even then Unarmored Defense will only break even with Half plate. If magic armor is an option you'll need to put an ability increase into Dexterity before you have a good reason to drop your armor.

Reckless Attack: Rage makes you resistant to damage from normal weapons (Magical weapons which do weird damage types still work fine), so advantage on attacks against you doesn't matter as much. Go crazy. Kill all of the things.

Danger Sense: In medium armor your dexterity probably isn't fantastic, but advantage on any save is fantastic.

Primal Path: See "Subclasses - Primal Paths", below.

Extra Attack: Two attacks means potentially twice as much damage in a turn, and twice as much opportunity to apply your rage bonus to damage.

Fast Movement: Amusing, but not game-changing.

Feral Instinct: You are basically immune to surprise attacks. Advantage on initiative will allow you to go first frequently, so be sure to get into position to keep enemies from reaching your squishy allies.

Brutal Critical: Critical hits are very rare, and this makes it difficult to use a Maul effectively.

Relentless Rage: This will keep you conscious for a long time if you get hit with a low numbers of high-damage attacks, but lots of small attacks will raise the DC too quickly for this to remain effective. Be sure to eliminate weak but numerous enemies before your HP starts getting scary.

Indomitable Might: By now you might very easily have 20 Strength, so you're guaranteed to get a ridiculously high roll on any Strength check. Remember that saves and attacks aren't checks, so you still need to roll high on those.

Primal Champion: The equivalent of 4 ability increases all at once. Your abilities should be absurd by this point, so now may be a good time to abandon your armor in face of running around slaying monsters in your undergarments.

Subclasses - Primal Paths


Barbarians are all about their physical ability scores. If your scores are good enough you can forgo armor, so it's nice to have adequate Dexterity and Constitution to beat the AC bonus provided by half plate.

Str: Barbarians are all about lots of Strength and big weapons, so Strength should almost always be your best ability.

Dex: 14 Dexterity is great to boost your AC with half plate. If you prefer to go armor-less, look for an item to boost your Dexterity so that you can spend your ability increases on Strength and Constitution.

Con: Second only to Strength. Barbarians take a lot of damage, so you need all the hit points you can get. Constituion also powers Unarmored Defense.

Int: Dump stat. Intelligence saves are very rare, and Barbarians don't get any Intelligence-based skills.

Wis: Wisdom saves are common, so don't dump it, but don't put a ton of effort into improving it.

Cha: Charisma only matters for a couple of the Barbarian's skills, and for the Berserker's Intimidating Presence. If you went for Totem Warrior and didn't pick up Intimidation, you can dump Charisma and use the points to boost your Wisdom.

Point Buy Standard Array
  • Str: 15
  • Dex: 14
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 8
  • Wis: 10
  • Cha: 10
  • Str: 15
  • Dex: 13
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 8
  • Wis: 12
  • Cha: 10


Look for bonuses to Strength and medium size so that you can effectively use big weapons like a Greataxe.

AarakocraEEPC: Flight is fantastic, but the Aarakocra's abilities don't work well for a Barbarian.

AasimarVGTM: Charisma won't do much for a barbarian.

BugbearVGTM: Dexterity might not seem like an obvious benefit for a barbarian, and it's not as good as Constitution, but the AC bonus is still helpful. Reach makes it easy to compete with larger creatures or attack smaller foes at a distance, and Sneaky allows you to be an ambush predator.

Dwarf: Most of the Dwarf's racial traits are wasted on the Barbarian, but the Constitution bonus is great and Darkvision is always welcome. The Dwarven Fortitude racial feat can be a great way to keep yourself alive in combat if your AC is low and you don't have healing readily available.

DragonbornPHB: A bonus to Strength is great, but the bonus to Charisma is wasted unless you want to use Intimidating Rage a bunch. The Dragonborn's breath weapon is helpful for handling groups of weak enemies which a Barbarian would normally need to wade through one or two at a time.

ElfPHB: A bonus to Dexterity isn't as helpful as one to Strength or Constitution, but the Elf's other racial traits are great for the Barbarian. Darkvision is excellent, and Keen Senses saves you a skill choice.

FirbolgVGTM: A bit too tricksy and indirect for a Barbarian.

GenasiEEPC: Bonus Constitution isn't as good as Strength, but it boosts the Barbarians AC and hit points, both of which are important.

Gith: Githyanki are great, Githzerai are terrible and you should ignore them.

Gnome: Nothing helpful for the Barbarian.

GoblinVGTM: Nothing helpful for the Barbarian.

GoliathVGTM/EEPC: Tailor-made to be a melee Monster. Bonuses to your important abilities, free Athletics proficiency, and Stone's Endurance adds a pile to your effective daily hit point total.

Half-Elf: Several of the half-elf variants are good choices, and if you want to excel at Intimidation half-elf is the way to go. Otherwise, the Mountain Dwarf and Variant Human will be better at killing things.

Half-OrcPHB: The Half-Orc is tailor-made for the Barbarian. Bonuses to Strength and Constitution are essential, Darkvision is great, and you save a skill choice on Intimidate. The Half-Orc's other abilities match some of the Barbarian's class features, but it appears that they work together, so you can essentially double-down on Brutal Critical and Relentless Rage. The Prodigy racial feat is excellent if you plan to use Athletics for grappling. The Orcish fury racial feat is tempting with a greataxe, but probably not worth the feat.

HalflingPHB: A dexterity bonus is okay for Barbarians, but small size is a problem because you can't use big weapons like a Greataxe.

HobgoblinVGTM: The Consitution bonus and Saving Face are both great, but that's really the only thing that the barbarian can use.

HumanPHB: Versatile and fantastic at everything. The Prodigy racial feat is excellent if you plan to use Athletics for grappling.

KenkuVGTM: Nothing helpful for the Barbarian.

KoboldVGTM: Strength penalty.

LizardfolkVGTM: Natural Armor and the lizardfolk's Constitution increase conflict a bit on a barbarian because Unarmored Defense and Natural Armor both provide alternatives to conventional armor, but the lizardfolk still makes a fun barbarian.

OrcVGTM: Aggressive is cool, but the half-orc is considerably better than the full orc.

TabaxiVGTM: Nothing helpful for the Barbarian.

Tiefling: Nothing helpful for the Barbarian.

TortleTP: +2 Strength and 17 natural armor is fantastic for a Barbarian. With a solid source of AC, you don't need to worry about Dexterity, especially at low levels before you've picked up multiple Ability Score Increases. Survival proficiency is nice, too.

TritonVGTM: The ability increases are decent, but the triton's other racial traits don't do much for the barbarian.

Yuan-Ti PurebloodVGTM: Nothing helpful for the Barbarian.

Races of Ravnica

CentaurGGTR: The Strength increase is a great start, and Charge is fantastic on a barbarian. If you rage before charging, the hoof attack is an extra opportunity to apply your Rage bonus to damage, not to mention your crazy Strength bonus.

GoblinGGTR: See above.

LoxodonGGTR: The Constitution increase is great, but Natural Armor will hopefully be overridden by Unarmored Defense, and the Loxodon has very little else to contribute to the Barbarian.

MinotaurGGTR: Minotaurs are absolutely perfect barbarians. The ability increases are fantastic. Goring Rush gets you the most important part of the Charger feat, and Hammering Horns gets you the most important part of the Shield Master feat without requiring a shield.

Simic HybridGGTR: With the flexible ability increase in Strength, the Simic Hybrid is an interesting and versatile option for the Barbarian. The first round of Animal Enhancement gets you some utility options which the Barbarian has no way to replicate, and the second offers several appealing combat options which will nicely complement your class features.

VedalkenGGTR: Nothing helpful for the Barbarian.



Barbarians can't do a lot with skills, but what skills you do want are on the Barbarian skill list. When looking for a Background, try to pick up skills which complement your existing skill proficiencies and which capitalize on your ability scores.




See also: "Unarmored Defense", above.