DnD 5e - The Barbarian Handbook
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.
- Red: Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
- Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances
- Green: Good options.
- Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.
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
- BattleragerSCAG: The Battlerager's
abilities center around the use of Spiked Armor. If you can't get spiked armor
for whatever reason, your Primal Path suddenly becomes worthless. If you want
to use that shiny magic armor you found, you're similarly out of luck. The class
abilities give you some nice damage options, and Battlerager Charge is great,
but the abilities aren't as useful or as exciting as Berserker. The racial
restriction is also frustrating, but the dependency on Constitution means that
a Dwarf would be a good choice anyway.
- Battlerager Armor: A free attack as a bonus action is great. Don't forget that your rage bonus to damage still applies. The ability to deal damage when you grapple is also nice if you like to grapple.
- Reckless Abandon: This won't be a big pile of hit points, and considering you've already got d12 hit points and good Constitution, this is fairly unimportant.
- Battlerager Charge: Similar to the Charger feat, but you can use multiple attacks as an Action.
- Spiked Retribution: Not a lot of damage at this level, but by now many enemies will have multiple attacks.
- BerserkerPHB: The Berserker is a the
classic Barbarian. If you want to get mad and wreck people's faces, the Berserker
is a good choice. The important abilities give you the ability to get extra
attacks, capitalizing on the flat damage bonus from Rage and on the huge
damage die from your two-handed weapon. Fun fact: "Berserker" translates to
"Bear Warrior", but the Berserker has nothing to do with bears.
- Frenzy: When you absolutely, positively have to kill every living thing in a room. An extra attack as a bonus action gives you the action economy of two-weapon fighting with the possible damage die of a single two-handed weapon. Exhaustion can really mess you up, so use this sparingly, and be sure to check what penalties you get for each level of exhaustion (PHB pg. 291).
- Mindless Rage: This makes you immune to two ways to take you out of combat without wearing down your huge pile of hit points.
- Intimidating Presence: The effect only lasts until the end of your next turn unless you spend your action to extend it. Fortunately extending the duration doesn't allow the creature to make additional saves so you can use this to keep enemies frightened while your allies kill them at range.
- Retaliation: More attacks are always fantastic, so get into melee and try to draw fire. Remember that this only works on enemies within 5 feet, so don't bother trying to use a polearm.
- Totem WarriorPHB: Totem Warrior is
more customizable than Berserker, but it's also more complex to play. For a
Defender, I recommend focusing on Bear. For a Striker, I recommend focusing
on Eagle. For a supporty type thing, Start with Wolf then pick up Bear for
- Spirit Seeker: Very situational.
- Totem Spirit: Totem Spirit defines your
combat tactics. Bear is for Defenders, Eagle is for Strikers, and
Wolf is for Barbarians with other Strikers in the party.
- Bear: You are basically an unstoppable pile of damage resistance and hit points.
- Eagle: Running around between enemies isn't something the Barbarian does on a regular basis, especially if you're the party's only Defender.
- ElkSCAG: Barbarians already get Fast Movement, so your speed should be fine.
- TigerSCAG: Jumping almost never matters in a game where you can gain magical flight. This is especially frustrating because it only applies when you're raging.
- Wolf: This is extremely helpful for Rogues in your party. Rogues get Sneak Attack for attacking enemies threatened by an ally, but giving them advantage makes them considerably more reliable. Unfortunately it doesn't do anything helpful for you.
- Aspect of the Beast: Remember that you
don't need to select the same animal which you selected for Totem
Spirit. The PHB options are mostly for flavor, but the options
introduced in the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide are considerably
- Bear: Carrying capacity is usually ignored, and you can always buy a mule to carry your heavy stuff. The advantage on Strength checks only affects objects, and breaking objects isn't a frequent activity in most campaigns.
- Eagle: Situational. The biggest advantage is seeing unimpeded in dim light, but if that is a problem you should get Darkvision.
- ElkSCAG: Overland travel generally happens in plot time, so in most campaigns this will have no percievable effect.
- TigerSCAG: If you needed any of these skills, you should have gotten them from your background or your free class skills. If you need more skills, pick up the Skilled feat.
- Wolf: Very situational.
- Spirit Walker: Commune With Nature isn't very powerful as far as divinations go, but it can be very useful when exploring new terrain.
- Totemic Attunement: Totemic attunement
is an improvement to your combat tactics established by Totem Spirit.
- Bear: Force nearby enemies to attack you instead of your allies. They can still move away from you, but that draws an opportunity attack from a huge horrifying Barbarian.
- Eagle: Fly over enemies. Fly into the air to hit a flying wizard, then land on something until your next turn. This might even look like Wushu fighting if you do it right.
- ElkSCAG: This is a cool trip mechanic which allows you to knock an enemy prone without cutting into your attacks. You need to use it on large or smaller enemies, which covers most enemies, but at high level you'll frequently encounter very large foes which won't be affected by this ability.
- TigerSCAG: Incompatible with the Charger feat, but a bonus action attack is always a good option and it doesn't require you to waste your Action on Dash so you canstill get your regular attacks.
- Wolf: Knocking an enemy prone gives you advantage on attacks against them, including your second attack with the Extra Attack feature. Allies threatening that enemy can already get advantage from your if you selected Wolf for your Totem Spirit, so this may not be very useful.
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|
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.
Dwarf: Most of the Dwarf's racial traits are wasted on the Barbarian, but the Constitution bonus is great and Darkvision is always welcome.
- DuergarSCAG: In a subterranean campaign, this is at least on par with Mountain Dwarf. Otherwise, sunlight sensitivity is a huge problem.
- HillPHB: A bonus to wisdom is nice, but not going to make a big difference. The bonus hit points is also helpful, but you already have a d12 hit die and a Constitution bonus from the general Dwarf traits.
- MountainPHB: A bonus to Strength on top of the Dwarf's bonus to Constitution is perfect for a Barbarian.
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.
- Drow: Nothing helpful for Barbarians.
- High Elf: Nothing helpful for Barbarians.
- Wood Elf: A wisdom bonus might help with your Wisdom saving throw, but that's about it.
GenasiEEPC: Bonus Constitution isn't as good as Strength, but it boosts the Barbarians AC and hit points, both of which are important.
- Air: Dexterity isn't particularly important for Barbarians, and the ability to hold your breath is extremely situational.
- Earth: Bonus Strength, and the ability to move across difficult terrain unimpeded helps you to get into melee in situations where it's normally difficult to do so.
- Fire: Intelligence is for Wizards. The resistance to fire is tempting, and Produce Flame is a decent option, but the spells don't really play to the Barbarian's strengths.
- Water: Wisdom is a good defensive ability, and the spells are excellent utilities. Resistance to Acid is nice, but situational.
Gnome: Nothing helpful for Barbarians.
- Deep (Svirfneblin)EEPC / SCAG: Dexterity and stealth abilities aren't useful for Barbarians.
- ForestPHB: Nothing helpful for Barbarians.
- RockPHB: The constitution bonus helps, but it's not nearly enough to make the Gnome viable for a Barbarian.
GoliathEEPC: 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.
- AquaticSCAG: Only if you're in an aquatic campaign.
- DrowSCAG: The spells are decent, and Faerie Fire presents a way to handle invisible foes which Barbarians normally can't handle, but you'll have trouble using Dancing Lights and Darkness.
- High/Moon/SunSCAG: Weapon training is redundant, and Barbarians won't get much use out of a cantrip. You might consider green flame blade, but you'll have better damage output from relying on conventional attacks.
- Keen SensesSCAG: The sidebar describing half-elf variants specifices that you can take Keen Senses in place of Skill Versatility, or a trait based on your elf parentage. Keen Senses give you a single fixed skill, and you're giving up proficiency in any two skills. It should be immediately apparent that this is a terrible trade.
- WoodSCAG: Weapon training is redundant and Mask of the Wild won't be useful without Stealth proficiency, but Fleet of Foot is great if you want to be the world's fastest Barbarian
- VanillaPHB: Two skills can get you quite a lot. Coupled with the Half-elf Charisma bonus you could easily be your party's Face.
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.
HalflingPHB: A dexterity bonus is okay for Barbarians, but small size is a problem because you can't use big weapons like a Greataxe.
- Lightfoot: Nothing helpful for Barbarians.
- Stout: A small Constitution bonus, and resistance to poison. Like a small dwarf.
HumanPHB: Versatile and fantastic at everything.
- Vanilla: Barbarians really only need two ability scores, but a +1 to all of your scores can be helpful if you use the point buy ability generation method to give yourself low, odd-numbered base abilities to save points.
- Variant: You still get crucial bonuses to your Strength and Constitution, and you can get an awesome feat at level 1. Great Weapon Master seems like an obvious choice, but remember that at low level a -5 penalty to your attacks is crippling, so you may want to save it for higher levels when you can more easily handle that penalty. The bonus skill won't see a lot of use.
Tiefling: Nothing helpful for Barbarians.
- FeralSCAG: Nothing helpful for Barbarians.
- Devil's TongueSCAG: Nothing helpful for Barbarians.
- HellfireSCAG: Nothing helpful for Barbarians.
- VanillaPHB: Nothing helpful for Barbarians.
- WingedSCAG: Nothing helpful for Barbarians.
- Animal Handling (Wis): Not really helpful for the function of the Barbarian, but the flavor makes sense.
- Athletics (Str): The only Strength-based skill, Athletics is more than climbing and swimming. You use Athletics for grappling and for pushing enemies, both of which can be excellent options for Barbarians.
- Intimidation (Cha): If you're built with a bit of Charisma for the Berserker's Intimidating Presence, you can be good at Intimidate. Otherwise, skip it.
- Nature (Int): Intelligence is a dump stat for Barbarians, but if no one in the party has access to Nature it's not an awful choice.
- Perception (Wis): One of the most important skills in the game. At least two people in the party should have it, but more is always better.
- Survival (Wis): Adventuring tends to involve a lot of wandering around in untamed wilderness, so Survival can be very helpful to your party.
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.
- AcolytePHB: Relies on abilities which are bad for Barbarians, and learning extra languages won't make the Barbarian a Face.
- CharlatanPHB: Relies on abilities which are bad for Barbarians.
- City WatchSCAG: Athletics is great, but you won't get much use from Insight or the ability to speak two languages with your garbage Charisma.
- Clan CrafterSCAG: Nothing useful for the Barbarian.
- Cloistered ScholarSCAG: You are not a Librarian or a Face.
- CourtierSCAG: You are not a Face.
- CriminalPHB: This might work for a Wolf Totem Barbarian, especially if you have a Rogue in the party who can be stealthy with you.
- EntertainerPHB: Relies on abilities which are bad for Barbarians.
- Faction AgentSCAG: Barbarians lean away from mental skills.
- Far TravelerSCAG: Nothing useful for the Barbarian.
- Folk HeroPHB: Two skills from the Barbarian skill list, and a couple of tool proficiencies. The theme works really well for a Barbarian who made a name for himself among his tribe, then set out to do some more heroics.
- Guild ArtisanPHB: Relies on abilities which are bad for Barbarians.
- HermitPHB: Medicine and herbalism can be useful for a Barbarian, especially if you don't have a healer in the party.
- InheritorSCAG: Only Survival is useful to the Barbarian.
- Knight of the OrderSCAG: Nothing useful for the Barbarian.
- Mercenary VeteranSCAG: Athletics is good, but the rest is wasted on the Barbarian.
- NoblePHB: Relies on abilities which are bad for Barbarians.
- OutlanderPHB: The go-to option for Barbarians, you get two skills from the Barbarian list, and some fun stuff like proficiency with a musical instrument which you will never use.
- SagePHB: Relies on abilities which are bad for Barbarians.
- SailorPHB: Great for aquatic campaigns. Two good skills from the Barbarian list, and boats!
- SoldierPHB: Somewhere between the Folk Hero and the Outlander. Two good skills from the Barbarian skill list, and some fun tool proficiencies.
- Urban Bounty HunterSCAG: Nothing useful for the Barbarian.
- UrchinPHB: Relies on abilities which are bad for Barbarians.
- Uthgardt Tribe MemberSCAG: Two important Barbarian skills, but instruments, artisan's tools, and languages are generally wasted on the Barbarian.
- Waterdavian NobleSCAG: Nothing useful for the Barbarian.
- AlertPHB: Feral Instinct does plenty on its own, so you shouldn't need this.
- ChargerPHB: Great for closing to melee, but situational. If you can't get into melee range with your movement it may be better to use your action to throw some javelins.
- Dual WielderPHB: Two-Weapon Fighting can be a good way to bring your bonus Rage damage into play more frequently, but since Two-Weapon Fighting uses your bonus action, this is a bad option for Berserker Barbarians.
- DurablePHB: Rage gives you resistance to most weapon damage, but you'll still face problems from spells, and with only medium armor the Barbarian's hit points typically rise and fall very far very quickly. Magical healing goes a long way, but much of your healing will come from your Hit Dice. Ideally your Constitution will be high enough to give you a big pool of hit points, so the Durable feat can go a really long way to keep your hit points high throughout the day.
- GrapplerPHB: With the Barbarian's typically fantastic Strength, grappling can be an excellent choice.
- Great Weapon MasterPHB: Barbarians are all about two-handed weapons, and Great Weapon Master offers some great options. Berserker Barbarians will find the extra attack benefit useful in fights with numerous weak enemies, allowing them to reserve their Frenzy for fights with large single enemies.
- Heavily ArmoredPHB: Rage doesn't function while you're wearing heavy armor.
- Heavy Armor MasterPHB: Rage doesn't function while you're wearing heavy armor.
- Inspiring LeaderPHB: This is generally better for more charismatic characters like Bards or Paladins, but temporary hit points are great for Barbarians. If you're building to utilize Frightful Presence, this might be worthy of consideration.
- Mage SlayerPHB: Only useful in games which feature an abnormally large number of spellcasters.
- Martial AdeptPHB: One superiority die means that you might get to use your maneuvers two or three times a day at most. Feats should be more consistently useful.
- Medium Armor MasterPHB: You won't be doing much stealth unless you went for Wolf Totem and have other stealthy people in your party, and the potential bonus to AC isn't enough to justify this feat on its own.
- MobilePHB: You already get a speed boost, and Eagle totem will provide similar benefits.
- Mounted CombatPHB: Fighting while mounted can be a great option for Barbarians, and you have plenty of hit points to absorb any attacks which might target your mount.
- Polearm MasterPHB: The Barbarian has very few options which require you to be within 5 ft. of a target. The base class offers Retaliation, and the Totem Warrior has a couple options (Totem Spirit (Wolf) and Totemic Attunement (Bear)), but if you're fine not relying on those options most of the time Polearm Master can be tempting. The bonus attack provided by the feat is especially interesting since you get the damage of a two-handed weapon and an extra chance to apply your Rage damage bonus with the bonus attack. However, since there are numerous Barbarian abilities which allow you to make extra attacks as a bonus action which are already built into the class, you may find that the bonus polearm attack frequently goes unused. The ability to make an attack when something enters your reach is nice, but considering barbarians usually handle threats by charging them first you'll likely find that this benefit also rarely applies.
- ResilientPHB: Dexterity might be a good option, but certainly not before you have hit your maximum in Strength and possibly Constitution.
- Savage AttackerPHB: This is a bad feat. The largest damage die (d12), yields an average of 2 extra damage per turn.
- SentinelPHB: This is fantastic for Defender builds, and works very nicely with the Bear totem.
- Shield MasterPHB: The best part of this is probably the ability to shove enemies (possibly shoving them prone) as a bonus action. Wolf totem provides a similar benefit.
- SkilledPHB: Helpful if your party has large skill gaps, but Barbarians aren't very good at skills, so your utility is severely limited.
- SkulkerPHB: Even if you are in a sneaky party, you should be leaping from hiding to murder things.
- Tavern BrawlerPHB: If you want to go for Grappler, this feat complements it nicely.
- ToughPHB: You need too many ability increases to make room for this feat. Instead, boost your Constitution.
- Handaxe: Your go-to option for two-weapon fighting.
- Javelin: A great disposable ranged option when you're too far away to move into melee in one turn.
- Greataxe: Brutal Critical means that a bigger damage die is better for you.
- Greatsword: More reliable damage than the Greataxe, but not as useful with Brutal Critical.
- Maul: Basically a blunt greatsword.
See also: "Unarmored Defense", above.
- Half plate: Half plate will provide more AC than your Unarmored Defense until your total modifiers in Dexterity and Cosntitution equal +7. Expect to spend most of your career in half plate unless you need to be stealth.
- Shield: Barbarians generally work best with two-handed weapons.
- Fighter: The Fighter's Fighting Style ability is decent if you go for two-weapon fighting, but Two-Weapon Fighting is hard since Barbarians already have several options which allow them to attack as a bonus action, allowing them to match TWF number of attacks while using a two-handed weapon. 2nd level brings Action Surge, which is fantastic on any character. At 3rd level consider the Champion archetype to pick up Improved Critical, which will double how often you get to use Brutal Critical.
- Monk: Unarmored Defense abilities don't stack. You use whichever you got first, according to the official FAQ.
- Rogue: A dip into Rogue for Expertise in Athletics will go a long way if you plan to use Shove or Grapple, but without the Fighter's big number of attacks Shove isn't always a great option. Cunning Action is not helpful for a Barbarian and conflicts with the numerous abilities which allow Barbarians to make attacks as a bonus action, so don't dip past first level.
- Wizard: Barbarians have almost exactly opposite abilities to Wizards, so there isn't a lot of room for compatibility.