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Pathfinder - Barbarian Archetype Breakdown

Disclaimer

I will use content from the core rules, but will intentionally omit any content not published on the official Pathfinder SRD due to the unmanageable volume of non-SRD content, and the wildly varying quality of non-SRD content. If you would like me to write handbooks for specific content not published on the official SRD, please email me and I will consider it on a case-by-case basis. I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks. Also note that many colored items are also links to the Paizo SRD.

Temporary Note: Pathfinder Unchained and Occult Adventures were both recently added to the SRD. I'm excited to explore them, and I am actively working on adding their contents to my collection of handbooks. I appreciate your patience while I make these changes.

Archetypes

The Barbarian is typically a melee striker with a pile of hit points and DR to compensate for their relative lack of AC. While few archetypes can break the Barbarian out of this role, many change the way that the Barbarian accomplishes their primary duty of turning their enemies into pink mist.

Armored Hulk

If you are comfortable with the Barbarian's already impressive damage, but really need to tank for the party, Armored Hulk is a solid option. You give up Fast Movement and your other tradeable abilities (Uncanny Dodge, Trap Sense), but you get proficiency with heavy armor, and you gradually get the ability to move your normal speed in it. You won't be able to move 40 feet like a normal barbarian, but 30 foot move speed in full plate is still fairly impressive. Combined with Barbarian hit points, people will have a lot of problems taking you out of a fight.

Weapon and Armor Proficiency: One of Barbarians' biggest problems is their low AC. Throw heavy armor on them, and you have an unstoppable ball of hitpoints wrapped in nice thick armor. This could easily be gained from a feat or a dip into Fighter, but Fast Movement only works in light an medium armor.

Indomitable Stance (Ex): One of your biggest problems in heavy armor is going to be your speed, so giving up Fast Movement is disappointing. The bonuses against charges and overrun/trample are highly situational.

Armored Swiftness (Ex): Don't give up on the idea of fast movement just yet. This brings your speed in heavy armor up to 25 feet. You won't be winning many races, but at least you're faster than halflings.

Resilience of Steel (Ex): Situational. With heavy armor, your AC should be high enough that critical hits aren't a frequent problem. You also have plenty of hit points to fall back on.

Improved Armored Swiftness (Ex): This allows a human barbarian to move at 30 feet, and run 3 times his/her speed in heavy armor. At level 5 you can reasonably expect to have full plate, so you probably haven't spent too many levels moving slowly.

Replaced Features: Weapon and Armor Proficiency, fast movement, uncanny dodge, Trap Sense, improved uncanny dodge

Compatible Archetypes: None.

Breaker

The aptly named Breaker is a Sunder archetype. You get bonus damage to break things, and you get bonus damage when using broken weapons. Eventually you get so good with broken weapons that they actually deal more damage than non-broken weapons.

Destructive (Ex): With Greater Sunder, this is potentially damage applied to whoever is wielding the target of your sunder.

Battle Scavenger (Ex): At 6th level, the damage bonus equals the penalty for using a broken weapon. At 9th level you do more damage with a broken weapon. The bonus isn't huge, but it's certainly better than Trap Sense.

Replaced Features: Fast Movement, Trap Sense

Compatible Archetypes: Wild Rager.

Brutal Pugilist

Barbarians make excellent grapplers. Despite not getting the Monk's bonus unarmed damage, Barbarians' huge strength and rage powers give them a lot of options in a grapple.

To really understand how to use this archetype, you need to have a good understating of how grappling works.

Savage Grapple (Ex): Even for a grappler, you want to be the one who starts a grapple. The ability to defend yourself against other grapplers goes a long way to make sure you start a grapple with the upper hands. Reducing the penalties from the Grappled condition also makes you less of an easy target while grappling.

Pit Fighter (Ex): The bonus is small, and you get a total of 6 choices over 20 levels. I would choose CMB for grapple, then CMD for grapple, then pick whatever else you think is fun. Removing your armor for another +1 may be tempting, but +1 to your CMB/CMD hardly outweighs the benefits of armor, especially at high levels where a +1 to CMB/CMD is such a small portion of your bonus.

Improved Savage Grapple (Ex): Now you can grapple with effectively no penalties. This is hugely important because whoever you are grappling with will still be taking penalties to dexterity, and therefore to their CMD. Combined with the +5 for being in control of a grapple, this is a huge advantage.

Replaced Features: Uncanny Dodge, Trap Sense, Improved Uncanny Dodge

Compatible Archetypes: Drunken Brute, Hurler, Urban Barbarian.

Drunken Brute

The Drunken Brute is a very simple archetype. You give up Fast Movement for a really fantastic drinking ability, which then turns a lot of otherwise terrible drinking-related rage powers into really fun mechanics. As you grow in level, you will need to spend more time drinking to charge your rage powers, so sometimes it may be a good idea to pre-funk encounters.

Raging Drunk (Ex): Drinking a potion as a move action is a really fantastic ability, and doing it without provoking attacks of opportunity is a huge benefit. That alone makes this archetype an excellent class dip, but the benefits don't stop there. Drinking makes your current round not consume a rage round for the day, which means you can keep raging as long as you have enough booze on hand.

Replaced Features: Fast Movement

Compatible Archetypes: Brutal Pugilist, Elemental Kin, Hateful Rager (Half-Orc), Invulnerable Rager, Savage Barbarian, Superstitious, Wild Rager.

Elemental Kin

A very simple archetype, Elemental Kin replaces Trap Sense with an amusing recharge mechanic that fuels your rage rounds when you take energy damage. The bonus rounds aren't huge, but if you haven't given up Trap Sense for another archetype, this is almost guaranteed to be a good option. If you have a convenient source of elemental damage (such as a camp fire), and a bunch of free/cheap healing, you can sit and damage yourself to generate rage rounds.

Elemental Fury (Ex): This isn't particularly good, but it's better than Trap Sense, and it gets you free rage rounds once in a while.

Replaced Features: Trap Sense

Compatible Archetypes: Drunken Brute, Hurler, Mounted Fury, Sea Reaver, Totem Barbarian, Urban Barbarian, Wild Rager.

Hurler

If you want to build a ranged barbarian, this is a must. Otherwise, don't bother.

Skilled Thrower (Ex): The biggest problem that thrown weapons have is their lack of range. In most cases, you can charge as far as you can effectively throw a spear. Adding 10 feet range increments of thrown weapons and objects is nice, but unless you are planning to build a purely ranged barbarian, it's not going to make a noticeable difference.

Replaced Features: Fast Movement

Compatible Archetypes: Brutal Pugilist, Elemental Kin, Hateful Rager (Half-Orc), Invulnerable Rager, Savage Barbarian, Superstitious, Wild Rager.

Invulnerable Rager

Do you like Barbarian damage reduction? Then this is the archetype for you. The DR scales considerably faster, and you give up the worst of the Barbarian's abilities. You also get some modest resistance to either cold or fire, but that's not really the key component to this archetype.

Invulnerability (Ex): DR/- at level 2, and the scaling is very nice.

Extreme Endurance (Ex): The resistance to fire or cold is nice, but you will probably forget that you have this because the bonus is so small. Still, it's better than Trap Sense.

Replaced Features: Uncanny Dodge, Trap Sense, Improved Uncanny Dodge, Damage Reduction

Compatible Archetypes: Drunken Brute, Hurler, Urban Barbarian.

Mounted Fury

Mounted charging is a great mechanic for Barbarians. With their absurd strength and Power Attack, Barbarians can do a ton of damage on a single attack. Throw that behind Spirited Charge with a lance, and you're tripling your already impressive damage.

Fast Rider (Ex): If you're going to be charging over/through enemies, you need as much move speed as you can get. This helps, but remember to get horseshoes of speed as soon as it's practical to do so.

Bestial Mount (Ex): Animal companions are considerably better than some horse you bought from the local farm. It will have more hitpoints, better AC, and you can add feats to it as you level. Make sure to give it Improved Overrun so that you can overrun and trample enemies while charging more important targets.

Replaced Features: Fast Movement, Uncanny Dodge, Improved Uncanny Dodge

Compatible Archetypes: Elemental Kin, Savage Barbarian, Superstitious.

Savage Barbarian

Barbarians have a lot of problems with their AC. This archetype attempts to address that by removing your armor and replacing it with small bonuses to AC. These bonuses won't match up to a chain shirt until level 9, and will never catch up to a chain shirt with only modest enhancements. Oh, and since you apparently like losing all of your hit points to every kobold with a pointy stick, you also give up your DR.

Naked Courage (Ex): There is no way this dodge bonus can make up for your lack of armor, and the bonus to saves against fear is negligible.

Natural Toughness (Ex): You need all of the AC you can get, but giving up DR is cruel. With so little armor, DR seems like a foregone conclusion.

Replaced Features: Trap Sense, Damage Reduction

Compatible Archetypes: Drunken Brute, Hurler, Mounted Fury, Sea Reaver, Totem Barbarian, Urban Barbarian, Wild Rager.

Sea Reaver

Even in an aquatic campaign, the best ability that this archetype has to offer is a bonus to a short list of skills.

Weapon and Armor Proficiency: Fixable with a feat, but still annoying. The armor check penalties form medium armor also make swimming hard.

Marine Terror (Ex): Fight in wading pools! Situational at best, even in heavily aquatic campaigns.

Eyes of the Storm (Ex): Highly situational, even in an aquatic campaign.

Savage Sailor (Ex): Those are all of the skills which you would need in an aquatic campaign, and with the Barbarian's fairly small pool of skill ranks it's nice to see some bonuses.

Sure-Footed (Ex): Situational.

Replaced Features: Armor Proficiency, Fast Movement, Uncanny Dodge, Improved Uncanny Dodge

Compatible Archetypes: Elemental Kin, Savage Barbarian, Superstitious.

Scarred Rager

This archetype has a really cool flavor, but the implementation is disappointing. All of the benefits are very situational, and even in situations where they apply they aren't very good.

Terrifying Visage (Ex): The benefits are highly situational, and you have to give up Fast Movement, which is great on a Barbarian.

Tolerance (Ex): All of the listed effects are minor and rare, which makes this very situational.

Scarification (Ex): Bleed damage is very rare, and not particularly scary. Ignoring 1 point per round isn't going to win you any fights.

Improved Tolerance (Ex): The added effects are more common and considerably more troublesome than the first bunch of effects.

Replaced Features: Fast Movement, Uncanny Dodge, Trap Sense, Improved Uncanny Dodge

Compatible Archetypes: None.

Superstitious

Spellcasters are one of the scariest enemies in Pathfinder. Despite the name and flavor of this archetype, the abilities it provides are well suited to fighting nearly any foe, whether or not it can cast spells.

Sixth Sense (Ex): Insight bonuses to AC go on all types of AC, similar to deflection bonuses, and because they're so rare they are very easy to stack with your other bonuses. The bonus to initiative is also nice so that you can get charging early in the fight.

Keen Senses (Ex): Giving up DR hurts, but the crazy number of additional/improved senses that you gain are certainyl worth the cost. These senses make you more able to fight in areas of Darkness, and eventually let you find and fight invisible creatures without issue.

Replaced Features: Trap Sense, Damage Reduction

Compatible Archetypes: Drunken Brute, Hurler, Mounted Fury, Sea Reaver, Urban Barbarian, Wild Rager.

Titan Mauler

Titan Mauler is a great concept, run straight into the ground by the way Jotungrip is worded. Titan Mauler should let you use a Large two-handed weapon at an additional penalty, which should then be offset by the Massive Weapons ability. Instead, you can use a greatsword in one hand. That is literally the entire function of the archetype as currently written. The Paizo boards arrived at the same conclusion, and house-rules to fix this issue are abundant.

Big Game Hunter (Ex): Situational, especially if you plan to use Enlarge Person. And you should really plan to use Enlarge Person. At high levels when enemies are consistently enormous, this becomes easier to use, but a +1 bonus really isn't going to matter much at the levels where you face the biggest foes.

Jotungrip (Ex): Jotungrip allows you to wield an appropriately sized two-handed weapon in one hand, which means you can wield a Greatsword or a two-handed polearm in one hand at a -2 penalty. This does not allow you to wield oversized weapons (such as a Large Bastard Sword) any better. You could always dual-wield greatswords, which would look super cool at the expense of actually hitting things.

Massive Weapons (Ex): The penalty for using weapons too large for you is -2 per size category, so the benefit for this ability caps out at level 6.

Evade Reach (Ex): It's a very good day when you have reach, but the giant/dragon/dinosaur you're fighting doesn't. Of course, you're going to charging into melee where this will only matter for the first round or two. Unless you're built to make a lot of attacks of opportunity (which is a fighter's job), this won't be very important.

Titanic Rage (Su): Burning through your rage rounds at double speed sucks. At this level you should have enough gold that you can afford to chug potions of Enlarge Person whenever you get thirsty. If you have a wizard handy, they can use a wand on you, or you can use Permanency and be permanently large for a measly 2500 gp, which any decent Barbarian should be doing anyway.

Replaced Features: Fast Movement, Uncanny Dodge, Trap Sense, Improved Uncanny Dodge, Indomitable Will

Compatible Archetypes: None.

True Primitive

The only appealing part of this archetype is Trophy Fetish, which still isn't fantastic. You give up almost all of your decent weapon choices, normal armor, the potential to learn to read, and Trap Sense to get a bunch of things which are considerably worse. The only thing you want from this archetype is the Trophy Fetish morale bonus to saves, which is a common bonus type that you can get from a Bard or about a dozen spells.

Weapon and Armor Proficiency: It's a very sad day when a barbarian has to step down to using a shield or two-handing a battleaxe.

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Illiteracy: Hillarious. I wish all barbarians had this solely for comic relief.

Favored Terrain (Ex): One of the Ranger's worst abilities, and you get a worse version of it.

Trophy Fetish (Ex): The morale bonus to damage is pathetic, but the permanent morale bonus to saving throws is fantastic. That's ALL of your saving throws. All throws, all the time. No Bard required.

Replaced Features: Armor and Weapon Proficiency, Fast Movement, Trap Sense

Compatible Archetypes: Wild Rager.

Urban Barbarian

This is a very weird archetype. You give up some of your wilderness-related skills and get Diplomacy, a couple of knowledge skills, and linguistics. You also trade in the barbarian's signature Rage ability from "Controlled Rage" which sacrifices some of the total bonus for the ability to choose which physical ability to increase, and you don't take penalties while raging. This has a lot of potential for creative use, but this isn't a go-to option for people looking to get angry and crush things.

Weapon and Armor Proficiency: Your armor class is already enough of a problem, so why not make it worse?

Skills: What the hell did I just read? A barbarian with Diplomacy and Linguistics? And two knowledge skills?

Crowd Control (Ex): The bonus to attacks/ac is lousy, and if you're adjacent to two enemies you aren't murdering hard enough. Intimidating crowds is hillarious, but not very important.

Controlled Rage (Ex): This is not entirely awful. It allows for a wide range of builds dependent on either strength or dexterity, and even provides some interesting options as a class dip. However, strength will always be the easiest damage option, and this likely won't make you as scary in combat as normal rage.

Replaced Features: Class Skills, Armor Proficiency, Fast Movement, Rage

Compatible Archetypes: Brutal Pugilist, Elemental Kin, Hateful Rager (Half-Orc), Invulnerable Rager, Savage Barbarian, Superstitious.

Wild Rager

Wild Rager is all about giving yourself the Confused status condition. If you like being confused and useless, this is the archetype for you. If you like being able to act on your turns, don't give this archetype another look. I have seen some truly awful archetypes, but this is just insulting.

Uncontrolled Rage (Ex): The Barbarian's primary job is to reduce things to 0 hit points. This spits in the face of everything Barbarians stand for. Confusion means that there is a very real chance that you will stop and stand still for a full turn. Just stand there, confused at the fact that you beat someone to a bloody pulp and they fell down as result. That is literally you primary job. Why would that possibly confuse you? Even worse, the DC gets harder considerably faster than your will saves increase. Oh, and having higher constitution makes it even worse. The better a barbarian you are, worse this problem gets.

Wild Fighting (Ex): The extra attack at -2 is right in line with rapid shot, and an extra attack on a barbarian is a scary prospect. The -4 penalty to AC is crippling, and drops this from blue to green.

Rage Conversion (Ex): Confusion is a 4th level spell, and is a solid save-or-suck effect because it reduces the target to a babbling maniac. You have equal chances to act normally, do literally nothing, hurt yourself, or attack the nearest creature, which could very well be a tree or an ally. Why would you want to substitute what may be a slightly annoying status effect for one which takes you out of the fight 3/4 of the time.

Replaced Features: Rage, Uncanny Dodge, Improved Uncanny Dodge

Compatible Archetypes: Breaker, Drunken Brute, Elemental Kin, Hurler, Savage Barbarian, Superstitious, True Primitive.