Pathfinder - Character Optimization - The Unchained Barbarian Handbook
Last Updated: October 15, 2018
I support a limited subset of Pathfinder's rules content. If you would like help with Pathfinder player options not covered here, please email me and I am happy to provide additional assistance.
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.
- 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.
The Barbarian is in a lot of ways indicative of some of the design flaws of DnD 3.x which carried over to Pathfinder. Chief among them was abilities which temporarily changed a character's ability scores, requiring the player to recalculate their whole character sheet during the course of their turn, leading to frustrating slowdowns at the table. Unlike the Unchained Rogue, the Unchained Barbarian isn't a significant jump in power level and viability over the vanilla Barbarian. Instead, it's a massive simplification of the mechanics to make the class more playable with less painful and time-consuming math.
This guide is for the Unchained Barbarian. For the vanilla Barbarian, see my Barbarian Handbook.
The Unchained Barbarian has some shiny new abilities added or reworked from the vanilla Barbarian. Here's a quick look at the new/updated features.
- Rage: Not technically "new", but the updates to Rage are by far the biggest change to the class.
- Updated Rage Powers: Many Rage Powers have gotten an update, including the addition of "Stance Powers". The updated Rage Powers have removed the need for complicated Rage Cycling builds.
- Danger Sense: An improved version of Trap Sense, which has always been a throw-away ability.
Since so little has changed about the Barbarian, the advice in my Barbarian Handbook is still completely valid. The only real addition is that you should pick up at least 1 Stance Power.
Because the Unchained Barbarian changed so little about how the Barbarian works, it raises a persistent question: Which is better under any specific circumstance? There isn't a clear answer across the board. If you're in a party with abundant Morale bonuses to attack and damage, the Unchained Barbarian is a poor choice. Other than that, which option is best varies from build to build.
The vanilla Barbarian does slightly more damage with two-handed weapons because their Strength increases, but the Unchained Barbarian does just as well offensively with any other weapon arrangement (sword and board, TWF natural weapons, etc.). The Unchained Barbarian is better defensively because Unchained Rage provides temporary hit points rather than altering your Constitution score and potentially killing you whenever your rage ends, not to mention the vastly improved options for defensive Rage Powers like Improved Damage Reduction. Stance powers replace a number of weak Rage Powers which ended your rage, but if you plan to rely on rage cycling, that usually doesn't matter.
If the difference of a point or two of damage doesn't seem worth the extra math required to play the vanilla Barbarian, stick to the Unchained Barbarian. I spend a ton of time doing math related to this game, and honestly I would take the Unchained Barbarian 9 times out of 10.