skip to main content
I'm working on a new version of RPGBOT.net. Find out more on the new blog and read this page on the new site.
RPGOT Logo RPGBOT

DnD 3.5 - The Barbarian Handbook

Disclaimer

RPGBOT uses the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which tend to be more consistent than 3.5 handbooks. Because so little of 3.5 is available on the SRD, I will attempt to tag items with a superscript indicating their book of origin. For help identifying sourcebook abbreviations, see my Sourcebook Abbreviations Guide.

  • 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.

It's important to note that I generally omit campaign-setting specific content. I am of the opinion that those options are intended to be limited to campaigns run in those settings, and as such they don't really apply to a generic campaign. Those options also tend to be wildly unbalanced and rarely recieve errata. I also omit the use of "Flaws" since they allow a massive increase in power with essentially no cost to the character.

Introduction

Sometimes you just want to get really angry and hit stuff. I get it. The Barbarian is almost exclusively limited to a defender/striker role, but that does not make them boring by any means.

Barbarian Class Features

Hit Points: d12 is the biggest hit die in the game.

Base Attack Bonus: Full BAB.

Saves: Fortitude is the Barbarian's only good save.

Proficiencies: Medium armor, shields, and martial weapons. That gets you everything you need to get by, but not having heavy armor can be a problem for low-dexterity Barbarians who need a decent AC.

Skills: 4+ skill points, and a few decent skills.

Fast Movement (Ex): Some extra move speed is nice when you like to get into melee combat quickly, and it offsets the speed lost by wearing medium armor. Remember that it doesn't work in heavy armor, so be sure to trade this in for an ACF if you want heavy armor.

Illiteracy: REEDING IS FOAR WIZZURDS.

Rage (Ex): Rage is why your play a Barbarian. it's good at first level and it stays good at every level. This is the primary reason for Barbarian class dips, and since Rage doesn't improve until 11th level, a single level dip into Barbarian is very appealing for many Strength-based builds. The only thing you give up by not sticking to Barbarian is users per day, but you can pick up Extra Rage if you really need it.

Uncanny Dodge (Ex): Situational.

Trap Sense (Ex): Very situational.

Improved Uncanny Dodge (Ex): Very situational.

Damage Reduction (Ex): DR/- is fantastic, but it scales very slowly, and won't make up for a real AC.

Greater Rage (Ex): More rage bonuses! By this level your Strength should be boosted by at least a +4 enhancement bonus, so your Strength should be extremely high while raging.

Indomitable Will (Ex): Enchantment is one of the most dangerous schools, especially for a raging Barbarian who could easily murder their own party, so a bonus on saves is helpful. However, Enchantment effects still make up a very small minority of magic in the game, so this is situational at best.

Tireless Rage (Ex): Fatigued is essentiall nothing, but it's nice that you can continue to burn through rages without consequence.

Mighty Rage (Ex): Still more rage bonuses! By this level an extra +2 is pretty small, but it certainly doesn't hurt.

Alternate Class Features

  • Berserker RagePHB2: The biggest limitation on Rage is its limited number of uses per day, so naturally you need to be careful to only use it when you need it. Berserker Rage makes that decision for your: If you fall below 5xlevel hit points, you need to Rage. You get that wonderful Strength bonus, but not the dangerous Consitution bonus which can take you from angry to dead instantly at the end of your Rage. You get a typeless bonus to all saves instead of the Con bonus to Fortitude and the Morale bonus to saves against fear. On top of all that, you get bonus DR which stacks with your existing Barbarian DR. Altogether this is a really great trade. The rules don't explain how your rage ends if you don't recieve healing, so RAW you can stay in Rage for days while your natural healing kicks in. Check with your DM to be sure.
  • Bonus FeatSand: Unfortunately the feat choices are generally poor.
    • Blazing Berserker: Immunity to fire is nice, but vulnerability to cold seems dangerous.
    • Endurance: Awful, but it opens up a couple of better feats.
    • Great Fortitude: Fortitude is your only good save. It shouldn't need more help.
    • Heat Endurance: Only useful in Sandstorm campaigns.
    • Improved Heat Endurance: You can get more fire resistance form a second-level spell.
    • Judged by Aurifar: Worthless even in a desert..
    • Sand skimmer: Very situational.
    • Scorpion’s Resolve: Mind-affecting spells and abilities cover nearly all Will saves, with rare exceptions like Glitterdust, so this is a nice bonus..
    • Self-Sufficient: Small bonus to two skills, only one of which is a Barbarian class skill.
  • FerocityWeb: Bonus Dexterity instead of Consitution means that you can be a Dexterity-based Barbarian. You get the benefit of Instantaneous Rage for free, and you don't take a penalty to AC unlike normal rage.
  • Roof-DwellerWeb: Two lousy feats.
  • Spell SenseCM: Very few spells target your AC, and those which do will target your touch AC. This bonus isn't nearly enough to protect you from disintegrate.
  • StreetfighterWeb: Give up DR for some really cool charging abilities.
  • Spiritual TotemsCC: Lion totem.
    • Bear: Improved Grab can be really great if you're going for Bear Warrior or a grapple build.
    • Eagle: The bonuses are big, but Spot and Search aren't class skills for Barbarians, so the bonuses will quickly fall behind DC's.
    • Fox: Barbarians are not stealth. They just aren't.
    • Lion: Pounce. Forget all other things: you get Pounce. Pounce is huge for melee characters. Rage is reason #1 to take a Barbarian dip, but Pounce is a considerably better reason.
    • Wolf: Flanking is for Rogues.
  • Wasteland Damage ReductionSand: Who wrote this? Seriously? You give up one of your precious rage uses for a single point of DR which only works against wasteland creatures.
  • Wasteland Trap SenseSand: Somehow they managed to make Trapsense worse.

Substitution Levels

  • Fangshields BarbarianCoV: The 3rd level replacement is tempting, but none of the abilities are particularly great.
    • 3rd level: Charging is when you really want that speed bonus, but remember that Fast Movement is already an enhancement bonus, so the two don't stack.
    • 5th level: Typically you want to keep enemies within reach so that you can keep them from running away or charging at you. However, this can be nice against enemies that rely on making a full attack.
    • 7th level: Use one of your handful of daily rages and give up DR for an effect which you could replace with a potion.
  • Half-Orc BarbarianRoD: The 2nd and 7th-level abilities are worthy of consideration, but Half-Orcs are still bad.
    • 2nd level: More attack bonus on your charge means that you can safely afford more Power Attack.
    • 5th level: Very situational.
    • 7th level: 2 points of damage with any two-handed weapon is a decent trade for a single point of DR.
  • Goliath BarbarianRoS: The 7th-level ability is fantastic, but you can do without the others.
    • 1st level: You get the rest of the benefits of being large that Goliaths don't get from Powerful Build. This means that the Goliath is essentially equal to an Orc with Enlarge Person.
    • 5h level: A +1 armor enhancement for free is nice, but you can do better with other ACFs.
    • 7th level: Nearly nothing has adamantine weaponry, so this doubles your DR against nearly every enemy.
  • Planar BarbarianPlH: The abilities are garbage.
    • 3rd level: Very situational.
    • 7th level: Extra DR against outsiders and extraplanar creatures, but less DR against the rest of monster manual.
    • 11th level: Like a lousy version of the Frightful Presence feat.

Unearthed Arcana

Check with your DM before consider any content from unearthed Arcana

  • Barbarian Variant: Totem Barbarian: Barbarian totems are a really fun flavor, and some offer some really great abilities. They replace the worst of the Barbarian's class features, so in many cases totems are a strict improvement on the vanilla Barbarian.
    • Ape Totem: Power attack is an obvious first-level feat choice for a Barbarian, so you'll probably get a free feat at level 3 instead. The intimidate bonus is nice if you are going for an Intimidating Rage build. The climb speed also exists, but potions of spider climb cost 50gp, so it's not really important.
    • Bear Totem: Grappling in 3.5 is awful, and I hate everyone who does it. It takes forever, it's hard to remember all the rules minutae, and it's exceptionally hard to do effectively. The fact that you get Toughness (arguably the worst feat in the game) at first level just adds insult to injury.
    • Boar Totem: Boar is a great improvement on the vanilla Barbarian without changing the way it plays. All of the abilities make you harder to take out of combat, but remember that Diehard is a double-edged sword: you go straight from fighting to dead without the nice safe cushion of unconciousness.
    • Dragon Totem: Blind-Fight and the save bonuses are situational, and as cool as the Frightening Presence would be for a Barbarian, it's Charisma-based, which can problematic. If you want to go for a fear-stacking build, consider Ape Totem or the Frightful Presence feat instead.
    • Eagle Totem: The bonus to Spot is nice, but since Spot isn't a class skill for Barbarians it will quickly fall behind normal Spot DC's. Lightning Reflexes is fine, but if you want good reflexes you should play a Dex-based class.
    • Horse Totem: The flavor is interesting, but the mechanics are terrible. Are you supposed to be a distance runner, or a rider?
    • Jaguar Totem: Vanilla barbarian.
    • Lion Totem: Run is dumb, hiding is for Rogues, and you can do far better than a pitiful +2 bonus to damage on a charge.
    • Serpent Totem: The serpent totem seems to be about sneaking up on things and grappling them, but Barbarians aren't stealthy, and grappling is terrible.
    • Wolf Totem: Improved Trip is a great feat for a lot of melee characters, which makes Wolf Totem appealing for a two-level class dip, especially on characters who can't spare the Intelligence and Dexterity to waste on Combat Expertise.
  • Rage Variant: Whirling Frenzy: Instead of boosting your Constitution and penalizing your AC, you get extra AC and Reflex saves, and an extra attack. Great for Barbarians, but it's dramatically better for Barbarian dips from classes that don't like to sacrifice their AC.
  • Variant Barbarian: Rage is the reason you play a Barbarian. Why would you give that up for a bunch of crappy Ranger class features?

Abilities

Barbarians are all about Strength and Consitution. Dexterity and Wisdom are nice to have for your poor saves, but don't spend too much on them.

Str: Strength rules the Barbarian. You want as much as possible as fast as possible. Get a big pile of strength, and drop it on your problems.

Dex: Take a bit for AC and Reflex saves.

Con: With likely low AC, hit points are crucial. Get a big pile of hit points to hide behind.

Int: You get 4+ skill ranks and probably don't need that many, so you can dump Intelligence.

Wis: Take a bit for Listen and for Will saves.

Cha: Dump stat. Even if you go for fear-based builds it's easy to overcome a minor lack of Charisma.

32 Point Buy 28 Point Buy 22 Point Buy 15 Point Buy Elite Array
  • Str:
  • Dex:
  • Con:
  • Int:
  • Wis:
  • Cha:
  • Str:
  • Dex:
  • Con:
  • Int:
  • Wis:
  • Cha:
  • Str:
  • Dex:
  • Con:
  • Int:
  • Wis:
  • Cha:
  • Str:
  • Dex:
  • Con:
  • Int:
  • Wis:
  • Cha:
  • Str: 15
  • Dex: 13
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 10
  • Wis: 12
  • Cha: 8

Races

Strength bonuses are king, but they're hard to come by with core races. Constitution bonuses are great, as are any racial defensive bonuses. Medium size technically isn't essential, but Strength penalties from small races can be a big problem.

Dwarf: Dwarfs make great Barbarians because they are so durable. They won't have the damage output of Humans or a race with a Strength bonus, but with all of the Dwarf racial bonuses to saves it will be very hard for anything to kill you.

Elf: The penalty to Constitution hurts a lot, and the Elf's racial abilities don't offer anything to the Barbarian.

Gnome: At low levels the Strength penalty is going to be a problem, but at higher levels you can be permanently enlarged, making the gnome's effective ability modifiers -2 dex, +2 con, which isn't awful. The Gnome's other abilities don't help much, unfortunately.

Half-Elf: Awful.

Half-Orc: The Strength bonus makes Half-Orcs an obvious choice, but they get so little else that you can't justify two ability penalties, even on your two dump stats

Halfling: Nothing helpful for a Barbarian.

Human: Always an excellent choice.

Skills

  • Climb (Str): Too situational.
  • Handle Animal (Cha): Training animals isn't useful for Barbarians.
  • Intimidate (Cha): Most Barbarians don't need it, but Intimidating Rage can be a lot of fun.
  • Jump (Str): Only useful if you want Leap Strike.
  • Listen (Wis): Your only perception skill. It's the least important of the three, but take it anyway.
  • Ride (Dex): Mounts are not typically important for Barbarians, but if you want to play a mounted combat build you will need to max Ride.
  • Survival (Wis): Situational.
  • Swim (Str): Too situational.

Feats

  • Blazing BerserkerFrb: Immunity to fire while raging, but weakness to ice.
  • Blind-FightPHB: Great at high levels when enemies will start having access to effects like Blur. It is also helpful if your party likes to use effects like Obscuring Mist to disrupt enemies.
  • Brutal ThrowCAd: Thrown weapon builds can be very effective, and this removes the need for Dexterity.
    • Power ThrowCAd: Lacking an equivalent to Power Attack is one of the biggest problems with archery in 3.5, but thrown weapons get Power Throw. This can add up to some fairly ridiculous damage.
  • Brutal StrikePHB2: The short description says that you can daze targets, but the full description says that you can only sicken targets, and even then its only for 1 round.
  • Combat BruteCW: Not as good for the Barbarian as it is for the Dungeon Crasher Fighter, but the third benefit can be nice if enemies surive your initial charge.
  • Destructive RageCW: You can break things just fine with an adamantine weapon.
  • EndurancePHB: Awful, but opens up some other options which are pretty great.
    • DiehardPHB: The 10 point buffer before you die will frequently save your life, so Diehard is a gamble. Instead of falling unconscious and being ignored until someone saves you or your party wipes, you just fight until you're outright dead.
    • Steadfast DeterminationPHB2: Turns Wisdom into an extra dump stat, and makes you immune to natural 1s on Fortitude saves.
  • Extend RageCW: 5 rounds is a whole lot of rage, but 3+con rounds is usually enough.
  • Extra RageCW: 2 more Rage users per day is can be great if your party tends to plow through a lot of encounters in a single day. You get a maximum of 5 rages normally at 20th-level, which may not be enough to get through the day.
  • Frozen BerserkerFrb: Immunity to cold, but weakness to fire, which is considerably more common.
  • Imperious CommandDotU: Great in combination with things like Intimidating Rage, but the Charisma requirement is steep.
  • Improved CriticalPHB: Fantastic for Scimitars and Falchions, but otherwise skip it.
  • Improved InitiativePHB: Never hurts, but going first isn't as important for Fighters as it is for spellcasters.
  • Improved ToughnessCW: An extra hit point at every level can be very nice if your AC isn't doing the trick.
  • Instantaneous RageCW: Nice to get the bonuses to ability scores on enemy's turns, but it isn't always useful.
  • Intimidating RageCW: A fantastic use for Intimidate, especially in encounters with single enemies.
  • Frightful PresenceDr: Draconic aura for humanoids. The Charisma requirement is steep, but this combined very well with other fear effects like Intimidating Rage. Miles better than the Dragon Totem.
  • Lunging StrikePHB2: One attack with slightly improved reach as a full round action. Garbage.
  • Mage SlayerCAd: Situational, but it really shuts down enemy spellcasters.
  • Mad Foam RagerPHB2: Situational, but this might save your life if you use it to delay the right effect.
  • Martial StudyToB: Maneuvers are fantastic, and many of them offer great options for Barbarians.
    • Martial StanceToB: Stances are fantastic, and many of them offer great options for Barbarians. Remember that some stances may require you to take Martial Study more than once.
  • Monkey GripCW: Effectively -2 to attacks for +1d6 damage. Not a good trade. Using a large bastard sword improves the trade slightly, but then you're taking a total -4 penalty to attacks.
  • Point-Blank ShotPHB: The basis for every ranged build. Thrown-weapon builds can be very effective when combined with Brutal Throw.
    • Far ShotPHB: Thrown weapons frequently have short range increments, so this can be very helpful.
    • Precise ShotPHB: Essential if you have other allies in melee.
      • Improved Precise ShotPHB: Even better than Precise Shot, and it lets you ignore pesky effects like Blur.
    • Rapid ShotPHB: A huge boost in damage output for ranged builds.
      • Improved Rapid ShotCW: Effectively a +2 to all of your ranged attacks. Twice as good as Weapon Focus.
    • Shot on the RunPHB: Very situational. Standing and making a full attack is considerably more effective.
  • Power AttackPHB: The Barbarian's favorite feat.
    • CleavePHB: Very rarely pays off unless your DM likes to use lots of weak enemies in fights.
      • Great Cleave: Almost never useful.
    • Improved Bull RushPHB: Required for Shock Trooper, but otherwise worthless.
      • Cometary CollisionPHB2: This could potentially work for Defenders early in a fight when enemies are closing distance, but it's very passive and situational.
      • Shock TrooperCW: The third benefit is great for any charger build. Applying your Power Attack penalty to AC instead of attack allows you to take as much bonus damage as you are allowed without wasting it by missing.
    • Improved OverrunPHB: I have been playing this game for over a decade and I have never once seen anyone use this feat. Stop running past people and hit them.
    • Improved SunderPHB: Don't destroy your own loot.
    • Leap AttackCAd: Essential for charge builds.
    • Resounding BlowBoED: Making an enemy cower on a crit is extremely tempting, but it keys on your dumped Charisma.
  • Quick DrawPHB: Only important for throwing builds.
  • Reckless RageRoS: More rage bonus! It also cuts your AC more, so be sure to beef up your hit points and look for miss chance defenses like a robe of displacement.
  • Righterous WrathBoED: The fear effect is nice and combines very well with other effects like Intimidating Rage. The ability to control yourself and tell friend from foe is particularly nice if you prestige class into Frenzied Berserker. Unfortunately the DC is Charisma-based, so it won't be fantastic.
  • ToughnessPHB: Literally never.
  • Two-Weapon FightingPHB: Two-Weapon Fighting is a fun strategy, but it generally doesn't work as well as two-handed builds, especially since Barbarians get so few feats.
    • Oversized Two-Weapon FightingCAd: This will amount to roughly 1 damage per weapon. Unless you specifically need to use a one-handed weapon for some reason, there is no reason to take this feat.
    • Improved Two-Weapon FightingPHB: More attacks means more damage.
      • Dual StrikeCAd: Situational.
      • Greater Two-Weapon FightingPHB: Even with the Fighter's attack bonuses it can often be hard to hit with your third iterative attack.
    • Two-Weapon DefensePHB: Improved Buckler Defense is miles better.
      • Improved Two-Weapon DefenseCW: Improved Buckler Defense is still better.
    • Two-Weapon PouncePHB2: Take a level of Barbarian for real Pounce.
    • Two-Weapon RendPHB2: 1d6 damage plus 1.5 strength is very small. TWF builds rely on on-hit damage boosts like Flaming weapons and Weapon Specialization. This damage bonus will be insignificant.
  • Weapon FocusPHB: A +1 to hit is always nice, but Barbarians don't have a lot of feats to throw around, so you really need to get something better.

Weapons

  • Falchion: The power-gamer's two-handed weapon of choice. Your damage bonus will quickly eclipse your weapon's base damage, at wich point critical threat range becomes your weapons most important stat.
  • Greataxe: Greataxes average .5 less damage than a greatsword and crit half as often.
  • Greatsword: The gold standard of two-handed weapons. Reliable damage and 19-20 crit.
  • Large Bastard Sword: For a -2 penalty you get and average of two more damage than a Greatsword. That's not as good of a trade as Power Attack is with a two-handed weapon, but it's not terrible.
  • Javelin: Carry a few for when you need to kill something which you can't reach with a charge.

Armor

Armor is presented in the order in which you should acquire it, rather than alphabetical order.

  • Hide: Your starting armor.
  • Breastplate: Likely your permanent armor.
  • Shield: Barbarians are all about two-handed weapons, so a shield generally won't make sense unless it's animated.

Magic Items

Weapon Crystals

  • Energy AssaultMIC: Many weapon users pick up an energy enhancement for a bit of extra damage, but at 3000gp an energy assault crystal is cheaper than any actual enhancement (minimum of 6000gp on top of a +1 weapon). You can also swap out the crystals if your enemies are resistant to whatever you're using.
  • Life LeachMIC: Not terribly exciting, but stealing health from enemies you hit in combat can get you the extra hit points you need to get through a fight.

Armor/Shields

  • Animated ShieldDMG (+2): An animated shield is a great AC boost. At 9000gp, a +1 animated shield is one of the cheaper ways to boost your AC once you already have cheap AC boosts like a +1 Ring of Protection.

Armor/Shield Crystals

  • Iron WardMIC: Does not stack with your Barbarian DR. DR never stacks.

Rings

  • ProtectionDMG: You're probably the party's Defender, so you need all the AC bonuses you can get.

Wondrous Items

  • Armbands of MightDMG: The extra +2 damage for power attacking is useful, but not essential.
  • Belt of StrengthDMG: See Gauntlets of Strength, below.
  • Cloak of ResistanceDMG: Vest of Resistance is identical and takes up a much less useful slot.
  • Gauntlets of StrengthDMG: These are a glove slot as a throwback to previous editions (and to Thor), which makes it annoying to switch to a new belt when it's time to upgrade to +4. Check with your DM, and you may be able to get a +2 belt, or upgrade your gloves past +2.
  • Ioun Stone (Dusty Rose)DMG: At only 5000gp, a Dusty Rose Ioun Stone provides a cheaper boost to AC than upgrading your Ring of Protection from +1 to +2. The bonus is an insight bonus, which makes it easy to stack because insight bonuses to AC are extremely rare.
  • Vest of ResistanceMIC: Same cost as a cloak, and takes up the largely useless "torso" slot.

Permanent Spells

  • Enlarge PersonPHB: More Strength and a bigger weapon.
  • See invisibilityPHB: With no way to handle invisible creatures, the ability to always see them is a fantastic benefit.

Multiclassing and Prestige Classes

  • FighterPHB: A level or two for bonus feats and heavy armor proficiency are great.