Steinhardt's Path of the Lightning Vessel Barbarian Handbook


Path of the Lightning Vessel, introduced by Evan Mascaro (MonkeyDM) in Steinhardt’s Guide to the Eldritch Hunt, gives the Barbarian several exciting tactical options, including ways to hold enemies in place, enhanced mobility, and the ability to deal splash damage to clustered enemies. It also depends heavily on your Constitution modifier, which encourages players to increase their Constitution rather than maxing Strength and then taking nothing but feats for the rest of their career.

Because the Lightning Vessel depends so heavily on a single damage type, running into resistance or immunity to lightning is a huge problem. Be sure that your allies can step up when that does happen, but also remember that you’re still a barbarian, and you can still just get angry and hit stuff.

Table of Contents


RPGBOT uses 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. Nearly never useful.
  • Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances. Useful sometimes.
  • Green: Good options. Useful often.
  • Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character. Useful very frequently.

We will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, in handbooks for official content because we can’t assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. We also won’t cover Unearthed Arcana content because it’s not finalized, and we can’t guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.

The advice offered below is based on the current State of the Character Optimization Meta as of when the article was last updated. Keep in mind that the state of the meta periodically changes as new source materials are released, and the article will be updated accordingly as time allows.

Path of the Lightning Vessel Features

  1. Galvanic Heart: The resistance is nice, and it’s hard to get from your race. If you already have lightning resistance, the extra die of damage reduction is neat and can entirely negate small amounts of lightning damage.

    But you’re mostly here for the second half of the feature, which gives you several interesting tactical options. Since this uses your Bonus Action, you can’t use it on the turn that you Rage. It also depends on you making contested Athletics checks, so be sure that you’re proficient. You’ll get Advantage from Rage, but you still want proficiency.

    • Electrified Chains: A great way to prevent enemies from running off to attack your allies. If you have better reach than your target, you can hit them, move out of reach, then move back in on your next turn to repeat the combo. Against single foes, this is your go-to option.

      It’s not clear what happens if the target isn’t within 10 feet of a floor. Check with your DM.

    • Fulgurant Strike: Easy extra damage and damage to other nearby enemies. Great for crowds, which can often be a problem for barbarians.

      Keep in mind that you do still need to save against this. A reach weapon puts you out of harm’s way, you have resistance, and at high levels you’ll be able to omit yourself, so you have several options to mitigate the damage if you don’t want to tolerate making the save.

    • Lightning Step: Great for moving between targets, but since you can’t use this on the turn that which you Rage (you only get one Bonus Action), you usually won’t need this unless you’re fighting in a particularly large area. This notably doesn’t require you to actually move, so technically you can use this, not move at all, then deal automatic damage.

      Because this requires you to get within 5 feet of your target, it will be less useful with a reach weapon.

  2. Roaring Crash: Move when you Rage and deal some damage in an area. It’s not a huge amount of damage, but it doesn’t cut into your action economy at all, and the free movement makes it easy to jump right into a fight.
  3. Lightning Reflexes: Barbarians typically don’t make a lot of Dexterity checks other than rolling for initiative, but you might also serve as your party’s Scout, in which case adding Constitution to Dexterity (Stealth) checks is a big bonus.

    The second half of the feature is basically free damage every turn plus free movement if you need it. Don’t forget to use this, as it’s a massive improvement to your DPR.

  4. Electric Beast: Some modest improvements to your Bonus Action options from Galvanic Heart.
    • Electrified Chains: A modest upgrade.
    • Fulgurant Strike: Double the radius of the AOE, and you can likely exclude your whole party from the effect.
    • Lightning Step: No more worrying about obstacles, intervening enemies, or difficult terrain.

Path of the Lightning Vessel Ability Scores

Little different from a typical barbarian, but since so many of the subclass’s features depend on your Constitution modifier, it’s unusually important that you increase your Constitution.

Path of the Lightning Vessel Races

Aside from an unusually large need for Constitution, Path of the Lightning Vessel’s needs are little different from that of a standard barbarian. I’ve omitted coverage for official races, but a select of races from Steinhardt’s Guide to the Eldritch Hunt are appealing.

Cursed-Blood: The possibility of three +1 ability score increases is very tempting if you’re not using the custom origin rules from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, but the traits otherwise aren’t fantastic. Either Doused Cursed-Blood or Hulking Cursed-Blood would work well here.

Manikin: Custodian Manikin is basically perfect. We get the ability score increases we need, you can start with 18 AC unarmored, lightning resistance, and Careful Defender lets you protect allies from attacks.

Scourgeborne: Three +1 ability score increases. Belua is tempting, but competes for your already over-taxed Bonus Action. Cervus is an easy go-to choice. Vespertilio also works very well.

Path of the Lightning Vessel Feats

No different from a typical barbarian.

Path of the Lightning Vessel Weapons

Little different from a typical barbarian, but Electrified Chains and Fulgurant Strike make reach weapons abnormally useful. Grab a glaive or pike.

Path of the Lightning Vessel Armor

Little different from a typical barbarian, but your unusually large need for Constitution might justify using Unarmored Defense over half-plate.

Path of the Lightning Vessel Multiclassing

No different from a typical barbarian.

Example Build – Shockingly Large DPR

Can I flavor my barbarian rage as by internal batteries leaking? I’m basically already running on electricity, I might as well hit stuff with it.

We will assume no optional class features.

Ability Scores

We get +1 Strength and +2 Constitution from our race, and we want rush both stats to 20, so we’ll start with 15 in both. We don’t care much about Dexterity, so we’ll put those points in Wisdom to boost our Wisdom saves and our Perception.



Custodian Manikin. We’ll choose the medium armor option since we don’t have heavy armor proficiency, and we’ll use our Strength modifier instead of Dextertiy, giving us an AC of 16. We’ll get lightning resistance and Careful Defender so that we can protect our allies. Unfortunately, the Manikin has permanent Disadvantage on Insight checks, so be sure to bring a decently wise friend to keep you from being talked into bad ideas.


We’ll take the Beast Hunter background from Steinhardt’s. That gives us proficiency in Athletics, Survival, and Herbalism Kit. We mostly just want Athletics. Any background will suffice here.

Skills and Tools

We’ll choose Intimidation and Perception from our class skills. We don’t have many great options, unfortunately. We’ll get Athletics, Survival, and Herbalism Kit from our background. Athletics and Perception will see a lot of use, but everything else likely won’t.


With 17 Constitution, we have room for a hybrid feat.


LevelFeat(s) and FeaturesNotes and Tactics
Unarmored Defense
At this level, we’re your standard barbarian. Hit stuff.

For your starting equipment, take a pike (or a greataxe, but plan to trade it), two handaxes (for throwing), and the pack and four javelins (also for throwing).
2Reckless Attack
Danger Sense
Danger Sense is basically our only protection against Dexterity saves, but we have a ton of hit points, so area damage isn’t too scary.
3Primal Path: Path of the Lightning Vessel
Galvanic Heart
If you haven’t picked up a reach weapon, now is the time. It’s a temporary solution until we reach level 8.

Galvanic Heart (Electrified Chains) is our go-to tactic. This allows us to restrict an enemy to a small area, preventing them from moving to attack. Against single melee enemies, this can be a death sentence. It only lasts one turn, so you need to refresh the effect every turn. We’re using a reach specifically so that we can do this without getting many other creatures’ reach, then retreat 10 feet so that our enemy can’t move far enough to approach us to counterattack. They can still attempt an Athletics check to break the chains, but it’s opposed by our own check made with high Strength, proficiency in Athletics, and Advantage on the check thanks to Rage.

Galvanic Heart (Fulgurant Strike) is for handling multiple enemies, but because of the small AOE it’s only effective against enemies which are adjacent to each other. When you can trigger it, it’s great, but it won’t be frequent. We’re using a reach weapon, so the vast majority of the time you won’t need to make the save to avoid shocking yourself. When you do, expect to fail despite having Advantage. But that’s fine because we have resistance and then reduce the damage by another d8, negating the damage we would take the majority of the time.
4ASI: Strength 16 -> 18More attack and damage.
5Extra AttackMore attacks!
6Roaring CrashLeap directly into the fray! Try to hit as many targets as possible, but ideally don’t land within your enemies’ reach unless it really makes sense to do so. You’re dealing 3d8 damage now, which isn’t huge, but it also doesn’t impact your action economy.
7Feral Instinct
8Crusher (Con 17 -> 18)A great option with a +1 Con increase, and it fits into our tactics flawlessly. At this point, drop your reach weapon and grab a maul. This will mean that we’ll be in the area of effect for Fulgurant Strike, but at this level we have a ton of hp to throw around, and suffering a tiny bit of damage (average of 0, but max of 4) to hit two or more foes with 8 damage each is worth the trade.

With Extra Attack, you can use your first attack to hit an enemy adjacent to another enemy, then use your second with Fulgurant Strike, making the area damage much easier to achieve.

But what about Electrified Chains? Previously we were using a reach weapon so that we could hit an enemy, chain them in place, then withdraw. We can do the same thing with Crusher by moving our target away from us. There’s no reach weapon that does bludgeoning damage in 5e, but we can make do.
9Brutal Critical (1 die)A tiny bit more DPR.
10Lightning ReflexesStart adding your Constitution to Dexterity checks. Mostly we care about the bonus to initiative.

Lightning Step once for free each turn means 8 damage guaranteed every turn. However, it leaves us within 5 feet of our target, which is why we abandoned our reach weapon in favor of Crusher. Now we can Lightning Step into melee, use the combos I described at level 8, and get Galvanic heart damage twice per turn.
11Relentless Rage
12ASI: Strength 18 -> 20More attack and damage.
13Brutal Critical (2 dice)A tiny bit more DPR.
14Electric BeastGalvanic Heart’s damage increases from 8 to 12, which is more of a DPR boost than Brutal Critical.

Electrified Chains now limits our target to a smaller area, making it easier for us to chain then and withdraw when we’re in tight quarters.

Fulgurant Strike’s larger AOE makes it much easier to hit multiple targets.

Lightning Step now lets us teleport, allowing us to get angry and move past/through obstacles. If you need to maintain rage outside of combat, set yourself on fire with some Alchemist’s Fire.
15Persistent Rage
16Constitution (18 -> 20)15 damage from Galvanic Heart!
17Brutal Critical (3 dice)A tiny bit more DPR.
18Indomitable Might
19Feat: AnyWe have a free space here. Great Weapon Master is always tempting, but remember that we’re getting a ton of benefit from Galvanic Heart, which only works if we hit, so GWM actually reduces our DPR.

We have a lot of great options. My recommendation is Gift of the Chromatic Dragon, which gives us a way to resist damage types which frequently come from Dexterity saves. You might also go for Tough for the huge pile of hit points.
20Primal ChampionWith now 24 Constitution, things get really cool for us. Your Unarmored Defense hits 19, just slightly exceeding our built-in AC from our race, and our damage from Galvanic Heart’s various options is now 21, and since we’re applying it at least twice per turn, it’s actually the majority of our damage output.