Outside on a winter’s night as the rain begins to fall
There’s a chill in the air and the howl of a wolf while the rain beats at the door
Seven kings will ride on the wind up towards the mountains high
And the only sound that will break the air is the warrior’s bitter cry

Starfire – Dragonforce

Introduction

The Path of the Totem Warrior grants your Barbarian a list of customizable features that allow the build to lean into a few different roles. You could be some unstoppable juggernaut that shrugs off damage, or a bit of a roamer picking off isolated stragglers, or provide a bit of minor support by granting Advantage to allied attack rolls while engaging foes. Kind of a mixed bag to choose from which is why you’ll want to keep reading to see which abilities are great and which abilities won’t keep up.

Maybe you want to just ignore your health bar and smack things. You can do that. Maybe you want to just declare your whole team has Advantage. You can do that. You wanna come in like a wrecking ball and swing an extra time with your bonus action. You can even do that.

If that wasn’t enough to convince you, head on down to the multiclassing section and strap in for an advanced lesson in the things you can and can’t do while raging. 

Table of Contents

Disclaimer

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 this article will be updating accordingly as time allows.

RPGBOT is unofficial Fan Content permitted under the Fan Content Policy. Not approved/endorsed by Wizards. Portions of the materials used are property of Wizards of the Coast. ©Wizards of the Coast LLC.

Path of the Totem Warrior Features

  1. Spirit Seeker: Very situational.
  2. 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. This is the go-to option at this level.
    • 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. If you really feel like you need this, talk to your DM about using the Optional Class Feature Instinctive Pounce.
    • 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 characters in your party who are heavily-dependent on attacks like rangers and rogues. Rogues can get Sneak Attack for attacking enemies threatened by an ally, so Advantage isn’t strictly required, but giving them Advantage makes them considerably more reliable and results in a huge increase in average damage output. Unfortunately it doesn’t do anything directly helpful for you, but acting as a force multiplier for your party may be more impactful, especially in a large party.

      The text of the feature specifies that it applies to your “friends” rather than your “allies”, which is a weird inconsistency. As far as I can tell this was an error and you don’t actually need to be friends with your allies for them to benefit.

  3. 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 better.
    • Bear: Carrying capacity is usually ignored, and you can always buy a mule to carry your heavy stuff or you can play a race like the Goliath which gets the same benefit to carrying capacity. The advantage on Strength checks only affects objects, and breaking objects isn’t a frequent activity in most campaigns.
    • Eagle: Dim light imposes Disadvantage on Perception checks, so even if you have Darkvision you’re susceptible to ambushes if it’s dark. This solves that issue, so if you’re going to spend a lot of time fighting underground or at night (you know, like eagles do) this can be a significant advantage.
    • ElkSCAG: Overland travel generally happens in plot time, so in most campaigns this will have no perceivable effect. But if your table does track travel time, this is very good.
    • TigerSCAG: Barbarians have very limited capabilities outside of combat, so adding two additional skills can do a lot to make you more useful to the party. However, if you’re desperate for more skills you should first talk to your DM about the Optional Class Feature Primal Knowledge. You might even combine the two if you really want lots of skills.
    • Wolf: Only applies to you, and even then the benefits are both extremely situational and can be better handled by Elk. Doubling your travel pace with Elk, then halving it to move stealthily is the same thing as not halving your speed to move stealthily.
  4. Spirit Walker: Commune With Nature isn’t very powerful as far as divinations go, but it can be very useful when exploring new terrain.
  5. 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 and it really sucks to face big dangerous foes and not be able to use your most unique tactic.
    • TigerSCAG: Basically the Charger feat but better. Not only can you still use Extra Attack, but you gain an additional attack as a Bonus Action.
    • 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 you if you selected Wolf for your Totem Spirit, and you can already get Advantage from Reckless Attack, so this may not be very useful.

Path of the Totem Warrior Ability Scores

We’re Barbarians. We hit things hard. Really really hard. And we get hit by things. Not as hard, but just as often.

Str: As much as I want to make some kinda joke, just put as many points as you can here.

Dex: We can wear Medium Armor so we only need to hit 14 here.

Con: So the thing about Reckless Fighting is that we get hit a lot and we’d like to not die.

Int: We don’t directly benefit from this. See Multiclassing Section.

Wis: Handle Animal, Perception, Survival. If we have points to spare, put them here first.

Cha: We don’t directly benefit from this. See Multiclassing Section.

Point BuyStandard Array
Str1515
Dex1313
Con1415
Int88
Wis1212
Cha108

Path of the Totem Warrior Races

All the options from the Barbarian Handbook still work here, but some notable standouts work well with our features.

  • KalashtarERLW: The Bear totem leaves Psychic resistance as a hole for flavour reasons, and Kalashtar can fill that hole in while also having Advantage on Wisdom saves. Not a bad option.
  • Dragonborn (Emerald)FToD: For the same Psychic Damage resistance as above, but with a cool cone shaped breath weapon and a handy damage type. And if you’re not taking Bear totem (or even if you are) for resistances, the other Gem flavours are also great options with other good uncommon damage types for both resisting and breath attacking.
  • GithMMoM: Okay options if you want a little magical flavour with your psychic damage resistance.

Path of the Totem Warrior Feats

All the standard Heavy melee feats work well for Totem Warriors.Barbarism takes plenty of ASIs to do the job though, so we’ll maybe take one or two feats at most.

  • Great Weapon Master: We have multiple weapon options that go great with this feat that lean into different Totem options.
    • Bear: All that resistance means we sacrifice less to not have a Shield, but if we also have reach then we’re just bullying them harder.
    • Wolf: We’ll want to pile right up on the enemies to grant our team Advantage, so get one of the higher damage non reach weapons like a Maul or Greataxe.
  • Polearm Master: Some of the totems have bonus actions that compete with this feat, but other options are just looking for something nice to use.
    • Bear: If we want to double down on defence with a Shield, this feat is compatible with Spears.
    • Eagle: Even though the Totem allows Dashing as a bonus action, plenty of turns won’t require that much extra movement.
    • Elk, Tiger, or Wolf Attunement: These options unfortunately take bonus actions to activate and will end up competing with Polearm Master.

Path of the Totem Warrior Weapons

The Barbarian handbook has plenty to say on this, but also consider:

  • Lance: The Lance can be held in one hand if you’re mounted, allowing for both a Shield and a d12 damage die. While this is nothing new, it would work fine with Brutal Critical and even Piercer should we choose to take that feat.

Path of the Totem Warrior Multiclassing

So Rage is funny. You can’t cast spells and you can’t concentrate and you can’t wear Heavy Armor. Oh except you can totally wear Heavy Armor and only lose anything that specifically says it stops working when you’re wearing Heavy Armor. Because Heavy Armor doesn’t prevent Rage, it only prevents certain benefits of Rage. Admittedly, all of the basic benefits of Rage such as Rage Damage, resistance, and Advantage on Strength are part of the prevented list.

The reason I’m bringing this up here is that if we were to start as a class with Heavy Armor Proficiency, that does give us the option to play a little weird with a Full Plate Barbarian.

Things that still work while Raging in Full Plate:

  • Bear Totem
  • Wolf Totem
  • Tiger Totem
  • Every Totemic Attunement
  • Things that are not Spells even if they cost a spell slot
  • War Wizard: So, the only cost to using the Arcane Deflection Reaction for +2 AC or +4 on a save, is not casting a spell the next turn. We’re already Raging, so we’re already not casting a spell next turn.
  • Warlock: Warlocks are an ever popular dip, getting so much at first level. In particular, Hexblade can curse a target for crits on 19 and bonus damage, synergizing with Brutal Critical. Genie patrons on the other hand get the same bonus damage as a Hexblade, but only once per turn on every turn instead of all attacks on one target for a minute. Also if you take Genie to 6 you can non-concentration Fly for 10 minutes PB times per day.
  • Paladin: You can Smite while raging. You can cast Find Steed, which doesn’t require concentration. You get a Fighting Style.

Example Build – The Totembreaker

Battle doesn’t need a purpose; the battle is its own purpose.

You don’t ask why a plague spreads or a field burns. Don’t ask why I fight.

-Black Knight (MtG)

We are not just angry. We are a howling blight upon nature, a darkness subverting the spirits of the land. We are the Totembreaker.

Playstyle and Tactics

So Rage is still funny. We can’t cast spells, but Smite is not a spell. So naturally we’re a Paladin. And if the name of the build didn’t give it away, we’re an Oathbreaker to add our Charisma mod to damage rolls. But we’re also a Totem Barbarian, so we can add Rage Damage to damage rolls.

We’re not trying to be ‘the Tank’ here, we’re trying to be hard to kill and do a lot of damage. We’re going to sacrifice a tiny bit of damage to gain a bit of utility, but the trade is pretty much worth it.

Abilities

We’re going to be a Gem Dragonborn and choose the +2/+1 option.

Point BuyIncreased
Str1516
Dex1010
Con1515
Int88
Wis88
Cha1416

Race

We’re going to be a Gem Dragonborn and choose Emerald because that fills the Psychic resistance hole in Bear Totem. The Breath Weapon being Psychic typed is also very strong, and the minute of flight can be useful in a pinch.

Alternatively, we could choose Kalashtar. We would give up the breath weapon and temporary flight for Advantage on all Wisdom saves which is very tempting to just shrug off one of the more dangerous save categories.

Background

Our Background is Outlander, granting us Athletics and Survival. Outlander also gives us a tool and a language, the choices of which are campaign dependent.

Skills and Tools

We’re going to take the first level in Paladin, which gives us the opportunity to take Persuasion and Intimidation. As we level in Totem Barbarian, we’ll gain the Primal Knowledge optional feature twice, gaining Animal Handling and Perception. We’ll also be taking Aspect of the Tiger, granting Stealth and Acrobatics. With two skills from our background, that gives us a total of 8 skills.

Feats

We’re multiclassing Paladin 8 and Barbarian 12, but in a strange order. We’re taking the first level in Paladin and then six levels into Barbarian before we go back and take our other seven Paladin levels. Finally we take the other six Barbarian levels to finish off the character.

Barbarian fourth, level five: We take an ASI in Strength here putting us at 18. We just want to keep up with fundamental maths.

Paladin fourth, level ten: Mounted Combatant. We’re taking this now because in one more level we’re going to learn Find Steed. We could also simply purchase a mount as well until then.

Paladin eighth, level fourteen: Resilient (Constitution). Our Con score has been 15 since creation, so we take the moment to round it off and gain Proficiency.

Barbarian eighth, level 16: We grab another ASI for Strength here to get ourself to 20.

Barbarian twelve, level 20: We take one more ASI, in Charisma this time, pushing our damage bonus from Aura of Hate and our save bonus from Aura of Protection up from +3 to +4.

Levels

Levels and ClassesRages (Damage)Feats and FeaturesNotes and Tactics
1 – Paladin 1All Armor and Shields
Simple and Martial Weapons
Saves: Wis, Cha
Divine Sense
Lay on Hands
We’re starting here for two major reasons:

While we won’t commonly wear Heavy Armor, having the option is nice.

Paladin gives us Wisdom save Proficiency.

An alternate build I made starting Barbarian finished with Str, Con, and Cha proficiencies, but this build ends Con, Wis, Cha so it’s better protected.
2 – Barbarian 12 (+2)Unarmored DefenceWe take our first Barbarian level and gain our Rage. We also gain Unarmored Defence, but we’re going to wear armor so we just ignore that.
3 – Barbarian 22 (+2)Reckless Attack
Danger Sense
We can now swing with Advantage while being easier to hit.
We also have Advantage on Dexterity saves.
Go into melee and swing with Advantage, our Rage should keep us safer at these levels
4 – Barbarian 33 (+2)Primal Path (Path of the Totem Warrior)
↣Bear Totem
Spirit Seeker
Primal Knowledge
↣Animal Handling
Now we can stand up to all damage. Notably, Bear totem functions even while wearing Heavy Armor.
If we needed to have better armor for some reason, we could still gain this benefit by Raging and we’d only lose Rage Damage and Strength Save and Check Advantage.
We also gain proficiency in Animal Handling because Mounted Combat is shenanigans.
Spirit Seeker gives us a few ritual spells. It’s cool I guess.
5 – Barbarian 43 (+2)ASI: Strength +2 (16->18)We’re doing this to keep us on the Fundamental Math curve. Even though we can swing recklessly and have Advantage all the time, we’ll be taking some feats before we get around to pushing to 20.
6 – Barbarian 53 (+2)Extra Attack
Fast Movement
A level late, but swinging twice is still welcome.

Fast Movement is nice to have, even though we’re going to pivot towards mounted combat later.
7 – Barbarian 64 (+2)Aspect of the Beast
↣Tiger Aspect
↣Acrobatics
↣Stealth
The Aspects of the Beast are all utility options that don’t directly affect combat. As such the decisions are mostly flavour but we’ll pick Tiger because extra skill proficiencies are the most useful of the list.
8 – Paladin 24 (+2)Fighting Style (Defence)
Spellcasting
Divine Smite
We gain our fighting style, and we choose Defence to shore up our AC a bit, but we could also take Duelling and hold a Shield. In particular, when we start riding a mount in combat we can wield a Lance in one hand to apply the Duelling bonus damage. We’ll also carry a longsword, warhammer, and war pick for combat on foot as those are all 1d8 while one-handed and cover the three standard damage types.

We gain Paladin Spellcasting. As a prepared Divine caster we can freely choose from the entire list daily, so we’re not locked into spell selections. We should however, avoid taking spells which require Concentration; we’ll be Raging too much for that. Instead, take spells that provide some utility such as Cure Wounds or Purify Food and Drink.

Either way, we’ll be using those Spell Slots as Smite Slots instead. We’ll have 2 uses of +2d8 damage at this level, and we suggest using Reckless Attack to fish for Crits to Smite on.
9 – Paladin 34 (+2)Divine Health
Sacred Oath (Oathbreaker)
Channel Divinity
↣Control Undead
↣Dreadful Aspect
Immune to Disease. This is great because we live in the woods and are surrounded by nature. Dirty, disgusting, disease-riddled nature. Boil your water, campers.
Oathbreaker gives us two Channel Divinities. Channel Divinity is not a spell. We can Rage and call down the Wrath.

Control Undead is a neat thing that we might find occasional use for.

Dreadful Aspect allows us to invoke fear in our enemies. The frightened condition causes Disadvantage on attack rolls. If we swing recklessly, our frightened foes can’t gain Advantage to hit us, only cancelling their Disadvantage.
10 – Paladin 44 (+2)Feat: Mounted CombatantAt this level we take Mounted Combatant because we’re almost able to cast Find Steed.

Alternatively, we could pick up Polearm Master or Great Weapon Master here if you don’t want to ride a mount in combat. Both provide equally valid options for playing this build, especially in campaigns where being mounted is less viable.
11 – Paladin 54 (+2)Extra Attack
2nd Level Spells
We already have Extra Attack so we don’t get Extra Extra Attack.

We do however get a pair of +3d8 Smite Slots. Oh and we can cast Find Steed. Since we’re an Oathbreaker, making the steed fiendish means it will get a damage bonus when our Aura of Hate comes online in two levels. This won’t be useful while we’re riding it, but no one said that you were required to ride your mount in combat.
12 – Paladin 64 (+2)Aura of ProtectionWe and all our allies in 10 feet gain +3 (our current Cha mod) to all saves. This helps us shrug off most effects.
13 – Paladin 74 (+2)Aura of HateWe get +3 (our current Cha mod) damage to all attacks.
So do all Undead or Fiends within 10 feet of us.
So our fiendish horse.
From Find Steed.
14 – Paladin 84 (+2)Feat: Resilient (Constitution)We push our Con from 15 to 16, giving us a +3 modifier and gaining save Proficiency.
15 – Barbarian 74 (+2)Feral InstinctAdvantage on Initiative rolls and enter Rage to not be surprised. Great features. Going first is pretty helpful.
16 – Barbarian 84 (+2)ASI: Strength +2 (18->20)We finally got our 20 Strength.

Alternatively, we could put that ASI into Charisma. Because we’re an Oathbreaker we don’t lose damage by doing so, we only lose +1 to hit, which is slightly offset by our Recklessness.

The benefit of ending with 20 Charisma is one more +1 on all saves.
17 – Barbarian 94 (+3)Brutal Critical 1This feature is only ok. Even with Advantage, we don’t crit often enough for it to matter and even with a d12 damage die the improvement to your DPR is minor
18 – Barbarian 104 (+3)Spirit Walker
Primal Knowledge
↣Perception
We gain another ritual, Commune with Nature. And we gain Perception proficiency.
19 – Barbarian 114 (+3)Relentless RageSo this is super not dying powers. At this level, our Con save is +12 and will be +13 next level with the Charisma bump. That means the first time we have to roll this, we only fail on a 1, and the second time we only fail on 2 or 1.
20 – Barbarian 125 (+3)ASI: Charisma +2 (16->18)All our saves go up by 1, all our damage rolls go up by 1.

This boosts Relentless Rage so that we only fail on Nat 1s for the first two rolls, and still can pass with a 7 or more on the third save.

Build Summary

Here at 20, our saves are:

STR +9
(Advantage when Raging)
DEX +4
(Advantage Danger Sense)
CON +13
INT +3WIS +9CHA +14

Our AC is:

Fighting StyleDefenceDuelling
Half Plate(Reminder: 10 Dexterity)16(18 with a Shield)15(17 with a Shield)
Full Plate19
(21 with a Shield)
18
(20 with a Shield)

These are our damage calculations. We’re assuming Smite with a 2nd level slot on crits.

Damage Roll (Assuming Duelling Style)Average DamageDPR (Advantage)
Mounted Lance1d12+5[Str]+4[Cha]+3[Rage]+2[Duel]20.530.65 (43.78)
Longsword1d8+5[Str]+4[Cha]+3[Rage]+2[Duel]18.527.65 (39.49)
Mounted Lance -Heavy Armor1d12+5[Str]+4[Cha]+2[Duel]17.526.75 (38.51)
Longsword – Heavy Armor1d8+5[Str]+4[Cha]+2[Duel]15.523.75 (34.22)
Breath Weapon4d1022 (11 on a save)

For comparison, a 20 level Barbarian Raging with 24 Strength:

Damage RollAverage DamageDPR
(Advantage)
Greataxe1d12+7+417.526.9 (34.08)
Greataxe GWM1d12+7+4+1027.528.15 (42.52)
Longsword1d8+7+415.525.05 (32.57)
Longsword 2H1d10+7+416.526.95 (35.23)

We don’t end up losing that much DPR by being part Paladin and in return we have much more solid Saving Throws across the board, with Intelligence saves being the only real hole.