Pathfinder - The 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 a Defender and Striker on par with the Fighter, but where the Fighter depends on feats and careful tactics, the Barbarian depends on getting angry and hitting things. The Barbarian has a tendency to be a glass cannon despite their formidable hit points because they go through hit points to quickly, so be sure to bring a healer along, and invest in wands of Cure Light Wounds for cheap healing between encounters.
The concept of "Rage Cycling" is mentioned in many Barbarian discussions. Rage Cycling the practice of ending a rage and immediately starting a new one. This is impossible for a normal Barbarian because ending a rage makes the Barbarian fatigued, so Rage Cycling depends on immunity to fatigue. Rage Cycling is not essential by any means, but it opens up some interesting options with Rage Powers which only function once per rage.
This guide is for the vanilla Barbarian. For the Unchained Barbarian, see my Barbarian Handbook.
Barbarian Class Features
Hit Points: The only class with d12 hit points.
Base Attack Bonus: Full BAB.
Saves: Good Fortitude saves, but Reflex Saves and Will saves are frequently problems for Barbarians.
Proficiencies: Martial weapons, medium armor, and shields offer the Barbarian plenty of options.
Skills: 4+ skill ranks, but very few useful skills, and Intelligence is often a dump stat.
Fast Movement (Ex): Nice for charging, and it keeps your speed at 30 feet in medium armor.
Rage (Ex): The Barbarian's signature ability.
Rage Powers (Ex): Rage Powers offer a large number of fun ways to customize your Barbarian. For help selecting Rage Powers, see my Barbarian Rage Power Breakdown.
Uncanny Dodge (Ex): Situational
Trap Sense (Ex): Very situational.
Improved Uncanny Dodge (Ex): Very situational.
Damage Reduction (Ex): A fantastic answer to the Barbarian's tendency to die to large numbers of weak attacks.
Greater Rage (Ex): A linear improvement to Rage.
Indomitable Will (Ex): Situational, but Enchantment spells are among the scariest in the game, and Dominate Person on a Barbarian has led to the end of numerous parties.
Tireless Rage (Ex): A bit late in the game to see any real use, but Tireless Rage allows you Rage Cycle without any real effort to work it into your build.
Mighty Rage (Ex): Another linear improvement to Rage.
The Barbarian is all about melee combat, and its abilities reflect this.
Str: Barbarians are all about melee, and even weird ranged Barbarian builds require a huge pile of Strength.
Dex: With only medium armor, Dexterity is an essential part of the Barbarian's AC.
Con: Because Barbarians tend to have low AC (especially when they're raging), you need a lot of Constitution to boost the Barbarian's hit points.
Int: Dump to 8, or 7 if you absolutely need to. Barbarians have very few useful skills.
Wis: Essential for the Barbarian's poor Will saves.
Cha: Dump to 7 unless you plan to use Intimidate.
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Strength bonuses are essential, and medium size is strongly recommended.
Dwarf: An excellent Defensive option, the Dwarf is offers a lot of things that go a long way to keep the Barbarian alive. The Dwarf favored class bonus grants some much-needed rage rounds.
Elf: The Elf has nothing to do with the Barbarian.
Gnome: Strength Penalty, and no useful abilities.
Half-Elf: Nothing really useful except the flexible ability score bonus.
Half-Orc: A flexible ability bonus, Darkvision, some cool racial abilities, and extra rage rounds as a favored class bonus.
Halfling: Strength Penalty, and no useful abilities.
Human: Always a good option, but the Human favored class bonus is garbage.
- Anatomist (Combat): Barbarians don't need a lot of feats, which means Improved Critical on a falchion is good choice. +1 to confirm critical hits could be a worthwhile use of a trait.
- Axe to Grind: (Combat): Barbarians like to charge into combat first, and will frequently go toe-to-toe with enemies on their own, so this can be a reliable bonus to damage. The value will be eclipsed at higher levels as your damage bonus grows, but it can be nice for low level campaigns where 1 or two damage is a big part of something's hit points.
- Bloodthirsty (Combat): Hard to keep track of, and hard to bring into play frequently. Look for something more reliable.
- Deft Dodger (Combat): Bonus to a bad save.
- Killer (Combat): This is intended for use with weapons like axes and scythes with big critical multipliers, but since those weapons have 20/x# criticals, you'll hardly ever see the bonus.
- Reactionary (Combat): Initiative bonuses are alwsy nice. Charge your enemies before they charge you.
- Indomitable Faith (Faith): Bonus to your worst save.
- Elven Reflexes (Half-Elf Racial): Identical to Reactionary, but doesn't use your Combat trait.
- Acrobatics (Dex): Barbarians shouldn't care about attacks of opportunity.
- Climb (Str): Too situational.
- Handle Animal (Cha): Useless for vanilla Barbarian.
- Intimidate (Cha): Helpful for some builds.
- Knowledge (nature) (Int): One of the most important Knowledge skills in the game.
- Perception (Wis): The most rolled skill in the game.
- Ride (Dex): Useless for vanilla Barbarian.
- Survival (Wis): Situational.
- Swim (Str): Too situational.
- Armor Proficiency, Heavy: If you don't mind being slow, heavy armor can make the Barbarian exceptionally durable. Unfortunately, it makes charging harder and removes your speed bonus.
- Barroom Brawler: Barbarians rely heavily on combat feats, so this can add some nice versatility to your build. Unfortunately it's only for 1 minute per day, and you can't break it up.
- Critical Focus: Once you've got Improved Critical, this is an excellent choice. Combined with the Anatomist trait, even your iterative attacks can crit reliably. The dependent critical feats are fine, but don't really play to the Barbarian's normal tactic of "do all of the damage until it falls over".
- Extra Rage: 6 extra rage rounds is nice, but you can get a much better return with racial favored class bonuses.
- Extra Rage Power: Rage Powers are fantastic, and many will be more useful than a feat.
- Fleet: 5 feet isn't much, especially when Boots of Striding and Springing exist.
- Improved Critical: Barbarians tend to have a huge static damage bonus on their attacks, and with a falchion and Improved Critical you can expect large and frequent critical hits.
- Toughness: Even more hitpoints.
- Raging Vitality: Falling unconscious while raging will remove the Rage bonus to Constitution which can quickly drop you from unconcious to dead. Raging Vitality can very easily save your life.
- Recovered Rage: One rage point, and you have to get the killing blow. Extra Rage will probably give you more rounds per day.
- Power Attack: I have never met a Barbarian that did not have Power Attack.
- Reckless Rage: Scale the Power Attack penalty and damage up one step.
- Vital Strike: Vital Strike can be very powerful, but it requires some complexities. See my Practical Guide to Vital Strike.
- Weapon Focus: Since you can't get any of the feats requiring Weapon Focus, it's not very useful.
- Bardiche: 19-20 crit is the best you can get on a weapon with reach.
- Falchion: The 18-20 threat range will amount to more damage than the difference between 2d4 and 2d6 damage, especially as you grow in level and your damage bonus quickly eclipses weapon damage.
- Greataxe: On par with the greatsword.
- Greatsword: The go-to two-handed weapon. A good compromise between reliable damage and a critical threat range.
- Studded Leather: Starting armor if you plan to use light armor.
- Hide: Starting armor if you plan to use medium armor.
- Mithral Breastplate: All the AC of medium armor and none of the reduced speed, but it's fairly expensive.
- Furious (+1): An obvious go-to option for anyone with a rage ability.
- Invigorating (+2): +2 is expensive, but this opens up a lot of really great build options. If you like to use abilities which end your rage like Furious Finish, this can let you rage cycle so long as you can kill something in reasonably short order. For lack of a better option, keep a rat in a bag on your belt and kill it to burn off your fatigue.
- Speed (+3): An extra attack per round is a huge pile of extra damage, but Boots of Speed are much cheaper, and for the price you could easily buy several pairs and change them once they've spent their 10 rounds/day.
- Vicious (+1): It fits the theme of the Barbarian well, but hurting yourself is dangerous, and you'll feel silly when you take 1d6 damage and knock yourself unconcious.
- Celestial Armor (22,400 gp): Unless you have heavy armor proficiency and a Dexterity modifier of at most +5, Celestial Armor is the best armor in the game if all you need from your armor is AC. For more, check out my Practical Guide to Celestial Armor.
- Rhino Hide (unique): Fairly cheap, and 2d6 bonus damage on every charge is a reliable boost to your damage output from a piece of equipment which Barbarians typically don't pay much attention to.
- Protection: Keep one if you find one that no one else in the party wants, but don't spend gold on it. A Barbarian's AC is an after-thought, and rings of protection scale in price very quickly.
- Cure Light Wounds: You can't use it, so buddy up to someone who can. Your hit points will go up and down very sharply on a normal day, so this will see a lot of use.
- Belt of Strength: Get one early, and upgrade it often. Consider upgrading to a Belt of Physical Might for bonuses to both Strength and Constitution, but don't go for Physical Perfection unless you really need the Dexterity for whatever reason.
- Boots of Speed: At just 12,000gp these are a steal. Activate them as a free action one round at a time, and you can easily stretch their use throughout an entire day. An essential for nearly any melee character.
- Boots of Striding and Springing: Unlike 3rd edition, Fast Movement is no longer an enhancement bonus, so these boots stack with the Barbarian's Fast Movement. Boots of Speed will be a better option for most barbarians, but if you just need to be really fast for some reason these work great and don't cost much.
- Cloak of Resistance: Too crucial to forego.
- Headband of Havoc: The first effect works best for Supersitious or for Unchained Rage Powers like stances, but the big draw is the second effect of the item. Beginning a rage as an immediate action means you get all the defensive benefits you get from your rage just in time to protect you from whatever is about to hit you. It only functions once per day, but usually that's enough.
- Enlarge Person: Large size gets you reach and a small bonus to Strength, both of which are fantastic for Barbarians.
Multiclassing and Prestige Classes
- Oracle: A one level dip into Oracle at level 9 can make you immune to Fatigue, allowing you to rage cycle 8 levels early. Rage Cycling can be a powerful tool for many Barbarian builds, and dramatically improves the effectiveness of Rage Powers which only work once per rage.