If you’ve come across a Barbarian class and plan on using it, you’re going to need to know how to play it. Sometimes it can be tricky to figure out the perfect strategy in combat or in roleplay when venturing into a new race. Perhaps it’s your first time playing altogether! You often don’t even know how to use your abilities to optimize the outcome.
In this article, we will help you to navigate the ins and the outs of playing a Barbarian class. We’ve also included the strategies we recommend using. If there’s one thing we all can be certain about, it’s this – Barbarians are strong fierce and wild, and they have many bonus actions that can help them in a battle.
We will take you through the battle abilities, the optimum statistics needed for greatness, the weapons and weapon styles that fit with the barbarian class best, the races that are best for gameplay as a Barbarian, primal paths, and their advantages and disadvantages. After reading this article, you should be confident about how to play as a Barbarian class!
Battle Strategy and Bonus Actions
Barbarians are great in battle. They’re strong, they’re angry and you do not want to mess with them. They make excellent ‘Tanks’.
Barbarians are front line fighters that have lots of hit points, lots of hit dice, and lots of power. They also have a resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage, making them supremely difficult to fight.
When playing a Barbarian class, prepare to get hit a lot as the AC for a Barbarian is commonly quite low, and they cannot use their action ‘Rage’ in heavy armor. But if you use your brute force and power, you could kill the opponent before they hit you back.
Your best bet for a Barbarians battle plan is to get in fast and smash whatever you can, hoping to eliminate any threats before they get any more dangerous. Strike before you can get hit. Rely on your strength and constitution to get you through. And most importantly – do not fear death, as you will likely manage to evade it. You act as a shield between the enemy and your weaker teammates.
What is a Barbarian Rage?
Rage is a great tool that a Barbarian class can use to his or her advantage. It deals a damage bonus to all melee attacks and gives you an advantage on strength checks and saving throws as well as giving you resistance to bludgeoning, piercing and slashing damage too.
It lasts one minute and only ends when you want it to, or if you fall unconscious, if you haven’t attacked a hostile creature since your last turn or if you have taken any damage since then. You can use this either at the start of battle or at the end to deal a final blow but use it wisely and you can deal a humungous amount of damage.
How Many Times Can a Barbarian Rage?
At the first level, a barbarian can only rage once per day, then every four levels he can rage one more time after that. As of the fourth level, a barbarian can rage twice per day and at the eight-level, he can rage three times a day, and so on.
Reckless attack starts at the second level and is used as a wild surge of power where you aren’t concentration on your defence at all. It gives you an advantage on melee weapon attacks.
However, attack rolls from the enemy also get an advantage. It pairs extremely well with the ‘Great weapon master’ feat where you can make another melee attack if you reduce an opponent to 0 hit points or score a critical hit.
You can also use this feat to give yourself +10 damage to the damage roll if you take a -5 penalty to the attack roll. This feat pairs greatly with the reckless attack as reckless attacks can double the chance of a critical hit. Once you reach the ninth level, you can then use this with the great weapon master feat to truly end your enemy’s life.
A Barbarians feature ‘Danger sense’ allows the players to sense when things are wrong, giving them an advantage on dexterity and saving throws against effects such as traps and spells. You can use this sense to your advantage to leap out of danger at the last minute or warn your allies of what’s to come. This means it is hard to surprise you, and you can go about your barbarian business much easier.
At fifth level, you can attack twice every turn. You can easily use this to build more damage up. If at first your swing didn’t hit, try and try again. Even if you did succeed on the first roll, you could do double the damage if the dice are in your favour.
Starting at the fifth level, your speed increases by a total of ten feet when you are not wearing any heavy armour. This means in light or medium armour, your barbarian class can be as fast as they are strong, leaping into battle at super speed. You could use this ability in many different ways. You could use it to retreat if the battle is too intense. You could also use it to chase down any last remaining enemies who decided to do a runner, meaning they can’t warn any friends of the party’s arrival or departure.
At Seventh level, you gain incredible instincts that give you the ability to gain an advantage on initiative rolls, almost ensuring your place at the very top of that initiative list. This means you can get in fast and destroy your enemy in one blow if you’re powerful enough. You can also use this ability to act normal on your turn even if the opponent surprised you initially.
At eleventh level, even if you are hit so hard you drop all the way down to zero hit points in total, you can use this ability instead to drop to one hit point instead of zero. Even if you have a broken leg, a missing eye, and a fractured arm you can fight through it with your power and strength, continuing to fight until the very last moment. You will have to succeed on a DC10 saving throw, but if you can manage that, you’re saved!
However, every time you use this ability, the DC for the saving throw increases by five, but after you finish a long or short rest, the DC goes all the way back to ten again. This ability is quite obviously a great one as while your teammates straight out die, you face death himself and smirk as your return to consciousness and keep on fighting until the very end.
At level fifteen, your rage becomes so strong that it can only be ended if you either fall unconscious or choose to end it yourself. So even if you get hit by numerous attacks, you keep on raging until you either die or leave combat. This means you can use this and not have to worry about it ending too soon or expending more bonus actions to use it again.
At the eighteenth level, you can use indomitable might. This ability allows you to substitute a strength check for the score of your strength stat. This means if your roll just wasn’t good enough, you can use your stat score instead, possibly saving yourself from humiliation or even death.
At the twentieth level, the very last and ultimate level, your strength and constitution score go up by four whole points, meaning the total for those two scores is now twenty-four. This means you can become the ultimate barbarian with superhuman strength and constitution, making your gameplay the ultimate experience.
How to Make Your Barbarian Class The Best It Can Be
Best Stat Choices
For the perfect Barbarian class who is as strong as they can possibly be, you’ll need the perfect statistics to match. You can’t just put all of your points into intelligence and charisma. Otherwise, the Barbarian you get won’t be as awesome as they can be given that they had the best stats for the class.
Without the right stats, your character would be no better than a regular fighter or rogue. Our recommended look for your stats for the first level would be as follows:
- Charisma – 15(+2)
- Dexterity – 14 (+2)
- Constitution – 13 (+1)
- Intelligence – 8 (-1)
- Wisdom – 12 (+1)
- Charisma – 10 (+0)
Strength is clearly the main stat here and is ultimately the most important. The more points you can put into your strength statistic the better.
Constitution is also extremely important, as it gives you hit points and armour class. You may even want more points in constitution than any other stat.
Dexterity is also important for Barbarians that don’t wear armour as a Barbarian’s ‘Unarmed Defence’ uses constitution and dexterity to define your armour class instead of the armour itself.
Wisdom can also be helpful for many of the bonus features belonging to a barbarian.
However, Intelligence and Charisma, for a very strong and stereotypical Barbarian class are unneeded. Feel free to take points from these two stats to make up the others.
Best Race Options for Barbarians
For the optimum Barbarian, you have to look at the races that you could pick. Yes, a Barbarian gnome would be funny, but it would not be as powerful as say, a Half-Orc. Your race should be something that gives a natural boost to strength constitution or dexterity.
From our experience, we have come to love the following choices:
- Dwarf – Dwarfs make fantastic barbarians as they give +2 to your constitution on top of your roll especially with a mountain dwarf. Dwarfs are fierce, hot-headed, and strong. Who doesn’t like the idea of an aggressive little fella with the brain of a giant? They’re certainly not a new thing. Dwarfs are commonly portrayed as Barbaric fighters throughout fantasy novels and TV shows.
- Half orc – Half-orcs are almost perfect for the Barbarian class. Their +2 strength and +1 constitution making it feel as if it was made to be a Barbarian race. When you think barbarian, you think Half-orc. Their appearance also helps to strike fear into the enemy’s heart. Half-orcs are an obvious choice and would make a great, strong, powerful, and savage Barbarian if that is what you want.
- Goliath – Although a Goliath is a newer race from ‘Volo’s Guide to monsters’ (1) they are a great new edition to the races barbarians thrive in. They’re supremely similar to a Half-orc in the way that they have +2 to strength and +1 to constitution. Their features such as ‘natural athlete and Stone’s endurance’ are great pairs with this class. Their tribal nature also fits in with this unique but awesome class.
- Human – an underdog to the Barbarian race, Humans are actually surprisingly great barbarians. You gain proficiency in a skill of your choice, and you can select a feat like Great weapon master right from the get-go. They may not compare to the size and strength of a half-orc or Goliath, but they certainly hold their own in competition for the races used to be a barbarian.
Read More on DnD Races and find our alternatives!
Barbarian Feats and Weapons
Pairing ‘Great weapon master’ with a great sword and ‘reckless attack’ and ‘rage’, you can do some real damage as the bonus from rage and the advantage from reckless attack with the power of the greatsword would get you some really good hits.
With the edition of the great weapon master feat, if you happen to roll a 20 on that attack, you get a second go, and you could possibly end with a third if you’re lucky, dealing damage as much as 66 damage all in one turn. But that’s just if you’re lucky.
Two Weapon Fighting
If you go down the line of the two-weapon fighting feat, you could use two weapons at once, dealing two lots of damage in two attacks. If you paired this with the ‘Brutal Critical’ feature you get at level nine, you could get an extra damage roll on a critical hit and deal even more damage.
Even if you drop to zero hit points, the feature ‘Relentless rage’ you can drop to one hit point instead and keep fighting. Just imagine that awesome Barbarian class raging through the field, barely hanging on to their consciousness, but still kicking ass!
Both of these fighting styles are awesome, but the first really takes the cake. Still, it’s really up to you on which you choose. Although every weapon can be used for greatness, the weapons we recommend for your character for the perfect and powerful fight would include:
- Battle axe,
- Or War hammer.
But make sure you pick one that really resonates with your character. Here’s an insight on how weapons and armor work!
The next thing to talk about is a Barbarian’s primal path. They gain a Primal path at the third level, and that path decides what kind of Barbarian class your character is going to become. It decides if your path will be violent or spiritual or somewhere in between.
The two main oaths in the Players Handbook are Path of the Berserker and the Path of the Totem Warrior, however in the sword coasts adventurer guide and Xanathars guide to everything four more to choose from.
Path of the Berserker
The path of the berserker values Rage and violence. Their rage is formed in their very soul with anger or grief and used no matter how weak you are to defeat in battle. The Path of the Berserker is great for Extra attacks and kicking ass but can weigh on you physically.
As soon as you choose the path of the Berserker, you gain this ability. When you rage, you can also go into a frenzy. While in this frenzy you can summon the power to make an extra melee weapon attack on a bonus action, every turn while you are in rage. However, when this rage ends, you take one point of exhaustion. Exhaustion points can only be resolved after a long rest.
This means that although you get extra power, you slowly get less able to do certain things, and might get disadvantage on skill checks or saving throws. However, if you imagine this ability in this Primal path, paired with the ‘Great weapon master’ ability you could do some serious harm to your enemy In multiple attacks.
At the sixth level, during a rage, you cannot be affected by charm spells or frightening spells. If you are charmed or frightened when going into your rage, you no longer suffer the effect of the spell until after your rage has ended. This can be helpful if you’ve come in contact with a ghost or a witch, or someone who has frightened or charmed your character. Though you can still go into an all-out rage and do some real damage, especially with the company of the extra attack you get from frenzy.
At the tenth level, you gain the ability to frighten your enemy with an ‘intimidating presence.’ You use this ability on a creature within thirty feet of you if they can see or hear you. If that creature is frightened, they have to succeed a wisdom saving throw or stay that way for your entire turn, giving them a disadvantage against you.
This is one of the only abilities that uses Charisma as a modifier as the DC for the saving throw includes your character’s Charisma modifier. If your Charisma is low however, you may not be able to use this as it is intended. It would still do some damage but it would be easier to see through. You also cannot use this feature again for another twenty-four hours if it fails.
At the fourteenth level, you can use ‘Retaliation’ in order to hit back when a creature within five feet does damage to your character. This means that if they hit you, you can make an attack against them meaning you do not have to wait until your next turn to get your revenge.
This Path is great for the fact that it has an extra attack feature, however it may not be worth it if you do not want your exhaustion weighing on you until you rest. It might affect the rest of your game play and make everything a little less fun. However, if you do not mind this, then the Path of the berserker is a great road to take when thinking of battle strategy and dominating over your opponents. It just may not be great for when you are not fighting.
Path of the Totem Warrior
Unlike the path of the Berserker, the path of the totem warrior is a spiritual one and is also from the regular player’s handbook guide. You gain a spirit animal to assist you in many things along your journey including guidance and wisdom. The path of the totem warrior allows your character to access its spiritual might, forming your rage through spirituality instead of pure emotion.
Like a druid, a Barbarian that has taken the path of the totem warrior seeks attunement with nature and their animal spirit. At the third level, upon choosing this path you gain certain spells such as ‘Speak with animals’ and ‘Beast sense’ however a barbarian casts these spells as rituals as they’re not magic casters. This feature can be great for roleplaying as you can speak with the animals around you, sending messages, or asking for help.
You also get to choose a totem spirit as a third level barbarian who took this path. You have to find or make a totem item, an amulet or bracelet, or similar that has entwined in it the features of the spirit you choose. For example feathers of an eagle or bones of a bear.
You also gain a little physical appearance that resembles your totem spirit. Your totem spirit can be pretty much anything related to these three animals:
- Bear – bear gives you the ability to resist all damage but psychic damage while in rage. It makes you strong and tough and your physical features might change to be hairy and thick-skinned.
- Wolf – This totem spirit gives your friends the ability to fight stringer, much like a wolf’s pack instinct while in rage. They all get advantage on melee attack rolls against creatures in five feet of them. You become a leader or ‘Alpha’ and might grow sharper and wolf like features and maybe even some ears?
- Eagle – This totem spirit makes opponents have a disadvantage on opportunistic attacks against you while in rage and you can use dash as a bonus on your turn making it easier to chase or run from danger without giving up your attack action.
The Aspect of The Beast
At the sixth level, you gain a magical ability based on the totem animal you chose when you first entered the path of the totem warrior.
- Bear – Your carrying capacity is doubled and you get an extra advantage on strength checks made for pulling, pushing lifting, or breaking items. This means you become stronger and sturdier.
- Wolf – like a wolf your senses are heightened, using them to track other creatures even when traveling at a fast pace. You do not need to slow down from a normal pace to be stealthy as it becomes natural to you. This makes tasks such as sneaking, hiding, or surprising a lot easier.
- Eagle – your eyesight is heightened; you can see all around you within one mile even to the finest details as if it was right in front of you. Also, your perception checks are not disadvantaged by dim light.
Starting at the tenth level, you can cast another spell; ‘commune with nature’ as a ritual. If you cast this spell, your totem animal will appear and bring information for you to use in an adventure.
This is really handy when you have something you just simply cannot work out. Perhaps a riddle or a puzzle. You can use this to help guide you or to warn you.
At level fourteen, you gain another benefit from your totem spirit to help you on your quests.
- Bear – when raging, any creature within five feet of you has a disadvantage on attack rolls against people other than you at your party. This means you can use this to help protect your allies while you fight it out. If one of your party members is down, then that would be a great time to use this ability and save them from taking any more damage.
- Wolf – When raging, you may use a bonus action to knock a creature prone once hit with a melee attack. This would help your teammates as after your turn has ended. They will each have an advantage on the creature as you have knocked it prone, meaning it is now on the ground.
- Eagle – when in rage, you can fly! You have a flying speed that is the same as your walking speed. However, this effect ends on your turn and will fall and possibly take damage if you are not holding on to something.
This path is fantastic for those who want to get in touch with nature, but on the battle side of things, it is great for helping your friends and keeping them out of harm’s way while you end the fight. It doesn’t do a great deal of difference to your roleplay experience but is a really good feature to have.
Other Primal Paths
Whether you take these paths into account is up to you, however, we shall give each of them a brief description to help you decide.
- Path of the Battlerager – this path is taken from The Sword Coasts Adventurers Guide and gives you many good abilities such as being able to use a rage bonus attack as a bonus action. There are many good battle-based abilities that this path allows you to possess. However, there are some requirements to take this path such as being a Dwarf, having a non-lawful alignment, or have the feats: cleave, endurance, and power attack. And the attack bonus of four. You can find more on this path Here.
- Path of the Ancestral Guardian – this path from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything has similarities to the totem warrior path as it encourages enemies to attack yourself instead of your friends. However, at the third level, you may not want all of the enemies coming your way and this might be a lot handier when you’ve leveled up a bit. You can also use your spirit shield to reduce the damage done to a creature nearby by 2d6. You can learn more on the path of the ancestral guardian Here.
- Path Of the Storm Herald – This path from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything uses the four elements in the forms of natural places like the desert, tundra, and sea. They have a magical aura around them that can harm people in range of them. However, this path is not as powerful as paths such as the totem warrior or the battlerager. You can also use your elemental abilities to shield others from harm and you can find more about this path Here.
- Path of the Zealot – This path from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything is great for battle. It’s designed to kill and not be killed. They can channel divine energy into their melee attacks and can be saved from the dead with the spell ‘Raise undead’ and you come back unharmed. Yes, this is great for battle, but there isn’t much in the way of roleplaying with this path, and the concept of being unable to die is a little frustrating for a dungeon master as the fear of death is not something you have. You can find more on this path Here.
Ultimately a barbarian class is a great character in battle and there are many strategies to use when playing one. The main consensus, however, is to attack and try not to get attacked.
We hope this article has helped you to understand your barbarian class a little better and that your future dungeons and dragons’ games will be filled with barbaric joy!
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