Ancestral Guardian 5E Guide | Barbarian Subclass Breakdown

ancestral guardian 5e

Introduced in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, the Ancestral Guardian tried to solve a few problems of the Barbarian. The Barbarian isn’t a very utility-centric character; you rage, you become a high-damage invulnerable tank, and then you stop. That’s the standard barbarian MO. So, the Ancestral Guardian does things differently. The Guardian calls on the spirits of the past to aid them. The spirits approach the battlefield and hamper their enemies. These barbarians tend to be more reverent of the past, and also more wise than your standard barbarian. What does this mean for how you build one, or how you play one? Find out, in our Ancestral Guardian 5E guide!

The Spiritual Warrior: Ancestral Guardian 5E

The Ancestral Guardian changes the Barbarian, slightly. Rather than just being a tanky dude beating people up, this Barbarian Subclass forces people to focus on you. Your ability to protect your allies is staggering, making your Resistances and massive health bar better. However, it is still quite weak to casters, and in encounters where there is more than one threat, there isn’t much they can do to hold down the fort.

Ancestral Protectors

To start, the Ancestral Guardian gets an extremely unique class feature. At level 3, your rage brings on ancestors of your past.

While you’re raging, the first creature you hit with an attack on your turn becomes the target of the warriors, which hinder its attacks. Until the start of your next turn, that target has disadvantage on any attack roll that isn’t against you, and when the target hits a creature other than you with an attack, that creature has resistance to the damage dealt by the attack. The effect on the target ends early if your rage ends.

This is fantastic! In incredibly specific scenarios. 

Let’s talk about the good. In encounters with a singular enemy, this is heavily hampering their options. If they want to make an attack roll, they almost have to target the barbarian. Otherwise, the attack roll is at disadvantage and will do half damage – even with spell attack rolls, like Disintegrate! This forces the enemy to really consider targeting you, which is why you have d12s for health… and why your resistance to physical damage is so critical.

Unfortunately, while this ability is good at locking down a single creature with a lot of attack rolls… That’s basically it. This ability specifies that, to activate the resistance to damage, the target must use an attack. An ability that uses a saving throw completely ignores this; you might have ancestors bullying them, but a Fireball is still a Fireball! A lot of bosses in 5E are spellcasters, and thus might ignore this effect by simply casting save-based magic.

And don’t even get me started in encounters with multiple creatures. If there’s more than one really dangerous character, tossing around attack rolls, you can only handle one. At least that’s one more character that doesn’t try and beat up your Wizard?

Please remember you have this effect in every combat, but… don’t expect this to protect your allies by itself.

Spirit Shield

Three levels later, you’re finally getting some ability to protect others without needing to target them first.

Beginning at 6th level, the guardian spirits that aid you can provide supernatural protection to those you defend. If you are raging and another creature you can see within 30 feet of you takes damage, you can use your reaction to reduce that damage by 2d6.

When you reach certain levels in this class, you can reduce the damage by more: by 3d6 at 10th level and by 4d6 at 14th level.

Most of your party is going to be within 30 feet, that’s relatively standard. Some might be farther, but that might mean they are out of the danger zone. Less important to jump in to protect them, since they’re probably out of danger. So, you’ve only really gotta stick around your 30 ft aura.

So a reaction to roll d6s to protect an ally. How good is that? Well, most importantly, the Barbarian has no reaction that it naturally has, other than opportunity attacks. So, this gives the barbarian another pretty easy option for a reaction.

This scales relatively well, too; 7, then 11, then 14 average damage protected. Blocking that much damage once per round is pretty good, and the barbarian should be willing to reduce damage whenever possible.

This is also the first time that your durable class can really help against magic. You can only protect one ally, but that means the squishiest member of the party takes significantly less damage… hopefully.

That’s the main downside of this ability; sometimes you roll 1’s and suddenly you’ve only protected against 2 damage. The inconsistency can be annoying, but just throw it out whenever you can. Eventually, you could be blocking 24 damage, which can easily halve the damage of a creature.

Consult the Spirits

Just in case you were worried that you weren’t spirit-oriented enough, here comes your level 10 ability!

When you [consult the spirits], you cast the augury or clairvoyance spell, without using a spell slot or material components. Rather than creating a spherical sensor, this use of clairvoyance invisibly summons one of your ancestral spirits to the chosen location. Wisdom is your spellcasting ability for these spells.

After you cast either spell in this way, you can’t use this feature again until you finish a short or long rest.

This is incredibly weird for a barbarian; an information-oriented ability? Where did that come from?

Augury is a 2nd level spell that allows you to find some slight directional input. That can be useful if you’re desperate to know if your plan is going to smash into a brick wall. However, with how vague the answers are, this can’t really help out overmuch. All you know is whether the results will be good or bad – really useful, but ultimately not a huge part of decision-making. Use this (sparingly) when you just have to know about a plan.

Arguably more useful, and higher level, is the Clairvoyance spell. Clairvoyance allows you to see a little bit into the future. Placing a spirit in a room that you’re preparing to enter is crucial for combat buffing and preparation. If you put the Clairvoyance in a room and find a bunch of monsters, then you can start an encounter by crashing through the door and having a fireball come through. Or, if you find the boss’s room and send a drone in, you can prepare for a dangerous fight with stuff like Haste.

Do remember, a particularly magical boss might detect your Clairvoyance and use it to start preparing themselves. Try to know what type of opponent you’re up against before throwing this spell out willy-nilly!

However, the spells refresh on short rests. That’s legitimately fantastic! You’re like a Warlock, but you only know two spells. These should be used for Clairvoyance whenever possible, and Augury only once a day. Augury gets worse the more you use it in a single day, while Clairvoyance is just amazing.

Vengeful Ancestors

Finally, at 14th level, your path explodes into the most powerful ability it can give you. Well, that’s the case for most archetypes.

At 14th level, your ancestral spirits grow powerful enough to retaliate. When you use your Spirit Shield to reduce the damage of an attack, the attacker takes an amount of force damage equal to the damage that your Spirit Shield prevents.

Eh! It’s fine, but it’s not exactly incredible.

That being said, this makes your reaction almost guaranteed to be Spirit Shield. Spirit Shield now blocks an average of 14 damage, and deals 14 damage back. No save, no range limit. A Wizard could fling a fireball from 500 feet away, and as long as you block the damage within 30 feet, you zap the Wizard. Cool!

There isn’t too much to talk about here. This is a strict buff to Spirit Shield, but it just isn’t too much damage at level 14. But, damage is damage!

Best Races for Ancestral Guardians

Ancestral Guardians are just like any other Barbarian; they love Strength and Constitution.  Unlike most Barbarians, you do have some reasons to grab Wisdom… Though if someone tries to counterspell your Augury, they might be pretty dumb! Stick with Strength and Constitution.

Longtooth Shifter

The Longtooth shifter type from Eberron: Rising from the Last War are vicious hunters, and also pack-oriented. What better way to engage with the pack then to bring the spirits of your elders with you! If you decide to do so, the Longtooth shifter is a great option. +2 Strength, +1 Dexterity isn’t perfect. It’s fine, because you’re more focused on that Strength. You can see in the dark, are proficient in Intimidation, and gain access to Shifting. Shifting gives you temporary hitpoints as a bonus action, and allows you to use a bonus action to attack with your fangs. It’s like two weapon fighting, but you get your Strength modifier! That’s a great way to deal extra damage, and a good use of your Bonus Action.

Earth Genasi

These half-Earth Elementals from the Elemental Evil Player’s Companion are perfect barbarians. +2 Constitution, +1 Strength works well, since you can get your Strength to 20 in two levels (with standard array). Earth Genasi also gain two abilities to help your new role as a pseudo-utility character; Earth Walk allows great movement across difficult terrain, and Pass Without Trace will let your party become ridiculously stealthy… Without any stealth proficiency! Considering you can use Clairvoyance to get information, this allows ambush strategies to come from a barbarian! Not the best damage option, but a really cool general option.


Finally, the Loxodon is the lowest damage option, but a great tank choice! The Loxodon, from the Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica, are elephant people with some tanky stats. +2 Constitution, +1 Wisdom! No strength is a major bummer, but you can live with dealing 1 less damage for a while. That’s because you have advantage against charms and frightens and advantage on most smell-based checks. That alone is good utility, but you also have a trunk that can handle things without precision… including grappling while your hands are full! Great for the tanky frontliner who wants to use a greataxe and lock down a caster! Finally, you have natural armor, which gives a +2 bonus to armor class and replaces Dexterity with Constitution. That’s insanely strong! You don’t need a single point of dexterity to get actually solid AC. A really cool choice, but not necessarily the strongest… literally.

Conclusion – Our Take on the Ancestral Guardian 5E

The Ancestral Guardian is a fantastic tank. Against any enemies that rely on attack rolls will be hugely hampered by Ancestral Protectors, and Spirit Shield will defend against enemies who slip by you. If that wasn’t enough, it gives the Barbarian an information-based ability, increasing their out-of-combat usefulness.

However, that’s not to say it doesn’t have flaws. DC-based spells ignore your tanking ability, and Spirit Shield doesn’t defend against too much damage. So, you’re a fine tank, but don’t think your party is going to be immune to damage while you’re on the field. Bring healers and anti-casters, and the Ancestral Guardian can handle most problems thrown your way.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.