Barbarian 5E Guide | The Barbarian Handbook for D&D

barbarian 5e


The barbarian feels like one of those classic D&D stereotypes. Your character is a hulking brute that just wants to smash stuff, right? Well, in the 5th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons, the Barbarian is much more than that. Join as we take a deep dive into the class with our Barbarian 5E Guide

Updated for Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything

Barbarian 5E Guide

The barbarian is the ultimate brute. Where fighters have finesse, barbarians have raw power. The class is built around the Rage mechanic which allows you to absorb tremendous damage.

You are much more than just a tank, however. Barbarians deal major damage, especially on critical hits. While they are not casters, the subclasses offer some options to make your campaign more than just hacking and slashing.

Barbarian Table

LevelProficiency BonusFeaturesRagesRage Damage
1st+2Rage, Unarmored Defense2+2
2nd+2Reckless Attack, Danger Sense2+2
3rd+2Primal Path, Primal Knowledge (Optional)3+2
4th+2Ability Score Improvement3+2
5th+3Extra Attack, Fast Movement3+2
6th+3Path feature4+2
7th+3Feral Instinct, Instinctive Pounce (Optional)4+2
8th+3Ability Score Improvement4+2
9th+4Brutal Critical (1 die)4+3
10th+4Path feature, Primal Knowledge (Optional)4+3
11th+4Relentless Rage4+3
12th+4Ability Score Improvement5+3
13th+5Brutal Critical (2 dice)5+3
14th+5Path feature5+3
15th+5Persistent Rage5+3
16th+5Ability Score Improvement5+4
17th+6Brutal Critical (3 dice)6+4
18th+6Indomitable Might6+4
19th+6Ability Score Improvement6+4
20th+6Primal ChampionUnlimited+4

Class Features

As a barbarian, you gain the following class features.

Hit Points

Hit Dice: 1d12 per barbarian level
HP at 1st Level: 12 + your Constitution modifier
HP at Higher Levels: 1d12 (or 7) + your Constitution modifier per barbarian level after 1st

1d12 hit dice is as good as it gets.

Proficiencies

Armor: Light armor, medium armor, shields
Weapons: Simple weapons, martial weapons
Tools: None
Saving Throws: Strength, Constitution
Skills: Choose two from Animal Handling, Athletics, Intimidation, Nature, Perception, and Survival

Light and medium armor proficiency? Who cares about that? Half the fun of this class is going into a rage and relying on Unarmored Defense (which we discuss later) right? In truth, you’ll want some armor early on. Your AC with Unarmored Defense won’t match Half Plate armor until you reach a combined +7 Constitution and Dexterity modifier.

Equipment

You start with the following equipment, in addition to the equipment granted by your background:

  • (a) a greataxe or (b) any martial melee weapon
  • (a) two handaxes or (b) any simple weapon
  • An explorer’s pack and four javelins

Given the bonuses you’ll be getting to critical hits, the larger damage die you get the better. Hello, greataxe!

Rage (Level 1)

The Rage feature defines the Barbarian class. As a bonus action on your turn, you can enter a rage that lasts for one minute. You can rage a number of times based on your level as found on the Barbarian table. When you rage, you get the following benefits

  • You have advantage on Strength checks and Strength saving throws.
  • When you make a melee weapon attack using Strength, you gain a bonus to the damage roll that increases as you gain levels as a barbarian, as shown in the Rage Damage column of the Barbarian table.
  • You have resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage.

The rage can end on a bonus action, if you are knocked unconscious, or if you fail to take damage or attack a hostile creature during the course of your turn. All three of these benefits is helpful, but the resistance to damage is especially strong from the beginning.

Unarmored Defense (Level 1)

Unlike most classes, barbarians are not designed to rely on armor for their tank. Barbarians that are not wearing armor gain a natural AC of 10 + dexterity modifier + constitution modifier. You can use a shield with Unarmored Defense, although most barbarians use two-handed weapons. As mentioned above, half plate armor is generally the better option at lower levels. Ultimately, this is better flavor than function until you reach higher levels.

Danger Sense (Level 2)

At level two, you gain advantage on dexterity saving throw in certain instances. You cannot be blinded, deafened, or incapacitated, and you must be able to see the effect you are attempting to avoid. This could include things like spells or traps. Dexterity saves are common in most campaigns, and this one applies in a lot of situations. No downside here.

Reckless Attack (Level 2)

On the first attack of each turn, you are able to attack recklessly. A reckless attack gives you advantage on any strength-based melee attacks. The downside is that attacks against you have disadvantage until your next turn. However, your resistance to non-magical damage allows you to soak up plenty of damage. That makes Reckless Attack a very nice option in many instances.

Primal Path (Level 3)

See Our Barbarian Subclass Rankings

At level three, you get to pick a subclass. All told, there are eight options to choose from. We review each of these options below.

Extra Attack (Level 5)

You gain the Extra Attack feature at level five. Like with other classes that get this option, you are able to make two attacks when taking the Attack action as opposed to one. Another great feature.

Fast Movement (Level 5)

Also at level 5 is Fast Movement. You gain 10 ft in walking speed so long as you are not wearing heavy armor.

Feral Instinct (Level 7)

Feral instinct gives you advantage on all initiative rolls, which greatly increases your chances of acting early in combat. Also, you can act normally on your first turn even if you are surprised, so long as your first step is raging. In other words, you are basically immune to surprise attacks as long as you rage first.

Brutal Critical (Level 9)

Brutal Critical gives you one additional weapon damage die that you can add to critical melee hits. You gain an extra die level 13 and against level 17. While this is a heap of damage, critical hits are fairly uncommon.

Relentless Rage (Level 11)

At level 11, Relentless rage further increases your survivability. If you are dropped to 0 hit points while raging, you can drop to 1 hit point instead if you make a DC 10 constitution saving throw. This feature does not work if you are killed outright as opposed to incapacitated. The DC goes up by five each time you use this feature until you take a short or long rest.

Persistent Rage (Level 15)

At Level 15 there are fewer ways your rage can end early. With Persistent Rage, you only lose rage early when you choose to do so or if you fall unconscious.

Indomitable Might (Level 18)

At level 18, you are guaranteed a strong roll on all strength checks. This feature allows you to replace your strength check roll with your total strength score. At level 18, this is usually 20 for most barbarians. This is a strong option, although it doesn’t apply to saving throws.

Primal Champion (Level 20)

At level 20 you get a huge attribute boost. Not only do you gain +4 to strength and constitution, you also see your maximum scores for both attributes go up to 24. This boost is helpful in countless ways.

Alternate Features

In addition to the standard features in the Player’s Handbook, there are also alternative features available in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. These features are entirely optional, so make of them what you will. DMs are free to use one, both, or none of these features.

Primal Knowledge (Level 3)

Primal Knowledge gives you proficiency in the skill of your choice as long as it is available to barbarians at level 1. You gain a second proficiency at level 10.

Instinctive Pounce (Level 7)

Instinctive Pounce is also intended to supplement, not replace, the other class features. This feature allows a barbarian to move up to half their speed as part of the bonus action used to enter a rage.

Primal Paths – Barbarian Subclasses

The choice of your primal path will have a major impact on what your character looks like. The basic building blocks of the class itself are central to every barbarian, but it is your chosen subclass that really gives it depth.

Ancestral Guardian

See Our Ancestral Guardian Guide

The Ancestral Guardian is arguably the most defensive-minded Barbarian Path. Thematically, you call upon your ancestors to protect yourself and your party in battle.

  • Ancestral Protectors (Level 3). Spectral warriors appear when you rage. They harry the first creature you hit with an attack per turn, giving them disadvantage on attacks against everyone but you.
  • Spirit Shield (Level 6). While raging, you can reduce the damage done to a creature within 30 feet you can see by 2d6. This goes up to 4d6 by the 14th level. Incredible damage sink for your party.
  • Consult the Spirits (Level 10). Once per short or long rest, you can cast Augury or Clairvoyance. Wisdom is your casting ability. Nice divination abilities without wasting spells slots.
  • Vengeful Ancestors (Level 14). This is a boost to Spirit Shield. It deals force damage to the attacker equal to the amount of damage you prevented. Stellar.

Battlerager

See Our Battlerager Guide

This subclass, which is restricted to dwarves, is one of the weaker options. The theme centers around the use of spike armor. Don’t have spiked armor? You miss out on roughly half of the class features.

  • Battlerager Armor (Level 3). You gain the ability to use spiked armor as a weapon. You can damage creatures by grappling them and use your bonus action to attack with the armor. The damage is low and does not scale.
  • Reckless Abandon (Level 6). This is a nice boost to Reckless Attack. When using Reckless Attack you gain temporary HP equal to your constitution modifier while raging.
  • Battlerager Charge (Level 10). You can dash as a bonus action when raging. Neat, but you have to choose between this or attacking with your armor.
  • Spiked Retribution (Level 14). Your spiky armor deals 3 hp of piercing damage when you are hit with a melee attack. This is awfully low, but in higher-tier combat you could be getting hit multiple times per turn.

Path of the Beast

See Our Path of the Beast Guide

Best Barbarians are able to take the form of beast, growing natural weapons like claws or a tail. This is a powerful subclass that dishes out damage while being incredibly durable.

  • Form of the Beast (Level 3). When you rage, you can transform into a monstrous beast. You have the option of growing a bite, claw, or tail weapon each time you rage. Claws allow you to attack twice in the Attack action, which is pretty strong.
  • Bestial Soul (Level 6). This allows you to further alter your beast form. You can either gain a swimming speed and breath underwater, gain a climbing speed and traverse walls or ceilings, or extend your jumping range.
  • Infectious Fury (Level 10). Hitting a target with your natural weapons allows you to curse them. If your target fails a wisdom throw you can either force them to attack another creature nearby or take 2d12 psychic damage.
  • Call the Hunt (Level 14). This essentially lets you form a pack with your party. You gain 5 temporary HP for each creature that joins, and in return they get a d6 bonus to melee attack damage. In large parties, this is a lot of temporary HP.

Path of the Berserker

See Our Path of the Berserker Guide

The Berserker cuts the image of the classic barbarian: shirtless, two-handed weapon swinging, frothing from the mouth, etc. Unfortunately for this path, unwieldy exhaustion mechanics make it much weaker than other options.

  • Frenzy (Level 3). You can choose to “frenzy” each time you rage. This grants you the use of a bonus action at the end of your turn to make a single weapon attack. However, you gain a level of exhaustion when the rage ends. As nice as an extra attack is, exhaustion can be a steep price.
  • Mindless Rage (Level 6). You are immune to being charmed or frightened when raging. This is a nice defense against two fairly common conditions.
  • Intimidating Presence (Level 10). Intimidating presence allows you to frighten a creature within 30 feet if they fail a Wisdom saving throw. You can extend this to additional turns, which is great! But that costs your action, which is not.
  • Retaliation (Level 14). You can use your reaction to make a melee attack any time a creature within 5 feet of you damages you. Not a bad use of your reaction.

Path of the Storm Herald

See Our Storm Herald Barbarian Guide

The rage of the Storm Herald comes from the natural world. The hook for this subclass is that you choose the environment that you draw your rage from: Desert, Sea, or Tundra. You can change environments each time you level.

  • Storm Aura (Level 3). Here, you choose your environmental choice. You exude a 10-foot magical aura that carries powers based on the environment. This power can be activated with a bonus action. The desert aura deals AOE fire damage. The sea aura deals lightning damage to a single target. The Tundra effect gives allies temporary HP.
  • Storm Soul (Level 6). At level six, your aura gains passive benefits. Desert gives you resistance to fire damage and set things on fire with your touch. Sea gives you underwater breathing and resistance to lightning damage, plus a swimming speed of 30 feet. Tundra grants you resistance to cold damage. You can also create ice with your touch.
  • Shielding Storm (Level 10). This feature allows you to spread your damage resistance from Storm Soul to the rest of your party. The 10-foot radius of the aura limits how effective this is, but it can be nice in a pinch.
  • Raging Storm (Level 14). Level 14 gives you three more environmental boosts. Desert lets you use your reaction deal additional fire damage. Sea allows you to knock an opponent prone using your reaction. Tundra lets you reduce one target’s speed to zero when they are in your aura.

Path of the Totem Warrior

See Our Path of the Totem Warrior Guide

The Totem Warrior Barbarian is filled with supernatural power from an animal that serves as their spirit guide. There are five spirit animals to choose from, each with different features. The end result is the most customizable archetype available to a Barbarian.

  • Spirit Seeker (Level 3). You gain the ability to cast Beast Sense and Speak With Animals as a ritual. Situtionation, but helpful in the right campaign.
  • Totem Spirit (Level 3). The primary feature of this archetype is Totem Spirit. Each of the five options (Bear, Eagle, Elk, Tiger, and Wolf) offer different benefits. See our comprehensive class guide for a rundown of all of them.
  • Aspect of the Beast (Level 6). You gain additional buffs based on your chosen totem. You can also switch to a new animal if you choose. These buffs include advantage on skill checks, additional proficiencies, or speed bonuses.
  • Spirit Walker (Level 10). You can now cast Commune with Nature as a ritual. This spell calls an animal of your chosen totem to speak with you. Also situational, but a nice option in unfamiliar territory.
  • Totemic Attunement (Level 14). You gain a final round of buffs based on your totem. These are much strong and only apply when you rage.

Path of the Zealot

See Our Path of the Zealot Guide

The Zealot Barbarian calls forth the power of their chosen deity to fuel their rage. This archetype is designed to survive death, but it also includes a powerful damage boost at level 3. This is a strong option for new players.

  • Divine Fury (Level 3). One of the best level 3 features available, Divine Fury gives you a nice damage boost on the first weapon attack you land each turn. You must be raging to get this bonus, which is equal to 1d6 plus half your level of barbarian. What’s more, you can pick whether the damage is necrotic or radiant.
  • Warrior of the Gods (Level 3). Any time someone casts a spell on you that restores your life, they do not need material components to cast it. This is a fairly minor benefit.
  • Fanatical Focus (Level 6). Once each time you rage, you can reroll a saving throw that you have failed. Rerolling failed saves is always a fantastic option.
  • Zealous Presence (Level 10). As a bonus action, you can give up to 10 creatures within 60 feet advantage on saving throws or attacks until the beginning of your next turn. You may not use the feature again until following a long rest. While it doesn’t do anything for you, it is a nice single round bonus to the rest of your party.
  • Rage Beyond Death (Level 14). This feature is the ultimate death-avoidance option. When raging, you do not fall unconscious when you hit zero HP. While you must make death saving throws and can take damage, you will not die while raging even if you fail three death saving throws. At the end of your rage you will die unless you are no longer at zero HP.

Pact of Wild Magic

See our Wild Magic Barbarian Guide

The wild magic barbarian is empowered by the same natural magic as the wild magic sorcerer. However, the random nature of this subclass does not have the drawbacks of the sorcerer variant. The wild magic table for this subclass differs substantially, as well.

  • Magical Awareness (Level 3). As an action, you can detect the location of a spell or magical item within 60 feet of you that isn’t behind full cover. You also learn what spell of magic it comes from. This is available a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus following a long rest.
  • Wild Surge (Level 3). Central to this archetype is Wild Surge and the wild magic table that comes with it. Unlike with the sorcerer, there are only 8 options on the table and each of them is a benefit. See our complete guide for the full table. These buffs vary from adding to your AC to teleporting you around the battlefield.
  • Bolstering Magic (Level 6). Bolstering magic gives you the choice of adding a d3 to attack rolls or recovering a spell slot whose level is determined by a d3 roll. You can use this on yourself or a companion. This is usable a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus.
  • Unstable Backlash (Level 10). You can use your reaction after taking damage or failing a saving throw to roll on the wild magic table again.
  • Controlled Surge (Level 14). This essentially gives you advantage on rolling the wild magic table by rolling twice. However, rolling the same number twice lets you pick any effect.
barbarian 5e
Wood Elf Wild Magic Barbarian

Barbarian Optimization 5E Tips

Most barbarian builds are similar. While there is such a thing as a Dex barbarian, most of these builds center heavily on strength and constitution to hack their way through combat scenarios. The following tips will help you get the most out of your barbarian no matter how you approach it.

Ability Selection

For a barbarian, it generally all comes down to Strength and Constitution. You CON score is an important part of your take, and strength is central not only to your attacks but also some subclass features. There are some alternate options, but most Barbarians will typically Focus on the same abilities.

Strength

Unless you are running the rare dexterity barbarian, strength should be your top priority. Most of your offense will be built around strength, so get it to 20 as soon as possible.

Dexterity

There are some viable dexterity builds for barbarians. Even if you go the strength route, you will still need some dexterity to boost your AC and deal with common saving throws. This should probably be your third priority.

Constitution

Constitution is vital for a barbarian and should be the focus above everything but strength. This stat provides you with your important pool of hit points and also boosts your AC if you go for an armorless build.

Intelligence

Dump it. There should always be someone else in your party that can focus on these skills, and there aren’t enough spells and effects that call for intelligence saves to make it worth spending points here. This is especially true since you are already splitting focus among three other important abilities.

Wisdom

While not a priority, sparing some points for wisdom never hurts. There are plenty of saving throws for wisdom, and higher perception roles never hurt anyone.

Charisma

Unless you plan on intimidation being a big part of your build, you can dump charisma.

Best Races for Barbarian in 5E

As I like to say in each of these class guides, you can make any race work as a barbarian. While there are some choices that are inherently better than others, a +1 boost to a single ability will only matter so much as a campaign progresses. The one important consideration to keep in mind is that you could miss out on some of the best two-handed weapons if you go for a race that is below Medium size.

I like an optimized character as much as the next person. Also keep in mind that some of the alternative rules in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything give substantially more flexibility. Below are some of the optimal races for playing a Barbarian in 5E.

Strong Options

  • Dwarf. It’s hard to beat the Mountain Dwarf as an option. A double bonus to constitution and a +1 to strength is ideal.
  • Githyanki. Adding +2 to strength off the top is a nice start. Throwing in some psionic powers can add some depth to a barbarian that is rarely an option. This is a very fun option.
  • Goliath. The quintessential barbarian race. You can soak up even more damage thanks to Stone’s Endurance and get a bonus to the right abilities.
  • Half-Orc. Lots to love with the half-orc. Proficiency in intimidation is a nice start, and the attribute bonuses are perfect. What really sets this option apart is Relentless Endurance which allows you to return to 1 HP when you drop to zero. Also ideal is Savage Attacks, which lets you roll one additional damage die on a critical hit.
  • Human. A variant human with a bonus strength, a bonus to constitution, and the Great Weapon Master feat seems perfect.
  • Tortle. Natural armor frees you up to avoid ugly stat spread. A bonus to wisdom is fine but the bump to strength is a major highlight.
  • Warforged. You get +2 constitution and you can put your optional ability increase into Strength. There’s plenty of other goodies including Sentry’s Rest and a bonus to AC.

Decent Options

  • Aasimar. A Fallen Aasimar is not a bad choice. You get a strength boost, interesting resistances, and Necrotic Shroud.
  • Bugbear. A bonus to dexterity is not optimal, but you also get strength. What’s more, you have long limbs for extra reach, dark-vision, and Powerful Build.
  • Centaur. You get a bonus to strength and useful options with Hoof Attack and Charge.
  • Dragonborn. While most Dragonborn aren’t a great fit, the Ravenite Dragonborn from Wildemount is. You get bonuses for the right abilities, a breath weapon, darkvision, and a reaction attack when you take damage.
  • Genasi. The Earth Genasi has the right attributes, plus it offers interesting options like moving through difficult terrain without a penalty and casting pass without a trace once per long rest.
  • Minotaur. You get the right ability bonuses, plus a strong feature in Hammering Horns.
  • Orc. Not bad, but the Half-Elf is essentially better in every way.
  • Shifter. Go for Beasthide or Longtooth shifters. Darkvision is nice, and either subrace has abilities that work. The downside is that some racial benefits conflict with Barbarian features.

Limited Value

  • Aarakocra
  • Elf
  • Gnome
  • Half-elf
  • Halfing
  • Hobgoblin
  • Kenku
  • Kobold
  • Leonin
  • Lizarkfolk
  • Locathah
  • Loxadon
  • Satyr
  • Tabaxi
  • Tiefling
  • Triton
  • Verdan
  • Yan-Ti Pureblood

Best Backgrounds

There are lots of backgrounds available, many of which overlap. For that reason, I’ve only highlighted a few options that really stand out for this class. In my opinion, a background is less useful for barbarians than any other class as they do not do much with skill checks. On top of that, most of the skills a barbarian needs are class-based proficiencies. Most barbarians don’t do a lot with languages either, so filling out the skills from the Barbarian list is probably top priority.

  • Folk Hero. You can fill out two of the Barbarian skills you did not select, plus you are proficient in land vehicles. Not a bad option.
  • Outlander. Great for roleplaying, and you get two skills in Athletics and survival from the Barbarian list. That’s about it though.
  • Sailor. In sea-based campaigns this is a nice option. Not only are you proficient with water vehicles, you also pick up two useful skills.
  • Soldier. Again, you get two nice skills and some tool proficiencies that might not be totally wasted.

Suggested Feats

There are a few feats that are ideal for barbarians as well as feats that are nice for any class. I have listed a few of my favorite options below.

  • Alert. Lots of small bonuses rolled into one with Alert. You get +5 to your initiative roll which is nice for builds that don’t invest in dexterity. YOu also can’t be surprised and hidden creatures don’t get advantage on you.
  • Durable. Not only do you get a +1 to constitution, but you also double your CON modifier when rolling hit dice. Another way to really soak up damage.
  • Great Weapon Master. The go-to feat for barbarians. You can take a -5 penalty to your attack roll for +10 damage, and you get an additional attack as a bonus action after a critical hit or sending a creature to 0 HP. Perfect.
  • Lucky. Lucky is just a great option for every character. Maybe not worth giving up an ability point or Great Weapon Master for, but it is excellent nonetheless.

Multiclassing Options

Multiclassing is a better idea for some classes than others. The Barbarian is one of those classes that seems to benefit very little from dipping into another class. The primary reason is because of the Rage feature. Most other classes rely on spellcasting in one way or another. For more multiclassing options, see our Multiclassing Guide.

Bard

Honestly, the BardBarian is more of an interesting flavor than anything else. The bard is a caster that relies on charisma, so there is obvious issues with stat spread and the inability to cast during rage. That said, many bard spells are useful out of combat and the use of Bardic Inspiriation does not conflict with rage.

Druid

Druid and barbarian aren’t perfectly harmonious, but there are some interesting options. For starters, you are not hampered by the Druid’s lack of armor. Additionally, there is nothing mechanically that stops you from wild shaping after you rage. This multiclass could soak up a lot of damage.

Fighter

The best multiclass option for the barbarian is easily the fighter. It is also one of the few multiclass options that makes taking multiple levels worthwhile. Two levels of fighter gets you Action Surge, which is always nice. In addition to the fighting style, you get immediately, you could also take three levels to grab a fighter subclass. Champion is a very nice option as Improved Critical works great with Brutal Critical.

Rogue

While it sounds silly on paper, a Barbarian Rogue isn’t a bad fit. You can pick up some skills and stealthiness which never hurts, and a dexterity barbarian can make great use of the Rogue’s other features.

Avoidable Multiclassing Options

  • Artificer. Intelligence based caster doesn’t make a lot of sense for a barbarian multiclass.
  • Cleric. Multiclassing into clerics, which are wisdom casters that rely on armor, is not a good fit.
  • Monk. Monk and Barbarian have a lot in common. Too much, in fact, as the unarmored defense does not stack. A handful of Ki isn’t worth giving up high-level barbarian features.
  • Paladin. Adding smites might be appealing, but the rest of this class is not a good fit.
  • Ranger. Fighting styles is nice, but you miss out on Hunter’s Mark and any other spells that are useful to a ranger. No reason to pick this instead of fighter.
  • Sorcerer. Multiclassing with a charisma caster is not worth it, unless you feel strongly about utility cantrips.
  • Warlock. Picking up a two cantrips and a level 1 spell with a single level of Warlock isn’t terrible, but you likely won’t have the charisma needed to get much out many of these options. Still, you could pick up Mage Hand, Pestidigitation, and Unseen Servant for their utility.
  • Wizard. Intelligence based full caster is a poor fit. Rage conflicts with a wizard’s entire offensive arsenal. If you want a level of a caster for utility cantrips or something, a warlock is probably a better fit.

Concluding our Barbarian 5E Guide

That’s it for our Barbarian 5E Handbook. We hope you found this guide useful in rolling your next skull-splitting, rage-inducing smashing machine. Let us know how it turns out!

 

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*