Barbarians are typically rather defensive warriors, using rage to fuel their bodies to ignore pain. Most barbarians control their rage, using it merely as a means to an end. Not the Berserker. This Player’s Handbook Barbarian has rage that overwhelms their entire bodies. When a Berserker goes into a rage, their enemies and allies alike should consider taking cover. A Berserker who wanders onto a battlefield is interested only in the slaughter. It’s up to their allies to point them in the right direction before they explode. Is this rather dangerous subclass a good idea to bring into a dungeon? Read our Berserker 5E guide to find out.
The Uncontrolled Warrior: Berserker 5E
The Berserker is an extremely risky class, solely because of their 3rd level ability. And it’s because of this 3rd level ability that the Berserker isn’t… amazing. If you ignore Frenzy, then the Berserker has weird but useful combat utility, such as causing Frighten or suppressing Charms. Get to 14th level, and they’re even able to hit back after someone deals damage to them, increasing their damage by quite a bit! This makes the Berserker a weird but potent pseudo-striker, with a lot of good defense.
This ability is the only really problematic ability that the Berserker has. That’s because it is so good.. But with such a hefty downside.
Starting when you choose this path at 3rd level, you can go into a frenzy when you rage. If you do so, for the duration of your rage you can make a single melee weapon attack as a bonus action on each of your turns after this one. When your rage ends, you suffer one level of exhaustion.
If the last sentence is completely ignored, this ability becomes amazing.
Imagine, if you will, a Monk’s Martial Arts feature. As a bonus action, a monk may perform an Unarmed Attack against an enemy. This is a massive increase in damage, since they can make a whole additional attack as a bonus action; basically half of a full attack, after level 5!
So now you get to do it with a Greatsword! At level 3, Frenzy will deal such a stupid amount of additional damage. Even once you have Extra Attack, this bonus action will see your damage potential skyrocket.
Even better, you don’t need to make an Attack Action to gain access to this bonus action attack. You can Dash, or lift an object, or do whatever as a standard. Then, you still get to swing as a Bonus! Super good for advancing on an enemy and still getting good damage.
Problem, however; exhaustion is really bad. You can only really afford to have one level of exhaustion. At two levels, your speed is halved, and people can just run away from you forever. And at three, you have disadvantage on attacks. You’re not a caster; you can’t just avoid the penalties to exhaustion. So you can Frenzy once, and then you need to find a way to get rid of your exhaustion. And, if you’re walking through a desert or climbing a mountain… Ugh, you can’t frenzy safely at all! And you can only heal 1 level of exhaustion per day (or per cast of Greater Restoration).
Realistically, Frenzy is a once-per-day ability to quickly take down a boss. That’s it. Which isn’t necessarily bad, but having your 3rd level ability only activate once per day? That’s kinda disappointing.
Now that we’re past the 3rd level ability, we can get to the more universally good abilities. Well, universally against pretty specific sources of crowd control.
Beginning at 6th level, you can’t be charmed or frightened while raging. If you are charmed or frightened when you enter your rage, the effect is suspended for the duration of the rage.
This is a fantastic ability to have whenever you fight most Wizards. Frightened is one of the most annoying status effects for a melee character to go up against. It prevents you from entering combat, so you’d have to switch to a ranged option… As a barbarian. Disgusting! And also a really heavy decrease to your damage, the one thing a Barbarian is supposed to do well. So, the ability to completely ignore that by popping Rage will help your damage potential massively.
The charm effect is less important, but being charmed means you can’t attack your charmer. Against boss fights, this can lead to annoying moments where you just have to sit there and tap your foot as your friends beat up your new best friend. Popping rage to ignore that is super helpful for boss fights.
Thankfully, this doesn’t require Frenzy to use. Rage can now become a temporary solution to getting Charmed or Frightened. However, Rage is still a super limited resource, so… this can be a bit of a weird use for it. Still, if you know you’ll need to muscle through the status effect to deal some damage, feel free to pop your rage! And, if your DM is kind, maybe the enemy will waste Charms or Frightens on you, since the enemy might not know.
Your most complex ability comes at level 10. You’re able to spend an action to just stare someone down.
When you do so, choose one creature that you can see within 30 feet of you. If the creature can see or hear you, it must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw (DC equal to 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Charisma modifier) or be frightened of you until the end of your next turn. On subsequent turns, you can use your action to extend the duration of this effect on the frightened creature until the end of your next turn. This effect ends if the creature ends its turn out of line of sight or more than 60 feet away from you.
Omitted is that you can only stare someone down once per 24 hours, if they save. They get too used to your scariness otherwise.
This is legitimately unique, and sadly quite terrible. Your gaze causes a creature to become frightened, but you need to spend your action to keep the creature scared. This is actually a relatively valid ranged option (if a creature is out of your range, for example). You also don’t even need to be in Rage to activate it, letting you stare someone down without needing to be extremely mad.
However, spending an action every turn to do this effect? Not even close to worth it. Your Wizard or Cleric will have much, much, much better ways to cause Frighten by now, and won’t have to spend every round doing so. Your actions should be dedicated to Extra Attack and fishing for critical hits. If you really want the Frighten effect, try to only spend one round doing it when possible.
What this ability is actually extremely cool for is out-of-combat Frighten. Say, for example, your Bard is in a heated debate with an enemy politician. The politician is a charismatic vampire, and is quite good at words. Normally, you, the barbarian, couldn’t help at all. Now, you have a chance to cause the vampire to become Frightened, and take disadvantage to ability checks. You don’t mind wasting actions here, because… what else were you going to do? Nothing! So, now you get to help your Bard a bit, until the vampire leaves your presence.
Your final ability is a lot more useful in combat than the stare. And very apt, as the angriest barbarian archetype around!
Starting at 14th level, when you take damage from a creature that is within 5 feet of you, you can use your reaction to make a melee weapon attack against that creature.
So, whenever someone who you’re right in front of hurts you, you get to hurt them. Great!
Barbarians usually want to use Reckless Attack whenever they can. Getting disadvantage on attack rolls is so nice. At this point, Reckless Attack means you’re almost guaranteed to get hit by attacks. As long as you’re in melee range of that target, you suddenly get to have up to 3 attacks per turn! That’s pretty amazing!
Even better, you don’t need to get damaged by attack rolls; DC-based damaging effects also apply. Say, for example, you’re fighting a Wizard. The Wizard drops a fireball on you and another melee. You get to punch him in the face for that! Theoretically, if the enemy deflects damage (such as from spikes, or an elemental shield), you can use a reaction on your turn to kick their butt! They dealt damage to you, after all.
This is pretty basic, and also fairly limited. You can’t use this ability with a Reach weapon, for example. You’d need to have Sentinel or something if you want to guarantee enemies in melee, which is… Not exactly what this reaction is for. It’s easy to use against melee enemies, harder to use against most casters. However, if you’re paired with a Cleric that has Sentinel or something, that can be pretty useful.
And hey, in Frenzy, this is 4 Greataxe swings in a round. That’s brutal!
See Also: Guide to the Poisoned Condition
Best Races for Berserkers
If you want to be a Berserker, you just have to have high Strength. That’s priority #1. Then, Constitution will let you tank hits for your party, and become a larger threat for your enemies. Interestingly enough, this is one of the few Barbarians where charisma isn’t a complete waste of your time, thanks to Intimidating Presence. But you should probably get 14 Dexterity instead, for medium armors.
The Dragonborn are a proud (and intimidating!) people. If you go Dragonborn, you get some fantastic benefits. +2 Strength, +1 Charisma works fine, if you want your Frightening Presence and Intimidation to be alright. You also gain a Breath Attack, which is a phenomenal option for Swarm combats. Finally, you get damage resistance, a surprisingly good buff for a Barbarian, who might be the target of many spells. Really stellar choice, if you’re the party’s angry side!
Because Berserkers have such a specific stat priority, Tritons from the Volo’s Guide to Monsters work well. Tritons get +1 to Strength, Constitution, and Charisma; a really good spread! As your party’s barracuda, you’ll be able to breath underwater, cast some basic defensive spells, and talk with animals. You also gain resistance to cold damage, a good resistance to have. Tritons are normally a little more focused on protecting the law, but… some of them might have the heart of a shark, right?
Want to focus on survival? Well, the Beasthide Shifter from Eberron: Rising from the Last War might help! Beasthide Shifters gain +2 Constitution, +1 Strength. They may transform into a powerful half-bears or boars as a bonus action, giving you temp HP. Because you’re a thick-skinned animal, you gain +1 to AC and +1d6 temp hitpoints. If that wasn’t enough, you also get Darkvision and Athletics proficiency for free, great for a Barb. Of you’re not spending your Frenzy charge for the day, transforming might be a good use of a bonus action.
Conclusion – Our Take on the Berserker 5E
The Berserker is a potentially powerful character, but limited so heavily by exhaustion. At level 9, you can have your clerics waste spell slots to cure exhaustion, but… That’s unrealistic. They get 1 really good fight per day, and then just okay utility skills. At least two of the skills you get don’t require you to be raging at all? Meh, you could do better. If you want to feel extremely powerful once per day (likely at the end of the day), there’s no better Barbarian. Otherwise, this is a fine striker in the lategame.