Barbarians in 5E are usually massive, brutish berserkers. Hefting a weapon larger than their bodies, they cleave through cities with a massive amount of strength. Strength is so important for Barbarians because it fuels their damage so completely… Or, does it? One extremely uncommon inclination is a Dexterity-based Barbarian… admittedly, for good reason. It’s not an easy build to go for! But, you’ll be rewarded with massive AC and not a huge decrease in damage. So, check out our Dex Barbarian 5E guide if you want to try something new.
Dex Barbarian 5E Guide
Barbarians only have one rule that strictly relies on Strength; Rage. When you use Dexterity for damage, you lose your Rage’s bonus to melee weapon attack damage. This means that, as you level up, you’ll lose up to +4 damage while you rage due to your Dexterity, which sucks. Your Rage is basically only for Resistance to all physical damage – Still wonderful, but no longer as painful.
What race works best for Dexterity Barbarians? Well, if you throw a dart at a dartboard with 5E races, you’ll probably hit one with a +2 to Dexterity. Wizards loves that stat!
My recommendation is either Goblin or Warforged. Goblins are small, with +2 Dexterity and +1 Constitution. Perfect! Barbarians still want Constitution. They also gain Fury of the Small, which can help you catch up with your damage thresholds. Nimble Escape is a useful piece of utility, as well; it lets you spend bonus actions to flee or close in on opponents.
Warforged might sound pretty slow, but you can get a +1 to Dexterity… and +2 to Constitution! That’s crazy! The Warforged come packed with a +1 bonus to Armor class, which is really helpful for your AC. You don’t even need to equip armor to gain the bonus (unless you want to), letting you apply that boost to your Dexterity and Constitution. These are more tanky than Goblins, but have slightly less utility.
Or should I say, weapons! Realistically, the Barbarian is going to become a two-weapon fighter. There is no finesse weapon that can be wielded in two hands, so your high Dexterity would be wasted. If you plan on dealing damage. Therefore, having a weapon in each hand is great for you.
Until you get Dual Wielder (which I recommend you take fairly early!), you’ll be using Light Weapons for a while. Unfortunately, that means you’ll probably be using Shortswords until you are comfortable with taking Dual Wielder. You can use Scimitars if you want, but the only difference is type of damage (and Scimitars are 15 gp extra!).
Once you have your Dual Wielder (or if you don’t care about damage and just want to use a Shield), your options open up. If you’re looking for pure damage, the Rapier is a 1d8 Finesse weapon. It’s the best finesse weapon if all you want is damage. Whips are the other significant option, boasting the Reach trait. This lets you lock down a massive area around you, especially if you can take the Sentinel Feat. However, your damage will be pitifully low with two whips. While hilarious, it won’t exactly kill enemies fast.
Both Shieldbarian and Dual Wielder are good paths for you, depending if you want to tank or deal some damage.
The Barbarian path is important. You don’t want any archetype which uses a Bonus Action to swing your weapon. You already have Dual Wielding, so you swing a weapon as a bonus action anyways. That takes Battlerager and Berserker off the list immediately.
Ancestral Guardian is actually a great idea. It forces targets to look at you and lets you defend your party exceedingly well. Add on some utility spells, and you’ve got yourself a reason to be in a party!
Storm Herald is weird, since you have to choose so many times. Thankfully, your aura’s saving throws are based on Constitution, making it viable for Dexterity Barbarians. Unfortunately, the Storm Aura is used as a Bonus Action, lowering your damage potential a bit. This is the better option for a Shieldbarian, since it uses your bonus actions on something, like increasing Temp hitpoints or zapping a dude.
Similarly, Totem Warrior has a ton of options. You could use Eagle to run around the battlefield, Bear to make yourself a massive tank, or Wolf to become a great support. I tend to find Totem Barbarian a bit weak, and not being Strength-based limits your options for totems in the mid-to-late game. This is probably the best one if you plan on multiclassing out of Barbarian early.
Zealot is likely the best for Two-Weapon fighting. Divine Fury is best when you can swing for the fences, and your extra attack as a Bonus Action is good for that. You can also leap into battle without care, since resurrection services cost much less for you. Add on rerolling saving throws and some useful utility abilities, and you have yourself a really interesting tank with good damage.
As was mentioned above, Dual Wielder is critical if you plan on two-weapon fighting. That increases your damage and your options by a ton; whip is so good, as is Rapier, for damage and controlling enemies.
If you’re doing Shieldbarian, then try to get Sentinel. Sentinel keeps enemies in front of you, and with a Whip you can keep enemies within 10 feet of you. Super useful, since your damage is going to be low, so you might as well keep them close to you instead of your opponent.
There are a few other great feats to consider, like Tough or Durable. Shieldmaster is also great if you’re a Shield-based Barbarian.
If you use a shield or a weapon in both hands, please consider your multiclass options. A Fighter would get you Second wind, which is great for Zealot. If you manage to get 13 Wisdom, Ranger is actually super useful for out-of-rage combats, since Hunter’s Mark can easily carry you in the early game. Both of these classes give Two-Weapon Fighting and Dueling fighting styles, great for either playstyle mentioned above. Fighter is the only one that offers Defense, however. So pumping AC is only possible down that path.
Rogue is another good consideration. Expertise can make you legitimately useful out of combat, and Cunning Action and Uncanny Dodge can help you get in and out of combat. Keep your Rogue levels low, however, since it might not be as useful as it appears.
You likely don’t want to sink all 20 levels into Barbarian, since you don’t care about the Strength +4. Unlimited rages per day is admittedly nice, though. So, if you find Rage to be useful just for tanking or for your Path, then please do consider getting Primal Champion.
See Also: D&D Critical Hits Guide
Concluding our Dex Barbarian 5E Guide
That wraps up our dex barbarian 5E Guide. This is not an easy build. Your damage will be very, very low at all parts of your career, and you might find that your amazing AC and health doesn’t make up the difference. However, clever use of feats, good placement in combat, and helping your allies will make you a valid part of the team. And the Dexterity Barbarian is better for pure AC… So maybe you aren’t as useless as I’m making you out to be.