They don’t make barbarians quite like the Player’s Handbook makes Barbarians. That can be both a good and bad thing. In the case of the Totem Warrior, Barbarians have never been so versatile, nor so spiritual. As a Totem Warrior, the barbarian crafts keepsakes of the animal spirits that surround them. By channeling these spirits, the Barbarian can perform superhuman feats… well, more superhuman than Rage already makes them! The totem worships all of the spirits, but might prefer to channel one more than the rest. They must make choices about what creatures to craft, which is why it might be a confusing class to understand. What are the best totems? Our Totem Barbarian 5E guide will give you a good idea about what to choose.
The Spirit Worshipper: Totem Barbarian 5E
The Totem Warrior is by far the most versatile Barbarian Wizards of the Coast has ever released. Because of this, you have a ton of choices to make! That’s not a bad thing, either; most of these levels have legitimate choices, which changes the Barbarian based on party comp! You can be a beefcastle, a skirmisher, a striker, or a support. Crazy, right?
First, you just get a small boon that is thematically appropriate.
Yours is a path that seeks attunement with the natural world, giving you a kinship with beasts. At 3rd level when you adopt this path, you gain the ability to cast the beast sense and speak with animals spells, but only as rituals, as described in chapter 10.
Both of these spells are rather… Whatever? Taking 10 minutes to cast beast sense isn’t the best idea. If you have a Wizard or Warlock in your party, their familiar can do this for free. However, if not, you can turn a squirrel into a scout. Really useful early on! But, don’t expect that squirrel to survive scouting out a Lich’s cave. You’ll have to avenge Captain Squeakers.
Speak with Animals is also rather niche, but gives the Barbarian a no-resource way to gather information. During social encounters, you can just talk to animals to see if they know anything. Depending on your campaign, you might actually use this spell a lot! Just… not for traditional dungeon crawlers.
Make some animal friends with these. It can lead to fun roleplay opportunities!
Thankfully, that’s not the only thing you get at level 3. You also may take on the aspect of one of these animals – or simply make a fetish dedicated to them. These aspects give you a single benefit while you are raging (which is normal for a level 3 Path power, so you just get a smorgasbord!).
As a small roleplay benefit, you can name the animal as whatever you like. If a Boar would make more sense for your Barbarian than a Bear, then that’s fine! Just make sure that your physical characteristics/fetish makes sense for that animal.
The aspects of the Elk and Tiger are from Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide. Make sure your DM is okay with that before selecting them.
Bear. While raging, you have resistance to all damage except psychic damage. The spirit of the bear makes you tough enough to stand up to any punishment.
What?! Who looked at Barbarian and said “yeah, the problem is there wasn’t enough damage reduction”? This is a stupid amount of resistance, and makes you highly threatening against magic users. You’re even resistant to force! Psychic damage is fairly rare amongst spell lists, so you just have double the health. A ridiculously strong choice; if you’re worried about your build at all, take this.
Eagle. While you’re raging and aren’t wearing heavy armor, other creatures have disadvantage on opportunity attack rolls against you, and you can use the Dash action as a bonus action on your turn. The spirit of the eagle makes you into a predator who can weave through the fray with ease.
This is an interesting idea for movement speed. Dashing as a bonus action is a good use of it, and you also take much less damage from opportunity attacks. Yet… the Barbarian is not a great Skirmisher. You’re supposed to be the bastion between your foes and your casters! If there’s someone else that can do that job, then this could let you run up and beat up an enemy caster… But, Rogues do that a lot better. Have you considered becoming a Rogue?
Elk. While you’re raging and aren’t wearing heavy armor, your walking speed increases by 15 feet. The spirit of the elk makes you extraordinarily swift.
You get Fast Movement, and you want more? Do you need 55 ft speed? That sounds like fun, yeah, but you could be nearly immune to damage with Bear! 40 ft speed is plenty.
Tiger. While raging, you can add 10 feet to your long jump distance and 3 feet to your high jump distance. The spirit of the tiger empowers your leaps.
This shouldn’t be a problematic opinion, but jumping 10 ft further or 3 ft higher will rarely affect gameplay. Just put down a plank, or climb a ladder. No reason to dedicate your only level 3 combat benefit to “I do big jump!”
Wolf. While you’re raging, your friends have advantage on melee attack rolls against any creature within 5 feet of you that is hostile to you. The spirit of the wolf makes you a leader of hunters.
This is the other really good option. Giving advantage on melee attack rolls will make any melee allies happy. Rogues, especially, will be absolutely in love with you! Unfortunately, this only applies to melee. If your party has a bunch of ranged characters, and you’re alone up front, then nothing will happen. But hey, if you have a Barb/Warlock/Rogue/Cleric, then you could do team Frontline and just walk through enemy hordes. This isn’t recommended; just consider this if you have a Rogue or Monk that benefits from the advantage.
In general, take Bear. Or Wolf, if you have at least one other melee ally. The other three don’t offer significant enough benefits for your Barbarian Rage to make sense.
Aspect of the Beast
At level 6, after 3 levels with your aspect of choice, you get another! You do not need to select the same animal as you did before. You can choose whichever you like. However, this level sucks. It’s just a minor out-of-rage benefit no matter what you choose.
Bear. You gain the might of a bear. Your carrying capacity (including maximum load and maximum lift) is doubled, and you have advantage on Strength checks made to push, pull, lift, or break objects.
Cool, carrying capacity is always fun. This isn’t much of a benefit, but at least you get advantage on Strength checks to do stuff. You become the world’s best pack mule, and you might have enough Strength to mess with DM puzzles, but otherwise Bear is no longer a must-have.
Eagle. You gain the eyesight of an eagle. You can see up to 1 mile away with no difficulty, able to discern even fine details as though looking at something no more than 100 feet away from you. Additionally, dim light doesn’t impose disadvantage on your Wisdom (Perception) checks.
Super cool! Also super whatever. You can see perfectly 1 mile away, which may help when hunting or seeking things out. But, a lot of creatures that run away also take cover. So you can see the tree they are hiding behind in really close detail… But otherwise, divination effects will be stronger.
Elk. Whether mounted or on foot, your travel pace is doubled, as is the travel pace of up to ten companions while they’re within 60 feet of you and you’re not incapacitated. The elk spirit helps you roam far and fast.
Once again… really fun, flavorful benefit, usually doesn’t matter. This might save a spell slot once in a while, but most of the time, you simply don’t care about “travel pace.” If your DM has you constantly roaming back and forth between massive landscapes, then this might be an actually powerful benefit. But, if you haven’t heard of travel pace once in your campaign, then take a pass.
Tiger. You gain proficiency in two skills from the following list: Athletics, Acrobatics, Stealth, and Survival. The cat spirit hones your survival instincts.
Probably the best option. You get two skills, for free. These can actually help in combat, since Barbarians don’t have too many proficiencies. Acrobatics for balance, stealth for ambush strategies, survival for… surviving. Athletics is obviously great, but please give your Barbarian athletics upon character creation. They deserve that much, at least.
Wolf. You gain the hunting sensibilities of a wolf. You can track other creatures while traveling at a fast pace, and you can move stealthily while traveling at a normal pace.
Cool, you can track and stealth at a reasonable pace. Similar to Elk, this normally doesn’t matter; the DM will just let you track, and you may or may not find the creature. This doesn’t benefit your other party members, either, so the Rogue will shake their fist at your back as you sneak away. Not amazing.
None of these are super impactful, so you actually just get to choose the one that makes sense. The Bear or Tiger are arguably the best, since they help the Barbarian do their job. You can still get a lot of use of the other three; Eagle for scouting, Elk if your DM is particular about how fast you move, Wolf if you don’t have better ways to find a creature. Seriously, just pick your poison here.
You don’t get a choice for your level 10 ability. Instead, you get to talk to your spiritual ancestors.
At 10th level, you can cast the commune with nature spell, but only as a ritual. When you do so, a spiritual version of one of the animals you chose for Totem Spirit or Aspect of the Beast appears to you to convey the information you seek.
Summon a bear, and let it talk about how awful your plan is. Not only is that hilarious, but it’s helpful! Now your spellcasters don’t have to learn or prepare the spell themselves. If that wasn’t good enough, you actually get the spell at around the same time Druids do; they’d get it just one level earlier. Just let Commune with Nature be your job. The Barbarian Information Station, that’s what you are.
And at level 14, we’re back to our choice. Remember, you can choose whichever you like! This time, you’re buffing your Rage ability once again.
Bear. While you’re raging, any creature within 5 feet of you that’s hostile to you has disadvantage on attack rolls against targets other than you or another character with this feature. An enemy is immune to this effect if it can’t see or hear you or if it can’t be frightened.
This is a fantastic way to tank hits, especially if your party members in the frontline are squishy. Your enemies are incentivized to hit you. This does nothing to stop spells, like Fireball, from being fully effective. Consider grabbing Mage Slayer as a feat if you want to be the best little tank. Your enemies will fear your rage then!
Eagle. While raging, you have a flying speed equal to your current walking speed. This benefit works only in short bursts; you fall if you end your turn in the air and nothing else is holding you aloft.
Actually pretty amazing! This is the only level where I can fully recommend Eagle. Instead of wasting a spell slot or magic item attunement, you can just pop Rage and fly at someone. Of course, you’d need to move at them every round, but still, this is great.
Elk. While raging, you can use a bonus action during your move to pass through the space of a Large or smaller creature. That creature must succeed on a Strength saving throw (DC 8 + your Strength bonus + your proficiency bonus) or be knocked prone and take bludgeoning damage equal to 1d12 + your Strength modifier.
A decent effect. As a bonus action, you can walk through an enemy (a rare ability!) and they even have to save. Your Strength should be massive, and they might not be proficient in Strength saves (though that’s by no means a set-in-stone rule). This is honestly just a good use of your bonus action… But then you run headfirst into a Huge creature. And this ability is worthless. So close to being cool! If you really want to use this, consider finding ways to get Large or Huge yourself, and ask your DM if the size limit can also increase with you.
Tiger. While you’re raging, if you move at least 20 feet in a straight line toward a Large or smaller target right before making a melee weapon attack against it, you can use a bonus action to make an additional melee weapon attack against it.
Really cool way to deal extra damage! Your raging weapon attacks hit very hard, and all you have to do is move 20 feet. If you really want to adopt a Skirmisher Lifestyle, taking Eagle/Elk at 3 and Tiger at 14 makes you deal legitimately high damage safely. Just… make sure your Wizard has someone to protect them, like a Fighter.
Wolf. While you’re raging, you can use a bonus action on your turn to knock a Large or smaller creature prone when you hit it with melee weapon attack.
The worst option, though not by much. The main benefit of knocking Prone in 5E is to grant Advantage… Something Wolf does at level 3. And you have Reckless Attack to give yourself advantage with. So you don’t desperately need to spend bonus actions to knock people prone, if you took Wolf earlier. This also has the same problem that Elk does at level 14, in that Huge or larger creatures ignore you.
Bear and Tiger are both crazy strong, and Eagle is a legitimate option if you want to save magic item slots. Wolf and Elk are better if you have ways to get bigger and your DM agrees that that will change the size of the creatures that you can trip.
Best Race for Totem Warriors
The Totem Warrior really wants Strength and Constitution, just like any Barbarian. Dexterity boosts your AC, and Wisdom will stop you from getting mind controlled too often.
Now is your chance; become the angriest turtle. This race from the Tortle Package is actually quite good for you. +2 Strength, +1 Wisdom might not seem perfect. However, you have a base AC of 17, allowing you to completely ignore Dexterity without “wearing” heavy armor! Super neat! If that wasn’t enough, you get Survival for free, can dive into your shell in emergencies, and become great at swimming when required. And don’t worry, Tortles are just as fast as everyone else. What a flavorful option for a spirit-worshipping Barbarian!
Conclusion – Our Take on the Totem Barbarian 5E
The Totem Warrior is super cool, but loses a ton of power at level 6. If it weren’t for Aspect of the Beast, this would be the best Barbarian by far. But, that’s just how the cookie crumbles. If you’re looking for a really good tank, a skirmisher barbarian, or a good Advantage granter, the Totem Warrior does any of those jobs really well.