An Introduction to the Barbarian Class for Players New to Dungeons and Dragons 5e
Do you want to play a character that can wade into combat wearing nothing but a loincloth, laughing at the pitiful attempts of your enemies to harm you? Do you want to be able to fly into a blind bloodthirsty battle rage and beat that annoying goblin to death with his friend’s skull from time to time? Well, then you may be interested in hearing more about the Barbarian class for Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition.
Side note: This guide will assume you have a copy of the player’s handbook for the more detailed information, but can still serve as a good primer for you if you are getting ready for your first game of Dungeons and Dragons and need a little help!
If you haven’t already, you can also click here to check out my guide for rolling your first character, which I recommend if you’re just getting started as that first character can be a tall order!
But enough idle talk, more talking about smashing.
Overview: Meet the Meatbag
There will always be those that eschew the pleasure and comfort of society, choosing the live the wild life we all secretly yearn for. Among those people, in the world of Dungeons and Dragons, you will find Barbarians. Barbarians are warriors that live outside the restrictions of city and civilization. They come from places where might makes right, where the strong thrive and the weak die, where every moment is a fight for survival.
Because of this, it should come as no shock that barbarians are tough. Among all the classes in Dungeons and Dragons 5e, Barbarians have the highest hit die with a d12 – meaning they will, on average, have higher hit points than anyone else in the party and thus be able to take more hits without worry. Alongside this, you are highly encouraged to put your highest ability score into Constitution for this class, further enforcing both this high health total and adding that modifier to your armor class when you are unarmored. This means your naked skin might be tougher than armor if you have a particularly high constitution.
At first level, you also gain the ability to fly into a blind rage twice per day (this number increases as you gain levels in the class). During your rage, you will be able to perform unnatural feats of strength (gaining advantage to all strength checks and saves – this includes grappling checks to restrain or pick up enemies!). You also gain a bonus to strength based attack damage during your rage, and reduce all incoming physical damage by half. With this feature, your already fearsome character becomes a force of absolute primal savagery, able to charge into the thick of the fight and absorb attacks while dishing out respectable damage.
Role in the Party
Survivability is the name of the game for Barbarians, and their ability to take hits makes them a great candidate for the party tank (a character that stands at the front line to take hits and protect more vulnerable characters like spell-casters). While in rage, you will be taking fully half damage from non-magic sources. Also, advantage on strength checks while raging can be used to grapple and restrain enemies, a great way to take a dangerous foe out of the fight for a time (or if you’re lucky and your Dungeon Master made the mistake of putting you near a cliff of some sort, you can remove them from the fight entirely!). If you want to really focus on this role, I recommend looking into feats like sentinel in the Player’s Handbook (you can find rules for feats starting on p.165). You’re also going to need high physical stats for this – to be most successful, you’re going to want a decent score in all three (Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution). This does mean making yourself more vulnerable to spell effects with your low mental stats, so keep that in mind. Don’t forget that barbarians can use shields just fine and retain their unarmored defense bonus, so that can be a nice way to boost your AC another couple points if you don’t mind trading the damage of a two-handed weapon.
If you want to do less protecting squishy friends and more squashing squishy enemies, you can build your barbarian to focus more on damage dealing. If this is your goal, you definitely are going to want to wield a two-handed weapon and put your high stat in strength (though you’ll still want a respectable constitution score!). You won’t match the damage output of classes like fighter and rogue, but you can still soak up hits more effectively than either meaning if you have somebody else filling the tank role, they don’t have to worry about protecting you out there.
Looking Ahead: High Level Barbarians
As your barbarian levels up, look forward to gaining more features that improve your strength and survivability.
At level two, you will be able to attack with reckless abandon, giving you advantage on all attack rolls that turn at the expense of giving advantage to all attacks against you. This is great for the damage dealing barbarian, who will ideally be burning down enemies too fast to care about the extra hits they are taking.
Your subclass options in the Player’s Handbook either let you further improve your rage with the Path of the Beserker or gain special abilities from your spiritual connection to nature with the Path of the Totem Warrior. I’ll cover these, along with the options offered in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, in more detail in a later post.
At higher levels, you will gain abilities such as increased base movement speed, more attacks, improvements to your rage, and at the highest levels your physical stats (specifically strength and constitution) can be boosted past the usual limit of 20 to 24.
With all these features, barbarians are better at being in the middle of the chaos of battle than any other class. If you like the idea of running mostly naked and screaming into a horde of enemies (and you want this to be an effective tactic), you’re in the right place! Grab your axe and loincloth, and teach the enemy to fear your rage.