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Barbarian 5e DnD Class Guide

The Barbarian class is a monster of a fighter in Dungeons & Dragons. Their rage fuels their powers in battle and lets them smash through their enemies. Let’s take a close look at that rage with our detailed guide to DnD 5E’s Barbarian.


It was another cold winter night. As usual, we were dispatched to the Dragon’s Flagon this time of night. It looked like a battlefield when we arrived. The whole bar seemed to be fighting one giant of a man. I have no idea how he did it, but he managed to stay standing while laughing and fighting off five or eight other patrons.

The place was already trashed so the rest of the guardsmen and I just let them fight it out. Arrest them all and let the magistrates sort ‘em out I always say.  The big guy was the last one standing and a quick club to the back of his head put him down, or so I thought. 

A minute later he was back on his feet and he wasn’t laughing anymore. The happy fighting drunk was replaced by a demon. He fought 8 of us to a standstill armed with a broken chair and we almost lost 3 guardsmen. 

We managed to knock him down again and while we were catching our breath he jumped up again and tackled Private Flynn. We thought he was going to rip off private Flynn’s arm and beat him with it. It took reinforcements and an hour of fighting to finally get him locked in irons. 

I’ll never forget the face of pure hatred and rage on that man’s face for as long as I live. I’d rather face down a dragon than meet him in a dark alleyway. 

—From the journal of Captain Vyes 3rd precinct, city watch, 7th of Nightal, 1379

Read our detailed class guide to DnD 5E’s Barbarian below.

MORE CLASS GUIDES: ARTIFICER | BARBARIAN | BARD | CLERIC | DRUID | FIGHTER | MONK | PALADIN | RANGER | ROGUE | SORCERER | WARLOCK | WIZARD

Overview of 5e Barbarian

Human Barbarian D&D 5e Character Class

Barbarians are the frontline melee fighters in DnD. They get into the thick of the fight and start swinging.

Although the term barbarian can be thrown around a lot in DnD, a true barbarian is a ferocious fighter. They could be motivated by revenge, familial or clan ties, loyalty, or ambition. The one thing that all true barbarians have is a powerful rage within them that gives them strength. 

The saying, “There’s nothing more dangerous than a cornered animal” is doubly true for barbarians. They’re fighting style allows them to throw themselves at the enemy and come out the other side victorious. 

Notable Barbarians in DnD

King Obould I of Many Arrows

Obould was a towering Orc in the Forgotten Realms setting that stood apart from the rest of his kind by not only being an incredible warrior, but also a brilliant leader. He was driven from his lands and the Many Arrows tribe almost went extinct. His ferocity and battle combined with shrewd cunning saw him rebuild his horde, quash infighting, and eventually restore his tribe and become and become a powerful Orc king feared by all. 

Wulfgar, Hero of Icewind Dale

Wulfgar was the barbarian hero of Icewind Dale and one of the Companions of the Hall. He started with humble beginnings as an enslaved human before winning over his captors and being taught to fight by Drizzt Do’Urden. He was a towering figure for a human at over 7 ft tall and a terrifying force on the battlefield. He would constantly put him in harm’s way to ensure his companion’s survival and escape. 

Battlerager Barbarian D&D 5e Character Class

Barbarian Class Features

Hit Dice: 1d12

Proficiencies and Bonuses:

Barbarians start with simple weapon and martial weapon proficiencies and are able to use light armor, medium armor, and shields. 

Most important stats: Strength and Constitution are the most important stats to a barbarian. Strength helps them hit harder and more accurately, and Constitution helps them stay alive. In addition, they have a few extra abilities that take their constitution modifier into account. 

Abilities

Barbarian abilities typically focus on getting your character into the middle of a fight and doing as much damage as possible. Almost all of their standard abilities are always useful, and there are really only a few that have limited use and that’s reflected in our GameCows Ranking

GameCows Ranking System

There are a lot of abilities and class features, and it can get rather confusing. Here at GameCows, we’re going to use a simple ranking system. 

GameCows Ranking System

  • GameCows Ranking: 1  
    • This ability or feature is extremely useful and a must-have ability. 
  • GameCows Ranking: 2
    • This ability is ok and generally useful in most situations.
  • GameCows Ranking: 3
    • This ability is only going to be useful in certain situations. You’d only get it or use it if you personally think it’s cool.

RAGE

GameCows Ranking: 1

To a Barbarian, fighting strength and melee combat is all the RAGE. I make no apologies. 

Rage is the defining class feature of the Barbarian. It gives Barbarians some crazy advantages in combat and it only gets better as the character levels up.  

Thes standard Rage grants Barbarians advantage on strength-related checks, resistance to bludgeoning, piercing and slashing damage, and attacks that connect while in a rage do more damage. 

That’s the standard Rage abilities. As players level up and depending upon the Primal Path subclass chosen it gets even more special abilities. 

Unarmored Defense

GameCows Ranking: 1

Barbarians excel at unarmored combat. They’re more likely to run into battle naked than they are to wear plate mail in a fight. It would just slow them down anyway. 

When not wearing any armor barbarian armor class (AC) is determined by 10 + Dex Modifier + Con Modifier + shield bonus. 

It basically replaces your armor bonus with your Constitution bonus but has the added advantage of not encumbering the player. 

Reckless Attack

GameCows Ranking: 2

At level 2 Barbarians learn to live dangerously. 

The first attack on a turn can be a reckless attack which gives players an advantage on their attack roles. The downside is that enemies also get an advantage on attack rolls against the barbarian. It’s a risky move but could be just what you need to turn the tides of a battle. 

Danger Sense

GameCows Ranking: 2

Also at level 2 Barbarians get their own form of  “Spidey Sense”. As long as the barbarian isn’t blinded, deafened, or unconscious they have an advantage on dexterity saving throws to traps, spells, and other surprise dangers. 

PRIMAL PATH

D&D 5e Barbarian Character Class

3rd level is when the Barbarian class really begins to shine and your character will develop into something truly unique. This is when the barbarians choose their subclass called a Primal Path. 

Each one determines where your rage comes from and how the barbarian actually uses it to their advantage. 

EXTRA ATTACK

GameCows Ranking: 1

At 5th level, Barbarians get another attack; simple, brutal, and effective. 

FAST MOVEMENT

GameCows Ranking: 2

Also at 5th level, whatever your base speed is, it is improved by 10ft. 

FERAL INSTINCT

GameCows Ranking: 1

At 7th level, barbarians gain an ability called Feral Instinct. It’s another improvement to their “Spidey Sense”.

Now Barbarians are so used to combat and are always on alert. They get an advantage to all initiative rolls, and even if they are surprised or ambushed they can still act as long as they enter a rage. 

BRUTAL CRITICAL

GameCows Ranking: 1

At 9th level, critical hits become even more damaging. Barbarians get an extra weapon die when rolling for critical damage. Brutal Critical is improved at levels 13 and 17 with each adding another extra die. 

RELENTLESS RAGE

GameCows Ranking: 1

Similar to the Half-Orc ability Barbarians can keep getting up even when knocked down to 0 hitpoints. 

As long as the barbarian isn’t instantly killed they can attempt a constitution 10 saving throw to get back up with 1 hitpoint left. Unlike the Half-Orc ability, barbarians can use theirs multiple times, but the difficulty is increased by 5 each time until they rest. 

So the first time they make a Relentless Rage saving throwing they’ll need a 10 or better. The second time is 15 or better, and so on until they rest. Then the difficulty becomes 10 again. 

PERSISTENT RAGE

GameCows Ranking: 2

At 15th level, a Barbarian’s rage has no limit. The time limit imposed on the rage ability is gone and barbarians can rage for as long as they want, or until they’re knocked unconscious. 

INDOMITABLE MIGHT

GameCows Ranking: 1

At level 18 Barbarians have a mastery of their own strength. 

When making a strength check if the total is less than their base strength score, they can use their strength score instead. 

Basically, if you make a strength check and roll low, you can use your base strength (not the modifier) in its place. For most purposes, you’ll never fail another strength check again. 

PRIMAL CHAMPION

GameCows Ranking: 1

Your reward for hitting level 20 is a huge boost to your ability scores. Strength and Constituiton are given a +4 bonus each. 

Normally there’s a cap of 20 on ability scores, but as a Primal Champion, you can boost your strength and constitution scores beyond 20 to 24. 

A Barbarian at 24 strength is around the same strength as a giant and is technically physically stronger than a Hydra. That’s a herculean level of strength at level 20. 

Barbarian 5e Subclasses

At level 3 Barbarians choose where their rage comes from and how they channel it with their Primal Path. Primal Paths direct the growth of your character after level 3 and determines what kind of Barbarian you’re going to be and more importantly where their rage comes from.

  • Is it simple fury?
  • Is it given by the gods?
  • Perhaps the elements?

There are 8 official Primal Paths, but only 2 in the player’s handbook. My personal favorite is the tried and true Berzerker.

Player’s Handbook

  • Path of the Berzerker
  • Path of the Totem Warrior
D&D Player’s Handbook 5e
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09/26/2022 09:00 pm GMT

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Playing as a Barbarian in 5e

Your major role in combat as the Barbarian is going to be melee. You can hit things “reel gud”. 

When creating their first Barbarian, the typical player smashes all their ability points into strength and constitution, and the lowest ability score goes to intelligence. 

There’s a reason that barbarians are typically portrayed as dumb oafs that just hit things. It’s what everyone does the first time they play the barbarian class. 

This doesn’t have to be the case as we’ve seen in the Notable Barbarian section. Obould the Orc was more intelligent than the average Orc and was able to rebuild his entire clan after being banished from his keep and quell the rebellion of his own traitorous sons. He was intelligent, a leader, a general, and when it came to fighting he was a monster on the battlefield. 

What I’m trying to say is that the trope of the big dumb idiot with an ax is there, but I’d like to challenge you to flesh out your character a bit more. Strength and Constitution are the most useful ability scores for the barbarian, but that doesn’t mean he has to be so dumb that they chew on rocks.

We hope you enjoyed this Barbarian 5e Guide, why not check out our Bard 5e Guide oe our full DnD Races List?

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