A primal scream releases from the lips of the half-orc as he jumps off the ledge to crush his trusted battle axe into the skull of the dragon, the hair on the back of female Goliath’s stand straight as she feels her hatred for the pack of gnolls raise.
Are you wanting to play a D&D character who’s actions speak louder than words? Much, much louder? If the idea of slashing through hoards of enemies in a bloody mess gets your blood pumping, then playing a barbarian may be the class for you!
In this article, we will go over the more noteworthy aspects of the barbarian class, the two primal paths of the barbarian, and which races make the best murder machines!
Features of the Barbarian Class
Unarmored Defense = Naked Defense?
No. Well.. D&D is a game of imagination…
Unarmored defense is a feature of the barbarian class that allows them to not wear light, medium, or heavy armor but still have a decent armor class. With unarmored defense, the formula for your character’s armor class is: 10 + Dexterity Mod. + Constitution Mod.
You can still wield a shield giving the +2 to AC and have still access to unarmored defense. So if you roll high stats your first level barbarian could possibly have a sky-high armor class of 20! Your level 1 barbarian could have the same armor class as an ancient brass dragon!
Let the Hate Flow Through You
Rage is a barbarian specific feature that is the backbone of the entire class. A barbarian can rage only a determined amount of times per day according to your barbarian level. At first level, you can rage twice per long rest.
Rage lasts for a minute, which is 10 rounds in combat, but can also end early if the follow happens. Your raging barbarian is knocked unconscious, or you end a turn without receiving damage or attacking a hostile creature in that turn.
While you are raging, your character receives the different buffs as long as you are NOT wearing heavy armor (hence unarmored defense).
Your character has resistance (take half damage) to bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing damage which are the three most common types of damage that you will receive in a standard D&D campaign. This works great with having a higher armor class and a deep pool of hit points to sponge up damage for your party.
In the Player’s Handbook, there are two sub-class choices to be made at level three. Both choices are great for both role-play as well as combat.
This primal path highlights the Rage feature for the barbarian class and pushes it forward with features that give additional melee attacks, frighten enemies, and gives your character immunity from being frightened or charmed. I would choose this path if you are really wanting to make your barbarian a real rage machine that uses it’s brawn more than it’s brain.
This primal path is more mystical in nature and gives your barbarian a sort of Brother Bear vibe. At level three, if your character chooses this path, they will also have to choose a spirit animal that decides the type of bonuses the barbarian receives. The choices are: bear, wolf, or eagle.
A few of these bonuses can give your or your allies advantage on attack rolls, give the enemies disadvantage on attack rolls, as well as give your barbarian access to certain spells such as Speak with Animals which is always a fun role-playing opportunity.
Which Race make the Best Barbarian?
When building a barbarian there are two stats to keep in mind. The first stat is constitution. This is what determines how much health your character has and for barbarians, it also help determines the armor class using the unarmored defense feature.
The second stat to consider is either strength or dexterity. Strength is important because when your barbarian smashes you want to smash hard, while dexterity helps determine your armor class which can keep your barbarian from getting knocked out early in combat.
For determining which race in this article, we will only consider races found in the Player’s Handbook.
This sub race of dwarf is one the first of three racial choices that can create great barbarians. The mountain dwarf has a +2 to strength and constitution ability scores. Which can help with hitting things harder as well as having a higher ac and larger pool of hit points. While it may be a bit of a cliche choice for a barbarian, it is still a fun choice!
This is a more interesting take for a barbarian build. Imagine the “tiny but terrible” type of halfling that can become a small, angry flurry of axe swings and curses. A stout halfling has a racial bonus of +2 to dexterity and +1 to constitution making this version of barbarian have a higher than average AC. Also a resistance to poison just adds to the resistance from raging as well, keeping your tiny terror healthy and still mad as hell.
Another cliche choice but still a tactically appropriate one. Half-orcs have a racial bonus of +2 to strength and +1 to constitution ability scores. Half-orcs have two racial features that I think pair with the barbarian class like a fine wine. Relentless Endurance keeps your half-orc alive even when it drops to zero hit points, your half-orc barbarian is so angry that even death can’t calm it down! Savage attack is another racial feature that when your barbarian rolls a critical hit on an attack, they can add an additional damage die in addition to the bonus from the critical hit!
When role playing a barbarian I always think that keeping some form of anger or rage as apart of your character’s personality is key. What makes them tick though is what can make them stand above from the rest of the anger issues. In the hit podcast Dungeons and Daddies, Darrell Wilson’s rage is based from his son Grant not listening to him. My own personal barbarian, Babor a bugbear who was raised as an infant by a family of dwarves, rage is from his own monstrous race. When he goes into a rage he begins to speak goblin, the native language of bugbears.
As a reminder, this is all just suggestions, there is no right or wrong way to play D&D, do what makes you happy, or angry if you’re a real life barbarian. As always, have fun and roll with the dice!