Barbarians 5e Guide

Barbarians 5e Guide: How to Play a Barbarian?

Barbarians are a fun, combat-heavy class that players looking for an alternative to Fighters are sure to love. The Barbarian Paths mean you have plenty of subclass and customization options if you want to play these rage-fuelled fighters. In this Barbarians 5e Guide, we will tell you everything you need to know about playing Barbarians in D&D 5e, including:

  • What are Barbarians in 5e?
  • How to create a Barbarian
  • What are the Barbarian Primal Paths in 5e?
  • Frequently asked questions

What are Barbarians in 5e?

Driven by inner rage and primal ferocity, Barbarians thrive in the chaos of battle. Often coming from nomadic tribes who embrace their animalistic side, many Barbarians have rarely, if ever, been inside a civilized town or city.

Barbarians can enter a ‘rage’, a state of mind and body entered while fighting that gives Barbarians additional powers. Barbarians also choose a ‘Path’ at the 3rd level that gives them additional features. It is helpful to think about which ‘Path’ you will choose when you create your Barbarian character as it will likely be a part of your backstory, appearance, and cultural upbringing.

How to create a Barbarian

Barbarian statistics

Barbarians’ primary statistic is Strength, followed by Constitution.

Barbarian characteristics

  • How many hit points do Barbarians get? 
    At 1st level, Barbarians get 12 hit points plus their Constitution modifier. At higher levels, Barbarians get an additional 1d12 hit points per level after 1st.
  • What armor can Barbarians wear?
    Barbarians can wear any armor but they are proficient in light and medium armor and shields.
  • What weapons can Barbarians use?
    Barbarians are proficient in simple weapons and martial weapons.
  • What saving throws are Barbarians proficient in?
    Strength and Constitution. This means if your DM asks you Barbarian to make a saving throw with Strength or Constitution, you add your modifier for that statistic to the result.
  • What skills do Barbarians have?
    When you create a Barbarian character, you can choose two of the following skills to be proficient in Animal Handling, Athletics, Intimidation, Nature, Perception, and Survival.
  • What equipment do Barbarians start with?
    All D&D classes start with certain equipment. Barbarians start with: a greataxe OR any martial melee weapon; two handaxes OR any simple weapon; an explorer’s pack and four javelins.

What special abilities do Barbarians have?

Rage

Barbarians who aren’t wearing heavy armour can enter rage on their turn during combat as a bonus action. Rage gives Barbarians the following benefits:

  • Advantage on all Strength checks and Strength saving throws.
  • A bonus to the damage roll on melee attacks made using Strength. This increases as the Barbarian levels up.
  • Resistance to bludgeoning, piercing and slashing damage.
  • Rage lasts for 1 minute or until you are knocked unconscious or if you end your turn without having attacked a hostile creature or taken damage. The number of times a Barbarian can rage in between long rests depends on their level. The Barbarian Rage column can be found in the Player’s Handbook.

Unarmored Defense

Barbarians who do not wear any armor (though they can still carry a shield) have an armor class of 10 plus their Dexterity modifier and their Constitution modifier.

Reckless Attack

From the 2nd level onwards, Barbarians can declare on their turn in combat that they are fighting recklessly. This gives the Barbarian advantage on melee attack rolls using Strength that turn, but it also means that any attack rolls made against the Barbarian also have an advantage.

Danger Sense

From the 2nd level onwards, Barbarians have an advantage on Dexterity saving throws against effects that they can see, such as traps.

Primal Path

At the 3rd level, Barbarians choose a primal path. Each primal path gives Barbarians special abilities at the 3rd, 6th, 10th, and 14th levels. We’ll explain the primal paths in more detail below.

Ability Score Improvement

At 4th, 8th, 12th, 16th, and 19th level, Barbarians can increase one ability score by 2 or two ability scores by

Extra Attack

From the 5th level onwards, Barbarians attack twice instead of once whenever they take the Attack action on their turn.

Fast Movement

From the 5th level onwards, your Barbarian’s speed increases by 10ft so long as they are not wearing heavy armor.

Feral Instinct

At the 7th level and above, Barbarians have an advantage on initiative rolls and if surprised in the first round of combat, Barbarians can act normally if they enter rage before taking any other actions that turn.

Brutal Critical

From 9th level onwards, if your Barbarian makes a critical hit in combat, they roll an additional damage die. This increases to two dice at the 13th level and three dice at the 17th level.

Relentless Rage

From the 11th level, if your Barbarian is raging and is reduced to 0 hit points, you make a DC 10 Constitution saving throw. If you succeed, you drop to 1 hit point instead.

Persistent Rage

Once you reach the 15th level, your rage only ends early if you choose to end it or if you’re knocked unconscious.

Indomitable Might

Beginning at the 18th level, if your roll a Strength check that is less than your Strength ability score, you can use your score as the result instead.

Primal Champion

At the 20th level, your Barbarian’s Strength and Consitution increases by 4, and their maximum score for both increases to 24.

What are the Barbarian Primal Paths in 5e?

The primal paths that Barbarians can choose from in 5e essentially act as Barbarian subclasses. There are two primal paths detailed in The Player’s Handbook: Path of the Berserker and Path of the Totem Warrior. Expanded rules, however, list more primal paths. In Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, Barbarians get additional paths: Path of the Ancestral Guardian, Path of the Storm Herald, and Path of the Zealot. Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything also includes more primal paths: Path of the Beast and Path of Wild Magic. In this guide, we’ll cover the essentials of all seven of these primal paths.

Path of the Ancestral Guardian

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything

The Path of the Ancestral Guardian is chosen by Barbarians whose own culture reveres their ancestors and believes that the souls of warriors linger in the world and protect them and those around them. Barbarians who choose the Path of the Ancestral Guardian gain the following features:

  • Ancestral Protectors
    Spectral warriors appear when you rage and the first creature you hit with an attack becomes the target of those warriors. Until the start of your next turn, that creature has a disadvantage on attacks made on any creature other than you, and if they hit someone else that creature has resistance to their type of attack.
  • Spirit Shield
    From the 6th level, if a creature you can see within 30ft takes damage while you are raging, you can use your reaction to reduce that damage by 2d6. This increases to 3d6 at the 10th level and 4d6 at the 14th level.
  • Consult the Spirits
    Beginning at 10th level and once in between long or short rests, you cast the augury or clairvoyance spell, without using a spell slot or material components to commune with your ancestors. Wisdom is your spellcasting ability for these spells.
  • Vengeful Ancestors
    At the 14th level and above, whenever you use Spirit Shield the spirits of your ancestors attack the attacker and deal force damage equal to the damage that your Spirit Shield prevents.

Path of the Beast

Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything

Barbarians who choose the Path of the Beast often have a primal, bestial spark inside them, or they may be descended from shapeshifters. The Path of the Beast grants the following features:

Form of the Beast

When you rage, the beast within physically manifests and you gain a natural weapon, which counts as a simple weapon that you add your Strength modifier to when you attack with it. You can choose one of the following natural weapons each time you rage:

  • Bite. You gain teeth that deal 1d8 piercing damage on a hit. Once on each of your turns, if you damage a creature with your bite and you have half your maximum hit points, you gain hit points equal to your proficiency bonus.
  • Claws. You can attack with claws on your hand if that hand is empty, dealing 1d6 slashing damage on a hit. Once per turn if you attack using your claw as an attack action you can make an additional claw attack as part of that action.
  • Tail. You grow a lashing tail that deals 1d8 piercing damage on a hit. If a creature that you can see within 10ft hits you with an attack roll, you can use your reaction to swipe it with your tail. If you do this, you roll 1d8 and add this to your AC, which may cause the attack to miss you.

Bestial Soul

From the 6th level onwards, your natural weapons now count as magical weapons to overcome resistance and immunity to non-magical attacks and damage. Every time you complete a short or long rest, choose one of the following benefits (this lasts until your next long or short rest):

  • Swimming speed is equal to your walking speed and you can breathe underwater.
  • Climbing speed is equal to your walking speed and you can climb difficult surfaces, including upside down on ceilings.
  • Whenever you jump, you can make a Strength (Athletics) check and extend your jump by the number of feats equal to the check’s total.

Infectious Fury

Beginning at 10th level, when you hit a creature with your natural weapons it must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw (DC equal to 8 plus your Constitution modifier+ your proficiency bonus) or suffer one of the following effects of your choice (Note: This ability can be used several times equal to your proficiency bonus in between long rests):

  • The target must use its reaction to make a melee attack against another creature of your choice that you can see.
  • The target takes 2d12 psychic damage.

Call the Hunt

Once you reach 14th level, whenever you rage you can choose several other willing creatures you can see within 30 feet of you equal to your Constitution modifier (minimum of one creature). You gain 5 temporary hit points for each creature you choose. Until your rage ends, each creature you choose can, once per turn, gain a 1d6 bonus to their damage roll when they hit a creature. This ability can be used many times equal to your proficiency bonus in between long rests.

Path of the Berserker

Barbarians who choose the Path of the Berserker are filled with rage and fury. They love the thrill of combat and will fight on even if their health and life are endangered. The Path of the Berserker grants the following features:

  • Frenzy: You can go into a frenzy when you rage, which allows you to make a single melee attack as a bonus action on each of your turns whilst you are raging. When the rage ends, however, you suffer one level of exhaustion.
  • Mindless Rage: From the 6th level onwards, you cannot be charmed or frightened whilst raging and if you are already charmed or frightened when you go into a range, the effect is suspended until the rage ends.
  • Intimidating Presence: At the 10th level and above, you can use an action to frighten a creature you can see within 30ft. The creature must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw against your DC (8 plus your proficiency bonus and Charisma modifier), otherwise, it is frightened of you until the end of your next turn.
  • Retaliation: Beginning at 14th level, if you take damage from a creature within 5ft of you, you can use your reaction to make a melee attack against that creature.

Path of the Storm Herald

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything

The Path of the Storm Herald is chosen by Barbarians who wish to harness primal energy and the forces of nature when they rage to produce magical effects. At each level, the Path of the Storm Herald Barbarian must choose an environment: desert, sea, or tundra. Their choice will affect the effects of the following features:

Storm Aura

You emit a stormy, magical aura when you rage with a range of 10ft. This aura activates when you enter your rage, and you can activate the effect again on each of your turns as a bonus action.

  • Desert: All other creatures in your aura take 2 fire damage each. The damage increases to 3 at the 5th level, 4 at the 10th level, 5 at the 15th level, and 6 at the 20th level.
  • Sea: Choose one other creature you can see in your aura. The target must make a Dexterity saving throw (DC equals 8 plus your proficiency bonus and your Constitution modifier). On a failed save, the target takes ld6 lightning damage, or half as much damage on a successful one. The damage increases to 2d6 at the 10th level, 3d6 at the 15th level, and 4d6 at the 20th level.
  • Tundra: Each creature of your choice in your aura gains 2 temporary hit points. These increase to 3 at the 5th level, 4 at the 10th level, 5 at the 15th level, and 6 at the 20th level.

Storm Soul

From the 6th level onwards, even if your aura isn’t active, you gain the following benefit based on your chosen environment:

  • Desert: You gain resistance to fire damage and you don’t suffer the effects of extreme heat. As an action,
    you can touch a flammable object that isn’t being worn or carried by anyone else and set it on fire.
  • Sea: You gain resistance to lightning damage and you can breathe underwater. You also gain a swimming speed of 30 feet.
  • Tundra: You gain resistance to cold damage and you don’t suffer the effects of extreme cold. As an action,
    you can touch the water and turn a 5-foot cube of it into ice, which melts after 1 minute. This action fails if a creature is in the cube.

Shielding Storm

Beginning at the 10th level, creatures of your choice gain the same resistance you have from your Storm Soul while they are in your aura.

Raging Storm

From the 14th level, you gain the following features depending on your chosen environment:

  • Desert: When a creature in your aura hits you with an attack, you can use your reaction to force
    that creature to make a Dexterity saving throw (DC equals 8 plus your proficiency bonus and your Constitution modifier). On a failed save, the creature takes fire damage equal to half your barbarian level.
  • Sea: When you hit a creature in your aura with an attack, you can use your reaction to force that creature
    to make a Strength saving throw (DC equals 8 plus your proficiency bonus and your Constitution modifier). On a failed save, the creature is knocked prone.
  • Tundra: Whenever the effect of your Storm Aura is activated, you can choose one creature you can see in the aura. That creature must succeed on a Strength saving throw (DC equals 8 plus your proficiency bonus and your Constitution modifier), or its speed is reduced to 0 until the start of your next turn.

Path of the Totem Warrior

Barbarians who choose the Path of the Totem Warrior embark on a spiritual journey with a spirit animal as a guide and source of power. The Path of the Totem Warrior gives Barbarians the following features:

Spirit Seeker

You gain the ability to cast the beast sense and speak with animals spells, but only as rituals.

Totem Spirit

Choose a totem spirit and make a physical totem object – such as an amulet or adornment – that incorporates parts of that animal, such as feathers, fur, claws, or teeth. You also gain a minor physical trait that aligns you with that animal, such as bright yellow eyes for eagles or a large amount of body hair for bears. Your totem spirit doesn’t have to be one listed exactly here, but it should have similar traits (such as a hawk rather than an eagle).

  • Bear. Whilst raging, you have resistance to all damage except psychic damage.
  • Eagle. If you are raging and not wearing heavy armor, other creatures have disadvantages on all opportunity attack rolls made against you. You can also use the Dash action as a bonus action on your turn.
  • Wolf. Whilst raging, your allies have an advantage on melee attack rolls against hostile creatures within 5ft of you.

Aspect of the Beast

From the 6th level onwards, you gain a magical benefit based on your totem spirit.

  • Bear. Your carrying capacity is doubled and you have an advantage on any Strength check used to push, pull, lift, or break objects.
  • Eagle. You can see up to 1 mile away as if it were 100ft away and dim light has no negative effect on your Wisdom (Perception) checks.
  • Wolf. You can track other creatures while traveling at a fast pace, and you can move stealthily while traveling at a normal pace.

Spirit Walker

At the 10th level, you can cast commune with nature as a ritual. A spiritual version of your totem spirit appears to you to convey the information you seek.

Totemic Attunement

At the 14th level, you gain another magical benefit based on your totem spirit.

  • Bear. Any hostile creature within 5ft of you whilst you are raging has a disadvantage on attack rolls made against any creature other than you. Creatures that cannot see or hear you or cannot be frightened are immune to this effect.
  • Eagle. Whilst raging, you have a flying speed equal to your walking speed. This happens in short bursts, however, so you will fall if you are in the air at the end of your turn.
  • Wolf. If 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 a melee attack.

Path of Wild Magic

Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything

Amazon.com: Tasha's Cauldron of Everything (D&D Rules Expansion) (Dungeons & Dragons): 9780786967025: Wizards RPG Team: Libros

The Path of Wild Magic connects Barbarians to the wild influence and emotion of the Feywild and the Upper Realms. This path is popular amongst elf, tiefling, aasimar, and genasi Barbarians.

Magic Awareness

As an action, Barbarians can use magic awareness to know the location of any spell or magic item within 60ft of them until the end of their next turn and they can detect what school of magic it belongs to. This ability can be used several times equal to your proficiency bonus in between long rests.

Wild Surge

When you enter into a rage, you can roll a d8 on the Wild Magic table (found in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything) to determine a magical effect that is produced. If the effect requires a saving throw, the DC equals 8 plus your proficiency bonus and your Constitution modifier.

Bolstering Magic

From 6th level, you can use an action to touch one creature or yourself and grant them one of the following benefits of your choice (Note: This ability can be used a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus in between long rests):

  • For 10 minutes, the creature can roll 1d3 whenever they make an attack or ability check roll and add the result to their total.
  • Roll a d3. The creature regains one expended spell slot, the level of which equals the number rolled or lower (the creature’s choice). Once a creature does this, that creature can’t do it again until after a long rest.

Unstable Backlash

Beginning at 10th level, immediately after you take damage or fail a saving throw whilst raging, you can
use your reaction to roll on the Wild Magic table and immediately produce the effect rolled. This effect replaces your current Wild Magic effect if one is active.

Controlled Surge

From the 14th level, anytime you roll on the Wild Magic table, you can roll the die twice and choose which of the two effects to take place. If you roll the same number on both dice, you can choose any effect on the table.

Path of the Zealot

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything

If your Barbarian is a zealot, you might choose the Path of the Zealot. These Barbarians channel their rage to display the divine power of their chosen deity – usually a deity of combat, destruction, or violence. The Path of the Zealot grants the following features:

  • Divine Fury
    While you’re raging, the first creature you hit on each of your turns with a weapon attack takes 1d6 + half your barbarian level extra damage – your choice of necrotic or radiant damage.
  • Warrior of the Gods
    If a spell has the sole effect of restoring you to life (but not undeath), the caster doesn’t need material components to cast the spell on you.
  • Fanatical Focus
    Beginning at 6th level, once per rage, if you fail a saving throw while you’re raging you can reroll it – you must use your new role.
  • Zealous Presence
    From the 10th level onwards, you can make a battle cry as a bonus action to give up to 10 creatures of your choice within 60ft of your advantage on attack rolls and saving throws until the start of your next turn. This can be done once in between long rests.
  • Rage Beyond Death
    From the 14th level onwards, having 0 hit points doesn’t knock you unconscious while you are raging. You still must make death-saving throws, and you suffer the normal effects of taking damage while at 0 hit points. If you would die due to failing death saving throws, you don’t die until your rage ends, and you die then only if you still have 0 hit points.

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: What race should I choose for a Barbarian?

Answer: The best races for Barbarians in 5e are Human, Dragonborn, Half-Orc, Genasi, and Goliath.

Question: What background should I choose for a Barbarian?

Answer: The best backgrounds for Barbarians in 5e are Folk Hero, Outlander, Sailor, or Soldier.

Question: What is the best Barbarian Path?

Answer: Totem Warrior is easily the best Barbarian Path. Path of the Beast and Ancestral Guardian are also great choices.

Final Thoughts

Barbarians are a great alternative to Fighters if you want a combat-heavy class with lots of customization options. The additional paths offered in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything and Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything will give you extra options for your subclass, so if you want one of the Barbarian Paths from either be sure to pick up a copy.

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