Table of Contents:
A 5e Guide to Barbarian Druid Multiclassing
Barbarians are rage monsters able to deflect blows and crush skulls through sheer muscle and fervor. Druids are masters of nature and primeval magics, capable of transforming into beasts. Put them together and you get frothing mad rage bears! Barbarian druids harness the powers of nature and pure anger together to make for some of the most dangerous wild shapes possible. If you’re looking to make a barbarian / druid multi-class, get ready to get mad for nature’s sake as we go through everything you need to know.
Why Play a Barbarian Druid Multiclass?
The wild-shape focused strategy for 5E druid builds is powerful but can lack the resilience and damage output needed to be viable at later levels. With a few levels dipped into barbarian a druid’s wild shape is a force to be reckoned with, a damage sponge and damage dealer that just won’t go down.
The rage ability and unarmored defense function perfectly well while in a wild shape, serving to seamlessly make your wild shapes tanky and brutal with extra damage.
This is, fundamentally, the best way to just play “as a wolf” or whatever other beast you’ve got your sights set on. You can spend every combat situation transformed into your animal of choice and you’ll still be a lynchpin of your adventuring party as your rage ability functions in beast mode.
The build also sits in a rather unique and odd place regarding ability scores as it really doesn’t care about any of them. This means all those ASI’s are free to apply towards feats for your entire run of 1st level to 20th.
What are the Downsides?
The druid is a powerful class already and dipping into anything pushes you a bit down that curve. We’re also essentially ignoring the entire spellcasting half of the druid, taking a class with wide-utility and essentially making it work like other martial characters. You can't use spellcasting abilities while raging, but you’ll still have those options in your back pocket if you really need them but anticipate a very simple party role 99% of the time.
Multiclass options are automatically foregoing the higher end features you would otherwise gain as a single class. A multiclassed character takes longer to get to key features and in general will feel a bit lagging compared to a single-class character, especially when it comes to ability score increases.
As a side issue, you’re also planning on spending most of the adventure in wild shape, which depending on how your DM rules it means you won’t be talking much. Not an issue if you’re shy to roleplay anyway but get used to pantomiming using wolf barks or bear growls when you want to speak up in character.
When Does a Barbarian / Druid “Kick In”?
The short answer is class level 3. 2 levels of druid and a single level of barbarian is all you need to make the class “kick in”. There are still plenty of features to gain later on, but you can rock a rage bear as early as 3rd level and the power increase is significant compared to just 3 levels of druid or 3 levels of barbarian.
What Class Features Do We Care About?
Each barbarian and druid class feature lines up well but in some very strange ways that will take a bit of detailed explanation.
Significant Barbarian Features
- Rage. This class feature is 100% the reason the multiclass works at all, rage functions perfectly well while you’re in a wild shape giving your bear, wolf, and other assorted creatures resistance to all physical damage, advantage on Strength checks and saves, and a few points of additional damage. You can’t cast or concentrate on spells while raging, but wild shape is specifically not a spell, and you can’t cast spells in wild shape anyway so they mesh perfectly.
- Unarmored Defense. This works but it works in a weird way. Normally as a barbarian you’d want to maximize your Constitution and Dexterity scores to get your unarmored defense score as high as possible. However, you lose all your physical scores when they’re replaced by the animal’s. But the unarmored defense feature can still be used in wild shape, it just uses the beast’s physical scores instead. This means that with some wild shapes you’ll be improving their AC by using unarmored defense, and with some you’re better off using their existing AC. The druid can't wear metal armor anyway so your unarmored defense even just in humanoid mode is still likely to be better than any medium armor or light armor.
- Danger Sense. Advantage on Dex saving throws is a nice extra way to make sure your giant wolf doesn’t die to fireballs.
- Reckless Attack. Some of the beast’s attack bonuses are a bit lackluster, reckless attacks can push those natural weapons through by giving us advantage on attack rolls.
- Primal Path. There’re a few options, but I’d argue there is enough in their initial 3rd level feature to justify the 3-level dip. I’ll go into each one in more detail later, but for now know that getting up to 3 levels of barbarian for the primal path is worth doing.
- Extra Attack. Before you start salivating at the idea of extra “multi-attacks” from beasts, know that mechanically a “multi-attack” does not use an “attack action” so they don’t mesh with your extra attack feature. However, you can totally use it to make another attack if you just use one “attack”. This means that there are some wild shapes where having extra attack is completely useless, and for others it basically doubles their damage output. An extra attack at level 5 is sketchy considering how many druid levels we have to forego, so while this can be a viable option that you should be aware of I don’t necessarily recommend it.
Significant Druid Features
- Wild Shape. I could write a whole article about wild shape, its applications and weirdness, but for now just know that wild shape is the primary feature we’re going to be using for the multiclass build. Normally wild shape damage scales terribly, but with rage adding an extra 2-4 damage every round you can keep on curve. Your magical abilities and spellcasting are going by the wayside, we're doing beast forms baby!
- Combat Wild Shape. We’re doing a wild shape focused multiclass and to do it we really need the wild shape focused circle of the moon druid archetype. This initial feature we get at 2nd level provides us with two essential features, the ability to wild shape as a bonus action, and the ability to sacrifice our spell slots for healing while in wild shape.
- Circle Forms. As we get to higher levels with the circle of the moon, we get even higher CR wild shapes. Right at the start we get CR 1 wild shapes, improving to CR 2 at our 6th druid level, CR 3 at our 9th druid level, CR 4 at our 12th druid level, CR 5 at our 15th druid level, and CR 6 at our 18th druid level.
- Primal Strike. At 6th level the circle of the moon lets our natural attacks count as magical, overcoming the “non-magic resistance” that crops up often on high CR monsters.
- Elemental Wild Shape. At 10th level you gain the ability to become powerful elementals, and with our rage active they’re downright deadly. As the elementals are CR 5, these elementals essentially let us “skip ahead” since we’d normally be stuck with CR 3 creatures at that level.
What Barbarian Primal Path do I Take?
While we’re dead set on circle of the moon for our druid archetype, the barbarian archetype has several options that all mesh very well with our strategy. Firstly, I don’t advise taking your total barbarian levels past 3, since we have some pretty bad diminishing returns past 3 barbarian levels. So really, we’re only shooting for those initial 3rd level primal path features.
Path of the Ancestral Guardian
This one essentially forces your targets to focus and waste attacks on you rather than attack your much squishier allies. A valid pick if your priority is party protector.
Path of the Storm Herald
This gives you an elemental aura you can activate in your rage as a bonus action, and since you will regularly be large, huge, or even gargantuan-sized, that aura is going to be big. All of them are decent and fit different roles. Desert is great if you are the only frontliner in your party and just applies a little bit of direct damage output to everything near you. Sea is nicely targeted, but it's pitiful damage at higher levels. Out of the 3 I actually recommend tundra the most, as 2 temporary hit points to essentially your entire party every turn can add up quickly to negate quite a bit of damage.
Path of the Totem Warrior
You’ve probably seen this primal path on plenty of builds, and it’s still great here. Picking path of the totem warrior and specifically the bear totem will turn your physical damage resistance into resistance to every damage type except psychic. You’ll also get to cast beast sense and speak with animals as rituals, and if that isn’t thematic to our build, I don’t know what is.
Barbarian / Druid Ability Scores
We’re spending all or most of our time wild shaped and unable to cast spells, so we really don’t care about our mental scores. And because wild shape replaces our physical scores we also don’t care about our physical scores. We aren't wearing light armor or medium armor, and we don't care about heavy armor proficiency. We're gaining our AC using unarmored defense using beast forms, so it's their ability scores dictating our AC not our own.
This puts the barbarian / druid multiclass in a bizarre position where none of our ability scores really matter for our core combat plan. Even our hit dice don't matter all that much. This frees up our ASIs for feats (some of which can be very helpful, and we’ll go through them later) but it still begs the question of what to do with our initial stats.
Even though we won’t be relying on spellcasting, there will still be situations outside of combat where utility casting or healing could come in handy. Therefore, a decent wisdom score is in order. We also keep our mental stats in a wild shape, so having a passable intelligence and charisma score just for skill checks and saves is a reasonable idea. We get some decent skill proficiencies from druid so we might as well use them. Finally in situations where we get caught off-guard in our normal form it makes sense to have a decent constitution for some buffer hit points.
It’s also worth noting that due to multiclassing requirements, you’ll need a minimum 13 in both Strength and Wisdom.
Barbarian / Druid Feats
As mentioned, this build doesn’t need its ability scores for much, which leaves them wide open for feats! What feats exactly benefit us is another question though. Our natural weapons don't count for a lot of feats since natural attacks aren't quite "weapons" and anything spell related like extra spell slots won't work well for us. There are a few sneaky feats that fit the bill for druid / barbarian multiclass options though.
Lucky is always a tempting option and since we likely have some freed up ASIs there’s no reason to leave lucky behind. Be the luckiest dinosaur barbarian you can be.
Extra movement is always nice and avoiding attacks of opportunity is very useful for a frontline-fighter, and the idea of a giant moose nimbly sidestepping through combat makes me very happy.
A favorite tactical option for all sorts of jank builds and still good here for our frontline-fighting wolf. Sentinel ensures that once an enemy is stuck in fighting you, they stay stuck in.
Savage attacker is always a decent offensive option, and some of our beast’s weapon dice are swingy, savage attacker is flavorful and raises our average attack damage output by letting us toss bad rolls.
Barbarian / Druid Races
As we mentioned, our ability scores are really not vital to a druid / barbarian multiclass, so that leaves us to prioritize races that have some sort of ability that is “non-physical” enough to carry over into our wild shapes. Gaining natural weapons from other race or class features is useless, as you lose them all in wild shape. Wild shape specifies that you keep racial features so long as “your new form is physically capable of doing so”. Let’s go over some races with some powerful options that transcend the use of hands and can synergize with both wild shape and barb rage:
This one is tricky, because your DM may or may not let you use your angelic transformation feature while in a wild shape. If they do though, a holy flying bear sounds amazing and can make your wild shape that much more deadly.
There’s nothing in the eladrin fey step ability that should stop it from working while in a wild shape. How does being a misty-stepping bear sound? It also fits nicely with the wrath of nature vibes thematically.
Spells can be a weakness in our otherwise impenetrable meat shield, and the gnomish cunning feature can patch that chink in the armor. Advantage on all Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma saves means that along with our barbarian rage feature granting advantage on Strength saves and our danger sense feature granting advantage on Dexterity saves, you’ll basically ALWAYS make your saves at advantage.
The goliath’s stone endurance feature still works while in a wild shape. We’re doing a tanky front-line build here and reducing damage taken is always welcome. It doesn’t scale up though so I wouldn’t take this option if you’re planning on running a very long or high tier adventure.
Halfling luck is always useful and it’s still a fine option here. A bear that never fumbles sounds like a fun character.
Relentless endurance will let your wild shaped beast get right back up once per long rest, and savage attacks add that much more damage to your critical hits. A very strong contender for the barbarian druid race of choice.
Kalashtar are technically setting locked into Eberron, but if your DM allows them, they essentially “patch a lot of holes” for our build. If we go the bear totem route the only damage type we wouldn’t resist is psychic damage, which kalashtar neatly grants resistance to. They also can talk telepathically which solves the “growl growl roleplay” we’re otherwise stuck with.
Similar to the gnome but restricted by setting, the satyr has full resistance to all spells and magical effects. I’d argue this is a pure upgrade for the build, so take it if your DM allows it, but default down to the gnome if they don’t.
Which Wild Shape Form Should I Use?
We’re focused on damage output and resilience over utility options. Particularly we want to favor creatures with multiple attacks that can get more value out of our rage damage bonus than a single big hit. 5e druid limits our access to these wild shapes by CR and again (at the early levels anyway) by swim and fly speeds. For ease of reference, we’ll categorize the optimal forms by your druid levels.
2 Druid Levels
At only 2 druid levels you’ll still have access to comparatively quite powerful CR 1 beasts, but you’re still limited by swim and fly speed. The following beasts are likely your best options at 2 druid levels:
With a very chunky 37 hit points, 14 base AC (unarmored defense also adds up to 14), pack tactics, and an attack that also inflicts prone, dire wolves are going to be your go-to hard hitter for a long time.
Basically a smaller velociraptor, this dinosaur is a bit more fragile than the dire wolf but has a MUCH higher damage output. Its base AC of 13 is improved to 14 with our unarmored defense, and we can likely make do with the lower 26 hit points. It has the insane ability to make 4 attacks, 3 with multiattack, and one extra as a bonus action if you manage to successfully pounce on someone. Keep in mind that we get to add that sweet rage damage to every single attack, making its average damage output with the pounce in a single turn a whopping 34 damage. Keep in mind you can accomplish this as early as 3rd level!
Think of this as your tanky option for when you just need to take the hits. It normally has a natural armor AC of 12, but our unarmored defense bumps that up to 14. It has a whopping 45 hit points, and has the same damage output of the dire wolf just minus the pack tactics. It also has a fun rampage ability where it gets to make an additional attack if it finishes an enemy off, which makes it an attractive option if you know you’re going to face numerous but weak enemies.
4 Druid Levels
As a 4th level druid we don’t get any higher in CR, but we do get to finally take beasts with a swimming speed. Mostly our best options are the same as at 2 druid levels, but with a couple nasty additions.
Giant octopi are beefy critters, with 52 hit points and an 11 natural armor bonus improved to 12 with unarmored defense, they almost have enough hit points to justify their use out of the water as well. Their attack has a 15-foot reach and has a very nasty and basically free grapple attached to it, making this a promising grapple monster if not just a damage sponge. Also, a very high swim speed makes this an obvious choice if you’re actually underwater.
This is an iffy one compared to the octopus, you drop all the way back to 39 hit points and with unarmored defense you’re still at 12 AC. What makes it interesting is the swallow ability that can let you literally eat smaller targets and boil them down with acid damage. Still probably inferior overall to the giant octopus but still worth considering if you’re in a mixed land and water environment or have a single BBEG you wouldn’t mind eating.
6 Druid Levels
At our 6th druid level, we finally get up to CR 2 beasts which radically increases our damage output and survivability though we still can’t take anything with a flying speed for a couple more levels.
Giant Constrictor Snake
I tend to think of this as your direct upgrade to the giant octopus as you’ll want to use it in most of the same situations. Giant constrictor snakes have 60 hit points, an AC of 13 thanks to unarmored defense, a swim speed, and a big dangerous grapple attack.
42 hit points and an AC of 15 (due to unarmored defense) isn’t bad, but the 60-foot movement speed and charge ability means we can smack things for 4d6 + 6 with our rage so long as we get a run-up and if they stay knocked prone we get to stamp with the hooves for 4d8 + 6. I don’t recommend this one for tight quarters but if you’re in a mostly open field it’s golden.
45 hit points and an AC of 13 (due to unarmored defense) feels pretty basic, but the blood frenzy feature will mean practically every attack you make will be at advantage. Take this if you’re fighting high AC opponents while underwater.
For most druids I’d say this is worse than the giant elk, but with unarmored defense pushing its armor class up to 14, 52 hit points, and extra rage damage doubling up on the additional attacks, these cats give the big moose a run for its antlers. Generally, I think the elk still has the edge, but as the tiger is large as opposed to the elk’s huge size, I’ve found many tight corner situations where the tiger can fit and the elk can’t.
45 hit points and an AC of 13 (due to unarmored defense) feels pretty basic, but the blood frenzy feature will mean practically every attack you make will be at advantage. Take this if you’re fighting high AC opponents while underwater.
8 Druid Levels
As an 8th level druid, we don’t improve in CR, but we do finally gain access to flying beasts which drastically improves our mobility and gives us one juicy option in particular.
This flying dinosaur’s stats don’t look great at first, with only 30 hit points and a 13 AC. But since it has the flyby feature and an insane 80-foot fly speed, you’ll be able to harass anything that can’t fight at range with impunity. Each dive attack bite will do a nasty 6d6 + 4 damage, making this my uncontested top pick for your flying beast of choice.
9 Druid Levels
As a 9th level druid, we finally get to take CR 3 beasts which gives us a damage increase and upgraded hit points yet again.
With an AC of 15, 52 hit points, blindsight, and 3 attacks potentially adding up to 2d8 + 5d10 + 12, this is the powerhouse that will be your new standard. Giant scorpions are fast, dangerous, and you’re going to be hard pressed even at some later CRs to get a a better damage output.
Giant Snapping Turtle
Found in tomb of annihilation, this big snappy boy has a finally decent AC of 17, and a solid 75 hit points, making this your go-to tank for when you just need to stay alive. It also has a surprisingly fast swim speed, and an attack that will do 4d6 + 6 meaning you won’t sacrifice much on the damage front either.
10 Druid Levels
As we’re the mighty circle of the moon druids, we get the elemental wild shape feature with our 10th druid level and access to the incredibly powerful elemental forms. Each of the 4 elemental forms have their own ups and downs, let’s go through them.
The air elemental has the least hit points out of the bunch with only 90, but unarmored defense pushes us up to a hefty 17 AC, well past their normal natural armor bonus. The big draw here is the 90-foot fly speed, which is obviously amazing in any situation where maneuverability is important. You can even move through narrow pinholes and enemies. The whirlwind attack is interesting but not great against most solid targets you’ll be fighting at this level. Take this when the fly speed is needed or you’re facing a mob of weaker foes.
Easily the sturdiest of the bunch with 17 AC and 126 hit points, the big draw here is the earth glide ability. It only counts non-magical and non-worked stone, but that still leaves a lot of situations and caves you can stroll right through. Take this one if the area is earth-glide-able or you just need a solid wall of tank hit points.
Arguably the best damage dealer of the bunch, your touches will do 2d6 + 5 fire damage but will also light them on fire for another 1d10 every round. Sneakily your unarmored defense also pushes this to a 16 AC, and with 102 hit points you’re still quite tanky. Take this form if you’re just interested in doing as much DPS as possible.
Unarmored defense gives us 16 AC, and with 114 hit points this is a solid tank option. Functionally similar to the air elemental, this is your best choice in an underwater environment. It also vies for the best damage dealer, as the whelm attack can potentially hold enemies down and keep them down, dealing 2d8 + 4 every round so long as you keep grappling them.
12 Druid Levels
As a 12th level druid, we gain access to CR 4, but since we already gained access to the CR 5 elementals a couple levels ago, I was hard pressed to find any animal form that came close to competing with our existing options. I dug deep though and found one option that gives the elementals a run for its money.
I found this guy squirreled away in the tortle package and it’s exactly what it sounds like, a plesiosaurus with two heads. It has 100 hit points and with our unarmored defense it gets a solid 15 AC. You get one attack with each head, giving us two bites, each dealing 3d6 + 6. We also get advantage on a ton of conditions (due to the two heads) and a decent swim speed. I’m not saying this is better than the elementals, but it’s on par.
15 Druid Levels
The upgrade to CR 5 beasts is likely our final increase if we’re running the build that dips 3 levels into barbarian and in our final tier of play, we get some even nastier monsters to play with.
If you have the room, the gargantuan brontosaurus can do a truly impressive 6d8 + 7 damage with its tail, or it can make a stomp attack that adds a trip effect at the cost of 1d8 damage. It has 15 AC, 121 hit points and the damage potential outsteps the elementals so this big dino is usually the better option unless you really need one of the elemental abilities or the map can’t accommodate something that big.
14 AC and 85 hit points make this a bit of a fragile option compared to the elementals, but the damage potential may be worth it. It has a bite and tail multiattack and combined they’re doing 2d8 + 3d10 + 14 a round with a grapple and a trip chance attached. If you’re not too worried about getting hit yourself, this is one of your best options for raw additional damage.
18 Druid Levels
This is the tip top of our beasts at CR 6, but you’ll only be getting this far if you only take the 1 level dip into barbarian. Most campaigns aren't getting to 19th level or 20th level anyway, so it's unlikely one way or another that you'll actually get to mammoth it up.
Weirdly, I think there’s only ever been the 1 CR 6 beast, the one, the only, the mammoth. The mammoth is a strict upgrade on the “charge in and stomp” beasts that occupy a lot of slots. 126 hit points, and our unarmored defense does manage to pump the AC up to 14. It has a trampling charge move with a very high DC (18) so you should reliably be able to get off its big charge and stomp combo at least once per fight for 4d8 + 4d10 + 18 damage. The big question is if playing a mammoth at the tail end of your campaign is worth losing those sweet primal path buffs for the rest of your campaign.
Druid / Barbarian Advancement Track
There are 2 main options when approaching how to level up using this multi-class strategy: 1 barbarian level, 3 barbarian levels, but they both start basically the same.
Your 1st level and 2nd level should be in druid.
Druids gain additional skills and features early on, and we want those extra proficiencies and to get to that moon druid bonus action wild shape as soon as possible.
Your 3rd level should be in barbarian.
Now we pick up the all-important rage feature and our build “turns on”, the question is how deep of a dip are you willing to take for barbarian features before taking the rest of your levels in druid.
The one level gets us the most important feature rage.
3 levels get us the primal path feature, danger sense, and savage attacks.
One extra level of barbarian to gain an ASI has some merit, but as ability score increases don't matter much to us, I wouldn't recommend it.
There is some argument to be made in advancing barbarian all the way to 5th level for extra attack, but most every wild shape form we care about uses multi-attack anyway and wouldn't gain any benefit from it.
Personally, I really like the 3 level dip here, but in either case, once you’ve gotten the barbarian levels you wanted, all your future levels should be druid levels.
Putting the Druid / Barbarian Multiclass Build Together
So you’ve built everything up, taken those levels, picked those feats, and you're battle ready for the next dungeon, now what? How do we actually play this character build?
Very simply, select a dangerous wild shape and become it before initiative is even rolled. You’re in this for the long haul in animal mode and you should only be in humanoid form well away from combat or in fringe situations where you need to do some utility spellcasting or skill checks. We want to do this not only because we’re optimized for fighting as a beast, but also because both wild shape and rage take a bonus action for us, and we don’t want to be stuck taking a turn to build up due to action economy. Wild shape lasts a number of hours equal to half your druid level, and these 2 wild shapes recharge on short rests. There’s no reason you can’t be using your shapeshifting ability essentially 24/7. And since you can rage 3 times per day, you should be able to use your rage power in practically every combat as well.
Once you hit combat activate your rage and go beast mode on whatever dares stand in your way. You’ll resist practically all damage, and dish out extra rage damage. Then whenever you start edging closer to 0 hit points, crack one of your spell slots as a bonus action and recover that HP. 1st-level slots are cheap and easy regular healing, while those higher-level spell slots should be reserved for when you're about to die. Be prepared for your DM to hate you as you abjectly refuse to die no matter what they throw at you as you keep on biting your way through enemies, have fun!
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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