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A 5e Dungeons & Dragons Guide to Barbarian / Fighter Multiclassing
Barbarians are warriors of rage and power who crush their foes while shrugging off lethal injuries. Fighters are versatile masters of combat who wield superior techniques and countless weapons with highly refined skill. Put the barbarian class and the fighter class together and you have a warrior of both skill and brutality who wield their rage like a surgeon’s scalpel to direct incredible strength towards their enemies while glancing aside everything that opposes them. If you’re looking to make a barbarian / fighter multi-class character, then get ready to channel your rage into some constructive violence as we go through everything you need to know.
Why Play a Barbarian Fighter Multiclass?
Both the fighter and barbarian are very straightforward martial classes whose abilities complement each other seamlessly to create a more powerful character and an extraordinary class combination. The barbarian focuses on damage reduction while delivering raw damage output with relatively few attacks. The fighter has much more versatility but generally focuses on making numerous attacks with some of the greatest action economy features in the game. Together they can easily multiply the raw damage of the barbarian with additional fighter attacks.
The barbarian also has very easy access to advantage on all its attacks through the reckless attack feature and combined with the fighter’s ability to improve critical hit chances, a barbarian fighter is one of the best critical hit fishers in the game.
What are the Downsides?
As with all the other multiclass options, you give up on late game class features and the progression on some of your other features will be a lot slower than a single-class character.
As most of our builds rely on hitting 3 levels in each class as early as possible, this usually means waiting quite a while on that 4th level ability score increase.
Neither the barbarian nor fighter provide much in the way of role playing options, which isn't a problem if you only care about battle abilities but it's something to consider.
In this case we also have two classes that both gain the extra attack feature, a feature that very specifically does not stack and is wasted for us. Depending on the split between levels, we can also lose out on the straight fighter’s late game extra ability score increases, and the barbarian’s later improvements to our critical hits.
When Does a Fighter / Rogue “Kick In”?
Because both classes are so straightforward, you’ll see benefits with even 1 level in each class. There are specific synergies we want to home in on though most of which kick in once we get 3 levels in each class for a total of 6th class level.
This is mainly due to synergies between the starting archetype features that we want to exploit. This means that the builds typically “kick in” at level 6, but you shouldn’t feel underpowered before they do since the classes mesh so well even without our fun play styles.
What Class Features Do We Care About?
Because there’s no one single way to make the fighter / rogue multiclass work, there’s no one correct answer, but very few of both classes’ features go unused. We’ll assume we’re building up the multiclass for damage output, but there are also some interesting skill focused builds to be had here.
Significant Barbarian Features
- Hit Points. The difference between a d10 and a d12 hit die isn’t extreme but it’s enough to be worth considering. A higher number of barbarian levels will mean a beefier character.
- Rage. Rage gives additional damage to all our attacks and gives us damage resistance against all the most common forms of damage, AND advantage on Strength checks. Normally the downside for multiclassing into barbarian is that you can't cast spells and waste all those spell slots, not a problem for our completely martial combination. Raging occupies our first turn bonus action which we need to be mindful of, but it essentially supercharges everything a melee fighter wants to do anyway. This is the primary reason why we want barbarian levels in the first place and since it’s a 1st level feature even a 1 level dip makes for a decent build.
- Unarmored Defense. While there is one build that won’t care about this, most builds can and should take this opportunity to pick up a good AC without worrying about armor at 2nd level. Unarmored defense rarely gets past 18 at the highest, with 14 or 15 as more typical totals, but that’s still a fine AC for most characters and will beat or match what you could get with light armor or medium armor.
- Danger Sense. Advantage on Dexterity saves, one of the most common saving throws is an excellent way to ensure you don’t get burnt to a crisp by a passing dragon.
- Reckless Attack. This gives you advantage on attack rolls at the cost of providing advantage to your enemies' attacks against you. This will be a key offensive option for a lot of our builds, particularly for crit fishing.
- Primal Path. There’re a few options that range from utility options to powerful 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.
- Brutal Critical. This adds another damage die on a critical hit and improves a total of 3 times in the late tier barbarian levels at 9th, 13th, and 17th level. It’s not necessarily enough motivation to push that far into barbarian, but for our crit fishing purposes it’s a worthwhile payoff.
Significant Fighter Features
Heavy Armor Proficiency. For some of our builds we're trying to maximize AC and that means heavy armor. If you go this route, make sure you take your fighter level first as you won't get the proficiency if you start in the barb class.
Fighting Style. Every fighting style is worth considering but for our purposes the defense, great weapon fighting, and two weapon fighting styles each provide a major boost to our different strategies.
- Second Wind. A once per short rest heal makes our character even harder to bring down. It’s a massive lifesaver in the early tiers and even at late tiers it can be a saving grace as far as healing abilities go. Since it goes off fighter level, it'll always be a little less effective in our builds than it is for a straight fighter, but it's always useful.
- Action Surge. Fighters get to blatantly break the action economy and especially if our hits are hitting hard getting to just attack again can feel downright broken. It recharges on a short rest which generally means we get to take a double shot every combat.
- Archetypes. More on what each archetype does for us, but the 3rd level features gained from several martial archetypes are absolutely key for our builds.
- Ability Score Increases. Fighters gain 2 additional ability score increases throughout their advancement track which means 2 additional opportunities to advance our key stats or 2 additional opportunities to snag feats. Taking advantage of these though will require only dipping our toes into the barbarian class though.
Barbarian / Fighter Ability Scores
Fighters and barbarians mesh quite easily on ability scores, in that we don’t care about any of the mental scores and want to max out our physical abilities.
You want your Strength and Constitution as high as humanly possible. Then your next priority will be Dexterity. Ideally, we want all 3 of these ability scores up to at least 16, and up to 18 or 20 if we can manage it.
Strength is our primary damage stat, Constitution adds to not only our hit points but also our AC, and Dexterity adds to our AC as well, but we sadly can’t use it as a damage stat alongside rage.
The mental scores of Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma are going to be mostly useless to us and can be used as dump stats. If you're worried about skill checks, they can be kept at least as neutral 10s to prevent negatives in roleplay interactions.
Barbarian / Fighter Races
There aren’t any “wrong” race options, but if you’re looking to optimize the build you want to look for races that provide a bonus to either Strength, Constitution, or both. There are a few racial traits that can also help us out and they're mostly the same ones you'd want as a barbarian. This essentially makes the ideal options the same as if you were making a normal barbarian character:
All dwarves get +2 Con, but mountain dwarves have the rare double whammy of a +2 bonus in two ability scores since they also get +2 Str. So, while any dwarf will work for the build, mountain dwarves in particular are incredibly well suited to the build.
Selecting the earth subtype of genasi gets you +2 Con and +1 Str. These rocky lads get a once per long rest pass without trace casting that can let your barbarian travel surprisingly stealthy. It’s a bit situational but you’ll also be able to ignore rocky difficult terrain which can be the difference between getting into melee or playing catch up.
With +2 Str and +1 Con Goliaths are perfect fits for us in both flavor and stats. Stone’s endurance also makes us a bit beefier, making this one of the better options if you’re looking for the tankier side of things.
Half-orcs get +2 Str and +1 Con, but the big draw for us here is relentless endurance that lets us pop back up from 0 health to 1. This pop back can be a life saver, especially if you’re the one taking most of the hits for the party.
Orcs get +2 Str and +1 Con. They get a lot of the same abilities as half-orcs, but you’ll trade out the damage potential of Savage Attacks for the ability to easily close the distance between yourself and your foes with Aggressive.
Barbarian / Fighter Multiclass Builds
While you have a lot of flexibility with this multi - class, there are a few "wrong" ways to build them, namely by taking any of the fighter archetypes with wizard spells or additional spells. We can't cast spells in rage, so we need to be picking purely martial options. Note we can use magical abilities, just not actual spells or anything that would require concentration.
Next, it's a better idea to start with a fighter level first for the extra proficiencies. You get better choice of skill proficiencies with a wider skill list and heavy armor proficiency. Both classes have the same saving throw proficiencies, so that's not an issue.
Beyond that there are no fully wrong answers, from an even split of 10 levels each to a single level of fighter or a single level of barbarian as a dip.
With that in mind there are some particularly nasty combinations that we can optimize for.
The Crit Fishing Slasher
The idea here is to craft a crit-fishing melee warrior by stacking up the odds of landing a critical hit while raging through our enemies with dual scimitars, each of which tacking on our juicy rage weapon damage bonus. We get to add that rage attack damage on every single swing, so let's swing a ton of them! Sadly, we also want a feat and the extra attack feature to really put this together, so it’ll likely be character level 8 when it finally kicks off.
You can play around with the order you take these levels in, but ultimately for this build we’re taking only 3 levels in fighter and 5 levels in barbarian when we reach 8th level, with the remaining 12 levels going towards barbarian levels after that.
The first option we want to take as a fighter is the two weapon fighting style to keep our Strength modifier in damage to our off-hand scimitar.
Then by taking 3 levels of fighter and taking the champion archetype we gain the improved critical feature for a crit bonus, improving our odds of landing a critical hit from 20’s to 19’s and 20’s.
From the barbarian levels we want to pick path of the zealot for our archetype at 3rd level to grab the divine fury feature. This feature adds 1d6 + half your barbarian levels to the damage of your first attack each round, and notably that damage die would be doubled on a critical hit just like sneak attack damage. We're multiclassing so "half your barbarian level" is only minor damage, but any damage bump is appreciated.
With our 4th barbarian level, we pick up the feat slasher. Slasher is a “half-feat” which means we still get a point of Strength or Dexterity along with it, but it has 2 features. The 1st reduces the movement speed of creatures we hit with slashing weapons by 10 feet until the end of their next turn (stops them from getting away from you). The 2nd feature is the one we really care about, whenever we score a critical hit with a slashing weapon, our target has disadvantage on all their attack rolls until the start of your next turn.
So, let’s put this all together. We have 3 attacks, 1 base, 1 with our off-hand scimitar, and 1 from extra attack. Using reckless attack, we can make all these attacks with advantage. This means we’ll be rolling a total of 6 chances to score a critical hit and thanks to improved critical we’ll be critting on 19-20. Statistically, we have a 47% chance each turn to roll at least one crit.
Racking up that rage damage, at 8th level assuming only a Strength of 16 and that at least one attack is a crit, we’re looking at an average damage of 35 (5d6 + 17) a round, which jumps to 38 damage (6d6 + 17) a round if we crit on our first attack (thus doubling the divine fury die).
AND this is all in addition to reducing our target’s speed and cursing them with disadvantage on all their attacks in the next turn. Which basically makes our reckless attack free if they hit us, and totally messes with their turn if they go after your ally.
But here’s where it gets even crazier, we’re a fighter with access to action surge, which means when the chips are down, we can make 5 attacks in a round which means 10 whole chances to crit! Multiple crits on a single turn will pop up somewhat often, and every extra crit is a huge benefit.
On an action surge turn, we actually have a 65% chance to crit (not to mention all that extra damage). Our average damage output using action surge becomes 52 damage (7d6 + 27) or 55 damage (8d6 + 27) if your first hit is the crit.
And it only gets better in the late levels when you start picking up instances of brutal critical and the increases to rage damage. This build starts off a little slow, but man it ramps up to insane damage outputs and just keeps increasing as you go.
Spooky Ghost Axe
The general idea here is to use the echo knight archetype alongside the path of the ancestral guardian to hit an enemy at a distance using your echo and marking them with ancestral protectors at a range they can’t reach you from, thus putting them in a spot where any attacks they can make will be at disadvantage.
This little combo activates at 6th character level, once we reach the 3rd level archetype in both classes. Feel free to play around with the order of these levels, but by 6th level we should be 3 levels fighter and 3 levels barbarian, and our final build should be 11 levels fighter and 9 levels barbarian.
To start with we want to wield a greataxe and take the great weapon fighting style to get the most out of our aforementioned big walloping greataxe or any other of the two-handed weapons.
Then with 3 levels in each class, we gain the manifest echo and unleash incarnation features from the echo knight, and the ancestral protectors feature from the path of the ancestral guardian.
Manifest echo gives us a ghost copy of ourselves we can make attacks from (and get an additional attack from unleash incarnation) and ancestral protectors marks the first target you hit with a melee attack and imposes disadvantage on all their attacks in the next turn unless they target you.
Here’s how it works; we keep our echo around normally (so we can save the bonus action for rage). When combat starts, we rage and send our echo at a different target and keep our distance from it. The echo doesn’t “make attacks”, and instead we make the attacks from their position. That means we can make attacks that tag the target with our ancestral protectors, and since “we” are actually on another part of the map, they have to either waste their turn dashing to us or are forced to make their attacks at disadvantage.
This is aided by the barbarian’s fast movement feature since we get to essentially play a game of keep away, sending a new spooky ghost with a big axe out every turn to do our dirty work for us.
The damage output isn’t half bad either, we’re using a big weapon with a low chance of a bad roll (thanks to great weapon fighting) and thanks to unleash incarnation we get to make two attacks with it on most rounds, increasing to 3 once we pick up extra attack.
At the initial kick off point of 6th level, we can expect to hit twice for an average of 23 damage (2d12 + 10), bumping up to 35 damage (3d12 +18) with extra attack at level 8, assuming we pump our strength with our first ASI.
Running fighter all the way to 11th level gets us the “extra extra” attack and barbarian to 9th picks up a brutal critical.
It's important to note though that your echo isn't a creature and doesn't get attacks of opportunity as "your" opportunity attacks still only come from you.
Invincible Battle Bear
The idea here is to take the tried-and-true totem warrior bear option to gain resistance to practically all damage while in rage alongside the battle master archetype and particularly the bait and switch maneuver to essentially become untouchable. We want to be a heavily armored rage machine that shrugs off practically all hits, and those that do strike true deal half damage.
To put this together we want a level spread of 3 levels of fighter followed by 3 levels of barbarian, the exact order doesn’t matter much but it’s important to make our first level fighter so that we start with heavy armor proficiency. After which the remaining 17 levels taken should be fighter, making barbarian our secondary class and fighter our primary class for a total of 17 levels of fighter and 3 levels of barbarian.
To start with we’ll be selecting the defense fighting style for an easy +1 AC bonus.
Next, we’ll be wanting to get up to plate armor as soon as possible along with a shield and a longsword or any other one-handed martial weapon you like.
Once you hit your 3rd fighter level and take the battle master archetype and select bait and switch as one of your starting maneuvers. Then with your 3rd barbarian level, take the path of the totem warrior archetype and select the bear totem.
Now that your bear totem is giving you resistance to every damage type (except for psychic damage), you just want to focus on not getting hit. Here’s where it’s a bit tricky.
Bait and switch is a weird maneuver, but essentially so long as you stick within 5 feet of an ally, you’ll always be able to roll your superiority die and add it to your AC every turn until you run out of dice, hence pushing the fighter levels to gain more.
With plate armor, a shield, and the defense fighting style, we’re already sitting at a cool 21 AC, but on turns we spend a die to bait and switch, we’re looking at between 22 AC and 29 AC, AND we’re already resisting all damage.
You’ll have to stick to one of your allies like glue, but you’ll be able to take on practically all hits and breeze right through it.
It's also worth noting that fancy footwork LOOKS like it would be perfect for the build, but it only applies while you are moving so it will only effect attacks of opportunity.
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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