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Barbarian Paladin Guide for 5e

Barbarian Paladin Multiclass Guide for 5e

Table of Contents:

Barbarian Paladin Multiclass

Holy Berserkers

Barbarians are creatures of adrenaline and wrath, berserkers whose blind rage and strength allow them to power through mortal wounds and cleave through the impenetrable. Paladins are living paragons of divine grace, conduits of godly power and deliverers of divine punishment. Put them together and we get a rage knight, dealing divine wrath in a zealot's fervor, if perhaps a pit less cognizant of who actually deserves it. Grab your holy book and your axe and get ready to strike down the unbelievers as we go through everything you need to know about 5e Dungeons & Dragons barbarian paladin multiclassing. 

 Barbarian Paladin Multiclass Guide 5e

Why Play a Barbarian Paladin Multiclass?

Barbarians are the best meat sponge class and are decent damage dealers. Paladins are the original nova damage class capable of pouring on insane amounts of damage. Put this cool combination together and we have a fantastic damage dealer that also soaks up damage like there’s no tomorrow. You’ll be able to deal nova damage using smites, consistent damage using rage, and will just generally be a nightmare to bring down as you shrug off everything that comes your way.


What are the Downsides?

This class combination with barbarian and paladin will feel fantastic at early levels but sadly the primary damage scaling of both classes is essentially dependent on their respective class levels. You can’t get more smiting without more spell slots (here only from paladin), and you can’t get more rage damage without more barbarian class levels. We also can’t rage in heavy armor, meaning we’ll be sacrificing one of the paladin’s greatest defenses.

This means that we’re stuck either just taking a single level dip and being happy with what we got off a single level or two. Or for a more even split we’ll be very behind compared to a single-class character. This isn’t a deal breaker, but just be prepared for the under scaled features. Both classes also unfortunately have some early dead levels, and it doubly hurts to go through dead levels twice.

It's also worth noting that paladins are great for multiclassing, but this class combination isn't making the best use of it. Paladin cleric multiclass is strong, just dip into cleric provides a ton of extra spell slots for smiting with even just a few cleric levels. You could smite with a monk weapon's flurry of blows for maximum martial arts chances to land the divine smite. Or for a combination with barbarian you could rock an incredibly high damage fighter barbarian build with action surge to boot. And of course, there's always warlock for some evil magic. Make sure this is the combo you really want to go for and maybe look elsewhere if you're trying to min-max.

Finally, as with any multiclassed characters, we’re going to be reaching our mid-game features slower than single class builds, and never reaching our highest-level features like 20th level capstones at all.


When Does a Barbarian / Paladin “Kick In”?

The core of the build kicks in with 2 levels in each class. We want both rage and reckless attacks from barbarian, and we want both the fighting style and the divine smite from paladin. We have some more fun things to combine with both of their respective 3rd level archetype features, but the core concept works with 2 levels in each class and kicks in at our 4th character level.

What Class Features Do We Care About?

We’ve got two martial classes and while we want to focus on a few of these features, most of their special abilities will factor into our build in one way or another. We'll most likely be treating paladin as our core class and only dipping a few levels into barbarian.

Significant Barbarian Features

  • Hit Points. The barbarian still reigns supreme as the only official class with a d12 hit die. The upgrade to d12 from d10 isn’t huge, but it’s still good to note that every level of barbarian should make us a bit meatier than if we were pure paladin.
  • Rage. Rage is the core feature we all know and love barbarians for. We can enter rage as a bonus action, and while in rage we get advantage on Strength checks and saving throws, extra damage on all Strength based attacks, and most importantly we gain resistance to all the physical damage types. That damage reduction is quite frankly nuts and is worth giving up on other features to keep up and should be our first bonus action in every combat. Our rage ability lasts for a minute, or if we don’t attack stuff for a round. We can rage 2 times per day and get an additional rage each of our 3rd barb levels, with extra rage damage at later barb levels.
  • Unarmored Defense. This gives us an alternate AC equal to 10 + our Constitution modifier + our Dexterity modifier. Sadly we can’t wear armor while raging, making us use this instead of other defensive options. We’ll need to put some points into Dexterity to keep our AC reasonable using this and about on par with medium armor.
  • Danger Sense. Advantage on Dex saving throws is a nice extra way to make sure we’re tough against attacks even if they’re not going against our AC.
  • Reckless Attack. Reckless attacks allow us to gain advantage on all our attacks in exchange for granting advantage on attacks against us for a turn. With this, we can choose when we want to prioritize tanking or damage, and it feels amazing to gain advantage on our divine smites.
  • Primal Path. We’ll get more into each one later, but in most builds, we’ll care about our barbarian archetype, especially the features gained at 3rd level. Our builds don't utilize it, but if you want more of a general build rather than going for one of our gimmicks, I'd recommend taking path of the totem warrior and the bear totem. Bear gives us resistance to all damage while raging except for psychic damage, and psychic damage doesn't come along every day. It's not exciting, but it's a powerful defensive option.
  • Extra Attack. Just like the paladin, barbarians are a martial class and they're stuck making a single attack until level 5 when we gloriously gain a 2nd. Note that these features don’t stack, and if we take 5 levels in each class the superfluous extra attack feature is wasted.
  • Fast Movement. Normally, barbarians get 10 feet worth of extra movement at 5th level, but sadly it has the caveat that we can’t be wearing heavy armor, so we likely won’t be making use of this.

Significant Paladin Features

  • Heavy Armor. Sadly, we can’t wear armor while raging, which means we have to give up on this most iconic of paladin abilities for the build.
  • Lay on Hands. Paladins get a pool of healing equal to 5 times their paladin level. While multiclassing will shrink this pool comparatively, it’s always helpful to have healing on hand especially if we want to fill a support role.
  • Spellcasting. Rage also outright prevents us from casting spells, so we’re going to ignore most of our spellcasting abilities and the paladin spell list in favor of divine smiting. When we pick spells, we should prioritize utility options to cast outside of combat, since we definitely aren't casting them in combat. Our caster level increases at half pace for paladin, but it'll be the only source of spell slots we have, and we want all the extra smites we can get our hands on. Sadly, that half pace spellcasting does mean we won't get 2nd level spells and therefore a better divine smite attack until level 5.
  • Divine Smite. Gained at 2nd level, THIS is the big-ticket item that you’re picking paladin for over any other martial class. Divine Smite lets you sacrifice from your pool of spell slots for pure consistent damage when you hit things with melee attacks. Thankfully, this doesn’t count as casting a spell either, so we’re free to do it while raging. Each 1st-level slot turns into 2d8 damage, with an extra 1d8 damage for each spell slot level above 1st, up to a maximum of 5d8 smite damage. Or 6d8 smite damage if the target is undead or a fiend.
  • Fighting Style. Also gained at 2nd level, your fighting style goes a long way towards buffing up your martial ability. We’ve got some solid options, defense gives us a flat +1 AC bonus, which is a lot more impactful than you might think. Dueling is a tempting option to take if we want to go with a one-handed weapon and a shield for +2 damage per swing. Great weapon fighting lets you reroll damage rolls of 1 or 2 for big two-handed weapons making it arguably the best offensive option.
  • Harness Divine Power. One of the newer optional paladin abilities, this lets you essentially convert your use of channel divinity into another spell slot (or really another use of divine smite). Some of our funkier builds use that channel divinity, but it's sometimes better just to have more smite power.
  • Extra Attack. Gained at 5th level, we can’t do multiple divine smites in the same turn, but more attacks are always a good thing. Keep in mind though this won’t stack with the barbarian’s identical ability.
  • Aura of Protection. Gained at 6th level, this is one of the strongest defensive buffs in the game. You and every friendly creature within 10 feet of you gain a bonus to all saving throws equal to your Charisma modifier. By sticking together, you can wildly improve your party survival rate.
  • Sacred Oath. You gain your first sacred oath feature at 3rd level and the oath’s aura ability doesn’t kick in until 7th. Depending on what build you go for, these archetype features may or may not be worth it, but we’ll dig into that more later.
  • Aura of Courage. At 10th level we emit an aura that stops us and our allies from being frightened.
  • Improved Divine Smite. At 11th level all our divine smites get a free extra 1d8 damage bonus. 11th level is a lot to ask but it's a goal to shoot for.


Barbarian / Paladin Ability Scores

First and foremost, we’re going to be smashing for the lord and we need our Strength as high as possible for our attacks and damage. Only attacks made with strength get to apply our rage damage so there’ll be no finessing here.

And then, as with any martial class, we should put some points into Constitution to help pad out our hit points to survive the front line. For us this is especially important, as it also calculates into our AC for unarmored defense. We'll be able to survive a lot due to rage's decrease in damage, but it's always good to have high hit points to back it up.

Next, we have several paladin features that rely on Charisma, and we’ll want to make it our 3rd highest ability score. You could argue that this can be dropped if you’re only dipping into paladin, but we plan on making use of several features that would benefit from the charisma boost. We’ll likely not have that great of a spell DC with this as our 3rd highest stat, but we plan on siphoning most of those slots into smites anyway.

Unfortunately, barbarians can’t rage in armor, so we’ll also need to put points into Dexterity to keep our AC reasonable using unarmored defense. We don’t make much use of it elsewhere, but it’s needed as our 4th highest ability score.

And finally, Intelligence and Wisdom don’t factor into our build at all, and we can use both as dump stats.

Since we're stretched into so many abilities, I highly recommend using all your ability score increases on boosting your stats and holding off on feats for this build. I see people mention magic initiate to snag another spell slot for divine smite but it doesn't actually give you the spell slot so no dice. Keep in mind you'll gain an ability score increase at each 4th level, 8th level, 12th level, 16th level, and 19th level in a class, not those levels overall. It may be a tempting option to pick up a 4th level eventually in our secondary class.


Barbarian / Paladin Equipment

To start off, we’re not allowed to wear metal armor, heavy armors, medium armor, light armor or any armor at all while raging so that’s a simple answer on what armor to wear, nothing. We may have heavy armor proficiency, but we can't have our cake while eating it too.

Thankfully no matter which class we start with, we're not stuck with simple melee weapons and have full martial weapons proficiency to play with. When it comes to our choice of weaponry, we have some martial options to pick from, big weapons, sword and board, or dual wielding.

For the biggest weapons, we want either a greatsword or a maul, both big two-handed heavy weapons that deal 2d6 damage a swing. For this biggest weapon route, we definitely want to take the great weapon fighting fighting style to reroll any 1’s or 2’s we get for damage dice.

For sword and board, we want to take a shield, which we can use while raging, along with any of the 1d8 martial weapons such as a longsword. For this route we’ll be best off taking the dueling fighting style, that’ll toss an extra 2 damage onto each of our attacks. +2 AC from the shield makes this a tempting option, but it'll be up to you if you want a more defensive option or offensive option. 

Finally, for dual wielding we take a pair of one-handed light martial weapons such as shortswords, and most likely just the defense fighting style for a bit of AC. Note, attacking with an off-hand weapon is a bonus action attack, so we can’t use a bonus action to rage and make our bonus attack on the same turn. The big advantage for dual-wielding is you'll have an extra chance every turn to land a hit and fire off your divine smite.

Which Class Should I Start With?

The skill proficiencies are nearly identical (except heavy armor which we can’t use anyway), we don't pick up additional skills either way, and we’re mostly picking between Strength and Constitution saving throws or Wisdom and Charisma saving throws. It’s also rather juicy to start with a barbarian class level, since we’d be starting with a maximum 12 + Constitution modifier hit points. And, considering how weak a 1st level paladin is (no spells, no smites) I’d recommend starting out as a barbarian, and taking your paladin levels afterward.


What’s the Core of the Build?

The core character concept we’re going to build for is the combination of the barbarian’s rage and the paladin’s divine smite for a high damage output. With 2 levels in both barbarian and paladin, we’ll be able to activate our rage and then slam in for a powerful divine smite attack. Using a greatsword for example, our 4th level character smiting will deal a hefty 24 (2d8 + 2d6 + 3 + 2 + 3) average damage (+3 on average from great weapon fighting). Great weapon fighting applies to smite damage, giving us even better odds on hitting higher damage numbers, and we can help ensure that we hit by ignoring our own defense using reckless attack.


Barbarian / Paladin Multiclass Builds

All of these strategies utilize the core of the build, but we can elevate that into some more interesting and powerful concepts.

Golden Ax

Our goal here is to make a single mighty swing with a divinely infused great weapon that’s as accurate as possible to deliver our smite and as many damage bonuses as we can stack up.

We start with the core of the build, taking 2 levels of barbarian, 2 levels of paladin, and selecting great weapon fighting as our fighting style. Next, we want single level of barbarian to bring us up to 3 to pick up the path of the zealot, and all of our remaining levels should go towards paladin making it our primary class, selecting the oath of devotion.

Oath of devotion gives us a powerful channel divinity option called sacred weapon. As an action, we can infuse our weapon with divinity, making it glow like a torch and giving it an attack roll bonus equal to our Charisma modifier for a minute. This Charisma bonus to attack rolls stacks up with our normal Strength bonus and should give us along with proficiency a +9 to +10 to hit. But we’re not done yet, with reckless attack we can guarantee we’ll also get advantage on our attack.

Now that we’ve all but guaranteed our big attack will hit, let’s stack up the average damage. As a great weapon master, we're starting with a greataxe (or greatsword or maul if you’d prefer) for 1d12 or 2d6 damage. Next, we can convert one of our 1st level spells into divine smite for 2d8. Then, due to path of the zealot we have the feature divine fury we deal extra holy damage (our choice of radiant damage or necrotic damage) equal to 1d6 + half our barbarian levels on our first attack each turn. Finally, we’ve got good old rage damage for an extra +2 damage output. And since all of these “extra damage” effects are dealt in addition to the attack, great weapon fighting applies to all the damage dice rolled, statistically pushing up our output by about +1 per die rolled. Putting it all together, our 6th level character will be swinging at +10 with advantage to deal 33 (1d12 + 2d8 + 1d6 + 3 + 2 + 1 + 4) attack damage!


Stormblind Scion

For this build we’re going to blind our opponents while hitting them from a safe distance and obscured from ranged attacks. We’re going to be the eye of the storm and with clever positioning you’ll blow through all opposition.

Once again, we start off with our core build of 2 levels barbarian and 2 levels paladin taking great weapon fighting as our fighting style. We will deviate a bit here because rather than taking one of the 2d6 weapons, we’ll want to take a 1d10 reach weapon such as a pike, halberd, or glaive.

Next, we take a 3rd class level of barbarian taking the path of the storm herald and selecting the desert special ability. Then all our remaining levels should go into paladin, taking the oath of the open sea. As a side note, oath of the open sea is technically 3rd party content from Matt Mercer, but I doubt most DMs will object to it.

So how does this work? Well, we’re relying on the channel divinity option marine layer that emits a 20-foot radius cloud of fog around us as an action. But this fog is particularly special, as every creature treats it as heavily obscured, unless they’re you or they’re standing within 5 feet of you, in which cast it’s only lightly obscured. The intent of this is to basically blind everyone around you, except for the target you’re actually fighting. But what if your target was 10 feet away? With a reach weapon, we can dance around our target as they suffer from the blinded condition, which will grant us advantage on all our attacks against them, while inflicting disadvantage on all their attacks against us.

But why stop there? Let’s hit everybody lost in your fog with some stormy wrath. Thanks to our storm aura, we'll deal damage against creatures within 10 feet. All those creatures will suffer 2 fire damage when you go into a rage and every turn you start in your rage. And this damage doesn’t need to target, doesn't need an attack roll or allow a saving throw, its just free automatic damage and this automatic damage will keep happening while they remain blind and confused within your burning fog cloud!


Terror Bomb-Barian

Our goal here is to jump into the middle of combat and force our enemies into a catch-22 where they’ll be stuck attacking at disadvantage no matter who they target. We'll have to take a small decrease in damage, but this is a very disruptive tactical option.

To start we take the same core build of 2 levels in barbarian and 2 levels in paladin. Since we’re trying to be more of a target nuisance than a raw damage dealer, we’ll also want to go the sword and board route with the defense or dueling fighting style. Then we’ll need to take a 3rd level in barbarian, selecting the path of the ancestral guardian, and all our remaining levels in paladin, selecting the oath of conquest.

So, what have we accomplished? With path of the ancestral guardian, we get the feature ancestral protectors that surrounds us with angry spirits whenever we rage. While raging surrounded by ghosts, anybody we hit gets hassled by our spooky friends, and has disadvantage on any attacks that target anybody but you until your next turn, and any damage they’d deal to them gets cut in half.

Now, we combine that with the oath of devotion, which gives us access to the channel divinity option conquering presence. Conquering presence lets us as an action force a Wisdom saving throw on everyone within 30 feet, and on a failure, creatures become frightened of us for up to 1 minute until they manage to save. Frightened gives them disadvantage on everything so long as they can see you and stops them from willingly moving closer to you.

Now, so long as the targets we hit are frightened, they can’t do literally anything without disadvantage. Even if they run around a corner and get out of eyesight of us, they’ll still be making attacks at disadvantage since they’re attacking something other than us!


Scare Bear

This last one is more for fun than efficiency, and just sort of reveling that you can use divine smite using natural weapons. Divine smite works with anything so long as it's a “melee weapon attack” which natural attacks and martial weapon attacks count as. We're going to jump into combat, suddenly grow a bear head, and absolutely freak out everybody in the near vicinity. It's not quite a wild shape, but it's about as close as you can get without taking druid levels.

We'll start out with our core build of 2 paladin levels and 2 barb levels, then we want to take a 3rd barbarian level and pick up the beast barbarian archetype path of the beast. This archetype gives us access to form of the beast which is sort of a partial beast form transformation, so you just get the head, claws, or tail of a beast with a natural attack rather than fully becoming a beast shape like a moon druid. And to top this off, take the oathbreaker paladin archetype as we make paladin our core class and put all our remaining levels into it.

Oathbreaker has a channel divinity option called dreadful aspect which as an action forces a save on everybody within 30 feet or they become frightened. Our beast form activates when we enter a rage, which means we can go into a beast shape and scare everybody in the same round, which just makes sense and the image of freaking everybody out with my sudden bear arms makes the build worth doing.

Mechanically your best options for your form of the beast is between the bite or the claws. The bite can regain some lost hit points when you're below half, but the claws allow for an extra attack as a part of the action without using your bonus action and are likely your best offensive options.

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Last updated: January 27, 2019

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