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Barbarian Rogue 5e Multiclass Guide

Barbarian Rogue 5e Multiclass Guide

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Barbarian Rogue Multiclass

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Rogues are masters of disguise and subtlety, who lurk in the shadows waiting for the perfect time to make their lethal strike. Barbarians are an unsubtle slab of mindless rage and feral instinct able to shrug off lethal blows while screaming and charging down their enemies at full tilt. Put them together and we get a bit of a thematic mismatch, but a mechanical synergy wonder. And while you may not exactly elude detection, your enemies will definitely be surprised when their heads get chopped off. Grab your burglar’s tools and your battle ax as we go through everything you need to know.

 Barbarian Rogue 5e Multiclass Guide

Why Play a Barbarian Rogue Multiclass?

Fundamentally, barbarian and rogue may normally go about it in very different ways but they’re still both DPS classes. Their goal in combat is to dish out as much melee damage as possible, while avoiding clap back through either meat shield tanking or nimble evasion. But the reason why you might want to try and combine these strategies rather than take the classes straight is a simple handy interaction between the barbarian’s savage attacks and the rogue’s sneak attack. Sneak attack is a powerful damage dealing ability but that requires advantage or nearby allies to trigger, and the barbarian’s savage attacks can guarantee us advantage every turn.

With a little bit of effort, we can combine these classes into a frothing mad sword blender, landing savage “sneak” attacks able to both tank and dodge with the best of them.

 

What are the Downsides?

Sneak attack damage for rogues is tied to their own class levels, which means dipping or splitting levels will turn the ludicrous amounts of rogue damage into merely decent damage. We’re also spreading ourselves across all three of the physical ability scores. We’ve also got a few weird limitations on our weapon choices in order to meet the requirements of both class abilities, so we can’t take our big battle axes or throw daggers.

Finally, just like with any other multiclass build, we have to give up on some of the best barbarian and rogue abilities like the 20th level capstones, and we’ll get to our mid-game and late game features significantly slower than the rest of our party.

 

When Does a Barbarian / Rogue “Kick In”?

The core of our build is relatively simple and quick. We only really need 2 barbarian levels and 1 level of rogue to put together our core synergy so we kick in at 3rd level. There are some further fun potential builds past that, but 3 levels will feel solid. Generally, plan on treating rogue as your core class, with a 1 to 5 level dip into barbarian as a secondary class.
 

What Class Features Do We Care About?

Our rogue barbarian multiclassing core synergy is simple but some of our build variants care about different features from both classes. The following class abilities either factor into our build or are just solid bonuses you should be aware of when constructing the rogue barbarian multiclass.

 

Significant Barbarian Features

  • Hit Points. Normally I don’t talk much about hit points but the barbarian’s massive d12 hit die is worth mentioning as a powerful class bonus. Every level you take of barbarian should be granting significantly more hit points than levels in anything else and it’s worth taking into consideration when figuring out your final level split.
  • Rage. Rage is the iconic feature of the barbarian class. You flip out as a bonus action, and while you’re angry you get a slew of rage abilities. You do a little extra damage on every melee attack, you have advantage on Strength saves and checks, and you gain resistance to all the physical damage types (which is amazing). The fact that it uses up our bonus action is a little unfortunate, but that’s only on the first turn and you should be able to fit entire combats within rage’s 1 minute timer. Also keep in mind that being in rage shuts down spells, both casting spells and concentrating on spells.
  • Unarmored Defense. Rogues get light armor and medium armor but we'll be best off using this since we can't wear armor while raging. Unarmored defense gives us an alternate AC equal to 10 + our Constitution modifier + our Dexterity modifier. We’ll need to put some points into Dexterity to keep our AC reasonable.
  • Danger Sense. Advantage on Dex saving throws is a fantastic way to keep us healthy, and when combined with a rogue’s evasion ability we’ll be able to just laugh off fireballs.
  • 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. This is the core toy we plan on playing with since advantage is what we need to trigger sneak attacks. Keep in mind though that using this every turn will likely mean a lot of incoming damage if we don't take efforts to protect ourselves.
  • Primal Path. We’ll get more into each relevant barbarian subclass later, but in most builds we’ll care about our barbarian archetype, especially the features gained at 3rd level.
  • Extra Attack. Just like a fighter and most other martial classes, barbarians gain the extra attack feature at 5th level that very simply grants an additional attack. This is especially relevant here since the rogue is a rare martial class that doesn’t gain extra attack.
  • Fast Movement. Barbarians get 10 feet worth of extra movement at 5th level, giving us a bit of incentive to push this far up the barbarian path to become a speedier demon.

 

Significant Rogue Features

  • Sneak Attack. Truly massive amounts of damage on the condition that you either have advantage, or your ally is within 5 feet of the target, and the weapon must either have finesse or be ranged. Our barbarian half normally wouldn’t give finesse weapons a second look, but finesse doesn’t mean it has to use dexterity, and we’ll be able to smash faces with rapiers and short swords all day. Also remember that sneak attack damage is also doubled on a critical hit.
  • Cunning Action. Gained at 2nd level, cunning action lets you use your bonus action to Hide, Disengage, or Dash. All this together means you’ll be able to easily zip in and out of melee, usually avoiding repercussions.
  • Archetypes. We’ll need to go into the subclass choices in more detail but several of the rogue archetypes offer powerful features for the multiclass, even as early as their initial 3rd level feature.
  • Uncanny Dodge. While uncanny dodge is not super important for our build, the ability to halve damage from a nasty hit is worth considering and may be a juicy upside if you’re just trying to maximize sneak attack anyway.
  • Steady Aim. This is a new optional feature gained at 3rd level, at the cost of our bonus action and not moving, we can grant advantage on our next attack. 
  • Evasion. At 7th level this is a later game consideration, but essentially halving the damage threat of fireballs and other Dexterity save effects is a powerful tool for preventing incoming damage. Especially if we combine it with the advantage to Dexterity saves that danger sense grants us from barbarian.

 

Barbarian / Rogue Ability Scores

We’re a purely physical class combination and can thankfully make the build work focusing on just the three physical ability scores.

Despite the plan to use finesse weapons so we can trigger sneak attack, we still have to use Strength for our rage bonus which means we want our highest ability score to be Strength.

Next, since we’ll be using unarmored defense and trying to tank a lot of hits in rage, Constitution should be our second highest ability score for AC and hit points.

Finally, while we aren’t going to be attacking with it, Dexterity also factors into our AC and it should be our third highest ability score. Also keep in mind that due to the multiclassing requirements, you’ll need to make sure your Dexterity is at least 13.

As for the three mental scores of Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma, we can use all three as dump stats as needed. I’d recommend putting at least some points in Wisdom though, just so we aren’t oblivious when it comes to Perception checks.

 

Barbarian / Rogue Equipment

Our equipment here is sadly pretty limited but at least it’s simple. To start with we’ll be relying on unarmored defense so the answer to what armor to wear is nothing.

As for weapons, we have access to all sorts of martial weapons and even unarmed attacks and natural weapons, but we need to specifically use finesse weapons to trigger sneak attack, and since we want a pair of one-handed weapons to maximize the rage damage bonus, our options are really down to just scimitars or shortswords. The weapons are basically identical except one does piercing damage and the other does slashing damage. There is technically an argument to be made for rapiers but I’d strongly argue that a pair of shortswords or scimitars is the way to go UNLESS you take the dual wielder feat which we’ll discuss in a minute.

 

Which Class Should I Start With?

Rogue gains a ton of proficiencies if we start out with them, and we don’t get much extra by starting out as a barbarian, meaning your best bet is to take your first level as a rogue. However, starting with barbarian does get us maximized starting hit points using the d12 hit die. I still think the extra proficiencies make rogue the better starting option but consider starting as a barbarian if your 1st level adventuring promises to be particularly punishing.

 

Barbarian / Rogue Feats

As a pure martial build there are several feats we could utilized to eke out a bit of extra damage or utility. One feat sticks out though and that’s dual wielder.

 

Dual Wielder

Dual wielder is the de-facto feat for two-handed weapon fighters, and it’s split between three bonuses:

  • +1 AC when we’re dual wielding.
  • We ignore the light limitation for our primary weapon.
  • We can draw and stow two weapons in the time it normally takes for one.

That last feature rarely matters unless your GM is a rules stickler, but the first two are quite powerful for us. +1 AC is pretty fantastic, and losing the light limitation means we can upgrade one of our shortswords into a rapier, taking us from a d6 weapon to a d8 weapon. Is this feat necessary for the build? No. But it is a useful pickup if you find yourself thinking about a feat.

Our equipment here is sadly pretty limited but at least it’s simple. To start with we’ll be relying on unarmored defense so the answer to what armor to wear is nothing.

As for weapons, because we need to specifically use finesse weapons to trigger sneak attack, and since we want a pair of one-handed weapons to maximize the bonus rage damage, our options are really down to just scimitars or shortswords. The weapons are basically identical except one does piercing damage and the other does slashing damage. There is technically an argument to be made for rapiers, but I’d strongly argue that a pair of shortswords or scimitars is the way to go UNLESS you take the dual wielder feat which we’ll discuss in a minute.

.

Barbarian / Rogue Core Build

The core of the build is refreshingly simple and easy to apply. At our first rogue level we gain the sneak attack feature that deals an additional 1d6 damage (more by putting levels into rogue) on one of our attacks. Now, sneak attack has quite a few requirements to trigger. Firstly, the attack must be with a ranged or finesse weapon. Next, the attack must either have advantage, or one of our allies needs to be standing next to them as a distraction.

Thankfully, with a second level of barbarian we get the feature savage attacks. Savage attacks let us just choose to get advantage on all our attacks for the turn, in exchange, attacks against us also have advantage.

Rage also gets us some rage bonus damage, so long as we’re making melee weapon attacks that use Strength. Thankfully, sneak attack tells us the weapon has to be finesse, but it doesn’t say we have to use the Dexterity option. That means so long as we use Strength for our finesse weapons, we’ll be meeting all the requirements for both rage and sneak attack.

Putting this together as a 3rd level character (2 barbarian and 1 rogue) gives us a pretty substantial damage profile for such a low level. Using a pair of shortswords in rage with 16 Strength, we’ll be getting additional melee attacks (using our bonus action for an offhand attack) that both have advantage with +2 damage per hit from rage and 1d6 extra damage on the first attack with sneak attack. This gets us a total of damage 18 (3d6 +4 +3) per round, all with advantage thanks to reckless attack!

As you advance in levels, consider taking a few more levels in barbarian (either up to 3 for just the archetype or up to 5 for extra attack) but afterwards prioritize rogue levels. Sneak attack damage will scale up faster than rage damage, and rogue levels will get you a better DPS bang for your buck.

 

Barbarian / Rogue Builds

Now that we have the core of our build, we can push it forward and take advantage of it in a few different ways.

 

Bearbuckler

For this version of the build we basically go all-in on defense and hope to be both unkillable and elusive. First, we need 1 more level of barbarian taking the path of the totem warrior and selecting the bear totem. Next, we take 2 more levels of rogue and pick up the swashbuckler archetype.

Those of you who have min-maxed builds before will know the bear totem all too well. Bear totem barbarians gain one of the best defensive abilities in the game, that grants resistance not only to physical damage, but all damage types except psychic while in rage.

Swashbuckler is a bit of an odd duck to add to this, since the main draw of swashbuckler is getting sneak attack easier and we’re already doing that. But the swashbuckler’s fancy footwork lets us ignore any and all opportunity attacks, which will add a huge amount of mobility to our already nearly indestructible bear barbarian.

As a side note it is worth spending a few points on Charisma for this build, to take advantage of the bonus to initiative checks and for a few later game features.

 

Ghost Fanatic

For this build we’re going to double up on some spooky ghost themes for a bit of annoying hit and run gameplay. We’ll need to start with our core build, take 1 additional level in barbarian taking the path of the ancestral guardian, and 2 additional levels in rogue taking the phantom archetype.

So, while we’re taking the phantom archetype mostly to keep to a ghost theme, the path of the ancestral guardian gives us access to a nasty keep away strategy. Ancestral guardian’s 3rd level feature lets us tag a creature with an attack roll that swarms them with ghosts until the start of your next turn. While they’re swarmed with ghosts, all their attacks against anything but you have disadvantage, and your allies have resistance to damage they deal. 

Normally, this is just a sort of “taunt” feature that forces the enemy to attack the tank. But what if you were on the other side of the battlefield? Because of cunning action, we can dash as a bonus action. This means we can slap somebody, tag them with ghosts, and then dash behind the rest of your party. For their turn the enemy now has to choose between rushing past all your allies and taking their attacks of opportunity or making terrible resisted attacks with disadvantage against them. Your ghost trick can be rinsed and repeated as many times as necessary or until your DM just fills the fights with ranged enemies.

 

Wolf Scout

This is an odd one, but our goal is to be incredibly mobile and provide the archetype abilities bonus of the wolf totem barbarian as often as possible and also to essentially take the role of our party’s ranger in the most roundabout way possible. To do this we’ll need to take one more level of barbarian and select the path of the totem warrior, choosing the wolf totem. Next, we take 2 more levels in rogue getting us to a 3rd-level rogue and selecting the scout archetype.

The wolf totem grants our allies advantage on foes so long as we’re within 5 feet of them and so long as we’re raging. Being a rogue with access to cunning actions already goes a long way towards keeping our allies swinging through good repositions, the scout just adds one more layer of mobility. Scout rogues gain the skirmisher feature, which lets us move up to 15 feet as a reaction without provoking attacks of opportunity when something ends their turn next to us. One of the ways a wolf totem play can fail is getting locked into a fight while your allies are fighting something else. Skirmisher allows us to slip away and get back to our wolf pack where we belong.

Scouts also gain survivalist, which gets us the Nature and Survival skills along with double our proficiency on them. This is actually a very strong utility, and I’d recommend giving your Wisdom score a little love to take advantage of this and solidify your “ranger” role.

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