Table of Contents:
A 5e Guide to the Barbarian + Warlock Multiclass - Barblocks
Barbarians are wild muscle machines fueled by adrenaline and wrath to smash everything and take any punishment. Warlocks are the favored servants of otherworldly patrons, instilled with eldritch power. Put them together and we get the loose cannon champions of otherworldly patrons fueled by both their patron and their undying rage. If you’re looking to make a barbarian + warlock multiclass in fifth edition, appease your patron and get mad as we go through everything you need to know.
Why Play a Barbarian Warlock Multiclass?
Both barbarians and warlocks are very common multiclassed character picks in 5th edition since they both get so much of what makes their class tick in the first few levels. Even more so than cleric levels for channel divinity, rogue levels, or the old level of fighter dip. Even one level dip in dnd barbarian or warlock can be a major asset and that’s just not the case with most classes. DND warlock multiclass combinations are already easy to flip into a battle ready damage dealer like the martial classes and a frothing rage monster sworn to an otherworldly patron is a fun character concept.
With just one level of barbarian dnd you become significantly more durable with barbarian rage and unarmored defense. With just two levels of warlock dnd you gain 2 spell slots to use every short rest, 2 invocations, and the 1st level feature of a patron. Playing this multiclass is a game of dips, and you get quite a bit of value for a very small level commitment.
What are the Downsides?
The barbarian warlock multiclass is arguably the least synergistic combination of 5e classes with only barbarian/wizard competing for it. The issue is mainly the barbarian’s rage, which specifically prohibits you from casting spells or concentrating on spells while raging. And access to spells is usually what you'd take levels in spellcasting classes for. We’re going to have to scrape the bottom of the barrel to get some actual synergies here. It’s not impossible to play this combination but you’ll be very locked into a couple specific options. We're also definitely locked into martial characters (mostly) as our spellcasting is literally turned off while we're in rage.
DND 5e Warlock is also fine as a martial class already, so it's not like barbarian is making up for some horrible deficiencies in melee combat. This is not a value build where you’re able to mix and match features to work together, this is a gimmick build that’s still likely not worth it but is technically feasible.
And as with every multiclassed character, you lose out on the capstone features of a single-class character like those gained at 19th level or 20th level. A multiclassed character always loses out on some of the effective level power of a single-class character for more versatility.
When Does a Barbarian + Warlock “Kick In”?
The warlock barbarian multiclass can go a couple ways and the answer to this question varies quite a bit depending on which class is our core class. If we’re only going for a dip of either class, we’re looking at level 2 or 3 for a “kick in”. The more involved build requires 5 warlock levels and 3 barbarian levels, so we won’t be seeing it in real action until level 8 and won't feel powerful until about 10th level.
What Class Features Do We Care About?
Barbarian and warlock features do not line up that well but with some clever decision making we can make the warlock barbarian multiclass work for us.
Barbarian Features for Barblocks
- Hit points. The barbarian has the largest hit dice in the game, and it shouldn't come as a surprise that more hit points is a motivation to take levels in the class.
- Rage. This is the core reason you’d want to multiclass anything with barbarian. As a bonus action you can “go into a rage” to gain advantage on strength checks and saves, extra rage damage in melee combat, and perhaps most useful of all you gain resistance to each physical damage type, including bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage. This still stands as possibly the best defensive buff in the game. The kicker for us is that we can’t do any of our warlock spellcasting while we’re in our rage. Normally barbarians don't care how many "rages" they have as there's more than enough, but with only a dip we're likely only raging 2-3 times per day. Not a deal breaker but be aware there's a limit.
- Unarmored Defense. Unarmored defense gives us a better base AC equal to 10 + Dex mod + Con mod so long as we’re not wearing armor. We have to devote a lot to Dex and Con in order to get better than the medium armor which we already have among our defensive options as a barbarian. A breastplate with +2 Dex is 16 AC, which means we should really just use the armor unless we can get our combined Dex and Con mods to 7 or higher. Also be aware that mage armor is an option, but these are the options for AC without spells.
- Danger Sense. We're not doing martial arts or maxing Dex like some other martial classes, but the barbarian is still spry. Advantage on Dexterity saving throws is a nice extra way to stave off as much damage as possible.
- Reckless Attack. This lets you gain advantage on melee weapon attack rolls at the cost of taking the next turn’s oncoming attacks at advantage as well. Invaluable when you really need to push through that attack roll. This super charges your melee weapon attack with martial melee weapons! A lot of this comes from the critical hit opportunities you get when you roll two dice.
- Primal Path. Depending on what build you go for you either aren’t going to reach a primal path or the primal path is a core of the build concept. We’ll go into them in more detail but for now know that the 3rd level primal path feature can potentially factor into the build.
- Extra Attack. This’ll only be reached on the builds that are primarily barbarian, but an additional attack is always a key feature for any sort of martial build.
- Brutal Critical - at 9th level barbarians get to add extra die to their critical hits with melee weapons. With Reckless attack above this can really cause an explosion of damage (and foes)
Warlock Features for Barblocks
- Pact Magic: For a completely spell-free class like barbarians having 1 or 2 extra spell slots to spend every short rest can be very useful. We’re largely stuck casting out of combat spells since it doesn’t work while in rage, but there are still a few options that can greatly help out a primarily barbarian strategy.
- Invocations: While you can’t cast spells in rage, you can use a lot of the invocation options as they’re either static features, buffs, or use your spell slots for alternate abilities.
- Patrons: Warlocks gain their archetype at 1st level, and we can get some pretty powerful features from them with just a single level dip. Particularly for the builds that focus on barbarian, which 1st level patron feature and what additional spellcasting options we snag is very important.
Which Class Should I Start With?
You get some slightly different proficiencies and saving throws in multiclass builds depending on which class you start out with. In this case, the correct choice is pretty firmly that you should start with a barbarian class level. Taking warlock first means missing out on medium armor proficiency. You don't get any extra proficiencies by starting with one or the other, just different skill list options for skill proficiencies. The saves are arguable as barbarians get proficiency with Strength and Constitution saving throws, while warlocks get Wisdom and Charisma. I tend to value Con more than Wis but they’re both objectively good saving throws worth having and both options are valid since neither gains additional proficiencies.
Note, that the hexblade patron also provides you with medium armor proficiency, so if your build is taking hexblade you can start with either class without missing out.
Barbarian / Warlock Ability Scores
Barbarians normally are all about the physical scores and care about Strength, Constitution, and to a lesser extent Dexterity. Warlocks are just adding the Charisma Score to this mix but that still means we have 4 ability scores to care about which is a bit of a stretch. You'll need to try and get maximum value out of the extra ability score increase from your race so make sure you get some combination of the above.
Each of our builds are going to need to drop or at least minimize at least one of these ability scores and it’s a different score depending on what build we go for.
If you’re focusing on barbarian and just dipping into warlock, you can drop Charisma all the way down to just 13 (or 14) since most of the features we’ll be snagging don’t actually use the casting stat.
If you’re focusing on warlock and just dipping into barbarian you can drop Strength all the way down to 10, I wouldn’t take a negative in it but you don’t need much for melee combat.
Now if you’re going for the deeper builds with 5 or more levels in each class, we’re going to be in a bit of a pickle. You’ll want to start with a 14 in Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma, with a 12 or 13 in Strength. When you gain your 4th level ability score increase, you’ll need to pump Strength up to at least a 16 or else your attack rolls will drop off. This’ll correspond fairly well to the shift from warlock to barbarian levels so just trust in the process for now.
Barbarian / Warlock Equipment
We've got a few defensive options. Warlocks are normally stuck in light armor but we also get shields and medium armor proficiencies from barbarian. I've seen some people work to gain heavy armor proficiency on this type of build, but I don't see the value. Normally for barbarians I’d recommend rocking no armor at all using unarmored defense, and if you’re almost entirely barbarian that’s still the way to go. You can go with armor of shadows for a permanent mage armor, but mage armor works out to about the same as our AC without spells used. For most of our builds you’re best off just getting up to +2 Dexterity and wearing medium armor.
With the weapons we get all the simple weapons and martial weapons. It gets a bit trickier, but I can streamline it down. Any build that includes the hexblade patron is stuck using a one-handed weapon, which also means we’re better off using a shield as well.
Anytime we aren’t using the hexblade patron we get the big old two-handed weapons so greataxe, greatsword, and maul all work for us. You might be tempted by our access to finesse weapons like a rapier instead and while it's a tempting option for relying on dexterity for damage instead of strength. I find that it's not the strongest offensive option though for us.
If we’re going to try and take advantage of both barbarian rage and the warlock spell list, we have to deal with the fact that you can’t cast or concentrate on spells while in rage. Sadly that rules out practically all damaging spells. We can't even use the melee spells like booming blade or green-flame blade since they still count as "casting" even though they use a melee attack. This means we can really only be taking advantage of spells that we can cast outside of combat and offensive spells like the old go-to’s of eldritch blast and chill touch aren't much use to us. Most of these are utility and exploration spells, but there are a few spells on the warlock spell list we can use as an offensive option or tactical option and that can be cast pre-combat.
Not typically a warlock cantrip of choice, but potentially quite useful. This cantrip gives you advantage on charisma checks but afterwards the target knows you used magic to mess with them. Since barblocks can’t make much use of cantrips in combat this out of combat cantrip may fit the bill. Or if you're evil it makes for temporary friends and easy opportunity attacks.
Mage Hand (cantrip)
This lets you create a spectral floating hand that can interact with things and even potentially trigger traps or “touch the evil thing” without risking your own skin. This is a solid utility option that’s always flexible and rarely goes unused.
Minor Illusion (cantrip)
This typically is used for making distractions but ultimately as useful as your imagination allows. Not typically in the barbarian’s wheelhouse but a well-timed goading distraction can make all the difference and when used right can be an excellent tactical option.
The prime example of the “creativity spell”, prestidigitation has a long list of very minor magical tricks it can perform that all depend on you to find a use for them. This is the best collection of extra non-combat options you can get for the cost of a single cantrip.
Armor of Agathys (1st level)
For an hour’s duration we get 5 temporary hit points and if anybody hits us in melee while we have any of those hit points left, we deal 5 points of cold damage to them. This doesn’t use concentration and lasts for an hour after casting, making us a slightly better damage sponge. Every spell slot increase boosts both the temporary hit points and the cold damage making it a somewhat viable counterstrike and HP buffer. Better value at 1st-level slots but still, it's both one of the few damaging spells and defensive spells we can cast pre-combat.
Charm Person (1st level)
The classic out of combat control spell, this has myriad uses most of which should be happening before you go into a rage. And it doesn’t use concentration so your target should remain charmed even while you’re enraged.
Mirror Image (2nd level)
Arguably one of the best defensive spells in the game and doubly useful when combined with martial options. Mirror image uses your action and doesn’t use concentration, so you can start your first turn in combat casting it and then raging up. There’s a bit of randomness thrown in, but this essentially gives you 3 “gimmie” hits for attacks that hit your illusionary duplicates rather than you. Not amazing if you’re facing numerous enemies with small attacks, but it can be a lifesaver against enemies with a low number of high-damage attacks.
Magic Circle (3rd level)
This one takes a bit of setup, but it doesn’t use concentration and if you have the opportunity to set it up you can make quick work of a boss monster. You essentially ward a small area against a certain creature type and while you or your allies are standing in it they impose disadvantage on attacks from the chosen type and can’t be charmed, frightened, or possessed by the chosen type. Underused, fantastic buff, and worth your warlock spell slot.
Charm Monster (4th level)
Same as charm person but capable of hitting much nastier targets. If you’re going this high in the warlock levels, this is a good one to have in the pocket. It's good, but sadly about all we can use at the 4th level slot on the warlock spell list.
Similarly to the spells, we want to focus on invocations that don’t clash with raging. To do this we want to avoid the invocations that rely on casting spells in combat, go for the ones that give us extra non-combat options, or the invocations that provide us with magical abilities that don’t technically count as spellcasting.
Armor of Shadows
This gives us the spell mage armor unlimited times per day. Now we’ve already got access to medium armor and unarmored defense so the odds of having already better or equal AC access is pretty high. If your build is stretched on ability scores this is a tempting option though.
Additional skills aren’t the most exciting use of an invocation. But two additional proficiencies are decent value. Getting skill proficiencies in Deception and Persuasion is a good place to start if you want to go more face of the party with the build as well.
Cloak of Flies
It has a 5th level requirement so we can’t snag this on a dip, but cloak of flies doesn’t use concentration and it doesn’t count as spellcasting so we’re free to rage up with flies on. We get a 5-foot aura of buggy goodness that gives us advantage on Intimidation checks and deals bonus poison damage equal to our Charisma modifier to anybody who starts their turn in the aura.
Darkvision isn’t that unique or interesting, but this grants 120 ft sight that even sees through magical darkness which is an otherwise extremely rare ability.
Warlocks don’t even get detect magic normally, but this invocation lets you cast it for free whenever you’d like. Detect magic is always useful and this is one of the better utility options if you’re trying to fit that role with your barblock.
Sadly, you need 5 levels of warlock to gain access to this one but it’s one of the only ways to directly convert your warlock spells into additional damage while in rage. Functionally similar to divine smite, this lets you convert your spell slot into 1d8 force damage per spell slot level (so 3d8 when you first gain this at 5 warlock levels). With two 3rd level spell slots this means you’re adding 6d8 extra damage output per short rest. Not worth missing out on 5 barbarian levels if you’re majority barbarian, but a great option for the primarily warlock builds.
This lets you cast false life on yourself for free which grants you 1d4 + 4 temporary hit points and very conveniently does not use concentration. Free bonus hit points whenever you have a moment to breathe seems like the exact sort of thing a barbarian build could use.
Improved Pact Weapon
This requires a pact of the blade so the earliest you’ll have access to it is 3rd level. It opens up other weapons to be pact weapons, but mainly you snag this just to make your pact weapon a +1 weapon for extra damage output.
Putting the Builds Together
We’ve got 3 wildly different builds that can make this otherwise unwieldy combination come together.
It’s an odd dip but just 2 levels of warlock can give our barbarian access to a great big pool of healing to make us an incredible damage sponge. To start we need 2 levels of warlock, and we want to choose the celestial patron and make one of our 2 invocations fiendish vigor. From that point on we exclusively take barbarian levels, and we want to take the path of the ancestral guardian. This gives us a total class level split of 18 levels barbarian / 2 levels warlock.
So how does this work? Well, we can’t really use our spellcasting in combat, but there’s nothing stopping us from healing up ourselves or our party members after the fighting is done. The celestial patron's additional spellcasting options gives us cure wounds as a warlock spell, this means for every short rest we can use our 2 1st-level slots for healing. We also get the celestial feature healing light which in a very similar way to a paladin’s lay on hands feature gives us a dice pool of healing we can use to heal ourselves or our allies as a bonus action. We get a number of d6s in healing equal to 1 + our warlock level (so 3). These healing light dice are especially useful as they can be used at a 60-foot range, and since it’s not spellcasting we can still use it in combat essentially like a pool of 3 healing words we can use to pop up anybody who gets knocked out.
Next, we can make great use of the fiendish vigor invocation that lets us cast false life at first level on ourselves whenever we want without spending spell slots. A 1st level false life gets you 1d4 + 4 temporary hit points that you can use to “heal” yourself, and since it doesn’t use concentration, you don’t lose them while in rage.
Finally, by taking the path of the ancestral guardian we get all the smashy goodness of a barbarian but with extra defensive measures for our allies through the ancestral protectors and spirit shield features. Ancestral shield essentially forces enemies to attack you instead of your squishier allies and spirit shield lets you prevent incoming damage for them.
Let’s take a look at the build put together with 3 levels of barbarian and 2 levels of warlock. Our benevolent barblock is swinging his greataxe and tanking hits just like a barbarian should, but they’ve also got 2d8 + 4 points of cure wounds healing every short rest, 1d4 + 4 temporary hit points that can recharge at any time they’re not raged. 3d6 points of healing that can be used at range and as a bonus action while raged, and they can impose disadvantage to enemy attacks that can’t target them. Now that’s a tank!
This build is incredibly simple compared to the others because we’re only taking a single class level in warlock and the rest of our levels in barbarian as our primary class. If you want to pick up the invocations and another spell slot you can take an extra level in warlock, but that's a matter of taste. We’re doing this specifically to pick up the fathomless patron and the 1st level ability tentacle of the deeps. Tentacle of the deeps functions a lot like the spell spiritual weapon. We get to summon an ethereal tentacle as a bonus action and get to make a bonus action attack with it every turn.
Barbarians don’t have a lot of use for their bonus action after the first turn rage, and this one level dip gives us consistent damage every turn using our bonus action. Anybody we hit with the tentacle also has their movement speed reduced by 10 feet for a turn which gives us an interesting opportunity to keep enemies within reach. By reducing a creature's speed, we can essentially keep it in range every turn and we can often force attacks of opportunity.
You've got a few options for the barbarian archetype. Path of the totem warrior with the bear totem option is always a decent pick as it adds resistance to every damage type except psychic damage. And since psychic damage is pretty rare you can fairly confidently resist any attack damage. The beast barbarian is also a decent damage dealer option with a selection of fun natural weapons in beast form. The natural weapons don't do much more in terms of damage
Oh, we also get a 40-foot swimming speed and the ability to breathe underwater from the fathomless patron which may be useful depending on your campaign. With the form of the beast, we can also get a climb speed so we can remain mobile in any terrain in our beast form.
As a complete flip from the previous builds, we’re only dipping our toes into barbarian for a single barbarian class level with the rest going towards warlock levels as our core class. You’ll likely have seen these elements before, but you’ll want to take the hexblade patron along with the pact of the blade for a full martial warlock strategy.
We’re essentially just taking a level of barbarian for rage to solve one of the biggest blade pact strategies which is survivability. Resistance to physical damage keeps you swinging a heck of a lot longer than a full warlock build.
The tradeoff here is the lack of casting in combat. I recommend taking eldritch smite here so that we can just convert those spell slots into straight damage. Ultimately though this idea just sticks to the tried-and-true hexblade strategy, just make sure to pick the spells and invocations we previously discussed so that you aren’t losing utility in rage.
This one is a bit out there and maybe a bit inefficient but man it is fun. The core of this strategy revolves around the genie warlock patron and their bottled respite ability. Essentially, you’re a literal genie in a bottle and you can disappear inside it as an action. While you’re in there you can hear what’s going on outside, but you’re otherwise in a pocket dimension. The trick here is that while it normally takes a bonus action to leave the bottle, you also leave automatically if the bottle is destroyed. And don’t worry, our vessel just takes an hour-long ritual to replace at no cost.
What we want to do is choose a “vessel” that is particularly fragile, like a glass bottle, and then we can strap it to an arrow and have our allies fire “us” at the enemy like an explosive device with a barbarian inside! Note that if your DM hates fun they might put a stop to this, but rules as written even if they impose disadvantage for the bottle being attached to the arrow you should still be able to fire and smash the bottle wherever you’d like within a longbow’s mighty (600 ft!) extended range. Worst case scenario your vessel can still get lobbed like a grenade.
Ok, so we’ve turned ourselves into a projectile, now what? First, we can’t cast spells without our vessel, so all our spell slots should be used on buffs that last without concentration like mirror image or armor of agathys.
Beyond that we can make being near us lethal in a couple ways. Firstly, we can take the path of the storm herald and choose the desert option. That deals a few points of additional damage to everybody within 10 feet of us on the turn we rage and, on every rage turn as a bonus action. Next, we take the cloak of flies invocation which has a very similar but shorter range effect for bonus poison damage on everybody near us equal to our Charisma modifier.
We’re also chopping people up a bit better thanks to genie’s wrath that essentially adds extra rage damage equal to our proficiency once per turn. And once we get up to 6 warlock levels, we snag an elemental damage resistance and a flying speed!
To make this insane barbarian projectile work I recommend a split of 14 barbarian levels / 6 warlock levels. Is this a mathematically efficient build for damage output at its effective level? No. Is this a fun way to turn yourself into a rage bomb? Absolutely.
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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