Ultimate 5e Barbarian Class Guide for Dungeons and Dragons
What is the best 5e barbarian build? What are the best feats for 5e barbarians? Barbarians are uncivilized, uncouth, and anger very easily. But while they don’t fit in with civilized society, they are great allies to have in a fight. Read on for our Ultimate Guide to Playing Barbarians in 5e.
While fighters are martial experts who rely on full-plate armor and sophisticated tactics to win battles, barbarians rely on sheer toughness and rage to strike down their foes. This is what makes barbarians unique as a class.
If you’ve made the decision to play a barbarian, you may want to know how best to use barbarian abilities to protect your friends and ruthlessly exterminate your enemies.
That’s where this D&D 5E barbarian class guide comes in. Keep reading to find out the best races for a barbarian, best feats, skills, primal path features, and more.
For ability scores, there are two different paths you can take when building a barbarian. The first is to take your highest roll and put it into Str. This will maximize your ability to hit and deal damage with melee weapons and with your barbarian abilities. If you choose this option, put your second-highest roll into Con to get as much HP as possible when you level, but without sacrificing Str.
The second path for a barbarian build is to put your highest roll into Con. This will maximize your HP as you level. Since barbarians do not wear heavy armor, some players believe this to be the best build for the class. If you choose this option, put your second-highest roll into Str so as not to harm your ability to use barbarian features and melee attacks.
Regardless of which of these builds you choose, put your third-highest roll into Dex. If you wear light armor or no armor, having a high Dex will help your AC. Dex saves are also very common in D&D 5E, so that is an added benefit to having a high score in this ability.
Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma are not very useful to a barbarian. Put your bad rolls into these abilities.
Best races for a barbarian
A barbarian can be of any race. But there’s no question that some races are especially suited to be rage-filled berzerkers. Here are a few races that make great barbarians.
Dwarves get +2 Con, so they are tough enough to fight without armor. Their Darkvision is helpful to any class, as is the resistance to poison granted by Dwarven Resilience. Mountain dwarves also get + 2 Str, making them even better as barbarians.
Half-orcs get +2 Str and +1 Con, Darkvision, and learn Intimidate for free thanks to their Menacing racial feature. Both the extra crit from Savage Attacks and defensive help from Relentless Endurance are also helpful to a Barbarian.
Variant humans get +1 to two ability scores. This can be used to get +1 to Str and Con, making Human a decent choice for barbarian characters. The extra feat can be used for Great Weapon Master, giving you an extra attack every time you crit or kill an opponent.
Best barbarian class features
There are a few class features that barbarians can use. Here are the ones that are the most useful.
Makes your AC 10 + Dex modifier + Con modifier. Since barbarians can’t wear heavy armor, this feature is vital.
This is what barbarians are known for. Go into a “rage” as a bonus action. While in rage, you get advantage on all Str checks and saving throws; + 2 damage to melee attacks (which scales up beginning at ninth level); and take half damage from bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage types. This effect lasts for 1 minute. You can do this up to two times before needing a long rest to replenish it.
You get this feature at level 2. It lets you choose to give opponents advantage on their attack rolls in exchange for you getting advantage on your attack rolls. If you are in rage and your opponents are doing bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing damage, this means your opponents are more likely to hit you for half damage.
On the other hand, you are more likely to hit them for full damage. So this is a pretty good deal for you.
You have to wait until level 11 to get this feature. If you drop to 0 HP while raging, make a Con saving throw with a DC of 10. If you succeed, you drop to 1 HP instead. Each time you use this feature, the DC increases by 5 until you take a long rest.
If you happen to be a half-orc barbarian, Relentless Endurance makes this even better.
If you make it to level 18, this ability makes you almost unstoppable. If your total for a Str check is less than your Str score, use your Str score on the check instead. Since your Str score will probably be 20 by that time, it essentially means that you pass every Str check (although the DM may optionally rule that you fail on a roll of 1).
If you manage to get your barbarian all the way up to level 20, this feature will allow you to increase your maximum Con and Str to 24. It will also give you 4 free points of both Con and Str. If you are still wearing armor at this point, it is time to consider fighting naked...or as close to it as you can get without offending the rest of the party.
At level 3, you’ll get to choose between Primal Paths. Here are the best features to use with each one.
Path of the Berzerker
This is the type of barbarian most people think of when they hear the term. A person who perfects the art of raging. At level 6, use Mindless Rage to avoid being charmed or frightened while raging. At level 14, use Retaliation to get extra attacks against foes that are close by.
Path of the Totem Warrior
This type of barbarian follows a totem animal spirit. At level 3, choose Bear as your Totem Spirit. From now on, you take half damage from every damage type except psychic while raging. That's insane.
Alternatively, choose Wolf as your Totem Spirit to give your friends advantage on all attack rolls against all enemies that are within 5 feet of you.
At level 19, use Spirit Walker to cast Commune With Nature as a ritual, allowing you to summon your totem spirit to find information you seek.
For barbarian skills, use Athletics to shove, grapple, climb, and do other combat maneuvers. Use Perception to spot danger. And since you’re a big, mean barbarian, use Intimidate to get people to do what you want them to.
Best feats for barbarians
There are quite a few feats that are useful to a barbarian. So this list will not be exhaustive. But here are the essential feats that no barbarian should do without.
Great Weapon Master
Gives you an extra attack whenever you critical hit or kill an opponent. Also allows you to take a -5 penalty to an attack roll in exchange for +10 damage.
Lets you spend “luck points” to roll an extra die during a check, saving throw, or attack roll and choose which dice count towards the role.
Or you can roll an extra die for a foe’s attack. If your roll is high, make your foe use their own roll. If your roll is low, make them use your roll. Use this feat when you absolutely need to hit your opponent or when you can’t accept getting hit by them.
This is essential for any barbarian that uses a mount when fighting. Gives you advantage on unmounted opponents and lets you redirect attacks away from your mount and towards yourself.
If an effect would make your mount perform a saving throw to take half damage, it instead takes half damage automatically and no damage if it makes the saving throw.
Increases your HP maximum by twice your level. From now on, you get an extra 2 HP every time you level, in addition to what you would usually get. This feat seems as if it was made for barbarians.
**Xanathar's Class Updates**
Path of the Ancestral Guardian (Xanathar’s Guide to Everything)
Zoinks! Barbarians ghosts! You get a crew of your ancestor’s spirits whenever you rage that grant you a slew of abilities that protect your allies and focus your enemy’s attention on you. This is one of the best options if you want to play your barbarian as a meat shield tank to keep your friends safe.
Path of the Storm Herald (Xanathar’s Guide to Everything)
Storm Heralds generate an elemental aura around themselves while they rage and get a ton of effects based off the environment (element) you chose. Two of the options are great damage dealers that stack on the hurt just for being near you while you rage. The third option is a healing buff for you and your allies. Grab this option if you want to play a DPS focused barbarian or have some healing abilities.
Path of the Zealot (Xanathar’s Guide to Everything)
Zealots are raging religious madmen, but they’re also just good all-round barbarians. They get to just straight-up deal extra radiant or necrotic damage every turn and some very nice defensive abilities that can even shrug off death itself. Pick this up if you want a solid combat barbarian with a devoted religious bent.
We’ve given you the best class features, skills, primal path features, races, and builds for a barbarian. Barbarians make a great addition to any D&D 5E party.
They may sometimes embarrass the other party members with their uncivilized attitudes. But when a fight starts, everyone will be happy to have the barbarian on their side. Now, what are you waiting for? Get out there and start cracking some skulls.
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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