D&D 5e Path of the Ancestral Guardian Barbarian featured image credit to Wizards of the Coast’s D&D 5e Xanathar’s Guide to Everything.
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Xanathar’s Guide to Everything introduced the Path of the Ancestral Guardian Barbarian. It’s the party protector with lots of fun roleplay hooks baked in.
In this review, I’ll take a closer look at the Ancestral Guardian features and see how these synergize with the Barbarian class features, then assess feats, races, and multiclass options and finally combine these into some build concepts.
As always, these are just my thoughts. If you have any other ideas about the Ancestral Guardian, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!
Ancestral Protectors – 3rd Level Ancestral Guardian Barbarian
You can call on the spirits of your ancestors to come and help you when you’re fighting.
- This is already huge fun and we haven’t got to a feature yet! You don’t just have a Barbarian in the party, you get to have all their dysfunctional, deceased ancestors too!
- You should absolutely have a bunch of ancestors to choose from, a backstory for each, complex interrelationships between them, and constant bickering going on.
- I’d have Statler and Waldorf characters in there – not actually helping, just offering ‘constructive’ critique of your (and your party members) performance.
- You can rope your DM and even your party members into role playing some of your ancestors.
And on top of all that, there is a subclass feature here as well 😉
While Raging, spectral warriors will appear and target the first creature you hit with an attack on your turn, giving it disadvantage on attack rolls and resistance to damage caused against any creature that isn’t you. It lasts until the start of your next turn.
This feature is an effective taunt/mark mechanism and allows you to be a tank for your party.
- Your mark will now only be doing half damage regardless of who they attack.
- The disadvantage they have while attacking everyone else – and likely advantage they get when attacking you because you’re using Reckless Attack – means that they are much better off targeting you than any of your party members.
- Having some reach or using a thrown weapon for your first attack can give you some flexibility, you can mark an enemy you are not directly facing off against. This can leave the mark with a tough choice – they either have to move past your party members in order to attack you, potentially giving up opportunity attacks on the way – or attack someone else at disadvantage.
- This ability doesn’t hinder an enemy that is casting a spell with a saving throw.
- This ability only affects one enemy per turn so is not very effective against large mobs.
You don’t have to use this on hostile creatures. If your overbearingly arrogant Paladin needs taking down a peg or two, then huck a dart at him and watch his rage get nearly as incandescent as yours.
Spirit Shield – 6th Level Ancestral Guardian Barbarian
While Raging, you get a new reaction option that reduces damage taken by a creature you can see within 30ft by 2d6. This damage reduction rises to 3d6 at level 10 and 4d6 at level 14.
This ability is extremely reliable. There are no restrictions on the type of damage or cause of damage – you get to use your reaction and reduce it. Barbarians don’t get any extra reaction options in their core class. This ability is remarkable to pick up.
It won’t come up every turn, though – and it only works while you’re Raging – so you have space to have another option or two for your reaction, probably via a feat.
Note that this synergizes nicely with Ancestral Protectors – a taunted enemy has to hit another party member with disadvantage, is then limited to doing just half damage. Then you can reduce the damage again.
You don’t have to use this on a friendly creature. If your Paladin still hasn’t learned a little humility yet, you can completely ruin his day whenever he crits with Divine Strike.
Consult the Spirits – 10th Level Ancestral Guardian Barbarian
Now you can officially consult with your mob of ancestors and get their advice (cast Augury) or gain their assistance in spying on someone (cast Clairvoyance).
You can cast one or other of these spells per short or long rest without using a spell slot or needing material components.
Augury can give limited information about a plan of action you are thinking of taking in the next 30 minutes. Augury can save you time and effort if you phrase your questions carefully.
- Bearing in mind that the party Barbarian is the one asking, this has inevitable failure and hilarious consequences written all over it.
- You can even make an ancestor table and roll on it to see which ancestor gets to respond. Some may be more reliable than others.
Clairvoyance is maybe a slightly safer option – you can place an invisible ‘ancestor sensor’ in a location familiar to you (or an obvious location such as the other side of the door you’re leaning against) with a range of up to a mile away. You can either see what is going on or hear what is going on and switch between seeing and hearing as an action.
The information is relayed to the Barbarian by the ancestor and subsequently to the party by the Barbarian, so this is not an entirely foolproof option either.
Barbarians don’t often get out-of-combat, roleplay-focused abilities, so this is a nice addition and can help your party gain valuable information.
Vengeful Ancestors – 14th Level Ancestral Guardian Barbarian
This feature improves your Spirit Shield ability. Now your grumpy ancestors inflict force damage in retaliation. The damage equals the amount of damage reduced by the instance Spirit Shield. The damage reduction rises to 4d6 as you reach level 14.
There is no range limitation here – or line of sight requirement. Invisible mage beware – you are about to make a concentration check.
Ancestral Guardian Barbarian Subclass Summary
Your combat features are simple and effective. The abilities help your party members by attracting enemy attacks and reducing damage to allies. All your combat features only work while you’re Raging, so if you’ve run out of Rages, you won’t have any subclass features that can help you in combat until you can take a long rest. The damage reduction can add up during a long adventuring day.
You will be the target of more attacks than usual. You might be better off focusing on your defensive options a bit more than usual for a Barbarian.
Sentinel can add some battlefield control and help protect your party members even more. If you hit an enemy with an opportunity attack, you reduce their speed to zero, and disengage will no longer allow enemies to avoid opportunity attacks. This movement control helps keep your mark facing only you. You also gain another reaction – when a creature within 5ft hits a target other than you can make a melee attack using your reaction, again incentivizing an enemy to only attack you.
Polearm Master provides a bonus action attack with the butt end of your polearm for 1d4 damage plus the usual modifier. Ancestral Guardians don’t rely on bonus actions (just entering Rage), so you won’t have a traffic jam in your action economy. You also get another reaction – you can now perform an opportunity attack as a reaction when another creature enters your reach. If you’re using a polearm with 10ft reach, PM synergizes amazingly with Sentinel to stop an enemy in its tracks before it reaches you. You can hit the enemy from 10ft away with your polearm on your turn (triggering the mark if you are Raging), then step back 5ft and repeat the opportunity attack. For the Barbarian, the synergy with Reckless Attack is also notable. You can avoid the downside of granting advantage to enemies by denying them the chance to attack.
Great Weapon Master is great if you want to ignore the defensive stuff and do more damage. Again, GWM synergizes well with Polearm Master.
Shield Master – if you want to go for a defensive approach for your Ancestral Guardian you can also consider wielding a shield. This also gives you a bonus action action shove (providing you take the Attack action) which can also knock an enemy prone, giving you and everyone else in melee range advantage and the enemy disadvantage on their attacks. The feat also allows you to add your shield’s AC to any dex saves you make, plus provides a reaction to avoid all damage from AOE effects if you make a dex save. Barbarians make most of their dex saves with advantage.
Defensive Duelist is another option if you want to go for shield and rapier wielding Barbarian. You can add your proficiency bonus to your AC as a reaction if hit by a melee attack, as long as you wield a finesse weapon.
If you’re going for a polearm, pick a medium race so you can use heavy weapon effectively. Sword-and-board can also suit small races.
Custom Lineage or Variant Human races are always great options with the free feat.
Shifters, Tabaxi, Leonin, Minotaurs, Dwarves, Half-Orcs, Goliaths, Bugbears all make great Barbarians.
Adding a couple of levels of Fighter for a Fighting Style, Second Wind, and (most importantly) Action Surge are always great options for Barbarians.
- A third level of Fighter and you could add Echo Knight, whose abilities are interesting for a Guardian play style. Your echo could easily be reflavored to be one of your ancestors (roll on the table again!), you can attack (mark) and make opportunity attacks from your echoes’ space (marking a target some distance away), and/or bonus action teleport and swap places with your echo. You also get ‘con mod per long rest’ extra melee attacks from your echo’s space.
A full spellcaster is not usually a good fit for a Barbarian. Still, a level of Death Domain or Grave Domain Cleric would be both flavorful and give you more ways to help your party, particularly when you’ve run out of Rages.
Some Rogue levels would be excellent. Bonus action Dash with Cunning Action is useful, and you could become a Phantom Rogue at level 3. The Phantom features are not hugely impactful, but Whispers From The Dead and Wails From The Grave are bang on themes with lots of flavor compatibility with the AG Barbarian.
I think the most impactful build for an Ancestral Guardian Barbarian is probably using both Polearm Master and Sentinel. Custom Lineage gets you there fastest. A couple of notes on this:
- You can’t use Reckless Attack with an opportunity attack, it only works on your own turn.
- You probably won’t be making much use of your Sentinel reaction unless you’re facing a larger number of enemies, as you’ll be trying to keep enemies a minimum of 10ft away.
- This build does have some clogging up of your reaction, with four different options. In some fights you’ll need to keep an eye on the initiative order and decide which one to use. They are all situational so it shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
- I think three levels of Fighter for Echo Knight would be really fun.
A slightly more off-the-wall character build is a Halfling Phantom Ancestral Guardian wielding a shortsword and shield, using Shield Master and Bountiful Luck.
That wraps up my review of the Path of the Ancestral Guardian! In summary, the Ancestral Guardian features are solid and straightforward to use, and if you like helping your party, this is the Barbarian for you!
Please cast Message in the comments either here or on YouTube if you have any questions or suggestions!
Check out more Barbarian content here.