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Table of Contents – How to Play Barbarian D&D 5e
Barbarian Class Features D&D 5e
These are the 5e Barbarian class features you gain and their levels. You can reference the table from the PHB and read my commentary below.
Barbarian Levels 1-5
In battle, you fight with primal ferocity. On your turn, you can enter a rage as a bonus action.
While raging, you gain the following benefits if you aren’t wearing heavy armor:
- When you make a melee weapon attack using Strength, you gain a bonus to the damage roll that increases as you gain levels as a barbarian, as shown in the Rage Damage column of the Barbarian table.
- You have advantage on Strength checks and Strength saving throws.
- You have resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage.
If you are able to cast spells, you can’t cast them or concentrate on them while raging.
Your rage lasts for 1 minute. It ends early if you are knocked unconscious or if your turn ends and you haven’t attacked a hostile creature since your last turn or taken damage since then. You can also end your rage on your turn as a bonus action.
Once you have raged the number of times shown for your barbarian level in the Rages column of the Barbarian table, you must finish a long rest before you can rage again.
This feature is the core of the Barbarian. Raging as a bonus action (don’t forget that it requires a bonus action) gets you advantage on Strength checks and Strength saving throws (not attacks). Raging gives you resistance to the three weapon damage types: bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage. Your melee attacks that use Strength as their ability score modifier deal more damage per your Rage damage progression. The Rage damage is +2 to start, +3 at level nine, and +4 and level sixteen.
You gain more uses of Rage at later levels, and the uses recharge on a long rest. You start with two uses of Rage. Uses increase to 3 at level three, 4 at level six, 5 at level twelve, 6 at level seventeen, and unlimited at level 20.
While Raging, you cannot cast spells or concentrate on spells. Rage lasts for one minute, though it ends early if one of three things happens: you lose consciousness, your turn ends when you have not attacked an enemy since your last turn, or your turn ends as you haven’t taken damage since your last turn. You can end Rage early as a bonus action, too.
Unarmored Defense (1)
“While you are not wearing any armor, your Armor Class equals 10 + your Dexterity modifier + your Constitution modifier. You can use a shield and still gain this benefit.”
Unlike Monks with their similar unarmored feature, you can benefit from shields while using Unarmored Defense. You’re usually better off wearing medium armor unless you somehow have Constitution 18+. This feature gets better at level 20 with Primal Champion’s boost to Constitution.
Reckless Attack (2)
Starting at 2nd level, you can throw aside all concern for defense to attack with fierce desperation. When you make your first attack on your turn, you can decide to attack recklessly. Doing so gives you advantage on melee weapon attack rolls using Strength during this turn, but attack rolls against you have advantage until your next turn.
You can declare that you are attacking recklessly on your turn. You must decide this with your first attack on your turn. Attacking recklessly gives you advantage on melee (not ranged) attack rolls that use Strength during the turn. Choosing to attack recklessly will give enemies advantage to attack you until the start of your next turn. If your enemies already have advantage to attack you, trigger Reckless Attack without hesitation.
This feature is super important for you. It creates an incentive for enemies to attack you since they’re more likely to hit you. This means you can function somewhat as a tank. Readily gaining advantage also enables you to use feats like Great Weapon Master. I’ve seen many Barbarian players focus on Rage and forget about Reckless Attack; don’t make that mistake.
Lastly, you can attack recklessly even when you are not Raging. Don’t forget it!
Danger Sense (2)
At 2nd level, you gain an uncanny sense of when things nearby aren’t as they should be, giving you an edge when you dodge away from danger.
You have advantage on Dexterity saving throws against effects that you can see, such as traps and spells. To gain this benefit, you can’t be blinded, deafened, or incapacitated.
You effectively gain advantage on Dexterity saving throws. That’s an average boost of +4.5. You’ll need to remember that you don’t get advantage in this way if you are blinded, deafened, or incapacitated. If you can see it coming, your Dexterity saving throw is more likely to succeed.
Primal Path (3)
At 3rd level, you choose a path that shapes the nature of your rage. The Path of the Berserker is detailed at the end of the class description, and additional primal paths are available in other sources. Your choice grants you features at 3rd level and again at 6th, 10th, and 14th levels.
I’ll summarize all the subclasses later in this guide, or you can read my comprehensive D&D 5e Barbarian subclass ratings and rankings.
Ability Score Improvement (4/8/12/16/19)
When you reach 4th level, and again at 8th, 12th, 16th, and 19th level, you can increase one ability score of your choice by 2, or you can increase two ability scores of your choice by 1. As normal, you can’t increase an ability score above 20 using this feature.
Using the optional feats rule, you can forgo taking this feature to take a feat of your choice instead.
Feats are very important for you to keep up with spellcasters at higher levels. Don’t miss my 5e Barbarian feat recommendations.
Extra Attack (5)
Beginning at 5th level, you can attack twice, instead of once, whenever you take the Attack action on your turn.
This is the standard martial-class level to gain an additional attack each round. You need to use the Attack action to gain the second attack; you don’t get a free attack regardless of the action you use. You also don’t get two attacks when you make an opportunity attack.
Fast Movement (5)
Starting at 5th level, your speed increases by 10 feet while you aren’t wearing heavy armor.
You want to be fast so you don’t get kited!
Barbarian Levels 6+
Here are the Barbarian features you get at mid-to-high-level play!
Feral Instinct (7)
By 7th level, your instincts are so honed that you have advantage on initiative rolls.
Additionally, if you are surprised at the beginning of combat and aren’t incapacitated, you can act normally on your first turn, but only if you enter your rage before doing anything else on that turn.
You want to go first in combat so you can begin Raging before the enemies tear you to pieces without your Rage damage resistance. Remember, advantage on Initiative is like a +4.5 to the roll. That’s almost the +5 of the Alert feat.
In my experience, avoiding surprises will not come up often, but it’s still a solid class feature. As I said above, you want to have a turn early in the Initiative order so you can start Raging.
Brutal Critical (9/13/17)
Beginning at 9th level, you can roll one additional weapon damage die when determining the extra damage for a critical hit with a melee attack.
This increases to two additional dice at 13th level and three additional dice at 17th level.
On average, this is a pretty pathetic damage boost when you consider how many critical hits you roll and average out Brutal Critical’s impact. This isn’t a feature to build around. With this feature, it feels better to roll d12s, but that excitement is only a feeling because players adore rolling more dice. Enjoy it, but it’s not overpowered or defining.
Relentless Rage (11)
Starting at 11th level, your rage can keep you fighting despite grievous wounds. If you drop to 0 hit points while you’re raging and don’t die outright, you can make a DC 10 Constitution saving throw. If you succeed, you drop to 1 hit point instead.
Each time you use this feature after the first, the DC increases by 5. When you finish a short or long rest, the DC resets to 10.
This feature triggers when your hit points are reduced to zero while you are Raging. You can make a DC 10 Constitution saving throw to instead retain one hit point. Using this feature repeatedly will increase the DC by 5 (even if you fail), and the DC doesn’t return to 10 until you complete a short or long rest. This is cool and thematic to a Barbarian.
Persistent Rage (15)
Beginning at 15th level, your rage is so fierce that it ends early only if you fall unconscious or if you choose to end it.
Your Rage only ends earlier than its one-minute duration if you choose to end it or you lose consciousness. This is very important. You might think that Rages never end early, but they do. It’s incredibly freeing not to sweat the requirements to continue Raging.
Indomitable Might (18)
Beginning at 18th level, if your total for a Strength check is less than your Strength score, you can use that score in place of the total.
The minimum/floor for your Strength skill checks becomes your Strength score. That’s the total Strength, not the measly modifier. For example, if your Strength score is 20, and you roll a Strength check with a total below 20, you can choose to take 20 on the roll instead. You don’t add modifiers if you take the Strength score instead of your roll.
Primal Champion (20)
At 20th level, you embody the power of the wilds. Your Strength and Constitution scores increase by 4. Your maximum for those scores is now 24.
Everything you’re doing as a Barbarian becomes better with these stat boosts. Is it better than multiclassing? Often not, but I like playing classes straight to level twenty, especially if I like the class capstones (like this one). You also can Rage as much as you want at twentieth level.
Barbarian Optional Class Features D&D 5e
Primal Knowledge (3/10): You gain an extra skill proficiency at level three and again at level ten from the Barbarian class skill options that were available at first level.
Instinctive Pounce (7): When you use your bonus action to begin a Rage, you can move up to half your speed as part of the bonus action.
Barbarian Ability Scores D&D 5e
I recommend prioritizing ability scores in this order for your Barbarian:
Rage heavily incentivizes you to attack with Strength. Constitution adds to your hit points and assists with your Unarmored Defense (if you choose to use it). Getting your Dexterity to 14 is great for medium armor or Unarmored Defense.
Barbarian Weapons D&D 5e
It may seem like there’s not much to discuss regarding D&D 5e Barbarian weapons. It’s more complicated than you think, but it’s straightforward when you know the options.
Heavy melee weapons for Barbarians:
The core feat combination of Barbarians is Great Weapon Master with Polearm Master. These two feats together allow for bonus actions to be weaponized, and that bonus action can use GWM’s -5/+10 option. It’s tempting to focus on weapons with higher damage potential in their damage dice, but I’d rather have the reach property and compatibility with Polearm Master.
- Glaive (reach, Polearm Master attack)
- Halberd (reach, Polearm Master attack)
- Pike (reach)
I like to wield a halberd with my Barbarians (with some exceptions). I use Reckless Attack to deal at least two attacks with Polearm Master while gambling for more damage with Great Weapon Master. Attacking reliably with advantage is huge for Barbarian damage output.
Versatile and One-Handed melee weapons for Barbarians (for optional shields):
When I play a Barbarian, I often consider if I want to be more defensive or offensive in upcoming encounters. This can make a versatile weapon more useful since I can wield it with a shield or wield it with two hands for more damage. Versatile weapons are compatible with the potential bonus action attack gained from the Great Weapon Master feat, but they’re not compatible with the -5/+10 option.
- Throwing range 20/60.
- Works normally underwater.
- The spear is compatible with the bonus action attack and opportunity attack benefits of the Polearm Master feat, even if you’re wielding a shield with your second hand.
- Works normally underwater.
- The quarterstaff is compatible with the bonus action attack and opportunity attack benefits of the Polearm Master feat, even if you’re wielding a shield with your second hand.
Honorable mention to rapiers. For Barbarian players who like to use a shield, I recommend my article about how a 5e Barbarian can use rapiers in an effective, flavorful way. Finesse weapons can still use your Strength so you can use Rage plus some finesse options like Defensive Duelist.
Ranged weapons for Barbarians:
Keep ranged weapons handy. You’ll often need to attack enemies from a distance during entire encounters or until they approach you in melee. If you’re using your turns running around to find melee combatants, you can get kited (enemies make you chase one of them while the others kill you with ranged attacks).
- You won’t have a high Dexterity, but the range is longer than thrown weapons).
- Handaxes (light weapon, range thrown 20/60)
- Using two-weapon fighting with handaxes at low levels can be useful if you want to make more than one attack. Rage damage boosts off-hand attacks with your bonus action when using two-weapon fighting. The downside is that you won’t be using the bonus action attack in the first round of combat if you need to begin your Rage with your bonus action.
- Javelins (range thrown 30/120)
- Thrown melee weapons can use your Strength ability score for attack and damage rolls. Javelins have greater range than other thrown melee weapons. I want to be clear about how weapons that are not classified as “melee weapons” with the “thrown” property will use Dexterity instead of Strength. You’re playing a Strength class, so use thrown melee weapons unless you need a longer range. Pick up your javelins when the fight is over.
- Carrying a bunch of melee weapons to be thrown can weigh you down if you’re enforcing encumbrance rules.
- Works normally underwater.
Barbarian Armor D&D 5e
It can be tempting to go without armor as a Barbarian. After all, they have Unarmored Defense to negate the need for armor. The problem is that most Barbarians aren’t investing in enough Dexterity and Constitution to outpace what they can get with medium armor and a shield. However, if you’re swinging a two-handed weapon (and you probably are), you only have to outpace medium armor without a shield. Some Barbarian styles and subclasses can afford to wear a shield, but most 5e Barbarian players choose to wield a great weapon with two hands and swing for the fences.
I recommend avoiding light armor because you like Strength and a little dose of Dexterity. Here are your best 5e Barbarian medium armor options:
The breastplate is sufficient if you are willing to trade one point of AC from half plate to instead have normal Stealth ability checks. Pick the one that suits you! Don’t forget to consider if you want to use a shield.
For Barbarian players who like to use a shield, I recommend my article about how a 5e Barbarian can use rapiers in an effective, flavorful way. Finesse weapons can still use your Strength so you can use Rage plus some finesse options like Defensive Duelist.
Don’t seek proficiency with heavy armor; it is incompatible with your Rage feature. Avoid anything that negates or hinders Rage.
Barbarian Spell Selection D&D 5e
You might be wondering, “Why is Flutes recommending spells for Barbarians?” The answer is that there are ways to grab spells from feats or multiclassing that can benefit a Barbarian. It’s reasonable to grab cantrips and spells of first and second levels by multiclassing or selecting spell feats. Spells lacking concentration are preferred since you can’t concentrate on spells while Raging. You also want to focus on spells that don’t require high mental ability scores to succeed.
- Absorb Elements (for unexpected elemental damage outside of Rage)
- Air Bubble
- Armor of Agathys
- Comprehend Languages
- False Life
- Feather Fall
- Find Familiar
- Find Steed
- Fortune’s Favor
- Gift of Alacrity
- Healing Word
- Jump (especially if you use the falling rules from TCoE to pounce on enemies)
- Lesser Restoration
- Magic Missile
- Minor Illusion
- Mirror Image
- Misty Step
- Rope Trick
- See Invisibility
- Shield (for when you’re out of Rages or not Raging yet)
- Speak with Animals
- Vortex Warp
- Zone of Truth
It’s enjoyable to reflavor (describe mechanics with a different narrative) spells to tie them to your Barbarian instincts. For example, casting Alarm can be a manifestation of your Danger Sense class feature. I highly encourage players to reflavor game mechanics to offer alternative narratives or aesthetics.
Barbarian Races D&D 5e
Your primary considerations for your lineage are to play a medium creature (if you want to wield heavy weapons) with bonuses to Strength and Constitution. If you’re using the flexible stats at character creation that have been commonplace after Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, stats are less important or possibly irrelevant unless a playable race has fewer or more stat bonuses.
Consider how important racial features like flying, swimming, Darkvision, and innate spellcasting are to you. Damage resistances are also premium. Barbarians may also want a race that has Powerful Build or a similar feature to improve their grappling or carrying.
Avoiding spells might seem intuitive, but I recommend you reconsider. Barbarians can still benefit from spells when they’re not Raging, which is still most of the time. See the guide to Barbarian spells above to find a few spells that I recommend.
Best Barbarian Races
This list of advantageous races narrows if you can’t use Tasha’s flexible racial bonuses to stats. I’m assuming flexible bonuses are the norm with your game for modern 5e:
- Aarakocra: Flight.
- Bugbear: Solid choice for martial classes.
- Centaur: Equine Build feature, but difficult climbing.
- Custom Lineage: Feat at level one. Grabbing Polearm Master immediately at level one is incredibly useful.
- Dhampir: Scale walls and ceilings without busying your hands.
- Dwarf: Solid choice for martial classes.
- Firbolg: Powerful Build feature and other neat tools.
- Goliath: Solid choice for martial classes.
- Half-Orc: Classic Barbarian choice with features that fit the theme.
- Harengon: The Initiative bonus is amazing.
- Human: Variant for feat at level one. Grabbing Polearm Master immediately at level one is incredibly useful.
- Kalashtar: Resistance to psychic damage that Bear Totem Barbarians lack. Bolster your Wisdom saving throws.
- Loxodon: Use your trunk to grapple while your hands are full. Great synergies and useful features.
- Minotaur: Several features are thematic and useful for Barbarians.
- Satyr: Magic Resistance and additional jump distance for pouncing on enemies.
- Shifter: The Wildhunt option is interesting when you use Reckless Attack often.
- Simic Hybrid: Grappling Appendages is a helpful feature for grappling enemies when you’re using heavy weapons or a weapon with a shield.
- Warforged: Solid choice for martial classes.
- Yuan-Ti: Magic resistance and poison resistance.
Niche Barbarian Races
- Aasimar: Temporary flight.
- Fairy: Great for Beast Barbarians focusing on bestial weapons. Flight! Small races stink with heavy weapons.
- Gith: Resistance to psychic damage that Bear Totem Barbarians lack.
- Goblin: Nimble Escape helps you get around the battlefield if you’re a Beast Barbarian focusing on bestial weapons. Small races stink with heavy weapons.
- Grung: It could be fun for a Beast Barbarian since all its abilities are good if you’re not worried about the small races stinking with heavy weapons.
- Halfling: Great for Beast Barbarians focusing on bestial weapons. Small races stink with heavy weapons.
- Leonin: Fun if you want to have a fear effect for your Barbarian.
- Tabaxi: Speed for running to a new enemy after you dispatch your target. You get claws and good skills.
- Thri-Kreen: The Secondary Arms feature sounds so fun with the Beast Barbarian options; you can wield light weapons while using claws and holding a shield.
- Triton: Excellent for watery campaigns.
For a list of all playable D&D 5e races, read our article that lists them for you.
Barbarian Skills D&D 5e
When creating a Barbarian at level one, you choose two skills from the following options:
- Animal Handling
I recommend picking Athletics and Perception. The most useful, pervasive skill in the game is Perception, helping you to avoid surprises and to find hidden creatures and details. Athletics will help you to grapple and shove better. You can pick more skills later with the Primal Knowledge optional Barbarian class feature.
Barbarian Feat Selection D&D 5e
Feats are fun ways to customize your character. You can read my full list of feats for 5e Barbarian characters here. The feats below are some of the core feats for Barbarians:
Early Feats for Barbarians
Polearm Master: Gaining another attack to weaponize your bonus action is extremely useful. Your Rage damage and Strength bonus are added to his pummel attack, so the small damage die isn’t a concern. Attack with reach weapons is also useful for baiting enemies into chasing you or locking them into a position with your party’s teamwork. I recommend this as a baseline assumption feat for Barbarians; it’s practically a class feature. Some character concepts won’t need PAM, but new players should probably pick this feat to meet their Barbarian expectations.
Great Weapon Master: This is your primary engine for dealing substantial damage. Barbarians might be the best class for using this feat because of Reckless Attack. Without advantage, it’s difficult to use Great Weapon Master without missing attacks. I recommend this as a baseline assumption feat for Barbarians; it’s practically a class feature. Some character concepts won’t need GWM, but new players should probably pick this feat to meet their Barbarian expectations.
Late Feats for Barbarians
Alert: You gain +5 to Initiative rolls and can’t be surprised. Initiative rolls are important for any character, but especially for Barbarians who need to begin Raging before suffering damage. You could argue that you don’t need Alert because of Feral Instinct in the Barbarian features, but I say why not both?
Lucky/Resilient: These are two great feats for fortifying your saving throws when you really need to succeed, but I don’t recommend them before you’re at very high levels.
Slasher: This feat is useful for its +1 Strength and compatibility with halberds. The stat boost is the real reason I’d want this feat, but the peripheral benefits are nice. You can slow an enemy with your halberd and move away from them, possibly locking down a melee opponent. Dealing more damage with critical hits is thematic and pairs well with Brutal Critical from the Barbarian features.
Barbarian Subclasses D&D 5e Primal Paths
These are the official D&D 5e Barbarian Primal Paths (subclasses), but if you want a comprehensive guide to Barbarian subclasses in D&D 5e, read my article rating and ranking them. Additionally, each subclass is linked to a comprehensive review of that subclass.
Ancestral Guardian (good)
Ancestral Protectors, Spirit Shield, Consult the Spirits, Vengeful Ancestors.
Utilize the spirits of your ancestors to protect your allies, hinder and harm your enemies, and seek guidance. Read a full review of the Ancestral Guardian here.
Restriction: Dwarves Only, Battlerager Armor, Spiked Armor, Reckless Abandon, Battlerager Charge, Spiked Retribution.
This subclass is horribly weak and has a species restriction that D&D 5e has since rejected. It fails to lean hard enough into its spiked armor theme. Read a full review of the Battlerager here. This is why we wrote a revised version of the Battlerager Barbarian subclass.
Beast (good, favorite)
Form of the Beast, Bestial Soul, Infectious Fury, Call the Hunt.
You gain a dose of lycanthropy for limited bestial transformations. This is my favorite Barbarian. Its theme is top-tier for roleplaying and reflavoring, and its mechanics are fantastic. I highly recommend clicking the link for this subclass to read my deep dive into it. I played this subclass in Rime of the Frostmaiden, and I always felt useful and dynamic. It’s refreshing to play a Barbarian that doesn’t need to couple Great Weapon Master and Polearm Master feats to shine. I especially enjoyed playing a small-size character (Halfling) since I didn’t need to worry about hefting heavy weapons. Read my full review and deep dive of the Beast Barbarian here.
Frenzy, Mindless Rage, Intimidating Presence, Retaliation.
You can take your Rage further to enter a Frenzy and attack as a bonus action for the duration, but you gain exhaustion when it ends. The downside is steep, and the other features have their problems. Read a full review of the Berserker here. We wrote a revised version of the Berserker Barbarian subclass that you can reference.
Storm Herald (bad)
Storm Aura, Storm Soul, Shielding Storm, Raging Storm.
You gain environmental auras based on the different storms/terrains you select. This subclass has a cool theme, but its mechanics are poorly designed. It fails to stand out. Read a full review of the Storm Herald here.
Totem Warrior (good)
Spirit Seeker, Totem Spirit, Aspect of the Beast, Spirit Walker, Totemic Attunement.
This Primal Path is rich with choices, but everyone focuses on the Bear Totem at level three for its resistance to non-psychic damage while Raging. Players love this option so much that they hardly ever consider the features beyond third level. I find players almost always forget about communion with spirits as a ritual, too. Read a full review of the Totem Warrior here.
Wild Magic (ok)
Magic Awareness, Wild Surge, Bolstering Magic, Unstable Backlash, Controlled Surge.
I’m not a fan of wild magic, but even if I was, this one confuses me. It spends all its leveling up to become less wild and more consistent. That doesn’t feel like wild magic to me. The mechanics are lukewarm and forgettable. Read a full review of the Wild Magic Barbarian here.
Divine Fury, Warrior of the Gods, Fanatical Focus, Zealous Presence, Rage beyond Death.
This is the Barbarian that is arguably the best at dealing damage. It can also be brought back from the dead with ease, requiring no diamonds for resurrection spells. It’s a cool theme with solid mechanics to fit the Barbarian playstyle. Read a full review of the Zealot here.
Barbarian Multiclassing Options D&D 5e
For a thorough look at D&D 5e Barbarian multiclassing, check out my article devoted to the topic.
You must have a Strength score of 13 or higher to multiclass to/from the Barbarian class. If Barbarian wasn’t your class at level one, multiclassing with it will give you proficiency with shields, simple weapons, and martial weapons.
Barbarians can benefit from multiclassing in a few ways. Spellcasting (mentioned above) is great for a Barbarian if the spell selection is right. Barbarians also love to gain a Fighting Style and Action Surge from a few Fighter levels. Gaining heavy armor proficiency is useless to a Barbarian since Rage is preferred (can’t have both), so don’t worry about gaining heavy armor.
One of the most popular multiclass concepts, as far as I can tell, is the Moon Druid + Totem Barbarian. This playstyle centers around Raging with resistance to all but psychic damage while using Wild Shape to become battle-ready beasts.
A recent multiclass that has gained popularity is the Rune Knight Fighter with the Totem Barbarian. This character can grapple larger creatures after it grows.
Two levels of Wizard to gain the War Magic subclass is also popular for Barbarians. It grants useful defensive options alongside spellcasting.
Roleplaying and Reflavoring Barbarians D&D 5e
One of the most fun parts of creating a character is taking game mechanics and reflavoring them to be your own. “Reflavor” = Describe mechanics with a different aesthetic, narrative, or description.
The Barbarian’s Rage feature is iconic. Centered in anger, Rage can be reflavored with a different description while mechanically remaining the same. Here are ideas I brainstormed for how Rage can be redefined (yes, many of my ideas overlap with Cleric Corner’s Barbarian video, but I came up with these ideas on my own before comparing his ideas):
- Technological Augmentation: You’re not a cyborg, but your body may have a foreign device or system within it.
- Stoicism: Your Rage is about centering yourself. It’s like Goku’s Ultra Instinct. I also picture the “Dead Still” breathing technique from Demon Slayer.
- Ki: You can pretend you’re a Monk, achieving apex physical stamina and entering a state of perfect flow.
- Adrenaline Breathing Technique: You optimize your body’s physical output with deep breathing and adrenaline rush, like Demon Slayer’s breathing techniques.
- Spiritual Possession: Raging occurs when you temporarily become possessed by another spirit that inhabits your body. Perhaps a mighty warrior or a dreadful devil shares your form.
- Store Energy: You spend much of your time eating and taking it easy, but when it’s time to fight, you burn calories at an accelerated rate to gain immense power. I’m picturing Chōji from Naruto.
- Magical Weave Resonance: The Weave of magic permeates all the world, flowing through you and fortifying your form. It’s as if magic is woven into your skin, fortifying it. You can activate this resonance with the Weave to enhance your power.
- Environmental Absorption: Like the Absorbing Man or Goku using Spirit Bomb, you intake latent energy from the environment around you. Rage might be describing as your skin color mimicking the surrounding rocks and plants as it becomes more durable.
- Self-Hypnosis: You enter a heightened state of mind and remove your inhibitions and fears to become a perfect weapon. This is what Udō Jin-e in the Rurouni Kenshin series, transforming into the optimal version of himself when fighting a formidable opponent.
- Fighting Spirit: You’re an anime protagonist who never gives up and gains as much strength and plot armor as you need. Seriously though, Fighting Spirit is about taking damage to become stronger. It’s Metal Bat from One Punch Man, or Vegeta getting a zenkai boost after suffering defeat.
- Lycanthropic Transformation: You have a lycan-like condition that isn’t full lycanthropy, but you can still perform a limited transformation to gain power. This fits especially well with Path of the Beast Barbarians.
- Chemical Rage: Drugs, supplements, or potions cause you to go berserk. I’m picturing the Alchemist from Dota 2 (though it’s hardly an original concept). Bane from Batman is a similar example.
- Parental Protection Instinct: Like Gaara from Naruto or Harry Potter himself, you may be protected by the spirits of your parents or similar protectors.
- Dance: Your Rage may be more similar to the Bladesinger’s dance, becoming nimble, evasive, and striking with brutal momentum.
- Phantasmic/Incorporeal: Becoming slightly ethereal, you resist damage as it partially passes through you. You can also bypass enemy defenses. I’m picturing Danny Phantom or Kitty Pride.
- Limiter Release: Rage would be your constant state of being, but something limits your power. I’m picturing Cable from X-Men who would be an extremely powerful mutant if he didn’t constantly need to focus his telekinetic powers to halt the techno-organic virus that is overtaking him. You can temporarily remove the limitation on your power to release your full strength.
- Symbiote: An ooze or otherworldly rider shares your body. You’re like Eddie Brock and Venom. Giving temporary control to the symbiote has its perks.
- Hardened Skin: Like Colossus from X-Men, your skin becomes thick as steel as you augment your body with resistance to damage and increased power.
- Energy Absorption: Working like a solar battery or Sebastian Shaw from X-Men’s Hellfire Club, you convert energy into physical power. You turn it on like a light switch.
- Psionics: Your telekinetic power manifests as momentum to your attacks and a psionic shield blocking incoming damage.
- Masochist: Pain invigorates and propels you. You thrive on it. Your Rage is euphoric as you embrace and revel in the pain of battle. I imagine Hidan from Naruto.
- Sleeper Agent: You were trained to become an unfeeling, perfect killer when a certain word or trigger occurs. You lose yourself settling business.
- Swarm: Like the Swarmkeeper Ranger, you harbor some sort of swarm of creatures in your body or clothing. They emerge in response to danger and the scent of your skin when you’re stressed. They help take hits for you and they jump from your weapons to enhance your attacks.
- Other Emotions: Domon Kasshu from Mobile FIghter G-Gundam used his rage and sorrow to fuel his fighting spirit. By the end of the series, he learned to harness his love instead. What emotions fuel your Rage?
- Violent Affection: Like Elmyra from Tiny Toons, you love everyone so much that you might accidentally smother and smash them.
- Curse Mark: You’ve been marked by an eldritch being. Your skin harbors a seal like a tattoo that expands across your body when you become emotionally provoked. The mark enhances your Strength and distorts your humanoid figure. I imagine this curse mark from Orochimaru and Jugo in Naruto.
How will you reflavor your Rage? What about your other Barbarian abilities?
Barbarian Playstyles and Tactics D&D 5e
Players typically pick Barbarian because they enjoy its theme and they want a straightforward playstyle. However, I’m a player who has played D&D 5e long enough to want to find all the ways to make the most of a class, especially as a non-spellcaster. For readers who want to know more about how to play a Barbarian, I’ll do my best to summarize the relevant options.
Everyone only care that Gragnar rage. No one cares to know why Gragnar rage.
Do not waste your Rage uses. You don’t have many of them at low levels. If you’re playing a game that doesn’t involve frequent, unexpected combat, you’ll have an easier time with your Rage resources. Games with multiple encounters before a rest is warranted or feasible will challenge your resource management. I recommend working on sizing up a situation to figure out how much damage you may take and how long the fight will last. Save at least one use of Rage for a boss encounter if you anticipate one.
Remember, you must use your bonus action to begin Rage. Any other bonus actions you have will probably not be usable until the second round of combat since Rage is often prioritized. For this reason, try not to crowd your action economy with too many bonus action options.
Best Damage Output
Hit it very hard.
You are a frontline combatant. In the ideal situation, you’ll be standing extremely close to an enemy that you’d like to destroy. The standard method for dealing as much damage as possible to the enemy is to use a heavy weapon with reach, particularly one compatible with the Great Weapon Master and Polearm Master feats. Weaponizing your bonus action and reaction are important parts of optimizing a melee-focused martial character, and this combination helps with both. Great Weapon Master pairs extremely well with Reckless Attack; gaining advantage is essential to attacking with -5 accuracy to gain +10 damage. Reckless Attack also incentivizes enemies to attack you with advantage, enabling you to tank damage as they ignore your allies.
Mobility and Teamwork
The most frustrating scenario for a Barbarian is to enter Rage to find that it ends early as ranged enemies kite the Barbarian. “Kiting” is when multiple enemies can make you chase them while they rain ranged attacks to kill you while you waste time running around. For this reason, it’s good that Barbarians have a speed boost at level five.
You may want to grab the Mobile feat for more speed. There are other ways to boost speed, such as multiclassing, items, and playable races, but you don’t need to obsess over it. I recommend asking your party for assistance with your mobility. A party’s spellcaster, for example, could cast Longstrider, Haste, Fly, or Freedom of Movement on you. Vortex Warp is a fantastic spell to help your party get into position, avoid hazards, and pursue enemies. Flying, climbing, and swimming speeds are helpful for you in many situations.
Ranged Attack Options
In addition to not getting kited, ranged attacks allow you to deal damage to melee enemies as they rush you. They can only hurt you when they’re next to you, so you might as well deal weaker damage until they can get close. Running up to them will increase their damage output; they deal zero damage if they’re not beside someone. I recommend javelins for your ranged attacks. A handful of Lightning Javelins would make excellent magic weapons for you.
Weapon and Shield
There may be situations where you’re the plug of a bottleneck battle position. Instead of dealing heaps of damage, you may better serve the situation by soaking up damage with Rage while optimizing your Armor Class and using the Dodge action. You’ll count on allies in these situations to deal damage and control the battlefield while you hold back the waves of enemies.
Grappling and Shoving
Barbarians are extremely strong grapplers if they can afford a free hand. Some races, like the Loxodon, get around the limitation of hands. Rage gives you advantage on the Strength checks involved with these special attacks. Shoving an enemy to the ground and grappling them can keep them in place if they lack a teleportation option like Misty Step. This is because grappling will reduce their speed to zero while getting up from prone requires half their movement, effectively forcing them to break the grapple if they want to stand up. Shoving creatures off cliffs is a treat for Barbarians, so look for opportunities to send monsters flying off ledges.
Jump-Pouncing on Enemies
Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything gives rules for falling on enemies. These rules allow you to potentially share falling damage with an enemy you fall on while knocking both of you prone. You need at least ten feet of movement available to jump by the high-jump rules. Pouncing in this way is a fun way to surprise enemies with your wrecking ball of a character while boosting your damage output and opening you up to new combat options.
Wisdom Saving Throws
A debuffed Barbarian is a sad Barbarian. Failing a saving throw can be devastating for you, and it’s one of the worst ones to fail. I recommend the Resilient feat or some other way to boost your Wisdom saving throw bonus. Other options include multiclassing for subclasses that can buff their saving throws, the versatile Lucky feat, or magic items.
Barbarian Magic Items
Consider these if your DM allows you to request or craft magic items! DMs looking to reward Barbarians with magic items can consider these items. Barbarians benefit from items that enhance their features and make up for their weaknesses. For example, helping a Barbarian to find invisible enemies can be extremely useful. They’ll also need magical weapons to help them overcome the damage resistances of many monsters beyond tier one of play.
Uncommon Magic Items for Barbarians
- +1 weapon
- +1 shield
- Adamantine Armor: Turn incoming critical hits into normal hits. This is especially useful since you’ll be using Reckless Attack, inviting enemy attacks to hit with advantage and crit more often.
- Bracers of Archery: As mentioned above, Barbarians should have range weapons available for squirrely enemies that fly or climb walls to evade the Barbarian’s melee attacks. Longbows become more effective with this item.
- Broom of Flying: Time to fly so enemies can’t escape your halberd.
- Cloak/Ring of Protection: Getting +1 to AC and saving throws is desirable for any character that can spare the attunement slot. I really don’t know why the ring is rare, but the cloak is uncommon.
- Cloak of the Manta Ray: Being able to fight effectively underwater is important.
- Gauntlets of Ogre Power: Characters with less than 18 Strength will love these babies. Artificers can make these, by the way. It’s funny that you could build a Barbarian with Strength as a dump stat if you can reliably get items like these to get a high Strength score.
- Headband of Intellect: This is mostly for a good laugh as the Barbarian who likely has an 8 Intelligence gains a genius intellect.
- Javelin of Lightning: I highly recommend you grab one of these as your go-to ranged attack option. Barbarians do well with javelins, and this magic item is solid. It does everything a regular javelin does but with lightning damage in a line and added to the attack. You’ll probably want to find several of these. It uses your normal action economy as part of your attack; this is better than other items that require actions to use their special properties.
- Lantern of Revealing: Deal with pesky spellcasters and mischievous creatures that are invisible. It’s even better if you can lock down enemies with a grapple within the lantern’s light.
- Mariner’s Armor (medium): Wear your life jacket!
- Mithril Armor (medium): Give your Barbarian their best armor at lower levels without the Stealth disadvantage.
- Pipes of Haunting: “I’m something of a musician myself.” (frighten every nearby creature with the song of my people)
- Potion of Growth: Go big or go home. It’s time to grapple a dragon.
- Slippers of Spider Climbing: It’s wild to me that these are only uncommon. You can run up walls and along ceilings without needing your hands. In dungeons, this is as good as flying.
- Winged Boots: Another item that is only uncommon but seems so much more valuable than that. You can fly for up to a minute at a time, which is plenty for 99% of fights.
- Magic Tattoo
Rare Magic Items for Barbarians
- +2 weapon
- +1 medium armor
- +2 shield
- Amulet of Health: Set Constitution to 19. This can help you with your Armor Class due to Unarmored Defense. You’ll also pad your hit points and Constitution saving throws.
- Armor of Resistance: Totem Barbarians will love the psychic resistance option. Other Barbarian Paths will benefit from cold damage resistance since they also acclimate to freezing environments.
- Belt of Dwarvenkind: Boost Constitution because Barbs love that. The other benefits are ribbon features, but fun ones.
- Belt of Giant Strength (Hill): Barbarians love to get stronger. This one only really helps if the Barbarian normally isn’t at 20 Strength.
- Bracers of Defense: If you’re not using armor or shield, boosting your AC by two is amazing!
- Cloak of Displacement: Reckless Attack won’t hurt you so much if you’re counterbalancing that with this cloak.
- Flame Tongue: Great for Barbarians who like swords and fire.
- Giant Slayer: This item feels like it’s made for Barbarians. You can topple giants prone and deal extra damage. It’s also a +1 weapon.
- Mace of Disruption: Barbarians who use shields will like a one-handed weapon like this for devastating undead enemies. It’s a good item for lower levels.
- Mace of Smiting: Barbarians who use shields will like a one-handed weapon like this for devastating construct enemies. It’s a good item for lower levels and is a +1 weapon.
- Mace of Terror: Barbarians who use shields will like a one-handed weapon like this for devastating construct enemies. They’ll mostly want this for the fear effect.
- Mantle of Spell Resistance: Advantage on saves against spells (only spells, not every magical effect).
- Necklace of Fireballs: This is the grenade belt that Barbarian Rambos want.
- Periapt of Proof Against Poison: Don’t let Yuan-ti get you down with all their poisons.
- Potion of Invulnerability: Every Barbarian can be a Bear Totem Barbarian. This grants temporary resistance to all damage.
- Potion of Heroism: Slap on 10 temp hp with a 1d4 blessing for one hour.
- Ring of Feather Falling: Jump off cliffs without ending it all. It’s your personal parachute.
- Ring of Free Action: You need to move around, so don’t let anything stop you.
- Magic Tattoo
Very Rare Magic Items for Barbarians
- +3 weapon
- +2 medium armor
- +3 shield
- Animated Shield: Since you’ll likely be swinging two-handed weapons, a floating shield is handy due to being handless. It requires a bonus action to activate, but activation doesn’t require equipping the shield (that’s a huge perk since you don’t need an action to equip it).
- Belt of Giant Strength (Stone/Frost/Fire): Barbarians love to get stronger. Now they can get much stronger than their bodies would normally allow!
- Cloak of Arachnida: The primary pickup here is the hands-free climbing speed, but the other benefits are fantastic. Resistance to poison damage will often come in handy.
- Frost Brand: Great for Barbarians who like swords and frost. It comes with fire resistance, too.
- Ioun Stone (Absorption, Fortitude, Strength): These stones circle your head and buff your character. You can boost your Constitution or Strength by 2, but you can also cancel low-level spells that target you.
- Manual of Bodily Health/Gainful Exercise: Permanent buffs to Strength and Constitution with a bit of reading.
- Potion of Speed: Gain the benefits of the Haste spell for one minute without anyone needing to concentrate on it.
- Potion of Vitality: Perfect for Berserkers who need to cure exhaustion.
- Magic Tattoo
Legendary Magic Items for Barbarians
- +3 medium armor
- Belt of Giant Strength (Cloud/Storm): Barbarians love to get stronger. Now they can get much stronger than their bodies would normally allow, getting to 27 or 29 Strength.
- Dragon Scale Mail: This medium armor boosts AC and fills defensive gaps for Barbarians. It’s also cool to wear dragon scales as armor.
- Ioun Stone (Greater Absorption, Mastery, Regeneration): These stones circle your head and buff your character. You can cancel potent spells targeting you, boost your Proficiency Bonus, or passively regenerate hit points.
- Luck Blade: Great for Barbarians wielding swords, this blade gives you passive buffs and active abilities… including the Wish spell. Do you tremble to imagine a Barbarian wielding Wish? I sure do.
- Vorpal Sword: This +3 weapon can instantly kill enemies when it rolls crits if the enemies have heads to decapitate. It won’t work on boss monsters with Legendary Actions, though.
- Magic Tattoo
Example Barbarian Build – Loxodon Barbarian (Zealot)
We’re going with the elephant person. This character will take everything that has harmed and depressed it, redirecting that energy into Rage. The Loxodon’s trunk can be used for grappling creatures while still using both hands.
“The very things that held you down are gonna carry you up and up and up.”Timothy Q. Mouse, ‘Dumbo’
Barbarian Ability Scores at Character Creation
Ability scores are prioritized in this order: Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Wisdom, Charisma, and Intelligence. I put Wisdom above the other mental ability scores due to the importance of Wisdom saving throws. Charisma is above Intelligence because Barbarians often enjoy intimidation. Go with these ability scores at level one using the standard array (15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8 before race modifiers) assuming you use Tasha’s flexible ability score modifiers from your race:
- Strength: 16 (14 + 2)
- Dexterity: 14
- Constitution: 16 (15 + 1)
- Intelligence: 8
- Wisdom: 12
- Charisma: 10
If you do not have the flexible racial ability score modifiers, I recommend switching to point-buy stats (27 points) like these to make the most of the Loxodon’s stats:
- Strength: 15
- Dexterity: 12
- Constitution: 16 (14 + 2)
- Intelligence: 8
- Wisdom: 14 (13 + 1)
- Charisma: 10
I’ll focus on the first set of ability scores since I believe most D&D 5e groups allow the flexible racial stats from Tasha’s.
While I embrace creating custom backgrounds, I will suggest one from the PHB.
Most Barbarians select the Outlander background, in my experience, but I recommend Folk Hero. You gain Animal Handling and Survival skills, which are consistent with the Barbarian’s theme. Proficiency with one type of artisan’s tools is nice, so I’ll recommend Carpenter’s tools for creating barricades (via tool proficiency rules in Xanathar’s), though I could also see Woodwcarver’s Tools (craft ammunition) or Smith’s Tools (maintain weapons). Proficiency with vehicles (land) will help you when you go horseback, commandeer a carriage, and otherwise ride or die.
Your Folk Hero background story could be “A celestial, fey, or similar creature gave me a blessing or revealed my secret origin.” The easiest story would be that a celestial being consecrated you for a campaign-relevant cause.
I like the Loxodon for this character for several reasons:
- Loxodon Serenity is helpful with many debilitating saving throws. You have advantage on saving throws against being charmed or frightened. This is extremely useful for a Barbarian whose Wisdom saving throws can take them out of the fight when failed.
- Powerful Build enhances your impressive strength by enhancing what you’re carrying and moving.
- Keen Smell gives you advantage on most Perception checks (only limited by smell). That’s effectively a +5 bonus to Passive Perception, which is essential.
- Trunk gives you more options while holding a heavy weapon. You can grapple creatures with your trunk while your hands can unleash hell.
- Natural Armor negates the need for medium armor. I still wanted Dexterity to be 14 to help with Initiative rolls and Dexterity saving throws, but this racial feature frees us up to be more flexible with our non-primary stats.
Choose Athletics and Perception. These are the skills that are guaranteed to be useful in combat and during exploration more frequently than the other Barbarian skills. Coupled with the Loxodon’s Keen Smell, our Passive Perception will be impressive even with a low Wisdom modifier.
- Rage, Unarmored Defense. Your starting weapons will feature a halberd or greataxe for your primary weapon (your choice until level four when we want the halberd). Secondary weapons will be a spear (as your optional simple weapon) and four javelins. Skip the medium armor and get a shield instead.
- Reckless Attack, Danger Sense. We’re going to use Reckless Attack often against high-AC enemies, especially when we get Great Weapon Master at level eight.
- Primal Path: Path of the Zealot, 3 Rages. The Zealot can deal more damage once on each of your turns with Divine Fury. You can also be raised from the dead with ease via Warrior of the Gods.
- ASI: Polearm Master. It’s time to specialize with the halberd. You can use your spear and shield when you need to be more defensive while still utilizing Polearm Master.
- Extra Attack, Fast Movement. Attack twice with your attack action and zoom across the battlefield.
- Fanatical Focus, 4 Rages. You can reroll a saving throw during Rage. Very useful for those important saves.
- Feral Instinct. You want to take your turn early to enter your Rage. You may also lock an enemy down with grapple and shove if you can’t quickly slay someone.
- ASI: Great Weapon Master. Going forward, you really want to utilize Reckless Attack with a halberd as your primary offensive mechanism.
- Brutal Critical 1, Rage damage +3. You hit harder and crit harder.
- Zealous Presence. If you time this right, particularly during the first round of combat when enemies might deploy their scariest spells, this can be amazing for helping the party.
- Relentless Rage. You are difficult to kill unless you’re swarmed.
- ASI: +2 Strength, 5 Rages.
- Brutal Critical 2.
- Rage beyond Death. This feature truly makes you a terrifying force of fury on the battlefield. You keep fighting when you’re technically dead!
- Persistent Rage, Rage damage +4. Your Rage becomes much more reliable since you don’t have to worry so much about it ending early.
- ASI: +2 Strength.
- Brutal Critical 3, 6 Rages. This is possibly our weakest level-up.
- Indomitable Might. Good luck to enemies attempting to escape your trunk grapple.
- ASI: Lucky or Alert. Alert is great if you have many encounters in an adventuring day, but Lucky may be better if you can often nova your abilities.
- Primal Champion, Unlimited Rages. Ability scores improve to Strength 24 and Constitution 20. Awesome! You benefit from this capstone in many ways as these stats synergize so well with your Barbarian features. Don’t forget that you can Rage all the time now as you’ve overcome the need to manage it as a resource.
That’s our comprehensive guide to playing a Barbarian in D&D 5e! Which tips got your attention and inspired you? What ideas do you have to help other Barbarian players? Cast Suggestion in the comments to see if I fail my saving throw and add your own ideas to the article.
Thanks for reading. You can find a collection of all our Barbarian articles here.
I highly recommend my deep-dive video about the Beast Barbarian subclass. There are plenty of nuances to the Path of the Beast that can teach you a lot about playing a Barbarian: