D&D 5e Path of the Storm Herald 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 Storm Herald Barbarian. Its name is quite cool, although I can summarize its implementation as the ‘Path of the Three Environments.’
In this review, I’ll take a closer look at the Storm Herald features and see how these synergize with the Barbarian class features. I’ll 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 Storm Herald, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!
The Storm Herald Barbarian’s Storm Aura(s)
This subclass has a unique design. There are three Storm Auras to choose from – Desert, Sea, and Tundra – and the features the subclass gets differ from one Aura to the next. You can change which Aura you have only when you level up, which offers a little flexibility but maybe not when you need it. I think it would be much nicer if you could choose your Aura on a long rest; maybe your DM will let you do that.
Because of this, I’ve reviewed each Aura separately – three Barbarian reviews for the price of one!
- All the Storm Auras have a radius of 10ft (but won’t extend through full cover).
- The Aura’s effects can be triggered when you enter your Rage (which requires a bonus action) and then again with your bonus action on subsequent turns.
- If any saving throws are required they use your Constitution modifier (Berserker Barbarian goes green with jealousy).
Desert Storm Aura for the Storm Herald Barbarian
Desert Storm Aura – Level 3
Whenever you activate your Aura’s effects, all creatures except you in the Aura take two fire damage. This damage rises as you level up to a maximum of 6 at level 20.
- This is magic damage at level 3 – not a lot but still. It can’t be counterspelled, and doesn’t require line of sight. Fire damage is one of the more commonly resisted/immune damage types.
- It’s not party friendly but can hit multiple targets. It’s nice that it scales with you as you level up. The damage caused is not huge.
- It guarantees a bit of damage which can be handy if the dice gods have not favored your main attacks.
- A front-liner in your party with Absorb Elements could deliberately take the damage and then use this to gain resistance to fire damage plus do a bit of extra fire damage of their own (1d6 per level) next turn. This might even be worth the spell slot if someone has paralyzed an enemy (say with Hold Person/Monster) and all hits become crits, or you’re fighting creatures whose regeneration is blocked by fire damage.
Desert Storm Soul – Level 6
You gain resistance to fire damage and don’t suffer the effects of extreme heat. Your action can touch a flammable object that isn’t worn or carried, setting it on fire.
- If you use the special action while you’re Raging and don’t take any damage during your turn you may lose your Rage. Maybe you could step into your own fire and give yourself a bit of damage that way.
- Lots of creatures do fire damage so the resistance is OK.
- It’s always nice to receive a feature like fire resistance when not raging. Barbarians often starve for features if they’re not raging.
Desert Shielding Storm – Level 10
Each creature of your choice gains fire resistance while remaining within your Aura.
- Doesn’t require line of sight. Lots of creatures do fire damage, this is quite nice, but…
- Unfortunately, this will block you from using your Storm Aura feature, unless you want to damage your allies. You could move forward 10ft, use your bonus action and move back again, but usually as a Barbarian you want to be holding the line somewhere so this is both situational and clunky.
Desert Raging Storm – Level 14
If a creature in your Aura hits you with an attack, you can use your reaction to force them to take half your Barbarian level in fire damage, with a dex save for no damage.
- This is pretty grim. You use up your reaction (no more opportunity attacks) and may end up doing absolutely nothing with it if they pass the save. On top of that it’s fire damage which is one of the most commonly resisted damage types.
- It will do at most 7 damage to one target at this level – a greataxe opportunity attack with Great Weapon Master while Raging will do at least double, and a lot more than that with a critical hit (Brutal Critical will provide two extra damage dice).
I think this is the weakest option overall. Hitting multiple creatures with your Aura is the best bit, and guaranteed damage is always welcome for a Barbarian. Fire resistance is nice, but… fire damage is commonly resisted, your Aura damage is not party-friendly, your 10th level ability flat out blocks you from using your 3rd level ability unless you damage your party members too, and your 14th level ability uses up your reaction for a very minimal effect.
Sea Storm Aura for the Storm Herald Barbarian
Sea Storm Aura – Level 3
Whenever you activate your Aura’s effects, choose one other creature you can see in the Aura to take 1d6 lightning damage, with a dex save for half. The damage rises as you level up to a maximum of 4d6 at level 20.
- This is magic damage at level 3 – not a lot but still. It can’t be counterspelled, this one does require line of sight. Lightning damage does not have as common resistances/immunities as fire.
- It doesn’t have the same overall damage potential as Desert Aura but will usually do more damage to a single creature, the scaling is again nice
- It guarantees a bit of damage
- It’s party-friendly – unless you deliberately want to shock your poncy Paladin. Maybe if she has hiccups.
Sea Storm Soul – Level 6
You gain resistance to lightning damage, gain a swimming speed of 30ft, and can breathe underwater.
- Your swimming speed is boosted by fast movement, which increases your speed by 10ft.
- A swimming speed and the ability to breathe underwater are great if you need them. Otherwise, they are useless. Situationally very useful.
- Not many creatures do lightning damage.
Sea Shielding Storm – Level 10
Each creature of your choice gains lightning resistance while they remain within your Aura.
- Doesn’t require line of sight. Not many creatures do lightning damage, but some nasty spells do.
Sea Raging Storm – Level 14
When you hit a creature in your Aura with an attack, you can use your reaction to knock them prone if they fail a Strength save.
- This is also pretty grim. You use up your reaction (no more opportunity attacks) and may end up gaining absolutely nothing for it if they pass the save.
- Just shoving an enemy prone will usually have a higher chance of success, as you have advantage on Strength checks while raging, (likely) proficiency in Athletics, and high Strength.
- The one benefit here is that there is no size limit to the creature affected, you can knock the Tarrasque prone with this (in the unlikely event it fails its Strength save).
- You can attack prone creatures with advantage. But you can Recklessly Attack them with advantage anyway. Prone creatures attack with disadvantage, but can just use half their movement speed to stand up unless they are also grappled.
- It’s hard to imagine that this will be more impactful than an opportunity attack.
This storm option is slightly better because it’s party-friendly. Gaining lightning damage resistance is niche, swimming/breathing underwater are situationally great, lighting damage is not commonly resisted, your Aura is party-friendly, and your 14th level ability again uses up your reaction for a very minimal effect.
I can’t help but feel that the Beast Barbarian has all but made this one redundant.
Tundra Storm Aura for the Storm Herald Barbarian
Tundra Storm Aura – Level 3
Whenever you activate your Aura’s effects, each creature of your choice in the Aura receives two temp HP. The temp HP rises as you level up to a maximum of 6 temp HP at level 20.
- This is not a lot of temp HP, and temp HP from multiple sources doesn’t stack (the highest source will prevail). It can still top up you and your party members with temp HP every round during a fight, allowing the whole party to be a bit tankier.
- You can top up summons and familiars with temp HP too
- The temp HP effectively counts double for you because of your damage resistance while Raging
- It’s not often a martial class will provide a party-wide buff like this, and again it scales with you as you level up
Tundra Storm Soul – Level 6
You gain resistance to cold damage (and don’t suffer the effects of extreme cold), as an action you can turn a 5ft cube of water into ice (unless there is a creature in the cube), which melts after 1 minute.
- The water manipulation feature is significantly less useful than the Shape Water cantrip. You could maybe make an ice bridge – you can make 10 ice cubes (50ft) before the first one melts.
- Not many creatures do cold damage.
Tundra Shielding Storm – Level 10
Each creature of your choice gains cold resistance while they remain within your Aura.
- Doesn’t require line of sight. Not many creatures do cold damage.
Tundra Raging Storm – Level 14
Choose one creature you can see whenever you activate your Aura’s effects. Their speed will become zero until the start of your next turn if they fail a Strength save.
- This doesn’t cost you anything. It’s a save-or-suck, but it’s a completely free one (doesn’t use your reaction!) that you can use every turn you’re Raging.
- If you use it on a prone creature they can’t get up. Prone creatures get disadvantage on attacks and you get advantage attacking them, which is straight out better than Reckless Attack.
- You can stop terrified enemies from running away from the Raging Barbarian.
- You can still use your opportunity attack! Or pick a feat that gives you a reaction option without feeling like you’re making your 14th-level ability utterly redundant!
This storm option is slightly better again. The temp hitpoints don’t sound like a lot but can add up to a fair amount of saved healing/hit dice during an adventuring day. Gaining cold resistance is niche, your Aura is party-friendly, and your 14th-level ability is actually useful. You don’t get any boosts to your damage.
There are a lot of features here. The flexibility is severely limited – changing Aura only when you level up is just bad. A kind DM might let you change Aura more often. You get options for your bonus action and reaction, which the Barbarian core class lacks. Most of your features only work while you’re Raging.
Desert has the most damage potential, Sea has situationally strong abilities, and Tundra is good for helping the party. I think we can compare Tundra to the Ancestral Guardian regarding what it is bringing to the party – damage reduction and hindering one enemy.
If you’re planning an extended sea campaign, go with Sea and practice your shanties.
Sentinel can add some battlefield control and help protect your party members. 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. You also gain another reaction option – when a creature within 5ft hits a target other than you can make a melee attack using your reaction.
Polearm Master is not a great match for a change because the bonus action will compete with your Storm Aura – although there is a fair argument that the Polearm Master bonus action attack is a stronger option than your core subclass ability (Rage damage bonuses, chance of a crit). I can’t help but feel you’d be better off with Great Weapon Master, which is excellent (as long as you’re not playing a small race).
I don’t usually recommend Lucky because it’s overpowered and overused, but Sea has two core saving throw effects, and rerolls may be handy.
The problem is that thematic races will often overlap with the subclass features. Tundra Goliath – they both get cold resistance. Triton Sea – both get swim speeds and underwater breathing (Triton Desert feels a bit odd).
Custom Lineage or Variant Human races are great options with the free feat.
If you pick a race with fire resistance, you get one of the main benefits of Desert, then you can select one of the other Auras.
If you pick a Beast Barbarian – or a Water Genasi or Triton with any other Barbarian subclass (except maybe Berserker) – you’ll have most of the features of Sea and be significantly stronger.
The usual suspects for Barbarians will all work fine (Tabaxi, Bugbear, Leonin, Goliath, Half-Orc, Minotaur, Shifter).
Adding a couple of levels of Fighter for a Fighting Style, Second Wind, and (most importantly) Action Surge are always fantastic options for Barbarians.
A full spellcaster is not usually a good fit for a Barbarian, but a level or two of Tempest Domain Cleric or Land Druid (Arctic, Coast, Desert) would fit the theme of the subclass – all would give you more ways to help your party, particularly when you’ve run out of Rages. Spores Druid also gets a 10ft Aura that would work well mechanically. Storm Sorcerer fits thematically but not mechanically.
- Tempest Domain would fit Sea like a glove – an extra reaction that does reliable lightning damage when you get hit (and is available a dozen levels earlier) plus maximizing your Storm Aura damage once per short rest with the channel divinity at level 2.
- A Desert Land Druid would give your Desert Storm Herald access to Wild Shape, so you could have lots of fun doing scouting and exploration activities outside of combat.
Moon Druid is usually paired with the Bear Totem Warrior Barbarian (or Beast Barbarian); however, the Storm Herald Auras will give you a bonus action while Raging and in Wild Shape, which makes it a really nice option.
A Rogue or Ranger level would be excellent for expertise in Athletics if you want to do some grappling. Remember that you can’t hit grappled creatures with a heavy, two-handed weapon.
My favorite build would be to go for Tundra and ignore the other two options entirely. Choose Custom Lineage for Great Weapon Master, add Sentinel at level 4, and you’ll have a solid mix of party-wide defensive abilities, battlefield control, and damage dealing.
That wraps up my review of the Path of the Storm Herald! The Storm Herald features are a bit clunky in their organization and, in some cases, compare poorly to other Barbarian subclasses or are made redundant by race choice. The Tundra option can be a great help to the party.
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