D&D 5e Path of the Totem Barbarian featured image is a combination of Wizards of the Coast’s Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden and Simon Berger’s photography at Unsplash.
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I’ll take a deep dive into the Totem Warrior features in this review. I’ll explore how the subclass features synergize with the Barbarian class features. You’ll also find assessments of feats, races, and multiclass options. I’ll then combine these into several build concepts.
As always, these are just my thoughts. If you have any other ideas about the Totem Warrior, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!
3rd Level Totem Barbarian
The Totem Warrior accepts a spirit animal as a guide. You gain two abilities.
You can cast Speak With Animals (talk to an animal, maybe persuade it to help you) and Beast Sense (see and hear with the senses of a willing Beast) as ritual spells, so you can use them as often as you like.
This feature is a nice out of combat ability for a Barbarian, who don’t typically get a lot of roleplay features.
You choose a totem spirit, make a Totem (amulet or similar), optionally take on a minor physical resemblance to your totem spirit, and gain its feature. There are five to choose from (at most levels).
All of these only apply while you are Raging.
- Resistance to all damage except psychic
- Amazing at all levels of play, one of the strongest abilities of any Barbarian subclass
- Other creatures have disadvantage on opportunity attacks against you, and you gain Dash as a bonus action
- Also strong, the disadvantage cancels out the advantage given to enemies by Reckless Attack – but only applies to opportunity attacks.
- Your walking speed increases by 15ft
- It’s nice but not as good as the options above
- You can jump 10ft further and 3ft higher
- It’s getting worse, this is not great at all
- Your friends have advantage on melee attack rolls against hostile creatures within 5ft of you.
- Pack Tactics for everyone! You already get advantage from Reckless Attack. This is strong if your party has lots of melee combatants, otherwise not so much. If you have a summoner in your party this is excellent.
Wolf can be strong in the right party; Eagle is great too, but let’s be honest – we’re all here for Bear.
Just pick Bear.
Aspect of the Beast – 6th Level Totem Barbarian
You gain a relatively minor aspect of a totem animal. It does not have to be the same one you chose before. Five options again!
- Carrying capacity is doubled, advantage on str checks to pull, push, lift or break objects
- If you ever need to move and/or carry something heavy, call on your Bear porter
- You can see 1 mile away with no difficulty (like it’s no more than 100ft) and dim light doesn’t impose disadvantage on Perception checks.
- You’ll want proficiency in Perception to help with this. Situationally useful.
- Your travel pace and those of up to 10 companions is doubled.
- If your DM keeps track of this kind of thing (and exhaustion from spending a long time traveling) this can be handy. This applies to your (flying) mounts, if you happen to have some of those.
- Gain proficiency in two skills from Athletics, Acrobatics, Stealth and Survival.
- Extra skill proficiencies are nice, but you should already have Athletics. Acrobatics and Stealth don’t feel like core Barbarian skills.
- You can track creatures while travelling at a fast pace and move stealthily while travelling at a normal pace.
- But your party members can’t. Pretty useless.
None of these features are particularly impactful. I would probably go for Eagle or Bear (again).
Spirit Walker – 10th Level Totem Barbarian
You can cast Commune With Nature as a ritual.
You gain knowledge of the terrain around you at a range of 3 miles outdoors and 300ft otherwise. It doesn’t work in dungeons and towns. It can help you if you’re lost and let you know the location of certain creature types nearby (celestial, fey, fiends, elementals, or undead).
This feature can be helpful, but it’s a pretty weak 10th level feature.
Totemic Attunement – 14th Level Totem Barbarian
Gain a magical benefit from a totem creature of your choice.
These all again only apply while you are Raging.
- Any hostile creature within 5ft gets disadvantage on attack rolls against targets other than you (unless they can’t see or hear you or are immune to being frightened).
- This is a nice effect to keep enemies focused on you rather than your party members.
- You get a flying speed equal to your walking speed but will fall if you end your turn in the air.
- This is amazing. Barbarians can struggle vs flying creatures. This gives you so much more mobility – leap over chasms, up cliffs, over difficult terrain, on top of tall buildings. You can be Neo.
- Use a bonus action to move through the space of a Large or smaller creature, knock them prone and do 2d12 + str mod bludgeoning damage if they fail a str save vs your str mod.
- Not bad at all, you can rampage all over the battlefield knocking enemies over
- Useless vs creatures that are bigger than Large.
- If you move 20ft in a straight line towards a Large or smaller target right before making a melee attack against it, you can make an extra melee attack as a bonus action.
- Why the size restriction on this one? Tiger gets really bad features, this one competes with your Rage bonus action on the first turn of combat, the one time you’re most likely to actually have a 20ft run up.
- If you hit a creature with a melee attack you can use a bonus action to knock it prone.
- This is actually pretty good, there’s no save or ability check, just boom.
Bear is quite good if you want to lean into the tank aspect. I like Wolf and Elk is pretty fun, but Eagle takes the biscuit here and flies off with it.
This subclass is exhausting (I’m doing Zealot; next, I can hardly wait!). But at least there are some diamonds to be found.
There are a ton of features available. If you choose the suitable options, you will be one of the strongest Barbarians in the game. If you choose the wrong ones, you can be among the weakest.
You could go Tiger, Wolf, and Tiger again and be able to jump a bit further, track creatures while moving fast and have a situational charge that competes with your Rage bonus action.
Or you could go for Bear, Eagle (anything but Wolf), and Eagle again and have resistance to practically all damage, a boost to Perception, and the ability to fly on your turn.
Your 6th and 14th level features are pretty weak, yet (with the suitable options) this is still the strongest Barbarian.
If you have taken my recommendations for your abilities, you will not have picked up a bonus action option – you will only have the bonus action you take to enter Rage. So, to fill out your character and improve your damage output, one feat stands out.
Polearm Master provides a bonus action attack with the butt end of your polearm for 1d4 damage plus the usual modifier. You also get another reaction – you can now perform an opportunity attack as a reaction when another creature enters your reach.
Once that is sorted, there are two ways to go – you can go for even more control and damage mitigation and pick Sentinel, or you can add extra damage with Great Weapon master. You may even be able to stretch to both!
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. 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. If you’re using a polearm with 10ft reach, Sentinel synergizes amazingly 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, then step back 5ft.
When enemies enter your reach, hit them with the opportunity attack and stop them again. These two feats combine amazingly for any martial class using heavy weapons. 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. As a Totem Warrior, you have one of the best defensive features in the game. This synergizes well with Polearm Master for damage output. You gain ten extra damage in exchange for a -5 to hit, but your Reckless Attack offsets this -5, and your Bear Totem damage resistance offsets the downside of Reckless Attack.
There is one exception to the general rule to go for Polearm Master – and that is if you are considering a multiclass with Moon Druid (see below). You don’t get the benefits of Polearm Master or Great Weapon Master while Wild Shaped, so going for Sentinel might be the best option. The new Telekinetic feat is also enjoyable. It gives you a bonus action (Str save). You also get an invisible Mage Hand, which is just gravy.
If you’re going for a polearm, you’ll want to be a medium race.
Custom Lineage or Variant Human races are, as always, useful options with the free feat, especially if you want all three feats mentioned above.
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 is always an excellent option for Barbarians.
The Moon Druid is the other multiclass that leaps out for the Totem Barbarian. You can be a Bear Totem Bear Barbarian. Take on a Bear form and destroy stuff. You retain your damage resistances while Wild Shaped into a creature, so you effectively double the hit points of your Bear shape while your Rage is up. The synergy here is excellent – you can’t cast spells while Wild Shaped, and you can’t cast spells while Raging, so forget about all that. Having a couple of levels of Druid also synergizes quite well with some of the other nature-loving features you get, and you’ll be able to contribute more outside of combat.
The most impactful build for a Totem Warrior Barbarian is using Polearm Master with Great Weapon Master. Custom Lineage gets you there fastest. If you go Barbarian all the way, you can eventually increase your Strength to 24. You’ll add 7 (str) + 10 (GWM) + 4 (Rage) = 21 damage to every hit while Raging, even more if you’re wielding a magic weapon. Add a d10 weapon dice (d4 for bonus attack) and quadruple these with Brutal Critical and the Barbarian will keep up with the damage output of the Fighter.
That wraps up my review of the Path of the Totem Warrior! In summary, the Totem Warrior features are solid and straightforward to use. 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!
You can explore our other content about Barbarians here.