D&D 5E Build-A-Bar(barian) Workshop: Seeking advice for my next PC

Audiomancer

Adventurer
One of my groups is looking to start up a new 5E campaign in the new year, and I’m brainstorming ideas for my character.

I’ve recently played a couple of Clerics and an Artificer, but I’m thinking that this time around it might be fun to mix it up and play the big guy standing up front and swinging the beatstick.

I have a concept for a Barbarian (a class I have never played), but I’ve heard that Barbs can get boring in mid- to high levels, so my questions are basically:

  • When does the Barbarian tend to run out of steam, level-wise? And,
  • What other class(es) could I multiclass into which complement the Barb well?

Possibly useful context:
  • I’m revisiting a character I previously played in a couple of one-shots. Race will be Goliath. I haven’t picked a subclass; I’m leaning towards Wild Magic, but I could be persuaded otherwise.
  • Our campaigns usually start at 3rd level, sometimes at 5th. We usually get to at least 10th level, and have gotten to 20th once or twice. Leveling tends to be pretty quick.
  • This group, and our DM, are seriously into combats. I’ve been the utility caster and the healer in the group, but that usually leaves me without much to do once initiative gets rolled.

Looking forward to any advice and guidance folks can offer.
 

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jgsugden

Legend
It sounds like you're not looking for an RP heavy build here due to the combat focus. As such, I'll focus there.

There are several 'break points' for barbarians to multiclass. 6, 8, 9, 11 and 12 are all popular breaking points, but I find that 'mixing it up' can be good and multiclassing into another class and then going back and forth a bit.

Build 1: Stealth Bomber:

16 Strength, 16 Con, 14 Dex. Urchin background for Sleight, Stealth, Thieves Tools, Disguise Kit. You get Athletics from Goliath, so take Survival and Perception from class skills. You'll go Path of the Zealot and take Great Weapon Master at 4. You'll start multiclassing into fighter once you get to one of the break points and take 4 levels there - I recommend Battlemaster. I played it (dwarf, not goliath) for 20 levels (Zealot 16, Battlemaster 4) and would often get to scout ahead of the party and eliminate guards, etc.... during surprise rounds and the first round of combat. Shadowtouched is actually a pretty sneakily good feat for this type of build as invisibility and the non-concentration dusguise self can do a lot to help you with your stealth goals.

Build 2: Skald

16 Strength, 16 Con, 12 Dex, 14 Charisma. You'll want to select backgrounds so that once you multiclass to bard you get athletics, intimidation, insight, stealth and persuasion. You'll level in Barbarian to a breaking point - I prefer Ancestral Guardian for this build, then start taking bard levels - College of Lore. Once you leave Barbarian, you're never going back. You'll focus on spells that do not require concentration and have a long duration, or are useful outside combat. I played a Frenzied Berseker to 6, then Lore Bard to 10 - with 3 levels of Battle Master mixed in there and had a blast. I was using Spiritual Weapon and Armor of Agathys at higher levels.... You can achieve much the same by replacing Bard with Warlock, btw or the Oath of Conquest Paladin.

Build 3: Shaman

16 Strength, 16 Con, 12 Dex, 14 Wisdom. You're going to take Cleric at 2nd level to get the War Domain. That level of War Cleric gets you: 1.) Heavy Armor proficiency for games where you do take 5 or more combats between LRs and run out of rages too often, 2.) Light, Guidance, Toll the Dead, Divine Favor, Shield of Faith, Sanctuary, Command, Healing Word, and Detect Magic (Ritual). [Sanctuary prebattle can be amazing for getting you to the main enemy without OAs - non concentration, but busted when you attack]. This build delays your multiattack by 1 level - but the number of extra attacks you get to make at character levels 2, 3, and 4 make up for the absence of multiattack at 5th character level. After you hit a breaking point you can return to cleric to grab channel Divinity, Spiritual Weapon, Augury, Blindness/Deafness, Lesser Restoration, Warding Bond (I used it at very high levels to protect the spellcaster as I was never going down and they were - even though I was on the front line and they were a coward), Animate Dead, Dispel Magic, etc... My PC was a Variant Human with Great Weapon Master from level 1 ...
 

  • When does the Barbarian tend to run out of steam, level-wise? And,

You generally stop getting interesting features after level 6, honestly. You don't fall off power-wise until mid-high levels unless your dm gives out magic weapons, in that case you can use some really cool ones that can keep you relevant all the way to 20th. If your dm does customized signature items you should be fine all the way through.
  • What other class(es) could I multiclass into which complement the Barb well?
Anything that doesn't use spellcasting can work, including some magic-using classes that have significant not-technically-spellcasting abilities like druids and warlocks. But for raw power I'd stick with barbarian until it gets boring then add either fighter or warlock depending on what feels right.
Possibly useful context:
  • I’m revisiting a character I previously played in a couple of one-shots. Race will be Goliath. I haven’t picked a subclass; I’m leaning towards Wild Magic, but I could be persuaded otherwise.
Totem barbarian (bear at 3rd) is pretty much overpowered, since you resist nearly all damage. Bear totem barbarians are shockingly hard to kill.
  • Our campaigns usually start at 3rd level, sometimes at 5th. We usually get to at least 10th level, and have gotten to 20th once or twice. Leveling tends to be pretty quick.
If you're confident the campaign will stop at 10th I'd say stay single-classed, but if you go past that start looking at multiclass options based on what fits your character/the campaign/the party.
  • This group, and our DM, are seriously into combats. I’ve been the utility caster and the healer in the group, but that usually leaves me without much to do once initiative gets rolled.
You'll be raging and smashing in every fight that isn't ranged-only, and you'll be good at it. Plus you can throw people around very effectively (if there's somewhere useful to throw them to)
 

J-H

Hero
Depending on your subclass, I would say level 14 is a pre-capstone. If you go Zealot barbarian, hit point damage no longer kills you. I had a player who played one from 3-17ish (dropped due to RL stuff) and had a blast. I do run a more high magic item availability campaign.
He went with a Breastplate (fire resistance "Fireball me after I charge into the room!", and then later a +2) and thus didn't have to worry too much about ability score maximization and could take some feats. Those are nice to add options. I like:

-Mobile (still more move speed and free disengage to get through enemy lines)
-Inspiring Leader (even if your Cha is only 12, that's still 11 temp HP to the entire party 1x/SR at level 10, and lets you be Talky Man as well as Hitty Man)
-Skill Expert (half-feat, get Expertise)... I'd take Expertise in Athletics and then use the advantage expert athletics scores to grapple/ground/shove enemies around. If you get bored hitting things with weapons, start throwing enemies off of cliffs/platforms/walls any time you have a 3D environment.
-Great Weapon Master is good if you like big numbers and calculating the AC-vs-Damage tradeoff math. I've houseruled it to just be "+2 to damage" and the other benefits, and it's still a good feat that way.
-Maybe Mage Slayer ("The enemy wizard casts Shield and blocks your attack." "He cast a spell? I hit him again with my reaction!")
-If you have a lot of gold and downtime to support Poisoner, and you don't have a bonus action you plan to use in most combat rounds, the Poisoner feat lets you cause +2d8 damage and a status condition on a failed DC 14 Con save with a BA once per round.
 

Clint_L

Hero
Barbarian is good right to level 20, because the basic chassis is very strong, but it's the simplest class and therefore one of the most multi-classed. Throwing in a few levels of rogue is great; expertise really expands what you can offer outside of combat, and the subterfuge skills make you feel more like Conan or Fafyrd. Adding some levels of Paladin and taking the Vengeance path can also expand your repertoire, though it probably makes more sense to mostly be a paladin and add a few levels of barbarian. And a few fighter levels is great if you just want to be a total melee wrecking ball; an action-surging reckless barbarian can be terrifying, though again it might make sense to be a fighter with a barbarian dip. If you do mix with fighter, battlemaster will give you a lot more tactical options to keep things interesting at higher levels.

I love jgsugden's suggestion of a war cleric dip. What a fun build, and great way to mitigate delaying extra attack for a level.
 

My GM threw a wild mage Barbarian at us. It was an interesting and worrying fight. Definitely worth considering.

Some of these are odd ideas but something might gel.

Fighter-cavalier. I see no reason a Barbarian can't be a horse nomad (Mongols, huns, many north American people, etc) rather than an aristocrat plus it has an "aggro" power at 3rd level so if they attack anyone but you and they do it with disadvantage and you can then use a bonus action for an extra attack next round. Protect allies and bonus smites all in one!

Fighter-Battlemaster: Menacing attack instilling fear sounds right up a barbarian's alley. Commander's strike might be worth it if you have a rogue with a high sneak attack bonus. Grappling strike might be thematic and effective at holding enemies in place.

Any caster will provide a buff, but focus on buffs/defenses/utility for leveled spells or that make you smack things better/more often. Cantrips scale on character level so they give you an effective fall-back when fighting something either immune to your normal attacks or that you don't want to get close to. You need a mental stat that isn't stereotypical though.

It could be cleric (bless boosts attack & saves, domains can fill in gaps), sorcerer (who knows what your ancestors were willing to mate with and shield is always good, expeditious retreat on a Barbarian or monk is hilarious), druid (faerie fire is a good buff/debuff, longstrider doesn't need concentration), Bard (faerie fire, Dissonant whispers can be used to "incite AoO" and the whispers could be "I will eat your face", plus inspiration so your allies get a smidgen of rage) and even Warlock (see if your GM will let you re-skin a patron like Celestial as your Totem/ancestors. Eldritch bolts that look like arrows, etc). Wizard (warmage) is decent fit as well, assuming you aren't in a "barbarians can't read, durrrr" campaign. Nothing says it can't be runic futhark in your spellbook.

Less multiclassing, but if you want some more "shaman" flavor, take Ritual Caster as a feat. Cleric has all the good divinations and some utility spells, druid has a lot of animal/nature rituals, and wizards get most of the divinations plus a lot of utility rituals. Depending on campaign, Water Breathing alone might be worth a feat.
 
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Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Ok, I'm coming in hot with the dark horse option.

What if, instead of being a "mere" barbarian, you were some kind of alchemist type, say an apothecary, and you had found a formula that transformed you into a raging monster?

If the notion of being an int-based support caster outside of combat, and a high mobility monster during combat, look up the apothecary class, mutagenist subclass, from the 2nd Drakkenheim book.

(some mechanical details: they get spells on short rests, a bit like a warlock, and "arcane theories", a bit like a warlock's invocations. The playstyle is heavily impacted by the subclass - a chemist is a blaster, for example. As a mutagenist, you want to keep your slots to power your monstrous transformation, which gives you improved damage, mobility, AC and temp HP (a lot). Your cantrips are not as strong as a warlock but you get a bit more spell slots. At level 6 you get 3/short rest, and then you can start using extra slot to upcast aid on the party.. )

This might not quite fit for you (and perhaps your GM/yourself dislike 3rd party classes), but more in general, my message to you is don't hesitate to make your barbarian "not a barbarian". I once played a character who was a wandering mystic (hermit background) who dropped into a trance in combat...
 

I have a concept for a Barbarian (a class I have never played), but I’ve heard that Barbs can get boring in mid- to high levels, so my questions are basically:

  • When does the Barbarian tend to run out of steam, level-wise? And,
  • What other class(es) could I multiclass into which complement the Barb well?

I'm in a very similar spot to you right now. The campaign with my Warlock is wrapping up. Session 0 for the new campaign is next week, and I'm looking at a Wild Magic barbarian.

I've been doing some build work, and I think the Wild Mage Barbarian could go all the way if needed. Between the high hit points and 5e's bounded accuracy, it would be OK at high levels. But it does start to "run out of steam" as you say, somewhere between levels 7 and 10. Around that point, it just doesn't have much new or interesting to bring to new levels. Also, I have concerns that the wild magic stuff will be fun, but won't scale as well at higher levels (above 13 or so).

We'll be starting somewhere around level 3, so I have some time to work out the future. Right now, my main plan is to multi-class into Fighter to pick up some new combat stuff at high levels. I am also thinking that Paladin could be on the table. I like the idea of multi-classing into something with spells to stick with the magic idea. But I don't want to do anything that will sacrifice HP (it looks like "damage sponge" will be a big slice of my party role).

The last thing I have to offer is a schtick that I plan to use. I think I first saw a variant of it on ENWorld, but don't know who to credit it to:

Take the "Chef" feat from Tasha's. It helps a lot with HP, and you'll need that as a tank without a lot of ways to heal yourself.

As a chef, your favored weapon in your frying pan.

As a pseudo-magician, your frying pan is also your favorite spell: Cast Iron

Rage. Cast: Iron. Rinse. Repeat. (no soap)
 

Clint_L

Hero
What if your barbarian is basically Dr. Jekyll, and they quaff a potion when the going gets tough, turning into a murderous rage monster, only to forget or even be horrified by what they've done after it wears off. Have them like a nerdy alchemist most of the time.

Edit: I think I'm using this concept for my next barbarian! If you were my DM, would you let me swap my intelligence and strength scores depending on whether I am in combat or not? If it came with drawbacks, as described above?

I guess I'm basically just ripping off the Hulk, aren't I? But Stan Lee admitted that he was just rippling off Dr. Jekyll.
 
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