D&D 5E Dex barbarian

I have a player who wants to play an elf barbarian (or at least a primal instinctual woodland warrior - PC is a kagonesti in a dragonlance game) but more a fast and graceful fighter rather than a high-Str beefcake. So, Dex.

Barbarian is obviously built on the assumption of high Str, and there’s a number of problems with being Dex-based. One thing I’ve looked at is the Path of the Whirlwind (https://www.dmsguild.com/m/product/415363) but I have concerns about the PCs viability before the subclass kicks in, and perhaps over-tankiness after level 6.

Another thing I’ve been considering is houseruling that rage damage and Reckless Attack can apply on Dex based attacks but only with light weapons, which cannot be modified with stuff like Dual Wielder and is not compatible with multiclassing shenanigans. But would this remove the MAD which is one of the key balancing factors for the barbarian, and make it too powerful?

Anyone had any experience with Dex based barbarians, or other ideas about how to turn this concept into a character mechanically?
 

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Clint_L

Hero
Balance will be a potential issue - if a barbarian can substitute dex for strength seamlessly (e.g. getting the rage bonus for dex attacks, using 2 hand weapons, etc.), then they should 100% go dex because they will have a much higher AC, better skills, etc.
 

aco175

Legend
I wonder why barbarian and not ranger or a flavored rogue. They can still be a 'barbarian' to the world, but flavor-wise they follow another class.

A dex barbarian might not be that bad. I might keep the bonus to Str checks and saves and not change that to Dex when raging. The +2 damage that becomes +3 after 9th level is not a big deal tied to Dex. The big damage weapon dealing 1d12 is out and replaced with what- rapier. It does not fit to me, but everyone wants to d8 damage. You could allow hand axe to be a finesse weapon and duel-wield?

The only other thing to consider as a plus is that the primary stat is Dex and not Str, followed by Con. This will boost the AC and HP at no trade off where Str was the trade off.
 

Balance will be a potential issue - if a barbarian can substitute dex for strength seamlessly (e.g. getting the rage bonus for dex attacks, using 2 hand weapons, etc.), then they should 100% go dex because they will have a much higher AC, better skills, etc.
That was my concern. But pretty much all finesse fighters/rangers etc already do that anyway.

It’s not exactly seamless because barbarians don’t get a fighting style, so he’d only be doing base weapon damage with a off-hand weapon unless he spent a feat to get the Two Weapon Fighting style. And many barbarian subclasses have other demands on their bonus action anyway.

If he did max out Dex he would however get good skills, good initiative, good ranged attacks, and a good Dex save to go with his other good physical saves.

I was thinking of ruling that Dex-based rage damage and reckless attack could only work with light weapons, which would rule out rapiers and limit him to 1d6 weapons, which would balance things a bit.

Fortunately the player is a bit of a 5e newbie (a 2e vet getting back into it) so I don’t think he’s trying to pull a character optimisation fast one on me. I’m mostly just trying to help make his character concept work. Multiclassing would open some big cans of worms though - monk in particular - so I’d have to rule that out right away.
 

Tales and Chronicles

Jewel of the North, formerly know as vincegetorix
He could be a barbarian with good strength without being a hulking beef-cake, no?

I mean, when playing a halfling paladin, just because you have a high STR score does not mean its a walking ball of muscle. Same with an elven barbarian: strong and lite like a great cat, not apish or brutish like a bull.

Favor things like Eagle, Tiger or Elk Totem Warrior, or maybe a Sea/Wind Stormborn barbarian. Refluff and use more graceful weapons, like polearms or slender two-handed scimitars.

You could even just push Dex and Str and wear armor, simply forgetting the feature that kinda forces you to have 3 main stats to boost!
 

ECMO3

Hero
I have a player who wants to play an elf barbarian (or at least a primal instinctual woodland warrior - PC is a kagonesti in a dragonlance game) but more a fast and graceful fighter rather than a high-Str beefcake. So, Dex.

Barbarian is obviously built on the assumption of high Str, and there’s a number of problems with being Dex-based. One thing I’ve looked at is the Path of the Whirlwind (https://www.dmsguild.com/m/product/415363) but I have concerns about the PCs viability before the subclass kicks in, and perhaps over-tankiness after level 6.

Another thing I’ve been considering is houseruling that rage damage and Reckless Attack can apply on Dex based attacks but only with light weapons, which cannot be modified with stuff like Dual Wielder and is not compatible with multiclassing shenanigans. But would this remove the MAD which is one of the key balancing factors for the barbarian, and make it too powerful?

Anyone had any experience with Dex based barbarians, or other ideas about how to turn this concept into a character mechanically?

Dex-based Barbarians are perfectly viable and they are probably the best melee high stealth single class build available and one of the best builds if you want to be good at both melee and ranged.

You do give up rage damage and reckless attack does not work well, but on the other hand you can have a very good AC and very high durability and a very high stealth all at the same time.

One way to do this is a sharpshooter/ancestral guardian build. You rage and when you hit people with arrows they have disadvantage attacking someone else, so hang back and range and shoot your bow while others are meleeing.

A second option would be Zealot. The extra damage is 1d6+barbarian level and it works on both ranged and melee. If I did this I would not take sharpshooter because if you are getting extra damage already the sharpshooter +10 is not as valuable. This character can be an either-or guy using ranged or going in close and using Two Weapon fighting with short swords and doing good damage either way, while being super durable.

One other thing to note is if you use a decent strength (like 14 or so) you can also go two weapon fighting and make your main attack with dexterity and take your bonus action attack with strength to get rage damage. It would be a lower hit roll but higher damage than you would otherwise get out of two-weapon fighting.

I think this is totally doable and should be fun.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I've seen DEX barbarians, they work without house rules. Yes, you aren't using things that key off STR, but starting with a very sturdy chassis and then focusing it on DEX for more AC and better saves vs. damage make it even tankier than STR barbarians. It's lower in base melee & thrown damage to offset this greater survivability, but better than other barbarians at ranged damage making them a unusual but fun mix. Also with Gauntlets of Ogre Power as only uncommon rarity, they often become STR+DEX barbarians, which are even better than just STR barbarians.
 
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Don't house rule that they ger a bonus to dex based attacks.
Usually I think str and dex are balanced, but in the barbarian case, str is nerfed by not being able to use heavy armor, which is offset by his rage. So giving all those bonuses on dex based attacks would make them perform too well.

The barbarian can easily start with 16 dex, 16 con, 14 str (using tasha's optional stat rules) and still use reckless attacks while raging. Having a better hit chance and extra damage. They can use two short swords and deal fantastic damage with a good chance to hit and have higher natural AC. Even with 20 Dexterity str attacks with reckless strike are good enough to compete:

Lets say level 8, two attacks, dex 20, str 14, two short swords vs AC 16 foes.
Prof bonus +3.

Chance to hit with dex: 65%, damage 2x d6+5, 1x d6

Chance to hit with str and reckless attack: 75%, damage 2x d6+4, 1x d6+2.

Of course, for dex based attacks, rapier + shield is better, but it is easier to use a bow when not bothering with a shield.

Note that this is the worst level to compare. After that str gets better, because rage bonus increases.
 

What does the rest of the party look like? Some things that might be unbalanced can become "okay" if nobody's toes are being stepped on. A lot of balance issues are relative to what the other party members are doing - if they are playing characters in the same space, or might feel overshadowed.
 


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