D&D 5E Graceful Destruction: A Guide to Dex Based Barbarism


Graceful Destruction​

  1. Intoductions
  2. Stats and Races
  3. Class Features
  4. Path Features
  5. Skills, Backgrounds and Feats
  6. Weapons and Armour
  7. Multiclassing
  8. Sample Builds

[h=5]Introductions:[/h]In 5e, Barbarians have quite the Str/Dex split in their features. Most people will want to go strength based, and for them Jell_Moo has a nice guide to strength based Barbarians. For the rest of you, welcome to Graceful Destruction, a guide for dex based barbarians.

Please note that outside of their own section, I will be assuming no magic items. So if you pick up a magic item in a campaign, consider carefully how it might alter the advice given here.

[h=5]Barbarians:[/h]Barbarians have a tonne of split potential, and quite the variaty of selections. Whilst not a versatile as a Fighter, there are at least four different ways to play a Barbarian. With careful selection of Totems, you can create nigh-unkillable warriors, or nible supporters (who still kick ass). With the Path of the Berserker your options are more limited, but it has it's gems. Not to mention, you're a Barbarian, so you're one tough SoB on top of all that.

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[h=4]Why Go Dex?:[/h]I had a lovely paragraph here before Chrome ate it, but sorry, Chrome ate it.
  • Initiative, Dex Saving Throws, AC, Accuracy and Damage all key off the same stat.
  • Allows the highest player AC in the game.
  • Allows the highest player Initiative in the game, excluding feats.
  • Great Dexterity Saving Throws, even better when combined with certain class features.
  • 13 Str required to multiclass.
  • Can't benefit from Rage bonus damage.
  • Reckless Attack is useless to you.
From here on out the standard color scheme is in effect.

Gold = Must have.
Sky Blue = Top of the line.
Blue = Very strong choice.
Black = Solid choice. Better options exist, but so do worse. You're not hurting yourself taking these.
Purple = Not top tier. It may have niche use, but better options exist.
Red = IT'S A TRAP. Something exists that completely outclasses this.

Strength: You need 13 if you want to multiclass, and some of your class features rely on it.
Dexterity: Your main stat. See above.
Constitution: Adds to your hit points, and if you're unarmored your AC.
Intelligence: Classic Barbarian dump stat. It hurts your Int saves, but that’s about the only impact you feel.
Wisdom: 3 of your class skills are tied to it, and one of those is Perception. A “nice to have” stat.
Charisma: Intimidation is based off of it, but not much else *unless* you go Path of the Berserker.

[h=5]Races:[/h](Variant) Human: While baseline human is average (you get a bonus to Str, Dex AND Con), Variant Human is where it's at. See the feat section for what to pick up.

Half-Elf: You get a bonus to Charisma which may be wasted, but you get two +1s (hint: Dex and Con), Darkvision and some nice bonus skills. Oh and Fey Ancestry, because screw you control magicks.

Genasi: +2 Constitution, wonderful. No darkvision though.
Air: +1 Dexterity too! Unending Breath is very situational, but very good in said situations. Mingle with the Wind is less situational, but only once per day.
Fire: Oh hey, Darkvision. And Fire Resistance. And a once per day Constitution based AoE. Blue only because Fire damage can be quite prevelant.
Earth: The Strength bonus is nothing special, but Earth Walk should come up a lot and being able to cast Pass Witout Trace can be useful at times.
Water: Wisdom isn't bad, Acid resistance isn't bad. A swim speed is golden, when it's needed.

Halflings: Oh my yes. +2 to a main stat is nice. Speed, not so much. But Lucky, Brave and Halfling Nimbleness are all great features that support your character in various ways.
Lightfoot: Charisma is probably not your thing. And you lack the features to really take advantage of Naturally Stealthy.
Stout:All the advantages of base Halflings, plus it feeds your other main stat. Oh and there's Stout Resistance for when it's needed.

Aarakocra: +2 dexterity, yummy. At-Will flight? Drool worthy. 1d4 unarmed strikes with proficiency? Meh. DM permission required? Eurgh.

Elves: Elves make great Barbarians. There, I said it. +2 to your main stat guarantees a rating of at least blue. Darkvision is standard, Proficiency in Perception is nice, and Fey Ancestry is amazing.
Wood Elf: Wisdom isn't wasted, extra speed is good, and while you don't have the class to really take advantage of Mask of the Wild, it's still nice to have.
Eladrin: Intelligence is probably wasted, but once per rest teleporting can be very useful.
High Elf: Move along, nothing to see here.
Dark Elf: Charisma and Barbarians go together like a house on fire: it burns to the ground. Superior Darkvision is nice. Sunlight Sensitivity is downright rubbish to ignorable, DM dependent. Being able to cast Faerie Fire would help redeem the subrace, but it's once per day.

Dwarves: As a whole Dwarves have a lot of waste as Barbarians. Stonecutting is wasted on a dump stat, their speed is low and the saving grace is useless because Barbarians don't do heavy armour. Darkvision and +2 Con though, is what makes this race blue.
Hill Dwarf: Wisdom isn't exactly wasted, but Dwarven Toughness is where the money's at. Extra HP is very tasty for frontline builds.
Mountain Dwarf: Simply great! For Strength based Barbarians. Strength's not our main stat though and Dwarven Armor Training is redundant.

Goliath: You're better off as a Strength based Barbarian, but Stone's Endurance is good regardless.

Gnomes: Oh boy, +2 Intelligence, just what a Barbarian needs. Gnome Cunning is why you would want to play a Gnome, for those campaigns involving control magicks. They've Darkvision which is a plus.
Forest Gnome: +1 Dexterity and some nice fluff. Not much else to it.
Deep Gnome: As above, except Stone Camoflage is situationally useful.
Rock Gnome: +1 Constitution and some nice fluff. Hooray for clockwork mechanisms.

Dragonborn: Only the Breath Weapon saves this from being on the red pile. The stats not matching is a real killer. The lack of darkvision is annoying, and the resistance is situational. A Con-based AoE could be interesting but be warned: It's once per rest.

Half-Orcs: No.

Aasimar: Slightly more useful than Tieflings, but not enough to drag them out of the red zone.

Tieflings: Hah. Suddenly much better if your DM allows the SCAG variants.
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[h=4]Class Features:[/h]I'm not going to use gold for this section, simply because you're getting these features, there isn't a choice.

Rage: You can't cast spells while raging, not that it will come up often. Other than that, Rage is a mixed bag:

  • "You have advantage on Strength Checks and Strength Saving Throws." -- If you've the Strength to use it, it could be useful. Saving throws for Strength rarely come up though, and are you going to waste a rage to, say, open a stuck door? Purple.
  • "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." -- Yeah no, we don't do that. Red.
  • "You have resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage." -- Oh boy yes. We already have good health and nice AC, why not throw in some damage resistance on top of that? Sky Blue.

Unarmored Defense: YES. When you're not wearing armor (shields don't count), your AC is 10+Dex+Con. Simply wonderful. Assuming a shield and 16s in both stats, that's a level 1 AC of 18. 18!

Reckless Attack: Something something, when atacking with Strength, something. No.

Danger Sense: Remember when I promised you awesome Dexterity Saving Throw? Here they are. You have advantage on Dexterity saving throws against effects that you can see, such as traps and spells. I repeat: Advantage on saving throws against effects you can see. Not to be underestimated.

Extra Attack: Yes, nearly every weapon swinger gets it. No, that doesn't make it less great.

Fast Movement: Gets you in position a little quicker. Not to shabby.

Feral Instincts: I promised highest Initiative and I deliver. Advantage on Initiative rolls. Yup. Oh and Surprise only means you have to rage first now, rather than missing a turn. So sad.

Brutal Critical: Even if you build towards criticals, they still don't turn up much. That said when it does trigger, hey, extra damage. Melee only so sorry any (cross)bow users.

Relentless Rage: Constitution checks to not die, what's not to like? Apart from the "only while raging" part.

Persistant Rage: That rage aint ending for nothing now, short of falling unconscious or the timer running out.

Indomitable Might: Not nearly as useful as for those who focus on Strength, but still good if you've some points in it.

Primal Champion: The Strength increase is nice to have, and helps with the above feature, but the real gold's at the +4 Con. That's more health and more AC. Neat.


[h=4]Path Features:[/h]

Currently the Barbarian has two paths to choose from: Path of the Berserker, and Path of the Totem Warrior. The Path of the Berserker is straight-foward, but the features it contains are, for the most part, bad. It does, however, have a few redeeming gems. Meanwhile the Path of the Totem Warrior has a lot of choices you can make, resulting in a lot of different builds.

[h=5]Path of the Berserker:[/h]It's Risk vs. Reward, no doubt about that. But it's also a waiting game. The best feature is the capstone, at level 14. If you can wait that long, the path's very rewarding.

Frenzy: Exhaustion is bad, very bad. That said, a level of Exhaustion is removed every time you Long Rest. So, provided you've nothing else to do with your bonus actions, feel free to Frenzy the once every day, preferably close to the end of the day so the disadvantage on ability checks doesn't hurt so much. Also it's useless if you've a reliable source of bonus action attacks.

Mindless Rage: Not getting controlled is good m'kay? It's a solid ability, even if it's only situationally useful.

Intimidating Presence: Clearly they were thinking more flavour than mechanics when they wrote this ability. It's a nice, thematic ability... that relies on a stat that's tertiary at best.

Retaliation: This. Just, this. Any time you take damage from an adjacent enemy, you can spend your Reaction (provided you haven't already) to make an attack against them. Don't even need to be raging at the time. Simply wonderful.

[h=5]Path of the Totem Warrior:[/h]The Path of the Totem Warrior is all about choice. There are so many options here that five people could all be Totem Warrior Barbarians and they'd still have characters that play differently. Unlike the Berserker, none of the choices are straight up amazing, but (with the exception of fluff features) none of them are bad. Note that the choices are independent at each level: Just because you chose Eagle for Totem Spirit doesn't mean you have to chose it for Aspect of the Beast or Totemic Attunement.

Spirit Seeker: It's fluff, simple as. Speak with Animals as ritual takes a long time, making it quite situational. It can be thematic to your character though, and sometimes it might be useful.

Totem Spirit: And here, we. Go:
Bear: For those of you who want to tank, and don't feel resistance to just Bludgeoning, Piercing and Slashing damage while raging is enough, why not having resistance to all damage bar psychic, magical or otherwise?
Wolf: Tag team go! The Wolf Totem gives allies advantage on melee attacks against hostile targets adjacent to you.
Eagle: Meet Mr. Nimble. For the bow users among you this or Bear is probably your choice. Dashing as a bonus action gets you into position better, and opponents have disadvantage on attack rolls vs you should you need to disengage. For those of you who don't use ranged attacks, it can still be useful if you want to push through the front lines to get at an opponent's squishies.

Aspect of the Beast:
Eagle: Be the scout you always wanted to be! Probably the best option here as it removes disadvantage due to Dim Light. Good news for all of you without Darkvision. Better news for those who's Darkvision lets you treat Darkness as Dim Light.
Bear: Be the pack mule you always wanted to be!
Wolf: I can't comment on this one. If you're DM uses the mechanics mentioned it can be a great choice, but casual players probably wont even know said mechanics exist.

Spirit Walker: Commune with nature as a ritual, see Spirit Seeker above.

Totemic Attunement:
Bear: A real incentive for enemies nearby to attack you. Perfect for those trying to be the party defender.
Eagle: See Eagle Totem Spirit, only with flying. Not that that's a bad thing.
Wolf: Melee only, so blue. But if you are a melee character... Bonus action, knock prone. No saves, no checks. Only restriction is large or smaller and you have to hit it. Prone does a number on flying enemies, and offers advantage to any attack within five feet.


[h=4]Backgrounds and Skills:[/h]Everything you could want to know wrapped up in one easy guide.

[h=4]Feats:[/h]Alert - Always a solid choice, but slightly diminished for a Barbarian who is less impacted by a Surprise round to begin with. Increases Initiative for those of you who really want to maximize it.

Athlete - Somewhat situational. The effects are great in an action/adventure style romp, but less impressive in a pure hack and slash.

Actor - Flavourful, but mechanical a poor choice.

Charger - Barbarians make the most out of individual Actions. This is a great way to gain extra oomph from them. Since you should be going first in combat very often, this is a way of getting to the enemy quickly and either doing damage, or arranging the battlefield.

Crossbow Expert - Hell yeah, gun crossbow totting hawkeye here! If you take this, don't go Path of the Berserker, since all it's abilities either are melee only or are outclassed by the feat's bonus action attack.

Defensive Duelist - Can I get a "hell yeah"? Let's add even more to our already high AC. A solid use of your reaction.

Dual Wielder - +1 AC means you're only losing 1 AC from not having a shield now. Better if you've a way of picking up Two-Weapon Fighting.

Dungeon Delver - Situational and you have class abilities that replicate some of the features. Flavourful, but maybe not the optimum choice.

Durable - +1 Con if you've an odd number in that stat, which is nice. There's some confusion on the second point as to whether it refers to the roll total, or what you literally roll on the dice. Black if the former, Blue if the latter.

Elemental Adept - Yeah. No.

Grappler - Worst feat forever. Either doesn't work, or is outclassed by other options. Only way you could get a worse feat is one that actively hurt you

Great Weapon Master - Yeah you can't really use Great Weapons. The cleave can be nice, but it's too situational to be black.

Healer - It works, but it's probably better left to a Rogue with their Fast Hands.

Heavily Armored - Hah, no. Think of all the Barbarian features you would lose.

Heavy Armor Master - See above.

Inspiring Leader - The Charisma investment is a little prohibitive for the typical Barbarian.

Keen Mind - No particular benefit for the typical Barbarian.

Lightly Armored - You already have proficiency.

Linguist - There are better ways for you to learn languages. Outside of character specific reasons, this falls outside of the typical Barbarian’s zone. Ciphers might be useful to your campaign though.

Lucky - This is a really nice feat if you want to improve on your tankiness. The extra rolls can really help in a pinch, and regaining them a long rest lets you tie them into your Rages pretty well.

Mage Slayer - While slightly specific, this feat works well with a Barbarian, especially one that focuses on mobility. Considering how a well played caster can wreak havoc, this ability can be a life saver.

Magic Initiate - You aren’t outfit well for casting. You can’t cast whilst in a Rage, and by and large outside of utility or character reasonings, you won’t get that much from this.

Martial Adept - Having only one Superiority Die hurts this ability a lot. There are better options available.

Medium Armor Mastery - If you aim for the Medium armour route you may see some benefit, but your stats probably line up better for the unarmored route, in which case avoid. Black because certain enchantments can only be found on armour.

Mobile - If you're one to nip past the frontlines and smash the squishies, you'll probably want this. Otherwise, it's nice, but not great.

Moderately Armored - Nope.

Mounted Combatant - Do you want to play your Barbarian as a mounted warrior? If yes, take this feat. If not, skip.

Observant - Perception is so important to a group that this feat warrants a look at if your group needs a spotter. Still, others may have a more natural affinity for the role, so this will depend on what you want your character to focus on. Ties in nicely with the Eagle's ability to see really long distances.

Polearm Master - None of these can be dex-based. Better if you take a level in Monk. Be warned though- doing so still doesn't make it a finesse weapon.

Resilient - If you want to shore up your defences a bit, this is not a bad choice, but it is a sharp cost for very specific survivability. If your DM likes to toss out things like Hold Person at you on a regular basis, this becomes great. If not, it loses some oomph. Can be good for rounding out an odd Dexterity score.

Ritual Caster - You probably won’t have the Int, but you may have the Wis to gain access to this. Honestly, this falls to a character specific choice. Does it fit your concept? Then go ahead. Otherwise, you should probably avoid.

Savage Attacker: Very, very good. This can turn a terrible attack into a great one. Whilst you can only use it once per turn, the more attacks you make, the more likely you will see this shining.

Sentinel - This feat is amazeballs. It increases your stickiness and punishes those that try and get cute by moving around you. Combined with the Bear Totemic Attunement, you have some great attention grabbing ability.

Sharpshooter - You are unlikely to have something to compensate for the drop in accuracy. if you do, be it by multiclassing or party support, it's better.

Shield Master - A great way to increase survivability. Taking zero damage from Dex related saves is great, and since you have advantage on those saves to begin with, that’s a ton of damage you can simply avoid. If you use a shield, this feat is a great pick.

Skilled - Honestly, unless you have a specific concept in mind, pass on this. There are better ways to gain access to skills.

Skulker - Atypical for the run of the mill Barbarian, but if you plan on going with a stealthy one (and it’s totally viable) this fat is very nice to have.

Spell Sniper - Nope.

Tavern Brawler - Not for you, since all the features need a good Strength score.

Tough - Increasing your Con by 2 instead gives you 1 extra hit point per level, a better Con save and potentially an increase in AC. There are better feats. That said, +2 HP per level is still 2 more than you'd otherwise get.

War Caster - You are not a caster.

Weapon Master - You are already proficient with every weapon in the game.
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[h=4]M- M- M- Multiclass![/h]Multiclassing requires 13 Strength. Yeah. Combined with the need for high Dexterity and Constitution, you're not going to have much leeway in what classes you can take. That said, I'll list them all still for those who rolled good stats.

Fighter - At level 1 of Fighter you can pick up a Fighting Style. Simply wonderful. Archery for those who like Ranged weapons, Two-Weapon Fighting for those who like dual-wielding, and Dueling for those who go shield 'n' sword. Level 2 gets you Action Surge. Level 3 opens up Battle Master and all its wonders.

Rogue - Extra skill, Cunning Action, Evasion, Sneak Attack. I could go on listing goodies for ages. Oh also consider Assassination and your advantage on initiative roles.

Paladin - Divine Smite would be interesting, and you can pick up Dueling Fighting Style. Lay on Hands isn't a spell, and thus can be used while raging. The Channel Divinity: Sacred Flame, and Oathbreaker's Aura of Hate should appeal to those with the stats for it. Auras and Vow of Emnity works for everyone. Relentless Avenger might also be interesting.

Ranger - Extra skill, Archery or Two-Weapon Fighting, and the Hunter has some nice F3s. A nice three level dip if you can afford it.

Monk - You're here for Martial Arts and potentially Flurry of Blows. They're good features, but be warned: Martial Arts doesn't work with a shield.

Druid - Wild Shape is certainly an interesting combination. The problem is it drops off rapidly unless you keep investing levels in Druid.

Cleric - You're here for some of the class features that aren't spells but sure are spell-like. Other than that, not much here.

Wizard - Three level dips can be interesting, especially for the Divination Portent. Nothing else going for it though.

Bard - Spellcasters in general aren't your friend. Spells can't be cast while raging after all, and raging ends concentration. Even if you want to be a skill monkey, Rogue is a better option.

Sorcerer - As much as I like Sorcerer, it's definitively a spellcaster, and you're the anti-spellcaster.

Warlock - See above, only with slightly more synergy in terms of non-spell effects. Not enough to redeem it though.


Small Ball Archmage
So this is a really cool design, how does the damage hold up though? since you're dumping out the Barbs built in damage features and rages for this?


I've had similar idea as well of a dexterity based high ac barbarian. The strength (or dexterity in this case) of the build is the possibly highest ac that you can permanently obtain, and its enabled practically in any situation possible.
@The-Magic-Sword I would think the damage per hit would be on par with anyone else using a similar weapon, ie paladin, ranger or fighter. This is assuming they dont use their abilities on the attacks (paladin smite, ranger special stuff or fighter weapon styles)


Small Ball Archmage
I've had similar idea as well of a dexterity based high ac barbarian. The strength (or dexterity in this case) of the build is the possibly highest ac that you can permanently obtain, and its enabled practically in any situation possible.
@The-Magic-Sword I would think the damage per hit would be on par with anyone else using a similar weapon, ie paladin, ranger or fighter. This is assuming they dont use their abilities on the attacks (paladin smite, ranger special stuff or fighter weapon styles)

true but i was wondering if there's anything im missing that helps it keep up with them in terms of damage overall- i guess dueling or whatever for the additional +2 could be good, or sneak attack from the rogue, but i'm concerned losing out on damage would result in a much less viable character.


First Post
true but i was wondering if there's anything im missing that helps it keep up with them in terms of damage overall- i guess dueling or whatever for the additional +2 could be good, or sneak attack from the rogue, but i'm concerned losing out on damage would result in a much less viable character.

It's not just about how much damage you're doing on each hit, though. You also get all the other benefits that come with maxing out your Dexterity, like better Dex saves to avoid those AoE blasts from enemies, better placement in the initiative order, etc. Plus it'll be easier to max your Unarmored Defense since you don't have to worry about a separate attack stat. So the Dex-Barbarian may not hit as hard, but might have more survivability.

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