D&D 5E [Guide] How to Win Fights and Intimidate People (Another Barbarian Primer)


How to Win Fights and Intimidate People
(Another Barbarian Primer)

based on Jell_Moo's Guide
Latest update: 2023-Aug: Path of the Giant.


1: Introduction, Ability Scores, Races, Skills
2: Class Features, Primal Paths
3: Options, Weapons, Feats, Multiclassing

Let's start with some fighting words: Barbarian is often compared to Fighter. Both are usually(*) martial melee combatants based on Str & Con. Both are often expected to hold the front line of battle as a "tank", trading blows with enemies that would love to reach your squishy ranged ally a few steps away.

(*) "usually" = Yes, there are lots of builds, but this is the most common. Barbarians don't put up with smarty-pants whining about counter-examples.

One big difference is that Barbarians are reliable. Whether you talk to spirits or gods, to nature or nobody, when combat starts you charge in there and trade hits until they drop. Fighters, on the other hand, are all over the place. A few fight almost as hard as Barbarians, but many dance around with fancy footwork, others are literally part Wizard, and some even stand in the back with bows. Bah! How can you call that "fighting"?

Here's the colors you see in every guide:
  • Sky Blue = Top dog. Don't overdo this in a low-op game.
  • Blue = A very strong choice.
  • Black = Playable, but usually not optimal.
  • Purple = More limited than other options.
  • Red = If you have to ask, don't take this.

Ability Scores:
Unlike other melee classes, Barbarian isn't designed for a Dex-only option. You need Str, followed by Con, and then also some Dex.

Str: Half of your job is hitting things with Str. You want to max this.
Dex: 3rd choice. Try to get 14 Dex, or more if unarmored.
Con: Taking hits is the other half. Absolutely vital if unarmored.
Int: Conan the Librarian is not in this guide. Dump Int.
Wis: Helps with Perception and most mental saves.
Cha: Only for Intimidation, and Berserker's level 10 feature.


With unrestricted stat boosts now the 5E standard, no race is completely bad (red rating) at any class, but some racial features are still better fits than others.

Special Notes:
+TIP+ = Trade In Proficiencies. Racial background training that's redundant with your class features can be replaced. Weapons = tools & languages, armor = skills.
+PB+ = Powerful Build. If your DM enforces encumbrance, this race will help your party a lot.
-Small Size- = No heavy weapons, but you can do a barbarian/rogue multiclass using Strength to attack with finesse weapons.
-NoDV- = No Darkvision. Can be a problem if your DM enforces vision & uses total darkness a lot.
-Sunlight Sensitivity- = Avoid these races if your DM enforces it & has a lot of overland action.

Core Races:
Dwarf (base): Poison resilience is useful. +TIP+.
Dwarf, Hill: Half toughness can give you the highest HP in the game.
Dwarf, Mountain: extra +1 Con. Super ++TIP++.
Elf (base): Charm resistance is nice, Perception & Trance means you're on guard duty.
Elf, Drow: Combat spells aren't good. +TIP+. -Sunlight Sensitivity-.
Elf, High: Pick an out-of-combat cantrip. +TIP+.
Elf, Wood: Speed & hiding are better for you than spells. +TIP+.
Halfling (base): -Small Size-. Lucky, Brave, & Nimble are useful. -NoDV-
Halfling, Lightfoot: Hiding behind people doesn't help you much.
Halfling, Stout: Poison resilience is useful.
Human (standard): As with every class, really not great. -NoDV-
Human, Variant: See part 3 of this guide for Feat options.
Dragonborn: Element resistance is okay. AoE breath (with Con-based DC) is useful at low level, but it doesn't scale well. -NoDV-
Gnome (base): -Small Size-. However, Gnome Cunning + Barbarian + Danger Sense = boosts on all 6 saving throws.
Gnome, Forest: No synergy.
Gnome, Tinker: No synergy.
Half-Elf (standard): Charm resistance & skills aren't bad.
Half-Orc: Savage Attacks and Relentless Endurance are mid-level barbarian class features, much more useful at 1st level.
Tiefling (standard): Combat spells are mostly useless. Fire resistance is okay.

Splatbook Races (Volo, Mord x2, Fizban):
Aarakocra: Flight is great for unarmored barbarians, but the Multiverse update is slower & has spellcasting. -NoDV-
Aasimar: Energy resistance and healing are good. All 3 subrace options are useful.
Bugbear: Reach & Surprise Attack are great. Multiverse update adds Small space movement; bugbears under the bed!
Centaur: Speed, hoof attack, charge, and a skill makes a solid skirmisher. +PB+ -NoDV-
Changeling: Disguise & skills are okay but don't play to your strengths. -NoDV-
Dwarf, Duergar: Spells don't help, mental resistance does. Multiverse update removes Sunlight Sensitivity.
Elf, Eladrin: Fey Step isn't a spell. Multiverse update adds changeable proficiencies.
Elf, Sea: Multiverse update adds cold resistance & changeable proficiencies.
Elf, Shadar-Kai: Damage resistance & Raven step are great. Multiverse update adds changeable proficiencies.
Fairy: -Small Size-, but flight is good for unarmored builds. -NoDV-
Firbolg: Out of combat spells & nature speech are meh. Hidden Step is useful. -NoDV-
Genasi, Air: Multiverse update adds speed & lightning resistance.
Genasi, Earth: Underwhelming. Multiverse update adds Blade Ward, mostly useless to you.
Genasi, Fire: Fire resistance is okay, combat spells aren't helpful.
Genasi, Water: Acid resistance, swimming, and out-of-combat spells.
Githyanki: Out of combat spells are okay. Multiverse update adds psychic resistance & changeable proficiencies. -NoDV-.
Githzerai: Charm, fear, & psychic resistance is a good fit for Bear Totem. -NoDV-
Gnome, Deep: -Small Size-, but Multiverse update removes Sunlight Sensitivity and makes camouflage ability more useful.
Goblin: -Small Size-, but extra damage & bonus escaping are compensation. Multiverse update adds charm resistance.
Goliath: Stone's Endurance blocks damage that Rage can't, but it doesn't scale at higher level. +PB+ -NoDV-
Harengon: Initiative boost, Dex rerolls, and bonus jumping are all useful. -NoDV-
Hobgoblin: Multiverse update replaces proficiencies with charm resistance and bonus Help.
Kenku: Multiverse update gives unrestricted extra skills and some free advantage. -NoDV-
Kobold: -Small Size-. Multiverse update gives some usable options and removes Sunlight Sensitivity.
Lizardfolk: Hungry Jaws, two bonus skills, and other features are a solid package. Sadly, Natural Armor doesn't stack for you. -NoDV-
Minotaur: Horns with two different bonus action attacks. Ideal for subclass that doesn't use bonus actions (e.g. Ancestral Guardian). -NoDV-
Orc: Multiverse update is a decent upgrade, adding occasional THP.
Satyr: Jumping and spell resistance are useful, plus some Cha skills. -NoDV-
Shifter (base): Multiverse update weakens the THP (Prof bonus instead of level).
Shifter, Beasthide: AC bonus that stacks is good.
Shifter, Longtooth: Bonus action bite improves your DPR.
Shifter, Swiftstride: speed and reaction movement is useful.
Shifter, Wildhunt: Super synergy with Reckless Attack!
Tabaxi: Skills, climbing, claws, and speed boost all have value.
Tiefling, Infernal: Most of the spell options aren't useful.
Tortle: Built-in armor and some outdoorsy features are decent. -NoDV-
Triton: Cold resistance is okay, but the spellcasting isn't great. -NoDV-
Yuan-Ti: Magic and poison resistance are solid. The spells are just extras.

Worldbook & Adventure Races (Sword Coast, Eberron, Ravnica, etc)
Grung: -Small Size- and water dependency are drawbacks. Poison immunity is nice. Poison Skin starts out okay but doesn't scale. -NoDV-
Half-Elf, Variant: none of the options are as useful as two skills. Stick with standard.
Halfling, Ghostwise: very situational. -NoDV-
Kalashtar: Wis advantage & psychic resistance exactly cover the weakness gaps of Bear Totem.
Leonin: Fear and a skill are okay, but the claws are weak.
Loxodon: Fear resistance and keen smell. Natural AC doesn't help you. The trunk can grapple. +PB+ -NoDV-
Shifter, Wildhunt (WGE): Mark the Scent isn't blindsight, but it's still decent.
Simic Hybrid: The movement mode is decent, and the 5th level body part is great (Carapace AC bonus works for you).
Tiefling, Winged: Unlimited flying is great.
Vedalken: Advantage on mental saves is good, the other features are minor extras. -NoDV-
Warforged (ERLW): Construct benefits, AC bonus, and other useful features. -NoDV-
Warforged (WGE): Construct benefits and other useful features, but mainly you start at AC 17 and go up from there. -NoDV-

Class Skills:
Like most classes, Barbarian doesn't come with the tools to be a skill monkey (but variant features can change that). You're most effective when your handful of skills fill gaps in what other party members can do.

Animal Handling: Dependent on party composition and DM preference.
Athletics: Your strong suit, used for shove & grapple attacks. Bring a rope when you jump/climb/swim so your party can follow.
Intimidation: Cha isn't your forte. Better if your DM uses Variant: Skills with Different Abilities.
Nature: Int is your dump stat.
Perception: Important enough for multiple characters to have.
Survival: Dependent on party composition and DM preference.

Non-Class Skills:

Acrobatics: Less important than Athletics.
Arcana: Int skill that someone else should cover.
Deception: Others in your group are probably better at this.
History: Another Int skill that someone else should cover.
Insight: Can be helpful in social situations.
Investigation: You aren't Sherlock Holmes, but this helps against illusions.
Medicine: Int skill, and partly covered by 5gp of equipment.
Performance: Mostly just for roleplay purposes.
Persuasion: Others in your group are probably better at this.
Religion: Another Int skill that someone else should cover.
Sleight of Hand: Maybe take this if no one else does.
Stealth: A party can never have too much stealth. Less useful if you wear bulky armor.


Always remember that Customizing A Background is a full-fledged non-variant core rule (PHB page 125, A.L. legal). You should be able to find choices that fit your build, your fluff, and your party at the same time. But if not, talk to your DM and work it out (this is also a core rule, PHB page 126).
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Barbarian Guide, Part 2
The barbarian's level 1-5 features are great, and 6-8 can be decent, but levels 9-18 are too little, too late, or both. The level 20 capstone is powerful, but it isn't worth staying single class to get there. Players going to upper levels in the official rules should use the mutli-class options in part 3.

Class Features:

Hit Dice: What is best in life? D12 is literally the best life in the game.
Armor & Weapon Proficiencies: Everything except heavy armor (which you don't want anyways).
Other Proficiencies: You get two skills, like most classes.

Rage: The defining Barbarian feature that other melee classes can't match. The damage bonus is okay, but the real benefit is resistance to physical damage types (including non-weapon damage). Laugh while trading hits with bad guys. Last, advantage on Strength checks & saves can be helpful, particularly with shoving or grappling. However, Rage has drawbacks:
  1. It only lasts 1 minute, and you only regain uses of Rage after a long rest. Don't waste a rage at the wrong time, especially at low level.
  2. Until level 15, Rage ends if you spend a single turn without attacking or taking damage, so pay attention to battlefield position. Have a throwable weapon handy for times when the next foe is more than a move away; hit or miss, it'll keep the adrenaline flowing.
  3. Damage bonus is only for Str-based melee attacks, not Dex-based or ranged attacks.
  4. No heavy armor.
  5. No spellcasting, or concentration on spells already cast.
Unarmored Defense: Wear your Con modifier instead of armor. Assuming your Dex is 14+, compare (Con mod)+(Dex mod) to (best medium armor available to you)+2, and use whichever one is better. It's not a lifelong decision; you can switch whenever circumstances change. With armor, you'll want to reach 20 Str/14 Dex/14 Con, which any Str-bonus race can do by level 8. Your AC is only 16 in Breastplate or 17 in Half Plate (plus magic items).

Unarmored Defense can beat that AC, but it's stat intensive in Con and Dex. Maximally optimized stats in point buy are triple 16 Str/Dex/Con (with triple 8 Int/Wis/Cha). A single-class Barbarian can't reach triple 20 with Ability Score Increases. Maybe if you roll stats and get lucky. That said, you don't actually need to max it out. Reaching a combined Con+Dex of +7 makes your skin equal to Half Plate, and anything higher is a bonus.

Reckless Attack: Have advantage, give advantage. One on one, damage resistance gives you the edge in this trade, but if you're surrounded, giving advantage to multiple enemies could be dangerous. In any case, it gives enemies incentive to focus on you rather than your teammates.

Danger Sense: Lots of traps & spells are Dex saves, so this is a solid feature. BTW, advantage is much better than proficiency in the lower levels, but becomes less effective as the DC increases.

Ability Score Improvement: Given how stat intensive the Barbarian is, you won't have much room for feats, especially if you go unarmored. Fighter gets more of these than you.

Extra Attack: The other big thing that Fighter gets more of.

Fast Movement: Extra speed is a good freebie. Some Primal Path options can make you even faster.

Feral Instinct: Higher initiative is always useful, and acting when surprised is a plus. But it's only half as good as Alert feat, which means it's only half of what a level-up ought to be.

Brutal Critical: Once you have 2 dice of Brutal (including Half Orc Savage Attacks), d12 Greataxe average damage exceeds 2d6 weapons. (Thanks to @smbakeresq and @mellored for pointing this out.) However, this added damage is much too small to be a primary class feature. A brutal critical die might be bigger than a sneak attack die, but the rogue gets a lot more dice, a lot more reliably, and class features every level alongside those dice. (WotC designed this feature poorly, and it needs to be redone.)

Relentless Rage: Very helpful if your DM plays rough and you drop to 0 HP frequently, superfluous if not.

Persistent Rage: Remove the drawback about rage ending early. Very useful, considering how many spells and other effects can take you out of the fight for a turn, but 15th level is much too late. Note: Rage is still 1 minute per use.

Indomitable Might: Eliminating bad rolls on Str checks is really weak for an 18th level ability. You already have advantage on those when Raging.

Primal Champion: In 5E, each level-up is supposed to be worth about as much as an ASI or Feat. This is 4 ASIs at the same time, plus cap increases, plus UNLIMITED RAGE. I must emphasize this: you now have physical damage resistance, Str advantage, and the rage boosts from your Path, ALL THE TIME. Just stay angry the whole day, every minute. One of the best capstones in the game (if you don't count the weak levels it takes to get there).

Barbarian's class features in the early levels fit together and build on each other the way a class should. However, the middle tier features are mediocre, and the primal paths don't scale enough.

Primal Paths (Archetypes):
Barbarian subclasses offer ways to specialize in the usual brute role options: striker, meat-shield, or defender. Some of them also provide out-of-combat utility.​

Path of the Berserker (PHB)
Berserker can be the best there is at melee damage, but the drawback (exhaustion) isn't very nice.​
Frenzy: Rage turned up another notch with a bonus action attack (best for two-handed weapons, useless for two-weapon fighting). The damage output sounds amazing... until rage ends and you get a level of exhaustion. Level 1 is disadvantage on ability checks; further levels get worse, but worst is the difficulty to remove it. If a vampire gnaws you down to 1 HP, either a long rest or Greater Restoration will fix you up, but those only cure a single level of exhaustion. Using Frenzy more than once per day will wreck your effectiveness. (IMO, exhaustion should be easier to cure, but also inflicted more commonly. Or redo it entirely.)
Mindless Rage: Rage-induced immunity to charm & fear. A lot of enchantments with fear/charm effects can take barbarians out of combat for a round & shut off rage, but not you!
Intimidating Presence: Flavorful ability, hamstrung by its Cha-based save DC and action use. (This should probably be upgraded.)
Retaliation: Many characters don't use reactions enough. Hitting back is a really good use, and it doesn't require Rage. Meshes perfectly with Sentinel feat, if you have room for that.

Path of the Totem Warrior (PHB)
Totem warrior has many things to offer. It's much more versatile and reliable than Berserker. Bear, Eagle, & Wolf are in PHB; Elk & Tiger are in SCAG.​
Spirit Seeker: Casting rituals and hanging out with wildlife might be handy once in a while, but it isn't why we're here. Luckily it's just an add-on; your real level 3 feature comes next.
Totem Spirit: Your first animal choice adds a rage effect.
Bear: Straightforward value. Resistance to nearly all damage types effectively doubles your HP vs spells.​
Eagle: Bonus action movement and protection from OAs. Switch-hitting between tank and skirmisher can be useful if your party lacks that role.​
Wolf: Depends entirely on teamwork. Great in a melee-focused party; useless if you're the only front liner.​
Elk: Simple speed increase. I prefer Eagle.
Tiger: Increased jump distance? Very limited compared to the other options.​
Aspect of the Beast: Animal choice #2 gives you a minor always-on boost. IMO none of them are as good as an ASI. Note: you don't have to pick the same animal as before.
Bear: This is only worthwhile if your DM uses harsh encumbrance rules. You can already get Str check advantage with Rage.​
Eagle: Increased sight distance is situational, but the low-light part is valuable if you don't have Darkvision.​
Wolf: Tracking is also situational. Does your party need a substitute Ranger?​
Elk: Double your party's travel pace. Still situational, but refreshingly different.​
Tiger: Two skill proficiencies (from a limited list). Better if your game allows retraining (e.g. Adventurer's League at level 5).​
Spirit Walker: Commune with Nature ought to be a ribbon, but it's all you get at level 10. (This absolutely should be upgraded.)
Totemic Attunement: Your last animal choice is another rage effect.
Bear: In 4E this was called Defender Aura. Excellent option for "sticky" tanking.​
Eagle: Short hop flying has some situational uses, but it's really weak considering how many classes get permanent flight around this level. (IMO, it should be "flying speed while raging".)
Wolf: Bonus action prone after hitting. A little weak for 14th level, and heavily dependent on initiative order.​
Elk: Bonus action trample attempt while moving, with prone & damage. It's fun and full of flavor.​
Tiger: It's Pounce! With a 40' move spee0d, you can do this every turn (at the cost of drawing OAs), your damage output equal to Berserker Frenzy. Works even better with a reach weapon.​

Path of the Ancestral Guardian (XGE)
Dig out your 4E "Marked" tokens; the Defender role is back with a spirit-based flavor (great for RP). It lets you coerce enemy behavior, but the starting feature isn't quite as good as it should be.​
Ancestral Protector: while raging, single target mark that keeps the opponent focused on you. Battlefield control is good, but note that it only works when you hit. (IMO, it should be "first creature you attack in melee" or "each creature you hit".)
Spirit Shield: while raging, reduce damage to an ally as a reaction. The amount is sufficient (2d6 to 4d6). On the bright side, it reduces damage from any source (spells, traps, etc), and most classes don't get to use their reaction this frequently.
Consult the Spirits: Augury or Clairvoyance 1/rest is better than some other Paths at this level, but still mediocre.
Vengeful Ancestors: now your Spirit Shield also deals punishment damage to the attacker, making your reaction more efficient with both carrot and stick.

Path of the Battlerager (SCAG)
Battlerager is a Dwarf archetype beloved since 2E. The 5E version has the right flavor, but it doesn't scale. Okay at low levels, progressively worse at higher levels.​
Battlerager Armor: Spiked scale mail that adds a so-so bonus action attack while raging. Also, 3 automatic damage when you succeed on a grapple. (Why 3?) Ask your DM if magic armor bonus adds to spikes.
Reckless Abandon: It wouldn't be Battlerager without Temporary Hit Points, but Con mod THP when you use Reckless Attack is weak sauce. (Note: in 5E, THP never stack.)
Battlerager Charge: Bonus action Dash while raging. Useful if you aren't in range to spike someone.
Spiked Retribution: Whenever an adjacent enemy hits you while you're raging, you automatically spike them back ... for 3 damage? I guess it could work if you're swarmed by a hundred stirges, but I don't see it mattering against most high level foes.

Path of the Beast (TCE)
Your inner beast becomes your outer beast, and you get to say "were-barian".​
Form of the Beast: When you rage, pick between vampiric bite, swift claws, or long tail. Pretty good.
Bestial Soul: You can switch between amphibious, spider climb, or super jump after any rest. Very useful & versatile. Also, your beast form weapon counts as magical.
Infectious Fury: Make a creature struck by your beast form weapon save vs either extra damage or a forced team-attack.
Call the Hunt: Give your teammates a d6 damage bonus per turn, and get THP in the process. Extra damage with no action cost isn't bad, but I'd like a little more from a level 14 feature.

Path of the Storm Herald (XGE)
This path does one thing: a primal elemental aura based on a chosen environment (Desert, Sea, or Tundra). The good news is that the effects have Con-based save DCs. The bad news is that they aren't very powerful.​
Storm Aura: while raging, 10' aura effect as a bonus action, but not much of it. Flat damage fire aura, single target Dex save lightning, or THP aura for Tundra. Scales slightly, but some other paths do more. IMO, it should have higher damage or bigger aura.
Storm Soul: permanent resistance to your elemental damage type. Also, Sea becomes amphibious, Desert can set fires, Tundra can freeze water.
Shielding Storm: allies in your rage aura gain that resistance too. Okay.
Raging Storm: additional rage aura effects. Desert & Sea each get a minor effect usable as a reaction, Tundra gets a free "save or stop" effect. 14th level should do more than this.

Path of the Zealot (XGE)
Zealot is a wild-eyed religious nutjob. Solid damage output, and I love the flavorful RP. (I'm imagining a medieval "buddy crusader" action comedy with a Zealot & a Paladin. Braveheart & Galahad?).​
Divine Fury: while raging, bonus weapon damage (including ranged if needed). Scales well.
Warrior of the Gods: no gem cost when raising you; a ribbon to encourage an even more recklessness than other barbarians.
Fanatical Focus: Reroll a failed save (like the Fighter feature Indomitable) once per Rage. At 20th level it recharges unlimited times with a bonus action.
Zealous Presence: Coordinate that nova round; the whole party gets advantage for 1 turn per day. Doesn't require rage.
Rage Beyond Death: "You don't die until your rage ends." For 1 minute you're utterly unstoppable by any amount of damage, but you still have to watch out for pesky non-damage effects like charm, banishment, transmutation, etc. Good thing you have Fanatical Focus. Oddly enough, lowly Sleep spell is your nightmare with no saving throw. If your DMs allows consecutive rages to sustain you for multiple minutes, then 20th level Zealot is effectively immortal.

Path of Wild Magic (TCE)
Wild Magic Barbarians are less dangerous than Wild Magic Sorcerers, to both friend and foe, and even less so at higher levels due to lack of scaling.​
Magic Awareness: A magic-detecting ability. It's usable during rage, but why? Regular Detect Magic spell would be better.
Wild Surge: Random effects can spice up the game. Unfortunately, these effects are weak, targeted (no friendly fire), and non-scaling. Most of them become irrelevant in the higher levels.
Bolstering Magic: Either provide a Bless-like effect or refill a d3 spell slot, with limitations.
Unstable Backlash: Reroll your surge as a reaction to being harmed. This would be great, if the options were wilder & scaling.
Controlled Surge: You gain advantage on your surge rolls. See the previous feature.

Path of the Giant (UA)
This is a strong damage-dealing subclass. All 4 levels have rage boosts. None of the other Paths do that; they all have at least one non-rage level, usually non-combat entirely. (If this is the new normal, all the other Paths deserve boosts.)​
Giant Power: a bonus language and a utility cantrip is a very good ribbon.
Giant's Havoc: while raging, you're Large, get 5' reach, and add your rage damage to thrown attacks. Great for Small races in both mechanics & flavor.
Elemental Cleaver: your raging weapon adds 1d6, becomes elemental energy (changeable as a bonus action), and gains throwing & auto-return.
Mighty Impel: move a Medium creature 30' as a bonus action, providing battlefield control with possible 3d6 fall damage (or a lot more if you're near a hazard.)
Demiurgic Colossus: as a path capstone, you get Huge & can impel Large creatures; your attacks get 10' reach & another +1d6.
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Barbarian Guide, Part 3

Optional Class Features (TCE):
Tasha has two suggested add-on features for Barbarian. (In testing they were replacements for Danger Sense & Fast Movement.)​
Primal Knowledge: You get free bonus skills at 3rd & 10th level. Sure.
Instinctive Pounce: You get a free half move when you enter rage. Useful.

Weapons & Weapon Style Feats:
As we've said already, Barbarians use Str-based melee weapons, and your ASIs are in short supply. There are four main options:
  • Great Weapon (Greataxe, Greatsword, or Maul): This is a classic, straightforward path to high damage. Obviously you want Great Weapon Master feat, using the power attack option when you have advantage (which you can get from Reckless Attack). You can also do this with a pole arm if you prefer having reach.
  • Pole Arm (Glaive/Halberd): Barbarians usually don't have enough feats for this, but the combination of Polearm Master and Sentinel is a 10' meat grinder aura. And then Great Weapon Master on top?
  • Sword & Board (d8 one-hander + shield): Increased AC at a small cost to damage, good for tanking. Shield Master feat is decent, but it costs a bonus action and only after attacking.
  • Two Weapon Fighting (various): 2WF is difficult for barbarians because they have many features (entering Rage, numerous Path options) that compete with 2WF for bonus actions, and it can't keep up with great weapon damage once you get Extra Attack.
The main reason not to go with a two-handed weapon is if you multiclass Barbarian/Rogue and need a finesse weapon for Sneak Attack.

Other Feats:
These options are mainly for Variant Human; most other Barbarians don't have feats to spare.
  • Alert: A generally good feat, but Feral Instinct already gives you partial surprise protection.
  • Fighting Initiate (TCE): pick up a fighting style without multiclassing.
  • Lucky: Extra rolls in clutch situations make this a useful feat for any character.

Feats That Might Work If You Have One Odd-Numbered Ability Score That Matters (if you have two odd-numbered important stats, use a regular ASI to increase both of them)
  • Resilient - (Dex or Wis) if that save comes up a lot in your game.
  • Crusher: (TCE, Str or Con) if you use blunt weapons and like forced movement.
  • Dragon Fear (XGE, Str or Con, Dragonborn only) AOE fright that lasts a while isn't completely terrible.
  • Orcish Fury- (XGE, Str or Con, Orcish ancestry only) a little bit of extra damage.
  • Piercer: (TCE, Str or Dex) if you use pointy weapons and like re-rolling damage.
  • Skill Expert: (TCE) Expertise in Athletics might be useful.
  • Slasher: (TCE, Str or Dex) if you use edged weapons and like weak slow effects.
  • Squat Nimbleness- (XGE, Str or Dex, Dwarf or small race) a little bit of speed and a skill.
  • Tavern Brawler- (Str or Con) if you really love improv, maybe. Ask your DM if a grappled enemy can be used as a weapon.
The remaining feats are less valuable to you than Ability Score Increase and will not be discussed here. Only take them if you know what you're doing.

Like many of the non-caster or half-caster classes, Barbarian is front-loaded and has weak features in the middle levels. As such, multi-class barbarians can become more capable than single class. The best options for level 8-18 are Barbarian/Fighter or Barbarian/Rogue. Or maybe triple-class all three?​

Barbarian multiclass level recommendations:
  • 1 for Rage & Unarmored Defense. Start with barbarian at character creation for the 12+Con HP.
  • 2 for Reckless Attack & Danger Sense. Good synergy for many multiclass builds (e.g. Reckless Sneak Attack).
  • 3 for subclass feature. Good stopping point if your other class gets Extra Attack.
  • 5 for Extra Attack & Fast Movement.
  • 8 is the highest level barbarian multiclass should go.
Fighter multiclass level recommendations:
  • 1 for Fighting style & Second Wind.
  • 3 for subclass feature.
  • 11 for Extra Attack 2.
Rogue multiclass level recommendations:
  • 1 for proficiencies, Expertise, & Sneak Attack. You can still use Strength to attack with a finesse weapon.
  • 2 for Cunning Action.
  • 3 for subclass feature & Sneak Attack 2.
  • any amount of Rogue features stack pretty well with Barbarian, but the d8 cuts into your hit points.
Other possibilities:

Ranger: Wis requirement. Ranger is flavorful and has out-of-combat benefits, but Fighter is a more efficient way to get a Fighting Style, and Rogue Scout is a better way to get hunting skills.

Druid: Wis requirement. Less optimized than sticking with single class, but Moon Druid at 2nd level gives you CR1 Wild Shape twice per short rest, which is useful for scouting, worth 37 THP if needed, and lets you say "Bearbearian".

Bard: Cha requirement. Definitely suboptimal, but lets you say "Bardbarian". 3 levels for Lore Bard is a full-fledged skill monkey. Focus on out-of-combat spells, of course.

Cleric: Wis requirement, doesn't offer much for you.
Monk: Wis requirement, you add either Con or Wis to AC, not "and".
Paladin: Cha requirement, not as worthwhile as Fighter or Ranger.
Sorcerer or Warlock: Cha requirement, casting isn't great for you.
Artificer or Wizard: Int requirement & casting, we're done here.

Cecil B Hartley said:
Man was not intended to live like a bear.
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Great work so far but if IIRC Brutal Critical is extra damage die, not dice. So a great axe is an extra d12, but a maul or greatsword is only an extra d6. Make sure to add greataxe under weapon options.

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Great work so far but if IIRC Brutal Critical is extra damage die, not dice. So a great axe is an extra d12, but a maul or greatsword is only an extra d6. Make sure to add greataxe under weapon options.
Yes, it's only 1 die.

Assuming reckless attacking...
To-hit: 1-(.35*.35) = .8775
To-Crit: 1-(.95*.95) = .0975

No Brutal critical and the axe loses by 0.14625.
Brutal critical 1 and the axe leads by 0.14625
Brutal critical 2 and the axe leads by 0.43875.
Brutal critical 3 and the axe leads by 0.73125.

But given that the extra damage is on a crit, and likely to overkill, I would personally stick with the maul until level 13 (9 for half-orcs).

Though, it's less than 1 damage either way. So it's not a big deal. Also, and +1 magic weapon would be a much bigger benefit.


And without reckless attack.

No brutal critical and the axe loses by 0.175
Brutal critical 1 and the axe loses by 0.025
Brutal critical 2 and the axe wins by 0.125
Brutal critical 3 and the axe wins by 0.275

So yea. I'd wait until level 13.


Yes, it's only 1 die.

Assuming reckless attacking...
To-hit: 1-(.35*.35) = .8775
To-Crit: 1-(.95*.95) = .0975

No Brutal critical and the axe loses by 0.14625.
Brutal critical 1 and the axe leads by 0.14625
Brutal critical 2 and the axe leads by 0.43875.
Brutal critical 3 and the axe leads by 0.73125.

But given that the extra damage is on a crit, and likely to overkill, I would personally stick with the maul until level 13 (9 for half-orcs).

Though, it's less than 1 damage either way. So it's not a big deal. Also, and +1 magic weapon would be a much bigger benefit.

Sure, but with that Brutal Crit you can roll that 12 makes you forget all the math. That's more important :cool:


First Post
Solid start.
I think you are really undervaluing the flexibility / impact of a grapple or shove prone splash
You are maxing str and rage gives advantage on the athletics checks. Your athletic checks will almost automatically succeed
This adds to the strengths of the sword and board build with minimal extra investment (1 feat)

I have built a Var Human with Shield Mastery, using Axe and Shield.
Need GM game play interpretation on the Bonus Action Shove Prone from Shield Mastery - Can you do this BEFORE your main attack action, if so you are golden :)

(Not played this character yet, however will be my next game)

For most combats you Shove Prone /Attack with Adv and if you need to be sticky you can release one hand (shield or axe depending on situation) and grapple the biggest threat (only needs one hand RAW)

I would expand on the Athletics skill assement to flag its use for Grappling which opens a whole extra dimension of combat for str melee characters
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Solid start.
I think you are really undervaluing the flexibility / impact of a grapple or shove prone splash
You are maxing str and rage gives advantage on the athletics checks. Your athletic checks will almost automatically succeed
This adds to the strengths of the sword and board build with minimal extra investment (1 feat)

I have built a Var Human with Shield Mastery, using Axe and Shield.
Need GM game play interpretation on the Bonus Action Shove Prone from Shield Mastery - Can you do this BEFORE your main attack action, if so you are golden :)

(Not played this character yet, however will be my next game)

For most combats you Shove Prone /Attack with Adv and if you need to be sticky you can release one hand (shield or axe depending on situation) and grapple the biggest threat (only needs one hand RAW)

I would expand on the Athletics skill assement to flag its use for Grappling which opens a whole extra dimension of combat for str melee characters

I played a Barb with a shield and hammer with shield master and it was fine. The constant advantage you get is well worth it, with enlarge spell or powerful build if your DM lets you proning huge creatures is now possible.

More importantly it’s FUN. Bashing people around with that Shield as a bonus action is just something neat to do.

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