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

Unfortunately I still haven't seen Ancestral Guardian at the table yet. Does Spirit Shield help enough to matter, or does it just leave your party with a few more unused Hit Dice at the end of the day?
Isn't that the goal of any character optimization and ranking - to leave the party with more unused hit dice at the end of the day?


This one I have to disagree. Frenzy barely exceeds Zealot's standard damage, and if you need it early on then you're nearly useless for non-combat encounters (skill checks) the rest of the day.
Maybe, but there's something to be said about a variant human GWM level 3 frenzy barbarian. Getting two attacks at level 3 with advantage that can do 2d6+15 damage each is spectacular.

Now I wouldn't rate it better than zealot offensively early, but with the right build and higher levels it's really not that far behind.
 

Frankie1969

Explorer
Isn't that the goal of any character optimization and ranking - to leave the party with more unused hit dice at the end of the day?
I see 4 main limiting factors on the adventuring day:

  1. encounter-limited: run out of adventure.
  2. time-limited: run out of day.
  3. offense-limited: run out of problem solving.
  4. defense-limited: run out of healing.
Spirit Shield's importance is how often it extends limit #4 and allows continued adventuring.

In my experience, #4 is already infrequent for mid level PCs (except Leeroy Jenkins types) and 2 or 3d6 per round doesn't seem like enough to reduce that probability much further. But I'd be glad to hear evidence that I'm mistaken.
 
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I see 4 main limiting factors on the adventuring day:

  1. encounter-limited: run out of adventure.
  2. time-limited: run out of day.
  3. offense-limited: run out of problem solving.
  4. defense-limited: run out of healing.
Spirit Shield's importance is how often it extends limit #4 and allows continued adventuring.

In my experience, #4 is already infrequent for mid level PCs (except Leeroy Jenkins types) and 2 or 3d6 per round doesn't seem like enough to reduce that probability much further. But I'd be glad to hear evidence that I'm mistaken.
Offense and defense are two sides of the same coin. They both allow you to get through encounters you wouldn’t otherwise. However, in most cases what they both actually do is just make you end the day with more hot dice left - that’s because you rarely actually need that extra offense or defense to actually make it through the encounter or adventuring day.
 

Frankie1969

Explorer
Offense and defense are two sides of the same coin. They both allow you to get through encounters you wouldn’t otherwise. However, in most cases what they both actually do is just make you end the day with more hot dice left - that’s because you rarely actually need that extra offense or defense to actually make it through the encounter or adventuring day.
The two are heavily connected, and some of their resources are shared, but in the areas where they're different, you need both of them.

If your party has a bunch of nova strike capability, but you're injured, out of healing magic & hit dice, then attempting another combat is risky because a few unlucky hits could kill someone.
Likewise, if you have full HP and plenty of healing, but everyone's high level spell slots and other long rest abilities are used up, then another encounter is risky because there are many possible situations you won't be able to deal with.
Whereas if the party is mostly healthy, has a little healing reserve, and just a couple big guns left, then you're good to go on even if your overall resource level is lower than either of the previous scenarios.
 
The two are heavily connected, and some of their resources are shared, but in the areas where they're different, you need both of them.

If your party has a bunch of nova strike capability, but you're injured, out of healing magic & hit dice, then attempting another combat is risky because a few unlucky hits could kill someone.
Likewise, if you have full HP and plenty of healing, but everyone's high level spell slots and other long rest abilities are used up, then another encounter is risky because there are many possible situations you won't be able to deal with.
Whereas if the party is mostly healthy, has a little healing reserve, and just a couple big guns left, then you're good to go on even if your overall resource level is lower than either of the previous scenarios.
You seem to be adding additional options that no barbarians contributes. That’s bad analysis. All we have is 2 choices with the barbarian. Extra offense or extra defense. Both of those options have the same effect.
 

El_Jairo24

Villager
Unfortunately I still haven't seen Ancestral Guardian at the table yet. Does Spirit Shield help enough to matter, or does it just leave your party with a few more unused Hit Dice at the end of the day?
On the Spirit Shield: I like this very much as you can decide on which party member you are going to prevent damage.
Sure, in ideal situations, this varies little as damage is soaked by the tanky ones. But any damaged saved from the party member that doesn't have a healthy pool of HP left, means that they can stay in the fight, without needing some in combat healing (through potion or spell). Which has it's tactical benefits and for my build, it utilises the Reaction, which doesn't see much use until now.

It gives some more tactical flexibility.

FYI: I'm currently playing level 7 Barbarian. Of course you don't know how things would have been if Spirit shield didn't prevent as much damage, yet it feels good to be able to protect the more squishy ones.

This one I have to disagree. Frenzy barely exceeds Zealot's standard damage, and if you need it early on then you're nearly useless for non-combat encounters (skill checks) the rest of the day.
Well like the OP says in that thread: these are whiteroom comparisons of 21 rounds and have their average DPR printed. Which it doesn't take into account is the number of attacks which are made.
If both builds only target a big boss, than this is a sensible thing to compare. Yet there are things as multiple targets in combat, builds take feats, which allow to benefit more from certain scenario's.

The fact that the damage of a Berserker is spread over more attacks, is valuable as you can direct the damage to where it is needed. Because over kill, isn't taken into account to average DPR, this misrepresents things.

Nonetheless, the exhaustion limitation on the Frenzy Rage is poorly designed, that is true. It would have been better that it had a hard limit per long rest. Like 1 until level 9, 2 charges from 10-15 and 3 from level 16, or something along those lines. Or you could imagine, that they could use one more Frenzy than listed, and that one would cause Exhaustion.
But most of the time Berseker is more than fine, if you use it wisely. It's just not that shiny as it puts more Barbarian into your Barbarian so it seems bland at the surface, yet a Barbarian is something to be feared, so a more angry Barbarian,....
 
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BookBarbarian

Expert Long Rester
Ixalan Vampires have an interesting interaction with Zealots rage beyond death. Since their bite restores hitpoints you could Rage, drop to 0 hp, fail three death saves, and as long as you grapple and bite something you before your Rage ends, you are just fine.

Aasimar also gets a free non-spell heal that can keep you from dying.

They are one hit wonders as far as builds go, but they are worth a mention.
 

vostygg

Explorer
Barbarian is my favorite melee class, so I’m glad to see a guide for it. A couple of quick observations:

  1. The barbarian’s biggest weakness is its susceptibility to mind control effects that target Wisdom. These abilities are quite common in monster and NPC specs. Barbarian MAD usually precludes any investment in Wisdom. For this reason, I would give a much higher rating to the Berserker’s Mindless Rage ability. It all but cancels out this weakness, and it’s really the Berserker’s main attraction for me. For similar reasons, I would give a higher rating to Resilient (Wisdom).
  2. Two-weapon fighting is the most damaging fighting style only at the lowest levels of play. Once you hit level 5 and have the GWF feat, you are far better off switching to a two-handed weapon for damage. Barbarians are the best at using the -5/+10 feature of GWF because they can give themselves advantage on every attack. Note also that a frenzied berserker with GWF will do far more damage than a Zealot with GWF for one encounter per day. That extra bonus action attack with GWF -5/+10 every turn does a lot more damage than Divine Fury. This is only applicable if you are not a Polearm Master of course. Berserker does not mesh as well with Polearm Master because of bonus action conflicts. GWF bonus action conflicts don’t happen nearly as often.
 
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El_Jairo24

Villager
Barbarian is my favorite melee class, so I’m glad to see a guide for it. A couple of quick observations:

  1. The barbarian’s biggest weakness is its susceptibility to mind control effects that target Wisdom. These abilities are quite common in monster and NPC specs. Barbarian MAD usually precludes any investment in Wisdom. For this reason, I would give a much higher rating to the Berserker’s Mindless Rage ability. It all but cancels out this weakness, and it’s really the Berserker’s main attraction for me. For similar reasons, I would give a higher rating to Resilient (Wisdom).
  2. Two-weapon fighting is the most damaging fighting style only at the lowest levels of play. Once you hit level 5 and have the GWF feat, you are far better off switching to a two-handed weapon for damage. Barbarians are the best at using the -5/+10 feature of GWF because they can give themselves advantage on every attack. Note also that a frenzied berserker with GWF will do far more damage than a Zealot with GWF for one encounter per day. That extra bonus action attack with GWF -5/+10 every turn does a lot more damage than Divine Fury. This is only applicable if you are not a Polearm Master of course. Berserker does not mesh as well with Polearm Master because of bonus action conflicts. GWF bonus action conflicts don’t happen nearly as often.
I have to agree that Mindless Rage is a blue tier feature, negating the glaring hole in your defenses is pretty boss. Of course it doesn't look as sexy as other subclass features.
Frenzy should be black rated as well. Sure, it has it drawback but it's worth it and playable.

Which would change the rating of Berserker to black: it's a solid option but not the best all round.

So far on fora I have seem most people complain about Berserker but never actually play it. The people who do play it are happy about it. Being able to churn out an extra attack with a great-weapon is nothing to sneeze at. Combine it with the extra damage from GWM and you have a whopping high damage potential output!
 

Frankie1969

Explorer
  1. ... I would give a much higher rating to the Berserker’s Mindless Rage ability. It all but cancels out this weakness, and it’s really the Berserker’s main attraction for me. For similar reasons, I would give a higher rating to Resilient (Wisdom).
  2. Two-weapon fighting is the most damaging fighting style only at the lowest levels of play. Once you hit level 5 and have the GWF feat, you are far better off switching to a two-handed weapon for damage. ...
1: That's a good point.
2: Interesting. I've only tried 2WF with Rogue & Ranger, so I relied on the ratings from this guide's predecessors. Does anyone know a source that compares the math for Barbarian in more detail? Can 2WF keep up after Extra Attack cuts its relative value in half?
 

Feldspar

Explorer
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. Fighter is probably better at this than Barbarian.
I like the idea of a Sword & Board Barbarian synergizing the Dex save related parts of Shield Master with Resilient (Dex) and advantage on Dex saves from Danger Sense. Go Path of the Ancestral Guardian and you have a sticky and hard to kill tank.

Start with 15's in Str, Con, and Dex and go Variant Human or Mountain Dwarf. At level 20 you would have those two feats, Str 24, Con 24, and Dex 16.

Your damage isn't such that you draw fire in a "we have to kill that guy first" way, but with Ancestral Protectors you disincentivize your target attacking someone else so much (disadvantage and half damage? and you get this at level 3?!?) they don't really have the option of attacking anyone else.

Of course, the low Wisdom score is your Achilles' heel. Actually, that might be a whole leg worth of vulnerability. But as this is a build you mostly be running in a melee centric group (because prone), hopefully one of those is a Paladin (Aura of Courage at 10). If they're Oath of Devotion, that's even better (anti-charm Aura of Devotion at 7).

Having Shield Master's shove as your only (besides triggering rage) bonus action is less than ideal since there will be fights were the opponents are too big (and a friendly Enlarge from an ally would require their concentration). This is countered somewhat by the fact that you should be getting your reaction pretty much every round. If you didn't, it means the enemies missed all their attacks or they all attacked you. We consider either case a win.

To recap, you've got a big health pool, good AC, taking half damage from physical attacks and often avoiding all Dex save based damage, forcing one target to focus on you, bonus action shoves made with advantage to give your allies advantage versus a prone target, and mitigating/inflicting damage every round with your reaction.

Sword and Board fighter can do more damage, but can they be a better tank than that?
 

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