D&D 5E [Guide] The Gentleman’s Guide to Proper Barbarism


Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
[Guide] The Gentleman’s Guide to Proper Barbarism

The Gentleman’s Guide to Proper Barbarism
(A Barbarian Primer)
By: Jell_Moo, as originally presented on the Wizards of the Coast message board


Races and Stats
Class Features
Sub Classes
Skills and Backgrounds
Weapons and Armor


Welcome one and all, to an introduction of sorts to all things wonderfully Barbaric. The 5e Barbarian traces his roots back to the 3.x version of the class, along with a smattering of Prestige Classes from that edition, yet manages to come out remarkably different in this version of the game. By and large, that’s a good thing. Melee combat is more viable across a wider array of levels in 5e versus 3.x, and the Barbarian has a solid role it can play. It has a more linear power curve than other classes, and lacks some of the build versatility shown with others, but it remains very viable from 1-20, and can become a great clutch player for any party.

Do note that while I try and give some mechanical advice, do not consider this purely about character optimization. I like to look at things more than pure damage dice, as I do believe that truly effective characters move away from the one dimensional. Also, there is admittedly my own bias sprinkled around here and there. If I think something is cool, I may give it more of a thought than something that while is mechanically sound, is ultimately boring.

What the Barbarian is and what the Barbarian is not:

To start with, the Barbarian is not a Fighter. 5e has done a pretty good job of showcasing how the Fighter is versatile, effective, and a beast in melee. There are a ton of potential build options that are viable, and unlike 3.x where you had to struggle to make a great Fighter, now you have to struggle to make a poor one.

The Barbarian is, in some ways, the anti-Fighter. Barbarians are specific as opposed to general. Barbarians don’t have a build for every situation, don’t run the gamut of melee to ranged to magic, don’t have a ton of tactical play baked in, and don’t own the battlefield the same way that the Fighter can. The Barbarian just can’t match the Fighter’s versatility. But that is 100% okay.

What the Barbarian does bring to the party is an incredible Risk vs Reward system. At it’s core, the Barbarian has a ton of built in survivability. With the highest hit dice in the game, baked in resistances, advantage versus a ton of effects and the ability to stay fighting even after dropping to 0, the Barbarian is amongst the best of the best when it comes to staying alive in melee. But, they also have the ability to turn that around trade some of that defence for some on demand offence. It’s not always the right thing to do, not by a longshot, but it can be absolutely brutal when it’s triggered, and can be the sort of move that brings the party back from the brink of defeat. Or it can be the choice that triggers a TPK. Risk vs Reward.

The Core of the Barbarian

Unlike melee classes like the Fighter, Paladin or Ranger, the Barbarian has some pretty specific stats it needs to have. There is no strong Dex based option here. You need Str. No ifs, ands or buts. You also need Con. But… Wait… You also need Dex. Yup, the Barbarian is fairly on the MAD side.

From this point forward, the common colour coding is being used:

Sky Blue = Top of the line
Blue = Very strong choice
Black = Solid choice. There are better options, but this is more than serviceable
Purple = Not top tier. It may have niche use, but better options exist
Red = Mechanically weak. If you feel it fits your concept, go for it, but you will likely be less effective

Note: I tend to be more “middle ground” in terms of ratings. I find fewer things “absolutely terrible”, but at the same time, find fewer things “absolutely incredible”.


Str: Top tier stat. Your offensive output is tied to your Str score.
Dex: Highly desirable. You may not be bumping this past a +2 modifier, but you need to get at least that far.
Con: Another top tier stat. Hit points are just too important to let slide. If you want to stay unarmored, it is doubly important.
Int: Classic Barbarian dump stat. It hurts your Int saves, but that’s about the only impact you feel.
Wis: 3 of your class skills are tied to it, and one of those is Perception. A “nice to have” stat.
Cha: Intimidation is based off of it, but not much else *unless* you go Path of the Berserker.

Common Races:

Dwarf: A strong choice, absolutely, but it has a lack of “razzle dazzle”. The Mountain Dwarf has stats that lineup perfectly for a Barbarian, which is great, but the armour and weapon related perks are wasted. The Hill variety of Dwarf has poorer stat allotment (though Wis is definitely useful) and a fun survivability perk, but losing the Str bonus is awfully painful.

Elf: Elves may not seem like a natural Barbarian choice, but they can actually fare pretty well. They likely won’t become the most dominant Barbarian, but they have some utility perks that come in handy. Being immune to Sleep spells is really handy at low level, Darkvision is always solid, and free proficiency in Perception is great. The Wild Elf sub race is the best fit for a Barbarian, with the extra move speed opening some nice avenues.

Halfling: Being small has built in disadvantages, unfortunately. Heavy weapons are out, which does kill off certain build ideas. Stat wise though, it isn’t all bad. Dex is a solid stat to have, and the Stout Halfling also gives Con, which is nice. All in all, it isn’t an obvious route to go, but options do exist.

Human: For the typical Human, the Barbarian isn’t quite the best fit. You lack the perks of other races, and increases in off stats aren’t the most useful thing in the world. That being said, if the Variant Human is allowed, that’s a whole different story. That turns the Human into one of the best choices for a Barbarian, from one of the worst. Having a feat at 1st level completely changes the game for you, and the extra skill is just gravy.

Uncommon Races:

Dragonborn: Str is great, but Cha is less useful. The perks you get though are pretty decent. Resistance to a damage type is always welcome, and an AoE attack (not a great strength of the Barbarian to begin with) that uses Con for the DC is really nice. Being able to regain it after a short rest is also great. The Dragonborn makes for a great Barbarian with a really cool trick up its sleeve.

Gnome: Similar to the Halfling, the small size of the Gnome is a noteworthy hurdle. Unfortunately, stat wise, the Gnome is in a worse place as well. Int is the Barbarian’s big dump stat, so that isn’t a huge help. Having advantage on Int, Wis and Cha saves though, is *very* nice. Neither sub race offers a big advantage though, with the bonus to Dex or Con being the selling point of either.

Half-Elf: On the surface the Half-Elf makes for a somewhat “meh” Barbarian. The bonus to Cha is not the most useful. However, it does have some other nice perks to go along with it. Darkvision, Fey Ancestry and two extra skills are actually nice perks. It makes for a slightly atypical Barbarian, but it isn’t mechanically terrible.

Half-Orc: The stats line up perfectly. Darkvision remains a great choice. Savage Attacks is a pretty strong damage gain. All in all a great choice for an offensively minded Barbarian. Relenless Endurance is a cool feature, but do note that the Barbarian does get something remarkably similar once he hits level 11.

Tiefling: If there was one race that is just flat out bad for the Barbarian in almost every way, it’s the Tiefling. Sadly, the stats don’t line up at all, and the spell casting ability loses a lot of its oomph since you can’t cast whilst Raging. Resistance to fire is nice, but you can grab that with the Dragonborn and come out with better stats and a nicer perk ability.

Now that that’s said and done, here’s the thing about racial abilities: Later in the game, they won’t matter as much. At 15th level, that +1 to your stat has less impact in overall performance. At lower levels though, the difference is much more noticeable. 5e is flat out a harder game at low level than either 3.x or 4e were. It is less forgiving, and getting dropped is really, really easy. Keep that in mind when looking at races. Some races might not have the “oomph” when it comes to doing to damage, but a lot of the survivability perks that they do have will come in really handy during those difficult low levels.

The Class Features:

Rage: Your primary mechanic. Your bread and butter. The apple of your eye. Rage, in this edition, is something that really defines the Barbarian. It is equal parts offence and defence, and is what gives you a leg up when compared to other melee classes. It isn’t tricky, it isn’t subtle, it isn’t flashy. It’s just a solid way of being dominant in melee.

It does have limitations though, and they are important to note:

- No heavy armour allowed. Rage won’t work with anything bigger than medium armour.
- The damage bonus only applies to attacks using Str. No Dex based finesse Raging.
- Melee weapons only. You can swing your hand axe and get the damage bonus, but you lose that bonus if you throw it.
- You can’t cast spells whilst Raging, nor can you keep up concentration on spells already in play.

The ugly part of Raging is that you don’t get your Rages back after a short rest. You need a long rest to regain your uses. This makes you carefully consider when you’ll use these bad boys.

The flashiest part of Rage is the damage bonus. More numbers is always good. More damage means more deader enemies. But the real benefit is the resistance to 3 different damage types. This is especially true at low level. This resistance is what lets the Barbarian stay in melee longer than most other classes, and be less afraid when exchanging hits with the bad guys.

Unarmored Defence: Dex and Con to AC when out of armour is certainly nice, but it will require a better understanding of how magic items will roll out over the edition to see how viable it is. At the moment, a +3 Con and +2 Dex at 1st level (doable with the right race) matches the AC given by a chain shirt. It’s moving past that territory as you level where things get dicey.

Reckless Danger: This is the Risk vs Reward mechanic I mentioned earlier. Have Advantage now, give Advantage later. If you need to drop an enemy quickly, this can be amazing. If you are surrounded though, giving Advantage to multiple enemies could be disastrous. The flip side to this is that it allows you to do some pseudo-tanking. If you’d rather the enemy attack you than say the fragile Wizard nearby, this is some incentive to keep those attacks trained on you.

Danger Sense: This is a great defensive ability. Having Advantage on all Dex based saved will really help keep your hit points high, making you less of a burden on healing resources and keeping you in the fight longer than most other classes.

Primal Path: I’ll go into these more further down.

Ability Score Improvement: Nothing out of the ordinary here. Given how stat intensive the Barbarian is, it’s a bit more of a decision when it comes to stat vs feat.

Extra Attack: In line with classes like the Paladin and Ranger, and behind what the Fighter gets. Barbarians need to make the most of their attacks and with their Action resources.

Fast Movement: Another reason (as if we needed one) to stay out of Heavy Armor. Move speed increases are nice to have, but take some careful thought to truly take advantage of.

Feral Instinct: Moving first is great, especially for the Barbarian. You have the chance to dive in and do some serious damage, and then try and keep enemy attention locked on you and your superior level of hit points. Plan ahead with your party, and you will be able to setup some pretty cool and effective combos.

Brutal Critical: This is where crit fishing may start to become interesting for you. Looking for ways to increase your crit range (3 levels of Fighter, for example) may be interesting. Note that the Half-Orc has a similar ability, which stacks with this, making crits even more dangerous.

Relentless Rage: Again an element of Risk vs Reward. Being able to keep on fighting despite hitting 0 or fewer hit points can be amazing. That being said, it’s also an excellent opportunity for the enemy to have another shot at killing you outright.

Persistent Rage: This ability keeps you Raging even when an effect could stop you. Without it, you drop out of Rage on any turn where you do not attack, or do not take damage. Considering the smattering of spells and other effects that can lead to this, Persistent Rage becomes a welcome addition to an otherwsie somewhat clunky mechanic. Thanks to smbakeresq for pointing this out!

Indomitable Might: Strength is your primary ability and you have Advantage on checks with it whilst Raging. This ability is nice as it helps eliminate terrible rolls, it just feels out of place for an 18th level ability.

Primal Champion: This is icing on the cake. Right now, getting stats above 20 is really, really hard. The ability to get both Str and Con past that threshold is really nice. Of course, it’s a capstone ability, so it should be pretty darn impressive. Right Ranger?

Sub Classes:

The Barbarian has access to 2 subclasses, making it one of the classes with the fewest options in this regard. These two paths have some pretty different flavour, and help flesh out the Barbarian in different ways.

Path of the Berserker:

This is for the “in yo’ face” style of Barbarian. You can do more damage and stick around in melee more, with a strong emphasis on “Risk vs Reward”. This sub-class has little in the way of flash, but a lot in the way of oomph.

Frenzy: Risk vs Reward taken to the extreme. You gain another attack as a bonus action whilst raging (carefully note that this makes the ability pretty incompatible with TWF Barbarians). In theory, this sounds amazing! Lots more damage being shelled out. The side effect though is that you suffer one level of exhaustion when your Rage is over. Exhaustion is bad! Very bad! Level 1 gives you disadvantage on ability checks. Further levels of exhaustion get much worse, quite quickly. You lose 1 level of exhaustion after a long rest. Using Frenzy multiple times per day can be deadly. Both for you and the enemy. I’m a fan of Risk vs Reward, but in this case, the cost is ridiculously high.

Mindless Rage: A solid ability as being charmed whilst Raging can be a terrifying prospect for your teammates.

Intimidating Presence: This is a fun ability that has a ton of flavour and fits the Barbarian very well. Why, oh why does it use Cha for the DC? Considering that this is likely your second to worst stat, it’s just a terrible fit.

Retaliation: This is just great. Unless you’ve kitted yourself to use your Reaction every round, odds are it’s going to be reserved for people silly enough to move around you. This gives you a nice source of damage outside of your normal action resources.

Path of the Totem Warrior:

This path is a little more utility based, and a little more directed to enhancing your party and your role within it. It has much less “Risk vs Reward”, and is a more stable option that the Berserker. You lose out on the higher damage in order to gain some more choices and some more flexibility.

Spirit Seeker: This is just so oddly specific that it comes off as more of a flavour/fluff ability than anything else. It has its uses, absolutely, but there’s a fair chance that another party member has this particular type of role already shored up.

Totem Spirit: You get a choice of three animals here.
Bear - This makes you even tankier, which is great. Resistance to everything except Psychic damage can actually help turn a difficult battle around.
Eagle - This is a fun mobility option that can be an interesting choice if your Barbarian plays against type a little bit. This isn’t the strongest choice if you have Rogues and Monks in your party that take better benefit of you standing still, but can be great for a party of a different composition.
Wolf - This is the teamwork option. Allies gaining advantage is always a good thing. Advantage isn’t the hardest thing in the world to gain, but having it be always on for any enemy within 5’ of the Barbarian can be brutal with the right party makeup.

Aspect of the Beast: Again, 3 options.
Bear - Given your natural inclination to have a through the roof Str, and having advantage on Str checks whilst Raging, this actually seems rather lacklustre. Not useless, but a little too situational.
Eagle - On the one hand, the increased sight is very, very situational. On the other hand, not having disadvantage on Perception checks due to dim light is really, really good.
Wolf: Again, very situational, but also useful to have when you need it. This really depends on the party makeup and the type of adventure you are on.

Spirit Walker: Very flavourful and cool, but also *very* situational.

Totemic Attunement: And now the last of our 3 choicers.
Bear - A great tanking style ability to keep yourself the center of attention. You can combine this with Reckless Attack if you *really* want to make sure that your enemy attacks you instead of Wimpy McWizard.
Eagle: This ability has some situational uses, but in general is a pretty poor choice. It gives you an escape option if you need one, but generally if your Barbarian needs to escape, the party is in trouble. If you need to fly, have the Wizard help out. As a 14th level ability, this is lacklustre.
Wolf: Sacrifice damage for utility. This is fun simply because here is no save. If you hit the enemy, prone it goes. This can make for a great clutch move, or a prep move for a party nova round.

Skills & Backgrounds:

The Barbarian doesn’t fill the skill monkey role all that well, but they are more than capable of offering good party support in this regard. Barbarians gain advantage on Str based checks whilst Raging, so that is also something that may be good to remember.

Don’t be afraid to use your skill choices to customize your character a bit. Even mechanically weaker skills can still offer a good benefit to the party as a whole.

Class skills:

Animal Handling: Depends on the party makeup. If this can be covered by spell casting it loses a lot of importance.
Athletics: Highly desirable. Climbing alone can be a scary thing. Your natural ability here can be a boon to the party.
Intimidation: Cha is unlikely to be a great stat for you, so this may fall to party makeup. If it fits your concept, great, if it isn’t pivotal, there’s at least 4 classes naturally better than you.
Nature: Whilst thematically appropriate, Int is your traditional dump stat.
Perception: This is close to a “must have”, simply because there are no real diminishing returns for it being covered by multiple characters. It’s that important.
Survival: Very campaign specific, but thematically relevant and nice to have regardless.

Non Class Skills:

Acrobatics: Less important than Athletics, but still nice to have.
Sleight of Hand: A fun option, though not traditionally paired with the Barbarian.
Stealth: Slightly party specific, but with Dex being important to you anyway, this can open up some pretty fun options.
Arcana: Not your strong suit, and somewhat atypical for a Barbarian.
History: Doesn’t play to your strengths, but can be fun if you see your Barbarian as caring about stories and oral history.
Investigation: Also atypical and outside your comfort zone.
Religion: An unlikely pairing.
Insight: Might be thematically appropriate and is a useful tool for the party.
Medicine: Made somewhat irrelevant by the Healer’s Kit.
Deception: Nice to have, but others in your group are probably better at it.
Performance: Fun roleplaying opportunities abound, and potential depth for your character.
Persuasion: Why persuade when you can INTIMIDATE!!!


Your background generally gives you 2 skills, maybe a language or two, maybe a tool or two, a special perk, and a small amount of goods/gold. They can help flesh out your character a bit, offer some mechanical help, and help you better define where your Barbarian is coming from.

Acolyte: An atypical choice that may make for an interesting backstory. Religion as a skill isn’t the greatest, but Insight is decent. The extra languages can be useful, though it is not a traditional Barbarian specialty. The perk is fun and flavourful, though possibly campaign/DM specific.

Charlatan: Another odd choice, but potentially fun. The two tool kits can add a really strange layer to your Barbarian. The perk can add some fun roleplaying opportunities. This takes most Barbarians out of their comfort zone, but it isn’t a bad choice.

Criminal: Stealth and Thieves Tools are very solid mechanical choices, especially if you are running without a Rogue in your party. The perk of having a criminal contact is campaign dependant, but not something to be ignored.

Entertainer: Mentally, I always think of something like the circus strongman with this combo. Acrobatics and Performance aren’t bad skills to have, but they don’t really hit the typical Barbarian. The perk does offer some fun character building opportunities.

Folk Hero: Both skills are on your class list, but the tools can be useful. It’s a fun choice from a character standpoint, but it doesn’t wow with the mechanics.

Guild Artisan: The sort of choice that can help define a character and offer some fun options. The rules on crafting things though make this very campaign specific. Without a lot of downtime, well…

Hermit: Mechanically, this is probably the weakest Background for you. The skills don’t compliment your abilities and the perk is barely defined. If I were to stay away from 1 Background, it would be this one.

Noble: Practically the opposite of a traditional Barbarian, it may take some good storytelling chops to pull this one off. The skills don’t mesh that well with you, but access to the Gaming Kit could be fun.

Outlander: Probably the most iconic Background for a Barbarian. The two skills are on your skill list already, but one of them is Athletics, which is great. An extra language is nice, and the musical instrument can add flavour to your character. The perk is nice, though it does step on the toes of the Survival skill a little.

Sage: Like the Hermit, pretty atypical for a Barbarian. The two languages are nice, but the rest is rather “meh”.

Sailor: Two of the best skills for you, sure they’re already on your skill list, but they are good ones make this a fun fit. The perk is campaign specific, but potentially useful. If you use the Pirate Variant, much fun can be had!

Soldier: Some great skill potential here as well. I find the perk pretty restrictive though. It practically requires DM benevolence for it to be useful.

Urchin: Who knew Urchins were this good? Stealth as a skill is great, and both Thieves Tools and the Disguise Kit are fun options. The perk is also pretty great, with tons of opportunity for it to shine in many campaigns.


Alert - Always a solid choice, but slightly diminished for a Barbarian who is less impacted by a Surprise round to begin with.

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 - Ranged is not your forte. Pass.

Defensive Duelist - You don’t do finesse. Pass.

Dual Wielder - This is either a good way for extra damage, but be careful. This is incompatible with Frenzy, can’t be done in the same turn you Rage, or used with the Wolf Totem knock down. Otherwise, it does give you the chance to do extra Rage damage, which is good. It can work with careful planning, but may not be the best use of your Bonus Action. Approach with caution. The big issue with this feat is that if you go this route, you pretty much *have* to dip into either Fighter or Ranger to get the associated Fighting Style to be competitive. If you need to multiclass away from your core class to be viable, it's likely not a top tier choice.

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

Durable - Someone better at statistics needs to figure this one out. My guestimate is that it isn’t terrible, but it also isn’t a top tier choice.

Elemental Adept - Nope.

Grappler - As the Barbarian has a very natural affinity for Grappling, this feat can be a nice boon to have. This feat gives you the ability to restrain the enemy, which can be useful and also plays well into the Risk vs Reward style of play. It can be a little situational, but it's absolutely a fun trick to pull out when it applies.

Great Weapon Master - If you plan on using a Great Weapon, there is zero reason not to take this feat. The cleave effect is really nice, but do make note that it eats up your bonus action. The second half of the feat that allows to take a penalty to hit isn’t my favourite, but I hate to have anything affect my to hit. Somebody better at math will need to figure out the specifics though.

Healer - This isn’t really the Barbarian’s bag.

Heavily Armored - Bad choice. Too many of your class features don’t allow for Heavy Armor.

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.

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 bit. It isn’t bad, but the impact of a single die at d6 isn’t terribly significant. There are better options available.

Medium Armor Mastery - Your Con is generally higher than your Dex, which may limit how useful the feat is. If you aim for the Medium armour route you may see some benefit, but your stats may line up better for the unarmored route, in which case avoid.

Mobile - If you are going for the high mobility route via the Eagle Totem, this can actually play nicely into your bag of skills. This one depends on your party makeup.

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.

Polearm Master - This feat gets a lot of love from those building melee characters, and for good reason. The ability to use your opportunity attack on people closing in with your is great. Just be careful how you mix it in. If you are a Berserker and gain the Retaliation ability, this feat loses some steam. Just make sure you understand what you are spending your Actions on routinely, and what you *will* be spending your actions on in the future before grabbing this feat. That being said, the Barbarian can make amazing use out of this based on the Action economy of this edition. Plan your build accordingly.

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.

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 used ranged attacks enough to really warrent a feat investment in them.

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 - Very cool flavour, but outside of fulfilling your character concept, you aren’t likely to see a ton of use out of this unless your DM skews the campaign in that direction, or unless you really want to invest in a Grappler.

Tough - Again, someone better at math may want to chime in here, but I’m not sold on the value. Increasing your Con by 2 instead gives you 1 extra hit point per level, a better Con save and potentially an increase in AC. The Barbarian I think, can do better.

War Caster - You are not a caster.

Weapon Master - You are already proficient with every weapon in the game.


Here, I want to make just a quick look at some options, along with the concept of a “dip” to grab some goodies from another class. I’m going to leave some of the finer points of multiclassing up to the individual though, especially anything that takes away from the character being majority Barbarian.

The biggest issue for Multi-Classing with the Barbarian are the stat requirements. Whilst meeting the Str or Dex requirements are most certainly not an issue, Wis based classes are a little tough, and Int or Cha based ones are almost certainly not going to be doable.

I'm not going to color grade this section simply because it falls more into the character concept side of things than true optimization. I'll simply offer a few thoughts per class. As always, this is geared for characters that are primarily Barbarian. Meaning that is the character gets to level 20, at least 11 of those levels are Barbarian levels.

Bard - The Cha investment is too high for the typical Barbarian to make. Whilst this makes for a flavourful style of character, the mechanics don't interact all that well. Since you cannot cast spells whilst Raging, it becomes tough to really justify the experience. Still, this is a path you can consider if you want to be more of a skillmonkey, or perhaps have a small selection of spells to use in instances when you aren't Raging.

Cleric - The Wis requirement may be a little tough for some races/builds, but it should at least be doable. The biggest issue you run into is that you don't gain as much s other classes when you hit this route. Most others are looking for Martial Weapons (which you have) or Heavy Armor (which you don't want). That being said, the NAture Domain is pretty thematically appropriate, and while it makes you an atypical Barbarian, the Divine Strike ability at 8th level can be a fun thing to have.

Druid - I'll admit to a level of bias with this one. I love the idea of a shapeshifting Bear Barbarian. A raging bear is just so much fun in my mind. Like the Cleric, the 13 Wis is a little build dpendant, so it may not be the best choice. Look a little further below for more thoughts on this specific pairing.

Fighter - By far the most natural choice. Even just a few Fighter levels can give you a ton of versatility in your playstyle. The Champion sub-class may be your more typical match thematically, but I'm a huge fan of going the Battle Master route. Having on demand abilities that cause effects and up damage are great, especially when the recharge on a short rest. Most Barbairans won't have the Int to make it as an Eldritch Knight, though it may actually be possible to do so using only Abjuration spells.

Monk - Again, the Wis could be troublesome depending on your build. The big issue with this pairing is that there is some innate incompatibility here. Martial Arts only functions with Monk weapons, which are pretty atypical for most Barbarians. You also can't be using a Shield, which eliminates tank builds. This leaves you with either a dual wielding style build or with a Polearm Master build using a quarterstaff. The other immediate issue is that the Unarmored Defense ability is wasted. I'm not saying that this is a bad build, just that it's atypical and will require some outside of the box thinking to make work.

Paladin - Oh how I wish this build were easier to do, but the Cha investment is really rough. Funelling spells into Divine Smite whilst Raging just sounds like a blast. I like the favor and fun of the pairing, but mechanically it just doesn't work out.

Ranger - You can fit into this pairing pretty easily as well. The only real issue is that for the most part, you get a lot more out of multiclassing with the Fighter than you do with the Ranger. Still, this is a very sound fit thematically, and it's not bad, not at all, mechanically. Part of the issue though comes from the fact that a lot of the Ranger's "oomph" comes from spellcasting. Since you can't do this and Rage at the same time, it is a clunky fit at best. The odd thing is that a few levels with the Hunter archetype can actually help your tanking ability. Strange, but abilities like Horde Breaker and Escape the Horde can go a long way towards your multi-enemy abilities.

Rogue - This can work for a very thematic build, but the restrictions on Sneak Attack make it a tough one to mix with the typical Barbarian. Really, the money abilities that the Rogue gives you are
Cunning Action, Uncanny Dodge and Evasion. All of which can really help with your tanking. The Assassin Archetype gives you some useful kits as well as the Assassinate ability, which synergizes nicely with the Barbarian.

Sorcerer - The Cha requirement remains a big issue. The other problem rests in the fact that the Sorcerer relies so much on casting, and this just doesn't mesh with Rage. It's not an impossible mix, but you will likely face some issues when it comes to effectiveness in combat.

Warlock - Cha rears its ugly head once more... Warlocks are a bit of a strange beast insomuch as it almost looks like there's synergy, but so much really depends on using spells that it just hurts the overall effectiveness of the character. For me, this looks mostly like a quick 2 level dip for some flavour abilities, but not much more than that.

Wizard - Yay! Not Cha! Boo! Int! Like the Sorcerer, the Wizard is just based so much on spellcasting that it become difficult to synergize with the Barbarian. Outside of a specific flavour build, there isn't much to be said for the pairing.

The Dip

In essence, you grab a level or 2 of another class to gain some abilities/proficiencies that you lack. The Barbarian, as a whole, can benefit from this, but not quite so much as other classes. Given the Barbarian aversion to heavy armour, most of the traditional dips have less value. So while other characters may grab a level of Fighter to gain Heavy Armor (taking the Fighter level at level 1), the Barbarian doesn’t get that benefit. This does give the Barbarian the benefit of not taking a level in another class first, which can really hamper your character concept.

Fighter 1 or 2 levels - The benefits here are pretty straight forward. A small self heal which is nice at low level, but loses oomph as you go higher, and the Fighting Style ability. The Fighting Style ability is really, really nice. A tankier Barbarian benefits well from the Duelist ability to pop out additional damage. A TWF Barbarian gains a great deal of extra damage from the related ability as well. The GWF related ability is also nice, but a smudge lower than the other two. The others in general don’t measure up quite as nicely.

If you want that second Fighter level, you have two options. If you are thinking about the crit fishing route, the Champion Improved Critical ability is very strong. But it’s an all or nothing idea. If you aren’t going to work at crit fishing, it may not be all that. On the other hand, the Battle Master gives you some great utility abilities, as well as some increased damage when using them. Regaining your damage dice after a short rest is really nice too, as it gives you a little something between Rages.

Other dips are possible, but they don’t give you the same return on investment that the Fighter dip does.

Multi-Classing Example

In terms of more in depth multi classing, just make sure that you keep an eye on the stat requirements. Anything with an Int or Cha stat requirement is unlikely to be met unless you play against type. Str is obviously the easiest to hit, but Wis can be doable. This brings me to one I like, that while not amazingly optimized, is still a slot of fun:

Barbarian/Druid of the Moon- I’ll leave the level breakdown to you, but I’d suggest either levels 6, 8 or 9 for the Druid levels. 6 and 9 are the breakpoint for where the Druid gains access to new CR forms, whereas 8 gives you access to both swimming and flying forms as well as access to all 5 ability boosts.

The fun part of the combo is that just about all of your Barbarian combat goodies work whilst in Beast form. Rage will give you some added survivability and damage, which is great, and you are less fearful of Dex based saves than the traditional Druid would be. Given that you are unlikely to actually want to cast spells, you can use your spell slots for self healing as a bonus action. Not too shabby. Then, after you’ve taken enough damage, shift back and you’re still a capable Barbarian.

Weapon Selection:

The Barbarian has some odd limitations on what weapons are really effective for him. Rage requires a Str based melee weapon, so finesse weapons and ranged attacks are out. This leaves you with Str based attacks generally using one of three setups:

Great Weapon - The simplest path to high damage, but not necessarily the best. Feat synergy is pretty strong, but it is feat intensive which will impact your stats. It’s classic Barbarian though, and still a very solid choice, and pretty economical in regards to your Actions. Consider looking into the Polearm Master and Great Weapon Master feats, while also looking at Sentinel. Weapon wise, for pure damage you want to look at the Maul and Greatsword, or if you go the Polearm route the Glaive and Halberd.

Two Weapon Fighting - This build *really* benefits from that 1 level dip in Fighter to get your Str damage on your off hand weapon. It also pretty much requires the Dual Wielder feat (which has a small increase in AC, which is just gravy here). This build will likely yield the most potential damage per round, you just have to be careful with your bonus actions. Remember that things like Rage take one, as do other feats and the knock down from the Wolf Totem ability. Mixing damage types will likely yield the best results, so pick 2 of Battleaxe/longsword (slashing), Morningstar (piercing), Warhammer (bludgeoning). That being said, if your concept rocks two of the same weapons for visual synergy, then go for it!

Sword and Board - Increased survivability is always nice. A Barbarian with a shield makes for a nice tank. A Barbarian with a shield and the Shield Master feat makes for one of the best tanks in the game as your abilities synergies so well with it. A 1 level dip into Fighter will help bring your damage up with the Duelist Fighting Style. Preferred weapons here are the battle-axe, longsword and war hammer.

Armor -vs- No Armor

Generally speaking, your stats will determine whether you should go the medium armour or the no armour route (light armour is seldom applicable). Which option works best will likely change as you level, and in direct relation to your wealth and your stats. Your Dex modifier will likely range between +1 and +3, depending on race and stat allocation, whilst your Con modifier will likely be in the +2 to +3 area. The sweet spot is AC 15-16. That’s the best you can afford in Medium armour at level 1, along with a +2 Dex mod. (If you care about sneaking, you’ll have he Chain Shirt and a base AC of 13, if you don’t you’ll have Scale Mail and a base AC of 14). If your Con + Dex modifiers together give you an AC bonus of +5 or better, you are likely better off going unarmored. If not, then it’s medium armour city for you.
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Adding to this for potential builds. One thing you can do with the variant Human is take the Magic Initiate feat at first level. With this, you gain 2 cantrips (not a big deal) and 1 first level spell (this is the cake).

Stay unarmored!!!! The first level spell you must get is Mage Armor...this provides an unarmored person an extra +3 to his AC. It doesn't require concentration and lasts for 8 hours. As your levels increase, dropping points into Dex or Con will continue to improve this.

I don't quite agree with you on the Frenzy ability...if used carefully, it's very effective.


Adding to this for potential builds. One thing you can do with the variant Human is take the Magic Initiate feat at first level. With this, you gain 2 cantrips (not a big deal) and 1 first level spell (this is the cake).

Stay unarmored!!!! The first level spell you must get is Mage Armor...this provides an unarmored person an extra +3 to his AC. It doesn't require concentration and lasts for 8 hours. As your levels increase, dropping points into Dex or Con will continue to improve this.

I don't quite agree with you on the Frenzy ability...if used carefully, it's very effective.

Mage Armor and Unarmored Defence don't stack though?

Mage Armor and Unarmored Defence don't stack though?

Ah, but I think they do stack!

Pg. 48 of the PHB:

"While you are not wearing any armor, your Armor Class equals 10 + your Dexterity modifier + your Constitution modifier. You can use a shield and still gain this benefit."

Mage Armor does not count as armor...from page 256:

"You touch a willing creature who isn’t wearing armor, and a protective magical force surrounds it until the spell ends. The target’s base AC becomes 13 + its Dexterity modifier. The spell ends if the target dons armor or if you dismiss the spell as an action."


Frenzy is very strong. The DPR bonus for an unconditional and unlimited (ie; not like the polearm master reduced damage bonus attack) bonus attack is strong. As you note, this is generally a once per long rest ability that is best used close to a long rest, but as a 'break glass in case of emergency' ability you can use it a second time and take that halved speed. If you truly know you're in the last battle before a few days of rest, that third level of exhaustion can be called upon as well. It does, however, get redundant with polearm master or two weapon fighting.... Regardless, it is something that I've used extensively with my dwarven barbarian and it has made a huge difference.


First Post
Frenzy is very strong. The DPR bonus for an unconditional and unlimited (ie; not like the polearm master reduced damage bonus attack) bonus attack is strong. As you note, this is generally a once per long rest ability that is best used close to a long rest, but as a 'break glass in case of emergency' ability you can use it a second time and take that halved speed. If you truly know you're in the last battle before a few days of rest, that third level of exhaustion can be called upon as well. It does, however, get redundant with polearm master or two weapon fighting.... Regardless, it is something that I've used extensively with my dwarven barbarian and it has made a huge difference.
I fully agree with this. This is one of those abilities that reads poorly but plays well. I have used it many times on BBEG's to great effect. As long as you are not a complete idiot, it is not the severely crippling ability that everyone makes it out to be. One or even two levels of exhaustion, particularly towards the end of your adventuring day are not really all that impactful. In fairness to @Mistwell, he did not actually write this guide. He transposed it wholesale from a thread on the WOTC web site which was no longer being maintained by its original poster. I assume that he did so with the intent of applying some revisions based on actual play experience and also to keep the guide alive.
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First Post
It's not bad no, but it's outright inferior to any of the totems.
Depends on the character and the party comp. For the build I had in mind (greataxe-wielding mountain dwarf in a mostly ranged party), the only Totem Barb ability that I find myself envious of is the Bear Totem damage resistance. I really like the ability to go nova for a full encounter when I need to with Frenzy. Of course, the real icing on the cake for Berserkers comes downstream with Mindless Rage and Retaliation. In my experience, Totem Barbs have a real vulnerability to domination and other charm / fear effects which DMs like to exploit. Berserkers have this covered with Mindless Rage. Retaliation speaks for itself. In short, I'd change Frenzy to black (except for Polearm Masters and TWFers).

EDIT: Mountain dwarves should also be rated sky blue. The fact that they're rated lower than Dragonborns seems ludicrous to me. The ratings should be reversed.
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