Some adventurers in Dungeons and Dragons use subtlety and quick reflexes to best their foes, picking their battles or avoiding them altogether through stealth and cunning. Some call on eldritch patrons or ancestral bonds to draw forth powerful magic, reshaping the world around them to their will. Others are charismatic D&D heroes who bolster their allies and turn an adventuring party into much more than the sum of its parts. But not D&D 5E's Barbarian.
The Barbarian has an axe, a stack of hit points, and a big grin on their face. Barbarians aren’t subtle, they aren’t complex, but, by Crom’s jagged blade, they are deadly. The Barbarian is a melee mincing machine. Play a Barbarian if you want to wade into the thick of the fight with nothing more than a weapon in your hands and a battle cry on your lips.
Barbarians are front-line melee fighters. Though there’s some flexibility to choose between a Barbarian who deals damage, a Barbarian who can protect their allies, and a Barbarian who is simply wild, you’ll always be in the thick of the action. Nobody has a bigger target on their forehead – but that’s just the way Barbarians like it.
This is an in-depth run down on the Barbarian class for a player who has already started sharpening their axe. If you’re still looking for inspiration about which class to pick for your next character, check out our D&D 5E classes guide.
Barbarian class 5E
|Hit Dice||1d12 per Lvl|
|HP at Lvl Up||1d12 (or 7) + Constitution modifier|
|Primary ability scores||Strength, then Constitution|
|Armour proficiency||Light Armour, Medium Armour, Shields|
|Weapon proficiency||Simple and Martial Weapons|
|Saving throws||Strength, Constitution|
|Starting skill proficiencies||Two from: Intimidation, Nature, Survival, Perception, Animal Handling, Athletics|
Barbarian stats 5E
Barbarians are not subtle, they’re not magical, they’re not necessarily very smart… but they are very, very good at hitting things. The primary ability score for all Barbarians is Strength. This is the key stat for wielding the biggest melee weapons, like the Barbarian’s iconic Greataxe. The class feature Rage, at first level, and Reckless Attack at second, provide extra bonuses to Strength-based melee weapon attacks. You don’t have to be quick or clever when your enemies are all dead.
Constitution is the next most useful Barbarian ability score. A Barbarian with only a shield (or less) for armour can add their Constitution modifier to their armour class, thanks to the Unarmoured Defense class feature. Your would-be Conan can go to war in just a loincloth and sandals. The extra hit points from a high Constitution modifier are welcome, too. Then, from level 11, whenever a Raging Barbarian would drop to zero hit points, they can use the Relentless Rage feature. If they pass a Constitution saving throw, they will stay standing on 1 HP, bloodied but still swinging.
High Dexterity increases Armour Class and synergises with another defensive ability, the Danger Sense class feature. This grants advantage to a Barbarian’s Dexterity saving throws against traps, spells and other hazards, as they nimbly dodge out of harm’s way.
Barbarian Skill proficiencies focus on the wilderness and physical prowess. A high Wisdom score will support Animal Handling, Perception and Survival, all vital skills for thriving outside civilisation.
Martial control: Our full D&D Fighter 5E class guide
Charisma can be used with Intimidation if you want to make a truly terrifying Barbarian, like Logen the Bloody-Nine from Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy. Intelligence boosts the Nature skill, reflecting a character with a theoretical understanding of the wild as well as a practical one: perhaps a field explorer who has succumbed to the lure of the wild.
Barbarian class features 5E
Barbarians hit hard, and can take a pummelling that would leave any other class spitting out teeth, before hitting back even harder.
|1||Rage, Unarmoured Defence|
|2||Reckless Attack, Danger Sense|
|4||Ability Score Improvement|
|5||Extra Attack, Fast Movement|
|8||Ability Score Improvement|
|9||Brutal Critical, one die|
|12||Ability Score Improvement|
|13||Brutal Critical, two dice|
|16||Ability Score Improvement|
|17||Brutal Critical, three dice|
|19||Ability Score Improvement|
Extreme aggression: Rage, Extra Attack, Fast Movement, Reckless Attack, and Brutal Criticals
Starting at first level, Barbarians can spend a bonus action to enter a state of Rage. While Raging, they cause more damage with Strength melee weapon attacks, have resistance against mundane damage, and have advantage on Strength skill checks and Saving throws. Rages last for a minute, or until a Barbarian goes a round without attacking or suffering damage, or is knocked unconscious. A Barbarian’s choice of Primal Path (more on those later) grants them extra powers that activate while Raging. Barbarians can only use Rage twice per long rest at level 1, but gain more as they level up. Their bonus Rage damage increases, too.
At level five, Barbarians make two attacks whenever they take the Attack action, and gain ten feet in movement speed when not wearing heavy armour. What’s scarier than a maniac with a giant axe? A fast maniac with a giant axe.
Reckless Attack and Brutal Critical are pure violence. Reckless Attack allows a Barbarian to throw caution to the wind, granting them advantage on their first attack roll with a Strength melee weapon in a turn, but granting enemies advantage on attack rolls against them for the round. The Barbarian is asking to be hit – but, then again, dead people don’t fight back. Brutal Critical allows the Barbarian to roll extra weapon dice in damage when they score a critical hit.
These abilities, in concert, allow Barbarians to careen into battle like a Beyblade covered in axes.
Unusual defenses: Unarmoured Defense, Danger Sense, Feral Instinct, and Relentless Rage
Though skilled in Medium armour, Barbarians have the option to go into combat in true Conan style wearing only a loincloth, thanks to Unarmoured Defence. This grants the Barbarian an Armour Class of 10 + Constitution Modifier + Dexterity Modifier as long as they are unarmoured.
Note that this doesn’t combine with the natural armour of races like the Tortle or Lizardfolk, or the Dragon Hide racial feat for Dragonborn, but does stack with the Warforged’s +1AC and the +2AC bonus from a shield.
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Barbarians may decide to use magical medium armour at higher levels, but the option is always there to ignore it in favour of Enchanted Shields, Rings of Protection, Bracers of Defense, or the Dual Wielder feat if you enjoy fighting with twin battle axes.
Danger Sense grants Barbarians advantage on Dexterity saving throws against threats that they can see, whether that’s a common-or-garden pit trap, or a dragon’s breath attack. Similar to the damage resistance granted by Raging, this reduces the damage that Barbarians might suffer, rather than stopping it altogether. Make peace with losing hit points, and concentrate on making your enemies dead as quickly as possible.
Feral Instinct lets Barbarians react to being ambushed like a cornered animal. Whenever the party is surprised, the Barbarian can immediately fly into a Rage and act during the surprise round, while the rest of the group are still flat-footed. Just make sure you hit someone during the round; remember, if you end a round without attacking or taking damage, Rage ends.
Should your Barbarian survive until level 11, you can give the party healer a day off with Relentless Rage. While Raging, a Barbarian that would be knocked to 0 HP (without being killed outright) can make a DC10 Constitution save.
If they pass, they’ll stay standing on 1hp. They can attempt these saves as long as they can keep passing, though the DC increases by 5 each time, resetting to DC10 after a short rest. Barbarians get knocked down, and they get back up again.
Hulk Smash: Indomitable Might and Primal Champion
Where other classes transcend to a higher plane of existence by the time they reach level 20, Barbarians remain a rolling ball of physical carnage. At level 19, they can use their Strength score as the total for any Strength check, irrespective of the roll.
Sworn do-gooders: Read our full D&D Paladin 5E class guide
Then, at level 20, they add 4 to both their Strength and their Constitution scores, and increase their maximum for both stats to 24, granting a massive +7 ability score modifier – stronger than a Fire Giant, tougher than an Adult Blue Dragon. This is the ideal adventurer’s body. You may not like it, but this is what peak physical performance looks like.
Barbarian equipment 5E
The Greataxe and the Greatsword: weapon of heroes
The best way to stay safe in a fight is to end all of your enemies as quickly as possible, and there’s no better tool of slaughter than a massive, two-handed melee weapon. While the default equipment list for a Barbarian lists a Greataxe, they can start with any martial melee weapon, including the noble Greatsword. But which is superior?
Statistically, it’s the Greatsword. Rolling 2d6 rather than 1d12 damage, the Greatsword produces a reliable damage bell curve that peaks around the number seven, and shies away from the extremes of one and 12 – and the average damage is very slightly higher, too.
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But you didn’t roll up a Barbarian to let statistics tell you what to do. You’re creating a Barbarian because you want to hit stuff hard and roll big dice, and there’s no damage die bigger than the d12.
When you gain the Brutal Criticals feature at level 9, every time you score a critical hit you can roll an additional weapon damage dice. If you have chosen the majestic Greataxe as your weapon, that will be a second, commanding d12.
Paired Handaxes: the Barbarian Blender
The other aggressive option for a Barbarian is to take paired melee weapons, particularly a pair of trusty Handaxes. These deal just d6 damage, but, as they’re light weapons, you can make an additional attack with the second axe as a bonus action after attacking with the first (note that this off-hand attack doesn’t apply your Strength modifier to damage.) In a pinch, one or both handaxes can be used as thrown weapons, sustaining your Rage on a turn that your foes are outside smashing range – or take the Dual Wielder feat for +1AC, and upgrade to a pair of d8 damage Battle Axes.
Shield and hitting stick: the damage magnet
Some Barbarian builds, particularly the Path of the Ancestral Guardian, provide protection for their allies, usually by pulling enemy aggression onto themselves. Barbarians know how to use a shield, even if it isn’t listed as starting equipment for them. If you want a Barbarian who can take anything that’s thrown at them, consider a Warforged or Tortle, equipped with a shield and a grudge.
Best race for Barbarian 5E
The natural home for a Barbarian is the front-line of a fight, wading into their foes with maximum aggression and very little thought for their self-preservation. Races that increase Strength and Constitution scores are well suited to such a brutal adventuring style, but don’t overlook races with unique defensive abilities, or those which can use their high Constitution to power other abilities.
Found in: Player’s Handbook
The classic race for a Barbarian, for good reason. +2 Strength and +1 Constitution are a promising start, and Darkvision and proficiency in Intimidation emphasise that this isn’t a Barbarian you want to meet in a dark alley.
Once per long rest, Half-Orcs can use Relentless Endurance, which is extremely similar to the Relentless Rage class feature: when they would be knocked to 0hp, the Half-Orc remains standing on 1hp. The Savage Attacks ability rewards them for taking the iconic Greataxe, granting an additional weapon die in damage whenever they score a critical hit.
The Orcish Fury racial feat from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything lets them add this die to a normal hit, once per short rest, as well as granting +1 Strength or Constitution and the ability to make an attack as a reaction when they trigger Relentless Endurance. The Half-Orc Barbarian is a whirling dervish of fury that is extremely hard to put down.
Found in: The Tortle Package
With +2 Strength, +1 Wisdom, claws that provide a 1d4 natural weapon attack, proficiency in Survival, and the ability to hold their breath underwater for an hour, Tortles are at home in the wilderness life of a Barbarian. But it’s all about that shell: Tortles have Natural Armour that provides an AC of 17 and can be combined with a shield. Tortle Barbarians can safely ignore their Dexterity, as they don’t need it for their Armour Class at all, and focus on pushing their Strength score up to 20 as soon as possible.
Found in: Player’s Handbook
With +2 Strength and +1 Charisma, Dragonborn make for inspiring or intimidating Barbarians. Their Draconic Ancestry provides them resistance to an elemental energy type, a welcome defensive buff to this unarmoured warrior.
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Once per short rest, a Dragonborn can unleash a breath weapon attack, attuned to their Draconic Ancestry, against all enemies in an area: a bolt of lightning, a cone of flame, a cloud of poison, and so on. Enemies can halve the damage they suffer by succeeding on a saving throw (either Dexterity or Constitution), against a DC of 8 + the Barbarian’s Constitution modifier + proficiency bonus. It’s a great way to get more value from your already considerable Constitution score.
Found in: Mythic Odysseys of Theros
With +2 Constitution and +1 Strength, Leonin already have the makings of natural Barbarians. Darkvision, Claws, and proficiency in Athletics, Intimidation, Perception, or Survival are all useful, too. Similar to Dragonborn, Leonin have a once-per-short-rest trick hidden behind their sharp grins. Daunting Roar affects enemies within 10 feet: they must pass a Wisdom saving throw (with a DC based on the Leonin’s Constitution modifier) or be frightened until the end of the Leonin’s next turn.
Found in: Elemental Evil Player’s Companion
A naturally resilient race that dwells in frozen mountaintops, Goliaths have +2 Strength, +1 Constitution, and resistance to Cold damage thanks to their Mountain Born trait. Once per short rest, Goliaths can use their reaction to shrug off damage from an enemy attack, reducing it by d12 + their Constitution modifier. There’s nothing clever or tricky about a Goliath Barbarian; they just work.
Found in: Eberron: Rising from the Last War
If you’re committed to creating a defensive Barbarian that can pull enemy aggression away from their allies or launch Reckless Attacks with impunity, look no further than the Warforged.
Warforged have +2 to Constitution and +1 to one other score of their choice. Constructed Resilience grants advantage on saves against poisoning and resistance to poison damage, and makes them immune to magical Sleep effects. Warforged don’t actually sleep at all: they remain conscious (though motionless) while they take a long rest, forever resolving the question of who is going to take first watch.
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They have a suite of other non-combat resistances: Warforged don’t need to eat, breathe, and can’t suffer disease, making them hardy wilderness adventurers.
Last, their shiny metal body grants them +1AC. A first-level Warforged Barbarian devoted entirely to taking the hits can combine this with Unarmoured Defense and a high Dexterity and Constitution score, a shield, and reach an impressive AC of 19. And, unlike a Tortle, that AC will climb higher when they increase their Constitution or Dexterity.
Barbarian subclasses 5E: Primal Paths
At level three, your Barbarian will choose a Primal Path that shapes their Rage and their role on the battlefield. They’ll gain new features from their Path at 6th, 10th and 14th level. These abilities only function while the Barbarian is Raging.
Path of the Ancestral Guardian
|6||Spirit Shield (2d6)|
|10||Consult the Spirits, Spirit Shield (3d6)|
|14||Vengeful Ancestors, Spirit Shield (4d6)|
Found in: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything
When the Ancestral Guardian rages, they draw forth the spirits of their ancestors to aid their allies and confound their foes. The Ancestral Protectors ability gives the first creature the Barbarian strikes each turn disadvantage on attack rolls against targets other than the Barbarian on its next turn, and grants allies resistance against that enemy’s attacks. Spirit Shield is a reaction that the Barbarian can use each turn while Raging, reducing the damage an ally within 30 feet would suffer from an enemy attack by 2d6 (or more at higher levels). Then, when they hit level 14, the Vengeful Ancestors ability turns that damage reduction into Force damage on the attacking enemy.
Their protective aura, and the ability to cast some Divination spells with Consult the Spirits, gives the Ancestral Guardian a secondary role as a support class, though they’re still tied to the front-line of the battle. The damage reduction from Spirit Shield can help friendly spellcasters maintain their concentration when hit, while tying up the attention of a deadly foe with Ancestral Protectors will allow a fragile Rogue to stay engaged and keep landing their vital Sneak Attack damage.
Path of the Battlerager
Found in: Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide
Battleragers are Dwarves who woke up and chose violence.
Originating in the Forgotten Realms setting of Faerûn, only Dwarves can follow the path of the Battlerager. Their abilities are tied to a suit of unique, spiked-covered medium armour with AC14.
While Raging, they can use a bonus attack action to smash into their foes, dealing d4 piercing damage. If they make an attack to grapple an enemy (remember, that’s a Strength check, which Raging Barbarians have advantage on) they inflict three piercing damage on their foe.
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The Battlerager is something of a masochist. The Reckless Attacks feature leaves Barbarians vulnerable to taking hits, but Battleragers are encouraged to use it often by their ability Reckless Abandon, which grants them a few temporary hit points every time they make a Reckless Attack. Then Spiked Retribution adds a little payback, inflicting three points of piercing damage on anyone who lands a hit on them.
The feats Magekiller and Mobile allow you to create a pitbull of a Battlerager that can punch their way through the enemy battleline, grab onto an enemy spellcaster, and hold on until they’re dead.
Path of the Beast
|3||Form of the Beast|
|14||Call the Hunt|
Found in: Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything
The Beast is a weird semi-shapeshifter, physically manifesting their inner monster whenever they Rage. At levels 3 and 6, this provides them with a toolbox of flexible, transformation powers.
Form of the Beast allows them to manifest a plethora of natural weapons when Raging, with the Tail the most useful in all situations; it’s a reach weapon that allows the Beast to attempt to deflect enemy attacks with their reaction. Bestial Soul makes those natural weapon attacks magical, and adds further mutations that you can swap between at each short rest, providing perfect adaptation for climbing, jumping, or swimming.
Make it to level 14, and Call the Hunt will mark the Beast out as a true alpha in the pack. While Raging, the Beast picks a number of willing allies up to the Beast’s Constitution modifier. The Beast gains five temporary HP for each such ally, and, for the duration of the Rage, those allies can add d6 to one damage roll each turn.
The Path of the Beast is flexible where other Barbarian paths are focused. Follow it if you want to play a Barbarian that is truly wild.
Path of the Berserker
Found in: Player’s Handbook
The Berserker is perhaps the iconic Barbarian, equal parts psychopath and industrial wood-chipper. While other Barbarians merely Rage out, the Berserker can throw themselves into a Frenzy, granting them a melee weapon attack each turn as a bonus action. The price of Frenzying is high: Berserkers gain a level of Exhaustion each time they finish a Frenzy. This rare status condition applies progressive debuffs as a character becomes more and more Exhausted. One level of Exhaustion inflicts disadvantage on all skill checks; six levels of Exhaustion is enough to kill a character. A long rest and adequate meal removes just a single level of Exhaustion.
Mindless Rage provides immunity to Charm and Frighten effects while raging, and Retaliation allows the Berserker to make an attack in reaction to being injured by an adjacent foe. Neither of these rely on Frenzy, and both are welcome buffs.
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Intimidating Presence is an underwhelming ability: the Berserker sacrifices their normal action to attempt to inflict the Frightened condition on a single enemy. The enemy gets a Wisdom save, and the DC is 8 + the Berserker’s proficiency bonus + their Charisma modifier, giving most enemies at least a 50/50 chance to avoid the effect.
The Berserker is not the choice if you want to maximise your damage output in a combat campaign; their signature ability has a truly exorbitant downside, and Intimidating Presence is rarely an effective way to use an action.
But, if you’re playing a campaign with fewer battles, a heavy roleplaying focus, perhaps employing a liberal use of Exhaustion to represent the strain of wilderness survival, or the variant, slower healing rules from the Dungeon Master’s Guide, the Berserker is an incredibly thematic choice, a terrifying warrior whose violent outbursts threaten their own life as well as their enemies.
Path of the Storm Herald
Found in: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything
Swathed in the fury of the elements, when the Storm Herald Rages, nature’s wrath accompanies them. The Herald attunes to the Sea, Desert or Tundra, channelling their power when they Rage into their Storm Aura. This has a one-time effect when they start Raging, that they can trigger again with a bonus action (so take note – the Storm Herald is not going to be a dual-wielding Barbarian). The Desert Storm Aura inflicts fire damage indiscriminately on all caught in the aura; the Tundra provides temporary hit points to allies; and the Sea can direct a lightning strike against a single foe.
Storm Soul provides damage resistance against the appropriate element type, even when not Raging, and comes with a utility feature (such as a swimming speed and the ability to breathe underwater for a Storm Herald of the Sea), while Shielding Storm extends that damage resistance to selected creatures within their aura. The Raging Storm is another powerful combat effect: anyone who hits the Desert Storm Herald suffers retaliatory fire damage, while the Sea Storm Herald can knock down enemies with the force of a wave, and the Tundra Storm Herald can lock enemies in place within their freezing aura.
You’ll get most mileage out of these elemental abilities if your campaign takes you into frost-giant haunted mountain peaks, or a dragon’s volcanic lair – but you’ll have most fun with it if you really enjoy special effects and Led Zeppelin’s The Immigrant Song.
Path of the Totem Warrior
|3||Spirit Seeker, Totem Spirit|
|6||Aspect of the Beast|
This Barbarian is a primal protector attuned to the spirits of nature. If you want a Barbarian who tempers their Strength with Wisdom, this is a great choice. Their Spirit Seeker and Spirit Walker abilities grant them Druidic spells that they can perform as rituals, communing with the spirits of animals and the wild itself, which will be most useful in a campaign with lots of wilderness exploring.
Some real-world human cultures include animal spirits and totems in their spiritual practice. Everyone’s different, and if you’re not sure how a player from your group feels about the Totem Warrior, your best bet is to talk about it.
The Totem Spirit, Aspect of the Beast, and Totemic Attunement abilities are each themed to a particular Totem Animal, of which Aspect of the Beast is a utility ability and the others combat powers.
The Bear is strong and hardy, perfect for a Barbarian who wants to draw in enemy punishment; the Eagle is hard to pin down, with keen senses and short bursts of flight when they reach level 14; the Elk is swift and unstoppable, having a fantastic utility ability of doubling the travelling speed of a party of 10, and a handy ability to charge through enemy spaces at level 14; the Tiger, weirdly, is just really good at jumping; and the Wolf is an alpha predator, granting allies advantage on attack rolls against adjacent enemies (making them the Rogue’s best friend). You’re not limited to picking one Totem animal, and can select different Totems at different levels.
Path of the Zealot
|3||Divine Fury, Warrior of the Gods|
|14||Rage beyond Death|
Found in: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything
The Zealot is a raging dervish, driven by divine fury. Compared to the Zealot, Paladins and Clerics look like timid pamphleteers. Divine Fury adds radiant damage to the Zealot’s first hit with a weapon attack each turn, while Warrior of the Gods means they can be magically returned to life without expending any material components. Think of that as a ‘frequent flier’s discount’ for return trips from the afterlife.
Fanatical Focus is like an angrier version of the Paladin’s Aura of Protection: once per Rage, the Zealot can reroll a failed saving throw. Zealous Presence is a potent bonus action available once per long rest, granting up to 10 allies advantage on attack rolls and saving throws until your next turn.
Arcane adepts: Read our full D&D Wizard 5E guide
Remember: mercenaries can be hired from 2GP per day, so there’s never an excuse to affect less than 10 characters with this. And Rage Beyond Death is the pinnacle of pure, stubborn aggression: while Raging, the Zealot simply will not die.
If you like the idea of a Holy Warrior, but always thought that the Paladin was too much of a goody two-shoes compared to actual crusaders, consider the Zealot.
Path of Wild Magic
|3||Magic Awareness, Wild Surge|
Found in: Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything
If you think that all the other Barbarian Paths are too reserved and sensible, you want the Path of Wild Magic Barbarian.
There are a couple of sensible abilities for this class: Magic Awareness provides an intuitive awareness of the presence of magic, while Bolstering Magic can restore low-level spell slots to spellcasters, or grant characters a bonus d3 to their attacks and ability checks.
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The real chaos starts when the Wild Magic Barbarian enters a Rage. You’ll roll on the Wild Magic table and gain a random benefit for the duration of the Rage. That could be the ability to summon exploding pixies next to their enemy, unleash a blinding beam of radiant energy from their chest, teleport 30 feet, or all sorts of other chaos. Unstable Backlash lets the Barbarian roll again on the table when they suffer damage or fail a saving throw, immediately unleashing the effect and applying the new one for the duration of the combat. Controlled Surge is almost an anticlimax, allowing you to roll two dice on the Wild Magic table and choose the result you prefer.
There’s no way to optimise a Wild Magic Barbarian. That will frustrate the min-maxer at the table – but you’ll be laughing too hard to care.
Barbarian builds 5E
How much flexibility is there in a melee class that specialises in hitting things and being angry? The Barbarian will always be a melee beat-stick. You get to choose whether that stick will be full of nails, on fire, or simply very, very big.
Half-OrC Berserker d12 addict
This build cares about one thing and one thing only: rolling d12s. Is it more effective than other Barbarians? Debatable. Do the side-effects of Frenzy risk killing your Barbarian from sheer Exhaustion? Absolutely. Does the build roll more delicious d12s than any other character in the game? Probably not; Fighters can take greataxes too, and they pick up more Extra Attacks than the Barbarian. But you will still roll a lot of d12s.
- Pick a Half-Orc for the excellent Ability score boosts and Savage Attacks ability, which grants an extra weapon die in damage when you land a critical hit with a melee weapon. Maximise your Strength and Constitution scores, pick up your Greataxe and walk out the door.
- At level three, specialise into the Path of the Berserker. Though the Frenzy class feature comes with the fiendish downside of causing you a level of Exhaustion, it also lets you make a single melee attack each turn as a bonus action while you are Raging. More attacks means more hits; more hits means more d12s in damage. You can pick up a tureen of Olisuba Leaf, a tea that lets you clear two levels of Exhaustion after every long rest instead of just one, to Frenzy more often during each day of adventuring.
- At level four, take the Orcish Fury feat. Once per short rest, you can roll an additional weapon die in damage when you hit with a simple or martial weapon (a greataxe d12, obviously), and you can make a free melee attack when you use your Relentless Endurance racial ability.
- At level eight, the Great Weapon Master feat will allow you to make bonus attacks (as long as you aren’t in a Frenzy) whenever you land a critical hit or drop an enemy to 0 HP. It also lets you trade a -5 to hit penalty for +10 damage on an attack, perfect for damage sponge enemies – though, as that doesn’t add a d12, it’s really more of an afterthought.
- Take level 9 in Barbarian to pick up Brutal Critical for yet more d12s when you score a critical hit – but, instead of taking your 10th level in Barbarian, pick up the first level of Fighter. Choose the Great Weapon Fighting Style. This lets you reroll damage die rolls of 1 or 2. Rerolling a d12 is still rolling a d12! Second Wind also grants a welcome ability to regain a few HP.
- Take another level in Fighter for Action Surge: this once-per-short-rest ability lets you take an additional action, which will of course be the Attack action, granting you two more greataxe attacks.
- Then take a third level in Fighter and the Champion martial archetype, allowing you to critically hit on rolls of 19 and 20, doubling the number of criticals you score. Your stats may be low, but your d12 output is reassuringly high.
Stout Halfling unmounted lancer
As a Small race, Halflings have disadvantage when fighting with heavy weapons, capping their maximum damage die at a puny d10 (a versatile weapon wielded two-handed).
But there is a truly stupid exception – although clearly intended for mounted combatants, the Lance can be used on foot as a two-handed, reach weapon weapon that deals d12 damage. Sure, it grants disadvantage on attacks against enemies adjacent to you. But that shouldn’t be a problem for this build…
- Pick a Stout Halfling for +2 Dexterity, +1 Constitution, the handy Lucky feature that allows you to reroll attack, ability and saving throw rolls of 1, Halfling Nimbleness, which allows you to move through the space of creatures larger than you, and Stout Resilience, which grants advantage on Poison Saves and Resistance to poison damage.
- Aim to start with a Constitution and Dexterity bonus of +3: using the standard ability score array you can put both Dexterity and Constitution to 16 and your Strength to 13. You’ll have a respectable AC 16 – which you’re going to need, because you’re going to get into trouble.
- Swap your Greataxe for a Lance (and don’t ask how your threefoot-tall halfling is carrying a ten-foot-long lance).
- At third level, follow the Path of the Totem Warrior, taking the Eagle totem to grant enemies disadvantage on opportunity attacks against you. Your objective? Run full pelt at your adversaries, prong them with the lance, and dash through their legs.
- At level four, there are two feats that increase your speed and manoeuvrability. The Squat Nimbleness racial feat is available to any Small character, and grants +1 Strength or Dexterity, as well as providing +5 feet movement speed, proficiency in Acrobatics or Athletics, and advantage on checks to escape from grapples. Alternatively, Mobility provides +10 feet in movement, removes any difficult terrain penalties to your movement when Dashing, and prevents enemies that you have attacked from making opportunity attacks against you.
- When you gain an Extra Attack and Fast Movement at Level 5, your Barbarian will be able to poke one enemy with their lance, run through their legs without fear of reprisal, and prong the Wizard hiding behind them.
- Play catch-up with your Strength score for your level 8 Ability Score increase, then buff either your Constitution or Strength at levels 12 and 16.
- It’s up to you which Aspect of the Beast you pick at level 6 on the Path of the Totem Warrior, but, at level 14, take Totemic Attunement with the Tiger. This allows you to make an additional melee attack as a bonus action if you move twenty feet or more in a straight line before you attack your target, which you should always be able to do.
- For a more sensible, far more boring version of this build, drop the lance in favour of a shield and any old one-handed martial melee weapon, or a pair of battleaxes. But remember: anyone can make good decisions. Only true heroes go into a dungeon wielding a cavalry weapon three times their size.
Teenage mutant Barbarian Tortle
Did we design this build because of the meme potential? Yes. But it turns out it’s lots of fun too. Tortles don’t ever need to wear armour.
By level six, Barbarians on the path of the Beast don’t need magical weapons to make magical attacks, can climb as if permanently affected by Spider Climb, and can breathe underwater. This frees up their three magic item attunement slots for all kinds of fun Magic Rings and Wondrous items – perfect if you’re the kind of player who wants to push all the buttons and play with all the toys.
- As a Tortle, you can walk out the door in your birthday suit: a hard shell that provides natural Armour Class of 17. You don’t even need weapons, but you should probably pick up a Battleaxe and Shield. Starting with AC 19 and a weapon you can wield in one or two hands is a good starting position for your Barbarian.
- For Stats, pump up your Strength and Constitution and then follow your heart. Your Armour Class is going to be 19 no matter what you choose.
- The combat bonuses you gain when you pick the Path of the Beast can be changed every time you Rage, while the special movement abilities granted at level six can be swapped each short rest, so you’ll always remain flexible. There are still nuances to consider.
- Manifesting a Tail can make the Tortle into a true tank: with a shield granting them AC 19 and a tail-parry reaction that lets them push that even higher when an attack does hit, this is a very tough Tortle to crack.
- Though the Beast’s paired Claws are no more damaging than two-weapon fighting with paired hand-axes, attacking with both Claws doesn’t use up a Bonus action. What to do with that extra action slot? Why not chug a Potion of Fire Breathing and channel your inner Godzilla?
- The Beast’s Bite provides a trickle of healing once per turn, if you are below half HP when you land the attack.
- If you want to double down on defence, take the Shield Master feat at level 4. This allows you to use a Bonus Action to make a Shove attack with your shield, while greatly improving your survivability against effects that allow Dexterity saves: it adds +2 to such saves against effects that target only you, and when a successful Dexterity save would allow you to save to prevent half damage from an effect such as a dragon’s firebreath, you can prevent it all instead. This synergises beautifully with Danger Sense.
- If you’d prefer to embrace your inner scorpion, and have a GM who smiles on players finding every little advantage in the rules… instead take the Dual Wielder feat at level 4. The Sage Advice Compendium confirms that natural weapons are weapons, and the Dual Wielder feat allows you to make a bonus two-weapon attack with weapons that aren’t light weapons, granting you +1 AC. As a clawed Tortle, this will be available even when you aren’t in Beast mode. From level 5, when you manifest your Rage Claws, you’ll have a total of four attacks per turn: one normal, one from the Claws’ ability, one from your extra attack, and one as a bonus action.
- As you don’t need to worry about weapons, deck yourself out in magic Rings, Amulets, Bracers, Circlets and other bling like a Barbarian Mr T. The ‘T’ stands for Tortle.
Duergar Battlerager Luchador
This angry, spiky dwarf goes into battle empty-handed. But unarmed doesn’t mean unarmoured: they’re a spiky pincushion of unbridled aggression.
- Take the Hill Dwarf subrace. This provides +2 Constitution and +2 Strength. Start with Strength 17, Dexterity 14 and Constitution 15, and make sure to take proficiency in Athletics.
- At level 3, you’ll begin to follow the Path of the Battlerager, the Kuldjargh, or ‘Axe-Idiot’ in Dwarvish. Donning your spiked armour, you’ll fight with a Battleaxe in one hand and a shield in the other, bashing your foes with your Spikes as a bonus action. Though the damage die on the armour spikes is just a d4, you get to add your Strength modifier to the result, making your armour spikes more damaging than merely wielding a handaxe in your offhand.
- While the sensible way to follow this path would be to fight with axe, shield, and spike attacks, you’re going to do something different. At level 4, take the Fighting Initiate Feat, and choose the Unarmed Fighting style. This style upgrades your Unarmed Strikes to deal d8 damage – provided you aren’t holding any weapons or a shield when you make the attack – and allows you to deal d4 damage to a creature that you’re grappling at the start of your turn.
- At level 5, you’ll gain an Extra Attack. You are now a living bear trap. Charge your foes, grapple them with one hand (dealing 3 damage if you’re successful), punch them for d8 damage with the other fist, and then use a bonus action to stab them with your armour spikes. Proceed to headbutt your grappled foe into the grave, dealing d4 damage at the start of each of your following turns before you start punching and spiking them. If you’re lucky, they’ll try and escape – a great way to waste their action, as your Raging Barbarian has advantage on Strength checks.