Welcome to the Play with Class series where we will give you concrete steps to run each class for the world’s greatest roleplaying game! I’m not sure about you, but I frequently find the sheer amount of character options exhausting to comb through. I often wish someone would highlight what will work the best when I play my shiny new character. And since I want it, I’m going to assume you all might find such a guide helpful as well. So here we are breaking it down one class per article. Now let’s get to it.
We’re starting things off with one of the most beloved classes: the barbarian. The barbarian has existed through many editions of the game for a good reason—they hit real hard, and when they hit, it hurts real bad. When I introduce new players to 5th Edition, I often recommend picking the barbarian as their first character class. Why? Because it’s easy to learn the ropes, and running a barbarian in combat is instantly gratifying. Everyone loves the feeling of doing a billion damage in a single round of combat, and hooking new players with that success is a great way to keep them coming back to the table.
Role of the Barbarian
In a standard adventuring party, barbarians usually land in the DPS (damage per second) category, meaning that you are phenomenal at getting into the middle of combat and taking down enemies quickly. Barbarians can occasionally also take on the role of party tank (a character who can take big hits, so others don’t have to) because of their high hit points, but other classes with access to heavy armor typically fit that role better.
Your job as the barbarian is to get right into the center of fights and bring down foes as quickly as possible.
Reasons to Play a Barbarian
- Easy to play! You have a concise list of abilities to master before reaching your full potential.
- Your party will love you! Barbarians operating at their best deal massive amounts of damage per round. And even better, they consistently deal serious damage round after round. There is no “out of spell slots” problem for you.
- Clear motivations! Barbarians lend themselves to easy-to-understand character motivations, which makes them easier to roleplay. Usually, the goals you care about are straightforward, and the way you achieve those goals is even clearer.
Combat Crash Course
So how do you run the damage-dealing juggernaut known as the barbarian? There are just a few tricks you have to master to get the most out of your abilities. Once you have these things on lock, your combat experience will be smooth sailing.
Master Your Rage
The first-level feature Rage is the cornerstone of all your class capabilities. Your main goal is to remember to rage as soon as possible in combat. Don’t forget to always start with that bonus action to rage! While raging, you are way better at hitting, resistant to all kinds of damage, and living your best warrior life. The only tricky thing about rage is that you have to stay engaged in combat to keep it going, which means if you are far away from your enemies, you should wait to rage until you get to the front lines. Admittedly though, situations that would end your rage rarely ever come up (unless you make poor tactical choices).
The most challenging part of playing a barbarian is remembering to use your second level Reckless Attack feature. The faster you can learn to make use of the devastating ability, the happier you will be. Essentially, using this ability will give you an attack with advantage every single turn, which is mind-blowingly useful for all levels of play. The only downside in using this feature is that it gives your enemy advantage to retaliate. Honestly, you’ve likely already killed them with the attack before they ever get that chance. Learn to love the reckless life.
Do Your Math Ahead of Time
One of the greatest things about playing a barbarian is all the static bonuses you get from the class. Most of your abilities give you a flat advantage that you don’t have to activate. They just work! This also means that you need to make sure your character sheet is updated with your information before you sit down to play. Make sure you write a big note that whenever you get hit with a trap, you get bonuses from Danger Sense. Make sure your movement speed is updated when you get the fast movement ability. Mark your advantage to initiative and extra damage die in big highlighted notes. These flat bonuses make you awesome, and you will not have a good time if you don’t have them marked on your sheet.
As you get more experience (literally) playing a barbarian, you’ll get the additional challenge of picking up mechanics to unlock even more potential. While there are, of course, an incredible number of options for you to choose from, I’m going to recommend a couple based on different play experiences you might want to have.
Pure Damage Subclass
If you want to continue challenging the best the barbarian has to offer in terms of pure ferocious attack power, you’ve got to go Path of the Berserker. This subclass gets you a bonus attack right off the bat, keeps your head in the slaying game, and eventually gives you a reaction attack if the other three attacks weren’t enough!
If you are looking for a barbarian that is a little spiritual and has high Wisdom, check out the Path of the Ancestors (see Midgard Heroes Handbook).