D&D: Tips for Playing a Barbarian in 5e

Looking for tips for playing a barbarian in 5e D&D? Keep reading. If you want more, check out our page on D&D classes. You can find guides for playing other classes and a bunch of other useful information. For now, I’m going to take a deep dive on How to Play a Barbarian character in Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition.

So, you want to play a barbarian? Don’t feel bad. It’s hard not to want to play one. He’s the classic warrior—a big, strong brawler who gets by on his wits and courage. Plus, he gets to wear lots of neat-looking leather and carry a big axe. He thinks he’s the toughest guy around, and he may well be. But the DM has final say on what’s toughest in the game.

The DM also knows that a barbarian is just not as powerful as a regular fighter, and has lots of special rules that make him tricky to play. So be sure to read this article carefully and think things over before you decide to play a barbarian. If at first you don’t succeed with him, try, try again. You’ll find that he makes an interesting and challenging character once you get used to playing him.

This article will help you get started.

Barbarian Backstory Ideas

Here are just a few ideas for a barbarian character backstory, along with some notes on these ideas.

  1. You once lived in a big city, but you left it because you couldn’t stand the soft life. You headed out for the frontier, for the frontier has adventure and danger. You’re out for excitement and the chance to get rich.
  2. You’re a barbarian from far away. You’re from a distant island, or maybe from some lost continent. You might even be from another world.
  3. You’re the descendant of a great barbarian adventurer. You’re proud of this heritage, but you’ve had to learn at your own pace. You never had the chance to learn your barbarian’s skills properly, so you’re just starting out as a beginning barbarian.
  4. You were raised in a barbarian tribe. You feel more at home in the wilderness than you did in the village, and you roam the wilderness with your tribe. You’re still learning the ways of the tribe, but you can read, write and count.
  5. You’re more civilized than the other barbarians, since you’re a noble. Most other barbarians don’t even know how to read, but you’re different. Your parents are nobles, so you’re well educated for a barbarian. You have a fighter’s skills, so you’re able to sneak into the city as a spy and wreak havoc.
  6. You’re a hill or forest barbarian. You’re not as good at fighting as you should be, since you don’t really like fighting and you don’t want to hurt people. You’d prefer to live in peace. But you’re being chased by other barbarians, who want to kill you and claim your tribe as their own.
  7. You’re a barbarian who’s more at home in his head than in a fight. You have to be careful, because you tend to think before you act. You can’t just jump into a fight and expect to win. You have to plan and strategize. Be warned, though: your opponents may plan ahead, too.
  8. You’re a barbarian who’s a recovering alcoholic. You spent years drinking and carousing, and you finally decided you wanted to get sober. You decided to get healthy and go into the wilderness to do a quest. Your journey to this quest takes you through the mountains, where you really drink the fresh mountain water and breathe the fresh mountain air. You feel revitalized and stronger than ever.
  9. You’re a barbarian who’s been cursed by a witch. You’ve been cursed to become a werewolf. You’re not a good monster, but you are a scary one. And you’re not a good person to have as an enemy.

Barbarian Class Features

Barbarians are strong, fast and tough. They’re also fierce. If they weren’t fierce, they wouldn’t be barbarians. But they also have a couple of other features that make them tricky to play. First, they get so enraged that they can lose control of themselves. They’re a fine, upstanding barbarian one moment, but the next moment they flip out and start tearing people’s heads off. (Or worse, they start pulling the heads off snakes and toadstools, thinking that these are people. Or is that the other way around?)

When this happens, the barbarian goes berserk. This can be beneficial for them in combat, but it can be bad news for any friendly players around because barbarians can’t control their rage and can end up attacking their friends. A good DM will not abuse this, but it should be something that players in a group consider and work around.

Second, barbarians get really tired after they get out of a fight. The berserk rage they get into to make them better fighters also makes them slower to think and hurt when they’re out of the fight. They want a chance to rest after a fight, but they also might get out of control and kill someone if they don’t get this rest.

Who Should Play a Barbarian?

If you’re a player who likes to fight, a barbarian is the class for you. If you’re a player who likes to think, you might have trouble keeping one barbarian alive in a game against intelligent foes. On the other hand, if you’re a player who likes to think and fight, you’re in luck, because the barbarian is the only character who can do both well at the same time.

What a Barbarian Can Do

The barbarian is a powerful warrior who’s trained in various fighting skills. A barbarian’s best assets are his fighting ability and his high hit points. He can take a lot of damage before he starts to get hurt badly. You’re a tough cookie.

Barbarians for Beginners

In combat, a barbarian can move quickly, and he’s a good fighter. A barbarian’s fighting prowess can be both a liability and an asset which can make them tricky (but fun) to play! If you’re new to D&D, this is a great character class to start with.

Barbarian Primal Path in D&D 5e

At level three, you’ll need to choose a primary primal path to follow.

  • Path of the Berserker (Player’s Handbook)
  • Path of the Totem Warrior (Player’s Handbook)
  • Path of the Battlerager (Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide)
  • Path of the Ancestral Guardian (Xanathar’s Guide to Everything)
  • Path of the Storm Herald (Xanathar’s Guide to Everything)
  • Path of the Zealot (Xanathar’s Guide to Everything)

Best Barbarian Stats

  1. Strength
  2. Constitution
  3. Dexterity

Best Barbarian Race Options

With the above stat information, here’s the best races for a barbarian character in D&D 5e.

  • Dwarf
  • Half-Orc
  • Goliath
  • Human

Playing a Barbarian in D&D 5e

Whether you draw your inspiration from books (like Conan), movies (like Conan), or video games (um, like Conan?), you should remember that sometimes avoiding stereotypes is a good thing. The barbarian can be the best warrior. He can be a savage, a noble, an outsider, a king, a warrior, a wanderer.

The barbarian was designed to be a good basic warrior, and to stand toe-to-toe with a fighter. The fighter has more training, and the barbarian has more ability. The barbarian also has a more obvious source of power, since he can get into a rage. But the way the barbarian is balanced out is through the long term. The barbarian is a strong warrior, but he can’t fight all day. He’ll get tired, and he’ll eventually have to rest. Even in a rage, he can’t fight forever.

This is a problem, because a barbarian will have a much harder time against a tough fight if he has to fight, rest, fight, rest, fight, rest, fight, rest, while the tough fight has been working day and night to prepare. This can make it very hard for a barbarian to win out in the long term when matched against foes who have the same basic idea of fighting as the barbarian.

A barbarian who takes this into account will be much happier. When he fights a tough foe, he focuses on trying to end the fight quickly. He’ll try to make the fight a quick kill rather than a tough one. His aim is to try to end the fight as fast as possible and to then rest for a couple of days. If he kills his foe, he’s golden: he has rest and his foe is dead. If his foe gets away, he still has a good idea of where the foe is, and he can rest and try again later.

This is a very different approach than the fighter has. This is why the barbarian preferred challenge level is one level lower than the fighter’s. He is not the same as the fighter.

Overall, as a player, you want to think about whether you want to play a stereotypical barbarian (like Conan) or whether you want to make something more original. Another Conan-clone is okay (and can be a lot of fun), but with a little work, you can craft a barbarian character that is truly your own.

Barbarians on the Horizon

Barbarian is a very popular class among players. It is the most popular class for people who like to be physical rather than magical. The barbarian also has a lot of natural appeal to players who want to be a character who is outside the establishment. The barbarian is one of the few options in D&D for a truly wild, untamed character.

The barbarian class has a lot of value in the hands of the right player. If a character is going to be a big, strong badass, then the barbarian is probably the best class to do it. In fact, the barbarian was designed to be the basic warrior who fits alongside the fighter. The fighter has training and discipline, and the barbarian has raw strength and power. The barbarian trades away long term ability for short term ability.

Barbarians can be very effective for a couple of reasons. First, they are very physically focused, which means that they have a lot of natural appeal for players. Then, they can use their rage ability to get more temporary hit points, which makes them better able to survive a hard fight.

Barbarians are not particularly well-rounded. They are focused on physical combat and are not good at most other things. They have problems dealing with traps and aren’t good at ranged attacks. Still, a barbarian can be a very powerful combatant. A player who wants to focus on melee combat where the barbarian can shine should consider playing a barbarian.

Barbarians in the World

Barbarians are common in the wider world. They can come from any race, but the Half-orc barbarian is particularly common. Barbarians are the iconic warriors. Anyone who faces a barbarian knows that they’re facing down an enemy who won’t go down easy.

Barbarians are found among all tribes and nations, but they are particularly common in the savage areas. A group of barbarians might be found among the tribes of the Frozen North or the savages of the Plain of Thorns. A single barbarian might be found in a town or village. A barbarian might also be found in a party populated by other classes. Barbarians are found in pretty much any area of the world.

Barbarians are most common in the north since they do well in cold weather. They also have a reputation for being very uncivilized, and everyone knows that uncivilized people live in the north. But barbarians can be found anywhere in the world.

NPC Reactions

Most people see the barbarian as a tough, savage warrior. They are often surprised to see a barbarian who is part of a civilized society, but they are also pleased to see that a barbarian can be a part of a modern society.

Barbarians tend to be loners, and they tend to congregate with other loners. Barbarians are often found among the wilder barbarians, as well as among more civilized individuals.

Barbarian Lore

Characters with ranks in Knowledge (local) can research barbarians to learn more about them. When a character makes a skill check, read or paraphrase the following, including information from lower DCs.

DC 10: Barbarians are big, tough warriors.

DC 15: Barbarians are able to enter a rage for a short amount of time.

DC 20: Barbarians are most common in the northern regions of the world.

DC 25: Barbarians have a strong connection to their barbarian patrons, and they often gain barbarian powers through these connections.

D&D Barbarians in the Game

Barbarians can be represented as characters in all kinds of groups, including adventuring parties and adventuring guilds. Multiple barbarians can be found together since they like the company of other barbarians. A barbarian may be a lone warrior or may be found among other classes. They are often found in the wilds, but it is also not uncommon to have barbarians in civilized societies.

Barbarian Character Backstory Generator

If you’ve found this article useful and want some help coming up with a good barbarian backstory, I’ve got several barbarian backstory ideas you can use in your game. You can also go to LitRPG Adventures to browse dozens of pre-generated barbarian backstories or generate your own!

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Paul Bellow

LitRPG Author Paul Bellow

Paul Bellow is a LitRPG author, gamer, RPG game developer, and publisher of several online communities. In other words, an old school webmaster. He also developed and runs LitRPG Adventures, a set of advanced RPG generators powered by GPT-3 AI. Here at LitRPG Reads, he publishes articles about LitRPG books, tabletop RPG books, and all sorts of DND content that's free to use in your personal tabletop campaign - i.e. non-commercial use. Enjoy your stay and reach out on Twitter or Discord if you want to make contact.

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Make life as a Gamemaster easier.... If you play Dungeon & Dragons, Pathfinder, or other fantasy tabletop role-playing games, this RPG random tables book is full of encounters, NPCs, and more. Available as an eBook or in a classic print format. Either way, you'll have a wealth of adventure ideas at your fingertips.