Helpful Tips for Playing a DND Barbarian in 5e+

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Looking for tips for playing a DND barbarian in 5e? 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. This class features everything you love about adventuring – especially combat. Let’s go!

So, a Barbarian, huh?

So, you’ve watched Conan recently, and 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 (not necessarily his armor class).

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.

Barbarians for Beginners

In combat, a barbarian can move quickly, and he’s a good fighter. A barbarian’s fighting prowess and battle frenzy 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.


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Barbarians get a melee weapon attack bonus when in a rage – and some other perks too. Keep reading to learn more about how to play a barbarian in Dungeons & Dragons. They also get a Danger Sense ability that’s cool – and useful for keeping you alive.

Barbarian Backstory Ideas

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

  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. Thanks to a magic lucky rabbit’s foot given to you by your mother, you get an action bonus on the first round of every combat.
  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 as an action bonus.
  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. Your light armor might not be enough to protect you.
  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. You believe in the animal spirits, and you try to follow their will in the world. Light armor is the most you wear at any time. When in berserker rage, you get a bonus action once every fourth round.

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 into a berserk rage. 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 springs from their heritage. When in berserk mode, they become better fighters (bonus to melee weapon attack rolls), but after a certain number of rages, they must have a long rest.

It 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. A simple bonus action and a short rest won’t cut it.

Hit Points

Hit Dice: 1d12 per level of the barbarian
Hit Points at 1st Level: 12 + your Constitution modifier
Hit Points at Higher Levels: 1d12 + your Constitution modifier per level after 1st

Proficiencies

Armor: Light armor, medium armor, shields
Weapons: Simple weapons, martial weapons
Tools: None
Saving Throws: Strength, Constitution
Skills: Choose two from Animal Handling, Athletics, Intimidation, Nature, Perception, and Survival

Equipment

You start with the following equipment, in addition to the equipment granted by your background:

  • A greataxe OR a martial melee weapon
  • Two handaxes OR a simple weapon
  • A leather pack plus four javelins

Rage

On the barbarian’s turn, they can choose to enter a berserker rage as a bonus action. This is a reckless attack – and they might hit friendlies.

When raging, they gain the following benefits (If they are not wearing heavy armor!)

  • Advantage on Strength checks / Strength saving throws.
  • Bonus to the damage roll of melee weapons (increases as you gain levels as a barbarian)
  • Resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage.

Remember that a better armor class is not worth the inability to rage!

A barbarian rage (in most standard cases) lasts for one minute. It will end early if you are knocked unconscious or if you stop attacking. A barbarian character can also end their rage on their turn as a bonus action.

The rage gets better as you level up. At level eleven, for example, you can make a DC 10 Constitution saving throw. If it’s successful, you drop to 1 hit point instead of 0 hit points – which can literally be a life saver until the cleric gets off their ass and helps!

Feats

There’s a ton of feats that a barbarian can choose, so I’m not going to list all of them out here. Take time to pick feats that enhance your other abilities as a barbarian. Choosing the right feats is important, so I’m going to list a few of my favorites when playing a barbarian PC or NPC.

  • Dual Wielder
  • Durable
  • Martial Adept
  • Mounted Combat
  • Piercer
  • Shield Master
  • Slasher (From Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything)

Remember, feats are super important, so take time to carefully consider all the feats available. Anything that improves a strength check is good.

Barbarian Primal Path

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

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.

Danger Sense

At 2nd Level, a barbarian character gains an uncanny sense of when things nearby aren’t as they should be which can give them an edge in combat situations. This can give you a bonus on Dexterity based saving throws too. Remember the dexterity modifier – it just might save you!

Barbarian Physical Description

Barbarians come in a lot of different shapes and sizes, but most tend to be taller and more muscular than other classes. They have faces that let them look intense and animalistic. They have powerful builds, so they’re able to use heavy weapons and carry lots of equipment.

Their arms tend to be long and full of muscles, and they have rough skin. Coming up with a good physical description for your barbarian character is important because it can help you to think about how your character’s appearance will affect their behavior and outlook on life.

Here are some of the physical traits that you might want to take into consideration when making your own barbarian character:

Clothing:

Barbarians wear clothes that are rough and rugged. While many stereotypes depict barbarians as wearing nothing but a loincloth, but this is rarely true. Barbarians come from the wilds – outside society – but this doesn’t mean that they don’t have their own sense of class and style. Some barbarian cultures favor colorful clothing and ornate jewelry.

Scars:

Barbarians are in a constant state of physical conflict, so it’s common for them to have obvious signs of past wounds. Barbarians also sometimes use scars and battle marks as tattoos, so if you have the option, you might want to avoid using the deformity rules.

Facial Features:

Barbarians have unkempt hair and rough facial features. Generally, they have a low brow, prominent nose, and thin lips. Shaggy hair and unkempt beards are common.

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Skin:

Barbarians have tough, thick skin and are sometimes covered in scars. They often have a healthy tan.

Hair:

Barbarians have long, messy hair. They sometimes have beards. They are also some of the few characters who are allowed to wear their hair long.

Hair Color:

There is no cultural norm for hair color, but most barbarians have dark hair or hair that is dark at the roots and light at the ends.

Eye Color:

While there’s no cultural norm for eye color, most barbarians have dark eyes.

Describing Barbarians

How you want to describe your barbarian character’s appearance can be just as important as what you choose to describe. Consider how your barbarian character looks and try to think about how they might feel about their appearance.

For example, your character might be proud of their scars, or they might be self-conscious. If your barbarian character has a scar on their face, it might affect how they interact with other people. Maybe they are so self-conscious that they never show their face to people they meet.

As a lot of barbarians don’t wear armor, describing their physical traits is even more important. Is there a big scar on their chest? Do they have other battle wounds? Small details like this matter when fleshing out a barbarian character.

Barbarian Society

In the past, most barbarians lived in tribes. These tribes were nomadic, so they constantly traveled from place to place. They followed the animals that they hunted and maintained close relationships with the gods. They used some magic items.

They built up large camps that were made out of simple shelters and animal hides. Each tribe had a strong sense of community and family. Over time, as civilization encroached, the tribes gradually merged with it.

If the tribe was strong, it was often absorbed into the new culture. Sometimes the tribe was allowed to maintain its culture as a special group within the civilization. Most of the time, however, they were driven out to the fringes of civilization or the wilderness.

After surviving for so long as a separate and unique culture, the barbarians still look at themselves as different and superior to others. They have a strong sense of honor, and they are fiercely loyal to those they love. Barbarians are generally at peace with most races.

They get along well with most groups with traditional warrior cultures. Barbarians generally hate those who they think have abandoned the warrior lifestyle and turned into cowards.

Cultural Traits of Barbarians

Barbarians have a strong sense of community and honor. They are proud and believe in living as close to nature as possible. Barbarians are also traditionalists. They respect the traditions of the past, especially those that are related to warfare and combat.

They have a sense of duty and honor, and they follow a strict code. They consider their actions to be the result of the decisions that they make, and they would never seek to blame others for their decisions.

Barbarians and Personal Relations

Barbarians are generally at peace with most species and cultures. They tend to get along with those who have warrior traditions. They are also closely tied to the natural world, so they are usually in harmony with nature.

Barbarian Alignment and Religion

It is unusual for a barbarian to worship a god. Barbarians generally find it more natural to worship a pantheon of gods or nature. Many barbarians believe that they are a living incarnation of a god.

Although barbarians have no formal religion, they have a strong sense of honor and loyalty. They try to emulate their gods by living in harmony with nature and fulfilling their duties.

Roleplaying as a Barbarian

Here’s some tips and suggestions for role-playing as a barbarian character.

  1. Your barbarian character has a strong sense of honor and tradition. They have close relationships with their tribe members, family members, and friends. They are used to fighting, and they see battle as a natural part of life. They aren’t afraid to fight, and they aren’t afraid to die. They don’t see life as something that should be wasted.
  2. Your barbarian character has a sense of community and responsibility. They are loyal to their friends and family, and they have an obligation to protect the weak and innocent. They are used to adapting to dangerous situations and taking care of themselves. They have seen terrible things, but they choose to keep fighting so that they can protect others.
  3. Your barbarian character is a traditionalist. They have a strong sense of duty and honor, and they follow a strict code. They consider their actions to be the result of the decisions that they make, and they would never seek to blame others for their decisions.
  4. Your barbarian character has a strong sense of honor and duty. They are often the leaders in their groups. They are often used to being in dangerous situations, and they make good group leaders because they are used to dealing with difficult situations. They like to fight, and they are able to keep their groups moving in the right direction.
  5. Your barbarian character is a traditionalist. They have a strong sense of duty and honor, and they follow a strict code. They consider their actions to be the result of the decisions that they make, and they would never seek to blame others for their decisions.

Who Should Play a Barbarian?

If you’re a player who likes to fight, a barbarian is the class for you. Love Conan the Barbarian (comics, movies, or games)? The barbarian character class is right for you. This is a powerful fighter who rules on the D&D battlefield.


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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.

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 foe if he has to fight, rest, fight, rest, fight, rest, etc.

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 might still have a good idea of where the foe is hiding. And if he can find him, he can fight him again – after resting.

This is a very different approach than the basic fighter has in Dungeons & Dragons. This is why the barbarian prefers challenging fights to show off their prowess in melee combat. Barbarians are the ones who get the job done.

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 as Adventurers

Barbarians are usually adventurers just because they don’t really know what else to do. They have an inherent wanderlust and a desire to stand out. They have a strong sense of honor, so they often look for opportunities to prove themselves.

They are natural leaders, so they often rise to leadership positions in groups.

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.

Usually, barbarians are most common in the north since they do well in cold weather. They can be found in pretty much any climate, though. They do have a reputation for being very uncivilized, and everyone knows that uncivilized people live in the north. (Joking!)

Seriously, though, 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.

Barbarians in Your World

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.

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.

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.