When it comes to dealing out physical damage, few classes can do it better in Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition than the Barbarian. They're also great at soaking up whatever retribution they face.
Barbarians are big and tough, but playing them well can be a challenge for newbies. You'll have to be mindful of balancing damage output with trying to stay alive on the frontlines of battle.
If you want to take a most direct approach to combat, Barbarians are a great class to pick up. If you're new to the class, here's everything you need to know to start off on the right foot as a Barbarian in D&D 5e.
This article is part of a series of D&D class guides for beginners. If you're interested in other classes, check them out as well:
- D&D 5e Barbarian Guide for Beginners
- D&D 5e Bard Guide for Beginners
- D&D 5e Cleric Guide for Beginners
- D&D 5e Druid Guide for Beginners
- D&D 5e Fighter Guide for Beginners
- D&D 5e Monk Guide for Beginners
- D&D 5e Paladin Guide for Beginners
- D&D 5e Ranger Guide for Beginners
- D&D 5e Rogue Guide for Beginners
- D&D 5e Sorcerer Guide for Beginners
- D&D 5e Warlock Guide for Beginners
- D&D 5e Wizard Guide for Beginners
Tip 1: Make Use of Unarmored Defense
Barbarians are intended to be frontline fighters who can dish out and take damage better than any other melee class.
They are the only class that uses a D12 for their hit dice, giving them an immediate advantage when it comes to Hit Points. However, Barbarians can also have a decent Armor Class with the right build.
At 1st Level, Barbarians gain the Unarmored Defense feature, which allows you to add your Constitution modifier on top of your Dexterity modifier for Armor Class—as long as you aren't wearing armor.
Furthermore, Unarmored Defense works even if you're using a shield, meaning you can be 1st Level and have 17 AC while still getting all the other benefits of being a Barbarian.
Keep this in mind while deciding which weapons to take into battle. While a two-handed weapon can take advantage of high strength, a sword-and-shield build is just as viable.
Tip 2: Rage Does More Than Boost Damage
The core feature of the Barbarian class is Rage, which allows you to tap into your character's primal fury to deal increased damage to enemies.
More specifically, Rage costs 1 Bonus Action to activate and lasts for one minute (not a certain number of rounds). You can end your Rage with another Bonus Action, but Rage will also prematurely end if you don't attack anyone or take damage on your turn.
While Rage is active, you gain a bonus to damage rolls for Strength-based attacks, you gain Advantage on Strength Saving Throws and Strength Ability Checks, and you gain resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing attacks (i.e. half damage).
All of this is especially useful at lower levels, when enemies likely won't be dealing much magical or elemental damage. You'll be hard to take down and you'll pack a punch—as long as you're in the thick of the action.
Tip 3: Don't Be Afraid to Attack Recklessly
At 2nd Level, Barbarians get one of their most powerful class features in Reckless Attack, which is basically a double-edged sword that makes you more powerful but more vulnerable.
On the first attacks of your turns, you can choose to Reckless Attack. This gives you Advantage if you're making a Strength-based melee attack, but attack rolls against you also gain Advantage until your next turn.
Reckless Attack is great because it basically doubles your chance to hit an enemy with a high AC, but it can be intimidating to use.
The thing is, if you're up against a powerful creature, there's a good chance that the creature will have enough attack modifiers to frequently hit you anyway, so you might as well give yourself Advantage!
Remember that if you're Raging, the damage resistance will help keep you standing even when you do end up taking those hits.
Tip 4: Your Primal Path Adds Powerful Abilities
Like most classes in D&D 5e, the Barbarian chooses a key subclass feature at 3rd Level. These are called Primal Paths, which unlock new skills and features as you level up.
The Player's Handbook details two Primal Paths while subsequent books have expanded with more. Since this guide is for new players, we recommend one of the two core Primal Paths.
The Path of the Berserker
The Path of the Berserker is a good choice for Barbarians of any background, as long as your primary goal is to inflict heavy damage to your foes. It's the more straightforward core Primal Path.
At 3rd Level, you can Frenzy while you're Raging, which means making an extra melee attack as a Bonus Action. The downside is, when Rage ends, you gain a point of Exhaustion.
At 6th Level, you become immune to the Charmed and Frightened conditions while Raging, solving one of the class's biggest weaknesses.
At 10th Level, you can intimidate targets into being Frightened, and at 14th Level, you can use your Reaction to make a melee attack against an attacker within melee range.
The Path of the Totem Warrior
The Path of the Totem Warrior is a great choice for Barbarians who come from more remote, tribal backgrounds and for players who want their character to do more than just hit things really hard.
When you take this Primal Path, you choose one of three animals to embody, which gives you new abilities as you level up:
- Bear: Gives resistance to all damage types except psychic damage while Raging, increased carrying capacity, and Disadvantage to enemies when they attack someone other than you.
- Wolf: Gives Advantage to allies against enemies who are within melee range of you while Raging. You can also use your Bonus Action to knock an enemy prone.
- Eagle: Gives enemies Disadvantage on attacks of opportunity while you are Raging. You also gain incredible eyesight and can fly in short bursts at high levels while Raging.