Many times when making a character whose main focus is just being angry and hitting things (barbarian is as barbarian does), we tend to forget about what makes the character unique. We fall back on tropes like “Grog the barbarian likes his grog” and “Axenar has an ancestral axe that she carries with her” and “Buhbarry-An is a barbarian who likes sex, gambling, drinking, and killing.” Unfortunately, this is extremely boring and cliche to build an entire character around. Your character can enjoy those things, yes, but so can literally everyone else in the party! So I will try and offer some thoughts on how to make your barbarian truly a diamond in the rough… or at least a gold piece in a pile of bloodied corpses.
I plan to go more in-depth on characters and story over the next few weeks. Therefore I will go into the more superficial characteristics.
Just because your barbarian doesn’t wear armor doesn’t mean they are naked all the time! Although…
I guess nudity does have its merits.
Try to come up with an outfit that speaks to who your character is; what they like, how they act, what they are afraid of… show the character’s history through what they wear. Here are some examples.
You wear a thick leather vest. It used to have arms but one was damaged in a previous battle, so you tore the other one off to match.
Wolf leather shirt studded with polished wolf bones. You made it from the first creature you killed after your rite of passage into adulthood. You believe its power runs through you.
You cover yourself with a patchwork cloak made from creatures you have killed. During every battle that matters, you dramatically toss your cloak to your feet to bare your chest at your foes.
You have a high metal collar from a set of full plate that you wear over your leather armor. You were once struck a near-fatal wound to the neck, and are always wary to avoid another such blow.
You wear metal bracers padded with feathers from a Peryton that you saved a traveler from. You wear them as a reminder of what you’re fighting for.
You have a necklace of large scales were given by your parents, to remind you to return to your fishing village one day once you have enough wealth to save them all.
A helmet you wear is covered in spines of a manticore. You are afraid of manticores after one attacked your tribe when you were young. You wear the spines hoping to strike the same fear into your enemies.
You wear the fancy clothes of nobles you’ve killed to mock the ruling class, and the idea of society as a whole.
After befriending some dwarves and saving them from bandits, you were rewarded with lots of gemstones. You fitted your armor with them so the items appear magical.
You wear a pelt of a creature that was killed for sport by some stranger and left to die. You made use of the entire creature so its life wouldn’t be wasted.
You wear a ring left behind by a one-night-stand whom you fancied, but left who before you awoke. Should you ever find them again, you can give it back to them.
Your boots are in constant state of half-repair as you refuse to get new ones. Your constant travel by foot keeps wearing them out so you strap or tie new leather to them.
These are just a few ideas but you can start to see how they hint at the rest of the character. Some show their fears, their flaws, their traits, their ideals, their bonds, and their story. Keep this in mind while describing your character.
Barbarians, like everyone, have quirks. They aren’t just piles of muscle for the party to use as a tool for lifting rocks and absorbing damage. Think hard about your quirks. You can try turning the barbarian trope on its head with an ironic quirk or else highlight your background and personality.
You collect a trophy from every kill, provided you dealt the killing blow.
You have no respect for the dead, and find the idea of memorials or burials ridiculous.
You have tremendous respect for the dead, especially those fallen in battle. You will bury and say a few words for anyone you have slain.
Despite being a barbarian, you have a mature concept of honor and will not fight in a one-sided fight, sometimes ending your rage early if someone isn’t putting up a good fight or lost their weapon.
Unlike most barbarians, you enjoy the idea of observing your enemy before rushing into combat. It gets your blood pumping and you share a kinship with rogues and assassins this way.
You have a comically small pet that you care for and will viciously protect from harm.
You leave a signature marking on every kill, drawn in the victim’s blood.
You are very hygenic, often stopping mid-adventure to clean off your weapon, hands, and face.
Your character has a thing for big ole’ cigars. You hold that cigar in your teeth until you meet a challenging foe, then you dramatically spit it out and tighten the grip on your weapon.
You love trying new things, especially exotic or weird food, even if it seems gross.
You keep a journal despite being unable to read/write. You instead doodle little images to remind you of what things happened that day. Your drawing skills are actually improving.
You thrive for excitement and danger. If there’s a choice between stairs and a ledge, you hop the ledge. You grab the Gorgon by the horns.
People often forget that even big strong burly barbarians have fears. Those fears and flaws should guide the way you roleplay and interact with other characters.
You have a gentle side that you keep hidden from others. You are afraid if others discovered this, you would lose your powerful presence.
Your race does not have darkvision and after living alone in the wilderness for so long, you have a cautious fear of the dark.
You have an irrational fear of a harmless and adorable creature.
You have a completely rational fear of a terrifying and deadly creature.
You do not trust magic, even magical forms of healing. You claim it’s because only weaklings use magic.
You dislike a particular race and have trouble interacting with them. You didn’t have the best upbringing. Through your adventures, though, you are learning to tolerate them.
You are afraid of harm befalling your friends. You lost someone once and don’t want it to happen again. This also makes it hard for you to get close to anyone.
You have a fear of not being remembered. You often take steps to preserve your memory and are nice to others so they will tell your tale.
You reject responsibility. You know that you have duties to fulfill, but you often avoid or run away from them. Your life of adventure started by running away from your old life. It often haunts you.
You are wary of religion or whatever higher power is out there. You respect clerics and clergy if only to save your soul. This sometimes affects how you make decisions even when no one is watching.
You have trouble talking to people you are attracted to, despite your great strength and combat ability.
You don’t trust society and assume the worst from people in authority positions. You often spin tall tales of conspiracy based on shreds of evidence.
So make your barbarian something special! I hope you all enjoyed barbarian week and took something away from it. Those Magic Items will always be an interesting add to any campaign, if anything. Next month I will assume the correct alphabetical order and do a Cleric week! Expect new deities/domains, more new items, and ways to use fantastic religions in your game!
There honestly isn’t much to be said about the D&D 5e barbarian. It’s a class that’s even more about fighting than the fighter. That said, there is always some depth into the mentality and mechanics of this class. I’m going to talk about how the DM, the player, and their allies should be using the barbarian in their game.
If you have a barbarian in your playgroup, there are some things you should know. For one thing, the barbarian doesn’t do much other than fight and get hit. So delve into the narration of combat. Make every attack dramatic, whether a hit or a miss, and make every attack against them just as dramatic. Combat is the whole reason they chose to play a barbarian. They want to hit hard and often, so you should let them be the hero that they want to be.
It might be difficult if the barbarian doesn’t want to play along with roleplaying encounters. They might screw up diplomatic relations, try to kill a friendly NPC, etc. You could remind them of the consequences of their actions, but it’s much easier to use positive reinforcement. Show them the reward for playing along, like treasure, land, revenge, crushing your enemies, seeing them driven before you, hearing the lamentation of their women, etc.
Be aware of their strengths. Primarily, their STR score and CON score. Fill your adventures with opportunities to test their STR modifier with Athletics checks. Give them pits to jump, underwater encounters, boulders to throw, stone gates to hold open, etc. They will be able to resist most poisons, disease, exhaustion, nausea, indigestion, and transmutation/necromancy spells thanks to their CON. Give them creatures and traps to face that offer a CON saving throw to make them feel strong by how easily they can resist it.
The barbarian runs the most risk of being overpowered. They are built for it. A berserker barbarian can get up to three attacks (at level 5) with advantage just for raging, and with their added damage that’s easily a deadly turn for any victim with less than 40 HP. Remind them that they are not invulnerable, despite their resistance to “bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing” damage. Be mindful that they do have weaknesses.
If you want to challenge a barbarian, you need to give them insurmountable odds. Many, many creatures will have enough attacks to get consistent hits on a barbarian. One or two high-CR creatures will force them to use up lots of healing resources. Even so, these “insurmountable odds” can be swept up by the right adventuring party if spellcasters are present. If you hold up the spellcasters for a turn or two, the barbarian will start to feel those odds stacked against them, which may be enough to remind them of their vulnerability. That is, before the magic-user charms the high CR creature or fireballs the mob of enemies to make things more manageable.
Another easy way to challenge the barbarian is to target its biggest weakpoint: it’s mental ability scores. If a barbarian has to make a WIS, INT, or CHA saving throw, there is a good chance they will fail. Protip: if the adventuring party starts to rely too much on their barbarian, a Dominate Person spell on the berserker is easily the best way to turn the tide and put the fear of God in them.
As a Player:
As someone playing a barbarian, you will be tempted to just roll attacks every round. This is not a bad thing, but remember you have another strength: your Strength! Replace one or two of your attacks with Shove or Grapple attempts to help your allies get the edge they need. You may have advantage while recklessly raging, but your allies could use the help!
You shine brightest as the tank, absorbing damage for your team. You might not have as high of an AC as the fighter, but the halved damage is a huge plus. If you can get items or buffs from your friends or from shops to boost your HP, you will be able to withstand even greater threats. Stay away from seas of enemies unless you can get a surprise round in, since your AC being on the low-end will make those ten or so attacks much more likely to hit. You will have to trust in your allies to defend you. The healer will give you aid when you are low, the bard will boost your damage, the wizard will grant you False Life.
Kill the wizard and healer first. They have the lowest HP/AC and are the biggest threat to you since you have a low WIS score (don’t take it too personally, but I mean, you can’t even read or write).
Remember that you have Danger Sense! It works on “things you can see” so take Perception as a skill so you don’t miss anything.
Get plenty of gadgets. Batman uses them because he doesn’t have magic or superpowers, so you should too! Buy nets, grappling hooks, manacles, Dust of Disappearance, Universal Solvents, anything that you think might help a walking beefcake with no powers.
When all else fails, remember that “death” is the best crowd control.
As a Team:
The barbarian in your group is the only thing standing between you and certain death. Use them to absorb all that damage that would normally be directed at your tender frame. They are glad to do so. Well, “angry” to do so. It’s the rage, you see.
If you’re a healer or support, keep them healed and buffed. Crowd control some of the enemies so the barbarian doesn’t get too claustrophobic. You don’t want them getting too many attacks made against them what with D&D 5e’s concept of bounded accuracy. However, you also want to make sure that multiple enemies are reachable by the barbarian. Thankfully they have increased movement for this, but just keep it in mind that the barbarian’s rage will end if they don’t attack for a round. Stick to the back lines as you do so.
If you’re a melee-type, use the barbarian for a flanking bonus and give them yours, as well. Shove enemies away from the barbarian if they are getting crowded. If you have a higher AC, draw the fire of the weaker enemies and let the barbarian take the big guys’ damage.
Well that’s it for today. Now that we are aware of how to use barbarians in your game, tomorrow I will delve into some homebrew Primal Paths for the barbarian! I’ve been spending time coming up with some homebrew magic items as well, which I will unveil later in the week. Happy Barbarian Week, everyone!