barbarian subclasses explained

My breakdown of barbarian subclasses in DnD 5e. I’ll probably expand this to be more informative in the future. For now, it’s simply meant to give the general flavor and relative power level of every barbarian subclass in a lighthearted way.

Path of the Ancestral Guardian

path of the ancestor barbarian dnd 5e

These barbarians really like their ancestors, to the point tattooing MOM on their biceps. But only for badass moms who killed monsters and stuff.

In return for their loyalty, their ancestors pop up to protect the Barbarians and their allies, while also being available for phone calls from the other side.

If you want to play a tribal warrior who’s into ayahuasca retreats and chilling with spirits of your forefathers, the Ancestral Guardian is for you.

Bonus points if you like optimization, because Ancestral Guardians are also considered one of the better Barbarian subclasses. They’re solid tanks who can soft-taunt enemies at range and reduce incoming damage to nearby allies every round of combat.

Later-level features let you call an ancestor for advice on the future or a peak into the next room, and gives your spirits some bite with counterattacks.

Path of the Beast

path of the beast barbarian dnd 5e

Inhabited by a primal spirit or descended from a shape-shifter, Beast Barbarians are basically animorphs who stop transforming halfway through.

Whenever these wannabe werewolves rage, they manifest their choice of a natural weapon, each of which grants a different bonus effect. They can grow extra nice chompers to bite and heal themselves, claws to attack more, or a tail to have a reach weapon that also gives bonus AC.

They can choose a different thing each time they rage, so they’re not locked into growing just one weird body part.

6th-level gives Beast Barbarians spider climb on command, 10th-level adds rabies to their natural weapons, and 14th-level lets them boost their party’s damage output with a howl.

If you want to play a semi-druidic, semi-lycantrhopic, fey spirit-infested warrior who’s thirsty for blood, Beast Barbarian is for you.

Path of the Berserker

path of the berserker barbarian dnd 5e

Berserkers love violence for its own sake, making them the ur-barbarian subclass. Their best day out ends with them covered in blood, and they don’t care much whose. Berserkers fight without care for their health or well-being…or for optimization for that matter, because they’re also considered pretty bad.

While they can make more attacks while raging, they become exhausted every time they do, which quickly leads to them needing more naps to be effective than any other character needs.

These extra-sleepy Barbarians also scoff at the charmed or frightened conditions while raging, have extra-scary-intimidation powers, and can make counter-attacks if you stick with them to higher levels.

If big dumb guy energy is why barbarians appeal to you, berserker might be your cup of tea. Not that a berserker would ever be caught drinking tea.

Path of the Giant

path of the giant barbarian dnd 5e

Giant Barbarians are warriors with giant’s blood who look elemental or giant-like whenever they rage. Raging also makes them larger and gives them longer reach.

In addition to getting swole on command, giant barbarians command elemental energy and make any weapon a thrown weapon that zooms back to their hand like Mjolnir.

They don’t stop there, though – eventually, Giant Barbarians can start throwing friends and foes around the battlefield too. They also get an even longer reach that would make Slenderman jealous.

Giant Barbarians are fun and thematically complete, and, with a few feats, they can excel as grapplers who can hold enemies prone from 10 feet away with their weirdly long arms. (Although they can still be attacked by the grappled creature during this time).

Path of the Storm Herald

path of the storm barbarian dnd 5e

Storm barbarians are warriors jacked up on stormlight. They’re boiz with druids and rangers, and especially like living in extreme places like they’re bear grylls.

Storm Heralds rage so hard that a literal storm follows them around, which can either hurt enemies or help allies, depending on whether they’re making sandstorms, sea storms, or blizzards.

Their choice of environment also grants passive elemental resistance at 6th-level which extends to nearby allies at 10th level, along active effects like setting things on fire, breathing underwater, and making ice.

14th-level makes your rage storm even stormier. Storm heralds look cool on paper, but gameplay feels more like a light drizzle of mediocrity rather than a hurricane of destruction.

Path of the Totem Warrior

path of the totem barbarian dnd 5e

Thematically a cross between Beast Barbarians and Ancestral Guardians, Totem Warriors jive with the spirits of animals rather than grandparents, but not to the point where they grow new body parts.

They channel their powers through a totem, giving them the ability to take on the aspect of their favoritest animal. They also start to look like that animal, like how dogs and their dog owners look alike.

A Totem Warrior who really wants to go wild can pick different animal totems at higher levels, turning himself into some kind of manbearpig.

While 3rd-level offers impactful and varied buffs for your rage, 6th-level is more flavor than anything else, like boosting your eyesight or carrying capacity. 10th level allows totem warriors to commune with nature, which pretty neat, especially since your spirit animal gives you the info directly.

14th-level gives Totem Warriors even more cool animal powers while raging. Totem warriors are a solid mid-tier barbarian with lots of opportunities for flavor, including the ability to Warg into and speak with animals, but they’re nothing too special in a fight.

Path of Wild Magic

path of wild magic barbarian dnd 5e

Wild magic Barbarians offer everyone’s favorite vision of a carefully planned character build: completely random effects every time they rage. Some of these effects are actually kinda good, like getting Misty Step every round and getting an aura that boosts your party’s AC. But the randomness means you never know what a wild magic barbarian is bringing to a party.

6th-level lets them be a support class by restoring a spellcaster’s spell slot or buffing an ally’s attack rolls and ability checks for a short time.

Level 10 makes even more random wild magic stuff happen when you get hit or fail a save like you’re some kind of arcane pinata, and 14th-level finally gives you some control over which Wild Magic thing happens each time.

If you want to be a barbarian from someplace supernatural like the Feywild or Upper Planes, while also being a cross with the worst Sorcerer subclass in 5e, Wild Magic is the path for you.

Path of the Zealot

path of the zealot barbarian dnd 5e

Barbarians who smash faces for religious reasons, Zealots are infused with divine power. Like a cleric, but without all the book-reading and word-knowing.

And before you think Zealots must be pretty noble guys, you should know most of their gods are evil or neutral at best. We’re still talking about barbarians here. Smashing and pillaging are the fundamentals of any creed a self-respecting barbarian would follow.

Zealots deal extra radiant damage when they smack things and they’re extra-ready to die in a fight, since resurrection spells don’t require pricey material components to cast on them.

These guys frking love dying, and Clerics love them for the savings.

Higher levels offer the chance to reroll saving throws and the ability to grant allies advantage on attacks and saving throws for a round – both pretty useful, if limited in their uses.

At level 14, Zealots become literally unkillable while raging, but death does catch up with them after rage wears off. But that’s fine, as long as the guy with the healy hands lives.

Overall, Zealots are a top-tier subclass with unique crusader-esque flavor.

Path of the Battlerager

path of the battlerager barbarian dnd 5e

A dwarf-exclusive barbarian, Battleragers like to use spikey armor as a weapon to both punch bad guys and grapple them in spikey hugs.

Battleragers are also get temporary hit points when they reckless attack and can dash as a bonus action while raging. As a 14th-level feature, these spiky little dwarves deal a whopping THREE damage to melee attackers when they’re hit.

Nobody is too sad Battleragers are limited to dwarves. They can keep them as far as most are concerned, seeing as they’re a garbage subclass.

Final Thoughts

If you like being a brute who solves problems by smashing things, you can’t go wrong with any barbarian subclass. You just have to pick which flavor of psychopathic axe murderer is right for you.

My personal favorites are the zealot, ancestral guardian, and giant. Zealots actually get a decent feature at every level, which is a rare thing for barbarian subclasses. And Ancestral Guardians can tank and provide support better than any other option on the barbarian menu.

But Giant barbarians have to be my top choice for sheer wackiness. There’s not much better than grappling a guy from 10 feet away, holding their head and smacking them around like some kind of playground bully. And throwing friends, foes, and weapons around makes for a more dynamic playstyle than most barbarians get to experience.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>