Casting Time: 1 action
Components: V, S, M (a handful of oak bark)
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 hour
School: 2nd-level transmutation
Player’s Handbook, pg. 217
Barkskin’s spell description might be among the shortest in the game, but that doesn’t stop some players from being baffled by how it works. Hopefully, this article will clear up the confusion.
And provide some valuable uses for a spell that, in the majority of players’ opinion, is pretty bad overall. Let’s get into it.
Who Can Cast Barkskin in 5e?
The following classes have Barkskin on their spell list:
The following subclasses get Barkskin for free:
What Does Barkskin Do in 5e?
Barkskin gives a willing creature you touch a minimum of 16 AC.
If the creature, at any point and owing to any modifiers, has greater than 16 AC, then Barkskin does nothing. If the creature, at any point and owing to any modifiers, has less than 16 AC, their AC becomes 16.
Barkskin does not set the target’s base AC to 16. It does not “stack” with anything (shields, armor, Dexterity modifiers, etc.) because Barksin itself is not a modifier.
Barkskin lasts for up to 1 hour, concentration permitting.
What Are the Rules for Barkskin in 5e?
Before we get into the rules, here’s the most important official clarification from Wizards of the Coast:
cover — unless your AC is higher than 16. For example, if your AC is normally 14, it’s 16 while barkskin is on you. If your AC is normally 15 and you have half cover, your AC is 17; barkskin isn’t relevant in this case.
(Sage Advice Compendium, pg. 16)
Some of the rules clarifications below are, to some extent, specific reiterations of this general ruling:
Barskin does not stack with anything. It just means that your AC can’t be lower than 16. If it’s already not lower than 16, Barkskin does nothing. To be clear:
You do not add your Dexterity modifier to Barkskin when calculating your AC — Barkskin isn’t involved in AC calculation at all (Sage Advice)
Barkskin does not stack with armor
Barkskin does not stack with a shield
Barkskin does not stack with bonus AC from partial cover
Barkskin works on a Druid in Beast Form. We have Sage Advice confirmation for this. This includes a Druid casting Barkskin on themselves before transforming.
From the rules, “transforming doesn’t break your concentration on a spell you’ve already cast” (PHB 67). Still, if the Druid takes a hit, they’ll still have to make a concentration check and lose Barkskin if they fail.
How Do I Use Barkskin in 5e?
Here are a few ways to use Barkskin in DnD 5e:
Use it on your Druid before using beast form. Many beasts have an AC below 16, especially at earlier levels. Using Barkskin before transforming makes your character much tankier — even if the spell only lasts as long as your concentration does.
Use it on your Druid, period. Druids can’t wear metal armor and are only proficient with medium armor as a base class. That means, strict RAW, the best armor you can wear as a low-level Druid is non-metallic scale mail. (SAC 3)
However, even hide armor or studded leather is usually good enough for a Druid with a shield (12 + Dex modifier + 2). But if your Dexterity modifier is +0 or +1, Barkskin is one way to boost your AC at early levels.
Once it stops being useful, you can always drop it from your prepared spells — that’s the beauty of Druids not having to worry about a “Spells Known” mechanic.
Cast it on NPCs, familiars, low-AC players, etc. Barkskin isn’t just for you — that’s what separates it from a spell like Mage Armor (well, that and many other rules).
If you have to escort an unarmored NPC who’s likely to kick the bucket if he gets hit a few times, Barkskin can be the perfect way to offer protection. Just be sure to warn them of the barklike skin effects that they can expect.
And familiars from the Find Familiar spell are universally sub-16 AC, so all will appreciate an armor boost to ensure enemies can’t one-shot them out of existence.
Last but certainly not least, there are very likely players in your party who can’t reach 16 AC in tier 1 or even tier 2 of play.
Camouflage. The spell’s description explicitly mentions how the target’s skin takes on a “rough, bark-like appearance.”
While there’s no explicit mention of this aiding with stealth checks, I think most DMs would agree that having skin that looks like trees would help camouflage a creature moving amongst trees. You just might have to strip down or alter your clothes so they don’t ruin the effect.
Use it when you can’t wear armor. This is a very niche circumstance, but if your party is forced to fight without wearing armor, Barkskin can be a clutch spell to use.
This might be because an ooze melted your gear, the terms of a duel dictate no armor as a rule, or you’re simply caught off guard when relaxing in town. When all your normal AC modifiers vanish, Barkskin becomes very attractive indeed.
Skip it on your Ranger. This is my first negative tip yet, but it’s important enough to make it in here. Rangers don’t benefit from the ability to swap spells around every long rest — they’re stuck with the spells they know.
This means that the potential early-game utility of Barkskin isn’t worth the late-game uselessness. And useless it will be (almost right away), seeing as Rangers only get access to 2nd-level spells once they reach 5th level, by which point they should have no trouble reaching 16 AC.
Who Can I Target With Barkskin 5e?
You can target any willing creature that you can touch with Barkskin.
Is Barkskin 5e a Good Spell?
No, Barkskin is not a good spell. It can be okay on Druids at early levels, especially those who often transform into beasts with sub-16 AC. And it can be okay for protecting low-AC players (including yourself) at early levels and low-AC NPCs at any level.
The problem is that most players find a way to reach 16 AC independently within a few levels of play, be it through armor upgrades, features, feats, or better spell options.
At which point Barskin becomes purely for situations for when you need to protect a squishy NPC or the odd time you or an ally loses their armor.
On Rangers, Barkskin is exceptionally bad. You have medium armor proficiency and likely a decent Dexterity modifier, so this buff is useless on yourself. Not to mention a waste of a precious Spell Known when much better 2nd-level options are available.
Barkskin 5e DM Tips
One of my proposed uses for Barkskin above relies on DM consent — having Barkskin grant advantage on Stealth checks when moving through woodsy terrain. I allow this to work because it just makes sense intuitively.
It also definitely fits into the Dungeon Master Guide’s suggestions on when to grant advantage: “Circumstances not related to a creature’s inherent capabilities provide it with an edge” and “some aspect of the environment contributes to the character’s chance of success” (DMG 238).
Other than that, there’s always the question of whether a DM should homebrew a buff to make a bad spell more attractive. I don’t think it’s necessary here — Barkskin is good at what it does and decent at early levels, so who cares if it’s a little weak by the mid-tier of play?
But if you do want to give Barkskin a little love, I’d suggest giving the option to upcast Barkskin with a 4th-level spell slot for +1 AC (17 AC minimum) and as a 6th-level spell slot for +2 AC (18 AC minimum).
A Druid would be able to upcast Barkskin this way at levels 7 and 11, which seem like fair power increases for a spell that’s still eating up your concentration.