Lords, Ladies, lads, and lassies it is time to rage. Barbarians have always been the meat-shields that protect the squishies. They’re big, tough, and fuel their battlefield expertise with Rage. Often played as dumb for the sake of humor, most of us have a stereotype in mind when we hear someone at our table has brought a Barbarian. Within the books of 5th edition D&D, however, things are not so cut and dry.
In the beginning, you’re a low level beast. The main feature of the class is Rage. This ability grants you advantage on strength checks, a bonus to melee damage, and toughens you up with a resistance to the basic three types of physical damage. Add to this the ability to stack your constitution modifier on top of your dexterity for unarmored armor class, and you’ve got someone who’s meant to take hits on the chin and keep going.
As you level up, your combat prowess increases. You can attack recklessly, gaining advantage against your opponents while leaving yourself open. As the meat-shield, this is perfect for protecting the rest of the party. You also develop a danger sense helping you face traps and spells that rely on you moving out of the way. Further on down the line, you get another attack, faster movement, better initiative rolls, better critical hits, and eventually physical stats that surpass the norm.
That’s all gravy, though. The real meat of the class is within your chosen subclass. The Berserker and Totem Warrior are the two basic choices from The Player’s Handbook. Battleragers are the dwarf-only option presented in The Sword Coast Adventurer Guide. Xanathar’s Guide to Everything gives us three more choices: Ancestral Guardian, Storm Herald, and Zealot.
Berserkers get an extra bonus attack when they enter a frenzy. They’re also able to shrug off charms and fear affects. Their intimidation presence is enough to frighten most foes, and anyone foolish enough to go toe-to-toe with them can face a retaliatory attack in response.
Totem Warriors are more versatile than their straight forward kin. At various stages of their development, they can choose which animal spirit to follow and will gain an aspect related to that. Whether it be the strength and toughness of the bear, the eyes and flight of the eagle, or the pack tactics of the wolf, Totem Warriors can mix and match animals to get just the right combo for their Barbarian.
Battleragers adorn themselves with spiked armor literally throwing themselves into battle. Their spiked armor may be used as a bonus weapon, extra damage when they grapple a foe, or even as a retaliation in melee. Eventually they can bolster their health with temporary hit points granting them a little extra staying power while raging. They might also use a bonus action to Dash into melee range.
Ancestral Guardians have to be my favorite flavor-wise. When you rage you’re surrounded by spirit warriors that hinder your foes and protect your allies. In metagame terms, they make you sticky. The spirits grant resistance to your allies, and if your foe doesn’t attack you they have disadvantage. The spirits can also shield your allies directly by reducing the damage taken, and even reflecting it back as force damage. Your spirits can also be consulted and used for Augury or Clairvoyance spells, should the need arise.
Storm Heralds surround themselves with elemental storms. If you choose the desert you can deal fire damage to multiple foes, gain resistance to fire, or retaliate when struck with fire. If you choose the sea you can deal lightning damage to a single target, gain resistance to lightning, breathe underwater, gain a swim speed, and knock the target prone. Lastly if you choose tundra you grant multiple allies temporary hit points, gain resistance to cold, freeze water, and reduce a foes movement to zero.
Zealots are chosen by the divine. Each turn they can do extra damage with a weapon attack. This damage is either radiant or necrotic and is chosen when the path is taken. If they are restored to life by a spell there is no material cost. They can also reroll a failed save once per rage. Eventually, if they are raging death does not stop them. They will keep on fighting, even after failing three death saves. Even then if they are healed above zero hit points before the rage ends they will live.
The menu of meat-shields is vast, the choices vary, and if you want to play a Barbarian…then rage on.