BoLS logo Tabletop, RPGs & Pop Culture

D&D: Beginning a Barbarian – Berserkers, Brawlers, and You

5 Minute Read
Jan 18 2018

Do your thews ripple? Do you have anger management issues? Maybe a Barbarian is right for you.

Today we’re going to take a look at the Barbarian in D&D. Whether you’re new to the game, or you’re sitting on two multiclass concepts that try to optimize DPR while cutting down on expendable resources, so that you can make the most out of every encounter without really needing to rest, the Barbarian has a lot to offer prospective players.

Except clothing…

And with the release of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, there’s a lot indeed to consider when playing a Barbarian. So let’s take a look at what they do well, how they fit in with a party, and what the subclasses do so that you can be the barbarian you wish to see in the world.

Rage Against The Machine (and everything else)

Let’s start with one of the defining features of the barbarian. Rage. Anyone can get angry, but only a barbarian can tap into that wellspring of emotion to unleash a primal surge of power when the chips are down. It takes a bonus action to activate, and gives you extra damage and resistance–it’s a bit like activating an ultimate ability. Once you rage, you’re empowered for the next ten rounds, as long as you can keep attacking hostile creatures or taking damage.

The ability to draw on that extra power defines the Barbarian. Subclasses change what your rage does and how it affects the world around you. But at the end of the day, you’re still going to rage. This is the class to pick if you want to play a hero that can endure when everything seems impossibly tough. If you want that, “now the real fight begins” moment, that’s a barbarian.


Which leads us nicely into what the barbarian does. With 5 different subclasses, there’s a lot of customizability to your barbarian, but at their core there’s a few things they do: damage, endurance, and teamworkTeamwork, you might be wondering, to which I posit that the kind of battlefield control they can bring about via drawing enemy ire or buffing allies is most definitely teamwork. While many barbarians can do well on their own, some shine when leading their party into battle.

Damage is primarily melee-based. With reckless attack, feral instinct, and brutal critical, every barbarian is equipped to dish out damage like nobody’s business. A few subclasses really revolve around maximizing your damage output, and things like Great Weapon Mastery can help you ensure that your hits always matter.

Endurance type abilities just about every barbarian will have–you get resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing while raging. You get a d12 hit die, certain subclasses make it easier to save or make you even hardier. Barbarians can take a lot of punishment.

Teamwork is a little less universal, though there are stop plenty of options for Barbarians to support their parties. Whether by drawing the attention of an enemy or providing battlefield buffs–or protecting the party from damage, there are some surprisingly fun support options, which are still wrapped up in the whole kill everyone with melee damage while staying alive.

Subclasses – Classes for Submersible

Now that we’ve seen what Barbarians in general do, here’s what the subclasses are. Now, this is definitely one of those instances where some choices are better than others–I’m not here to tell you which are the most optimized, but I am here to give you an idea of what each subclass does and why you’d want to pick it.


Ancestral Guardian This is a very team-oriented class. When they say Guardian they mean it, Barbarians on this path excel at making sure that enemies attack them, either by making an enemy take disadvantage on attacks not against you, and giving targets other than you resistance to damage. They also gain the ability to negate damage being dealt with a reaction, which, combined with their ability to grant resistance to damage makes then a very strong protector indeed.

Pick this subclass if you want to keep your friends in the fight. If you want to get attacked while dishing out damage wholesale. If you want to keep busy between your turn each round.

Berserkers are good at what they do, and what they do ain’t pretty. These guys are all about damage dealing. With an extra attack and the ability to make an attack as a reaction, they are very good at hewing down foes. They rep endurance as a nice secondary role, able to prevent themselves from being charmed or frightened,  while simultaneously frightening enemies.

Pick this class if you want to kill things by hitting them with a two-handed weapon.

Storm Herald This subclass is very much a support one. St Heralds gain an aura that causes enemies to take damage or allows you to grant temporary hit points. And eventually resistance to an elemental damage. Honestly though, this one depends on your ability to team up with your party to get things done.

Pick this subclass if you like elemental power, want to have an aura and enjoy reminding your DM that, no, you have resistance to whatever they’re trying to do.

The Totem Warrior is a powerhouse of teamwork as well as Endurance. There are three options, but really, the one you want is bear. Like unless you’re deliberately choosing not to pick bear because you want a different option, pick bear. You get resistance to all damage except psychic while raging. I had to look up what the others do, and maybe eventually you’ll want one of the other abilities, Wolf has some good stuff, and Eagle is kind of cool. But Bear totem best totem.

Pick this class if you want to amp up your endurance game and make the DM wonder just how many hit points you really have.

Zealot – quite possibly my personal favorite barbarian variant. Zealots are a very durable class, and they do pretty decent damage as well. Their subclass abilities make them an excellent anchor in any fight. Especially if your campaign makes it to 14th level and you gain Rage Beyond Death, which lets you soldier on even past 0 hit points while raging.


Pick this option if you want to be a burly bruiser. If you want to fight without end and be the toughest customer at the table.

That’s the barbarian. Melee powerhouses, and surprising bastions of teamwork, the barbarian can be fun when you’re looking for that meat and potatoes experience.

Happy Adventuring! 

  • D&D: You're Playing What Now