Barbarian 5e Optimization Guide | Toughest in the Land

Barbarians are a staple of fantasy and fantasy gaming and in the 5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons, it is no different. When building a new Barbarian for your next game, whether it is for your home game or joining in with the Adventures League, it is always handy to have a quick guide to help sift through all the choices that lay before you. If you are a long time player, you are familiar with these types of guides and the troupes that go along with them. There will be color coding, snark, and opinions — Lot’s of opinions. Feel free to engage if one of my opinions is different than what you feel, and maybe you can change my mind on how I rate things.


I have always loved these types of character optimization guides. I feel like they have done a great service to the community. While some of the theory crafting and min/maxing may take away from some table experiences, for me and the players that I tend to roll with, this is just part of the game. I am making this guide to help give back to the community, so I hope someone finds some value here, but if not that is okay, this is also helping with my system mastery.

For the most part, this guide is focused on the combat side of things. Some options may have great use for roleplay or exploration and I will try to highlight those as well, but if it has a use in combat that will give an edge in the rating. And as for ratings, you will see below that I am sticking with the established colors from other guides of this sort — With one minor addition that you will see below to help folks who are using a screen reader or may be color blind.

Rating Scale

  • Gold (+++)Must have, you better have a good reason for picking something else.
  • Sky Blue (++)Great Choice
  • Blue (+)Good Choice
  • Black ( | ) = Decent choice
  • Purple (-) = Pick something else if you can, but won’t cripple you
  • Red (–)Only pick this if you have a story related reason to do so

 Introduction ♦  Ability Scores ♦ Races ♦ Class Features ♦ Primal Paths ♦ Skills and BackgroundsFeats ♦ Other Sources

Ability Scores

The Barbarian has reputation for being strong (str) and tough (con) so we will want to make sure and highlight those, however, there are a few instances where you are going to want to pump your dexterity as well.

Using the standard array ( 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8 ) I would prioritize my stats as such.

  • Strength (++) {15} – This is going to be your main stat, unless you go with a dex build, for attack and damage. You also get a boost to this ability when you rage for damage.
  • Constitution (++) {14} – Not only does this ability affect your hit points, but it also helps boost your armor class when you are not wearing armor. There is an argument that if you are going for a more tanky build that you want this to be your primary stat.
  • Dexterity (+) {13} – Common save, one that you will get bonuses to, also helps boost your AC and has plenty of skills based off it. Totally worth not dumping.
  • Wisdom ( | ) {12} – Worth it for the mind effecting saves and skills. Perception is keyed off this and that is a skill that is always going to be important
  • Charisma ( | ) [{10} – Intimidation is an okay skill to give a little love, but I find in most games it is hard to roleplay and deception and persuasion tend to be stronger and the Bard, Sorc, or Warlock should have you covered here.
  • Intelligence ( – ) { 8 } – Dump it. Not a lot of spells target Int and the skills aren’t really in your wheelhouse. You hit hard, not think hard.

 Introduction ♦  Ability Scores ♦ Races ♦ Class Features ♦ Primal Paths ♦ Skills and BackgroundsFeats  Other Sources


One of the things I really enjoy about 5e is that there are no bad races, and that is extra true of barbarians

  • EEPC = Elemental Evil Players Guide
  • VGM = Volo’s Guide to Monsters
  • WGE = Wayfinders Guide to Eberron
  • PHB = Players Hand Book
  • DMG = Dungeon Masters Guide
  • SCAG = Sword Coast Adventure’s Guide
  • MTF = Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes
  • TTP = The Tortle Package
  • CRC = Critical Role Content

  • Aarakocra ( + ) EEPC –  The bonus to wisdom doesn’t really do a whole lot except maybe bump up a save or your perception by one, the bonus to dex is good for your AC and saves. Where this race really jumps out are with its talons and its wings. Having talons means you always have a weapon at the ready and the fly speed is really just great in and out of combat.
  • Aasimar ( | ) VGM/DMG –  Some of the Aasimar are better than others but overall with the bonus to cha you are not really going to make a lot of use of that. The resistance is okay, but you can get that with certain paths. Having light and dark vision seems like you are doubling up on sight and the healing hands are great utility but not enough to make this one of the top races.
    • Protector ( | ) – This variant is slightly better than the base from the DMG It gains a fly speed once a day and you deal extra radiant damage. It is kinda like a little bonus on one of your rages a day.
    • Scourge ( | ) – I was tempted to make this one blue, it has a bonus to Con and a once a day damage boost. The big issue is that while using the damage bonus power you are also a hazard to your teammates, and although you may be the star in combat as the barbarian, you don’t want to hurt your friends.
    • Fallen ( + ) – If you are you going to be an aasimar, you are going to want to be a fallen. With the Strength boost and the extra necrotic damage with your once per day necrotic shroud ability you are going to do quite well. Once again when you use your ability you will want to be away from your companions, but at least this one won’t do damage and as a barbarian the save (due to your low charisma) should be easy for most of your team to make, but that also means the enemy shouldn’t have an issue either.
    • Variant ( – ) – This is your baseline aasimar from the DMG. For a barbarian, this is the weakest of the varieties. The bonus spells are fine, but once again keyed off a dump stat, and offer good utility but do not help you do your job as a front-line damage dealer
  • Bugbear ( +++ ) VGM – With bonuses to Strength and Dex they have solid stats in the right places. For their racial abilities you have dark-vision, which is always fantastic to have; Long-Limbed which gives you a bit of extra reach; Powerful build; and training in stealth; but, if that wasn’t enough you get a one time per combat sneak attack like ability. Bugbears are going to be one of the top races for a solid barbarian build. If you can play a monstrous race, why not Bugbear.
  • Changeling ( – ) WGE – They have a bonus to cha and dex, so they aren’t the worst option with the boost to dex. But, without a specific build in mind, they are not going to be a great barbarian. Everything they do points to leaning into charisma, and that’s not what a barbarian is about.
  • Dragonborn ( + + ) PHB – This is a solid choice for a barbarian. The bonus to Cha is wasted, but the bonus to Str is great. You also get a breath weapon that is keyed off one of your secondary stats (Con) and resistance to one damage type. Really a solid choice, more so once you start digging into the Dragonborn feats.
  • Dwarf ( +  ) PHB/WGE – Alright, I will try to take a step outside of my personal disdain for Dwarves and delve a little into this. Baseline, the slower speed hurts, but being a barbarian you will quickly make up for that. Dark-vision is always a welcome treat, and the bonus to Con is really a major boon since it will boost our HP and our AC. You also are great at shrugging off poison damage.
    • Hill ( + ) – Hill Dwarf gives you a bonus to a good save with wisdom and bonus HP/level. Not a bad mix overall.
    • Mountain  ( + ) – The Str bonus plus the con bonus makes this one great combo for a Barbarian. Armor training isn’t really going to do a whole lot for you.
    • Gray ( + + ) – Str is a solid bonus to a stat and the increase dark-vision is handy, but it comes with being sensitive to bright lights. The reason you go Gray over Mountain is going to be the Duergar magic, those spells are great.
    • Mark of Warding ( | ) WGE – The bonus is Dex and Int is okay, but this is not going to be your strongest pick for a barbarian dwarf.
  • Elf ( – ) PHB/WGE/DMG/SCAG/VGM – One of the most versatile races available due to the 11 different sub-races available as a write this, you are bound to find something that fits you barbarian. So starting with the basics, the bonus to dex is good for our AC and if we are going with a dex build for our barbarian. Dark-vision and training in perception are great but the bonus against being charmed or put to sleep is one of the most welcome features for this race.
    • High ( – ) – Nope, no reason for a barbarian here. Move on.
    • Wood ( | ) – With a bonus to wisdom this one isn’t horrible, and the extra speed and ability to hide are nice.
    • Dark ( – ) – Nah, kinda in the same boat with the high, in fact, might be weaker
    • Eladrin [variant] ( – ) – Misty step is great, but not great enough for this race.
    • Eladrin ( | ) – Slightly better than the variant version, but still not enough to push it into blue.
    • Sea ( | ) –  Bonus to con is great, and this could be a candidate for a high AC build for a barbarian, also if you are in a campaign that has to do with a lot of water this will move up the rankings to blue.
    • Shadar-Kai ( + ) Bonus to con, resistance to necrotic, and a great teleport trick push the survivability of this sub-race up, and the longer you stand the more damage you can pump out.
    • Mark of Shadow ( – ) – The slip into shadow ability is pretty decent, but not enough to make it a good barbarian ( unless you are doing a sweet rogue multi-class)
    • Aerenal ( – ) – High elf all over again
    • Velenar ( – ) – More not good
    • Aerenal ( | ) –  Very similar to the wood elf.
  • Firbolg ( + ) VGM -Str and Wisdom bonus are great. The disguise self and the hidden step abilities are solid utility.
  • Genasi (+ ) EEPC – Genasi start with a bonus to con, and if you are going to be the toughest in the land, you are going to want plenty of that.
    • Air ( + ) – The dex bonus is good for AC and the ability to hold your breath and levitate are nice utility
    • Earth ( ++ ) – With a bonus to str this has everything you need to be successful, also add in ignoring some difficult terrain and pass without trace, this is a pretty good choice for the barbarian.
    • Fire ( | ) – This is almost blue, but with the bonus to a stat that doesn’t do anything for barbarians I can’t really push it any higher than black. The dark-vision and the ability to produce flame and cast burning hands using your con is a great trick.
    • Water ( | ) – Bonus to wisdom is nice as is the ability to swim and breath water in certain campaigns.
  • Gith ( | ) MTF – The gith start off on the wrong foot with a bonus to intelligence and nothing else. I am not sure the sub-races help too much with bringing a barbarian from the planes to your campaign.
    • Githyank ( + ) – The bonus to Strength is good, since that should be our primary stat and the Psionics get good around level 3 and improve when you get your minor teleport at level 5.
    • Githzeri ( – ) – Nothing really to offer a barbarian here. Being able to cast shield is okay, but you have so many hit-points dodging one attack isn’t going to make or break your character.
  • Gnome (- – ) – All variations of gnome have little to offer barbarian, feel free to make one, just know you are making what may be the worst barbarian choice you can make, and that is okay. You do you.
  • Goblin ( – ) – It is hard to hit hard as a small race. It can be done and with a bonus to con and dex you can do it, but do you really want to?
  • Goliath (+++ ) EEPC – This is one of the, maybe, three races that seem like they were almost built to be barbarians. Bonuses to both str and con and ability to shrug off damage once per short rest. This is a race that is going to be tough to beat when it comes to getting in the face of your enemies. 
  • Half-elf (++) PHB – Is there anything a half-elf can’t do? You get a big bonus to cha that is for the most part wasted but then you get a bonus to two other stats of your choice, dark-vision, fey ancestry, and two skills of choice. Great choice.
    • Wood ( | ) –  Doesn’t really add anything unless you want to get some extra speed
    • High ( – ) –  High elves and barbarian don’t really mix
    • Drow( – )  The cantrips are okay, but not really worth it
    • Aquatic( | ) –  The swim speed is nice.
    • Mark of Detection ( – – ) – Weaker than the base Half-Elf for a barbarian.
    • Mark of Storm ( | ) – You can make this work, but you gotta work at it a little.
  • Half-orc (+++ ) PHBAnd we have reached the third of the races that seem to be built for this role. With bonuses to str and con you are making the right choices here. Dark-vision is great, but that is the least of your racial abilities, you get training in intimidation, you are harder to kill with your relentless endurance and when you crit, you extra crit! So good
    • Mark of Finding ( + ) – Being from house Thurashk means you aren’t as barbaric as your none dragonmarked cousins in this role, but you do get some interesting additions from the mark of finding, but nothing that helps you take out the boss.
  • Halfling ( – ) PHB – Unless we are on Athas there isn’t a real reason for a halfling to take on the role of barbarian.
  • Hobgoblin ( | ) VGM – Having a bonus to Con and a reroll is great, the int bonus and martial training not so much. This is a good choice, but not great, maybe not even that good.
  • Human ( ++ ) PHB – Humans are always going to be a solid race for every class, and even some of them they will be the best class for. But, before we delve too deep we need to look at the variants, some of which are better than others.
    • Base(-) – Nobody plays the base human, neither should you. Move on.
    • Variant ( ++ ) – It isn’t quite as pretty as half-orc, but two bonuses of choice to abilities, a bonus feat, and bonus skills.. can’t go wrong with this choice.
    • Mark of Making (–) – Wizards
    • Mark of Handling (-) – Not the worst of the dragonmarked houses. Pretty decent if there is a lot of trekking through the woods and the bonus to dex, wis and one additional ability score is pretty sweet. But the other abilities make it a great choice for a druid or ranger.
    • Mark of Passage ( + ) – House Orien five a couple benefits that I like. Dashing over difficult terrain, teleporting your speed one time a day, and a bonus speed. This is almost as good as the variant.
    • Mark of Sentinel ( | ) – Ability scores in decent places with Str and Wis plus a floating bonus, a solid bonus to init, but the rest doesn’t really pan out for a barbarian.
  • Kalashtar ( – ) WGE –  Not a great choice
  • Kenku ( – ) VGM – They make great… well.. just about anything else.
  • Kobold ( – ) VGM – I am not really sure what this race is good at.
  • Lizardfolk ( ++ ) VGM – The bonus to wis is lost, but the con is great. They have natural armor, but that shouldn’t be something you pay attention to as a barbarian. Training in a two of a nice list of skills, a natural weapon, and a bite that gives you temp hit points are the reason this is such a good choice.
  • Orc ( | ) VGM –  Orcs have a bonus to con and str, so that is good, but the negative to a stat is really painful, more so when it is already a dump stat. You can make a case for them still being a solid barbarian, but I would go half-orc over full orc for this any day.
  • Shifter (++ ) WFG –  Shifters start off solid with a bonus to dex, dark-vision, training in perception, and a short rest shift that gives them temps.
    • Beasthide (++) – With a bonus to con, training in athletics, and while shifted you get bonus temps and a bonus to AC. This variant has some staying power.
    • Longtooth (++) – Their bonus is in Strength, they gain training in intimidate, which is good, but they also, while shifted, have a natural weapon and that in itself is a great bonus.
    • Swiftstride (+) – They get a bonus to dex and cha, not the best skills, but they do have a lot of extra speed, and that will get you into trouble so much faster.
    • Wildhunt ( | ) – Wildhunt is okay as far as shifters go. The bonus to wisdom isn’t great for barbarian, but overall the race is good.
  • Tabaxi ( | ) VGM –  Even with natural weapons this isn’t the strongest race. A few of the odds and ends, plus the bonus to dex are good, but not a top contender.
  • Tiefling ( — ) PHB – Base tiefling has very little to offer the Barbarian nor do any of the subraces.
  • Tortle ( ++ ) TTP –  Tortles gain a bonus to str and wis which are solid ability bumps, but the shell is nice. Having that natural AC means that you don’t need to spread your stats so thin, also a natural weapon is always nice to have.
  • Triton ( | ) VGM – Triton is great if you are in a water-based campaign, but the desert they aren’t going to do so great. The swimming speed can be good and the stat bonuses to Str, Con, and Cha is pretty nice. But, they only really shine in the right kind of campaign.
  • Warforged (++ ) WGE – Warforged are one of my favorite things to come from Eberron. And, I think they are no less interesting in this edition. They start with a bonus to con, which is one of our prime abilities. They also are immune to disease, don’t need to drink, eat or breath, they don’t sleep and can’t be put to sleep, and they are pretty resistant to getting poisoned. They are a powerhouse of abilities. They also come with their own armor and ability to change it. What does this mean for the barbarian armor bonus? Well, the wording is tricky, but I would rule that you could choose the barbarian armor bonus over the natural armor you have, but I can see the other argument much like the tortle’s shell. Even so, a solid choice so far. Now let’s get to the sub-races.
    • Envoy (++) – Bonus to two different ability scores? Yes, please! And bonus proficiency? don’t mind if I do.
    • Juggernaut ( +++ ) – This is a great choice with a big bonus to str and a natural weapon.
    • Skirmisher ( + ) – The base warfoged is what keeps this one ranking so well. It does have a big bonus to dex which can be useful, and they come with a bonus to speed, which is nice for getting into trouble.
  • Yaun-Ti Pureblood ( – ) VGM – The only reason they aren’t red is magic resistance is pretty sweet.

 Introduction ♦  Ability Scores ♦ Races ♦ Class Features ♦ Primal Paths ♦ Skills and BackgroundsFeats ♦  Other Sources

Class Features

And this is the juice of it. These are the reasons to play a barbarian the abilities that make you stand out from the crowd and give you your role.

    • Hit-points ( ++ ) – You are going to have the biggest hit dice of any of the classes at the table. This means you are going to be able to take a beating and keep on ticking.

  • Proficiencies ( + ) – You get two skills choices from a good selection, you get the needed weapons and more armor proficiency than you will likely make use of. Not a bad set of choices.
  • Saving Throws ( – ) – You get Con and Str for saves. They are fine, but it isn’t as good as having Wisdom or Dexterity.
  • Level 1 Rage ( ++ ) – You wanted to play a Barbarian right? Well, this is going to be a major factor of why. You need to remember to keep in Medium armor or lighter to get all the benefits of the rage. Additional Damage is great, bonus to str checks and saves is rad, but really shines here is going to be the resistance to three common damage types, especially at low levels. There are some caveats to watch out for. You will lose you rage if you don’t attack or take damage for an entire round. You get a limited amount of these a day and they don’t reset until you’ve had a long rest, and you can case spell or concentrate while raging ( this is only important if you are multitasking)
    • Unarmored Defense ( +++)  – I feel like a big reason to play a barbarian is to be that front line meat shield who is always up in the trouble. Being able to get a bonus to your AC from both your dex and con is a really great boon, not to mention you can go ahead and pick up a shield too if you are okay going with a one-handed or natural weapon.  I feel like with the right build this is a reason to dip into barbarian levels.
  • Level 2 Reckless Attack ( ++ ) –  I rank this right up there with the rage ability. There are a few situations where you might take two levels of barbarian to get this ability, but it really works well in conjunction with the rage ability. Taking disadvantage to gain advantage is strong, more so when you’ve boosted your AC with your con score making you harder to hit and giving you a ton of hp.
    • Danger Sense (+) – This makes up for your lack of training in this proficiency. Gaining advantage on dex saves is great, just remember this is only on effects you can see and you can’t gain from this benefit if you are blinded, deafened, or incapacitated.
  • Level 3 Primal Path – Taking a primal path helps shape what kind of barbarian you will be. We will dig deeper into this in the next section.
  • Level 5 Extra Attack ( | ) – Having an extra attack is great but the other melee classes get this as well, and in fact, the fighter gets it faster.
    • Fast Movement ( + ) – Getting into trouble is the name of the game. Any boost to speed will help you get into the faces of the enemy that much faster. But, like many of the other abilities of a barbarian, you cannot use this with heavy armor.
  • Level 7 Feral Instinct (++) –  Advantage on Init? Yes, please! Going first means you set the pace for the entire combat. And you hit hard enough you can make some serious dents in the opposing force before they have a chance to slow you down.
  • Level 9 Brutal Critical (+) – Bonus crit damage is nice. It can be really nice, more so with how many opportunities you will have to crit when you are attacking recklessly.
  • Level 11 Relentless Rage ( | ) – This is a double-edged sword at best. Sure it is great to stay up if you shouldn’t have, but this puts you in a dangerous place if you get crit. At level 11 you have a large chunk of HP so it should be hard to outright kill you, but a crit from a big baddie could do it.
  • Level 15 Persistent Rage (+) – This ability make is so that you can rage and not have to worry about attacking or being attacked and your rage will only go away if you are knocked unconscious or a minute has passed. Solid ability.
  • Level 18 Indomitable Might ( – ) – You can’t roll under your str score on str checks. It is fine, but not over the top.
  • Level 20 Primal Champion ( +++) –  You stuck it out till level 20 without multi-classing, and for that you not only get unlimited rages a day, but you get to break the 20 max stat rule as you get a nice boost to you con and str boosting those scores up to a new max for you of 24

 Introduction ♦  Ability Scores ♦ Races ♦ Class Features ♦ Primal Paths ♦ Skills and BackgroundsFeats ♦ Other Sources

Primal Paths

Primal paths are the sub-classes for the barbarian. These will help define how your character interacts with the world and what additional abilities you are going to gain along the way.

  • Path of the Ancestral Guardian ( ++ ) XGE -Path of the Ancestral Guardian is a great path for a tank. You have great utility and you create stickiness so that your enemies don’t want to leave your side. You summon the warriors of the past to help you in the present.
    • Level 3 Ancestral Protectors (+++) – This is an amazing defender like ability. Your ancestors make it so that your target has disadvantage to attack other folks besides you and if they do the creature they attack has resistance to that attack. Really, one of the best mark like abilities in 5e.
    • Level 6 Spirit Shield (+) –  Using your reaction to reduce damage to an ally is really a great power to have and it will come in handy all the time.
    • Level 10 Consult the Spirits ( | ) – This is fine for RP purposes. Getting to cast a couple of divination spells is fine, but there are going to be folks better at this than you.
      • Spirit Shield (+) – You get a nice little boost to the damage your prevent.
    • Level 14 Vengeful Ancestors ( ++) – You not only get to reduce damage with your spirit shield, but you get to blast it back in their face.
      • Spirit Shield (+) –  Another boost to this ability, this means your Vengeful Ancestors are going to be that much more mean.
  • Path of the Battlerager ( – ) SCAG – Built by Dwarves for dwarves. You can only be a dwarf (unless you DM says otherwise) to take this path. That is a pretty hefty price to pay.
    • Level 3 Spiked Armor (-) – You wear spiky armor that does damage when you grapple. The big problem is that you are going to be wearing armor. Which means that you Unarmored Defense is not going to be triggering. You can get a max AC of 16 with this armor. You will easily be able to get more than that with your Unarmored Defense.
    • Level 6 Reckless Abandon ( | ) –  You are losing out on AC, so you need to get a boost somewhere. This is it. When you rage you get temp HP equal to your con mod, but only for attacks that you use a reckless attack. And those temps disappear when your rage ends. It is okay but does not make this path a better choice.
    • Level 10 Battlerager Charge ( | ) –  You can Dash as a bonus action while you are raging. I suppose you may not have too many bonus actions, so this might be okay.
    • Level 14 Spiked Retribution ( – ) –  This only work while you are wearing your crap armor, and unless you found a magic set, you are going to be easy to hit. With this ability, while you are raging, and the enemy misses you they are going to get punished with some spike damage. But with a max AC of 16 ( or 18 with a shield) and the fact you are going to be attacking recklessly to get the temps, this is not going to trigger that often.
  • Path of the Berserker ( – ) PHB – This is the build you play if you want to play the murdering machine that runs into combat without a second thought.
    • Level 3 Frenzy ( – ) – This ability lets to make a great sacrifice for additional power. I think the sacrifice is a little too severe.  Trading exhaustion for an extra attack while raging is a tough trade-off, more so if you gain extra levels of exhaustion and since you can only clear it on a long rest, if you use this too early in the day you are going to have a rough rest of the day.
    • Level 6 Mindless Rage ( | ) – Getting away from getting charmed and frightened is great, but this is only while raging, and if you rage while you have one of these effects, the effect picks right back up after the rage. Not a bad ability, but not a reason to go down this path.
    • Level 10 Intimidating Presence ( | ) – Being able to frighten someone at will seems pretty sweet, unfortunately, the key stat for this is your Cha, which will likely not be that high, so good luck getting this to hit, but this is the strongest reason to make a Berserker up to this point but still not a good one
    • Level 12 Retaliation ( ++ ) – Well you’ve waded through crap to get this far into this path, so what do you get? Well, actually this is pretty solid. When you take damage from a creature you can spend your reaction to hit it back. And, as we learned from other editions, any attack you can make off your own turn is a great thing to pick up. Also, you can take reactions on your turn so you can trigger an opportunity attack with this and then attack them back.
  • Path of the Storm Herald ( ++ ) XGE – I like elemental themed aspects of Dungeons and Dragons so having an elementally themed barbarian can lead to some fun RP situations.
    • Level 3 Storm Aura ( ++  ) – There is an effect based on your chosen environment that keys off your Con mod. This is something that can hit unlike those abilities keyed of Cha.
        • Desert ( ++ ) – Scaling fire damage as you level up each turn is pretty great. And, it targets all creatures in your aura. So, watch out.
        • Sea ( ++ ) – You do damage to one creature in your aura and half damage on a save. The damage scales as well, so this is solid through your entire time as a barbarian.
        • Tundra ( + ) – This is a party-friendly ability. Your friends stick near you, the cool soothes them and give them scaling temp HP based on your level. This is solid too, maybe not the strongest of the three, but still good.
    • Level 6 Storm Soul ( ++ ) – Once again based off the choice you made for your Storm Aura.  This gives you a solid effect based on your environment.
        • Desert ( + ) – Fire resistance and the ability to deal with extreme heat is amazing in a desert campaign, but even just the fire resistance is solid
        • Sea ( + ) – Resistance to lightning damage, pretty good, not as good as fire, but in an ocean campaign, the swim speed is great to have.
        • Tundra ( + )  – Resistance to Cold lands right in the middle of the other two and being able to survive in cold climates is good in certain campaigns. And the ability to turn water into ice seems like it could be useful in certain situations.
    • Level 10 Sheilding Storm( | ) – You get to share your damage resistance with creatures in your storm arua. This is fine.
    • Level 14 Raging Storm ( + ) Your storm grows with your rage and level and is once again based on the choice of environment.
        • Desert ( ++ ) – Using your reaction to do extra damage to someone in your aura is pretty sweet. Any way we can do damage with our reactions is going to be a boon.
        • Sea ( + ) – When you hit with your Aura you can force them to make a str save or knock them prone. This is okay for slowing down the enemy, but getting knocked prone in this edition is not as powerful as it was in previous editions.
        • Tundra ( + ) – This is much like sea, but better in that it drops the creaturs speed to zero, so they are really stuck where you left them.
    • Overall environment rating Desert ( ++ )I feel like desert just stands out. They damage all creatures in their aura, fire resistance is a solid resistance to have, and doing extra damage with your reaction is just icing on the cake.
      • Sea ( + ) – Sea does good single target damage, but it starts to fall off at level 6 and 14 trailing behind desert, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t still a solid choice, just not the best.
      • Tundra ( + ) – This has a little bit better level 14 ability than sea, but overall both Sea and Tundra are best in campaigns related to their environments.
  • Path of the Totem Warrior ( + ) PHB – Your barbarian has bonded with the spirits of animals and it has given you great power and with that power great… ummm.. power.  At level 3, 6, and 14 you can pick a different animal or go with one the whole way.  Overall this is a solid path, it was one of the first that rolled out with the PHB and most barbarians you would run into at tables would be this variety.
    • Level 3 Totem Spirit Bear ( + ) – You channel the spirit of the bear and with that, you gain more toughness. While you are raging you resist even more than just your normal raging resistances. You resist everything except Psychic damage.
        • Eagle ( + ) – You gain the ability to dash as a bonus action and other creatures have disadvantage against you with opportunity attacks. You’ll likely take this if you are leaning a little more into being a skirmisher.
        • Elk ( | ) – When you rage you get a big bonus to speed. This is pretty great to get you into combat quicker, but I feel like it is a little weaker than the Eagle for skirmishing
        • Tiger ( – ) –  Gaining a bonus to jumping while raging is pretty weak. The tiger disappoints.
        • Wolf ( + ) – This is interesting and can be a great asset to your party. Your allies gain advantage against any enemy you are going toe to toe with.
    • Level 6 Aspect of the Beast Bear ( | ) – I debated rating this lower, but having advantage on str checks all the time and not just while you are raging isn’t too bad. The extra carrying capacity doesn’t seem too exciting unless you are lugging a dragon’s hoard.
        • Eagle ( + ) – Did you know in dim light you get disadvantage on perception checks? Well, now you do, and you know which totem to take if you think that is an issue. Distance sight is interesting. I think this would be good for a sea based campaign.
        • Elk ( – ) – We have been doing a lot of exploration in the Tomb of Annihilation and sometimes this little bit of extra overland speed would be swell, but it is very situational and won’t come up a lot in most games.
        • Tiger ( + ) – This may be the stand out of the totems at this level. You get training in two additional skills. You will want to plan your initial skill picks around this if you are going this far.
        • Wolf ( | ) – Who are you kidding? You aren’t the stealth type, there is no need to move at your full speed while stealthed. Tracking at a fast pace could be a little more useful.
    • Level 10 Spirit Walker ( | ) – You wanna talk to an Eagle, sure this could be fun and has interesting flavor. But, really unless you have a certain build in mind, not going to do a whole lot.
    • Level 14 Totemic Atunement Bear ( ++ ) – This is where being a bear starts to feel like a tank to me. While you are raging creatures near you want to attack you, if they don’t they have disadvantage on their attacks. There are some minor situation where it won’t work, but for the most part this will turn you into a defender, you might even be able to rival an Ancestral Guardian for being a defender at this point.
        • Eagle ( ++ ) – Fly speed while raging is pretty sweet. And at 14th level I am sure you have been annoyed by plenty of flyers and now you can take them down.
        • Elk (++ ) –  Elk finally comes out to play. As a bonus action while raging, you can trample an enemy and they’re making a str save vs your Str. This is a great power. I would argue this may be the best at this level.
        • Tiger ( ++ ) Another bonus attack, this is great, but you have to move at least 20 feet in a straight line to get this one to trigger, but it is still solid and that should be pretty easy to pull off.
        • Wolf ( + ) Auto prone on hits, while you are raging, is pretty good. But, prone is not as strong as it was in previous editions.
  • Path of the Zealot ( ) XGE – Level 3 Divine Fury (++ ) – The first time you hit an enemy with a weapon attack each round while you are raging you get a very nice bump to damage. And you get a choice as to whether you are going to deal necrotic (-) or radiant (++) damage.
      • Warrior of the Gods ( | ) –  Save some gold if you are getting raised. Not a horrible bonus, but not one to take the class for.
    • Level 6 Fanatical Focus ( + ) – Saving throws can ruin a nice rage, and with this power once per rage you can take a reroll. Reroll are tough to get in this edition (unless you are a halfling) so anyone you can get you should cherish and use it as often as you can.
    • Level 10 Zealous Presence (++) – You are so into it that your allies are into it, and for that, they get advantage on attack rolls and saving throws until the start of your next turn. This is only a bonus action, but you can only use it one time a day.
    • Level 14 Rage Beyond Death ( + ) – Essentially this is a boosted version of your 15th level power. A little bit better in that, you can fight while you are dead, not just while you are dying. If you would have died while raging you keep fighting… Then you die.

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Skills and Backgrounds

These are all the things that help you outside of combat. I know, boring. It is the worst. But, we gotta do it, it is part of the character making process.

  • Class Skills – These are the skills you can gain from just taking the class. You can choose two of these when starting at level one with your bag of hit points.
    • Animal Handling (-) – Unless your DM is weird you are not going to get much use from this, and you should likely let the druid or ranger take care of this bit.
    • Athletics ( | ) – Taking Athletics is a strong choice. you have great Strength so you have to weigh if this is really going to be of much value to you.
    • Intimidation (-) – Unless your DM will allow you to sub Str or Con for Cha with this skill leave it to the warlock
    • Nature ( | ) – Thematically this is good, also it is nice to be able to identify creatures on occasion
    • Perception ( +++) – This is a great skill… Take it… JUST TAKE IT!
    • Survival ( + ) – This is thematically a great skill and it is super useful, not just for tracking.
  • Other Skills – These are skills to look for if you take the right background or gain training through feats or class features. There are only a couple standouts here, everything else would just be flavor.
    • Acrobatics ( + ) – Useful in a lot of situations
    • Stealth ( + ) – You are going to have that one guy in plate armor that messes up the stealth checks anyway, but maybe once every so often.
    • Slight of Hand ( + ) – This has some use outside of combat that can be fun.
  • Tool Skills – We are going to look at a couple of these. There are a lot of tools and some of them are useful, some are fun flavor, and some are there.
    • Bagpipes ( | ) – Hur Hur Hur Hur
    • Cartographers Tools ( | )– Maybe you are on a ship or trekking through the jungle
    • Herbalism Kit ( | )– Make your own potions
    • Thieve’s Tools ( | ) – Someone has to pick the lock and disable the traps, might as well be the guy with an advantage on dex saves
    • Tinker’s Tools ( | )– Similar use as Theive’s tools
  • Backgrounds – Well, there are a ton of backgrounds. You can even make your own. But I will highlight a couple of premade ones here that I think stand out from the rest.
    • Pirate/Sailor ( ++ ) – Athletics and Perception are great skills to get from a background and Navigators tools are likely to come in handy.
    • Criminal ( ++ ) – You are totally taking this for Stealth and Thieves tools.
    • Gladiator ( | ) – Acrobatics is a great skills choice and you are going to need performance so you can play your bagpipes around the fire.
    • Outlander ( ++ ) – Athletics and survival are solid skills choices… and you can get the skills in a musical instrument *cough* bagpipes *cough*
    • Urchin ( ++ ) – Another great way to get stealth and thieve’s tools
    • Uthgardt Tribe Member ( ++ ) – Lots of potential flavor here and you get Athletics and survival and your choice of tool or musical instrument (Bagpipes)

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We will take a look at the feats, but, unless you are a human, I would recommend focusing on getting your Str and Con up with your ASI ( Ability Score Increase, which can be traded for a feat if you DM allows that option). Additionally, if you don’t see a certain feat on this list it means I didn’t see a reason to take it outside of some unusual build or RP purposes.

  • Aberrant Dragonmark ( + ) WGE – If you for some reason end up with an odd con score this isn’t a bad choice. Having a cantrip and a 1st level spell can help with some additional utility
  • Alert ( + ) PHB – Having a big bonus to initiative as a big boon, and depending on your DM not being surprised is icing on top.
  • Athletic ( | ) PHB – This is an okay feat if you have an odd strength score and looking to even it out. The rest of it is nice, but not great.
  • Charger ( + ) PHB – If you aren’t getting some bonuses to dash from your path choice this has the added bonus of some extra damage.
  • Defensive Duelist ( | ) PHB – If you are a rare dex based barbarian or if you use a rapier this is a solid choice for some extra defense. But, doesn’t really add a whole lot.
  • Dragon Fear ( | ) XGE – This can be okay, but mostly just for the bonus to con if you have an odd con score.
  • Dragon Hide ( + ) XGE – The actual hide part of this isn’t too great, but the other bits are nice. A bonus to Strength or con is great, but what is really nice is having a natural weapon.
  • Dual Wielder  ( + ) PHB – If you aren’t using your bonus action for something else, might as well swing another weapon.
  • Durable ( + ) PHB – Bonus to con and when you spend hit dice getting some extra hit point are always good.
  • Dwarven Fortitude ( + ) XGE – Of you are playing a dwarf this is a good way to boost your con and get some hit points outside of a short rest. I don’t see using this ability in combat.
  • Elven Accuracy ( | ) XGE – This is a great feat if you are one of the elusive dex barbarians.
  • Grappler ( | ) PHB – Grappling isn’t as crazy as it was in other editions, but if you are set on it, this is the way to go.
  • Great Weapons Master ( | ) PHB – I think this is much better fit on a paladin, but it does give you potential extra attack as a bonus action.
  • Greater Dragonmark WGE
    • Sentinel ( | ) – Bonus to strength and being able to cast compel duel once a day is pretty decent.
  • Lucky ( + ) PHB – I really like lucky. I think it is one of the strongest feats for anyone. More so when you look at what you can do when you recklessly attack.
  • Martial Adept ( + ) PHB – Getting a few tricks from the fighter is pretty nice.
  • Mobile ( + ) PHB – Extra speed and some sweet hit and run tactics are available.
  • Orcish Fury ( + ) XGE – Some extra juice for the half-orcs. Boost to con or str, extra damage and maybe and extra attack.
  • Polearm Master ( | ) PHB – Good way to get a bonus attack if you use a polearm.
  • Revenant Blade ( + ) WGE – If you happen to be an elf the bonus to AC and bonus damage if you use a double bladed weapon.
  • Sentinel ( + ) PHB – This is some additional stickiness if you are going with he tank defender type of build.

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Other Sources

Standing on the backs of giants. This is not the first, nor is the only guide of this ilk. As I find other guides to building barbarians I will undoubtedly weigh what they have to say against what I have said in here and I may provide some updates. I will also add any other guides I find to this list. Make sure to check them all out to get all the different views on barbarians, then roll back here and let me know what you think!

 Introduction ♦  Ability Scores ♦ Races ♦ Class Features ♦ Primal Paths ♦ Skills and BackgroundsFeats ♦ Other Sources

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