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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Class Look: Barbarian

Greetings! Today I am starting a new series I've been working on for a while now. Part of loving Dungeons and Dragons is being able to play the various classes. Being a part of a team and delving into the depths of a dungeon is absolutely the best part of the game for me.

Some of you may be new to the game and may be asking, “What class should I start with?”. Or you may be a veteran who is feeling tired of playing the core classes and wanting something different. You don't need to reach for that supplemental book quite yet, good sir! The core classes in my opinion will always be the best and most enjoyable to play and I rarely ever stray from them when picking a class for a campaign.

Today, we are going to look at the Barbarian. Over the next several entries, I'll go over the other core classes. I plan to lay out not just why the class is fun to play, but will also list the difficulty of playing a certain class, good race combinations, and various arch-types that you can use while playing the class. One other note, I will be using the Pathfinder versions of the various classes, since that is the rule set that that my group is currently using.

Ah, the barbarian. I do enjoy playing a class that is essentially a well-oiled killing machine. For those of you who aren't familiar with the class, the basic essence is that this is a high damage class. The goal is to wield big weapons and do high damage in a short amount of time. Obviously, most can see the comparison to Conan the Barbarian as the source for the class.

By Crom!
Typically, barbarians come from tribal or other primitive cultures in the world you are playing in; though they can also be a gladiator who has earned his freedom, or simply a mercenary who uses a wild and dangerous combat style. There is a wide range of arch-types that you can use with this class, which is part of what makes it enjoyable to me. I feel that barbarians are almost one of the simplest classes you can play, and therefore perfect for first time players who are trying to get a feel for it. All they really need to keep track of is their number of rages per day and what rage powers they are using.


Most races with physical boosts to stats complement the barbarian class. However, it also depends on the type of barbarian you wish to play. The typical choices are going to be either Human or Half-Orc, with the occasional half-elf and dwarf thrown in. Personally, I say if you want to make a barbarian that your group will remember, go with a halfling or a gnome. You will take a slight drop in damage due to your size and the initial negative to strength, but I made a halfling barbarian one time and it was still an enjoyable character to play. It also was extremely unexpected when he would fly into a rage and start chopping away at enemies.


As far as Multi-classing with a barbarian, I typically recommend the solid combination of either fighter or rogue. Adding rogue levels gives you sneak attack damage to add to your normal attacks. This boosts your damage output greatly, especially if you can manuever into a flanking position or get first initiative a lot. Also, the various abilities of a rogue complement the abilities of a barbarian, so you aren't having to drastically switch from one set of skills to another. Fighter is another good combo, mainly because they are two ways of going about the same job. The various armor and weapon benefits you get a fighter blend well with your barbarian abilities to help round out the characters effectiveness.

If you are looking to add some magic-use to your character, I mostly would go with druid as a spell casting cross-class. Spell casters like wizards or clerics typically requires a lot of patience and study, which most barbarians don't have. Druids work the best, in my opinion, mostly because (like the barbarian) they are wilderness based characters. They are religious, but not in an organized manner. In primitive tribes, they would be considered shamans or holy men and hold a lot of sway or power in the tribe. Also, the wild shape ability means you can change into an large creature, then subsequently rage.

I would like to point out that I am not saying that multi-classing is necessary, going straight up to twenty with a barbarian is a pretty lethal path. But this ties in with the various arch-types I'll be talking about later. I am also not saying that you can't cross-class as a barbarian/wizard...buuuuut that will be a pretty hard class to pull off, just due to both classes needing drastically different stats as highest and very different skill sets.


This is my favorite part of making any character, coming up with a personality and deciding what arch-type they will utilize with their class. For the barbarian, there are several and I really love them all.

My favorite is the Tribal Barbarian. Savage and cunning, they aren't what anyone would consider book smart. They know how to kill in hundreds of ways and enjoy doing it. They have a strong sense of honor and courage, never backing down from a fight but also refusing to fight or kill anyone obviously weaker then themselves. I also usually incorporate some fear or mistrust of magic-users and magic items (ala Conan the Barbarian), but this is usually hard to pull off since both Pathfinder and Dungeons and Dragons require a certain amount of magic use to be effective at higher levels. I recommend using magic items begrudgingly, never fulling trusting or relying on them to work. Role-play that out in a manner that won't cripple you mechanically, but still show a character that doesn't enjoy having to use these “bedeviled items”.

Another way to play a Barbarian is what I call the Jekyll/Hyde Barbarian. While in a non-rage state, they tend to be calm and quiet. You could potentially play him as a borderline sophisticate even. However, once the battle begins and blood spills, it is like a switch flips in their heads and they burst into a rage and go berserk. This is a fun one if you want to still play a smarter character, but also want to burst into killing mode during combat. I like this one because it is a great way to play off of player and NPC expectations. Everyone expects the barbarian to look like this:

Crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women!

Not like this:

I say, it seems you have cut me...oh dear...BLEARGHKHKHSH, KIIIIIIIILLL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Playing off of NPC and player expectations is a great way to make a character memorable and fun.

There are plenty of other arch-types to go with, but I'm going to end with another one that I enjoy, the Gladiator. As I mentioned above, the gladiator might be someone who has earned his freedom through killing his way to the top of an arena where the prize was freedom. Or he was a favored combatant that was set free by his patron. There are various reasons, but either way it is a fun way to play the class. You don't have to play dumb or be surprised by society like the Tribal Barbarian, but you also don't have to play up as a sophisticate like the Jekyll/Hyde Barbarian.

You kill people very well and you make no apologies. This is typically the type I default to, but it's not too hard to make it stand out when you do play it. Typically, since he was a gladiator, I look up various dirty fighting techniques and try to use them in combat. I'll use weapons with lots of other effects, such as trip or disarm. Always ruthlessly exploit any weaknesses that your enemies give you, and always go for a killing blow even when the enemy is down or surrendered. Amoral and lethal is the two key adjectives you would want attached to your name is the goal here.

So there you have it, the Barbarian. It is a solid class and very enjoyable. It is not considered one of the “core five” classes, but if you don't have a fighter, a barbarian can fill in nicely enough. Next, we will be taking a look at one of my absolute favorite classes ever, the bard! Seriously, I love playing a bard because they are quite possibly one of the classes you can end up having the most fun with. So good gaming and see you next entry!

1 comment:

  1. Great article!!! Thanks for sharing and thanks for making me laugh! Keep writing!!! --StarFire