Hi Everyone! It’s your friendly Dungeon Master, Slick Dungeon here. Today I want to talk more about how to role play with kids. In my last posts I talked about whether you should play D&D with kids, why playing D&D was healthy for kids, I showed you who does what at the table, gave you a tour of the dice and told you to read through the simple rules, went through the Introduction of the simple rules with you, walked you through the first section of the simple rules and talked about choosing a race and role playing a dwarf, role playing an elf, role playing a halfling, role playing a human, role playing a dragon born, role playing a gnome, role playing a half-elf, role playing a half-orc, role playing a Tiefling. and talked about Class. Today we are going to talk about playing as a Barbarian.
Oil your muscles up, do a few stretches and get ready to let the fury of your rage loose upon the world. You are a barbarian. You might not have those fancy spells that go flying around the battlefield all the time but that’s fine, you don’t need them. You just need a handy melee weapon, the strength of your rage and something to hit!
I love playing a barbarian and there are tons of examples from literature and popular entertainment you can base this character upon. Barbarians also get some pretty neat class skills which can be quite fun to play.
When I think of barbarians one that I think most kids could understand and relate to would the The Incredible Hulk. While a Dungeons & Dragons character is not likely to go from academic scientist to raging gamma monster (although that would be possible in certain settings) the way that Hulk rages is very much like what a barbarian does. When Hulk gets angry, he hits harder than anyone else. Yet, even in his state of rage, he is usually aware enough to protect his friends and only go after bad guys. Sure, he does a lot of structural damage but he isn’t known to be a killer (at least not in my favorite interpretations of him).
His anger is often misunderstood and it can be a frightening sight to see even for his friends but ultimately, they are glad he is on their side. Also, when Hulk is angry its harder to hurt him. The blows glance off him for the most part unless you happen to be a god of thunder.
However, this rage can only last so long and after a while Hulk will wear himself out, especially if he runs out of stuff to hit.
Another model of barbarianism I think of is Conan the Barbarian because, well, it’s in the name. If you read some Conan stories though, it’s pretty obvious he may not be the best role model for children. There are some good qualities a kid playing a barbarian can adapt from Conan though. He never gives up on a fight and he will not abandon his friends no matter what the odds are. He’s a bit self centered and will take as much treasure as he can get his hands on but he’s not so greedy that he won’t share fairly in the spoils. And Conan, unlike the Hulk, is able to keep his head (literally and figuratively) not only in a fight but usually in a social situation. He respects magic while not using it and really only cares what someone else believes when it becomes a problem for him or anyone innocent around him.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the female version of Conan, Red Sonja. She’s a little less hot tempered than Conan and she had a very rough childhood where she had to learn to fend for herself, a child whose teacher was nature itself. She learned her lessons well and is one of the few people who can easily keep up with Conan. I actually think she might be a better role model for kids than Conan but she still went through some things that you might want to wait until your kids are older to explain. She has boundless courage and is always ready to lend a helping hand to those in need. She is somehow stealthy despite her shock of red hair that you would think could be seen by just about anyone. Her choice of battle gear is a bit… exposed, let’s say. It does leave her flexible though and as a barbarian you don’t want to be clunking around although, it would be wise to get yourself a shield from your closest merchant.
Barbarians tend to live for danger and are willing to take risks for themselves, especially if their actions might protect those they care about. There are all kinds of barbarians though and they often come in surprising packages. Being a barbarian isn’t about how big you are but about how bold you are. Halflings and dwarves make barbarians just as well as elves and goliaths do.
It can also be fun to play a barbarian a little against type. There’s no reason a barbarian can’t be smart or kind or even reluctant to get into battle. the one thing that should be consistent with barbarians is that once they are in battle, they revel in it, almost to the point where they are blind with rage but very effective up close.
So, now that I have given you some barbarian examples, how does one make a barbarian? Let’s take a look at what the basic rules have to tell us shall we?
Creating a Barbarian
When you first play Dungeons & Dragons with kids and the basic rules tell you what to use for a quick build I would say it’s probably best to start there. It’s the least amount of poring over and trying to figure out stats you can do and since this part was written by the game designers you tend to get a fairly balanced class out of it. The one place you might change is in the suggested backgrounds. I feel like the backgrounds are more a role playing choice than a mechanic (although they have that too) and thus should be left up to the kid playing. Also, for those who don’t know, when I talk about “mechanics” I just mean how the rules operate, usually with some number crunching involved.
What do the basic rules suggest we do with our barbarian?
For this class the rules recommend putting your highest ability score in Strength, followed by Constitution. This makes sense because as a barbarian your weapon attacks are going to use strength, your rage gives you some bonuses to your strength. You also want high constitution because this is how healthy you are and since you are likely to get bashed around plenty, you want to have enough hit points that you aren’t getting knocked out ever other round in combat.
Second they recommend the Outlander background. In a later series of posts I will go more into each background but I will say that Outlander can be a great choice for a barbarian but it is not the only choice. I have played a barbarian with the folklore background and that worked out very well for me. I also think that if you made a few adjustments a barbarian could be a noble. Sure, she might not come from a fancy castle and want to pay for the most luxurious accommodations every night but there’s no reason they can’t be the leader of their tribe or a proud noble of a people who shun the niceties of civilization.
There are different features you get for being a barbarian and while you are unlikely to get to the top ranks of levels with a group of kids, I’ll give you a rundown of these things anyway.
Hit dice: Barbarians get to use a d12 when figuring out their hit points and hit dice which is pretty great since a lot of other classes use smaller dice meaning barbarians are sturdier. For your hit dice you get 1d12 per barbarian level.
Hit points: At first level it’s 1d12 + your constitution modifier. (This is where having con as one of your higher stats really helps) For every level after that you get 1d12 (or 7 if you are using averages) + your Constitution modifier per barbarian level after 1st.
Just a quick note here because I know this was confusing to me when I learned to play. What is the difference between hit dice and hit points? Hit dice you get to roll when you take a short rest. These will be however many d12s you roll per level. You get to add the number you roll to your hit points if you have taken any damage. Your hit points are how many points of health you have. The easiest analogy is probably a health bar in a video game. If that number gets down to zero or below, you are likely in trouble. When you roll your hit dice you get to refill that bar. And just like in a video game, you can’t exceed the maximum of your health even if you roll higher than that number.
Proficiencies: These are basically things you are good at. A barbarian has several proficiencies to begin with.
Armor: Barbarians are good with Light armor, medium armor, and shields. While I highly recommend you pick up a shield, you may not want to wear armor because if you do, you won’t be able to use Unarmored Defense which I will talk about more below.
Weapons: Barbarians are good with simple weapons and martial weapons. Spears, daggers, axes these are a few of the types of weapons barbarians are good with. They’re not great with a bow or anything that takes great practice and skill to perfect but that’s fine because a barbarian is going to want to get up close and be right in the middle of melee as much as possible.
Tools: None. Alright, barbarians just don’t have the patience for tools. That’s what rogues are for.
Saving Throws: Strength, Constitution. Saving throws are when you might befall an attack or damage of some kind. If the check for that attack or damage calls for strength or constitution you are going to be glad you are a barbarian
Skills: Choose two from Animal Handling, Athletics, Intimidation, Nature, Perception, and Survival. We’ll talk more about skills more in future posts but for now, these do basically what they sound like although I will point out Survival doesn’t mean just how long yo live. It’s more like, how long can you live in nature on your own instincts.
You start with the following equipment, in addition to the equipment granted by your background:
- (a) a greataxe or (b) any martial melee weapon
- (a) two handaxes or (b) any simple weapon
- An explorer’s pack and four javelins
These are all good weapons for a barbarian and it’s basically down to your preference of how you want to hit stuff.
Alright, now for the fun stuff! On top of all the things listed above, barbarians get several features. Like I said before, kids are not likely to go all the way to level 20 but I will talk about all of these anyway. The descriptions with the bullets and stuff are taken right from the basic rules but I will give you my spin on each one. The first few are the ones to focus on at the beginning.
This is the key to being a barbarian. Whenever you get into combat you are going to want to Rage. It gives you bonuses that make you much tougher but there are some drawbacks to it so make sure you know how it works.
So what is it exactly?
On your turn, you can enter a rage as a bonus action.
While raging, you gain the following benefits if you aren’t wearing heavy armor:
- You have advantage on Strength checks and Strength saving throws.
- When you make a melee weapon attack using Strength, you gain a bonus to the damage roll that increases as you gain levels as a barbarian, as shown in the Rage Damage column of the Barbarian table.
- You have resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage.
To sum this up, you are stronger when raging and as you level up you get to do even more damage per level. On top of that if an enemy is hitting you with any weapon that does bludgeoning, piercing or slashing damage, you get to reduce the amount of damage you would take.
There are some limits though. They are listed below.
If you are able to cast spells, you can’t cast them or concentrate on them while raging.
Your rage lasts for 1 minute. It ends early if you are knocked unconscious or if your turn ends and you haven’t attacked a hostile creature since your last turn or taken damage since then. You can also end your rage on your turn as a bonus action.
Once you have raged the number of times shown for your barbarian level in the Rages column of the Barbarian table, you must finish a long rest before you can rage again.
Those are the limits, let’s talk a little bit more about them.
Some barbarians do a little bit of magic so if you have an awesome spell, make sure you cast it before you rage. If it’s a concentration spell wait until the effect ends before you rage. It’s all about timing.
You can also lose your rage in a number of ways. First of all it only lasts for one full minute. Now, that’s actually quite a few rounds in most combat situations but if it’s a really long battle you’re going to want to make sure you go into the rage at the most opportune time.
Also, if you get knocked unconscious your rage is gone, so try not to get clobbered to the point where you have zero hit points.
On the other hand, you also lose your rage if you don’t either tried to hit an enemy or gotten hit by an enemy so if you are raging, be sure you are in the thick of the fight.
You can also choose to just stop raging, unlike the Hulk, so if you rage and then realize you should cast a spell you can drop that rage.
The final limitation is that you can only rage twice per day so if you are pretty sure you are going to be in ten combats, save your rage for the hardest two. You get your rages back after a long rest.
While you are not wearing any armor, your Armor Class equals 10 + your Dexterity modifier + your Constitution modifier. You can use a shield and still gain this benefit.
Ok, here’s the deal with unarmored defense. You don’t want to wear armor. Why? Because adding all those numbers above is probably going to be more defensive for you than wearing armor in the first place. Plus, if you have a shield you get a +2 to your AC while you use it so you can boost that number even higher. Also, you and your Monk buddy (we’ll talk about Monks in a later post) are going to be the quickest to get out of the inn to see what all the ruckus is in the middle of the night. Why? It takes 10 minutes to put all that armor on but you don’t have to. Your armor is your flesh.
Starting at 2nd level, you can throw aside all concern for defense to attack with fierce desperation. When you make your first attack on your turn, you can decide to attack recklessly. Doing so gives you advantage on melee weapon attack rolls using Strength during this turn, but attack rolls against you have advantage until your next turn.
This is an awesome feature but I will give you caution that using it on an adult dragon might be unwise. Basically at the start of your attack you can do so recklessly which means you get to roll two d20s and take the higher number for your attack roll. The drawback? That same creature has advantage against you on its next attack. If it’s a squishy little goblin with no armor that’s probably fine but if it’s something bigger than you just remember it gets to hit back.
At 2nd level, you gain an uncanny sense of when things nearby aren’t as they should be, giving you an edge when you dodge away from danger.
You have advantage on Dexterity saving throws against effects that you can see, such as traps and spells. To gain this benefit, you can’t be blinded , deafened , or incapacitated.
For this one you get a bit more of a chance of escaping damage caused by your environment or your enemies, so long as you can see it. It doesn’t work if you have the blinded , deafened , or incapacitated conditions going against you. We’ll talk more about conditions in a later post but they do basically what they sound like.
At 3rd level, you choose a path that shapes the nature of your rage. Choose the Path of the Berserker or the Path of the Totem Warrior, both detailed at the end of the class description. Your choice grants you features at 3rd level and again at 6th, 10th, and 14th levels.
Look, this one sounds confusing but basically you get to pick one of two cool ways to manifest your rage. Since they both get entries in the end of the barbarian section I will go into more detail about both the Path of the Berserker and the Path of the Totem Warrior later in this post.
Ability Score Improvement
When you reach 4th level, and again at 8th, 12th, 16th, and 19th level, you can increase one ability score of your choice by 2, or you can increase two ability scores of your choice by 1. As normal, you can’t increase an ability score above 20 using this feature.
Meh. You get to increase some numbers on your stats here which is cool and all but not that nifty as far as role playing goes. We’ll go way more in depth on Ability Scores in a later post.
Beginning at 5th level, you can attack twice, instead of once, whenever you take the Attack action on your turn.
Yeah! You get to hit stuff more. Hitting more stuff is good for a barbarian!
Starting at 5th level, your speed increases by 10 feet while you aren’t wearing heavy armor.
We’ve been over this, barbarians don’t want to wear armor and this is another reason. You can move faster. Faster is good because then you get to hit stuff sooner!
By 7th level, your instincts are so honed that you have advantage on initiative rolls.
Additionally, if you are surprised at the beginning of combat and aren’t incapacitated, you can act normally on your first turn, but only if you enter your rage before doing anything else on that turn.
If you are sort of new to D&D this just sounds confusing. This is mostly wrapped up in some mechanics. Basically the idea is that you notice when things are about to get hairy before others do so you are more likely to get into combat first. And if you are new to D&D the whole surprised thing can be tough to figure out. It’s a sort of weirdly complicated mechanic of figuring out who goes first in combat. I’ll do a post later that talks about this so for now, don’t worry too much about it. Having the Feral Instinct is very helpful, just know that much.
Beginning at 9th level, you can roll one additional weapon damage die when determining the extra damage for a critical hit with a melee attack.
This increases to two additional dice at 13th level and three additional dice at 17th level.
I know this one sounds kind of jargony but it boils down to this. You get to roll more damage dice when you roll a 20 on your attack roll. In other words, you hit really hard.
Starting at 11th level, your rage can keep you fighting despite grievous wounds. If you drop to 0 hit points while you’re raging and don’t die outright, you can make a DC 10 Constitution saving throw. If you succeed, you drop to 1 hit point instead.
Each time you use this feature after the first, the DC increases by 5. When you finish a short or long rest, the DC resets to 10.
This one is fun because just when it looks like you are down and out, you get back up again. That bugbear that thought it just struck a killing blow against you? Guess what? It’s your turn now!
Beginning at 15th level, your rage is so fierce that it ends early only if you fall unconscious or if you choose to end it.
Yes! You can be in a near perpetual state of rage unless you decide to calm down or you get knocked out.
Beginning at 18th level, if your total for a Strength check is less than your Strength score, you can use that score in place of the total.
By this time you are probably pretty strong so getting to use your strength score is usually going to be way better than a low roll on a d20.
At 20th level, you embody the power of the wilds. Your Strength and Constitution scores increase by 4. Your maximum for those scores is now 24.
Again, this doesn’t seem that neat from a role playing perspective but it does make you stronger and sturdier. I can’t say I have played a level 20 barbarian (yet) so I am not sure how helpful this is but most of the score caps are 20 so an extra four ain’t bad.
So what exactly are Primal Paths and how do they work? This is the part of the class that lets you add a little style to your barbarian. There are two paths you can choose from in the basic rules, the Path of the Berserker and the Path of the Totem.
For some reason the basic rules on D&D Beyond don’t actually give the details for the Path of the Totem but I have you covered.
Here is how the basic rules describes Primal Paths:
Rage burns in every barbarian’s heart, a furnace that drives him or her toward greatness. Different barbarians attribute their rage to different sources, however. For some, it is an internal reservoir where pain, grief, and anger are forged into a fury hard as steel. Others see it as a spiritual blessing, a gift of a totem animal.
Pretty cool right? Let’s take a look at each option.
Path of the Berserker
If your kid wants to basically be the Hulk when she plays, have her take the Path of the Berserker. You get some cool features to use and you get to be the scariest thing in the room.
Here is what you get.
Starting when you choose this path at 3rd level, you can go into a frenzy when you rage. If you do so, for the duration of your rage you can make a single melee weapon attack as a bonus action on each of your turns after this one. When your rage ends, you suffer one level of exhaustion.
Basically you get to hit more frequently in battle but there is a cost. Once you are done, you really need to take a rest otherwise you suffer a level of exhaustion. exhaustion is a condition and again. we will talk about those in a later post but suffice to say it can lead to death eventually if you are not careful.
Beginning at 6th level, you can’t be charmed or frightened while raging. If you are charmed or frightened when you enter your rage, the effect is suspended for the duration of the rage.
None of that mind control spell funny business for you. You are way too focused on your rage to listen to anyone else. When the rage ends that wizard can get back to charming you… if he hasn’t fallen to your greataxe by then.
Beginning at 10th level, you can use your action to frighten someone with your menacing presence. When you do so, choose one creature that you can see within 30 feet of you. If the creature can see or hear you, it must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw (DC equal to 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Charisma modifier) or be frightened of you until the end of your next turn. On subsequent turns, you can use your action to extend the duration of this effect on the frightened creature until the end of your next turn. This effect ends if the creature ends its turn out of line of sight or more than 60 feet away from you.
If the creature succeeds on its saving throw, you can’t use this feature on that creature again for 24 hours.
The Hulk is big and scary and he makes people afraid. Barbarians get to use that to their advantage. The caveat is that the creature has to be close enough and if they succeed on their saving throw, they don’t think you’re such a big deal anymore. Be sure to have a weapon ready to remind them that they are wrong about that.
Starting at 14th level, when you take damage from a creature that is within 5 feet of you, you can use your reaction to make a melee weapon attack against that creature.
If you hit me I hit you back is pretty much what this is. It’s pretty effective for barbarians.
Path of the Totem Warrior
The Totem Warrior is very in tune with nature and all the animals and spirits of animals around them. This is a much more mystical take on the barbarian and it can be a lot of fun to play.
The Player’s Handbook describes it like this:
The Path of the Totem Warrior is a spiritual journey, as the barbarian accepts a spirit animal as guide, protector, and inspiration. In battle, your totem spirit fills you with supernatural might, adding magical fuel to your barbarian rage.
It’s sort of like Brother Bear but if instead of only learning life lessons about acceptance, you also learned how to be really good in a fight.
Here is what you get with this path.
Yours is a path that seeks attunement with the natural world, giving you a kinship with beasts. At 3rd level when you adopt this path, you gain the ability to cast the beast sense and speak with animals spells, but only as rituals.
Basically what this means is that you can use a beast’s eyes and listen through it’s ears which can be great when scouting an area. You can also talk with animals to find out about what’s going on in the area. However, it takes time for you to do that because you have to do it as a ritual. We’ll get more into that when we talk about magic in a later post but for now just know, ritual spell means you need a bit of time to cast it.
At 3rd level, when you adopt this path, you choose a totem spirit and gain its feature. You must make or acquire a physical totem object — an amulet or similar adornment — that incorporates fur or feathers, claws, teeth, or bones of the totem animal. At your option, you also gain minor physical attributes that are reminiscent of your totem spirit. For example, if you have a bear totem spirit, you might be unusually hairy and thick-skinned, or if your totem is the eagle, your eyes turn bright yellow.
Your totem animal might be an animal related to those listed here but more appropriate to your homeland. For example, you could choose a hawk or vulture in place of an eagle.
Bear. While raging, you have resistance to all damage except psychic damage. The spirit of the bear makes you tough enough to stand up to any punishment.
Eagle. While you’re raging, other creatures have disadvantage on opportunity attack rolls against you, and you can use the Dash action as a bonus action on your turn. The spirit of the eagle makes you into a predator who can weave through the fray with ease.
Wolf. While you’re raging, your friends have advantage on melee attack rolls against any creature within 5 feet of you that is hostile to you. The spirit of the wolf makes you a leader of hunters.
I think these are pretty straightforward but the gist of it is that you get to choose an animal and gain some of the benefits that animal naturally possesses.
Aspect of the Beast
At 6th level, you gain a magical benefit based on the totem animal of your choice. You can choose the same animal you selected at 3rd level or a different one.
Bear. You gain the might of a bear. Your carrying capacity (including maximum load and maximum lift) is doubled, and you have advantage on Strength checks made to push, pull, lift, or break objects.
Eagle. You gain the eyesight of an eagle. You can see up to 1 mile away with no difficulty, able to discern even fine details as though looking at something no more than 100 feet away from you. Additionally, dim light doesn’t impose disadvantage on your Wisdom (Perception) checks.
Wolf. You gain the hunting sensibilities of a wolf. You can track other creatures while traveling at a fast pace, and you can move stealthily while traveling at a normal pace.
Again I think this is pretty straightforward but this time the effect is magical. You do only get to choose each animal once so make sure you choose wisely.
At 14th level, you gain a magical benefit based on a totem animal of your choice. You can choose the same animal you selected previously or a different one.
Bear. While you’re raging, any creature within 5 feet of you that’s hostile to you has disadvantage on attack rolls against targets other than you or another character with this feature. An enemy is immune to this effect if it can’t see or hear you or if it can’t be frightened.
Eagle. While raging, you have a flying speed equal to your current walking speed. This benefit works only in short bursts; you fall if you end your turn in the air and nothing else is holding you aloft.
Wolf. While you’re raging, you can use a bonus action on your turn to knock a Large or smaller creature prone when you hit it with melee weapon attack.
Ditto for this one, you get the benefits of the creatures you choose and they are magical. They are all pretty useful so have fun with it.
Slick Dungeon’s Tips on Playing Barbarians
When you tell a kid that they can play a barbarian you might think you would regret that decision. I mean, a character who is all about rage and anger? Is that something we want our kids to do? Well, I think yes because anger is a huge emotion for kids. It’s something they understand and if they have ever had a tantrum they know there are times it is scary and they might feel like there is no way of controlling it. Guess what? That’s just like a barbarian but there is one major difference. They get to experience this in a safe environment without real world consequences. They might be able to see that their character is able to reign in that rage when needed and they can use that emotion towards something positive, namely protecting their friends. Also, kids are kind of egomaniacs. That’s not an insult, it’s just who kids are and how they develop. That being the case, sometimes they want to get to feel super powerful and playing as a barbarian is a great outlet for that.
The main caution with playing a barbarian is not to take things too far. You don’t want the role play of the rage to turn into actual anger so make sure that the rules of what is allowed at the table while playing are well set ahead of time.
Other than that, let your kid have fun, let them be powerful. Let them feel like the strongest in the room. It will be a ton of fun, I promise you.
I hope you have enjoyed this post. Thanks so much for reading to the end if you are still here with me. Next time we are going to talk about the ultimate in entertainment and support when we talk about bards.
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