D&D Next: Barbarian

Clarifications are all well and good, changes to spell durations perhaps less so, and conversion notes for a D&D Encounters adventure are nice if you happen to have it (though personally I feel that I put way more effort into my adventure conversion), but really the big thing about this playtest packet is the barbarian class.

A reliance on Strength and Constitution, d12 Hit Die, and some kind of rage mechanic are to be expected. Like the fighter (and the rogue and monk), the barbarian is great with weapons, starting with a bonus to attack rolls and Martial Damage Dice right from the get-go (and, obviously, it scales at the same rate).

The other starting features let you add your Constitution modifier to Armor Class when you are not wearing armor, and when you are not raging you can make an attack with advantage at the cost of granting everyone else attacks with advantage against you for a turn.

The most complex class feature is rage. You can rage twice per day at the start, which grants you advantage on Strength-based attacks, checks, and saves, a scaling bonus to damage rolls, and resistance to non-magical damage. The downside is that you cannot rake reactions, and if you do not attack the rage ends.

As you level up you gain fast movement, roll twice for initiative and take the best result, have essentially zombie durability (make Constitution saves to stay at 1 hit point regardless of damage, though the save DC increases each time), negate surprise, regenerate hit points when you are at less than half, and more.

Like the 3rd Edition barbarian there are no decision points, which is fine because as Mearls said this would be a kind of early draft; customization--such as modifying how rage works and some awesome-sounding shapechanging stuff--would come later.

My initial reaction is that while the barbarian is tough and powerful, it does not deliver anything we have not already seen. Actually thanks to 4th Edition's barbarian and berserker it would have to deliver quite a bit in order to meet or exceed my expectations. Again, it is an early draft, so this might change depending on what options eventually crop upLack of options aside, another reason for my reaction is rage, specifically everything about it.

It is not that I am not surprised by the decision to make a rage a limited-duration, daily resource, as it makes it easy to manage, but that also makes it unexciting for me: you activate it, get a bonus for an encounter, and that is it. Diablo III's barbarian had a mechanic where you build up "rage" through successive attacks. The more you hit, the higher it got and the better special attacks you could trigger. Out of combat it gradually depleted, so you had an incentive to stay in the thick of it hewing through enemies as fast as you can.

Iron Heroes had a token system that operated in a similar manner: a berserker would build up fury tokens by killing enemies, getting hit, and spending actions to basically psyche yourself up, and spend them to trigger your abilities. If they want to stick with dice, you could give the barbarian a dice cap, and require her to skill enemies to get hit in order to build them up, spending them to deal bonus damage, make extra attacks, inflict an automatic critical hit, absorb damage, and so on. To me this seems a lot more dynamic and interesting .

A concern that I have seen is if the barbarian is better than the fighter. It has more hit points, and since it can combine Dexterity and Constitution to determine Armor Class it is a pretty simple feat to match even a fully-armored fighter at the start, and you do not have to spend anything to get it. Rage provides a massive combat bonus for basically the entire encounter if you can keep attacking, which may end up contributing to the 15-minute workday (especially since wizards also get only two spells per day).

At any rate I plan on giving it a gauntlet-style run sometime this week in order to see how it plays, as well as compare it to a fighter. Maybe several fighter builds, just to see how sword and board, two-handers, and dual-wielders match up.


  1. Does the Fighter become it's equal with the amount of feats and talents they can purchase? Or are you talking solely low tier campaigns?
    Just curious.
    Good articles by the way. Have not play DnD since 3e and they have been helping me get ready for DND Next.

  2. They changed it up in the latest packet. Both fighters and barbarians get passive increases to damage, as well as multiple attacks.

    Basically their damage output is the same unless a barbarian rages, which they can only do a set number of times a day, so ultimately it depends on how many encounters you get into in a day (which I think is stupid).

    On the other hand, fighters get maneuvers that they can use pretty much every encounter, so its a balance of limited damage boosting, compared to more reliable special attacks.

    Thanks for the compliment; always nice to know that I am writing things that people read and enjoy. :-)


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