WHAT IS SUBCLASS? JUST SMASH! WHO CARE WHAT SUBLASS? THERE DIFFERENT KIND OF SMASH? BEST SMASH! WHAT IS BEST SMASH? OK. BAR BAR BAR!
The barbarian has been in our history since antiquity. When war was an everyday matter, the easiest way to cope was to make them seem inhuman. The simplest way to dehumanize was to make fun of how they talk! “It sounds like all they say is bar bar bar! Just a bunch of barbarians!”
D&D 5E has many sub-classes to choose from, spanning several core books. Here are some quick summaries of each subclass, which will give a bit of insight to the history of each. This list isn’t the way you are expected to play the subclass, but our own interpretation of what the subclass archetype is trying to be. We have also included some character examples that come to mind when thinking of the subclass, but your interpretation may differ, and if it does, please share how!
Path of the Berserker (SRD, PHB)
Examples: Grog Strongjaw (Critical Role), Beor O’Shift (Harmonquest), Hulk (Marvel), Carnage Kabuto (One Punch Man)
This is the archetypal barbarian, which people in history described as blood thirsty war mongers. In medieval times, to feel better about waging war on Nordic people, they would describe them as inhuman frenzy filled warriors. There was no diplomacy with them! There was no deterring their rage! They’ll endanger themselves to hurt you!
Benefits from picking this subclass are focused on the frenzy of your rage, which grant additional attacks at the cost of exhaustion later on. At later levels, your rage will improve to make you immune to charm or fear, and intimidating to your enemies.
Path of the Totem Warrior (PHB, SCAG)
Examples: Catra (She-Ra), Tarzan, Cairne Bloodhoof (World of Warcraft)
Take the bare-chested animal loving Tarzan, add the treasure bearing figures of Cairne, and the canine strength of Catra to get the totem warrior. This subclass is about connecting to animals and wielding their spiritual abilities and strength. The concept of this subclass comes from the viking warriors who would wear the skins of animals, believing that doing so would grant them their strengths and abilities.
In addition to being able to sense and speak to animals, you will get to choose from a list of animals which grant respective abilities. From the bear’s resistance to all damage, to the wolf’s ability to give allies advantage on attacks, there are many choices which grant persistent abilities. Although the PHB typically lets you pick from three major categories, you can find additional choices in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide.
Path of the Battlerager (SCAG)
Examples Braga (Rat Queens), Rhino (Marvel), Juggernaut (Marvel)
SMASH AND POKE!
Although the books will say that this subclass is only for dwarves, you can see how this choice would be fun for anyone. This is the barbarian that not only uses armor, but also attacks with it. They are able to throw themselves into combat to take the brunt of the attacks, while ensuring they can dish some back. In history, many people thought shields should be entirely about protecting yourself. Some people figured, “But why not put a spike on it, so they get hurt while attacking me?”
A great choice for a tank, the battlerager will have higher AC, and able to make bonus attacks. To ensure you keep the damage up and stay in the heat of combat, you will later be able to move faster while also getting additional hit points.
Path of the Ancestral Guardian (XG)
Examples Hercules, He-Man
SMASH LIKE MY FAMILY!
Wielding the spirits of their people, the ancestral guardian represents the strength and wisdom of their people. Throughout history, figures of all kinds claimed to gain strength from their ancestors, the most common one being Hercules. Known as the Heracleidae, people of ancient Greece claimed to have invincible strength in their blood. This subclass is about capturing the history of your character, as they will appear in spiritual form to help in combat.
Spirits of your people will help you in combat to focus on specific enemies while also protecting allies. They will ensure that an enemy of your choice will have disadvantage on attacking anyone but you. However, if your allies are attacked, your spirits will later improve to better protect them by reducing damage that they take. To top it all off, you will later be able to add a choice for how to communicate to your spirits.
Path of the Storm Herald (XG)
Examples Perseus (Mythical Figure), Thor (Marvel), Thrall (World of Warcraft)
Connected to nature and weather, the storm herald wields the power of the elements. In their rage, they emit a storm which can attack their foes and help their allies. In history, a common strategy to deceive your foes was to attack during the rage of a storm, weather it be rain, sand, or snow. It would deceive enemies to believe that your army was larger than it was, and it would also boost morale as it would feel like your calls to the Gods were answered in the form of nature itself. Just as Thor’s lightning rage into Wakanda, or Perseus’ defense of Mycenae, this barbarian emits an elemental aura that is difficult for anyone to ignore.
Similar to the totem warrior, but focused on weather, the storm herald chooses between elements like desert, sea, and tundra. Each choice will grant abilities like attacking your enemies, or assisting your allies. At later levels, your choice can grant resistance to that element, which can also be granted to allies.
Path of the Zealot (XG)
Examples Yasha (Critical Role), Kratos (God of War), Shao Khan (Mortal Kombat)
DEATH NO STOP SMASH!
In many accounts of war, you will find the occasional instance where someones war path was so strong, so rage induced, so unending, that even death seemed unable to stop them. Their attacks seemed to only get stronger, and it seemed like something unnatural was keeping them alive. A character like Kratos defines this class, who was cast straight into the river Styx. His determination and rage was strong enough to, not only fight out of the afterlife, but defeat the Gods themselves.
To capture this fearsome barbarian, the game grants additional damage to your attacks and makes you much easier to revive. Normally, a cleric would need expensive components to bring someone back from death, but not for the zealot. At later levels, your rage encourages your allies, granting them advantage on attacks, because their thankful you’re on their side! The penultimate ability is to persist through death. The barbarian continues to fight at 0 HP, able to make death saving throws, and stay alive for the duration of the rage!