Salutations, nerds! Today we’re going to be talking about barbarians in fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons, the true punk rockers of the D&D world. Throw on some hype music, jump a couple of times, rough your mind up and let’s get ready to rage. Once upon a time barbarians of the horde didn’t get to read unless they took it specifically as a skill, and I think that’s very telling of this class in general. Reading is a thing you have to slow down to do, and barbarians typically don’t want to slow down for anything. Save that double speak for your rogues and mages, because barbarians like things straight forward and simple. Why would you pick a lock when you can just bash the door down, after all? But there’s a certain allure to that simplicity. A 5E D&D barbarian doesn’t want your bull.
What makes barbarians so exciting
There’s something to be said for simplicity and I think it’s worth mentioning that just because something is simple doesn’t make it stupid. There’s a reason Occam’s razor exists, after all — the simplest solution is often the best. And truly, some of the best moments I’ve ever seen in a tabletop game have come from something showing up that was clearly not a good idea to just charge, and then somebody in the party said “I charge it anyway.”
The 5E D&D barbarian makes this impulse a totally valid one. If any class is made for looking at a problem, running toward it full force and bashing its brains in, this is it.
And at a glance this looks pretty foolhardy, but when you think about it for a minute it’s also incredibly heroic. Who else but a barbarian or a punk rocker is going to hype themselves up and charge a T-Rex? The barbarian knows what it wants, and what it wants is incredibly fun.
Bloodlust of the battlefield
Nearly everyone is familiar with the iconic image of a viking with the big horned helm rushing onto the battlefield with a massive hammer. Okay. By that I mean, everyone has played Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. Fun sidebar — the vikings didn’t actually wear helmets like those, but it puts the image in your head I’m trying to get at and that’s the idea.
Barbarian hordes are a fantasy staple. They aren’t usually portrayed as the good guys either, but the reason is because they are usually portrayed as being an unstoppable force. They come in like water, pouring through all the cracks of a keep, rushing through the streets of a city, killing and pillaging and most of the time they’re portrayed as these massive meaty guys.
That’s not always true of a barbarian. Some of them are played as educated, or even fairly ordinary people who just Hulk out in a dangerous situation. But there’s something really fun about the idea of the power of the masses. Imagine if you put all that power towards doing something good. Rising up against the gates of a corrupted city, for example.
What the barbarian horde can do for your players
The obvious answer is provide them a challenge. After all, the thing about barbarians is even on an individual level they are extremely hard to kill. Get a big group of them together and you’ve got a real problem for whatever villages they decide to charge into and loot for resources.
Of course, setting up a group of barbarians as your antagonists isn’t the only way to use them. Imagine having to appeal to them for help, going into their encampment and having to prove your strength to the warlord.
The thing about the horde of barbarians is they probably don’t tend to outsource, but if you wanted to use them as quest givers you could always take the angle of said warlord wanting to see what the party is made of. Setting challenges out of some sense of interest in the people before her, to see if they’re as capable as they look.
Do you have any fun barbarian stories? Ideas for how to use a group of outlanders that haven’t been covered here? Please, let me know in the comments below, and remember to stay nerdy!