So, you’re making your Barbarian for your 5e game and you want to know which backgrounds work best for you.
Luckily, almost any background in Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition works. But, there are a few more thematic options you might want to consider.
- Folk Hero
- City Watch
- Faction Agent
- Far Traveler
- Mercenary Veteran
- Urban Bounty Hunter
- Uthgardt Tribe Member
So, here’s my top 10 picks for the best backgrounds for a Barbarian in 5e.
The Folk Hero background is a really fun option.
Honestly, I love this background. It embodies everything for making the unwitting, rising, or reluctant hero tropes. Basically, your character led an average life but something pushed them to adventure.
This works well for Barbarians.
Your character could have had some event happen that triggers an unearthly rage such as the death of a loved one or an invading force. Or, perhaps you led a resistance against an oppressive force with the use of herbs or unlocking the untapped potential of your being.
Whatever the case, your character gained a reputation with the common folk. So, you gain their favor and they’ll help you with minor favors.
Now, the skill proficiencies you get are Animal Handling and Survival. Both solid skills for Barbarians since you should be used to roughing it in the wilderness.
You’ll also get a tool proficiency of your choice and in land vehicles…which makes sense if you consider horses a vehicle…I guess.
Gotta be honest, not entirely sure on that last part. But, it’ll be nice to have if/when you need it.
Time for the most iconic choice.
The Outlander DnD 5e background is probably one of the more useful options. And, you’ll probably see a lot of people choose this for their Barbarian.
The main draw to this background is the Wanderer feature.
This feature lets you remember areas you’ve been so it’s harder to get lost. And, you can gather food and water (assuming it’s available) for you and up to five other creatures while travelling. So, if your party only has 6 people, you never need to worry about food.
Outside of the insanely good background feature, the theme of the Outlander 5e background seems made for Barbarians.
Basically, you grew up on the outskirts of civilization. Your character belonged or still belongs to a clan, tribe, or small settlement far away from towns and cities. So, you’re used to roughing it and living off the land, so to speak.
Which makes it perfect for the big, rough-and-tumble, no-nonsense and no manners Barbarian everyone thinks of.
Now, this is a bit of an odd one, I know. But, bear with me.
The Sailor 5e background might not seem like it fits well with the Barbarian. But, with their proficiency in the Athletics and Perception skills, they’re great for ensuring your character fills their role.
You’ll also get Navigator’s tools and water vehicle proficiencies. Which, if you’re playing a nautical campaign, are sure to come in handy.
Now, the Ship’s Passage feature is fine. Finding free passage if you need to travel across a large body of water is great when you need it.
But, the real kicker is the variant background feature; Bad Reputation.
This feature lets you skip the tab on food and minor services in towns and other settlements due to your fearsome reputation. Like many backgrounds, this is all up to your Dungeon Master. So, check with them and make sure you’re both on the same page.
Now, why do I think this is a good background for a Barbarian?
Two words: Viking. Berserker.
After all, Vikings were basically pirates of the northern waters in and around 11th century England. And, berserkers are one of the more famous historical examples that fit the theme of 5e’s Barbarian class.
Theming might be a little weird here. But, since Barbarians are martial fighters, I feel like it’s worth a mention.
If you’re going with the Soldier background for your Barbarian, you’re probably looking to get the Athletics and Intimidation skills. You have the option to grab these as a Barbarian anyway. But, if you wanted other skills, then you can grab these with your background instead.
The proficiencies in land vehicles is also nice if your party needs a cart or carriage driver.
Honestly, the Military Rank background feature is…okay. It’s no better or worse than a lot of the other background features. But, if that’s what works for your Barbarian, then great.
Really, the idea of making a Barbarian Soldier is almost oxymoronic.
Soldiers are regimented and disciplined. Barbarians are free and wild. But, maybe you’re playing the front line berserker or a member of the reinforcements that come in to help with breaking the last resistance of enemies. Or, maybe you’re part of a military that regularly deploys a special unit that specializes in barbaric tactics.
City Watch (SCAG)
This one’s kind of like the Soldier.
The theme might not fit the wild berserker you might think of when you think of a Barbarian. But, your character could’ve been an enforcer for the local guard of a town or city. And, that’s why you’d choose the City Watch background.
You’ll get proficiency in Athletics and Insight. Both are pretty good for any character and the latter helps you break the trope of the gullible brute Barbarians tend to fill.
The background feature, Watcher’s Eye, is alright.
Your character can find watch outposts and might fit in with the local guardship. You’ll have an easier time getting information from the local watch and maybe receive help from them. But, that’s all up to your DM.
Faction Agent (SCAG)
This one might be the weirder one on this list. But, hear me out.
If you want your Barbarian to belong to a faction or some kind of organization, the Faction Agent background fits perfectly. It focuses less on the physical attributes so that might stop you from choosing it. But, I feel that it pads out the Barbarian and gives them more depth than the musclebound meathead they tend to be.
I actually had a Faction Agent Barbarian in my current game.
My wife played a Storm Herald, one of the 5e Barbarian subclasses from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, who was a Faction Agent under a secretive organization. Her proficiencies helped her outside of combat which is something Barbarians usually lack. And, it gave her a good tie-in to the events of the game since she had orders from her superiors.
And, even then, if you want to play an enforcer for your faction, that works too.
Far Traveler (SCAG)
Another background that’s more cerebral than your typical Barbarian.
The point of the Far Traveler background is to make a "Fish-Out-of-Water" character. You’re a stranger in a strange land and everyone notices you. So, your Barbarian needs to reflect that.
Again, think a viking in ancient England. You’re big and strong (probably), but you have a certain magnetism that the people of the land can’t ignore.
Your proficiencies from the Far Traveler background, Insight and Perception, keep you alive in both hazardous and civilized encounters.
A Far Traveler Barbarian probably reflects a society that emphasizes strength or physical prowess in general. Goliaths or other 5e race that tend to live in extreme environments are good picks for this background and class combo.
Mercenary Veteran (SCAG)
Let’s get back to a background that’s little more physical.
Playing a Barbarian with the Mercenary Veteran background is pretty similar to playing one as a former Soldier. The key difference is your character was less noble warrior and more sellsword. But, that means they know their way around social situations similar to price negotiations.
The Mercenary Life background feature helps you find other mercenary groups. Which, given the right circumstances, could come in handy.
You’ll also get proficiency in the Athletics and Persuasion skills. Now, most Barbarians I know don’t really use Persuasion. But, this means your character has that option in social encounters. Which might be kind of fun.
Urban Bounty Hunter (SCAG)
Weirdly, this background is more cerebral than you’d think.
Playing an Urban Bounty Hunter background for your Barbarian actually plays pretty well into the tropes of the class. Since you’re playing a strong hunter-type character, you can shift your attention from beasts to people…that sounds worse than I meant. Basically, you’re tracking down bounties and cashing in.
The Ear to the Ground background feature is an interesting one.
You get a contact in certain cities that can point you in the direction of wanted criminals or other persons-of-interest. And, more than likely, you’ll hunt them down, beat them up, and turn them in for whatever reward. Or, maybe your character has a code of honor they follow.
What’s interesting about the Urban Bounty Hunter Background is you get a choice of two skill proficiencies from a list of four; Deception, Insight, Persuasion, or Stealth.
Like I said, this background is weirdly knowledge-based. But, that means choosing it fills some gaps for your Barbarian. And, it gives them options to help in the Social and Adventure pillars of play in 5e.
Uthgardt Tribe Member (SCAG)
Time for the stereotype.
While this is made specifically for the Forgotten Realms setting, you can easily use the Uthgardt Tribe Member background for your setting. Really just…change the name.
Anyway. Chances are you’ve seen the tribal Barbarian archetype played before. It’s the basis for the class to begin with. So, it’s easy to fall back into those trope which is why this background is a good pick if you’re playing a Barbarian.
The whole thing plays to the Barbarian’s strengths.
- Proficiency in the Athletics and Survival skills
- Equipment that fits the flavor of a tribal Barbarian
- And, benefits for travelling, exploring, and interacting within your tribe’s region
So, it’s an easy fit if you’re looking to play an archetypal Barbarian. And, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Y’know, so long as you’re cool about it.
So, there’s my picks for the best backgrounds for a Barbarian in 5e.
Remember: backgrounds in D&D are very loose. You can customize them almost anyway you like.
In fact, page 125 of the Player’s Handbook specifically states you can customize your background if you want to tweak one. So, feel free to change up your Barbarian’s background if you want.