For our purposes, I’m excluding specific setting books. So, no Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica, Mythic Odysseys of Theros, or Eberron: Rising from the Last War.
That being said; I will include the Elemental Evil Player’s Companion and Volo’s Guide to Monsters.
What’s the Best Race for a 5e Barbarian?
The best race for a Barbarian in 5e depends on which DnD party role you want to fill, Damage or Tank, and which Barbarian subclass you plan on playing. But, the choice comes down to either the Half-Orc or the Goliath. Either race is a great pick for your Barbarian.
Here’s how I’d rank the top 10 best races for a 5e Barbarian:
I’ll probably update this once I finally get my hands on all the sourcebooks. But, these are the more common races that you’ll probably encounter.
Dwarves make great Barbarians.
Their +2 to Constitution makes them sturdy. And, their resistance to poison damage and advantage on saving throws against the Poisoned condition is a nice feature.
But, that’s about as far as the base race helps.
Don’t get me wrong, Darkvision is great. But, so many other races get it that I can hardly count that as a major part of choosing to play a Dwarven Barbarian.
Now, either subrace is good for their own reasons.
Hill Dwarves don’t give you an Ability Score bonus to your most important stats. But, their Dwarven Toughness racial feature is great for your survivability. An extra point to your Hit Point Maximum is nothing to scoff at.
On the other hand, the Mountain Dwarf has the opposite problem. The +2 bonus to your Strength is awesome. But, you’ll already have proficiency with light and medium armor from your class. So, it’s kind of a wasted feature.
I put the Dwarf so low on the list because while it has the right Ability Scores the features don’t exactly line up with an optimal Barbarian build.
Alright. So, Humans are amazing for pretty much any class.
The biggest benefit for choosing a Human Barbarian is using the Variant rule. This way, you still get +1 to two Ability Scores of your choice AND you get a Feat at 1st-level.
A lot of Barbarian character builds (and character builds in general) use the Variant Human.
This way, you get to pick a Feat at 1st-level rather than waiting until 4th. So, a lot of people go with Savage Attacker, Tough, Great Weapon Master, or some other option that buffs their physical prowess.
So, while the Human might not be the best choice it still really good.
I included the Dragonborn because they can make okay Barbarians.
The biggest draw to making a Dragonborn Barbarian is the +2 Strength and damage resistance. You gain resistance to a damage type depending on the color of your character’s draconic ancestry.
You’ll also get the Breath Weapon feature that deals damage corresponding to your dragon type. But, it uses your action. And, let’s face it, there are probably better things a Barbarian can do as their action.
For these reasons, while Dragonborn Barbarians are fun and thematic, they’re not the most ideal option as your race.
One of the best race options for the Barbarian.
The Half-Orc gets so many racial features that fit right in with the Barbarian. From their Ability Score bonuses to pretty much all their abilities. This makes them one of the best races for a Barbarian in 5e.
Basically, everything a Half-Orc gets is great for a Barbarian.
- They get +2 to Strength and +1 to Constitution (both core Ability Scores for Barbarians)
- Their Relentless Endurance feature lets them survive dropping to zero hit points once per day
- The Savage Attacks feature improves their critical hits
- They’re proficient in the Intimidation skill (about the only Charisma skill Barbarians care about)
- And, they get Darkvision
Like I said, Half-Orcs get a ton of features that make them perfect for playing a Barbarian.
You won’t go wrong with your Barbarian is you choose this as your race.
I know. This is kind of a weird one. And, it’s not an ideal race for a Barbarian. But, they have a couple options that might appeal to certain builds.
The most important part of choosing a Genasi as your Barbarian’s race is the +2 Constitution bonus. That being said, a couple subraces give you a damage resistance and another buffs your Strength. But, that’s about it.
So, we’re going to do a quick breakdown of each Genasi subrace to see how they stack up as Barbarians.
• Air Genasi
Personally, this is the worst option for a Barbarian.
Sure, you get a +1 to your Dexterity. And, Unending Breath is useful in ribbon circumstances (of which I’ve actually experienced). You’re not getting a whole lot that really helps your character.
Mingle with the Wind seems like a good idea.
How many times has your Barbarian been at a huge disadvantage in combat because they couldn’t reach a flying enemy?
But, Levitate only takes your character so far (literally). All a flying foe has to do is…move away. Like, that’s it. So, I can’t really say its a huge benefit that your Air Genasi Barbarian can go straight up in the air without pushing off something.
• Earth Genasi
This is probably your best bet if you want to play a Genasi Barbarian.
Earth Genasi get a +1 bonus to their Strength. This aligns them better with the core Ability Scores for most Barbarians. Also, their Earth Walk feature comes in handy if you’re in rocky difficult terrain. Also also, Merge with Stone is great for helping your party while out exploring.
If you’re tied to the idea of playing an elemental-themed Barbarian, go with the Earth Genasi.
• Fire Genasi
The Fire Genasi could work for a Barbarian.
The Ability Score bonus isn’t what you want here. If you want to play a Fire Genasi Barbarian you’re doing it for the fire resistance, Darkvision, and racial spells.
Eventually, you’ll get the Produce Flame cantrip and Burning Hands spell. So, you’ll get some magic damage as a Barbarian which is pretty cool.
But, is it worth sacrificing other more optimal abilities?
I’m not sure. That’s up to the type of character you want to play.
• Water Genasi
Finally, this Genasi sub-race is similar to their Fire siblings.
You’re not here for a +1 to your Wisdom. You want the acid resistance, ability to breathe underwater, get that swim speed, and minor water control spells.
I’d say this is even less optimal for a Barbarian than the Fire Genasi. Mostly because you don’t get any damaging spells. But, if you’re going to spend a lot of time underwater, the swim speed becomes invaluable.
Here’s the other top race to play as a Barbarian in 5e.
Goliaths get +2 to their Strength and +1 to Constitution. So, they get the right Ability Score bonuses. And, their Natural Athlete, Stone’s Endurance, Powerful Build, and Mountain Born racial features all help when creating a Barbarian.
Basically, much like the Half-Orc, everything the Goliath gets is great for a Barbarian.
That being said, they’re better suited for Tanking than anything else. With their cold resistance and ability to reduce damage by a d12 plus their Con modifier means they’re a bit sturdier than other D&D races.
Even better, they count as Large-sized creatures when pulling, pushing, or dragging. So, they’re able to carry and life more than most characters. An aspect that only helps when they need to move something while Raging.
They’re also huge. Like, up to eight feet tall.
So, that’s fun.
Lizardfolk actually make pretty good Barbarians.
You’ll get a +2 to your Constitution which is great. The +1 Wisdom is nice, but not necessarily ideal. But, some of the racial features Lizardfolk get are great for Barbarians. Bite, which improves your unarmed strikes, Cunning Artisan, which lets you make your own crude weapons, and Hungry Jaws, which give you temporary hit points when you bite a creature, are all pretty good.
Now, they also have a better natural Armor Class. But, chances are, your AC comes from your Unarmred Defense class feature. So, while nice, it’s only so useful.
The biggest benefits you get are your Constitution bonus and your ability to gain some temporary hit points without magic.
Here’s a fun one to play if your Dungeon Master allows monstrous races.
Bugbears make good Barbarians for a couple reasons. Yes, the get Darkvision and their +2 Strength and +1 Dexterity are pretty good. But, the biggest reason to play a Bugbear Barbarian is their Long-Limbed feature. But, Surprise Attack is pretty cool if you can pull it off.
Long-Limbed is great because it adds five feet to your melee attack reach. So, any melee attack you make can target creatures 10 feet out (instead of the normal five).
Even better, if your character uses a weapon that already has the Reach property, you can attack creatures 15 feet away from you.
How awesome is that?
Hobgoblins make for interesting Barbarians. Unfortunately, they don’t get a whole lot for it.
Really, the reason you’re playing a Hobgoblin for your Barbarian is for the +2 Strength (who needs +1 Intelligence?) bonus and their Saving Face feature. Other than that, Darkvision is nice to have.
So, with Saving Face you can get a bonus to a missed attack equal to the number of allies you can see. But, you can only do it once per rest. So, it’s pretty good…once per combat.
That’s right. You can only do it once per short or long rest. So, you’re getting one use per combat.
Yeah, it’s pretty cool. But, it ain’t that great.
Which is why Hobgoblins are low on the top 10 races for Barbarians.
Alright, let’s end this with a decent option as a race for Barbarians.
Orcs get quite a bit that makes them great Barbarians. They get a +2 bonus to Strength and a +1 to Constitution (glad they got rid of that negative Intelligence modifier). They get Darkvision which is nice. But, the biggest benefit Orcs get is their Aggressive feature which lets them use their bonus action to move more.
Aside from that…there’s actually not a whole lot.
They get Powerful Build like Goliaths which is pretty cool. And, Primal Intuition is neat for filling out their capabilities outside of combat.
The only reason I put the Orc above the Lizardfolk as a better race for Barbarians is their Ability Score bonuses and their Aggressive feature. But, they’re both still pretty good options for your character.
Well, that’s it for the top 10 best races to play a Barbarian in 5e.
If you want to go with an optimal build, then go with Half-Orc or Goliath. But, the Orc, Lizardfolk, and Bugbear are all good options (if your DM allows monstrous races).
One last tip; don’t let this dissuade you from playing other races.
Play the character you want to play. If that means your Barbarian race is a less optimal pick (like a Halfling or Kenku), then go for it. The number one rule is to have fun. So, don’t let buzzwords like "sub-optimal" or "min-max" prevent you from making the character you want.
What do you think? What’s your favorite race to play as a Barbarian? Let me know in the comments.