How To Play a Barbarian in D&D 5e, Drawing of a Warrior

How to Play a Barbarian in D&D 5e

So, you want to play a Barbarian in your next Dungeons & Dragons 5e game?

But, where do you start? What do they do? And, how do play one?

Luckily, Barbarians are one of the easier classes to play.

In this how to play a Barbarian post, we’re gonna go over:

  1. What the role of a Barbarian is
  2. Their core features
  3. Which ability scores to prioritize
  4. Some ideas to inspire you

By the end of this, you should see what all the rage is about…

…Alright, assuming you didn’t leave because of that pun, we can get started now.

The Barbarian’s Role in the Party

How to Play a Barbarian, Barbarian's Role, Drawing of a Warrior Fighting in a Tree
Frankly, if you’re not stuck in a tree fighting 12 dudes, I don’t know if you’re Barbarian-ing right

First things first, what role does a Barbarian fill in the party composition?

Barbarians usually fill the Tank or Damage role. Your typical Barbarian focuses on taking hits, dealing damage, and overcoming physically demanding obstacles.

As a Barbarian, chances are you’ll be at the front of the party. Both in and out of combat…whether you want to or not.

See, the rest of your party will…how to put this nicely. You’re gonna be a meatshield.

Expect your fellow players to ask you to go first because your character can take…whatever it is. And, most of the time, they’ll be right.

Even if you get cut off from the party, Barbarians are one of the more capable classes for surviving on their own.

You take less damage from typical sources. You’re a force of nature with weapons. And, your physical prowess make you the ideal candidate for moving big objects.

So, expect to take damage often. Since you’re probably going to be the Tank (not always, though), your job is to stand between damage and your party mates. And, job number two is to hurt things.

A lot.

Anyway. The reason you’re so good at withstanding damage and dishing it out is because of your core features.

So, let’s take a look at those. And, how to use them.

Core Features of the Barbarian in D&D 5e

How to Play a Barbarian, Barbarian Core Feature, Drawing of a Man Wielding a Handaxe
Let your anger consume you. The Barbarian’s Rage is what drive them.

Alright, like any class, the Barbarian’s capabilities revolve around a couple core features.

The Barbarian’s main feature is Rage. But, they also benefit from Unarmored Defense.

Let’s go over Rage first.

First, here’s the description for the Barbarian’s Rage from page 48 of the Player’s Handbook, or here on DnD Beyond:

"In battle, you fight with primal ferocity. On your turn, you can enter a rage as a bonus action.
While raging, you gain the following benefits if you aren’t wearing heavy armor:

  • You have advantage on Strength checks and Strength saving throws.
  • When you make a melee weapon attack using Strength, you gain a bonus to the damage roll that increases as you gain levels as a barbarian, as shown in the Rage Damage column of the Barbarian table.
  • You have resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage.

If you are able to cast spells, you can’t cast them or concentrate on them while raging.
Your rage lasts for 1 minute. It ends early if you are knocked unconscious or if your turn ends and you haven’t attacked a hostile creature since your last turn or taken damage since then. You can also end your rage on your turn as a bonus action.
Once you have raged the number of times shown for your barbarian level in the Rages column of the Barbarian table, you must finish a long rest before you can rage again."

Alright. Let’s break this all down. Basically, here’s the simplified version:

  1. Activating your Rage uses your bonus action
  2. You can’t be wearing heavy armor
  3. You gain advantage on Strength checks and saving throws
  4. You deal bonus damage based on your Barbarian level (starting at +2 at 1st level)
  5. You resist bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage while raging (more on this in a second)
  6. You can’t cast or concentrate on spells while raging
  7. Your Rage lasts for 1 minute (or 10 rounds in combat)
  8. Your Rage ends early if you fall unconscious, haven’t attacked or been attacked since your last turn, or you end it as a bonus action
  9. You can activate your Rage a certain number of times (starting at 2 at 1st level)
  10. You regain spent Rage uses after you finish a long rest

Yes, there is quite a bit to remember. But, a few of these rarely come up.

For example, there aren’t that many Barbarian/caster multiclasses. So, the whole can’t cast spells thing hardly ever comes up.

Also, you’re probably going to attack or be attacked every round pretty much all the time. Not always. But, a lot of the time.

One fun thing about the resistance you gain while raging is Barbarians resist magical bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage. Not just mundane damage. So, if a spell specifies it does one of those damage types (for example, the bludgeoning damage from the 8th level spell Tsunami), your Barbarian resists it even though it’s magical.

This also means damage from magical items that deal these types of damage. So, don’t worry when that dungeon denizen comes at your Barbarian with their magical battleaxe…

…Okay, worry a little bit. But, at least you’re halving that slashing damage, right?

So, what does this mean for your character?

It means you should use your Rage anytime you can. A Barbarian’s awesome survivability comes from their Rage. Become literally too angry to die. Rip and tear until it is done.

Now, you do need to track how many Rages you have. It is a limited resource (especially at the early levels). And, you can run out fast if you’re not careful.

And the last thing you want is to not be angry enough when it really counts.

Now that you know the basics of the Barbarian, let’s look at what Ability Scores make your rage-fueled bundle of joy tick.

What Stats Are Important for a Barbarian?

How to Play a Barbarian, Barbarian Ability Scores, Drawing of a Man Fending Off Soldiers
Strength & Constitution are usually your go-to Ability Scores for a Barbarian

Unsurprisingly, Barbarians are pretty easy to stat out.

Barbarians use Strength and Constitution as their primary Ability Scores. But, a high Dexterity score means a better Armor Class. Also, a better Wisdom means better Perception. And, a good Charisma means you can scare hapless NPCs into doing what you want (read: have a high Intimidation). You don’t need Intelligence. Book learnin’s for chumps.

Remember: this is for your basic Barbarian. I encourage you to get weird with your Barbarian builds.

Alright. So, the Hierarchy of Barbarian Needs looks like this:

  1. Strength
  2. Constitution
  3. Dexterity
  4. Wisdom
  5. Charisma
  6. Intelligence

Now, your Con and Str stats can flip-flop depending on your character’s role. If you’re going for more damage, a higher Strength should be your primary Ability Score. Likewise, if you want to be more of a Tank, Constitution is your best friend.

So, in general, these are the stats you want to prioritize when making your Barbarian.

Ideas for Your Barbarian

How to Play a Barbarian, Barbarian Inspiration, Drawing of a Viking Raiding a Camp
The Viking Berserker is a great theme for your Barbarian, but you can draw inspiration from a variety of sources.

Alright, now that you know how to play a Barbarian, let’s look at some inspiration.

Personally, I like to think of different ways to flavor Rage. What can you do to differentiate your Barbarian from others?

So, here’s a few ways to set your character apart:

  • Your Rage is more like an intense focus as your character puts all their energy into their attacks
  • Raging actually means calling on a spirit to take control of your body (works well with the Ancestral Guardian Path)
  • Activating your Rage makes your character blackout and they don’t remember anything from while in this state
  • Maybe your Rage is more like a manic state and your character smiles and laughs the whole time (terrifying)

I actually have a character idea using the second point. They’re a Barbarian/Monk multiclass. It’s…tricky, but sounds fun.

Now, none of this is to say that the classic angry brute isn’t viable.

Hulking out is the basis of the Barbarian. So, if you want the classic experience, you shouldn’t feel pressured to do anything else.

You can look to examples in history such as the Viking berserkers to draw ideas for your Barbarian. In fact, I encourage you to.


Well, that about sums up how to play a Barbarian in D&D 5e.


  1. Barbarians are meant to deal and take damage, making them great in either the Tank or Damage roles
  2. Rage is a Barbarian’s core feature as it makes them better at Strength ability checks, gives them damage resistances, and boosts their damage output
  3. You’ll usually want to prioritize Strength and Constitution as their top Ability Scores
  4. Your Barbarian doesn’t need to fit the classic, big, dumb, and angry trope, but there’s nothing wrong with playing them that way either

One last thing; there isn’t much variation between Barbarian subclasses in how to play them. But, they each offer wild and interesting ways to customize your baddie bashing fun.

What kinds of things have you done with your Barbarian player character? Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear your stories.

Also, be sure to sign up for The Respite Times, my monthly newsletter where I talk about a topic and share some other content that I enjoy.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.