Keeping It Classy: The Barbarian (5e)
This class-centric supplement clocks in at 40 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 33 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.
All right, after a brief introduction, we dive right into new primal paths – 15 to be precise. Discussing all of them in detail would bloat this review beyond any usefulness, so I’ll keep it short and to the point. I assume that you know when a barbarian gets his primal path class features. I’ll be referring to the respective names in the following, so for brevity’s sake, we’ll be talking about “the arena champion”, for example, and not of the “Path of the Arena Champion.”
All right, so the arena champion would be the first fellow here, and receives advantage on melee attack rolls while facing off in melee against a single target. Higher levels allow for the use of Attacks to execute flourishes that represent a kind of sudden death mode – both you and your opponent have advantage on melee attack rolls against each other, while opponents attacking either of you suffer from disadvantage. Higher levels allow you to render targets frightened and to move after striking the killing blow/reducing someone to 0 hit points. Nice one! Enjoyable, and manages to convey its theme in its mechanics.
The second path would be the beast rider gets advantage on Wisdom (Animal Handling) and on Charisma checks to convince non-beasts to serve as their mount. At 6th level, the mount may, as a bonus action, accompany your attack with an attack of its own, but only if it hasn’t attacked on its turn. 10th level shares rage with the mount (properly codified!) and beyond that, we have advantage on Strength and Constitution checks and saving throws. Additionally, the mount gets your proficiency bonus on all Strength and Constitution checks. Minor nitpick: The pdf calls this “modifier”, but that is cosmetic. Beasts in 5e are hard, and this had the chance of being broken – however, the caveat that allows the GM to retain control and explicitly notes that the critter isn’t necessarily loyal allows a GM to retain firm control and prevent exploits. Well done!
The immortal’s first ability is retaliatory: After taking melee damage, on the subsequent round, you get advantage on attack rolls versus the target, and use proficiency bonus instead of rage damage increase. The higher level abilities increase your AC when wearing medium armor or lighter, and provide a form of damage reduction. The highest level ability lets you choose an enemy when raging, increasing your damage output against them. Barbarians that follow the path of the jungle get a climbing speed while hands are free, swinging from branch to branch, rafter to rafter, etc. At 6th level, we have the option to ignore difficult terrain, and beyond that, poison application and the means to harvest poisons (cool), culminating, probably to make up for the power of the latter ability, with the means to talk to animals at will and no longer be considered an enemy. Phantom, Mowgli, et al.
But perhaps, you’re not from a certain “non-civilized” environment? Perhaps, you just have anger management issues or are stark, raving, mad? The Madman retains the ability to concentrate on spells while raging, and the rage may be maintained longer and are harder to knock out of it. There’s a minor die/dice-typo here. After that, we get heavy armor proficiency (yes, gets rage-synergy right), and after your rage ends, you regain hit points. At the highest level, it no longer takes a bonus action to start the rage. The magehunter begins with a VERY powerful defensive ability – advantage on ALL saving throws versus spells and magical effects. This imho should only be active while the magehunter is raging. This is further improved at 6th level, when we have condition resistance vs. charmed, exhaustion and frightened while raging. At higher levels, we double rage damage against creatures that you witnessed using “spells of spell-like abilities” – I assume the latter should reference innate spellcasting? This level also provides +2d6 radiant damage while raging. The highest level ability nets you locate creature to hound spellcasters and those with “spell-like abilities.”
The Noble has a powerful offensive ability – bless for all allies within 30 ft. while the noble is raging. This does not affect the noble. Indeed, at 6th level, this nest two attacks when using Attack; advantage on the first attack with the first attack if they have Extra Attack. Beyond that, we have immunity to being frightened while raging, and the effects of exhaustion are lessened. Minor nitpick: This could be a bit clearer regarding whether it only applies while the noble is raging, but close reading suggests so. The highest level ability is a 30-foot debuff radius, and extends the previous buffs to all allies in sight. This one can be REALLY brutal, or really underwhelming. Personally, I enjoy it, as it provides in-game justification to take down that noble commander.
The Northman gets advantage on Dexterity (Acrobatics) and Strength (Athletics) checks and resistance to diseases and even a scaling bonus to saves against them. After this, you may swim in heavy armor unimpeded, and beyond that, we have bonus damage in melee, as well as a capstone of hit point replenishment that may, in line with 5e’s design aesthetics, be eliminated. Kudos: It manages to get the verbiage right to prevent abuse. The Savage increases damage of improvised weapons used, and has the option to execute an additional attack as a bonus action when attacking with a simple weapon. At higher levels, we have better wilderness survival skills, grow claws, and may finally execute an extra attack while raging – plus, targets hit by all three attacks must save or become frightened.
The Skinchanger has to choose a weapon, a suit or armor or other item to be the focus. The skinchanger requires a proper Action (somewhat awkwardly-phrased) to enter rage, but does receive enhance ability benefits. 6th level nets an ability depending on the type of focus item chosen, and at higher levels, you get one more, with the 14th level providing scaling giant-strength while raging. The Slayer is immune to fear and being frightened, and gains bravado while adjacent to an enemy who is larger – this is represented by bravado dice, which may be spent as reactions for better defenses, heal yourself slightly or enhance your melee attack rolls. Die-sized increase. NICE! Later, we have rage in heavy armor, and an ability that allows you to jump into the maw of large critters attempting to bite them: The attacks executed from within are not swallow whole-style penalized, but actually enhanced. This is balanced by a nasty risk, for you can’t avoid breath attacks inside, and failing the jump will hit you hard. Nice one! I really enjoyed this one!
The Tribal Guardian has to choose a signature weapon, and the abilities only work with this weapon type. The archetype instead applies rage damage bonus to AC, and may later extend this benefit to nearby allies. Higher levels provide limited foresight, translating to advantage on the first melee attack you make per round, as well as disadvantage for the first attack against the guardian each round. At the highest level, the guardian can call forth phantoms of ancestors.
The valkyrie’s first ability is pretty damn brutal – all allies within 30 ft. of the raging valkyrie get resistance versus bludgeoning, piercing and slashing damage. Now, this is just me, but as choosers of the fallen, this potent benefit could have had a more interesting application – while the valkyrie is raging, allow allies to spend an HD to get the buff with a duration. Considering that the vast majority of creatures in 5e are incapable of executing magic attacks with their default weaponry, this would serve as a balancing tool for a VERY strong ability, a balancing tool that would also reflect the lore. The higher levels include summoning spectral worgs, fly (at increased rage cost) and a cool capstone that raises your allies for one final battle from the slain and prevents them from being used as undead. I love this one flavor-wise, but I am not sold on the power of the initial ability.
The waverider uses Strength to calculate initiative and automatically beats tied initiatives. The path also nets heavy armor proficiency and better swimming; 10th level enhances Reckless Attack, and the capstone, Relentless Rage’s save may restore some hit points to you. The Wild Rider focuses first on granting unaligned beast mounts the option to make an attack as a bonus action as well as advantage on Wisdom (Animal Handling). Beyond that, we have better Dash for mounts, the ability to share Rage and Reckless Attack, and finally, the means to use ranged attacks with Reckless Attack, but doing so penalizes your attack rolls in the turn after that.
The pdf then proceeds to present a new race, the redscale lizardfolk. Minor formatting complaint: The names of racial features are bolded and printed in italics, with a full stop. Here, we have them just bolded, and followed by a colon. The race increases Strength by 2, Wisdom by 1, has a 30 ft. land and swimming speed, natural armor of 12 + Dexterity modifier while unarmored (and may not wear heavy armor, unless it’s specifically designed for the race), has Hold Breath and receives proficiency with Wisdom (medicine). The lizardfolk has a 1d6 + Strength modifier slashing damage bite attack that’s treated as unarmed, and resistance to fire. Vital stats re height, in a nice bonus, are provided, if you enjoy that. They can also cut themselves to slather their fiery blood on weapons, which increases weapon damage by +1d4 fire damage for 1 minute. This is a bit overkill, and probably should instead be tied to Hit Die expenditure.
The pdf also contains 5 new backgrounds, presented with personality traits, ideals, bonds, flaws, etc. – the full shebang. And yes, they have solid features. Theme-wise, they are envoy, exile, out of time, savage child and slave – I really enjoyed these! The pdf concludes with a brief section on new equipment that includes war paint (for Pict-style unarmored barbarians), and 7 new weapons: War darts and clubs that may be thrown; in a minor deviation from 5e-presentation standards, they list their range in their own column, instead of in brackets after the Thrown property, but I didn’t mind. 1-handed and 2-handed claymores, lochaber axes, bolas and recurve bows complement this one. The axe can only be wielded properly by the strong, recurve bows may be used while mounted to more easily control mounts, and bolas similarly have special rules, restraining targets on a failed Dexterity save. Claymores get Parry, which allows them to be used as a kind of shield when not attacking.
Editing and formatting re very good on a formal and rules-language level. While not always perfect, the deviations I found did not impede rules-integrity and fall into the cosmetic category. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard, with a blend of full-color artworks and expertly-chosen public domain pieces providing a nice atmosphere. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Interesting choice: The bookmarks are listed backwards within each sub-chapter – starting e.g. with “W”, and then proceeding from the back through the alphabet. I am pretty sure this is intentional, and, while a bit weird at first, I actually ended up liking this decision. Why? Because you can quickly scroll to “A” and quickly use the bookmark to get to “W.”
Anyhow, I think this may have been Kim Frandsen’s first 5e-offering, and it genuinely has me intrigued and excited for more. While personally, I enjoy high-complexity class-hack-ish class options for 5e a bit more, I do have to applaud the way in which this supplement uses paths etc. to create truly distinct playing experiences. The tie between theme and mechanics is strong, and indeed, I found myself genuinely excited about quite a few of these paths. While here and there, there are minor concerns I have regarding the balance of a precious few abilities, and while there are a few minor snafus, this is nonetheless a remarkable and fun expansion for the barbarian. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform.
You can get this well-wrought class expansion full of barbarian material here on DM’s Guild!
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