D&D 5e: Dwarf Barbarian Guide
In this article, we will be discussing a few of the best ways to make a dwarf barbarian. As always, the best way to do it is any way you find fun. Don’t let some random person on the internet tell you that you’re playing the game wrong!
How to Make a Dwarf Barbarian
To roll your dwarf’s stats you can take the “4d6 drop the lowest” method from the Player’s Handbook or you can take the standard array of 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, and 8. Barbarians are a very straightforward class for the most part and have a reputation for attracting players who just want to charge directly at enemies and crush them, meaning that your highest stats should go into Strength, Constitution, and Dexterity (in that order). The “mental” ability scores (Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma) are of lesser concern to you but I would argue that Intelligence and Wisdom can be great for building a survivalist and Charisma can be helpful when making a character who is supremely intimidating. Remember: even if your barbarian can crush a human’s skull with their bare hands they aren’t going to scare anyone if they come across as an awkward oaf. Some DMs will allow you to use Strength for Intimidation but they are by no means required to do so.
Dwarves get +2 Constitution and resistance to poison, making them a great choice for barbarians. Your main play in 99% of situations is having a MASSIVE hit point maximum and resistances to various damage types to make those hit points go even further. Poison resistance isn’t the best resistance to have, I’d argue fire is more useful, but it doesn’t hurt to have it.
Without a doubt, the best dwarf subrace for a barbarian is the hill dwarf. The other two subraces in the Player’s Handbook offer a handful of fairly useless proficiencies and ribbon abilities. The hill dwarf does not mess around and simply gives you an extra hit point each time you level up.
Combine that with the Tough feat and you’re gaining an additional 3 hit points every time you level up. By the time you take that feat at 4th level, that’s 12 extra hit points. Your entire schtick is being hard to kill so you may as well lean into it.
The duergar subrace, found in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, also makes for a decent barbarian – advantage against being charmed or paralyzed might be what you need to make up for a lack of Wisdom. Also, having access to both enlarge/reduce and invisibility can give you a little out-of-combat utility. Remember though, you can’t cast spells while Raging, even innate ones.
Now I will warn you: there is a barbarian subclass that is exclusive to dwarves and so while we’re still making no-brainer decisions you might be tempted to pick it up. This is not a good idea because it is not a good subclass. It’s called the Path of the Battlerager and it’s found in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide. The first line of its description is this:
Known as Kuldjargh (literally “axe idiot”) in Dwarvish, Battleragers are dwarf followers of the gods of war and follow the Path of the Battlerager.
I would not call you an idiot for taking this class because it doesn’t look too bad at first glance and it certainly seems neat to play a race-specific subclass. However, it just doesn’t do much aside from giving you a few ways to do a little damage to your enemy and it prevents you from using the barbarian’s Unarmoured Defence.
There are just many better options. I also advise you to ignore the Path of the Berserker as the costs of its primary feature are ridiculous (a level of exhaustion just for a few extra attacks) and focus on the Path of the Totem Warrior or the excellent subclasses introduced in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything.
The Path of the Totem Warrior is fantastic because if you choose the bear totem then you gain resistance to all damage aside from psychic while raging. The subclasses from XGTE are a little more flavourful in my opinion though and have much more interesting features, such as the Way of the Ancestral Guardians adding a way to “aggro” enemies in a way reminiscent of MMORPGs. We don’t have much time to touch on the subclasses introduced by Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything but suffice to say that neither are bad for dwarves. I’d argue that being part-lycanthrope or suffused with wild magic doesn’t make a lot of sense for a dwarf role-playing-wise, but if you want to make a character who is a little unusual then I say go for it.
How to Play a Dwarf Barbarian
Like I said before, there isn’t much to playing as a barbarian and the added wrinkle of being a dwarf doesn’t change all that much either. Dwarves have a reputation for being short, hence the name, but they are still medium creatures. They can use weapons with the heavy property just fine and they can yeet the small members of the party across the battlefield just as efficiently as their non-dwarf counterparts who are also medium.
Your job is to run up to monsters and bash them until they die, and that’s ok.
Outside of combat, you will be pretty useful for traversing dungeons in that you can use your Danger Sense feature to detect traps by setting them off without too much fear of being seriously hurt, or you can use the mountain dwarf’s Stonecunning to detect them ahead of time by examining the architecture.
How to Roleplay as a Dwarf Barbarian
I assume you’re here because you want to play as Gimli. If that’s the case, go and do that since you clearly already know how to play this character.
Otherwise, I recommend one of two archetypes to draw on when playing a dwarf barbarian that will flavor your Rage: righteous fury or blind hatred.
A dwarf barbarian with righteous fury is still connected to their clan or family and cares about what they think. The righteous dwarf speaks highly and at length of their house and takes every opportunity to do right by them. Their anger is a tool to be used, an inherited super-power, and a symbol of pride all in one. They wax their beard, or whatever the appropriate beard style is for dwarves in the setting you’re playing in, and dress well, decorating their arms and armor to the maximum a dwarf can be expected to. They might be forsaken or separated from their clan but even if they are they will always value them highly.
The dwarf with blind hatred, meanwhile, holds their clan to lesser esteem than their grudges. They might still honor where they came from but their sights are set on the destruction of a hated foe or the acquisition of a great fortune at all costs.
This dwarf might dress shabbily or dress so smartly that it rings false, either way, it might be obvious at a glance that this dwarf has been consumed by anger. It’s a classic dwarf trope to blindingly hate an enemy, usually orcs or goblins. This is a little tired as a concept, so maybe choose something a bit more unexpected like a dwarf who hates a particular clan of dwarves or one who hates all pirates. Maybe your dwarf hates just one other person and will tear through Heaven and Hell to get to them. Or perhaps their only hatred is for someone who holds a treasure hoard that they desire, meaning that the hate will subside once they acquire the fortune.
Either way, dwarf barbarians have something of an obligation to be passionate and rowdy. Maybe your dwarf is a sweetheart, but like all barbarians, their rage will be their driving force. I can see a dwarf with a heart full of love being just as deadly as one whose heart is twisted with greed. Both emotions are dangerous when wielding a great axe.