D&D 5e: Gnome Barbarian Guide
On paper, the gnome barbarian is one of the most unlikely and probably underwhelming class/race combinations. However, it’s still one of my favorites. Something about a tiny little jolly old lady turning berserk on the battlefield and leaving a wake of bodies in her path is just something that brings a smile to my face. I picture this character as a lovely old Nanna who is fiercely protective of her family (or party) and has an unexpected feral combative streak.
The main allure of barbarians is to tread softly and carry a huge stick. Because of our size, we get disadvantage with heavy weapons, so we’re going to be a little different from your standard barbarian. We’re going to be a whirling dervish of death with dual scimitars.
How to Make a Gnome Barbarian
The +2 INT gnomes get doesn’t help us much at all, but Forest and Rock’s respective +1 DEX or +1 CON are equally useful. To make a viable gnome Barbarian, we’re going to make Nanna a psychotic twirling whirlwind of death with two scimitars. Scimitars are finesse weapons, which means we use our DEX rather than our STR on attacks.
Don’t tell the grandsons, but Nanna’s going to be running into combat naked, so DEX and CON are our two main attributes. As barbarians, our unarmored defense means without armor our AC is 10 + DEX + CON modifiers. In the early days, we’re better rocking one scimitar and a shield for AC, but eventually, we’ll trade the shield in.
Typically, barbarians are all brawn and big sticks, so STR is normally a massive priority. It’s not for us. WIS and CHA are both less important than STR, and INT is our least important and we can dump it at 8 and still end up with 10 because of our gnomeliness.
Barbarians have two core subclasses: Path of the Berserker and Path of the Totem Warrior. Although Totem Warrior may be more versatile, we’re not playing a gnome barbarian so we can min/max. They’re arguably both pretty powerful, however, Nanna’s an absolute berserker, so we should choose our path accordingly – an intimidating, mindless, frenzied killer, carving her way through foes.
The Dual Wield feat gives us +1 AC and lets us draw both weapons instead of one per turn, so it’s pretty valuable early on.
How to Play a Gnome Barbarian
This is not an optimal build. It’s mostly an ironic, off-meta roleplay build. Though it’s pretty viable at early levels, and at later levels, we’re going to still be contributing significant damage.
Our doting meemaw can cop a few hits before getting knocked down, and she can deal some serious damage at later levels. Our Unarmored Defense means that we don’t need armor from the very beginning, as long as we’re rocking a shield to start with. When our DEX hits 18 at level 4, we can drop the shield and rock our dual scimitars to fulfill our goal of Grandma Gorilla wreaking havoc.
Barbarians have a hit dice of D12 and we have at least 14 CON, which means we should be able to pick up the tank role as well.
I prefer pure barbarian for the roleplay of it all, yet the optimal build would roll in some Fighter – 3 levels gets us Improved Critical with Champion archetype and Two-Weapon Fighter which lets us add our DEX mod to our off-hand attacks.
We don’t need 18 Barbarian levels because the last two leveling benefits for barbarians are largely strength-based – although sacrificing the +4 CON and max CON of 24 we get at 20th level is a bit painful. You need to decide if you need that extra health or the extra damage of Two-Weapon Fighting. It’s either going to be Barbarian 20 or Barbarian 17/Fighter 3.
How to Roleplay as a Gnome Barbarian
We’re playing a nanna. We left baking treats far behind when our grandson took up adventuring and we had to make sure he’d eaten his three meals every day. Turns out, swinging our rolling pin at hungry hands and naughty backsides had honed our sword fighting ability exceptionally. We walked 12 miles uphill both ways in the rain to fill up our water from the well for the last 76 years – what is any big bad evil genius going to do to us? When we’re not obliterating enemies, we’re the sweetest old lady you could ever imagine.