D&D 5e: Path of the Battlerager Barbarian Guide

A male dwarf battlerager barbarian with shield and axe in hand.

D&D 5e: Path of the Battlerager Barbarian Guide

Role in Party

The Battlerager Barbarian subclass strays slightly from the traditional, unarmored Barbarian and revolves around the use of spiked armor. Taking this path allows you to use spiked armor to inflict additional damage on your enemies while in melee combat. In that sense, this subclass is useful as an addition to parties who need a melee fighter who can trade powerful blows with their enemies in the thick of the battlefield. The downside of this class, as you’ll see below, is that it hinders the barbarian’s ability to deflect these blows. Depending on the flexibility of your DM, you might work with them (and your party) to adapt the features of this subclass to make it more enjoyable for you to play and helpful for your party to team up with.

Path of the Battlerager Barbarian Features

Battlerager Armor

The Battlerager Barbarian subclass revolves around the use of spiked armor, and at first level, you are granted the ability to use that armor as a weapon. This feature allows you to use a bonus action to attack a creature within 5 feet of you with your armor’s spikes. On a hit, the spikes do 1d4 piercing damage. And, if you grapple a creature with your action, you can deal 3 piercing damage on a successful grapple check.

 

While this feature adds cool roleplaying flavor, the overall damage is pretty weak, and it doesn’t improve with levels. The biggest problem is not the weak damage, though. Committing to the Battlerager Class imprisons your character in spiked armor, which not only effectively maxes out your AC at 16, but also disables the Barbarian’s Unarmored Defense feature, which, with enough Dexterity, Strength, or a shield, could easily boost a Barbarian’s AC to 20 or higher.

 

Reckless Abandon

Reckless Attack is a classic Barbarian feature that allows them to gain advantage on an attack at the cost of giving their opponent (or opponents) advantage on their next hit. But it will become increasingly difficult to choose to attack recklessly if your AC remains stubbornly low in spiked armor. And while the Reckless Abandon feature offers Battlerager Barbarians temporary hit points when using Reckless Attack, the amount is so minuscule (the points are equal to your Constitution modifier) that it does not come close to compensating for all the advantaged attacks you’ll be taking.

 

Battlerager Charge

This Battlerager Barbarian feature allows you to use a bonus action to Dash if you are raging. But it’s hard to determine when it would be useful. Getting yourself in a position to fight, you’ll likely want to use your bonus action to Rage. And while in the middle of a fight, you’ll most likely be using your bonus action to land extra attack damage with your spiked armor. Ironically, the time in which this feature might be most useful is when you need to run far from a fight because your inadequate AC hasn’t withstood the increasingly hard hits of creatures you’re fighting at level 10 and above.

 

Spiked Retribution

Dealing extra damage is always a welcome addition for a Barbarian. This feature allows your Battlerager Barbarian to inflict 3 points of piercing damage upon any creature who hits you with a melee attack, as long as you’re raging and not incapacitated. The problem, as with the Battlerager Armor feature, is that you have to give up potential AC boosts to gain this measly sum of extra damage, and, likely, you won’t find that exchange worthwhile.

Two battleragers side by side weapons drawn.

Strengths

It’s hard to find practical strengths that come with the Battlerager Barbarian subclass. In terms of roleplaying, this subclass sounds hella fun to play. But the only way to make it functionally playable is if you and your DM agree to tweak it a bit. One option could be applying the spiked armor abilities to a shield instead. That way, you could still gain the benefits of a Barbarian’s Unarmored Defense feature, and deal the extra damage offered by the Battlerager Armor and Spiked Retribution features.

Weaknesses

In addition to the rules-as-written race restriction that accompanies this class, the biggest weakness is the AC handicap that accompanies this subclass. Unless you have other magical items to significantly boost your AC, your barbarian will become increasingly hittable as you level up. And while barbarians are no strangers to taking hits, your damage resistance and massive hit point pool will be quickly overcome or diminished if your AC remains stubbornly stuck at 16. 

Best Race Options

Dwarf – If you’re playing the Battlerager Barbarian RAW, then you have to be a dwarf. But, considering the weaknesses of this subclass outlined above, you’ll need some dwarven sturdiness to survive. If you’re playing from the Player’s Handbook, your best bet is to go the Hill Dwarf route to get the extra hit points that come with the Dwarven Toughness feature. You’ll also get a +2 to your Constitution, Darkvision, resistance to poison damage, and advantage on saving throws against being poisoned.

Goliath – If your DM will allow you to pick from other races, then a super brawny build will be your best option. Being a Goliath offers a number of perks that will help counteract the Battlerager Barbarian’s middling AC including Athletics proficiency and resistance to cold damage. Better yet, you’ll gain Stone’s Endurance, which allows you to use your reaction to reduce the damage you’ve taken.

Choosing the Right Skills

Athletics — The only Strength-based skill available; a must-take for Barbarians.

Perception — Likely the most rolled skill in the game, Perception is useful for any character to have proficiency in.

Fitting Feats

Lucky – This is a useful feat for any class, but it might be clutch when a Battlerager Barbarian needs to force a creature to reroll an attack roll of 16 or higher.

Shield Master – If you and your DM adapt the Battlerager Barbarian subclass to work with shields instead of spiked armor, Shield Master would be an excellent feat to take. It allows you to use a bonus action to shove a creature within 5 feet of you, you can add your +2 shield bonus to any Dexterity saving throw you need to make, and, if you are targeted by an effect that forces you to make a Dexterity saving throw, you can use your reaction to take no damage (instead of half damage) on a success.

Optimal Backgrounds

Uthgardt Tribe Member – Also published in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, this background is great for roleplaying a Barbarian and offers proficiency in Athletics and Survival, one type of musical instrument or artisan’s tools, and a language of your choice.

Outlander – Similar to the Uthgardt background, but from the Player’s Handbook, the Outlander background is a staple for Barbarians and offers Athletics and Survival proficiencies, as well as proficiency in a musical instrument and language of your choice.

Multiclassing Options

Rogue – A decent option for improving this subclass might be to multiclass it with the Rogue for two levels. You’ll gain proficiency with Thieves’ Tools and an additional Rogue skill. Plus, you’ll get access to Sneak Attack, so you can do additional damage when you Recklessly Attack, and with the second level, you’ll gain the Cunning Action feature, which allows you to Disengage on your bonus action. A useful trait if your hit points get too low and you need to quickly escape from the battlefield.

Would I recommend playing a Path of the Battlerager Barbarian?

The Path of the Battlerager Barbarian is one of the few subclasses I would not recommend playing unless you’re able to make some tweaks with your DM to improve it. The impact of a mediocre AC will make the subclass increasingly painful to play as your enemies get more difficult, hitting you harder and more often.

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