D&D 5e: Path of the Beast Barbarian Guide
Role in the Party
Tainted, or perhaps blessed, with a bloodline that contains something changeable and feral, Barbarians who follow the Path of the Beast tend to forgo weapons, for their bodies are shifting weapons in themselves.
Whether sneaking through an overgrown forest, crouched atop the spire of a great temple, or tearing the limbs from their foes, the Path of the Beast tends to breed great hunters that are as comfortable stalking solo as they are acting as pack alpha to marshall their party to bring down beasts greater than themselves.
This guide breaks down the Path of the Beast subclass, its abilities, how to build one, skills, feats, and far more.
Path of the Beast Features
Form of the Beast: From level 3, whenever the Barbarian goes into a Rage, their body grows a natural weapon. This counts as a simple melee weapon, adding STR to hits and damage as normal.
There are three forms, which can be freely chosen, whenever the Barbarian activates a new Rage.
Bite: A 1d8 simple piercing weapon. Once per turn, when the Barbarian lands an attack with this weapon and they’re under half maximum HP, they can regain HP equal to their proficiency bonus (2-6.) Extra healing is nice, but this can only trigger once per round, and most combats only last 2 or 3 rounds, so the raw numbers here are underwhelming.
Claws: A 1d6 damage slashing weapon. Attacking with this weapon allows the Barbarian to make an extra attack entirely for free. This is mechanically equivalent to two-weapon fighting, except it also adds Rage damage and doesn’t cost a bonus action, making it a very solid way of landing more damage.
Tail: A 1d8 piercing weapon with reach. Once per turn, if a creature within 10ft hits the Barbarian, they can spend a reaction to add a d8 to their AC, which might cause the attack to miss. Against a big single enemy that might only get a couple of attacks, this is a surprisingly powerful defensive buff, and Barbarians don’t generally have much to do with their reactions, so this might always be up and available to use.
Form of the Beast is a great ability. It means the Barbarian is pretty much always armed as long as they have Rages left, can decide on the best option for the situation on the fly, and still has their hands free for grapples or holding a shield.
Bestial Soul: A two part ability; from level 6, the Path of the Beast Barbarian’s Form of the Beast natural weapons now count as magical for the purposes of overcoming resistance, which is an essential buff if it wants to continue dealing relevant damage.
The Barbarian’s form also shifts, adapting to its environment. Whenever the character finishes a short or long rest, they can choose one of the below three abilities, which lasts until they rest again and choose a new one.
A swim speed, and the ability to breathe underwater. Situational, but essential when you need it.
A jump boost, extending the Barbarian’s jump once per turn by the result of an Athletics check. This will normally double the character’s jump distance, so might come in handy.
A climbing speed, including the ability to climb on walls and ceilings without a check. 3.5E Spider Climb! Woo! This is amazing, and should always be the go-to unless the character specifically needs something else.
Infectious Fury: From 10th level, whenever the Barbarian hits a creature with the natural weapons given by the subclass, they can force the target to make a WIS save. A failed save allows the Barbarian to choose one of two effects:
2d10 Psychic damage. The rarely resisted damage type is good, and the damage itself is a reasonable amount, but it’s not fantastic given the setup conditions. (Raging, then failing a save, with limited daily uses.)
The creature has to use its reaction to make a melee attack against another target in range. This requires two enemies in close proximity, but having one slap the other is a hilariously powerful ability, especially considering a lot of melee monsters hit harder than the party already.
Uses are limited to proficiency bonus times per day, so it’s normally best to save these for the big ‘force an enemy to swing at its friend’ effect, but if you’re fighting a big boss monster and need a little more damage to bring it down, that’s also a very worthwhile use of the ability.
Call the Hunt: The Path of the Beast’s capstone ability, and it’s a very powerful one.
Available at level 14, whenever the Barbarian Rages, they can choose a number of creatures within 30ft, up to their CON modifier, as they let loose a primal hunting call.
The Barbarian gains 5 temporary HP for every creature that chooses to take part in the Barbarian’s hunt, and each affected creature also gains a 1d6 bonus to one damage roll that requires an attack roll (so spells that require attack rolls also trigger this.)
This is a very strong buff. The actual effect isn’t overwhelmingly powerful, but it can be used proficiency bonus times per day, so realistically it activates every single time that the Barbarian Rages. The ability scales with party size, and only specifies creatures, so a Ranger’s companion or even the Wizard’s familiar can get the bonus, too.
More toughness and more party damage, with literally zero downsides on a strongly thematic ability? Yes, please.
Like many Barbarians, what the Path of the Beast loves most is to hurl itself into glorious combat, taking big hits and dealing even bigger ones in return. The class is a bruiser. The highest HP pool in the game, reasonable AC, resistance to physical damage a lot of the time, plus an innate damage buff and the ability to switch on Advantage on attacks when needed.
The Path of the Beast is tanky relative to other Barbarians. Only needing one hand for their attacks leaves the other free for a shield, pushing up the character’s AC. Combining this with feats or a multiclass can make the character even harder to kill, which is exactly where this class wants to be.
Another thing that the Path of the Beast has that most other Barbarian subclasses don’t have is flexibility. Many subclass choices, for example, the Totem Warrior and Storm Herald, lock the choices made whenever the class reaches its breakpoint levels.
But the abilities of the Path of the Beast can be changed every time the class uses them. Want to pile on the damage? Choose claws. Need to be defensive? Choose tail or bite instead. Fighting giant spiders or flying enemies, or need to take a skill challenge? Whoops, suddenly the 300lb rage beast can scurry up walls like a squirrel.
At later levels, the subclass starts to benefit its allies as much as itself. Enemies succumb to momentary rages, lashing out at their friends, and whenever the Barbarian engages in combat, it finds itself shrugging off even more damage while its allies deal far more than they should.
Outside of combat, the Path of the Beast is a tracker and scout, taking point, and sniffing out enemies and traps. And while it might only stand around glowering in most social situations, taking the right feats and skills can give it a surprising amount to do there, too.
The focus on toughness and reliance on natural weapons means that the Path of the Beast does less damage than another Barbarian loaded up with a greatsword might. That’s not to say the class doesn’t do much damage. It does. It just does slightly less than its equivalents might.
Ranged combat is also an issue. Hands mutating into gigantic claws is impressive but does nothing when your enemy is more than 5 feet away, so always pack an option to fight things that the character can’t sprint up to and savage.
Like many Barbarians, the Path of the Beast has no magical options at all in its kit, so it lacks the flexibility of a full caster, especially outside of combat. It’s generally worth picking one or two things that the class wants to do outside of combat and build towards them, otherwise, the time between fights can start to feel a little dissatisfying.
Best Race Options
Half-Orc: The premier Barbarian package. A great stat spread, Darkvision, Intimidation proficiency, more damage on crits, and the ability to just not die once per day.
Metallic Dragonborn: A choice of stats, and damage resistances, but we want the Breath Weapons. The Path of the Beast has no inherent ability to deal with groups of enemies, so multiple uses of an AOE damage burst, plus a once per day crowd control AOE that only takes the place of one attack roll to use, are fantastic.
Githyanki: STR is good, INT not so much, but might still be useful somewhere. A language and a skill or tool proficiency add a little utility to the build. The Mage Hand cantrip, plus Jump (stacks with the subclass’s jumping bonus) and Misty Step (to get into or out of the fight) are great mobility tools.
Choosing the Right Skills
The Barbarian isn’t a class that’s known for its skill use. Only having a handful of proficiency slots (normally 4) and stats that lean towards the physical mean that it’s important to choose skills that are going to be used again and again.
Athletics is almost a given on the Path of the Beast. It scales with STR, you have Advantage on STR checks when raging, and it governs leaping, climbing, and grappling. Take it.
Perception is also important. It’s the ‘notice things’ skill, for example, noticing that goblin hiding in the bush before he stabs you. The Barbarian’s Danger Sense ability requires that the character be able to see the threat. Take this too.
From here, take skills that fit the theme and build. Stealth is good if your character has some DEX. Survival is useful and makes a lot of sense. One or two flavorful knowledge skills could also be helpful, for example, Nature or Medicine.
Sentinel: The ‘hit me I’m the tank’ feat. Sentinel lets the character attack enemies who attack their friends, immobilizes enemies when hit with an opportunity attack, and prevents the Disengage action from stopping opportunity attacks. This feat can prevent melee enemies from doing anything except attacking the one target they don’t want to be fighting. It’s awesome.
Chef: You’re confused, right? Hear me out. How does this fit the build? You’re a bestial menace? Why wouldn’t you eat your kills? Have you ever played Monster Hunter? It just makes sense.
So what does it do? A bonus to CON or WIS is a good start. Cooking a hearty meal for your allies every long rest which helps to heal them is fantastic to keep the party going, as is handing out scaling temporary HP to basically the entire party. (Up to 36 HP at high levels, which is pretty damn decent.)
Tavern Brawler: For grappling builds, the Tavern Brawler feat has everything a build needs. A bonus to stats boosted unarmed damage, and the ability to grapple when attacking unarmed or with an improvised weapon. The Barbarian’s high STR and Advantage on checks when raging make it a naturally great grappler, and it’s a fun and surprisingly effective fighting style.
Note, this feat doesn’t let you grapple when attacking with the subclass’s natural weapons, but nothing stops the character from freely shifting between punches and claw strikes as needed.
Sailor: Literally perfect skills and two nautical tools, including the ability to pilot ships. Plus, the character can swim like a dolphin from level 6, so this fits very well.
Outlander: Athletics and Survival are great skills. A language and a musical instrument are an interesting variety of proficiencies that add a lot of flavor.
Urchin: Two stealthy skills that work with DEX, and two toolkits, including Thieves Tools, which is especially important if your party doesn’t have them. The idea of a hulking, bestial monster sneaking into locked houses is also absolutely terrifying.
Rune Knight Fighter: What’s more terrifying than a monstrous warrior charging straight at you with bloodlust in its eyes? A giant monstrous warrior charging at you…
The Rune Knight lets the character spend a bonus action to become Large size, gaining reach, Advantage on STR checks, as well as bonus damage. While this does use the same action as Rage, the class has nothing else to do with its bonus actions, so using the ability on subsequent turns is normally not an issue.
On top of this, the Rune Knight can carve runes into its gear. (Who would have thought it!) These offer passive and active buffs and can do things like diverting enemy attacks into new targets, (again,) restraining targets, or advantage on certain skill checks.
Add that to the standard Fighter package of Action Surge for one vicious turn, a Fighting Style, and a little bit of healing for a terrifyingly self-sufficient melee brawler.
Gloom Stalker Ranger: Three levels of Gloom Stalker turn the Path of the Beast into a Predator, moving silently through the undergrowth before eviscerating its prey.
A bonus to initiative is fantastic, as is a movement speed buff and a free bonus attack and damage dice in the first round of combat.
The Gloom Stalker also offers a bonus to Darkvision, plus the near-unique ability to ignore enemy Darkvision and just disappear into the night. And if there’s one thing you don’t want hiding silent and invisible in the corner of the dungeon, it’s the 6’6 half-beast killing machine.
Twilight Cleric: This is a two level dip to grab one of the strongest abilities in the entire game, Twilight Sanctuary. A 30ft radius that lasts 1 minute and can be activated as an action that offers 1d6+2 temporary HP to every single party member, refreshing every turn.
Backing this up is the Cleric spell list, which at level 1 has a ton of useful buffs and utility spells, cantrips, Advantage on Initiative, and the single best Darkvision ability in the entire game. This build adds a ton of support to a class that traditionally doesn’t get it, and is fantastically powerful and fun to play.
Would I recommend playing a Path of the Beast Barbarian?
Yeah! The Path of the Beast is an incredibly fun Barbarian subclass. Unlike many melee characters, what it can do shifts and changes as much as the character itself can.
One fight, it’s a dedicated damage dealing, butchering scores of enemies in a flurry of attacks. The next it’s defending allies, deflecting hits that should have killed it a dozen times over. The utility options of the class also send it running up walls or swimming like a fish.
Everything the Path of the Beast does is stylish and cool. It’s a great spin on the Barbarian’s core kit, with an absolute ton of fluffy flavor, as well as serious combat power, and it’s well worth your time to play.