D&D 5e: Path of the Berserker Barbarian Guide
Role in the Party
A Path of the Berserker Barbarian is a quintessential barbarian. They’re all about that damage-dealing, enemy-frightening rage. This is the subclass you play if you want to be in the thick of the battle, taking and returning hits, and all the while roaring with a deranged and gleeful vigor. These barbarians are cray, and we love them for that.
Path of the Berserker Features
This feature should be killer, but in its RAW (rules-as-written) form, it’s broken. The reason for this is the exhaustion caveat—every time you use frenzied rage, you take a point of exhaustion. That means if you frenzy rage three times in a single day, you’ll nerf your barbarian because, with three points of exhaustion, you’ll have disadvantage on all your attack rolls and saving throws.
That being said, I ranked this feature “meh” instead of straight up “bad” because it can be fixed! You just need to work with your DM to adjust the rules. For example, instead of suffering from exhaustion, your DM could allow you one frenzy per short or long rest. With a simple fix, this feature could be epic.
Being immune to any condition is pretty awesome, but this feature allows you to shrug off certain conditions that are actively affecting you, which makes it extra awesome. After accessing this feature at level 6, your Berserker Barbarian is not only immune to being charmed or frightened while raging, but they can also suspend the effects of the frightened or charmed condition when they enter a rage. So the next time you fall prey to the wiles of a wicked succubus, channel your inner T. Swift and shake it off (and by that I mean RAGE).
Here’s another feature that, like Frenzy, has so much potential but, in the end, isn’t cost effective. It works like this: you can use your action to frighten someone (if they don’t make their Wisdom saving throw). Cool. But then, you have to use your action every subsequent turn to keep that someone scared. Uncool. Why? It’s too expensive. Barbarians want to be banging heads with their actions, not playing boogeyman chasing a single baddy around the battlefield. And yet, if you could get your DM to knock down the cost of upkeep from an action to a bonus action, this feature would be pretty sick. And you’d be pretty scary.
Barbarians, by their very nature, are gonna be all up in that battle business. They’re classic tanks, which means they’re gonna get hit a lot. For a class like that to gain a feature like this—where you get to use your reaction to make a melee weapon attack against any creature, within five feet, that hits you—well, let’s just cue the sound effects: CHA-CHING. You’ll be cashing in on those damage checks nearly every turn, my friend.
The Path of the Berserker Barbarian holds the potential to be a toosh-whooping, major melee damage dealer. If your DM fixes the aforementioned issues with Frenzy, then there could potentially be tons of scenarios where your level 14 Barbarian gets four attacks in one turn. Frenzy adds a bonus action attack, you gain a second attack action at 5th level, and Retaliation grants a reaction attack if you’re hit. Count them. Four attacks. That’s a pretty sick subclass if you ask me.
There’s only one major weakness with this subclass: if Frenzy isn’t fixed, it would really suck to have a whole feature that is more or less unusable.
Best Race Options
Gem Dragonborn – Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons added some slick subrace options for Dragonborn, one of which, the Gem Dragonborn, is a phenomenal option for someone interested in playing a Path of the Berserker Barbarian. For one, you gain a breath weapon that affects a 15 foot cone and deals 1d10 damage at level 1. Your melee fighter just picked up some formidable range. Two, you gain resistance to one type of magical damage (force, radiant, psychic, thunder, or necrotic). Add that to your rage resistances, and you’re one tough cookie. Three, you can telepathically communicate with any creature within 30 ft. of you. And last, but definitely not least, you gain a flying speed at level 5. Talk about a beast-mode build.
Choosing the Right Skills
Athletics – It’s the only strength-based skill in the game, and a must take for any Barbarian.
Intimidation – If your DM allows strength-based intimidation checks (or if you’re one of those rare, Charisma-based barbarians), this is a skill that could come in handy in a variety of circumstances.
Great Weapon Master – A classic feat for barbarians. Great Weapon Master allows you to hit harder (+10 bonus to damage when you take a -5 penalty to your attack roll) and more often (gaining a melee weapon bonus action attack when you roll a nat20 on your attack roll or when you whack a creature to 0 hp).
Tough – You’ll be a veritable pool of hp when you take this feat, which gives you an additional 2 hp for every level you have. This is especially useful to take at later levels; for example, if taken at level 12, you’ll get a 24 hp boost all at once.
Outlander – This background makes the most sense roleplaying-wise, but it doesn’t add anything particularly special for a Path of the Berserker Barbarian unless you’ve been dying to wail on a dulcimer after ringing a couple of bad guys’ bells.
Folk Hero – This background also makes sense roleplaying-wise and provides some better perks. You’ll gain proficiency with land vehicles and enjoy small-town hospitality from all your common folk stans.
Fighter – It’s worth dipping your Path of the Berserker Barbarian into Fighter for even just one level to gain the Great Weapon Fighting ability and Second Wind. Great Weapon Fighting allows you to reroll 1s or 2s on your damage dice if you’re wielding a weapon with two hands, though you must keep the second roll no matter what it is. And Second Wind will allow you to heal yourself with a bonus action.
Would I recommend playing a Path of the Berserker Barbarian?
Path of the Berserker Barbarians could be one of the most powerful barbarian subclasses if, and only if, a DM is willing to fix Frenzy. Without that adaptation, the subclass is kinda nerfed from the get go.