D&D 5e: Path of the Giant Barbarian Guide
D&D 5e: Path of the Giant Barbarian Guide
Role in the Party
Oh, so you’re thinking about rolling up a Path of the Giant Barbarian, huh? Let me tell you, my friend, you’re in for a wild ride! Think of it as being the brawniest, tallest guy at a wrestling match who also happens to have a few magical tricks up his sleeve. But you’re not just there to flex and toss spells around.
You’re the heavy hitter, the guy who gets right in the middle of the brawl, laughing as you smash things to smithereens, all while being the sturdy shield your buddies hide behind when things get hairy.
Let’s get a bit more specific, shall we? In your party, you’re the front-liner, the one taking hits and dishing them out in spades, while also dealing with crowd control. Sounds like fun, right? You’re the towering figure that enemies can’t help but focus on, which means your squishier friends in the back – you know, your wizards and rogues – can do their thing without worrying about getting smacked around.
And when the tide of battle turns, you’ve got these nifty abilities to chuck your weapon like a thunderbolt, or to literally throw your buddies to safety or an advantageous position. Bottom line, as a Path of the Giant Barbarian, you’re the muscle, the protector, and a bit of an enforcer – all rolled into one huge package. Now, go out there and show ’em how a real giant fights!
Path of the Giant Features
Giant’s Power – At level 3, the character learns the Giant language, or another language if they already speak it. They also learn a cantrip, either Druidcraft or Thaumaturgy.
The first of these benefits makes total sense for a character raised by giants, and if you’re playing a campaign full of giants, well, you probably wanna be able to speak to them.
Having a cantrip is nice, though the options here are a little limited. Both Druidcraft and Thaumaturgy aren’t the best choices from their respective spell lists, offering up effects that are mostly flavor.
But then, this is clearly a ribbon ability. The real meat of the level 3 benefits are gained below.
Giant’s Havoc – When Raging, a Path of the Giant Barbarian gains two buffs:
- Adding Rage damage to thrown weapon rolls (not all ranged attacks)
Becoming Large, if there’s available space, and increasing reach by 5ft
The thrown weapon benefits are thematic, but probably not something many Barbarians will rely on at this level, especially without the bonus granted by the Thrown Weapon fighting style. It’s worth bearing in mind this feature will get stronger as later features build upon it.
Becoming Large and gaining greater reach whenever Rage is active, on the other hand, is a massive (pun intended) buff to a character who wants to be in the midst of the enemy formation, disrupting and smashing holes in everything within weapon range.
Suddenly, you’re taking up 4 squares on the battle grid, and reaching out a full two squares with your weapons. Nothing can evade you, and your allies can use you as a living wall.
Elemental Cleaver – From level 6, whenever the character Rages, they can choose to infuse one weapon they’re holding with elemental force.
This causes that weapon to deal elemental damage instead of weapon damage, in one of five types, plus adds a bonus d6 damage to every attack made.
The weapon also gains the Thrown quality, with a range bracket of 20/60, and instantly materializes back in the character’s hand whether it hits or misses, allowing for multiple thrown weapon attacks per round.
It’s hard to overstate how large a damage bonus this is. At this level, Barbarians generally make two attacks per round, with a potential third on the table depending on your feat and weapon choices.
So this is up to a 3d6 damage boost, atop the +2 damage per attack granted from Rage, in an elemental damage type that can be chosen every time you Rage and changed as a bonus action to freely overcome enemy damage resistance.
Finally, being able to just throw your main weapon whenever necessary is welcome, extending your threat radius by another 10ft, (you already have a 10ft reach) or further with disadvantage. Your enemy quickly learns to respect a greatsword, crackling with lightning, spinning through the air, and dealing 3d6+6 damage on hit. It’s either that or they have a final, terminal, haircut.
Mighty Impel – From level 10, you can bodily hurl allies and enemies around the battlefield.
As a bonus action, choose a creature within reach and move it to another square within 30ft. Unwilling creatures get a save, but allies can be placed anywhere in that range without issue.
The ability to move allies can be a strong effect. Misty Step is regarded as an essential spell for many characters, and that’s literally just a 30ft teleport that’s essentially identical to this. Freely pulling a mage out of a dangerous spot, or putting the Rogue precisely where the enemy doesn’t want them to be, is well worth spending your bonus action on many turns.
Moving enemies, on the other hand, is down to GM interpretation. If the ruling is that you can move an enemy 30ft upwards, so they take fall damage and prone every turn, then this is very strong. If not, it’s significantly weaker as a hostile effect.
Demiurgic Colossus – Level 14 brings two major buffs. Firstly, the bonus damage from Elemental Cleaver doubles to 2d6 per attack. This is, obviously, excellent.
Second, when raging, the character can choose to grow up to size Huge, with reach increasing by a massive 10ft if they choose to do so, as well as being able to use Mighty Impel on creatures Large or smaller.
As a capstone, and especially one gained early enough that these features will see major play, this is fantastic and really defines the subclass. You’re the giant, now.
The Path of the Giants focuses on two things. Space control, and raw damage. Growing Large as a standard effect lets the character take up a massive amount of battlefield space, especially once you factor in your increased reach.
At level 10, the character not only locks off a portion of the battlefield but also moves allies and enemies around it, picking up and hurling anyone smaller than them once per turn, letting the party position themselves much more freely.
From level 6, the character stacks damage faster than any other Barbarian subclass, adding a bonus dice to literally every attack that hits. Bonus action attacks, out-of-turn attacks, all of them qualify.
As the character climbs into higher levels, the effects gained by the class continue to get stronger, ensuring any character with this subclass doesn’t fall behind in power as the casters gain their reality-shifting spell power.
As good as the Path of the Giant is, it does little to fix the traditional Barbarian weaknesses.
Firstly, the class is very good in its niche, which is hitting things ridiculously hard and taking hits in return. But outside of that, even with the bonuses to thrown weapons, it can be difficult for Barbarian characters to deal with problems that aren’t within arms reach, both in and out of combat.
Second, to touch on that further, Barbarians as a class tend to struggle to find their role when it comes to the adventuring and social aspects. Learning languages and cantrips help with this, but we’d also recommend picking one or two skills the party doesn’t have access to and leaning into them hard.
Best Race Options
Bugbear – Long-limbed, +5ft reach, is such a powerful and unique racial benefit. Stacking that, a polearm and the boost gained from Rage means that from level 3, a Bugbear Giant Barbarian has a truly absurd 20ft melee attack range.
Warforged – Leaning defense rather than attack, Warforged have a passive +1 to AC, a strong bonus that’s hard to find anywhere else and makes the character significantly tougher, as well as multiple extra resistances and immunities. Plus, y’know, you’re a gigantic battle robot wreathed in runic flames. It’s awesome
Half-Orc – Half-orcs have always made strong Barbarians, and that continues to be true. More damage on every crit is very powerful, especially when the class stacks multiple bonus dice, and refusing to die once per day is literally perfect for a character that’s going to take most of the hits aimed at the party.
Choosing the Right Skills
The Barbarian isn’t the best class when it comes to skill use.
Athletics and Perception are both near-essential to the character, both of which are available in your starting skill list.
Outside of this, thematics are always fun, for example, History, for a character that regularly delves into ancient ruins, or Survival, for those who spend their days out in the savannah.
Don’t fret too much here. You’re not the skill monkey. Pick things that fit your character idea, and things you know should be rolled regularly. An extra dice, even with just +1 or _2 to the roll, has to roll high sometimes.
Polearm Master – This subclass more than any other just screams polearms. Another 5ft of reach allows the build to reach out and interdict up to 15ft away. More importantly, the bonus action attack and a reactionary stab when a creature moves within your (massive) reach are further ways to gain the damage bonus from Elemental Cleaver.
Sentinel – Again, we’re looking for ways to get extra attacks. Taking a swing at enemies that attack the allies hiding under your giant shadow, plus setting the speed of enemies hit by your opportunity attacks to 0 ensures that once you have something within arm’s length, it’s never getting away.
Tough – This feat might feel a little dull, but the Path of the Giant can get so large that they’re literally the only viable target for enemies to hurt. Another chunk of HP to grind through, especially when that HP is effectively doubled through Rage damage resistances, keeps you on your feet for far longer.
Glory of the Giants comes with two backgrounds that seem specifically designed to play alongside this class and the content released in the book. If it’s available, we highly recommend the Giant Foundling background.
Giant Foundling – Specific to the Glory of the Giants book, this background was built from the ground up to work with this subclass. It grants appropriate skills and proficiencies, as well as the Giant Strike feat, a powerful melee buff that acts as a prerequisite for the rest of the feats in the book.
Criminal – Stealth is a surprisingly solid skill for Barbarians, who tend to have at least some Dex and don’t wear heavy armor. Thieves Tool proficiency, even if you’re not using them, lets you Help the party Rogue pick locks… somehow. The rest of the benefits are fluffy, fitting a character who’s spent their life amongst those bigger than themselves, and the alternate Spy background even comes with a story hook built right in.
Sailor – Near perfect skills, as well as proficiency in all of the things you need to sail the high seas, (or be a pillaging pirate.) In a naval campaign, this is literally perfect, and it’s still good otherwise.
Fighter – Up to 3 levels of Fighter offer things we want. Level 1’s main benefit is the Fighting Style, which can make you hit harder, tank hits for allies, or grab Thrown Weapon fighting style for the early levels.
Level 2 brings the almighty Action Surge for one unstoppable double turn, and 3 levels add the significant boost of a subclass. We’d recommend Battlemaster if you take it this far. Combat Maneuvers on a character who can reach across half a battlefield is a terrifying prospect.
Peace Cleric – One level is all that’s needed to gain the Emboldening Bond feature, which adds a D4 to one of a multitude of rolls every turn to multiple members of the party, almost like a proto-Bless.
Except it isn’t a spell and requires no concentration, so you can do it while Raging, and scales with proficiency level, so only gets stronger as the game goes on until it’s active on the entire party during every single encounter they take. Be warned. Peace Clerics are a little broken, and some GMs have … strong … feelings about this feature. Discuss it first.
Gloomstalker Ranger – A boost to initiative, speed, and a bonus attack on the first round of every combat are all things a Barbarian wants. Swapping out for Favored Foe at level 1 adds even more damage multiple times per day, plus you gain a Fighting Style and incidental spellcasting in the intervening levels.
There’s also something horrifying about the idea that a 15ft tall behemoth could be lurking in the darkness at any time, completely invisible until they strike with a weapon the size of a tree trunk.
Would I recommend playing Path of the Giant Barbarian?
We’ll come right out and say it. The Path of the Giant subclass is a solid hit.
The subclass starts slow, gaining mechanics at level 3 that feel fun, but have surprisingly little impact on your dice. But from level 6 it spikes hard, gaining features and a huge boost of power that defines both how the subclass feels, and how it plays.
Hitting that breakpoint is important. If my campaign was defiantly low-level, I might avoid this subclass, leaning towards a choice that offers more when you first take it at level 3. But for any character that’s going to see play in the mid-level range, Path of the Giant is a great subclass with a well-defined identity. We love it.