D&D 5e: Path of the Zealot Barbarian Guide
D&D 5e: Path of the Zealot Barbarian Guide
Role in the Party
Nothing inspires fervor and a willingness to hurl oneself into battle like the belief that the gods are on your side, you cannot fail, and even should you die, you’re going to spend eternity in paradise.
It’s this impassioned intensity that makes Barbarians who follow the Path of the Zealot so terrifying. They will throw themselves into the most one-sided fight, and dive in front of their allies to take hits, knowing, with every fiber of their being, that they are on the side of the good and the just. And considering how hard these characters can be to actually keep dead, they might possibly be correct.
Devastating front line brawlers, this guide breaks down the Path of the Zealot subclass for the Barbarian, possible build paths, multiclass options, and more.
The Path of the Zealot Barbarian subclass is found in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. Click here to pick up your own copy of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything!
Path of the Zealot Features
Divine Fury: From level 3, deal an extra 1d6 + half level damage to the first creature you hit every turn when you’re Raging.
The extra damage is also good, especially on a class that already gets bonus damage from Rage. The scaling by level is good. A choice of two damage types depending on the campaign is great. While this is a simple bonus, it’s a strong one.
Warrior of the Gods: The gods don’t want you to die. Literally. Any spell that raises the character back from the dead and has no other effect has no material costs.
This is hilarious, and if your party is built right, is surprisingly effective, too. Material costs for resurrection spells run from 300g for Revivify, up to over 1000g for the bigger spells, so this can save a lot of money in the long run.
However, you need to be careful. Ideally, it’s not a good idea to actually die, and running recklessly into combat and getting downed can leave your party short on damage and manpower. This is more an incidental, ‘what if’ type of ability, rather than something to focus around.
Fanatical Focus: From level 6, once per Rage, the Zealot can reroll a failed save.
This is very simple but incredibly powerful. The Barbarian getting stunned, or worse, dominated and turning against the party, can end encounters. This stops that from happening, and the only limit is once per rage. That’s great.
Zealous Presence: This is a once per day battle cry that only takes a bonus action, and gives up to 10 other creatures Advantage on all attack rolls and saving throws until your next turn.
Most of the time, this is a decent buff that can be weaved into a combat round when it seems relevant, or simply because you don’t have anything to do with the bonus action that turn.
But the times when the Barbarian leads a group of allies into battle, all with Advantage, or protects the entire party from a big save or suck ability, those will stick with you.
Rage Beyond Death: At level 14, the Zealot Barbarian literally becomes unkillable.
No. Really. That’s the ability. While the Barbarian is Raging, they can stay standing and act normally even at 0 HP, and keep taking damage. The character also has to keep taking death saving throws, but even if they fail the standard three, still don’t die.
The Zealot only dies if they have 0 HP when their Rage ends. As long as you keep Raging, you are literally impossible to kill.
Remember, negative HP doesn’t exist in 5e. Your HP total can never go below 0. So if the Cleric throws a 1d4 + 3 HP Healing word on you after the boss succumbs to their wounds, suddenly you’re ignoring the 300 damage you took while walking around at 0 HP and everything is okay again. That’s absolutely ridiculous.
Plus, if an ability would lock you down, you get a reroll on the save, and if you do actually manage to die after all this, remember that there’s no cost for the spell that brings you back to life except the spell slot.
The Path of the Zealot is a very simplistic subclass. It wants to run forwards and hit things very hard. This is something Barbarians are good at, and this subclass in particular, with its bonus damage every turn, is very good at.
Zealots also want to take hits, comfortable in the knowledge that they have the tools to stay standing through it all. The biggest HP pool in the entire game, decent armor selection, damage resistance, and the barely relevant ability to come back to life basically for free.
The Zealot works best when it has a strong party standing behind it, ready with the healing and resurrection when necessary, and capable of dealing damage and offering support from the back lines while the character is busy trying to hack everything into radiant sparkles.
Clerics play especially well with Zealots, but so do Druids for the same reasons. Wizards and Sorcerers are also excellent options because they no longer have to be so afraid of dropping blasts on their ally’s head.
The Zealot will also happily accept any melee fighting style without issue, whether that’s purely damage focused, defensive with shields, or something designed more for control with a polearm.
As it levels, the subclass gets even tougher and starts to offer buffs to its allies as well as itself. Out of combat, expect to be a scout and trap finder, especially if you take Stealth, and with the right skills, a Zealot might even handle tracking, wayfinding, and religious questions.
The first big weakness of the Zealot is also, ironically, one of its strengths. The class is very simple. While that’s a big draw, especially for newer players, it does mean that mechanically there isn’t very much to do. If this is something that bothers you as a player, look for ways to increase the tactical flexibility beyond ‘hit thing with weapon’ by using Feats and Multiclassing. (More on this below.)
The Zealot also lacks ranged options, a traditional weakness of the Barbarian class. There are ways around this, too, but most Zealots should make sure to carry some sort of ranged weapon.
You’ll also find that out of combat choices are limited, with a very small selection of skill proficiencies, few mental stats to fuel them, and nothing offered by the subclass to support this side of the game.
Finally, there’s the problem of mindset. The Zealot is great fun, but the things it does can steadily convince a player that their character is indestructible. I’ve personally seen one of my players die valiantly, because “I can always be resurrected later, right?” Even though the party was fleeing a horde of monsters, with no way to recover the body… Temper expectations with reality, and try not to get as hot-blooded as an actual Barbarian when piloting this subclass.
Best Race Options
Half-Orc: Darkvision, Intimidation proficiency, perfect stats, extra damage on critical hits, oh, and the minor ability to just outright refuse to die once per day. If someone told me the Half-orc was created just for the Zealot subclass, I’d believe them.
Metallic Dragonborn: You know what the Barbarian wants? More damage resistance, and some breath weapons that can be used multiple times per day to annihilate groups of enemies that only cost a single attack roll to use. Yes. That’ll do just fine.
Scourge Aasimar: Good stats, Darkvision, two resistances, a cantrip, once per day healing, and the ability to, once per day, let the radiance of your soul burn out of you, dealing damage to everything close by, as well as more damage on one attack. (This stacks with Divine Fury for 1d6 + 1.5x level Radiant Damage.)
The only reason this isn’t purple is action economy. Transforming takes an action, and Rage is your bonus. That’s a turn where you’re standing there looking scary, and little else.
Choosing the Right Skills
Every Barbarian needs Athletics. It’s the skill of climbing, leaping, and putting ogres in headlocks, and the Barbarian gets Advantage on it when they’re Raging. Take it.
You should also consider Perception. It’s the most used skill in the game, and spotting ambushes, traps, and even just a shiny coin or clue is a big deal.
From here, spend limited skill slots on whatever fits the character. Survival is a solid outdoorsman’s option. One or two knowledge skills like Nature or Religion (fits the theme!) might work, too. Even throwing a few spare stat points into CHA and taking some social skills could be fun.
Great Weapon Master: Big bonus damage with downsides that Reckless Attack helps to mitigate, potential bonus attacks whenever you kill something, this is exactly what almost any Zealot wants.
Sentinel: You want enemies to hit you. Enemies probably don’t want to hit you. Punish enemies who hit your friends by hitting them right back. Add extra benefits to opportunity attacks, including the ability to pin enemies in place, for an all round good feat.
Shield Master: Slam your enemies prone every turn using your bonus action and Advantage on Athletics checks. Plus learn to use your shield to defend yourself better. Pro tip: It goes in the way of enemy attacks.
Sailor: Perception and Athletics are the exact skills you’re looking for. The ability to pilot a ship and navigate the stars are useful flavor, and might even come in useful in the right campaign.
Folk Hero: Two solid skills, Artisan’s Tools (Smithing keeps the ax sharp) and Land Vehicle proficiency. Plus an easy background event to explain your faith.
City Watch: Insight gives you something to do in conversations, and two languages might even help you learn a thing or two. Athletics is always good on a Barbarian.
Echo Knight Fighter: Your god has gifted you the ability to manifest a spectral warrior that fights in your stead. This takes a bonus action, so interacts nicely with single weapon and shield or two-handed fighting styles.
Attacking using your echo is the first big draw, especially when you realize it means you can Reckless Attack with no penalty. Extra opportunity attacks and movement are also great.
A fighting style, Action Surge, and the ability to throw out extra attacks CON times per day round out what makes for a fantastic multiclass build.
Conquest Paladin: Combine ferocity with controlled fervor by splashing Paladin. Two levels add Divine Smite, which isn’t a spell, so can be freely used when Raging. My recommendation is to save it for crits, which, with Reckless Attack, tend to come much more frequently.
Going Conquest adds two excellent Channel Divinities, an AOE fear burst, and a single +10 to hit, perfect for making sure the hits that need to land do. Spellcasting, a little extra healing, and even some defensive auras if you take Paladin to higher levels.
Peace Cleric: Ignoring the major disconnect in fluff(I’m going to bring peace to the world, by killing everything!) This is a single level dip that offers a stupid amount of power.
It’s all because of Emboldening Bond. This ability scales with your proficiency bonus in uses and targets, lasts for 10 minutes per use, persists through Rage, and gives multiple members of the party a d4 bonus to an attack roll, skill check, or save. Every single turn. The duration is long enough that it doesn’t even have to be applied in combat.
This all comes on top of a free skill proficiency, and access to the Cleric spell list for utility and defensive options. It’s a strong multiclass, especially since it only costs a single level of Barbarian progression.
Would I recommend playing a Path of the Zealot Barbarian?
The Path of the Zealot is quintessential Barbarian. It hits things harder and refuses to fall over and bleed even when, by all rights, it should have died a dozen times.
The class is simple, but simple doesn’t mean bad, and there are some easy fixes for that. Beginners will appreciate the directness of the class, and veterans can tweak it in a dozen different ways. What the Zealot does offer though, is an enjoyable, strong character that’s simple to build, simple to pilot, and just a ton of fun to play.