D&D 5e: Totem Warrior Barbarian Guide

D&D 5e: Totem Warrior Barbarian Guide

Intro/Role in Party

The Totem Warrior Barbarian draws their strength from their connection with nature, channeling animalistic aspects and shamanic spells as they tear enemies to pieces with tooth and claw. 

Whether a pack hunter that fights back to back with fellow party members, or frothing madmen who dive headfirst at the biggest foe they can find, Totem Warriors are happiest in the front lines of combat, taking chunks out of their enemies, and receiving vicious hits in return. 

Totem Warriors thrive in the usual roles of the Barbarian: Melee DPS, and disruptive, tanky bruiser. This guide breaks down the subclass, what it offers, feats, skills, and why you might want to play one of these mighty warriors.  

Rating Color Key

Epic

Good

Meh

Bad

Totem Warrior Features

Spirit Seeker: Your attunement to nature lets you find and speak with animals as a magical ritual. If you don’t have a druid and your GM likes this type of ability, there are almost always animals around, but it’s not something that should ever be relied on. 

Totem Spirit: The main Totem Warrior power. At level 3, when a Barbarian chooses this subclass, they also choose a totem animal that adds effects whenever they are raging:  

Bear: Rage damage reduction (DR) now covers every type of damage except psychic, which is a damage type that some characters might not face over a whole campaign. Amazing, halving all the damage you take is literally character-defining. 

Eagle: DisAdv on Opportunity Attacks against you, and a bonus action Dash. Both are useful but situational and probably won’t come up often. 

Elk: +15ft walking speed. Aggressively fine. Gets you into the fight early, but probably won’t do much after.

Tiger: Add 10ft to your long jump distance, and 3ft to your high jump. Awful. Almost useless, and Jump, a 1st Level Spell, is more powerful. 

Wolf: Your allies have Adv on attacks against enemies within 5ft of you. Does nothing for you directly, but parties with heavy damage dealers like Rogues and Paladins will LOVE you for this. 

Aspect of the Beast: At level 6, gain another benefit. Most of these are ribbon effects, but they’re always on, and don’t require rage. Note, you DO NOT have to choose the same animal as you did at level 3: 

Bear: Double your carrying capacity, Adv on OOC strength checks. Great for grapplers, average otherwise. 

Eagle: Binocular vision. See a mile away with no difficulties, as well as small benefits in dim light. There’s always a time when your party is trying to see something far away, but still pretty situational. 

Elk: Overland traveling is twice as fast, mounted or on foot, for you and up to 10 people. Will break certain campaigns that rely on long distances in half, but a lot of the time, won’t ever come up. 

Tiger: Two free proficiencies, choosing from Athletics, Acrobatics, Stealth, or Survival. Free skills are always useful, and that’s a solid list to choose from.  

Wolf: Track faster and move stealthily faster, both out of combat. Situational, and at this level, spells do it better. 

Commune with Nature: Level 10 brings the ability to cast Commune with Animals as a ritual, which gives you a bunch of information about natural surroundings. The big range of 3 miles and a useful list of effects means most characters can get something out of this, and it’s free. 

Totemic Attunement: The final feature, at level 14, is another boost to rage. Again, you DO NOT have to choose the same animals as before: 

Bear: Hostile creatures within 5ft have DisAdv to attack anyone that’s not you. Incredible, and a capstone to your ability to tank, especially with Bear damage resistance. 

Eagle: Gain a flying speed. Except it’s only your walking speed. And you can’t hover. And you fall if you end the turn in the air. Or your rage ends. Garbage.

Elk: Take a bonus action to move through a monster’s square (Large sized or smaller.) It takes a STR test or falls prone, and also takes a small amount of damage. Would be great if the Shield Master feat didn’t do most of this at level 1. Pass. 

Tiger: Move 20ft in a straight line before you attack to get another bonus action attack. A fine ability, but by level 14 you’ve probably got your build set and some other way to spend bonus actions, so this comes just a little too late. 

Wolf: Spend a bonus action to knock an enemy (Large or smaller, again) prone when you hit it in melee. Why is this better than Elk? No range limits, so you can do this from 10ft away with a spear, and NO SAVE. 

Strengths

The Totem Warrior is a surprisingly versatile subclass, that has a lot of flexibility in how you can build it. 

Unfortunately, a lot of the choices in the totem list aren’t great, but the list is long and has a lot of scope for roleplay around the table. So strong Totem Warriors will build on the already solid foundation of the Barbarian class. You automatically bring high damage and the ability to tank enemies to the table just by showing up, so focus on that. 

Bear Totem is the obvious choice. Resistance to effectively all damage is incredibly strong, and the extra benefits are all useful as well. A BearBarian (I’m sorry!) can throw on some armor, pick up the biggest weapon they can carry, and run face first into groups of enemies, and know that they’re always going to be doing their job.

Other Totem Warriors might want to benefit their party more than themselves. The Wolf Totem at 3 gives your party Advantage against a lot of enemies. If you’re building this way, you might also consider the Sentinel feat or investing in grappling, to prevent enemies from getting out of your range once you have them where you want them. 

From here, Elk or Tiger at 6 offer useful skills, for yourself or your allies, and Wolf again at 14 lets you dominate certain encounters by keeping one enemy prone essentially forever. 

Finally, there are niche builds that might use the mobility of some of the totems to build a barbarian that never stops moving, which could be a good choice for specific multiclass builds. 


Weaknesses

The Totem Warrior has the typical Barbarian weakness. They’re big, they’re strong, they’re tough, but if they’re fighting someone who’s outside the reach of their weapons, options tend to be limited.

That means packing some sort of ranged weapon or spell, or finding a way to get one through multiclassing, is normally a good idea, just in case a dragon comes flying over the horizon.

Totem Warrior Barbarians also tend to be pretty linear. In combat, they hit things hard, and protect their teammates by getting in the face of the enemy, but lack the wealth of options something like a wizard can have.

Finally, outside of combat, Barbarians can pick up one or two useful skills, but don’t tend to have the skill slot options or stat spread to excel in the same way as a Rogue or Bard.  

Best Race Options

Half-Orc: The half-orc was made to be a Barbarian. Ideal stat distribution, darkvision, free intimidate proficiency, more damage on crits, and the ability to stay standing once per day when you should be dead already builds on everything that makes Totem Warriors excel. A good choice for every Totem. 

Gem Dragonborn: Any Dragonborn is already a decent choice for a barbarian, but Gem Dragonborn, specifically the Emerald Dragonborn heritage, synergizes perfectly with Bear Totem. The key reason is that it gives you resistance to Psychic damage, the only damage type that breaks through your DR, so you halve all damage when you rage. A breath weapon and a once-per-day fly speed round out the abilities. 

Bugbear: If you want to make a mobility-based Totem Warrior using the Eagle and Wolf totems, the Bugbear stands out. Great stats and a free skill are nice, but the thing we’re here for is Long Limbs, which increases your melee reach by 5ft, letting you stand in the middle of combat with a polearm and hit your enemies from a truly absurd 15ft away. Make sure you sprinkle in the Mobile or Polearm Master feats when you can, to truly make your GM hate you. 

Choosing the Right Skills

Barbarians are limited in their skill choices, and normally don’t have the stat distribution or abilities like Expertise to work as a skill monkey. 

So it’s important to spend your limited skill slots on things that you’ll regularly use. Perception is essential for every character, and Athletics benefits your high strength. 

StealthSurvival, and Intimidation are also skills that fit a typical Barbarian. If in doubt, take these first. 

Fitting Feats

Great Weapon Master: THE feat for Barbarians. No one is as good at hitting things with heavy objects as you are. Easy access to Advantage from Reckless Fighter helps to offset the hit penalty, letting you do the big damage you were born to do.  

GWM also gives you a bonus action attack on critical hits, or when you reduce a creature to 0 HP. Free damage is nice, and it’s an even nicer option on a class traditionally starved for bonus actions. 

Shield Master: (Or Tavern Brawler.) Both of these feats only work if you decide to drop your DPS slightly and use a one-handed weapon. But the benefits are big. Shield master lets you shove enemies around as a bonus action, but more importantly, lets you shove them prone for free advantage on attacks for your party members. 

Tavern Brawler lets you grapple instead, holding an enemy still and keeping them away from the more fragile members of your party. 

The reason the Barbarian is the king of these feats? Both are Athletics checks, which you get free Advantage on whenever you are raging, and with the naturally high strength of a Barbarian, you’ll be pinning your enemies to the ground or suplexing them off of buildings in no time. 

Tough: With 16 points in CON, the Tough feat increases your HP pool by about 20%.

It might seem boring, but the Barbarian is a frontline class with built-in damage resistance, especially if you choose Bear Totem. More HP keeps you standing longer, which means the rest of your party is free to do what they need to do, without worrying about needing to pour health potions down your throat. 

Optimal Backgrounds

Outlander: Gives you skill proficiencies in Athletics and Survival, one type of musical instrument, and a language choice. 

Sailor: Gives you perfect skill proficiencies in Athletics and Perception. Navigation tools and vehicles (Water) will be useful in some campaigns. 

Criminal: Gives you skill proficiencies in Stealth and Deception, a gaming set, and most importantly, thief’s tools. 

Multiclassing Options

Battle Master Fighter: Barbarians are straightforward. Hit thing with ax. But what if they weren’t?

The Battle Master gives any melee class a whole bunch of flavorful, fun options with Combat Maneuvers. Over 20 choices let you do things like disarm or trip your foe or command your allies to attack instead of you. These maneuvers are fueled by 4 dice, all of which come back every time you short rest, adding another layer of abilities to your character.  

3 levels of Fighter get you 3 Maneuvers when you pick the subclass, as well as the incredibly useful Action Surge at level 2, another resource that lets you pull off a second attack action once per short rest, basically doubling that round’s damage.  

Druids: (Any subclass.) While you can’t cast spells when you’re raging, a dip into Druid offers cantrips, a solid spell list, a lot of which don’t rely on your stats, and ritual casting, and only needs 13 WIS. But going further into Druid, especially the incredibly powerful Moon subclass for boosted Wild Shape, fits both thematically, and mechanically. 

Trust us. Once your party has seen a Raging Grizzly Bear rampaging through enemy lines, it’s not something they’re likely to forget.   

Rogues: A Barbarian Rogue might sound strange at first and locks you into using Finesse weapons like the shortsword or rapier, but it has heritage (Conan, THE barbarian, multiclasses as a rogue. Fight me.)

It’s also terrifyingly powerful. Reckless Attack gives at-will Adv for sneak attacks, and skill expertise also comes at level 1. Cunning Action massively increases mobility at 2, which synergizes with a lot of what the Totem Warrior wants to do,  and if you go as far as 3, all the subclasses have something to offer. 

Would I recommend playing a Totem Warrior Barbarian?

Absolutely. 

Totem Warriors have remained a strong subclass since the 5e Player’s Handbook first dropped. Despite being a core subclass, the Totem Warrior has managed to keep up with power creep and still stays powerful and fun to play 8 years later. 

If you want to play a tanky, powerful melee character with a lot of flavor and a surprising amount of options available, you should consider rolling a Totem Warrior and showing your foe the true, animalistic rage of nature. 

Sage Gamers

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