Dungeons and Dragons (5th Edition): How to Build a Barbarian – A Combat Guide

Want to be the master of the battlefield with your barbarian? Check out our guide down below.

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Dungeons and Dragons has been keeping fantasy role-playing alive for over 40 years. Now on its 5th edition, D&D has undergone some significant changes over the past decades. With the game having experienced a massive resurgence in the past years, more players than ever are now delving into this highly popular role-playing game.

With that in mind, here is a detailed build for one of the top tier classes from within the game.


Dungeons and Dragons is a highly complex game. The game allows players to assume fantastical roles and to explore interesting, exotic places. To some, the game is an improvisational exercise. It allows for players to role-play their greatest fantasies with their closest friends. To others, D&D is all about raiding dungeons and slaying monsters. Sword and shield in hand, these players seek out to create incredible stories of their own through conquest and glory. If you want to learn how to make the most out of your character in combat, then look no further. Here is a top tier build for one of D&D’s strongest characters.

If you would like to learn how to build some of D&D’s other classes, check out our guides down below.








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The barbarian is a fairly strong class. If built properly, the barbarian can be an exceptional tank. Simultaneously, the class can offer significant damage output and greater mobility than most characters. The real strength of this class, however, is its ability to sustain damage and protect its allies.

There are different ways to build the barbarian. For instance, the “Berserker” archetype is a great choice for players looking to up their damage output. The “Frenzy” ability offered by the archetype grants players an extra attack as a bonus action during their rage. Beyond that, the barbarian’s “Fast Movement” ability makes the class well equipped for dashing into the enemy’s back line and pressuring their weaker members.

While this barbarian build can deal some significant damage, there are other classes that can do just a little more in the damage department. The barbarian, however, also has other strengths.

The barbarian uniquely has the largest hit die out of all of D&D’s many classes. Beyond that, the barbarian can halve physical damage during a rage. Consequently, the barbarian is a class built for tanking damage. The “Ancestral Guardian” barbarian archetype rather uniquely offers a great set of skills to bolster the barbarian’s ability to utilize their heartiness to their team’s benefit. So, the “Ancestral Guardian” archetype will be the primary focus for this build.

Character OptionBest ChoiceDescription
Race: GoliathThis race offers a bonus to both your strength and constitution scores. The race’s “Stone’s Endurance” ability also adds a small level of sustain.
Primal Path:Ancestral GuardianThis path’s “Ancestral Protectors” ability is a great tool for any tank, as it greatly dissuades enemies from attacking your allies.
Feat #1:ToughThis feat grants your character an extra 40 maximum health by level 20.
Feat #2:SentinelGreat for any tank, this feat helps you lock down your opponents so that they do not run off to attack your allies.
Feat #3:Pole arm MasterThis feat will give you an additional attack every turn.
Ability Score Improvement #1:+2 ConstitutionYour job here is to be the team’s tank. Consequently, you are going to need lots and lots of hitpoints.
Ability Score Improvement #2:+2 ConstitutionYour job here is to be the team’s tank. Consequently, you are going to need lots and lots of hitpoints.

When it comes to this build, the name of the game is to tank. The barbarian’s job is to protect their allies and to sustain a brunt of the oncoming force’s attacks. Consequently, the barbarian needs to be able to draw aggro from enemies, sustain in battle and keep their allies unscathed.

If the goliath race does not fit your fancy, the dwarf and half-orc race also mesh well with this build. The half-orc race is better for slightly higher damage output because of the “Savage Attacks” ability. However, the hill dwarf race has a “Dwarven Toughness” ability that can boost your maximum health by up to 20 points. It is important to remember, however, that dwarves have reduced movement. Consequently, you will not be as capable of reaching allies in need if you choose the dwarf race.

The ancestral guardian primal path is a wonderful choice for tanking barbarians, as the archetype is almost entirely built to reduce damage received by your allies. This can make an enormous difference on the battlefield. However, the totem warrior primal path can also be effective for tanking barbarians if you choose the Bear totem.

You will gain resistance to all damage types except psychic damage when raging, which will help provide additional sustain in battle. However, the totem warrior primal path offers little else that would significantly aid a tanking barbarian. Consequently, the ancestral guardian path is going to be your best bet.

Concerning chosen feats, the feats listed above are focused on increasing the barbarians damage output, sustain and ability to reduce damage to allies. All of these features are important for a tanking barbarian.

Character OptionBest ChoiceDescription
Weapon:HalberdThis heavy, reach polearm will allow you to make the most out of your sentinel and Pole arm Master feats. This way, you can stop your opponent’s in their tracks before they ever make it to your allies.
Armor:Half PlateBarbarians are not proficient in heavy armor, so this is the best armor you can effectively use without having a hefty dexterity modifier.
Skill Proficiencies:Athletics and IntimidationThe athletics skill is a highly popular skill check, making it nice to have a bonus on hand for. As a persuasive skill, intimidation can really help flesh out your barbarian out of combat.

You will not have as high of an armor class without a shield. That being said, using a pole arm will greatly increase your ability to stand your ground and protect your allies. Your damage output will be significant. However, the real advantage here is that your threat range is higher with a pole arm. Thanks to our selection of feats, you will drop an enemy’s movement to zero whenever you strike them with a reaction attack while they are entering or leaving your increased threat range. This is a great way to act as an offensive line of sorts for your team.

AbilityAbility Point AllocationDescription
Strength:16 (14+2)Boosting your strength will increase your damage output and your attack bonus. Consequently, strength is secondary for this build. Note that this ability has been boosted by a +2 racial bonus.
Dexterity:13Dexterity is a nice ability bonus to have, as there are many skill checks dependant on dexterity. Beyond that, however, dexterity is an incredibly important saving throw and will greatly improve your armor class. That being said, this ability will have to take a backseat for this build.
Constitution:20 (15+5)Constitution is paramount for a tanking barbarian. This ability will boost your maximum health and one of your most important saving throws. Note that this ability has been boosted by a +1 racial bonus and two separate +2 ASIs.
Intelligence:8All of your mental abilities are dump stats.
All of your mental abilities are dump stats.
All of your mental abilities are dump stats.

Warning: Concerning your ability scores, the graph above is using the standard 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8 ability allocation that players can use if they do not wish to roll their stats. That being said, your dungeon master will likely have you role for your stats rather than allocate your ability points manually. 

If you are rolling your stats, just make sure to prioritize constitution and strength above all others. Strength is secondary to the build, while all of your mental ability scores are dump stats. If you want to balance your build more in favor of damage than your ability to tank, then focus on strength before constitution.

For all your D&D needs, check out Dungeons and Dragons Guides Portal – Anything and Everything D&D.

Hunter Boyce is a writer, which probably seems pretty obvious with "author" prominently displayed. He mostly writes about video games. However, he was previously a mixed martial arts news writer. When not writing about people pelting each other in the face or about leveling up in the latest RPG, he tends to spend his time as a web producer in Atlanta. You can shout all of your MMA and video game related quandaries at him at @SomthinClever on Twitter. Feel free to make your demands to him in ALL CAPS. He loves that.

1 Comment

  1. Josh kaufman

    I’m playing an Ancestrial Guardian Barbarian and I disagree with this build. I think the best thing you can do with a build like this is find a way to get your AC as high as possible and focus less on damage. I see this barbarian as more of a defender role than your typical barbarian that does a lot of damage. Which means the build is more dex based than str based. My barbarian rages when he goes into combat, but he fires a ranged weapon at the enemy. While he loses the benefits of rage damage, the rage benefit still comes into play with that enemy. Imposing disadvantage on the melee character that is going toe to toe and giving disadvantage. Plus the added boost of reducing damage by 2d6 (or higher depending on your level) if your ally gets hit. I think it works great in tandem with a heavy damage dealing character. My build is as follows:
    Stout Halfling

    Str: 8
    Dex: 17
    Con: 16
    Int: 10
    Cha: 8
    Wis: 14

    ASI: +4 Con, +2 Dex, Resilient Dex, Shield Master (Evasion as a reaction against things like dragon breath, meteor swarm, etc.)

    At level 20, he is looking at a base AC of 24, not counting any magic. And 285 HPs. 24 Con and 20 Dex and a shield help here.

    You aren’t doing a ton of damage with a rapier and shield: d8+5 as a starting point. But the primary role is to act as a defender for the heavier damage dealers. So the bad guys either target the enemy damage dealers with disadvantage and resistance. Or they target you, but you have a high AC. So its a win win either way.

    I suppose you could play an ancestral guardian as recommended above and just be Str/Con focused. But then Mobile would have to be your first feat and you would have to almost melee whenever you can.

    I’ve thought about the mobile feat, but if you get your AC high enough, you don’t need it and you want to go toe-to-toe with the big baddies anyway to provide an alternative target.