When it comes to this class, think Conan the Barbarian. The loner or nomadic fighter who comes in and crushes everyone and everything when they fight. It’s also a bit like the Hulk. A Barbarian is the type of character who is going to end up acting before speaking and doing before thinking most of the time; often, people are going to shy away from them.
In Dungeons and Dragons, the stereotype for this class is the Half-Orc Barbarian who is taller and stronger than everyone else and really stands out. People give them a wide berth when they’re walking around town, and the adventuring party they’re part of would probably have a little bit of infamy because of having a half-orc in their party. We’ve had a Half-Orc Barbarian in one of our games before, in a session prior to Dungeons and Flagons. They were a chaotic evil character, which was interesting to work into the party. I think they bordered on not being completely evil — they would sometimes kill indiscriminately, but never went against their own party.
From a mechanical standpoint, the thing that stands out about Barbarians is their rage feature. They are obviously going to be strength-based fighters, and oftentimes aren’t the face of the group, but they become even more powerful in combat when they go into a frenzy and rage. That allows them to do extra damage and makes them a major wrecking machine in combat. It does present an interesting role-playing aspect to lean into as well. For example, how blind is the rage that they are going into? Does it have negative effects on the party if they get too out of control?
So, Why would a Barbarian join an adventuring group?
If you’re going chaotic neutral, it’s very possible that they would do it for money. They are in it for themselves, and they want to get money and loot out of the deal, which is why they stick around. It is also possible that they have been kicked out of their own clan for some reason. Maybe they weren’t violent enough; maybe they were too violent; maybe they learned to read? It would give them a reason not to go back somewhere, and since the adventuring group took them in, they wanted to stay with them. That provides more connection in some ways than the greedy character who wants enough money to retire nicely or to get solid gold armor so they can show it off to people.
What are some backstories that could be used?
Maybe your Barbarian was part of a raiding party that got captured when they tried to pillage a village. While the rest were killed in the party, she turned on her clan and started teaching the villages how to defend themselves from the rest of her clan. They in turn taught her to read, and she is a more mild-mannered Barbarian than most. However, one day something happens in the village and she gets blamed for it, whether it was her fault or not. Now she has to find somewhere to go, since she can’t stay in the village or go back to her tribe.
Or you could be a Barbarian who was a mercenary in a war, but now it’s peacetime. They didn’t know how to do much else, and started drifting from place to place, getting into bar fight after bar fight, and getting further and further into debt. Finally, an adventuring party came along with dreams of gold, but with a squishy Wizard and Rogue in the party, they needed someone to do their heavy lifting and someone who knew the Dwarven mines that they were going into, so to get out of town and get fighting again, the Barbarian signed on with the party.
Or maybe, growing up, your Barbarian lived in a peaceful society; however, he wasn’t as smart as the other people in his town. He was the one who was always getting into trouble. Not feeling at home in his own town, he decided to branch out on his own. It didn’t take long for him to come across a traveling troupe. Their strongman was getting older, and so he took the Barbarian under his wing and started teaching him how to be an entertainer. Eventually, the Barbarian took over as the strongman for the group and found out everything the group was actually up to.
Or possibly, you were party of a raiding party in a large-scale conflict between two kingdoms. You got separated from your party and spent a long time looking for them, but weren’t able to find them or learn what had happened to them. In fact, many things about where you are seem unfamiliar to you. Now you’ve latched onto a group that seems like they know what they are doing and might possibly be able to help you sort out where you are and where you came from.
One last scenario–perhaps your parents always knew you weren’t quite right in the head. As a kid you’d be the sweetest thing and then fly off the handle for no reason. As you grew up, you learned how to channel your anger more constructively, but one day, you flew into a rage and hurt one of your parents. They would have forgiven you, you know that, but you couldn’t let it happen again. Leaving home was the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but it was necessary. Now you try to control yourself, try not to lose yourself to rage in case you hurt someone else you care about. You were doing fairly well on your own, but now there are goblins coming together in the woods, and you had to tell someone, so you’ve signed on with a group that can hopefully help stop the oncoming war.
Would you play any of those Barbarian backstories? Have you played a Barbarian in a game before, and if so, how did you like it? What are some good things about being a Barbarian, and what are some bad things?