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Classpiration! Episode 2

A deep dive into the many ways to build fun, unique barbarian class characters. Let’s peel back the layers and have some barbari-FUN!



Barbarism or just their style? Moving beyond the “Himbarian”

In this series, I’ll go through classes and subclasses in Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition and apply them to their real-world associates in history and sometimes contemporary culture and suggest how you can flavour them in a way that feels more dynamic or realistic.

Somehow, media in its most caricatured forms has misconstrued the ideas of giant, muscular, warriors to be synonymous with personalities that are akin to stereotypical depictions of neanderthals. Now of course recent media has shown a more nuanced side to “Barbarians” or seemingly bloodthirsty warriors so it’s important to ask ourselves in the D&D space how to flavour everyone’s favourite damage dealer into something other than an endearing and muscly “Himbo”.

For those out of the loop on the lingo, a Himbo is defined as “an attractive but unintelligent man”. The “attractive” aspect often refers to extremely fit bodybuilding types. Kronk from Emperor’s New Groove or Grog from Critical Role are good examples of contemporary Himbos that are still fun to play in D&D, but what if that’s not your speed but you still want to Hulk smash your way through a campaign?

Well then let’s look at some character options!

The Stoic Giant

When I say giant it doesn’t necessarily mean they need to be monolithically tall, but rather carry themselves and their strength with prominence. Think of a character that is a gentle giant but doesn’t know their own strength, or one who approaches all social encounters with disarming gentility, knowing their size is intimidating. When it comes to the Stoic aspect, we get flavours of a stalwart warrior whose purpose was possibly foretold by a seer or a god (Zealot Barbs, am I right?). Stoicism is very much a descriptive that builds someone who is sure of themselves but could also be a dreamer and enterpriser, think Ragnar from Vikings. Ragnar is introspective about his destiny but his cleverness wades into ambitious and foolhardy risks which even out his character since his genius and cunning is balanced by his impatience to explore and rule. Stoicism allows for quiet and deep-thinking characters who may choose their words carefully and efficiently, they will do more than say, and when they speak, the group will be surprised, but also listen closely. Sure, a Barbarian may not have something to say about the Evil wizard’s potential spell powers, but while the casters are driving themselves mad with the potential risks, the Barbarian could take note of weaknesses in the old tower’s fortifications. He would definitely be marking patrols of the monsters at the gates and peeping through windows. 

See, through this first re-flavouring, we see that low intelligence only means a lack of acuity to academia. I was never great with university exams or thesis papers either, but I’m more than literate enough to be writing this article. If we look at great “Barbaric” figures in history, we’ll find an insane amount of thought and cleverness they brought to the lands they conquered and the battlefields they bloodied. 

Although highly draconic in law structure, Kublai Khan’s Mongol Empire resulted in a vast and connected realm of many religions, cultures, and client Kingdoms. His cleverness in political navigation and subterfuge to unite the Mongols seems to write more like a Rogue or Ranger, however, when it comes to his rulership and the fights he was in, could delve into that feeling of a Barbarian after his golden years on the battlefield. 

The Berserker

Many look to Berserker-like warriors from Norse history and legends. Wearing wolf skins and not much else whilst cleaving through ranks of the enemy. Although this classic depiction of D&D’s Barbarian Rage mechanic has merit in our world, try to think about how these Berserkers lived outside of battle, were they boisterous? Quiet? Addicted to readings of their fate? We all know what they look like blood-soaked and reciting paraphrases of Conan lines, let’s think about their lives outside the battlefield and how their relationships were formed with others and their families. This can help build out the usual expectations and create someone truly unique in the party.

Imagine a Path of the Totem Warrior Barbarian, leviathan in size and a demon on the battlefield, but once his herb and fungi-infused imbibements wear off and the adrenaline cools, he crosses the battlefield solemnly, visiting the bodies of those he felled with ceremonious respects. With a character like this, a Cleric or Paladin may not be the only classes that have some emotional impact during funeral ceremonies of fallen NPC’s or party members. 

The Self-Aware Warrior

At the heart of this character is your classic Himbo Hero except he knows his limits and tries to find ways and people that can fill in the blanks of his knowledge to keep him up top. So you see he is tactical in his goals even if his knowledge of the civilized world and sciences are lacking. For example, here’s how I played my Barbarian, Fonázei Dynatá, a Leonin (Lionfolk) Zealot Barbarian from the plains of Oreskos. This was a campaign that took place in the Magic the Gathering setting of Theros, so the Gods are very interactive with the heroes of the world. Fonázei felt there was no one left to beat in combat prowess in Oreskos among the Leonin Prides and wished to prove himself in the lands beyond the mountains. Ignorant of the world beyond but strong in resolve, he was approached by a colossus image of Klothys, the Goddess of Destiny, who promised to lead him through this world with a destiny befitting such a warrior and guide him to a Pride to call his own. Fonázei takes this offer and promises to fight and compete in gladiatorial combat in her name knowing full well he is better off with such a guide than to traverse these new lands alone. Throughout the campaign, he builds this dependency on Klothy’s guidance when he feels lost, unsure, or cautious of the decisions ahead. I never played this character as uneducated or stupid, but he definitely had his moments of bragging and strutting his strength, looks, and the trophies of those he defeated that dangled like baubles on his Mane. 

So next time you’re prepping your next barbarian character by sharpening your greatsword or roaring into the stormy night in battle paint with a torch raised high, just remember that beyond the mauling might and muscle of a Barbarian is still a brain. There are years of knowledge and discipline built around an intense way of life, and in itself, a philosophy. Make sure you ask yourself how that can be let loose in the next campaign you play. 

Written By: Christian A.V. Petrozza
IG: L2S_Entertainment
Twitter: @Late2theShowEnt

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