Conan is the classic barbarian. Most artwork for this class depicts someone from a tribal background in some type of leather clothing covering only the bare essentials to be considered “decent,” wielding a sizable weapon. While there is nothing wrong with that image of a barbarian, it is only one interpretation of a barbarian. The problem with it came in when some versions of the game mechanically reinforced it. As late as D&D 3.5, a barbarian was illiterate unless you took “reading” as a language. This meant that all barbarians are tribal. Personally, I am quite glad this has been done away with. It allows for different interpretations of what a barbarian can be. One such interpretation: the movie Falling Down. In it, Michael Douglas plays a man who has simply had enough, lashing out at the problems he sees in society. This is one reason why I like the 13th Age and D&D 5e idea of background separate from a class and am glad that it looks like Pathfinder 2e is going that route as well. Ever wanted to play a noble that rejects the laws their family set up? Now you can.
When coming up with this 5 Questions I took a long look at modern and even some classic iterations of the barbarian class and decided to focus in on a few aspects that I feel are key: using anger as a way to help them fight, self sufficiency, and a natural instinct to spot danger. To see which aspect of the other classes we focused on for their 5 Questions posts, see what we posted for the bard, cleric, druid, fighter, monk, paladin, rogue, sorcerer, and wizard.
1) Where Does Your Rage Come From?
The classic answer is that you are an uncivilized person and you simply cannot control yourself. While this answer is perfectly fine, this is far from the only available option. You could be cursed (ahem, failed science experiment) that when you get into a fight you lose your head and fly into a battle rage, potentially making you a danger to everyone in the fight except yourself. My personal favorite is the civilized person that use to make biting comments and engaged in sarcasm–letting the rage inside of them out in small doses–but saw their friends and loved ones hurt and finally unleashing the full force of their anger. I like this one because it subverts what many expect a barbarian should be, opening up a range of character possibilities.
2) How Do You Try to Emulate Your Characters Rage?
This question is quite a bit more meta than the other questions we’ve asked in the 5 Questions series, but I think it is important with the barbarian. A barbarians rage is meant to be uncontrolled, reactionary. It is telling Hulk to “smash,” because telling him anything else isn’t going to help. So when you are done with your turn, you have to sit and wait for everyone else to take their turn. That design choice lends itself towards a more thoughtful, tactical approach to your character. If you play it like a tactician, carefully considering every move to figure out what is the optimal course of action, you are not letting your character live as they should. So to help me get into my barbarian more, I intentionally choose less than optimal actions if it means it would be more reactionary. When facing multiple opponents, I generally go after the toughest looking enemy until one of my allies is hurt, then I rush to attack whomever was hurt (prioritizing the squishiest ones first), taking whatever attacks come from leaving an enemy in the middle of a fight. But that is just me; how does your way to attack your enemies reflect being in an all-consuming rage? Do you ignore all but the closest enemies to you? Do you just run through your enemies, one attack at a time, no matter if they drop or not? What is your style?
3) How Do You Reflect Your Ability to Spot Danger?
The barbarian class typically grants some advantage to spotting danger. How do you reflect this in your character? Are you jumpy, ready with a weapon in your hands because a cute, fluffy bunny rustled some bushes nearby? Are you constantly looking g around, trying to maintain a constant vigilance? Are you always listening to everything going on around you? How do you role play your ability to spot Danger?
4) How Did You Learn to Depend Upon Yourself?
Barbarians are frequently have the survival skill and other skills that would help them do well on their own. That is understandable considering the classic barbarian is one that shuns civilized society for the natural world. It even makes sense for the civilized barbarian; getting angry rather quickly tends to drive people away, requiring you to depend upon yourself more. If you’re cursed, you probably do not want many people around you for fear they will get hurt, promoting self sufficiency. So what was that like? If you are a societial outcast, how do you make clothes for yourself? What was it like learning to hunt? We’re you raised by a tribe and they taught you? We’re you always on the outskirts of civilization and had a basic idea of how to survive on your own before, even if it was not previously your soul source of survival before and now it is? Did you almost starve before learning how to use a bow? Do you trade with the local tribes, helping you get what you cannot do yourself?
5) How Much Does It Mean to You That Your Companions Accept You?
No person can exist without interacting with others. Even the most standoffish dwarf still needs friends. Barbarians may be self sufficient, but they still need friends and companions as well. So what does that mean to you? Put it another way: what will you do to protect them and keep them? Being with a person that frequently gets angry is not an easy person to get along with and after you failed to hear the cries for help from your fellow adventurers yet again because you were fighting the toughest-looking bad guy might mean they are not happy with your character. So how far is your character willing to go? Should such a situation arise, how will your character grow and change? Who will you become?
Catfolk are known for being free spirits and Khol Saka is no exception. He roams the plains, playfully pouncing on whatever trouble comes his way, appearing more care free than most humans. Just don’t get him angry; you wouldn’t like him. It is as if he turns into an uncontrollable green rage monster, even if he still looks like a catfolk on the outside. He will scratch the face off of anyone that hurts him or his allies, unable to stop himself even if he wanted to.