1. Barbarian

1. Barbarian

And off we go with a new column! Are you excited? Yes? No? Well, it doesn’t matter, It’s my job to get you excited!
First of all I would like to explain why we are creating this new column: the creation of a character is always a delicate matter, both in case it’s carried out by a player creating his or her PC or in case it is done by a DM creating an NPC. But unfortunately, the tendency is that the purely mathematical aspect of the game – i.e. concentrating on statistics only to be able to say “I go into a rage and charge the enemy. I deal 323 damage. Is the boss dead?” – is the one that gets more attention.

Of course this is not true for everyone, but I have noticed that there are many guides on the web on how to build an optimized character. Sometimes even more than optimized, which results in pure powerplaying.

While there are not many articles that can help players and DMs to build a better character in terms of flavor, on how to roleplay the character. And here is the reason for this series.
I would like to analyze the various classes of the game, not from an in-game-mechanics point of view, but from everything else that surrounds them: their origin, their history, their role in a party, perhaps even giving you some tips to allow you to build better, more complex and less obvious characters.
This is why we are starting off today with one of the most famous classes, often taken for granted and that never departs from its stereotype: the Barbarian!

1.1 Origin of the term

First of all, let’s talk about how the term “barbarian” was born.

We find it for the first time in Greece, where the civilized peoples of the Polis used it to refer to those who did not speak Greek, using the term “bar-bar”, or those who stutter.
The Romans later used this term even more disparagingly, to indicate a population that not only did not speak Latin, but that did not even have written laws, a well-structured government or all the rules that the Romans considered “civilization”. This definition will be used even during the Christianization of the Roman Empire, and then would come to define those peoples who would have definitively annihilated the empire, forming the Roman-barbarians kingdoms. Also in the rest of the world the word barbarian has always served to indicate a foreigner, a person who is part of a culture considered inferior to that of reference.

In the end, everyone belonging to another people was considered a barbarian

It will only be during the Illuminism period that the figure of the barbarian will be re-evaluated, introducing the “good savage”, a character not corrupted by civilization and who maintains the fundamental moral values of goodness and honesty,  able to strongly oppose the difficulties of life and nature.

1.2 In Dungeons & Dragons

In D&D, Barbarians have appeared since the First Edition of Advanced D&D, representing the nature’s wild and primordial fury. Let’s see how they evolved over time.

1.2.1 Archetype

The origins of the Barbarian in D&D can be traced back to a very famous literary character, namely Conan the Barbarian, the notorious warrior created by Robert Ervin Howard. Conan is an exceptional warrior, a fierce pirate, capable of killing any creature, magical or otherwise, that gets in his way; but he also has a bit of chivalry in himself, saving young girls in need, even at the cost of his own life.

Conan has almost superhuman characteristics, such as incredible strength, feline agility and great endurance, as well as a huge build. In the stories, Conan adapts his clothing to the lands in which he travels, while in comics he is usually depicted wearing only a loincloth and his sword. Although he relies mainly on his strength and his sword to solve problems, Conan is not stupid and learns a lot during his travels, learning ancient languages and becoming a great general and even a king.

No enemy (or woman) could resist Conan

Two other sources from which Gary Gigax took inspiration to create the Barbarian were two characters who were a little less famous than Conan, but still equally peculiar: Kothar by Gardner Fox and Fafhrd (yes, that’s the way it is written) by Fritz Leiber.

On the one hand, Kothar is a barbarian very similar to Conan. We could even say that Kothar IS just like Conan, just a little bit more simple-minded and much more violent, since his author took a lot of inspiration from the stories of Howard, having been written about ten years later. The two share a love for adventure, women and battle, but the adventures of Kothar, probably due to Fox’s writing style – he’s of the greatest comic book writers of all time after all – are much more exaggerated, absurd and loaded with WOAH moments, when compared to those of Conan. But no matter what dangers Kothar will face: his magic sword can solve every problem, all he needs are a couple of swings.

Fafhrd, on the other hand, is a bit different from the two, indeed he has a sword, is good at fighting and loves having fun with beautiful women, but it is difficult to imagine him without his companion Mouser. The two cooperate to live adventures that are even more fantastic – in a literary sense – but no less engaging than those lived by Kothar and Conan and, at times, even more serious and introspective. Fafhrd is a stoic warrior of the North, pragmatic in reasoning and perhaps simple-minded, but he does not hide a romantic soul, presenting many traits that bring him closer to the common man, far more than his two counterparts.

Fafhrd and Mouser

1.2.2 Evolution of the class in the different editions

Having first appeared in the Unearthed Arcana manual of Advanced D&D, the Barbarian is one of the oldest classes in the game, even though, initially, he was just a Warrior Subclass. Having become a full-fledged class in the Second Edition of Advanced D&D with The Complete Fighter’s Handbook, the Barbarian also appears in Third Edition as a base class, being described as a warrior with incredible strength, who uses his Rage to get stronger and enter a state of blind fury, hardly suited to the finest reasoning, to the point of becoming almost illiterate. In the next edition, the Barbarian gets even stronger, with his Rage feature providing him even bigger bonuses than before. In Fourth Edition the Barbarian is introduced in the Player’s Handbook 2 as a fighter capable of causing massive damage to a single target and channeling his anger to use his powers. Finally, the Barbarian also reappears in Fifth Edition as a base class.

During the various editions the Barbarian did not undergo many changes, remaining in fact a warrior who lends himself more to the use of brute force than to a well-defined fighting style, often not civilized, even though in the Eberron setting they are described more as nomads, but who still reject civilization and prefer to live in the wild. Perhaps such a description can give very few tips on creating a barbarian other than the fierce, wild man of the woods whose only solution to problems is violence, but the Barbarians can be much more than this.

Fury, glory and battle. This is the classic D&D Barbarian

1.3 Character Creation

After seeing the origin of the term, the sources of inspiration and how the Barbarian evolved through the various editions, I would like to give some ideas on the creation of the character and on how to roleplay it.

1.3.1 The origins of a Barbarian

So, Barbarians come from the margins of civilization, from communities that reject large cities and populous agglomerates of humanoids, preferring a simpler lifestyle, in which Nature is a fierce opponent, but is also profoundly respected.

Obviously, where your Barbarian comes from and why they decided to go on an adventure depends on the setting in which you play, but there may still be various situations that can adapt to each world.

In the first case, maybe your Barbarian is just a young man, eager to prove his worth to himself and to the other members of his tribe or clan, so he could decide to leave home, either to come back with a great trophy, or because a rite of passage requires him to leave to make experiences around the world.

In a second case we could see the Barbarian exiled from his homeland, probably because of a very serious crime they committed and for which their only alternative was death.

The third case that I propose is instead something more peculiar, something that however requires the approval of your DM: the Barbarian, in this case, is not at all an uncivilized Barbarian, but instead, they are just a normal person, of any social rank, who harbors within themselves that primordial fury that makes it very little suitable to live together with other people, preferring to aimlessly roam around the world. In this case the Barbarian does not come from a savage tribe, but from any city or village and is not a barbarian in the classic sense of the term, but is addressed as such only because their signature class feature, Rage, makes them dangerous and unstable in the eyes of many.

1.3.2 The personality of a Barbarian

Not all Barbarians are brutal simpletons focused only on smashing things. Of course, if they are from a tribe that lives in a jungle or in a desert they will not know all the wonders of the civilized world, but this does not make them stupid.

Obviously, this depends on how experienced the Barbarian in question is: a young man will be more impetuous and convinced that their great strength and ability will allow them to break down any obstacle, but an older and more experienced warrior will have with a greater sense of danger, making them capable to discern when they are outclassed in strength and will have a notable survivability. In fact, I am convinced that in a world where magic is real and monsters wander around the planet, a person cannot survive for long without learning from their mistakes. Surely their Rage will always push them to action, but I don’t think a Barbarian can identify the weaknesses of an opponent or the best way to destroy an enemy before throwing themselves into the fray.

Furthermore, I am convinced that Barbarians can have a sense of honor comparable to the one of the more “civilized” warriors. Perhaps they have an even greater sense of honor, preferring to face an opponent they believe is their level, rather than someone they consider weaker than them. Obviously this does not mean that Barbarians who prefer to have all the advantages of the case, without caring too much about trivial things like honor and justice do not exist. This is not what keeps you alive in the forests.

Instead, a Barbarian from the city will surely be more malicious and cunning than a more primitive one, as it is generally easier for cities to be full of thieves and liars. Probably a Barbarian of this type will be more inclined to evaluate his opponent before acting, even though, since he still possesses the same primordial fury, it will not take long for them to bring the pain.

1.3.3 The role of a Barbarian

Finally, what role should a Barbarian have in the group? Well, it depends on many factors, like his personality or the place where he comes from. He could be a silent and somewhat grumpy warrior, who prefers to sit back and not engage much with their companions, or an easy-going person, who hides a kind and good-natured heart under his ferocious appearance, but is always ready to become a war machine; or he could be a madman, a crazy murderer who thinks only of carnage. We remember that there are no rules that forbid barbarians to be evil, but only to be Lawful.

It will be up to you to decide how to make it evolve during the adventure, depending on what happens to it. Maybe their travels will broaden their vision of the world and push them to want to see more and more. Or maybe they’ll decide that, nah, in the end it’s better to go back home. In any case, don’t hold back, try to make your Barbarian unique and special, even though at times it may seem that all the characters in this class must be the same.

I hope you enjoyed this little guide and we’ll see you next week with the Bard!

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