Unearthed Arcana – Barbarian Primal Paths

Over the past month or so, WotC have decided to put out Unearthed Arcana (UA) each week, rather than each month. I’m a little late to the party, but thought perhaps I should provide short reviews on each (hopefully I’ll catch up at some point)!

Before we start, I ought to say I’m not the most efficient optimiser or min/maxer in the world. My D&D maths is not always spot on, but regardless I think I’ll be able to talk about which abilities I like, as well as their impact on the game.

I’m going to assume that you’ve already read, or are reading along because there seems little point in me retyping each UA! (link below)

The first set of UA are Barbarian Primal Paths. We’ve seen some new options before in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, but it’s always nice to see more player options.

Path of the Ancestral Guardian
Although I’ve only been running D&D for the past 3/4 years, in that time I’ve DM’d for around 5 or 6 groups of players, and something I’ve seen numerous times are ‘shaman’ or ‘witch doctor’ homebrews. Some have been more cleric or ranger-like, but one sticks in mind as a front line fighter. If this path had existed before, I think he may have used it.
The premise behind this path is that when you rage, you become linked with the spirit world and your ancestors there.

Ancestral Protectors
Already we can see that this path will focus on protecting others, as well as yourself. I think the flavour here is great, as it goes straight in with the spectral warriors. This really gives this barbarian a different feel to the other paths. Mechanically I think it’s a little flat, as barbarians are typically front liners, thus taking most of the hits. It’s good action economy but is, in my opinion, considerably less powerful than say 3rd level Wolf Totem.

Ancestral Shield
Again, I’m not too sure how this barbarian would really work in combat. Most barbs are front liners, who enjoy taking the hits. So far the abilities focus on protecting others, which thematically I like, but in reality can’t see getting much play. Typically the people playing barbarian want to be Conan-style fighters, who are hard to kill and hit big. These abilities sort of do the opposite. That being said, it’s a potential lifesaver.

Consult the Spirits
Kinda ribbon-y, but often 10th level abilities are. I think it fits the theme and works, nothing much to say. The only comment I’d make is that it’s limited to 3/Long Rest, whereas the other PHB 10th level abilities aren’t. Not really sure why.

Vengeful Ancestors
Good flavour, good action economy, fits the barbarian’s love of DPR well, cracking ability. Pretty balanced in comparison to Retaliation.

Conclusion
I like the flavour of this path a lot. Spiritual warriors are something that I have seen a lot of demand for, but I’m not sure this really ticks the box. I think it’s probably slightly underpowered, and although the theme of helping your allies above yourself is a good one, I’m not sure it’s needed in the barbarian class. I don’t think your ‘typical’ barbarian players will be too enthused by this path, once they delve into the mechanics.

Path of the Storm Herald
My favourite build at the moment is the Storm Surge (Storm Sorc 18/ Tempest Cleric 2) so I’m excited to see what this has to offer. Lots of tempestuous lore in the description so hopefully it lives up to it mechanically! (also Storm Herald is a sweet name).

Storm of Fury
I both love and hate this ability. I truly relish the idea of a literal storm of energy surrounding a raging barbarian. I think it’s possibly a little bit too powerful, but not gamebreakingly so. My biggest bugbear (hehe) with this is the maths. The sea subset is fine, 2d6, increasing by 1d6 regularly. 2 + barb level / 4 is not cool. Are we using BODMAS here? Do they mean 2+(lvl/4)=2.25 or (2+lvl)/4=0.75. All they needed to do was include one example to clarify this. Why not just give the progression numerically as with the sea subset? This really needs clarifying and ruins an otherwise awesome ability.

Storm Soul
I think this ability is a little meh, I guess most will take desert to mute those potent fireballs a little. I think it works thematically but isn’t much to shout about. I like that we’re still being given choices though.

Shield of the Storm
So this makes up for Storm Soul in my opinion. In other primal paths you get another mechanical bonus at 6th then a ribbon at 10th. Here they’ve kind mixed the two, so you get a relatively weak mechanical bonus plus some flavour, and then an upgrade at 10. Not sure how much sense it makes thematically but I like it. My biggest issue is that being able to hold your breath or avoid extreme temperatures is a cool ability, but it only lasts as long as the barbarian can maintain their rage. That means it lasts a maximum on 1 minute, provided the barbarian attacks a hostile EACH TURN. So if you want to swim down to that aboleth’s lair, you better hope the barbarian has some fish to punch.

Raging Storm
Another aura effect that’s pretty powerful, especially in combination with the Storm of Fury ability. For example, if you take the desert subset, and reduce foe’s speed to 0, plus an insta-damage aura which is now doing either 6 (5.5) or 4 damage your DPR is going to soar. They’ve done a thing again where they change the strength of an ability based on whether there’s a save involved or not. I’m not going to do the maths to work it out, I’m sure someone else will, but it could make the choices a little sticky for some.

Conclusion
Overall I do like this path. The flavour is pretty good, the abilities are powerful but not insane, as all the damage is aura-esque. Despite this aura focus it doesn’t step onto the paladin’s toes at all which is good to see. The only thing that lets it down is the maths. Just provide an example. It would have taken them literally 2 minutes if that. Admittedly the difference is only a few points of damage, but if you’re hitting everyone within a 10-foot radius (maximum of 20 people?!) it will make a difference (if you’re rounding down it it’s a max difference of 40 damage per turn).

Path of the Zealot
Speaking of paladins, I really hope that this doesn’t overlap too much. I have a paladin and barbarian in my group at the moment, and it does strike me that if the paladin gets a little lazy, forgets to cast their spells etc. and just smites, they might as well be playing a barbarian.

Divine Fury
Another insta-hit aura. Seen it before but I guess this is slightly different. I don’t hate it, but I don’t love it either. I think it made more sense on the Storm Herald.

Warrior of the Gods
A second 3rd level ability which is great. I love the flavour of it, I love the mechanical aspect. I guess some DMs may not bother with material components of spells, but I do if there is a material cost. I think this ability will cause the barbarian in your group to die more, but that makes for a pretty awesome character. The ever-returning zealot is awesome.

Zealous Focus
A powerful ability but with a balanced trade off. I think this ability is great, it makes sense within the lore of this path, kinda improves the action economy and is a definite lifesaver. Possibly for the rest of your party too. Mind controlled barbarians are lethal.

Zealous Presence
Yeah, a powerful and sensible ability which fits with the theme. I like it very much. Gets more powerful in larger parties but I’m not sure that it matters too much. It’s kind of a paladin-like ability but it definitely doesn’t cramp their style. Probably would have called it Inspiring Presence though, I think we get the zealot message.

Rage Beyond Death
Thematically I love this ability, but it will get you killed. That being said, I guess you can be revived for free(ish) thanks to Warrior of the Gods. Basically you will become Beric Dondarrion from GoT which is rad. This also reminds me of that uruk-hai berserker at Helm’s Deep.

Conclusion
I really enjoyed this path. I think the flavour behind it is cool and merges well with the mechanical abilities. It’s possibly more powerful than other barbarian paths in that all the abilities are mechanical, no ribbon, but then Zealous Focus does end your rage, which is not ideal if you’re already dead. I think that Divine Fury could be made cooler, although admittedly I’m not sure how.

Overall I would say that I like these paths. They each have a distinct feel to them which doesn’t overlap with any other class or barbarian path. I don’t think they power creep too much, there might be a little bit in there but nothing major. I’d probably say that the Zealot is my favourite, followed by the Storm Herald and then Ancestral Guardian. I’ll be honest I think the Ancestral Guardian is a little bit lame, perhaps there will be a ranger/druid/cleric path which suits it a bit better, maybe not. The maths in Storm Herald seriously needs clarifying before it can be playable. The Zealot is wicked.

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