Character Reference Special: Barbaric Transformations

Ok, so this weekend we started our COLDBREW series on our stream. We decided to run the list of classes and, not only, look at the optimal builds, but, as is our speciality, get creative and brew some ‘out of the box’ Barbarians. Something we ttouched upon but didn’t really have time to flesh out was figuring out how to make a transformation like a Jekyll/Hyde or a Banner/Hulk work. So, I waited for this article to flesh it out. Let us know what you think and leave some thoughts in the comments. We don’t brew in a vacuum, dudes!

And catch out next COLDBREW on Bards this Saturday on Twitch at around 7 PM.


As the classic’s title states, it IS a strange case. A normal, respectable man becomes an uncontrollable monster. In the story that spawned them all, honorable Dr.Jekyll concocted a potion that allowed him to live out his drives, lusts and unleash his repressed brutality in the form of Mr Hyde. It was a study of the times where the author lived in a world much like a double edged sword with the pretty, civil world most saw just within reach of the decadent, savage double. London was this sad story and it was not so much a story of a separate entity upon this world but allowing the beast within to come out and play.

But if one wants to play such a duplicitous character, there are several ways to do this besides being true to the Robert Louis Stevenson’s original vision.

The other example that is a more modern version of Stevenson’s book was that of the tale of Dr. Bruce Banner who brought this idea into the atomic age by unleashing the beast, The Incredible Hulk, not by drinking a potion, but bombarding himself with radiation. Nuclear energy was a concern in the sixties while I was growing up, so this beast coming from science was understandable.

But it was more than just releasing a beast. Like much of the versions that came after Stevenson’s original, there was a shift in the theme. Banner’s monster was not a hedonistic abuser that played out the inner fantasies of a repressed man. NO, this beast was a manifestation of Banner’s repressed rage stemming from his experience of systematic abuse dealt out by his father.

But there are many sources of which a monster could manifest from the mind and soul of a person. Possibly they lost someone dear to them; saw them die right in front of them. So many heroes’ journeys seem to begin with trauma.

The beast could manifest from a need to exact revenge. Find the murderer who did this awful thing. All the while, they try not to just become what they hate. Batman is a lesser example of this manifestation of a creature that is built to exact your revenge only to become a beacon of justice and hope. There’s no physical transformation there, but you can’t deny that there was a vast difference between Bruce Wayne and the masked vigilante, Batman. While this was more a masquerade than Banner or Jekyll, the boy that saw his parents brutally murdered went from a caterpillar of anger and loss; busting from the cocoon as the symbol of fear for criminals like the one that drastically changed his life.

I’m going to table this discussion for now but I’m also working on another article about where the Barbarian’s Rage comes from and will probably flesh this out even more there. I’ll leave a link here when it’s done.


Ok, once you decide you want to play a character like this, what do you do first? Well, first of all, this is something you and your DM will have to have some long discussions about. This is nothing to go into unprepared and NOT for new players or DMs.

Once you begin this discussion, you will first of all have to decide where your ‘road to transformation’ began AND what triggers it.

Yes, you will need a TRIGGER. Now, I’m no doctor, but, if you’re going to play a character with ‘multiple personalities’, you will have to get control of it. It can’t be something that you can just jump back and forth in. Number one, it’s a difficult thing to roleplay and will take someone with an expertise in it. Number two, allowing a character to just run in and out of character changes will bring distraction and chaos to your party. No, it’s best if the transforming personality be triggered by some external force.

Art by Akreon on Deviantart

One of the most well known transformations in D&D is that of the Lycanthrope. We know that this curse either came from a bite from another werewolf or it existed in your bloodline. The trigger is usually the full moon. Simple. And, although a little disappointing, there are mechanics to play a Werewolf in 5E. You could use the Rage of the Barbarian to trigger the transformation into the Were.

But your transformation into whatever creature you’re attempting to bring to the table can come from many other stimulus. Maybe it started with chemical experimentation like Jekyll. Check out the build at the end where we attempt to do just that with an Alchemist/Barbarian build. You could have your character have to ingest the potion each time to enter into the transformation or have it trigger on its own as a result of the chemicals you have experimented with.

Come check out our original character reference: Jeckyll/Hyde for YOUR D&D campaign!


Possibly, the transformations started due to either a magical accident or experimentation much like Banner with the Hulk. This could benefit from an unconventional Wizard/Barbarian mix; probably Transmutation.

I know what you’re saying, but there’s a way to make this work. I mean, there are times that the character won’t be raging and some magic could enhance the Barbaric side of our Banner. See our Hulk/Banner build here!

Maybe the source of your transformation isn’t horrible at all. You could develop a connection with a deity of ANY sort and be on the path to transform into a favored thrall and representitive of this god.

This build could veer from the Barbarian altogether. This could be totally Cleric or multiclass with Barbarian; using the Rage as a focus to trigger this divine warrior! We will link this one also.

Another possible source is nothing close to divine. POSSESSION is another possible source of this life changing transformation.

I will revisit most of these suggestions down the road; especially this one. I think Warlock is an easy pic for this one. One could either create a subclass as a way of using this one class to play out the change or add Barbarian Rage as a mechanic. So MAYBE a Warlock/Barbarian could work. Link coming.

We’ve also already dropped an article for our VENOM build. This one’s all Barbarian with some symbiote flavor from Ravenloft.

See the VENOM build here!

This is an overview that will also link to the various builds that should all come in the next week. Let us know what you’ve done or any suggestions. And catch us this weekend as we talk Bards on COLDBREW on our Twitch!

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