This bit of fun comes from the twisted mind of BDC.
Ok, before I get started, I would like to make something perfectly clear. There is nothing at all wrong with playing a Barbarian and pulling a ‘Willingham’ by simply saying, ‘I would like to rage’. If you’re either a new player or a player that would rather live without the complications of explanation, backstory or roleplay when it comes to Barbarian rage then the following if not for you. And that is fine.
However, one of the many services we ‘bring to the table’ includes playable options and flavor. As with anything in D&D, it’s a salad bar not a boot camp. Take what you want. Leave the rest.
So it is with the Barbarian class. It is arguably the easiest classes to play. No spells. No messy techniques to learn. And no pesky alignments with gods, patrons or oaths. All you really have is Rage and damage or the lack there of (pertaining to the Barbarian).
The one thing the player playing the Barbarian never really has to do is explain. Rage comes with the territory. And, seeing that you are one of the major damage dealers of the party and take a great deal of attention away from the more ‘squishy’ characters, no one in the party stops to ask, “Hey, where does this RAGE come from?” And no one really thinks the Barbarian is going to be the fount of deep, meaningfully back story and character development. But, why not?
If you want more flavor out of your Barbarian, there is no better place to start than asking just where your rage comes from. Considering all of the dark backstories littered on the road of literacy, that task shouldn’t be too daunting. Go no further than some of your heroes whether they be from comics, books, movies or legend.
Comics deal in a Super Mart full of tragedy and rage. The easiest example is the Incredible Hulk who, over the decades, has revealed that the monster erupts from Bruce Banner’s tragic youth of abuse at the hands of his father. Add to that dear ole dad killing mother right in front of him, and you have plenty of excuse for some old fashion RAGE!
Death and loss can also feed the rage tank. Batman, although not technically a Barbarian, is driven by the world-jarring death of his parents. This moment could be in the form of the death of any relative, loved one, tribe or even a revered teacher/master.
Literally anything that makes you or anybody angry can fit the bill. It may be as simple as a rivalry either sibling or other. It may be something someone has done to someone your care about short of death. Somethings are worst than death.
RANDOM SOURCES OF YOUR RAGE (1d6)
- An artifact has been stolen from your people. Until it is returned, your people are frozen in time. You either were not present when the theft happened or have been chosen by your god or totem to retrieve it. The passion to free your people from the curse drives you and erupts out of you as RAGE!
- Your younger sibling has been kidnapped by a rival faction and faces certain death if you do not interfere. The fear of losing someone that close pushes you onward and ignites your RAGE.
- Your world has been put into a cycle of apocalyptic destruction. You must fulfill the prophecy or watch your world burn. The pressure bearing down upon you from this task empowers your RAGE.
- Your right of passage hinges on the destruction of a rival. You will never have the respect of your people unless you end this person’s existence. Your burning need to make your people and family proud energize you in battle.
- It has fallen to you to hunt a dreaded mythical creature that has returned and is now ravaging the countryside. The longer it takes, the more innocent lives end in its wake. The frustration of the task ahead of you is the focus of your RAGE.
- You have been accused of killing your closest sibling or the love of your life. As they hunt you, you must hunt the true killer. This pursuit fuels your RAGE.
But, if none of these appeal to you, or you would like to get a bit more creative, RAGE could actually come from a whole different emotion than anger.
As already stated above, Batman’s drive came from death, loss and survivor’s guilt. The Hulk’s rage actually came from pain and abuse. It could be so much more than just simple anger. In fact, the Players Handbook calls RAGE ‘no mere emotion’. Possibly your RAGE is simply fueled by your Primal Path.
- BERSERKERS are driven by bloodlust and the ‘chaos of battle’. They just love the fight and get lost in the act of it.
- TOTEM WARRIORS are possessed with the spirits of their totems. For them, it is a spiritual journey and entering into RAGE is a way for them to get closer to their totem spirit.
- PATH OF THE ANCESTRAL GUARDIAN is a way for the barbarian to make a spiritual connection with his ancestor(s). His RAGE is his ancestor’s RAGE. When this happens, they are one. DM NOTE: This opens up a great vehicle to tell the character about his people’s past and the sacrifice his ancestor paid. When the barbarian rages, they may relive a moment of the ancestor’s story further telling them about the tribes and the ancestor’s journey.
- STORM HERALDS draw their RAGE from the storm itself; matching the intensity and fervor. The barbarian may have been scarred by the storm so the RAGE may also come from the remembered pain.
- ZEALOTS are fueled by their devotion to their god and their purpose. The path may be a spiritual journey where the barbarian comes to understand the divine power intervening in their lives.
Barbarians of Eberron are no mindless beasts, they are wanderers and nomads. On page 14 of EBERRON-RISING FROM THE LAST WAR, there is an interesting description of a barbarian that was the only survivor of their company during THE MOURNING (see the aforementioned book). What was offered next could be used in any background or development of a barbarian who survived any war or battle. Rising from the battlefield, you found yourself bound to these dead spirits. Your RAGE is a channeling of these vengeful spirits. It further suggested there may be some way to ‘put them to rest’. It could be by defeating the foe that decimated you all or possibly each one has a quest. Either way, it adds so much creative fuel to the fire.
For non-humans, it may go as deep as their innate hatred for those that eradicated their kind long ago. In this situation, we may have a Goblin who is still dealing with their inherant racism to all humans that feeds their inner rage. The story may be, hopefully, one of redemption where they come to realize that there are good humans too.
A more volatile example would be a werewolf or any were that struggles with the beast within. The RAGE comes from their inner bloodlust and their conflict with trying to hold onto their humanity.
Another great storyline to draw from is that of the Ghost Rider. Possibly, as a Warlock/Barbarian multiclass, your character has made a deal with a devil and your RAGE is an outpouring of the will and power of your patron. You could also work the demon in as a part of your totem or even your ancestor; meaning you’re a Tiefling.
You may go a step further and allow RAGE to emanate from any STRONG EMOTION! We’ve already researched the volatile emotions of anger, hatred, grief and outright bloodlust. But there are still strong emotions to pursue.
HOPE is a hell of a drug. It empowers you to go on when there seems no reason. A few of the write-ups before included barbarians that believe they are a part of a great prophecy or instrumental in saving the world from its end.
Love is even more powerful. Several of the aforementioned scenarios included the loss or kidnapped loved one. In this instance, your character’s RAGE pours out of their love for someone they must save or the love for someone who is dead.
Compassion is a two-edged sword. If your Barbarian deeply cares for the common man, their people or the downtrodden, their rage probably comes from their disgust at how those that trod over the week get away with such insolence and villainous acts.
In a horror heavy campaign, your barbarian may be fueled by his fear. Many cower in the face of such creatures, but your barbarian feeds of his own horror and fear and fights on. Most honest heroes, after all, are not free from fear, they only know how to suppress it or tap into it.
Or, possibly, you have survived so much horror in your own life that you have BECOME the HORROR! Your RAGE comes from your unfathomably dark soul.
Even darker, you have lost so much and seen so much evil and darkness that you have lost hope and allowed your soul to grow cold and deeply depressed. Most of the time you are aloft from emotions and the normal cares of this world. It irritates you for them to prattle on about their mundane lives when you know dark days are coming.
And, I’ve saved the best for last!
With Wild in the Witchlight just around the corner, it stands to reason that flights of fancy and Fey abound. So, in this setting, it doesn’t seem so strange to talk about RAGE coming from a vast, uncontrollable JOY!
With this new FEY adventure, we also get Fairy as a playable race. So, a Fairy Barbarian makes more and more sense. Heavy weapons are out. But strength is not out.
One suggestion is a grappler that picks opponents up and drags them 45=50 feet in the air and drops them.
PATH OF THE BEAST barbarian may be an interesting build with this small Fairy using animal attacks or PATH OF WILD MAGIC may be more on point since it IS FEY.
The sight of an extra exuberant fairy much like Tinkerbell in HOOK would be commonplace in the Feywild. But seeing the excitement and outright joy as fuel for the RAGE is just insane. A grinning, giggling Fairy racing toward you, dual axes spinning should send many a foe running in terror.
That is all for now. I may get our optimizer, PANDA, to build me my FAIRY BARBARIAN for a Character Reference. Until then, don’t forget that we run the COLDBREW every Saturday around 8 PM on Twitch (themagictavern). Lately we’ve been tacking each class much like what I did here, but we talk over the different subclasses, the ins and outs of them and even talk optimal builds with our man PANDA. Let us know in the comments original things YOU have done with YOUR Barbarian!