Welcome to our second in the series ‘When is a barbarian NOT a Barbarian?’. Now, just so you can understand and not get confused, were talking about PCs or NPCs who are born in a barbarian tribe, NOT multiclassing with the Barbarian class. Last week, we tackled one of the hardest classes to couple to raging ones; Artificer. This week, we’re showcasing something a bit easier to accept: Sorcerer!
When I began playing D&D back in 1st Edition, our DM told us that all barbarians were afraid of magic. That was just the bottom line then. Thankfully, the climate for 5E is a bit more flexible and forgiving. Sure, you can play the barbarians as a solid folk that fears and, maybe, even hates magic. BUT, most of your wilder, less civilized peoples seem to gravitate more to magic. There is usually a ‘medicine man or woman’ or a Shaman that acts as their physician and basic defense against all things spiritual and evil.
So, to say that one of barbarian descent wouldn’t become a sorcerer is a bit short-sighted. In fact, since the sorcerer’s magic comes organically, it just makes sense that there would be sorcerer’s acting as a shaman for their people. Usually, the leader or chieftain would strengthen their position by aligning themselves with a powerful man or woman with access to some arcane art.
In fact, in the Rime of the Frostmaiden adventure in Icewind Dale (the very adventure that started this series), there is a list of Reghed Tribesfolk and different roles they play. On that list on page 304, the Shaman is listed. But, of course, the Shaman is listed as a Druid. Now this is the natural direction one would go for Shaman and we will flesh that out a bit down the road. But I don’t see why the Shaman couldn’t be, just as easily, a Sorcerer, Bard, Warlock and even a Wizard (more on those later also).
So, when preparing my group to venture out of Ten Towns and encounter the Reghed Barbarians, I experimented a bit. One of the more talked about Shaman is that of the Bear Tribe. The Bear King has lost three wives during childbirth. ULKORA (page 305), his trusted shaman, wishes that he would look her way, take HER as his bride and she could bear him a proper heir!
My idea for ULKORA is to give her the class of Sorcerer and the subclass, Aberrant Mind. My thought process has to do with a certain psi crystal near Termalaine. Read my character reference here!
Possibly all four tribes, Bear, Wolf, Elk and Tiger Clans could have a Shaman of different classes. But a Sorcerer in this position may find their magic pouring forth from several sources.
There are those whose magic originates from a Draconic bloodline that bestows dragonlike abilities upon them. The shaman/sorcerer can chose from the lists in Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons and tap from the three families of dragons; chromatic, metallic and gem. For those in Icewind Dale, the easiest connection is with the many White Dragons that live there.
One particular white dragon of legend from Icewind Dale was Icasaracht. Featured in the video game simply named Icewind Dale published in 2000, we see the Ten Towns and surrounding area from the historic period of 1281 DR; some 200 years or so before the Rime of the Frostmaiden. Icasaracht was slain by the legendary warrior, Aihonen, and the dragon queen of the Spine of the World was laid to rest at the bottom of Lac Dinneshere which borders Easthaven, Caer-Konig and Caer-Dineval.
Aihonen’s descendant, Jhonen, took up the legacy by accepting his ancestor’s sword, the Blade of Aihonen. Although broken, it was still very sharp. What happened to this sword is unknown.
For a while after, an isolated and forgotten tribe, The Tribe of the Great White Wyrm, continued to worship her. Your character or NPC could actually be a descendant of this great tribe and be accessing their power from spirit of the Dragon Queen flowing through their veins.
Possibly a descendant of Icasaracht, there is an encounter with a white dragon known to all as The Great White Wyrm or to the more knowledgeable as Arveiaturace that hunts the Sea of Moving Ice and lairs atop the Reghed Glacier. Once again, your character or NPC could have a powerful connection or be drawn to the creature. And a barbarian shaman who draws upon the power of the ‘Great White Wyrm’ would demand respect, awe and reverence from many in the wild. More than likely, this sorcerer would be aligned with the above clan rather than the four main tribes.
You could possibly be tapping into wild magic surges that, at times, you have no control over. This proves to be a chaotic element that can bring a bit of levity to the table, but can also endanger the party, so be careful. Maybe you’ve been touched by the dangerous Chardalyn metal that taints your soul and attempts to enslave your mind and drive you to insanity. Or some entity has affected you; something from the Fey or the lower planes. There is also a possibility that there is a Wild Magic Zone somewhere in the wild of Icewind Dale that you have had an encounter with. The barbarians that have come into contact with Chardalyn have become outcasts of the tribes. But having a shaman among them that could bring chaos to the battle would up the ante on the CR dramatically.
Your character or NPC could easily draw its power from the storm as scene in the Storm Sorcery sublclass. But here, instead of focusing on thunder of lightning damage, we skin this subclass with cold damage, snow and blizzard effects. Your magic may be fed by this endless winter or even connected to the Frostmaiden herself. Imagine getting to the end of the adventure and having to choose between the survival of the whole region and losing your magic. This really gives you a chance to flavor your magic with the very thing that threatens to destroy civilization in Ten Towns. This could also make your character a target of the Ten Towns as they perceive you to be part of the threat. But, as a barbarian, this one makes absolute sense. A shaman that could call on the storm would demand respect from the rest of the tribe. This could especially be perfect if one of the tribes is aligned with the Frostmaiden and is visibly drawing their power from her.
On the contrary, you could take the Divine Soul subclass which would inspire hope and confidence that your magic comes from some divine source. Possibly a connectioin with a good aligned god that wants to see the warmth come back to Icewind Dale. Amanautor seems like a good choice seeing that there is a shrine in Bryn Shander and the symbol of the sun in the midst of this killing winter would gather support and belief. But, coming back to the barbarians, it would be unique and strange for one of the shamans of the Reghed tribes to represent the sun itself. This would probably be a subclass more suited for a Ten Towner or visitor.
Even more extreme is the Clockwork Soul subclass. Your magic may have come from an even more direct source. Mechanus may be attempting to orchestrate an end to the nonending winter and your connection to this plane or the creatures that eminate from it may be powering your magic to bring order back to Icewind Dale. However, It would be a stretch to connect the rage filled chaos of the barbarian life with the order of this power.
Or, besides drawing from order and light, your character takes the Shadow Magic subclass. Having the shadows empower your magic, once again, you are divided about stopping Auril and her winter’s onslaught. It being dark all the time in the Ten Towns and surrounding area would benefit you. But the disastrous end is just too much. Fighting a barbarian who can use the shadows just seems terrifying also. And a shaman who controls the darkness would rise to power among the barbarian tribes and add danger to any encounter.
As you can see, there a lot of great choices among the Sorcerer Subtypes that could add flavor and power to any barbarian or barbarian encounter. Having a shaman of such power flanked by the raging warriors we’re used to in a barbarain settlement or hunting/war party could spice up and beef up what could possibly come off as just another fight with vanilla barbarians.
This is a part of a series and I will be visiting all classes as we flesh out those barbarian encounters a bit more. Check out the Artificer options here. And, for the ABBERANT MIND subclass, check out my article on the Shaman of the Bear Tribe, ULKORA.