Barbarian vs. Fighter: Who Hits Hardest?

The two warriors carefully enter the cave. Darkness. One lights his lamp and shines it forward. The light draws across the inside of the dark, damp enclosure straight onto the huddled silhouette of two large monstrosities. They both stir and awaken. Stretching to their full height, both Owlbears let out a piercing scream.

“En Garde!” shouts the Fighter.

“AAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!!” replies the Barbarian.

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What we love about both the Barbarian and Fighter classes is that most of the time they’re ushered (sometimes unwillingly) to the front of combat. Protecting anything squishy and floppy. I’m looking at you mages. Both of them tend to be melee attackers that can hit hard and fast. Both are able to take A LOT of hits. I mean, they’re basically damage sponges. 

Send them to the front and let them kick out plenty of damage—hacking, slashing, stabbing, poking, bludgeoning through the enemy. I mean, it’s pretty messy.

This guide will show you the sometimes subtle differences between the Barbarian and Fighter classes so that you have a much clearer understanding of how each class works and sits in a game of Dnd. Prepare to be amazed! Or at least informed.

What Is A Barbarian?

Barbarians tend to be quite primal. Arriving from distant lands using anger or rage as a way of combating their enemies, their main purpose is to rage and attack, until either your enemy is dead, or you are.

When someone says the word ‘Barbarian’, possibly the first thing that pops in your mind is furry underpants and a massive weapon… Like He-Man or Conan?

Well, there is slightly more to a Barbarian than that. If you do want to play a Barbarian of that description—knock yourself out! However, you could instead play a Female Drow Barbarian that fights with a club or a Gnome Barbarian that fights with a HUGE axe (there is one in my party, a very handy and grumpy Axe-wielding Gnome named Mercurio. Very good cook).

Quick history lesson: Barbarians were originally a subclass of the fighter class until 4th Edition rules, when they became a class of their own. This is good for you because, well: more choice of Barbarian subclasses.

Barbarian Build Basics

If you’re considering a Barbarian build, there are a few key things you should know about these damage-dealing beings:

Ability scores

Focus on Strength and Constitution ability scores. They offer the ability to both give and take maximum damage.

Weapons

Barbarians are great with a huge weapon that dolls out ferocious damage, such as a great sword or a great axe. However, if you want to wield a pair of daggers (because that’s all your barbarian tribe knows), then go for it. Variety is everything in DnD.

Hit Dice

A Barbarian is the only class to get a D12 hit dice, which means lots of hit points. With a good Constitution modifier, you can get a lot of hit points early on.

Armor

And they tend to wear less or no armor thanks to the ability ‘unarmored defense’. We’ll talk about that in the next section.

The Key Skill of Every Barbarian: Rage

Ok, so there is one Barbarian ability that really needs to be mentioned: Rage. The primal anger of the Barbarian is their core ability.

Barbarians can rage as a bonus action and what you get is:

  • Advantage on Strength checks and Strength saving throws
  • Bonus damage with Melee weapons, which increases as you go up levels
  • Resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage

Another ability barbarians have from the get-go is unarmored defense; calculated as 10, plus your Dexterity modifier, plus your Constitution modifier. Handy if you like the furry underpants look. I’m looking at you, He-Man.

The starting abilities of any Barbarian build set you up as a massive damage-dealer and -taker.

As you progress further up the Barbarian levels you get extra attacks and extra rage abilities—different modifiers and advantages when you rage as a Barbarian.

Barbarian Subclasses

There are quite a few subclasses to play if you’re interested in building a barbarian, each one of them is different but still quite rage-tactic and primal. Here is the list, full of angry destructive flavors and their special abilities:

  • Ancestral Guardian: Conjure up your dead ancestors to help you win battles.
  • Battlerager: Dwarves only. Gain specialized pointy armor to charge at your enemies in. Could be messy.
  • Beast: Grow teeth, claws, and other nasty bodily features to bite, tear, and basically rip your enemies to shreds. Charming!
  • Berserker: Frenzy while raging, doing ultra damage—but with the cost of fatigue afterward. Have a nap.
  • Storm Herald: Be a nature-loving Barbarian, who uses Desert-, Sea-, and Tundra-influenced abilities to enhance yourself and your attacks. High-five, Earth!
  • Totem Warrior: Zone into animal spirits to gain spectral beast powers. Growl.
  • Wild Magic: If you love random, magical danger, this is for you. Every time you rage, you have to make a dice roll on the wild magic table. Something unpredictable and magical happens. Thanks, Feywild.
  • Zealot: Get help from the gods to hit harder and cause more ragey destruction. Praise be.

What Is A Fighter?

A fighter is basically what it says on the tin. A Dnd character that fights mostly using strength and weapons to cause damage to the enemy.

Fighters. Boring? Predictable? Too vanilla? Well maybe, but that depends on how you play one. When we think of a fighter, we think of the valiant hero that runs forward in battle with a sword and a bit of armor. Well, stop right there, my friend. Yes, you hit things, and yes, you can take a lot of damage, but you could also argue that fighters have a lot of scope for interesting variations on this ancient archetype. All you need is a bit of imagination.

So, what makes the fighter a good class to play? Scope and versatility. You can literally pick a race and weapon then build your fighter around that. In fact, you could just build your fighter character around your weapon.

You can play the traditional Knight with a sword and shield, if you like. Or, you could spice it up a bit and  play a vegetarian tortle cook that wields a frying pan to anyone that harms buffalo or chickens—or a one-armed Halfing miner that swings a pick and has a rather unhealthy obsession with silver. Fighters don’t have to be predictable or boring if you aren’t.

Fighter Build Basics

If you’re considering a fighter build, there are a few key things you should know about these potentially complex weapon-wielding folk:

Ability scores

Depending on what type of fighter, Strength or Dexterity may be your main abilities to pump your points into. And like Mr. Barbarian, you get saving throws in Strength and Constitution.

Hit Dice

You get a lovely D10 dice for your hit points, which is not bad. Plenty of scope for thick hit points with a Con modifier.

Weapons

Lots of weapon proficiencies to choose from. Pokey Poleaxe? No problem. Big-ass bow? Yes! Whip? Er, good luck?

Armor

You are proficient in all the armors. So, if you love a full plate protecting all the important bits or leather for ease of use, it’s all fully covered. Add on a shield—or two!— for extra AC.

What’s more, you can play a ranged fighter using a Dex-based build. Or with some subclasses, you can try your hand at building a magic fighter.

Fighters Aren’t All Hack and Slash, You Know

Ok, so fighters get some nice straight-down-the-line abilities as they gain levels.

Let’s start at the beginning:

Fighting Style

Choose a particular fightin’ style at level 1 from the many available, such as Archery (+2 to attack), Defense (+1 to AC while wearing armor), or Dueling (using one weapon and no shield gets you a +2 bonus damage), to name just a few. Each fighting style has a different bonus, allowing you to really develop the style within your fighter-based character.

Second Wind

Also at level 1, second wind allows you to gain back 1D10 worth of sweet, sweet hit points. Essential abilities, my friend.

Action Surge

Appearing at level 2. This ability allows you to take additional actions, such as another strike during your turn, and 

Extra Attacks

Starting at level 5. You get extra attacks as you rise up the levels, finishing on four attacks at level 20. Stab, slash, poke, and stab.

Also worthy of mention for the fighter class are the ability score modifier and feats. As a fighter, you get more ability score improvements or feats than the other classes as you go through the levels. A Fighter gets seven, whereas a mage gets five 

Ability Score Improvements

Add points to your Str, Dex, Con, Int, Wis and Chr to increase your modifiers.

Feats

Special modifiers and advantages for your character.

This allows further customization of your fighter, really expanding the character’s abilities and flavor. Boom!

Fighter Subclasses

Fighters have an absolute ton of subclasses. Adding more lovely customization to your character. I’ve listed them below. Have a look.

  • Arcane Archer: Forget swords, bows, and magic—arrows are where it’s at. Use a Dex-based fighter build for this one.
  • Battle Master: This subclass offers tons of combat maneuvers, giving you even more options to cause lots of problems for Mrs. Dragon and Mr. Troll.
  • Cavalier: Great if you fancy yourself as a horse rider with matching abilities.
  • Champion: Straight-down-the-middle rough and ready fighter, furthering those basic combat abilities. Rough and ready!
  • Echo Knight: Bring a friend to help you whack your foe. An Echo of yourself from an alternate timeline. Spooky.
  • Eldritch Knight: When you can’t decide whether you’re a fighter or a wizard, bring magic to the table as well as hack and slash. A total blast! 
  • Purple Dragon Knight or Banneret: The diplomatic fighter, uses inspiration and leadership to bash your enemies’ heads in. Practical.
  • Psi Warrior: Use your mind to cause immense pain on the battlefield and possibly a bit of shielding. Thought provoking.
  • Rune Knight: Channel the power of the ancient giants to manipulate runes for magic and such. 
  • Samurai: As well as gaining fighting skills to help on the battlefield, the Samurai gains some proficiencies for those more social situations. Polite and reserved.

Honorable mention: The Gunslinger class, created by Critical Role DM and Exandria Unlimited player, Matthew Mercer. It’s a bit of an unofficial homebrew, but I’ve got to tip my hat to Mr. Mercer as he and the CR team really got me back into Dungeons and Dragons. They are the reason I’m writing this article now!

  • Gunslinger: Expertly shoot things with pistols, if your DM allows it. Pew, pew.

Whichever of the subclasses you choose, consider it an extension of your core fighter characteristics.

Barbarian or Fighter, Which One Gets Your Vote?

So there we have it. Two of the tankiest classes, but really different from each other.

Reasons to Play a Barbarian:

  • You love a hard-hitting beasty bruiser
  •  You’re a Newbie: Great class for beginners
  • Tanky as heck
  • Can take A LOT of damage
  • RAGE
  • Furry underpants (optional)

Barbarians tend to follow a narrower path than fighters: Keeping the rage as their core skill and building on a more primal combative player character. They deliver lots of damage and capitalize on the ability to take lots of hits from the bad guys. Did I mention rage?

If you love the thought of a character that is spiritually tuned, covered in animal skins, and has a penchant for furry underpants, then perhaps a Barbarian is the way to lean. They’re simple to play with lots of creative beastly characteristics.

Reasons to Play a Fighter:

  • Super customizable
  • Great to dip into as a multi-class
  • Lots of ability score and feats
  • Action Surge
  • Tons of Attacks

Fighters, on the other hand, are very customizable, with lots of options to develop your character. Primarily, it’s someone that does damage with a weapon, wears armor, and is at the front of every battle. With a huge volume of possible attacks, each fighter is way different from another.

Fighters are a great class to multiclass with. I have done this with both my Rogue/Swashbuckler and my Ranger/Gloomstalker. Dipping into Fighter in a build can add a solid combat background to any PC. At 1st Level it allows you to pick up a Fighting Style and the Second wind ability (roll a D10 on your bonus action to gain hit points—super handy in combat). At 2nd level, you get Action Surge (an extra action during combat). Multiclassing into the Fighter has been really handy for both classes. 

A Final Thought

Remember, there is no wrong character in Dungeons and Dragons and this guide is here to help you make playing even more fun. Elf or Assimer, sword or bow, full plate or furry underpants: It’s up to you!

We would love to hear your thoughts on the Barbarian vs Fighter. Which one is your favourite and why? Tell us about your best Barbarian or Fighter builds.

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