Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything brings a little bit of, well, everything. There are updates and new subclasses for each class. The class we’ll be looking at today is the barbarian, and the two subclasses that have been added. How do they compare with other primal paths? Let’s take a look.
Barbarians only get a couple of new class features for their tune up. They are already one of the stronger classes in 5e, so that makes sense. What they got isn’t too groundbreaking; just a bonus to skills and mobility. These are welcome changes, however. More skills means the barbarian doesn’t feel as much of a combat only class as before, and more mobility helps them jump right into the fray where they want to be. Neither of these changes are going to put barbarian over the top, but they’re not useless by any means.
The first subclass for the barbarian is the path of the beast. For walking this path, your barbarian will gain the ability to transform in beastly ways. This manifests as natural weapons, mutations that your body undergoes. It’s like lycanthropy lite. As you progress, you’ll become more attuned to the beast within, gaining more long form benefits. Eventually you can pass on this animalism to enemies, forcing them to attack each other or take more damage. At the peak of this path you can let your allies join your pack, bolstering your health and their attacks in the process.
This subclass is alright to me. I like the idea of the half transformation to animal, much like a lycanthrope, so the flavor is pretty good there. The power of this subclass has a real strange curve, however. The forms are extremely good in the early game, with the claws being exceptional. However the bite falls off pretty quickly, only healing you for a small amount and only in situations where you’re likely taking too much damage for it to matter. The next two features are also lackluster, only granting you good benefits in certain situations. But the final feature is absolutely devastating. Granting an extra damage die to a monk or warlock can cause enemies to go down before the GM has time to react. It may make the levels of wading through the other features worth it, but it will feel like a weird progression. I might try this for specifically low or high level campaigns, but probably not a full one.
The other barbarian subclass is the path of wild magic. This path aims to emulate a wild sorcerer, and does a decent job at it. The iconic feature of this subclass is the wild surge added onto your rage. Whenever you rage, you’ll get to roll on a table for a random effect, like a smaller wild magic surge table. All of the effects are benefits, so the randomness revolves around what benefit you’ll receive. The next feature allows you to channel your magic into others, granting them a bless like effect or even restoring spell slots. It also uses a D3, and if you’re wondering what that is, so are the rest of us. The next feature allows more uses of your wild surge, but only upon taking damage. It’s a neat way to give some consistency to a chance based subclass without taking away that aspect. The final feature of this subclass takes that cool bit of design and throws it out the window. This feature allows you to roll twice on the table and choose either effect. And if you roll the same number twice? You get to ignore the wild part of this class completely and pick your benefit!
This subclass confuses me from a design standpoint. It starts off strong with the wild surge table being so much fun, and even adds some non combat utility with the ability to detect magic and restore spell slots. But then they throw in that D3, which is probably the most frustrating piece of design in this book. I understand the chance at returning a 4th level spell slot might be a bit much, but if that was a concern they could’ve done a D4-1. That way it adds to the risk reward nature of the class. The design then seeks to redeem itself by elegantly giving you a bonus that lets you reroll under a certain circumstance. Then they undo that with an ability that can just let you pick a surge. I would’ve liked to see them lean more into the random nature of the class, perhaps allowing the barbarian to access the sorcerer’s surge table, perhaps on a critical hit. As it stands now it is a potent subclass with some disappointing aspects. I’d run a character with this as a multiclass, but I’m not sure it’s worth the commitment past a certain level.
These barbarian subclasses have potential, but certain aspects are holding them back. The flavor of each path is on point, really driving home the fantasy each sets out to. However, at later levels they dwindle on that aspect. These subclasses seem like perfect candidates to multiclass with. A beast barbarian would pair nicely with a druid, for a character that not only shapes into beasts, but becomes one as well. The obvious pair for the wild barbarian is the sorcerer it’s inspired by, but I think a paladin is an equally good pairing. Being able to restore spell slots for extra smites could be huge in longer fights. What do you think of these barbarian subclasses? Have they sparked any inspiration for characters? Let me know down below!