This Guide is designed to give you a deeper understanding of the choices you’ll make when creating a Totem Warrior Barbarian. You will learn what makes them stand out, their strengths and any limitations. Our thoughts on Multiclass options. Ability Scores – Races – Backgrounds – Skills
Following that is our Progression Section. This is a sort of snapshot of how you’ll start, and when you get skills and powers after that. You will find things like Hit Points, Proficiencies, Equipment, any Class specific skills. Then we go through what you’ll get at each level as you progress your character.
Feats come next, and we wrap up the creation and progression with an example build.
At the end we provide a long form discussion of the things you can expect when playing a Totem Warrior Barbarian. If you want a comprehensive idea of what you are in for, outside the stats and choices, you will find it there.
You can jump to all of these topics in our Table Of Contents right below:
Black Citadel’s Ranking and Tier System
Color and Tier ranking is very helpful when you’re trying to digest a lot of information. In our ongoing series of 5e class guides, we use the following color rating scheme:
- Red – C Tier. Red options can sometimes be situationally useful, and might make for an interesting narrative choice, but are largely less effective than other tiers.
- Green – B Tier. Solid but nothing that is absolutely critical for a build, or Green can be very good but only in very specific situations.
- Blue – A Tier. An excellent choice. Widely regarded as powerful in some way, useful, highly effective.
- Purple – S Tier, the top of our rankings. Objectively powerful or transformative in some way. No choice in D&D is essential, but these options are worth strongly considering when you create your character.
Our goal here is to provide scannable, but comprehensive guides for you as you develop your character.
While we might sometimes make reference to unofficial or homebrew content to illustrate a point (or just because it’s too cool not to talk about) every option we suggest is legal in the official rules for D&D 5e as published by Wizards of the Coast.
What is a Totem Warrior Barbarian?
The Totem Warrior is a barbarian subclass that focuses on connection with the natural world. These are barbarians that feel more like tribal warriors than heavy metal album cover art.
As implied by the name, your barbaric rage is fueled by your connection to an animal spirit guide which you can invoke to provide you with magical powers.
Totem Warrior Barbarian Class Defining Abilities
Totem Spirit: At third level you pick an animal spirit and create a physical totem to represent it. You can choose from Bear, Wolf, Eagle, Elk or Tiger. You will choose to add another animal spirit to this Totem at level 6, and again at level 10. They can be the same or different choices at each stage.
Different totem choices can provide you the option to be a truly terrifying force on the battlefield with strength to spare, others can turn you into a support system that controls the outcome of the battle without having to cast a single spell. This is a subclass option that is as versatile in combat potential as it is exciting to roleplay.
On top of that with a theme that can at times feel more druid than anything, you’ll have access to abilities that will keep you relevant outside of battle.
Speak with animals and beast sense provide you with the opportunity you’ve always wanted; to play the hulking giant with rippling muscles who just wants to pet that skunk over there and recruit it for their army. At later levels you even get the ability to summon a spiritual aspect of your guide to commune with and essentially peek behind the DM screen.
Totem Warrior Barbarian Limitations
The only weakness that warrants mentioning is that there are only five choices for your spirit guide. Realistically though, with three stages at which you choose a spirit guide (three segments to your growing totem) that means 125 options for your full totem, which is certainly enough variety.
And if you really don’t like the five options published by WotC you can search for some fanmade varieties and end up with options like shark and elephant that can totally shake up your game.
Synergies and Multiclassing
MULTICLASSING: Not recommended. Consider it after level 14.
SYNERGIES: Totems are generally the Tanks of the group. They can take and deal damage. As such they synergize with other classes by taking the heat off of them.
No matter how you choose to build this class you’re going to end up with a powerhouse capable of dealing some real damage and taking some big hits. This means that you can be in just about any type of party while filling a meaningful role.
Casters and any ranged attackers can enjoy their backseat view to your carnage while having time to maintain concentration on some big spells.
Melee brawlers will benefit in one way or another from fighting by your side; be it some power emanating from your totem or just the fact that you’ve managed to kill just about everything in sight.
As for multiclassing, the best parts of this subclass come at level 14 and missing out on them would miss the point of taking this path.
After that point though you might have some really creative ideas on how to move forward with your character. Incorporating four levels of druid, enough to get a decent amount of spell slots, a ½ CR (Combat Rating) wild shape, and your foot in the door of a druid circle.
This gives you a very deep role playing experience and something to fall back on if being in the middle of the fight isn’t the way to go right now.
Keep in mind that multiclassing holds certain requirements. Multiclassing into druid for example requires you to have a wisdom score of 13, which isn’t in any of the builds later in this section.
Planning to multiclass from the beginning might seem overwhelming, but it just means making sure you are closer to that 13.
The biggest reason these requisites exist is to keep you from falling on your face when you get new abilities such as wisdom based spellcasting; not going to work so well with an 8 or 10.
Barbarians are strong and can take a beating, they are damage dealing tanks. The Totem warrior doesn’t stray from this archetype enough to warrant any different allotment of ability scores.
You still want to put your best two numbers in strength and constitution. After that it’s all in how you want to play your character.
MAIN STATS: Strength and Constitution
STR – Pick things up and put them down… and beat the snot out of the bad guy
CON – This is where your meatiness comes from, the higher the modifier the higher your health.
DEX – If you plan on taking advantage of unarmored defense (10 + your DEX modifier + your CON modifier) to the fullest, then this is a great place for your third best stat, but it should never exceed strength or constitution.
INT – Let’s face it. You’re not the brains of the operation.
WIS – This can be really fun if you want to play a wizened warrior with a deep connection to the world around him, but it’s not going to help you in the numbers game.
CHA – Intimidation is the only reason to put a good number in this slot, but it’s a great reason. If that’s the kind of character you want to play it’s a sure shot for your fourth best, maybe even your third.
As a Totem Warrior your “spellcasting” is all ritual based and won’t rely on any of your ability scores so that’s not something we need to find in a racial bonus. That leaves us looking for bonuses in the two categories any barbarian would be looking for, strength and constitution. I’ve put a few of the races that fit that goal underneath.
Dwarf – This will start you off with a +2 in constitution and resistance to poison damage. Choosing a subclass comes down to whether you want a fun feature or higher ability scores.
Hill Dwarf – The wisdom score bonus of +1 here isn’t going to help you much, but it can save a dump stat from being completely useless. The Dwarven Toughness here is a great help though, increasing your hit point maximum by 1 at every level.
Mountain Dwarf – A strength bonus of +2 gives us everything we’re looking for with 4 free ability score points in all the right places. The Dwarven Armor Training does nothing for us as a barbarian because we already have light and medium armor proficiencies.
Half-Orc – A strength bonus of +2 and a constitution bonus of +1 brings us close to the mountain dwarf in terms of ability score potential. The menacing ability is going to give you proficiency in Intimidation, a great role playing potential for any barbarian. What really makes this a standout choice is the Savage Attacks feature. This is just the level 9 Brutal Critical feature skinned as a racial trait, allowing you to start dealing even more extra damage on critical hits as soon as you choose your weapon. By the time you reach level 9 you will be dealing INSANE amounts of damage when you roll that beautiful twenty.
Minotaur – Another Str +2 and Con +1, the minotaur from the Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica is a worthy inclusion for a barbarian with deep connections to their animalistic side. Having an imposing presence means proficiency in either intimidation or persuasion, so you’ve got a few more options. YOU HAVE HORNS! That might seem obvious, but the amazing part here is that your horns are weapons that you can even use for a bonus attack after you’ve succeeded in an attack with a melee weapon.
Outlander is really the only option that has any strategic value to a barbarian of any variety out the gate. You get automatic proficiencies in two of the six options barbarian gives you, making your life a little easier in the decision making department. The wanderer feature lets your character memorize terrain that they’ve traveled so you don’t have to, a nice bonus by any right.
That being said, backgrounds are an amazing space to explore your backstory. If you choose the soldier background for example, you get to come up with a fun reason why you left the army and decided to follow a spiritual path; maybe you’re embracing your tribal roots or maybe you had a vision where you met with your spirit guide and they sent you down a new path. Backgrounds are so much more about who your character is than what they can do, so try to remember that when choosing.
As a barbarian you are given the choices of Animal Handling, Athletics, Intimidation, Nature, Perception, and Survival. Picking up a skill outside this range from a background isn’t frowned upon, but make sure you have a reason for doing so, and the ability score to back it up.
Animal Handling (Wis) – Thematically appropriate, but you’ll probably use speak with animals more often.
Athletics (Str)- This is the only skill that actually uses strength. You basically need it.
Intimidation (Cha) – Again, thematically appropriate. Some DM’s will even have you use strength as your ability modifier for this, but don’t count on it.
Nature (Int) – A helpful skill but others can do it better.
Perception (Wis) – The most common skill in the game.
Survival (Wis) – Not a very frequently used skill, but can be useful in niche situations.
Totem Warrior Barbarian Class Progression
Features that you automatically obtain through the barbarian class will appear in Orange and features that you gain through the totem warrior subclass will appear in Pink.
Filling The Character Sheet (Level 0)
Hit Points: 12 + CON modifier
Hit Dice: 1d12 (per barbarian level)
Proficiency Bonus: +2
Saving Throws: Strength, Constitution
Skills: As a barbarian you are given the choices of Animal Handling, Athletics, Intimidation, Nature, Perception, and Survival.. Picking up a skill outside this range from a background isn’t frowned upon, but make sure you have a reason for doing so, and the ability score to back it up.
Other Proficiencies and Languages:
Armor: Light Armor, Medium Armor
Weapons: Simple weapons, martial weapons (for those keeping score, this means all weapons)
Languages: Check your race and your background.
Rage – This is the hallmark of a barbarian. Going into a rage gives you advantage on strength checks and saving throws, resistance to most forms of physical damage, and a bonus on damage rolls made with melee attacks. At level one you can use your rage twice every long rest, and you gain additional rage at levels 3, 6, 12, and 17. At level twenty you have an unlimited supply of rage to syphon off of.
Your rage does only last a minute, but that’s in game time, and often includes an entire combat with ease. It will also end if you get knocked unconscious or don’t attack a hostile creature. So you know… attack things.
Unarmored Defense – Your Armor Class (AC) is 10 + Dex modifier + Str modifier while you are unarmored. This means that unarmored you’ll have an AC rivaling even the strongest medium armor.
Reckless Attack – A reckless attack means you get advantage on attack rolls with melee weapons, but attack rolls against you will also gain advantage. With high enough AC and HP this shouldn’t be a problem for you, so you’ll probably be choosing to make most attacks recklessly until such a point where someone actually manages to deal more than a flesh wound.
Danger Sense – Advantage on Dex saving throws against the likes of traps and other effects you can’t see. Who says a beefcastle can’t be nimble?
Primal Path – This is when you actually start to see benefits for taking the Path of the Totem Warrior.
Spirit Seeker – You gain the ability to cast beast sense and speak with animals as ritual spells. These are mostly role play spells, allowing you to gain a better sense of what’s going on outside of battle.
Totem Spirit – Choose your first totem. All of the abilities here are all only active while you are raging.
Wolf – Gives allies advantage on melee attack rolls while within 5 ft of you. Probably the most consistent way of creating advantage for allies in the whole game. An absolutely amazing support option.
Bear – Resistance to all damage except for psychic is insane for a third level character. Probably the best choice here, and a great way to make your DM put enemies with psychic damage into the campaign. Stay away from Mind Flayers.
Eagle – You can use the dash action as a bonus action and other creatures have disadvantage on opportunity attacks. This is the option if you don’t want to waste your time fighting minions. Fly up to the big bad and take them down.
Elk – Your base walking speed increases by 15. For the player who wants to move really fast I guess? Not a great option unless you have a very specific build in mind. Just wait until level 5 and you’ll gain 10 movement speed anyway.
Tiger – Gain 10 ft on your long jump and 3 ft on your high jump. As cool as this is it’s combat potential is limited.
Ability Score Improvement (ASI) – You can either increase one ability by 2 points or two abilities by 1. Alternatively you can choose a feature, if you already have great stats this is a great choice.
Extra Attack – Exactly how it sounds, now you attack twice in a turn. Have fun.
Fast Movement – Your speed increases by 10 ft while not wearing heavy armor, which you shouldn’t need ever.
Aspect of the Beast – Now you gain some very fun out of combat features based on the second totem you choose. Keep in mind you can choose to have a varied totem or you can choose the same animal guide each time.
Wolf – You can track other creatures while traveling at a fast pace, or travel stealthily at a normal pace. Who needs a ranger when you have a bloodhound?
Bear – Double your carrying capacity and gain advantage on strength checks when pushing, pulling, lifting, or breaking objects. With your strength as high as it is, advantage on checks means being able to do just about anything you can think of so long as your DM lets it slide. I won’t give you any ideas. Cough, break through walls, cough.
Eagle – What do your eagle eyes see? A whole lot. You can clearly see up to a mile away.
Elk – The travel speed of you and up to ten companions is doubled, whether you’re mounted or walking. Turn overnight trips into brief strolls and avoid the dangers of making camp in that creepy wilderness your Dm wanted you guys to go through.
Tiger – Gain proficiencies in two skills you either already have or don’t need. Athletics, Acrobatics, Stealth, and Survival are the options and frankly, this animal guide dropped the ball on some cool camouflage potential or anything else the tiger is good at.
Feral Instinct – Advantage on initiative rolls means getting to hit things sooner. We like this.
Brutal Critical – Making a critical attack already means getting to deal some extra damage, brutal critical means even more by adding an extra die of damage to the mix. You gain another die at 13 and yet another at 17.
Spirit Walker – You gain the ability to cast Commune with Nature as a ritual spell and summon your spirit guide. This is a peek behind the DM screen and an amazing opportunity for some really meaningful role play.
Relentless Rage – If you are raging in a fight and you drop to 0 hit points just beat a DC 10 constitution check and you drop to 1 instead. What’s more is that each time you succeed the dice check drops by 5. Almost die and succeed in living twice and you’re essentially a god.
Brutal Critical – As mentioned now you get two additional die of damage on critical successes.
Totemic Attunement – We’re back to gaining rage fueled abilities.
Wolf – You can knock Large or smaller creatures prone with a bonus action if you’ve hit it with a melee attack. Now you can really be the last fighter standing… literally.
Bear – Your sheer might gives foes disadvantage on attack rolls against your allies. This means a bigger target on your back, but you can take it.
Eagle – Spread your wings my child, now you can fly. You have a flying speed equal to your walking speed. You will fall if you’re in the air at the end of your turn, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do some really incredible things.
Elk – You can use a bonus action to charge through any creature Large or smaller. If they don’t succeed on a Strength saving throw (DC 8 + Str modifier + proficiency bonus) you will knock them prone and they’ll take bludgeoning damage of 1d12 + your Str modifier.
Tiger – Another extra attack as a bonus action, but based on the condition that you ran towards them in a straight line of at least 20 feet. If you don’t mind the terms of agreement an extra attack is never a bad thing.
Persistent Rage – Your rage only ends early if you fall unconscious or choose to end it.
Brutal Critical – THREE whole die of additional damage. Phew.
Indomitable Might – If your total score on a STR check is less than your ability score, you can use that instead. Since your strength is probably at least 20, this is going to be very nice, especially on those days when your dice just hate you.
Primal Champion – Your constitution and strength ability scores increase by 4, with a maximum score of 24. If you weren’t the strongest yet, you are now.
At certain points, you may want to choose a Feat instead of increasing an ability score. There are plenty to choose from and none of them that can’t benefit you in some way. These are simply the ones we’ve selected that we believe to be the best fit for this subclass
Durable – Still gain a point in constitution and heal a minimum of twice your CON modifier when you roll a hit die.
Grapple – With your strength you’ll succeed in most every grapple you attempt so this is a surefire way to produce some advantage.
Great Weapon Master – This feat does two great things. It generates additional attacks when you either succeed in a critical attack or drop a foe’s health to 0 and it allows you to deal 10 extra damage at the cost of -5 to your attack roll. Paired with advantage and your monstrously high strength modifier this could mean attacking and incapacitating several enemies in one turn.
Savage Attacker– Being able to reroll damage is nothing to shake a stick at.
Tough – Even with the highest hit points of all the classes, there’s no reason not to take some more.
For the following example builds we’ve used the standard set of scores provided in the PHB (15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8) when deciding ability scores. The only levels mentioned for the purpose of these builds are those when you will have the opportunity to make a decision on how your adventurer grows.
Example Totem Warrior Barbarian Builds
Ability Scores: STR 17, DEX 13, CON 15, INT 8, WIS 10, CHA 12
Skill Proficiencies: Athletics, Survival, Intimidation, Perception
Equipment: A greataxe, two handaxes, an explorer’s pack, four javelins, a staff, hunting trap, trophy from an animal you’ve killed, a set of traveler’s clothes, a pouch containing 10gp
Race: Mountain Dwarf
Ability Scores: STR 17, DEX 13, CON 16, INT 8, WIS 10, CHA 12
Skill Proficiencies: Athletics, Survival, Intimidation, Perception
Equipment: A warhammer, two handaxes, an explorer’s pack, four javelins, a staff, hunting trap, trophy from an animal you’ve killed, a set of traveler’s clothes, a pouch containing 10gp
Ability Scores: STR 17, DEX 13, CON 15, INT 8, WIS 10, CHA 12
Skill Proficiencies: Athletics, Survival, Intimidation, Perception
Equipment: A greatsword, two handaxes, an explorer’s pack, four javelins, an insignia of rank, a trophy taken from a fallen enemy, a deck of cards, a set of common clothes, a pouch containing 10gp
The soldier offers you the Military Rank feature, you can use your rank to exert influence over other soldiers that might recognize your rank to gain simple equipment, horses, or even lodging.
In-Depth with the Totem Warrior
We Discuss How the Totem Plays In Game
As soon as you take this primal path at level three you will start to get some serious payoff.
Becoming a totem warrior means making your first totem and gaining the “Spirit Seeker” feature, which allows you to cast “Beast Sense” and “Speak with Animals” as ritual spells.
The spells are a great inclusion and allow you some really fun role playing opportunities as well as a rare opportunity for a barbarian to be of use outside of battle.
“Beast Sense” will give you the opportunity to see through the eyes of an animal for scouting purposes or what have you and speak with animals allows you to conjure an army of living dead to fight alongside you.
No, I’m sorry it allows you to speak with animals but that’s still a powerful and thematically appropriate ability.
There are five totems to choose from and you will have three opportunities to add a spirit to your totem.
At level three your choice will give you magical fuel that directly influences your barbarian rage.
Going into a rage already gives you advantage on strength checks and saving throws, resistance to most forms of physical damage, and a bonus on damage rolls made with melee attacks.
Going into a rage as a totem warrior allows you to channel some aspect of your animal guide while doing that. Bear is mighty, Eagle is a nimble predator, Wolf is a pack hunter, Elk is swift and strong, and Tiger…
I’ll be honest, the tiger totem is not great, but the others are awesome.
At such an early level some of these abilities really stand out and can offer you the experience of battlefield dominance that normally comes much later in the game.
Being able to seamlessly weave through enemies or resist all but psychic damage is incredible. There’s even an option to generate advantage for your allies which is absolutely fantastic.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen newer players get discouraged because of how often their rolls just kept missing.
There is a bit of a trade off here because the next choice you make for your totem won’t have any real effect on your battle strategy.
While there are some great abilities here, like being able to clearly see for up to three miles or travel at double your speed with up to ten companions matching pace, it does feel lackluster after the early level boons.
The next subclass feature comes at tenth level and allows you to cast “Commune with Nature” as a ritual spell.
At long last you can speak to your spirit guide, summon them for true guidance, tap into the ancestral well of knowledge that you took this path for, and, you know, ask the DM what their plan is with the assurance that they actually have to tell you.
As far as out-of-combat spells go, this one really has it going. Even if this doesn’t give you a new way to bash brains in, it gives you an incredibly meaningful role play experience akin to a warlock meeting their patron or a paladin their deity, and all it takes is a little ritual.
Not to understate the value of peeking behind the DM screen of course, have fun with that.
Our final step along the path of the totem warrior is totemic attunement and it is well worth the wait. Each choice provides you with some incredible options that will turn the tide of battle and allow you to embrace that animalistic side of you.
I mean for the love of Pelor, choosing Eagle allows you to actually fly! Can you imagine lifting up foes and dropping them to their deaths before doing a superhero landing with your sword inside of the big bad?
Because I can and the only thing getting in the way of that is maybe a strength check, which you”ll make.
Outside of the RAW (Rules as written)
One of the things the PHB mentions is the choice to change the existing totem animals to something more appropriate for your character. While changing an eagle to an owl might be a fun option for role playing it doesn’t actually do anything.
Something else you can do is sit down with your DM to come up with other options that might fit the goal you’re looking for.
Having a totem that embraces the pride of a lion or the dexterity of a monkey can be an excellent way to make your character your own and boost your excitement to new levels.
There’s also plenty of homebrewed totems on the r/unearthedarcana subcredit, options created by players just like you..