Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day – the Barbarian

S&W was my first retroclone and is still my favorite one, responsible for bringing me to the OSR and – more important – for opening my eyes to older games. RPGs that I, erroneously, believe to be outdated. In regard to S&W, the genie is definitely still in the bottle – especially the wonderful S&W White Box.

Here is a new class for S&W – the Barbarian. If you liked it I also made other two classes for OD&D – the Yogi and the Mastermind. I’m also tinkering with an entry-level class for spellcaster – something that doesn’t use the vancian system. I’ll post it here maybe in this week.

My take on the Barbarian tries to move away from the traditional d20 version. His niche are resiliency and survival, not rage and of hit points. I’m not sure how far I was successful with those.


The Barbarian 

Barbarians use the same attack matrix as Fighters, Paladins and Rangers. They have the same saving throw and Hit Dice as Fighters and require the same amount of XP to level as Rangers.

Barbarians are driven by instinct and animal reflexes, reacting to things before most civilized people know what’s happening. Parties containing a barbarian are only surprised on a 1 in 6 chance and have a +1 bonus to initiative checks (multiple barbarians in the group don’t increase this bonus).

If a barbarian fails a save against a fear effect, he can instead choose to go berserker. While in this state, he must attack an enemy each round through melee combat. He gains a +2 bonus to attack and damage rolls. If no enemy is in sight, he must strike an ally. Each time he hits an ally, the barbarian can attempt a save to stop the rage. After raging, he suffers a -2 penalty to all rolls for the next 1d6 hours. At 3rd level, a barbarian can choose to rage after failing any charm of dominating effect. At 7th level, a barbarian can choose to rage after being reduced to ¼ of his total hit points.

Barbarians are though and resilient. They can go without food, water and rest for three times longer than other characters. They can also hold their breaths trice the normal time. They can also forage successfully for food and water for themselves and five other characters.

Barbarians are reinvigorated by blood and slaughter. After felling an adversary with a natural 20 or killing the strongest enemy around (monster with more HD and biggest size) a barbarian can either execute a free attack or recover 1HD of hit points. This ability can only be used once per day.

At 4th level, a barbarian is capable of keep fighting even after suffering grievous wounds. If brought to 0 or less hit points, he is allowed a save. If successful, he doesn’t fall dead or unconscious, but roll a 1d4. This is how many hit point he has left. This ability can only be used once per day.

At 8th level, a barbarian gains preternatural reflexes and inhuman vigor. If he succeeds at a save, he doesn’t suffer any damage from effects that deal half damage like fireballs. He also can reroll saving throws against poisons and death magic, if the first roll was a failure.

At 9th level a barbarian becomes a barbarian chief and can either built a holdfast in the wilderness or gather a band of raiders. A holdfast will attract followers from the barbarian’s clan, tribe or kin. He must keep the hold free from outside interference. If the barbarian gather a band of (usually mounted or sea) raiders, he’ll attract only ½ the usual numbers of followers. The barbarian chief can’t stay more than a month in the same place (or hex), but can wander freely through the same region, for as long as there’s loot.

Barbarians distrust most forms of magic, especially arcane. They can only use magic weapons, armors and potions.

Barbarians are filled with strange customs and taboos. A barbarian must choose 2 taboos or roll on those available below:
  • Can’t hurt women.
  • Can’t lie.
  • Can’t use “foreign” weapons and armors.
  • Can’t allow spells to be cast on him.
  • Can’t accept or ask for help.
  • Must always honor his word.

A barbarian that breaks his taboo, lose access to the class abilities described above (except foraging) for the next days (at maximum a week) because his inner resolve is shattered. The referee can allow a barbarian to redeem himself before that if the character gets in a dire fight (i.e. either is brought to 0 or less hit points or slays a number of HD equal to triple his level – alone).

Barbarians can’t be of Lawful alignment. Usually only humans come from barbarian cultures. 

Optional class ability: 
A barbarian can choose to shatter his weapon after hitting an enemy. The attack deals maximum damage. He can only use this ability once per day. Think on this like an inverted “shields shall be shattered!” rule.


  1. Nice. I don't normally play barbarians myself but i do like this.

  2. Very nice write-up. I especially like that you kept rage but as the result of a failed fear save. Fight or flight, indeed. The useof taboos adds flavor but it not completely hamstringing as the "I hate magic" trope of the 1E barbarian. Well done!

  3. Thanks! I'm really glad you're enjoying the class ;-)

  4. One big question!
    You've written that "Barbarians distrust most forms of magic, especially arcane. They can only use magic weapons, armors and potions."...
    But does a Barbarian use only magic weapons and no normal ones because he distrust magic?!? Where is the limitation in doing so? Maybe you would say that a Barbarian cannot use magic weapons and armors, right?

    And has the Barbarian limitations on wearing armors or he can wield also a full plate?

    1. Hi!

      Barbarians can use all weapons and armors (except if their choose certain types of weird customs/tabooks). They can only use magic weapons, armor and potions. They'll not use any other magic items (this includes IMO a lot of stuff... like rings, bracelets, crowns, boots, belts, generic items etc.)

      This is not the AD&D 1st "anti-magic" Barbarian (also known as the Forsaken prestige class for D&D 3.0). I was aiming for something else.