Conan the Intelligent, Tactical Polyglot Barbarian

I just finished reading The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian by Robert E. Howard. I have been talking about barbarians on and off Twitter even blogging about them here earlier. Barbarians own a unique and very well known place in pop culture and I wanted to go back and take a look at part of their origins.

This volume contains the original thirteen Conan stories as written by Howard in the order he wrote them. I had never read any Conan stories before and was only familiar with the character through osmosis from living in a pop culture world.


Savage Sword of Conan – Boris Vallejo

As many note in the Goodreads reviews, I was surprised to learn that Conan as he was originally created was not the hulking brute, all brawn and no brains as I have come to know him. Conan is an intelligent, clever, resourceful and combatant.

Yes he is quick to anger and often there are depictions of his size and strength (and his steely bronzed thews) and requisite description detailing his smoldering blue eyes. But just as frequently Conan is depicted as “pantherish” or “tigerish” in his ferocity he is also described as being stealthy, silent when he moves. Not only is he strong but he is fast, able to move and react in the blink of an eye.

Conan is also a polyglot able to speak several languages at least passably, he has adventured all over the world and has several careers behind him including: thief, warrior, captain, sailor, king, pirate, rebel, chieftain and more.


Encapsulating all of these qualities themselves means our first pop culture barbarian has fallen far from where he started, but there is more. Conan is stubborn and fearful, jealous and covetous. Notwithstanding his willingness to kill at a moments notice. In “The Pool of the Black One” Conan kills a man to after joining a crew of pirates, just to “earn his place” and is clearly plotting to kill the captain and usurp him as soon as he is able (which he does).

Conan again is more than muscle and steel. He carries within him a duality that markedly resembles people in the real world. He is capable of kindness and generosity and callous murder all the while harboring realistic fears and anxieties.

Conan as originally written is a deep and complex character capable of good and evil, love and hate. He is well-traveled, intelligent, taciturn, loyal to his word and quick to take advantage of opportunity. He is a killer who knows the Arts will outlast him and that life is ephemeral.

Dungeons and Dragons

From a D&D perspective I can see where the basis for the barbarian was drawn.

Conan is described as raging, fighting through injuries that other men could not. He is able to exert himself for hours displaying unnatural endurance. He is preternaturally aware able to sense traps/danger and avoid them as well as displaying almost superhuman strength.

All of this can be seen in the current and original version of the Barbarian. They are not exactly the same but the roots are there.

Barbarians Today

Perhaps it is simply my experience in popular culture and at the table that  barbarians are pigeon-holed as mindless rage-machines good only for killing and well, more killing. I am not so naive to believe this is the only way they are portrayed, there will of course be contrary examples but they are not the norm.

One such “against type” barbarian that I really enjoyed when I was encountered him was Logen NineFingers from The First Law books by Joe Abercrombie. I initially thought he was unique in his depth and his “complete” personality. Having gone back and read Conan I see that Joe Abercrombie’s character seems unique in this day but he is truly the successor to Howard’s Conan.

If you have not yet I recommend reading The First Law trilogy. See for yourself just what a complete, fully fleshed out barbarian character. In all honesty all of the characters are so finely crafted they will defy expectations. And in truth The Bloody Nine is the best version I have ever encountered of a raging barbarian. EVER.

Do yourself a favor and go read Howard’s Conan stories. They are fast-paced, easy to read and filled with action and adventure. Most of them are quite short as they were originally submissions to magazines for easy consumption.

Enjoy the ride!

Featured Image by Mark Schultz



Bridge to the past: Circle Of Spirits

I’ve talked repeatedly (every chance I get) about how much I love druids in Dungeons and Dragons. Not only that, I’ve spoken of and shared my home-brew druid circles with a number of folks on Twitter and a few other friends and gamers.

I wanted to take the time to go through it and share my thoughts behind it and how it looks in my mind’s eye and what I was thinking behind the scenes.

First a bit of (made up) History

In The One World, the lizard-folk were the first race, born from the dual being that is both the Earth God and Earth Goddess (Ometeotl). The lizardfolk were present before the Gods came into being and as such primarily venerate the earth and themselves.  They do not consider themselves equal to or better than the four Gods that came later, but they know and remember: they were here first and before them was Ometeotl.

Being first to live in the world, the lizardfolk developed a deep connection to it and saw their place within the natural cycle. They revere nature and their part in it and this  developed into a strong form of ancestor worship practiced in their culture. They honor and remember their ancestors among whom they include Ometeotl as their original ancestor (often referred to as Grandfather/Grandmother) and the spirits of the natural world with whom they are closely allied and view as distant cousins of a sort.

This makes the lizardfolk perfectly suited to have a shaman as the primary “religious” figure in their cultural lives. They revere and worship nature in it’s entirety of which The Gods are simply a more powerful part. There are clerics among them but that is less common and may be viewed as focusing on one aspect of the larger whole.

Lets get into the specifics of the Circle of Spirits starting with the 2nd level abilities.

Spirit Guide (2nd level)
You have found (or been found) by a spirit companion that joins you on your life’s journey. The spirit’s form or appearance may be determined by you or your backstory or by your Dungeon Master.
Your Spirit Guide connects you to the spirit world and enables you to commune with spirits, to see and speak with them. This allows you to offer thanks and praise and to ask boons that can benefit you and your party.
You can sense the presence of nearby spirits and at will you can see into the Ethereal Border up to 60’. You can communicate with spirits regardless of language though they are not compelled to obey your requests or even listen.

This is the introductory ability. It is the wellspring from which all the other abilities and mechanics are derived and provides vast role-playing opportunities. The ability to see and interact with nearby spirits allows not only combat benefits (I see you phase spider!) but role-playing. Requesting a boon from a forest Spirit, thanking the river spirit for letting you pass, there are as many possibilities as you can imagine.

Blessing of Spirits
Starting at 2nd level, you gain the ability request the aid of spirits and use them to influence the world around you. As a bonus action, you magically summon a Medium spirit to an unoccupied space you can see within 60 feet of you. The spirit creates an aura in a 30-foot radius around it, it doesn’t occupy its space, it is immobile, and it counts as neither a creature nor an object. As a Bonus Action you can request the Spirit move up to 60’ to a point you can see.
The spirit persists for 1 minute. Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.
The nature of the aura depends on the type of spirit you ask for aid:
Spirit of Fortitude- Often appearing as a bear or a mighty warrior, this spirit grants you and your allies its might and endurance. You and your allies who are in the aura when the spirit appears each gain temporary hit points equal to 5 + your druid level. In addition, you and your allies gain advantage on Strength checks and Strength saving throws while in the aura.
Spirit of Rejuvenation-This spirit often takes the form of a tree or majestic forest creature. At the beginning of your round any allies within the aura may save to remove any negative effects they are currently affected by. Characters making a Death Saving Throw do so with advantage. In addition if you cast a spell with a spell slot that restores hit points to anyone inside or outside the aura, each of your allies in the aura also regains hit points equal to your druid level.
Spirit of the Pack-Many spirits appear and increase the combat abilities of you and your allies. You and your allies have advantage on attack rolls against creatures in the aura if at least one ally is within 5 feet of the creature and is not incapacitated.
*If you have ideas for other spirits and effects work with your DM to create and put them into play.*

I ripped this ability strain from the Circle of the Shepherd. I mentioned in my last post how I didn’t think it fit the Shepherd thematically but how much I really liked it as a concept. I ported it into the Spirit Shaman and tweaked the descriptions.

By generalizing the names: (Fortitude, Rejuvenation etc) it falls to the player to fill in the details, thus creating a richer experience at the table. If the Spirit of Fortitude a mighty warrior, A great bear or perhaps an enduring mountain? This can be done for each of the spirits and more spirits can be created. A Spirit of Combat, a Spirit of Protection, of Travel, or Insight. Options are wide open.


6th level abilities or Break on Through to the Other Side

Ghostly Warrior (6th level)
Your Spirit Guide gains the ability to confer upon you the ability to physically interact with the Spirit World. You are able to touch, interact with and if necessary attack spirits and incorporeal creatures even while they are within The Border Ethereal. Weapons wielded by you can affect incorporeal creatures normally but lose this ability 1 round after leaving your hand.

This changes it up a bit. Your druid can now not only see and hear those spirits and creatures in The Border Ethereal but the Shaman can touch and harm them without crossing into the other world. This means the druid can damage ghosts (and similar creatures) normally. It has big implications for any creature that might use that space as a refuge or ambush point.


10th level ability or I Can See Right Through You Man

Spectral Form (10th level)
Your Spirit Guide is able to pull you partially into the the Spirit World, lessening the danger from the physical plane you are currently on.
As a Bonus Action your body becomes translucent as you fade from this world and you gain Resistance to acid, fire, lightning, thunder damage and damage from bludgeoning, piercing and slashing weapons that are non-magical.
In addition you can move through objects or other creatures as if they were difficult terrain. You take 5 (1d10) force damage if you end your turn inside an object or creature.
This effect lasts for one minute and recharges after a short or long rest.

This is a fun ability in which you become something of what you deal with, pulled partially into the Spirit World. I think this makes for immense RP value when you wildshape into a Spectral Bear! Not only are you a tanky-bear but you are a GHOST tanky-bear! You are the Guardian Spirit! Out of combat options could include entering a locked room, escaping a prison or presenting yourself as a spirit to to someone else for who knows what reason.


14th level ability or Here Hold My Beer.

Guide Magic (14th level)
You and your Spirit Guide have become so entwined that you can channel some of your power through it. Once per Long Rest you can assign your Spirit Guide the task of concentrating  to maintain a spell or spell-like ability. You may act normally while your Spirit Guide does this, including casting another spell that requires Concentration.
Your Spirit Guide doesn’t make Concentration checks when you are distracted, interrupted or take damage. If necessary your Spirit Guide uses your Concentration modifier for checks made to maintain Concentration.

This is obviously a very powerful ability, but I feel like it fits well with the theme of the class. Asking a boon of or being granted a benefit by your strengthened relationship with your spirit guide. Perhaps the Guide won’t grant this benefit unless you perform some task for it? Put a local spirit to rest, appease a nearby river guardian or maybe honor your ancestors with food and drink whenever you eat?

I don’t know what having two concentration spells active at a time would look like (my folks haven’t tried this out yet) but I feel it must be reserved for later levels and would be a great surprise to the other players if the Shaman kept this secret until then.

OK that was a longer exploration than I intended. If you stuck around this long: Thank You. I’d be happy to hear your thoughts on this configuration. What works? What doesn’t work and what would you do differently?

Feel free to comment here or find me on Twitter where I’m always talking about D&D. Or Trailrunning. Occasionally both at the same time.

Featured Image from Alex Shatohin

Xanathar’s Druids

Similar to the last post about Clerics I wanted to review and discuss the Druid options in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. Druids are my favorite D&D class so I’ll have plenty to say, but I shall try to be succinct. Or at least less verbose.

Circle of Dreams

(Or I wish I was Fey)


Circle of Dreams feels pretty well put together to me. The Feywild and the creatures that dwell there are natural allies to good-aligned or neutral druids and sharing their power feels like a natural evolution.

Balm of the Summer Court – This is a pretty straightforward 2nd level ability: d6’s that heal and grant 1 Temp HP.

Why the 1 temporary hp? What is that really going to do for anyone? Forget the 1 hp and instead let the affected character regain the hp and re-roll to remove a negative effect they are currently under (Blinded, Exhaustion level etc). That feels more like supernatural healing.

Hearth of Moonlight and Shadow – Nice flavor ability that doesn’t have much active influence but allows essentially for uninterrupted rest.

I just had a thought: It could also be used to buff Stealth or Perception checks in a known space, thus making whatever space you choose as an ideal site to ambush enemies. Rogues would love this. Tag team!

Hidden Paths – This is a fun and flexible movement feature. Teleport 60′ as a bonus action OR teleport and ally up to 30′. This is super useful and could be a great way to populate the battlefield or escape from a cell.

Walker in Dreams – At the end of a short rest you cast Dream, Scrying or Teleportation Circle. This Teleportation Circle send you back to the last spot you had a long rest. Basically a WoW Hearthstone. It’s a nice ability I just wouldn’t tie it to the end of the short rest. Have the short rest recharge the ability otherwise you are resting in order to teleport out or use the Dream or Scry ability. I think it’s more evocative to be able to use the teleportation circle to quickly escape from enemies that are bearing down on you. Less exciting to take a break so you can port back to town.

Circle of the Shepherd

Shepherd druid

Ok I have not been shy of my issues with Shepherd Druids but it is mostly put together well. The issue for me is the Totem ability does not jive with the rest of the abilities. Let’s explore.

Speech of the Woods – Sylvan as a bonus language, Yes please! On top of that you get an always on Speak with Animals. You don’t know the spell for free or cast it willy-nilly, you just understand animals and they understand you. Bam! very nice and fitting with a protector of beasts.

Spirit Totem – Summon nature spirits to a spot and beneficial effects take place for you and your party members. One use per short or long rest with the following abilities listed:

  • Bear spirit-temp hp = 5+druid level and Advantage on Strength checks and saves.
  • Hawk spirit- Use your reaction to give Advantage to an ally’s attack. Advantage on Perception checks.
  • Unicorn spirit-Advantage on checks to detect creatures in the aura and bonus hp when casting a healing spell.

I don’t have any issues with the ability, I really like it actually but I don’t think it fits the overall theme of the Shepherd Druid. This feels like a separate ability from another class that doesn’t really have to do with protecting and promoting the welfare of the creatures of the world. The flavor text at the beginning of the sub-class description talks about seeking aid from and communing with spirits but to me it feels like it was put there to explain this one ability.

I would take Spirit Totem out of the Shepherd Circle (and out it into a different sub-class such as Spirit Shaman, something that focuses on interacting with the spirit world). This would be a great place to give the druid an animal companion and perhaps expand on it a little. Whereas the Ranger can have one companion allow the Shepherd to have multiple so long as they don’t exceed the 1/4 CR cap. (1 CR 1/4 creature or 2 CR 1/8 creatures). That would allow the Shepherd to exploit that Animal Speech regularly and would foster a player playing a Shepherd surrounded by animals they care for/travel with.

Maybe have the CR cap grow as the druid levels? Much like wild-shape grows, a Shepherd druid could bond with beasts of increasing power as they advance? I actually really like that though it would need to be balanced so the advanced beast companion(s) don’t outshine the party.

Hmm Going to try writing this out to explore it.

Mighty Summoner – Beasts of fey summoned by your spells have increased hp and their attacks overcome immunity to non-magical attacks and damage.

This is perfectly fitting for a summoner/beast class. I like it.

Guardian Spirit – Your summons beasts and fey gain hp when it they end their turn inside your totem aura.

Again a solid ability for a shepherd to regenerate the beasts they summon. Assuming I moved the totem ability off this sub-class I would just have the regeneration occur when the beasts/fey are within a certain distance from you. Role-play that you are their care-taker and nearness to you strengthens and safeguards them.

Faithful Summons – When you are reduced to 0 hp  or are incapacitated (can’t take actions or reactions) against your will Conjure Animals goes off as a contingency spell summoning 4 beasts of CR 2 or lower they automagically protect you from harm and attack your enemies.

This is perfect flavor and a nice defensive ability the enemies may not be expecting. Again I feel the intent of this sub-class is to be a guardian, advocate and companion for the beasts of the world and having them come to your aid, reciprocating your service to the natural world feels right.

As I stated at the beginning, Shepherd is mostly built around summoning and augmenting animals, remove the imperfectly placed totem ability, give them animal companions and boom, the class is complete.

Let me know what you think of my suggested changes. Did I make any sense? Did I miss the intention of an ability or the sub-class in general?

Discuss and share!



Xanathar’s Clerics

I know there are lots of these posts and reviews out there now and I am very grateful they are there. Seeing what others think and how others interpret the same information allows me to learn and to grow, to experience something I wouldn’t have normally come up with.

In that vein I want to start by offering my own take on the Cleric options presented in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. Contrary to perceived popular opinion (maybe it’s just clerics) I really enjoy clerics. Not only for their abilities but for the role-playing and depth their divinely granted powers enable us to play.


Lets start by taking a look at the Forge Cleric.


Right out of the gate (racing idiom) I like the class and abilities but I have issues with the name. “Forge” implies use of the forge for melting/smelting metal and it even says so in the class description.  I would however prefer (and I will in my homebrew) to expand the abilities to items beyond metal. Specifically in my homebrew world The One World, a certain group of dwarves have specialized in making arms and armor completely from stone. Works just like the normal items but slightly heavier (though I don’t much pay attention to encumbrance unless it is just getting ridiculous.)

That being said it is not a big stretch to expand this to these dwarves or perhaps the lizardfolk who make so much from natural materials. “Forge” evokes a stronger more fearsome mental image than “Craft” or “Artisan” so I get that. Expanding teh definition also includes such settings as Dark Sun, where there are lots of other materials used besides metals.

Domain Spells- As they go I think most of them make sense. Especially Identify. Personally I can’t stand that spell. It’s cheating. It is the quick and dirty way of divining the powers of your shiny new magic item. I obviously prefer to have my players test and play with their new items but I don’t make them agonize over it. That just isn’t fun. However Identify in the hands of those clerics specifically empowered to create and manipulate magic items makes perfect sense to me.


Blessing of the Forge

This is a solid utility ability at low levels. Granting a +1 bonus to a weapon or armor is huge. Yuge! It however will fade in importance once the party begins acquiring their own magic items.

“Sorry my dude, I don’t need your +1. I got my Vorpal bastard sword now.”

I would propose the following to keep it relevant as the party accumulates their own powerful magic items:

Increase the number of items the Forge Cleric can modify as they level. Say 2 items at 8th level and 3 at 17th level but only once per mundane item. In addition: the Forge Cleric has the option of adding a +1 bonus to a mundane item OR another ability such as Flaming. If the Cleric adds an ability to a mundane weapon then it would count as magical for overcoming resistances but you would not benefit from the +1 to hit.

You have a +2 longsword? Let me see that for a second lad…

Taking this even further, I’d consider allowing the Forge Cleric to manipulate the abilities on an exiting magic items. Take that +2 longsword let the cleric play with it a bit and he hands back a +1 flaming longsword. Again once per item and this would only last until the next long rest. You could even make manipulating items this way cost two uses of the Blessing of the Forge.

This would make a Forge Cleric very (almost too powerfully) utilitarian as they could tailor the party items for known encounters. Now there are of course ways around that or that the DM could limit that but I’ll leave it out there and you just think about it for a minute.

The other abilities (Artisan’s Blessing, Soul of the Forge, Divine Strike and Saint of Forge and Flame) I think all fit the mold pretty well and are balanced appropriately for how they are spaced. It feels like appropriate progression.


Grave Domain


OK that’s not the art from XGtE but what was up with that guy anyway? What’s with the wineglass? Creepy.

I will say I like the flavor text of Grave Clerics as the Guardians of Death. Destroying undead and those who would create them. Don’t immediately see how one would play that in an evil fashion but I’m not going to try too hard.

Circle of Mortaility – Max heals on a 0 hp creature is nice. And when you don’t want to spend a spell slot the 30′ range Spare the Dying as a bonus action is a solid backup. Seriously a nice but not overwhelming set of abilities granted here. No one should fear death with a Grave Cleric in the group.

Eyes of the Grave – Sounds like a fun ability. I would love to surprise my characters by having them use this ability in a social encounter and discovering their host or maybe even their employer is undead!

Channel Divinity: Path to the Grave – This is a solid feature. Creating a vulnerability on a creature is a nice debuff to be able to pull out and will help overcome resistant creatures and those with high hp. Wording is a bit muddled. States the curse ends on the end of your next turn and also states the curse ends after the next successful attack from you or an ally. So you have a turn to use it or you lose it? Probably but I don’t think it would be overpowered to keep it in effect until used.

Sentinel at Deaths Door – While the ability to cancel a critical hit and any associated effects is cool, it doesn’t quite fit the flavor for me. That doesn’t feel like delaying death. I think it would be more fitting to mimic a barbarians Relentless Rage. This keeps the PC up when they shouldn’t be. You could also have the PC that was sustained make a Con Save or gain a level of Exhaustion. A little good, a little bad. The price to pay for cheating a little.

Potent Spellcasting – Nothing exciting here. Damage boost to Cantrips is nice but what does it have to do with being a Cleric of the Grave?

Keeper of Souls – This is a very good visual but I’m not sure how useful it will be at 17th level. Lots of Hit Dice when an enemy drops to be sure but it is what a massive heal to someone at the end of a big fight? I guess I’ll need to see it in action to really understand it. But yes I like the flavor it provides. I kind of picture whoever receives the healing from the departed soul might take on a few of their mannerisms for a time.

Looking at these two I would definitely play a Forge Cleric, especially with the modifications I suggest. Grave Clerics have some very nice abilities but don’t feel as polished as the Forge domain.


The Extras

The Temples and Keepsakes are good ideas and they threw a bunch of those kind of random character backstory tables in for each of the classes so that’s not unexpected. I really like the Secrets though. I particularly enjoy the concept of a person of faith that struggles with that faith. Being the walking and breathing proof of Divine Beings would put you at the center of a lot of attention, wanted and unwanted.

How would a cleric deal with that? A living example of proof of the Gods is still a normal person and is as fallible as any other normal person on the planet. Fun thoughts.

What did you think of the Cleric domains? Have you played as either of them yet? I’d be happy to hear your thoughts on my takes. Let’s have a discussion.

Two New Party Members …again!

We were back at it after a week off for Fall Break (that’s what they call it but really the city needs the school buses for Balloon Fiesta s this kids get two days off school).

We had two new kids join the D&D group this week, bringing our total to 13. That’s even more of a daunting but exciting venture.

I gave the kids the option to stay in one large party or to split into two parties. The catch? In one group 13 is a lot to manage so they would have to do an extra solid job of being quiet and paying attention. If we split into two groups I can’t run both at the same time so someone else would need to DM the second group.

Now we all the prospect of DMing can be intimidating but nothing scares kids more than being asked to behave. They chose to split into two parties. I kept the bulk of the original players in my group and continued where we had left off. My daughter volunteered to DM the new group with the caveat that she get to keep her PC as an NPC. She’s such a brave kid and super creative so this is a good fit I think.


They started from the beginning of Lost Mines and I think made it into the Goblin caves. Quick work considering they had to make a couple new characters.

My group had finished the last session having defeated a group of the Red Cloaks with three as prisoners. The interrogated them, alternately threatening their lives or being willing to imprison them or let them go. It can be hard to negotiate when the other side of the table is so erratic! Ultimately the PC’s let the brigands go in exchange for the location and entrance to the hideout.

The used the cloaks taken from their defeated enemies to sneak in through the tunnel. The Nothic in the crevasse realized they were here to eliminate the brigands and was happy to ignore the PC’s in exchange for the bodies of the bad guys.

They decided to head west and interrupted three bugbears picking on a goblin. After some banter in which the monk tried to keep their cover intact the gnome had had enough and shot one the bugbears. It was a rough fight but the party survived, though we had our first player go down.

It didn’t phase them much. Bunch of goofballs.


Middle School D&D

I’ve been talking about this on social media over the last few weeks but it’s time to set it down in a more meaningful setting.

For the last three weeks I have been hosting Dungeons and Dragons as an after school club for my daughters middle school. A general call went out early this year prior to school starting up again and I had the thought

“What if…..?”

First I asked my kiddo what she thought and she said she thought it’d be cool and she’d love to play. Done! An email volunteering and then waiting for that first session.

*note* there was actually more than that like a background check (which was in place as I am already a school volunteer and a nurse with a government clearance), a prep meeting and then getting my shit together. I picked up a copy of the Starter set and did a little reading.


Session One was the scariest because I didn’t know what I was in for. The organizer mentioned that she had a lot of interest and that sometimes the Magic:the Gathering club had upwards of 60 kids in there. 60! Woof, not sure how I was going to get 60 kids organized and playing but I’m not turning away a kid that wants to play D&D.

Turns out I was hyperventilating for nothing. I had seven kids show up. One had played 3.5 a couple times and the rest (besides my kiddo) were brand new. We spent about half the time with some quick character creation and basic rules setup and then went right into it.

For those of you familiar with the Starter set and keeping score they finished the first fight defeating the goblin ambushers with minimal injuries.

FYI: for character creation I had them choose race/class and roll stats. Then we went forward with adventuring and I explained anything I needed from them in a roll. Afterwards I kept all the character sheets and fleshed the characters out at home. Yes I made choices for them but it’s not much different than a Pregen PC and they actually picked the big pieces.


Session two was the scariest session because I was worried more people would show up or that no one would show because they decided they had something more fun to do. Wrong on both counts. The same group came to the table and they proceeded to explore the Cragmaw Goblin hideout.

It is fun watching them play and discover their play styles. I have one know it all who has advice for everyone at the table. Another guy who is super happy to sneak around and get some treasure. Then there is the louder, attention grabbing kid who named their Fiendish Pact Warlock Trump (but has since revised that to Taylor Swift).

My daughter is the most experienced player and she’s someone I would want at any table. She’s quiet, pays attention and she knows what she wants to do. IMG_0969

I’m also having a lot of fun watching the only other young lady at the table. She is quiet, almost reserved and very soft spoken with zero D&D experience. She is observant ans smart though. She listens, she asks questions and thinks outside of the box. She’s going to be a sharp player very quickly.

The party cleaned out the goblin cave. They set up a double-ruse. Agreeing to aid Yeemic (whom they renamed Yum-Yum) in overthrowing Klarg. They were loosely bound and brought before the bugbear but then charmed Klarg and assisted him in defeating the would be usurpers. After some congratulations by the bugbear they quickly left for Phandalin to avoid being nearby when the charm wore off.

Session Three


This was the scariest session because not only did everyone return but four new players joined us! Four more Pc’s means this party goes to eleven! To save time I handed out four pre-generated characters and they jumped right into the story.

With this many kids at the table it is going to be an effort to channel and focus their energy. WE made it through an encounter with the Red Cloaks. They managed to capture three, defeat five and two well, they may have gotten away.

I guess we’ll see what happens next time.


Cultural Barbarians

I was getting ready to post something on the D&D Beyond forums about rage-less barbarians when it struck me that I was approaching the idea from the wrong angle. Instead of taking away a Barbarians Rage, let’s re-frame the concept of “barbarian”.

What makes a Barbarian?

Or Everybody’s So Mad!

Taking a look back down the interwebs, (and a short trip down memory lane, yes I am that old), we see that Barbarians were not introduced to D&D with much more flair than the Ranger. Just look at the Unearthed Arcana entry for them. What I see in the list of skills and abilities are the precursors (not direct translations) for the current iteration of barbarian attributes:

  • Back Protection => Danger Sense
  • Climb, Hide in Natural Surroundings => Current Skills list
  • Surprise => Feral Instinct
  • Leaping and Springing => Fast Movement

Somewhere in there we lost the Illusion detection and fear of magic. Oh well.

However ever since those kits in 2e, with 3e making it official the defining feature of a Barbarian is Rage.

Taken straight from the current SRD:

These barbarians, different as they might be, are defined by their rage: unbridled, unquenchable, and unthinking fury. More than a mere emotion, their anger is the ferocity of a cornered predator, the unrelenting assault of a storm, the churning turmoil of the sea. (…) For every barbarian, rage is a power that fuels not just a battle frenzy but also uncanny reflexes, resilience, and feats of strength.

The error in this thinking is that paints a broad scope picture of a people as rage-machines. A society peopled solely by Incredible Hulks would not last very long. I put forth that what we cal the Barbarian class is in actuality a Berserker. It is a specific role within barbarian society but not representative of Barbarians as a whole.

So what does this mean? How to apply that thinking to enable deeper breadth in your barbarians?


Treat the Barbarian Class as just that: a class, a single aspect of the Barbarian culture. I prefer to call it a Berserker or Rager. That leaves me free to culturally use any of the other classes as Barbarians as well. All it takes is a little re-skinning.

If you want to create a Barbarian culture take a look at what makes them “barbarians”. This often implies a lack a civilization but I encourage you to simply have it be different than the prevailing society. Barbarians have their own customs and traditions and philosophies and education systems. That it covers different topics or diverges from “our” reasoning doesn’t mean it is less valuable/meaningful, just different.

Barbarians or often portrayed as savage, ignorant brutes but this isb308a96eeb3256b3cc8cf8e781ac73e7 too easy a trap to fall into. We are holding barbarians to our (unequal) standards. Think of it this way: Compare ourselves to humans 100 years ago.

We might consider ourselves to be smarter and more enlightened but  just over 100 years ago we had Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison fighting it out in the War of Currents. They were masters of their technology. Expose them to our tech and they would be able to master and further it (hell they started and foresaw some of it).



Classy Barbarians

Having a Barbarian “culture” or society allows you a lot of leeway. You are now free to play any of the other classes and re-skin them into your barbarian civilization! In general I would say this means limiting their resources or available technology until they encounter it in their travels but really you can make it mean whatever you want. Let’s take a look at a few examples.


Bards – Barbarian tribes have strong oral traditions. In addition to or in place of instruments they could chant or sing or perhaps tell stories. That sounds a pretty fascinating to me actually.


Clerics/Druids – Clerics and Druids could very easily be recast as shaman or seers. Use local materials in place of the heavy metal armors. Consider multiple Gods/Spirits in place of traditional deities.

Fighter – Not much needs to change here. Use different materials for heavy armor equivalents or perhaps restrict them until further adventuring takes place. The key difference is that here is a barbarian warrior that is not a Rage-machine. This makes “traditional barbarians” take the specific role of “berserker”.

Monk – diablo-iii-the-monk-f-360x360Barbarians are just a likely to have traditional hand/fist martial arts. “Fight with what you have”. I would probably change the flavor from the serene, meditative monastery to a raucous field of barbs learning the most efficient ways to attack each other without weapons.


Paladin – Apart from limiting or re-flavoring gear as you did for the fighter not much needs to change. A paladin could be a crusader or an avenger born to protect the tribe or hunt down fiends. A holy warrior is not defined by his plate mail. It is his devotion, his zealotry his willingness to do what his God requires of him.

Ranger/Rogue – The close scoutrelationship to nature that barbarians already have makes this an easy substitution. The gear and equipment doesn’t change much. Rogue/Scouts could join rangers as infiltrators and protectors of the tribe. Ranger/Beastmasters are a pretty typical barbarian trope.

Sorcerer/Warlock/Wizard – Barbarians initially were written with a fear of magic but since that has changed they are free to have tribal spell-casters. Again, call them seers, witches, warlocks whatever fits the flavor.

The dark hut, secluded from the others, with rancid smells or fearful noises. Most other barbarians in the tribe avoid it and its inhabitant, but be assured they are glad he is there. Wizards might need to forgo the idea of colleges of study but can learn under the tutelage of their master or masters.


These are a few ideas deliberately wide-ranging and vague so you can plug in whatever details you want that make sense for your character in your world. Work with your DM or your players to find the details that fit your characters and give you a wider range of options to make your (insert character class here) barbaric.