How to Make Meatier D&D Monsters with the Barbarian Class

As Dungeon Masters (DMs) we have plenty of weapons in our arsenal to craft compelling creatures for the adventurers to battle and/or interact with. From the Dungeon Master's Guide and the Monster Manual of fifth edition to older tomes like the Lords of Madness and the Book of Vile Darkness of third edition, but why stick to books regularly used by DMs and DMs alone? Especially if we'd like to add greater thrill to our battles with extreme ease, we can mine books pointed at players and use the information inside them to make meatier monsters.

Let's take a look at the Player's Handbook for fifth edition and the Barbarian class in this article. There are loads for us there, more than enough to efficiently make four opponents for the player characters (PCs) to encounter.

A berserk bandit rages in a piece by John Stanko, © Wizards of the Coast. 

Berserk Bandit

We can pair a single trait from Barbarian with a bandit stat block to form a berserk bandit. Give the bandit a normal Rage, no extra abilities from subclasses. Immediately, this transforms them from a humanoid with a basic weapon into a real threat on the battlefield and gives us a real personality we can play on. 

Think about it. Is this berserk bandit frothing at the mouth as they charge into battle? Do they strike friend and foe without care? As we describe their attacks in combat, we can now color them as a wild brute, veins popping and swings heavy but quick!

To help remind us of what the berserk bandit's rage does, we can jot this down:

Rage. Bonus Action. 2/day. The berserk bandit has advantage on Strength checks and Strength saving throws, +2 damage to all melee weapon attacks, and resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage. The rage ends when the berserk bandit is defeated, or he or she ends it willingly as a bonus action.

With the simple addition of the Barbarian's Rage to the bandit stat block, we've built a better monster.

Bear Totem Bugbear

Let's climb another step. Instead of granting a bugbear just the basic Rage ability of a Barbarian, let's enhance it with the first tier of features from the Path of the Totem Warrior subclass, the Bear totem in particular. Meet the bear totem bugbear. In battle, this bugbear is now a tank, capable of taking massive amounts of damage. Inside and outside of battles, this defines the bugbear's being. 

Perhaps he's larger in size than normal and wears the fur of a great bear. He might fight with bear claws instead of a long spear of sword. He may have great durability but is quick to anger but slow to calm down. This even helps flesh out his people, perhaps! Maybe the bugbears in this area follow animal spirits in general and the spirit of a massive bear in particular. Their traditions, from speech patterns, personalities, building decorations, and clothing might be inspired by this bear spirit.

As before, we can write down or remember this in our heads:

Bear Totem RageBonus Action. 2/day. The bear totem bugbear has advantage on Strength checks and Strength saving throws, +2 damage to all melee weapon attacks, and resistance to all damage types except psychic. The rage ends when the bear totem bugbear is defeated, or he or she ends it willingly as a bonus action.

Add one piece to the grand design, and the rest seems to build itself. 

Executioner Hill Giant

There's not even a need to use a more complex ability like a Barbarian's Rage with this approach, a minor ability will suffice, especially if paired with the proper monster. Scoop up the Barbarian's Brutal Critical which grants an additional weapon die when rolling for a critical hit and pair this ability with a hill giant to build the executioner hill giant. While it doesn't inspire as much background as giving it Rage, Brutal Critical adds to the danger level of the hill giant greatly and should give you a bit of room to work with descriptions in and outside of battle. 

Why is this hill giant so precise where it hits opponents? More so than its peers, it trains to be careful with blows as to not overexert itself. Or maybe it serves as the tribe executioner and knows exactly what piece of the body to strike to deal the most damage when the opportunity arises. Be cheeky, give her a black hood too.

Even with a tiny addition, we've built a meatier monster.

Ballistic Beholder

Let's attempt an unusual combination next. Grab the beholder stat block from the Monster Manual and lift two abilities from the Barbarian: Danger Sense (advantage on Dexterity saving throws against effects it can see, easy for a beholder) and Relentless Rage, but let's alter the latter a bit. Instead of infusing the beholder with a full-on rage, remove the rage and take the instant revive on death from Relentless Rage. Thus, when the beholder drops to zero hit points, it'll leap back up at one hit point if it succeeds a DC 10 Constitution saving throw. To add a bit more flavor, perhaps it also makes three ray attacks if it rises, too! With these two simple Barbarian abilities added, we now have a ballistic combat. 

The first edition beholder.

What does it mean for our monster outside frantic melees? Why is this beholder ballistic? Perhaps its sense of paranoia is even greater than a normal beholder, enhancing its senses. Or maybe it takes some hallucinogens that heightens its senses, revives it briefly from death, but causes it to bumble aimlessly. It speaks rapidly and floats about erratically, unsure of what it wants to say and where it wants to go. This leads to utter madness in combat and conversation, akin to the ridiculousness of Eberron's Xoriat beholders which should be adored.

There we have it: two Barbarian abilities build an even better beholder encounter or NPC.

The Path to Better Monsters

The Barbarian class of fifth edition D&D is just one path to making meatier monsters. Scattered throughout 5e and other editions of our favorite roleplaying game, there's plenty more to help inspire us and craft creative encounters to pit the player characters against. 

Think outside the box. It's not necessary to lock ourselves inside "DM-only" books for sources of inspiration. Books primarily designed for players provide all we would like and more.

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  1. Great to see you writing again! Nice content here about my fav Class!

    1. Many thanks. My favorite class (I think) is up next.