Bar-bear-ian: Wildshape+Rage (5e Optimized Character Build)
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Bears are cool.
Why not just be a bear? This build is a multiclass druid/barbarian that is really powerful mechanically while being really cool. This build takes advantage of the "onioning" mechanic of the druid, which is the way it gains another layer of hit points when using Wild Shape, and the damage resistance from the barbarian's rage, making it effectively unkillable.
A note to those that make edits. If you want to leave a record of what you edit, please leave it on the discussion page under the "edits" section and not in the middle of the build. This makes it harder for the casual reader. Just include your alternatives or changes as part of the document.
Any race works for this build, since your physical ability scores get replace with your wildshapes. However, if your looking to optimize your non-bear combat and spell casting, a few stand out.
- Forest Gnome: While their spell casting will be weaker, advantage on intelligence, wisdom, and charisma saves against magic is amazing.
- Human, Variant: Being able to start with a feat like Sentinel can really boost your effectiveness in combat.
- Wood Elf: You keep racial features while Wildshaped, and that includes the +5 feet of movement from this subrace.
- Half-Orc: Their Relentless endurance is an amazing feature that can preserve a wildshape through massive attacks!
Other Races: While this build and it's variants focus on only using the Core rules, here are some other options if your using other sources as well.
- Kalashtar: Their ability to speak telepathically removes one of the main reasons people revert from wildshape early. Plus their natural resistance to psychic is amazing if you choose the totem warrior barbarian subclass, giving you resistance to litterally all damage.
- Firbolg: While not having dexterity isn't great for your AC, you can use powerful build in your wildshape. Have fun with that.
- Yuan-Ti: Racial features remain while in wildshape, including your Magic Resistance and Poison Immunity!
Although there are a number of ways to do this, you'll find the most success with this base build by doing the following:
- Level 1-2 Druid: You're going for the Circle of the Moon. Immediately you can change into a bear, a powerful combat form. You're also a spellcaster.
- Level 3 Barbarian: Rage is an incredible damage and tankiness steroid. Having 2 rages and 2 wildforms almost feels like they were meant to be used together! Your unarmored defense can also occasionally give you a higher AC than the wildshape would normally have, which is nice.
- Level 4-19 Druid: One thing to always remember is that the strongest beast you can turn into is equal to 1/3 your Druid level. That means you need to always increase it to obtain stronger and stronger forms. You'll remain a powerful caster as well for your team, and at level 19 you can even start casting spells in your beast form.
- Level 20 Barbarian: This extra level in barbarian is optional. However, getting easy advantage on your attacks while transformed is an amazing option to have. Danger Sense can also be nice since most versions of this have a pretty high dexterity.
Note: Barbarian 3/Druid 17 - This small adjustment unlocks the barbarian subclass - Totem warrior. It doubles the health of your wildshapes while you're raging, something that is arguably stronger than anything you can get from that extra level in druid. To do this, you'll start with 2 levels in druid, then 3 levels in Barbarian, then max Druid afterwards.
Action Economy and Combos
When using this combo, it is important to keep the action economy in mind. Rage requires a bonus action and Wildshape requires either your action or bonus action. This creates three ways to use this combo, each of which have benefits and drawbacks:
- Combo 1 - Instant Primal: this completely consumes your first turn to use an Action to wildshape and your bonus action to rage. The main benefit is that you immediately gain the benefit of both effects, ready to take and deal damage for the rest of the fight. There are two downsides though. First, if the battle is short you will be standing around for a turn instead of fighting, kinda disappointing. Second, you're gambling you’ll take damage in the first round since your rage might end early as you have no action to attack and the enemy might avoid you rather than fight you.
- Combo 2 - Two Turn Windup: This focuses on letting you attack each turn and using your bonus actions early on to Wildshape and rage the next turn. The benefit is you have no idle turns and deal a good portion of damage. The first risk is that you don’t have rage protecting you turn 1, meaning your wildshape will take a lot more damage than normal and be closer to breaking. The second issue is that since Rage only lasts a minute, you need to be sure the fight is either your last before resting or going to extend longer than 4 turns to get enough value out of Rage.
- Combo 3 - Prepared Bear: Your wildshape Can last a long time, half your Druid level in hours! That means it’s not a bad idea to wildshape the moment you find a dungeon or think combat is going to happen soon. Even better is if you got an easy use of wildshape earlier and still have plenty of hit points left over. That means you can rage your first turn and attack, the ideal situation. The only risks involved are about wildshaping too early then not having combat until after your form fades away. This can also be an issue if your party needs you to cast a spell, communicate, or perform a skill check your wildshape can’t do, forcing you to revert before you get value out of it.
- Extra Combo - Rage Healing: One important thing to consider is that Rage can halve the damage of certain attacks. This means that against some opponents you health is effectively doubled, expanded to nearly all enemies if you dip an extra level of barbarian for totem warrior. This also means healing is twice as useful. An often neglected feature of Moon Druid's "Combat Wild Shape" feature is that you can spend a spell slot to heal 1d8 hit points per spell slot level. When combined with Rage, that means you can spend a 2nd level spell slot to heal 2d8 damage as a bonus action, but the enemy must DEAL 4d8 damage to undo this healing. This creates another valuable way to use your spell slots in some situations.
This list is designed to be updated as WotC releases new beasts that can be used. You're very unique in what you're looking for in a wildshape. Obviously lots of damage and health are good, ramped up by our Rage ability. But we want more than that. We are looking for creatures that use strength, otherwise we can't apply our Rage damage. We want ones that have really high constitution since that means the Barbarian's unarmored defense will grant us a higher AC than is normal. With those considerations, Here are the best wildshapes of each Tier:
Challenge Rating 1
- Brown Bear: We can increase its AC by 2, has high Strength, and multiple attacks
- Giant Eagle: Increase the AC by 1, Uses Strength, multiple attacks and can fly.
- Giant Hyena: Niche use against a large number of weak enemies.
- Crag Cat: Increase AC to 16, can pounce and knock prone to allow for multiple attacks, and can turn any spell below 7th level that directly targets you back on the caster
Challenge Rating 2
- Cave/Polar Bear: Upgraded version of Brown Bear
- Hunter Shark: if you're underwater
Challenge Rating 3
- Killer Whale: An improvement to Hunter Shark.
- Giant Scorpion: With three attacks a turn, it's a damage machine. Comes with a decent natural armor
Challenge Rating 4
- Elephant: you don't have many options
Challenge Rating 5
- Giant Crocodile: This attacks similarly to your early bear forms. Just release your grapple to focus fire a target.
- Brontosaurus: Because turning into a gargantuan monster is fun.
- Earth Elemental: Probably the 2nd strongest wildshape, tied with fire elemental. It takes two uses so be careful your not going to time out of your form.
- Fire Elemental: Probably the 2nd strongest wildshape, tied with earth elemental. It takes two uses so be careful your not going to time out of your form.
Challenge Rating 6
- Mammoth: This is the king of wildshapes, the only CR 6 even available. This thing destroys people with high damage and a large health pool. You become more fearsome still as you can raise this beasts AC by 1 and cast spells in this shape thanks to your newest druid ability at level 18. Unfortunately, you cannot get the bear totem feature unless you can go beyond level 20, and even then you’re better off getting to level 20 Druid for Archdruid and unlimited Wildshapes.
Like all good builds, there are many variants that people have invented. The following are such variants:
Trail of Tears
Step one. Be a Druid of the Moon Circle. (Like all other busted things.)
Step two. Reach a level where you can become an Air Elemental. This is 10. Till then, you are a druid, and pretty great anyway. Full caster, and you turn into horrific beasts with greats and piles of extra health. It’s disgustingly useful.
Step three. Use a round or two, to cast Longstrider, and Spike Growth. Spike Growth is Concentration, so remember to be careful. You could lose your main damage source, as you cannot cast spells while an elemental.
Step four. Become the air elemental. Go in and grab some poor dumb creature or attacker who is large or less size. Whilst flying, drag them through the spike growth. They take 2d4 per 5 ft of movement. Air Elementals cannot be grappled in return, do not take damage for moving through, and their speed is 90 ft. With Longstrider that’s 100. Half their speed which is what you move when dragging something, with longstrider is 50 ft. That’s 20d4 on anything that failed an opposed athletics check.
Want to make this far more effective? Take 2 levels of Rogue. One free skill from the list, and now your Athletics check has Expertise, which is a great way of making up for the 14 Str. It also gives you cunning action, so you can DASH as a bonus action. Now they can take 20d4 AGAIN.
Don’t want Rogue? The brawny feat also gives expertise in Athletics and doubles your carrying capacity as if you were a size larger. Which effectively makes you huge, now Medium creatures (With some DM ruling) Don’t halve your movement when you grapple them.
Still want more, but not rogue? Barbarian level 3 gives you rage, which you can do while wild shaped, and you can still hold concentration. It adds to your AC because unarmored defense as an Elemental, all while giving advantage on your strength check to grapple. And Totem Warrior lets you Dash as a bonus action if you take eagle. Take it barbarian level 5 and you get bonus movement as well. [Edit: If you are able to cast spells, you can't cast them or concentrate on them while raging.]
Still not enough? Do you have you a friend? Enlarge makes it possible to grab even bigger things and force them into your spikes. HASTE just doubles your speed for no reason, and gives you an extra action, which can explicitly be used to Dash. AGAIN.
It’s still janky, and it doesn’t work on lots of things. But, then you are still a druid, basically full of HP, and a full caster. Nothing wrong with that, even if you multiclassed.
Smite Bear: Barbarian 3/Paladin 2/Druid 15
One thing that can be somewhat frustrating for players using this build is that so much of their power is tied to spells rather than their Raging animal form. This build solves that by using Divine Smite to convert that stored power into damage that can be added onto melee attacks. With a combination of that and healing from Combat Wildshape, you can fully unlock a new level of power for your character, something that only gets better as the campaign goes on rather than falling off like other versions.
- Level 1-2 Druid: get the Circle of the Moon so you can Wildshape into a bear
- Level 3 Barbarian: Unlock Rage
- Level 4-5 Paladin: Get your Divine Smite. You'll want to choose the Protection fighting style as you can't use any others but can keep a shield equipped.
- Level 6-7 Barbarian: You need to unlock the Totem Warrior subclass. It doubles your wildshapes effective health, preventing the shape from being one-shot.
- Level 8-20 Druid: Your going to need some more advanced wild shapes, even with Totem Warrior. You'll also gain access to higher level spell slots for Divine Smite damage and Combat Wild Shape healing. Recommended you take the Sentinel feat at level 9.
- Divine Smite, Rage and Wildshape can be used together thanks to their wording. All three are considered "Class Features", meaning that restrictions that prepent the use of spells don't limit them (Rage and Wild Shape specifically). Wildshape also allows you to retain your class and racial features, meaning that all of these opitons remain available to you for the duration.
- Divine Smite says that "when you hit a creature with a melee weapon attack, you can expend one spell slot to deal radiant damage to the target, in addition to the weapon’s damage". Beasts attacks are all called "melee weapon attacks". In addition, they are a special catagory called "Natural Weapons", discussed by DnD's designer Jeremy Crawford in a Sage Advice Video
- Armor Class can be increased through Barbarian's Unarmored Defense and Shield Proficiency. Unarmored defense often has a higher AC with your wildshapes stats then their natural armor. Also, since you maintain proficiencies when you wildshape, you can wield a shield if your form has the appropriate limbs. By loosening the straps of the shield before hand, your wildshape bear can get an easy +2 AC.
This build also focuses on progression, making sure if you play a character with this you can enjoy EVERY level, not just level 20.
- Level 5: All core mechanic are unlocked - Rage, Wildshape, and Divine Smite. You can experience this build's core concept at this level.
- Level 10: Totem Warrior is quickly rushed to avoid being outpaced by Monsters progressively higher damage. Unlock higher spell slots as well.
- Level 15: Earth Elemental wildform is unlocked for what is often the final encounter. Divine Smite is maxed out and still have extra spell slots.
- Level 20: You can use two 5 CR beasts rather than one 5 CR elemental now. Your a potent spell caster if you choose, but no 9th level spells.
Dwarven Endurance Bear: Druid 10/ Monk 5/ Barbarian 3/ Warlock 2
- The Extra Short Version
Be a Moon Druid Hill Dwarf, get the Dwarven Fortitude feat and Periapt of Wound Closure item, dodge.
- The Short Version
Get Moon Druid’s Wild Shape feature for free Hit points and Hit Dice. Get the Dwarven Fortitude feat to heal with Hit Dice when you dodge. Get Monk’s Patient Defence feature to dodge as a bonus action. Get Barbarian‘s Bear totem for resistance to almost all damage. Get Warlock’s Green Lord’s Gift to maximise regaining Hit Points. Get the Periapt of Wound Closure to double Hit Points regained from Hit Dice.
Be a bear, laugh as people struggle to hit you and then deal half damage to you while you heal yourself and when they finally put you down, become another bear, laugh as a bear, repeat.
The basic version of this build is Druid 2/ Barbarian 1/ Monk 2. Everything else is extra.
- The Full Version
Be a Hill Dwarf. This gets you +2 Con and advantage against poison and +1HP per level. You still have advantage against poison in beast form which is nice and reading the wording of Wildshape and Dwarven toughness, it looks like you get the extra max hit points while in Wildshape but you don’t start with extra hit points to fill it, so it just lets you regain hit points immediately but doesn’t give more hit points which is still nice.
What stats you start with aren’t too important because you’re mostly in beast form, get high Con so you are tanky in your normal form too and for Con saves, then Wiz for your Druid spells, Sanctuary, Stunning Blow and for Wiz saves then Dex for Dex saves and your own AC.
If you’re starting at a high level then it may be worth taking Warlock as your first class for Wiz and Cha saves. Otherwise, start with Druid and get 4 levels to take the Dwarven Fortitude feat Which lets you expand one hit dice to heal when you take the dodge action, so you can use your beast forms hit dice to heal between battles and just be a bit tankier during battles too.
The order of the next lot of levels is more up to choice but I will order them how I would take them.
1 level in Barbarian for Rage and Unarmored Defence.
2 levels in Monk to get Ki and use it for patient defence to take the dodge action as a bonus action. You will also be 10ft faster when unarmored, like in Wildshape form.
2 more levels Druid to Wildshape into CR 2 beasts and to bypass non-magical physical resistance.
2 more levels in Barbarian to take the Path of the Totem Warrior; Bear to get resistance to almost all damage. You also get Danger Sense that gives advantage on Dex saves.
2 levels in Warlock to take the Archfey Patron and get the Eldritch Invocation; Green Lord’s Gift so whenever you’re healed, you regain the maximum possible hit points, which is really good because then your healing is reliable and you can’t get unlucky at the worst time. Also get the Invocation; Devil’s Sight so you can see through magical darkness and get the spell Darkness (you can get that spell because you have 2nd level spell slots from Druid). So when you’re not raging you can cast Darkness on something you’re carrying and effectively make yourself invisible and everyone nearby blind.
3 more levels in Monk so you can use Patient Defence 5 times per short rest instead of only 2 times. You also get Deflect Missle to decrease damage from ranged attacks, Slow Fall to reduce falling damage by 25, enough to fall 40ft with guaranteed no damage, Stunning Strike so when you hit someone you can try stunning them for a turn and Extra attack so your beast form’s with only one attack can deal more damage. Also, pick the Way of Tranquility, this lets you cast Sanctuary on yourself if you ever need a break in your true form, you also get Healing Hands (Lay on Hands but x2) which gives a you 50 more hit points which you can also use to cure poisons and disease and to wake up unconscious teammates.
Then the rest is Druid. You get more spells and better Wildshapes including Elemental Forms. You also get another ASI or feat.
This is the build I prefer but feel free to modify it, taking 2 more levels in Druid would open up CR4 beasts and 5 has CR5. Brontosaurus is a great form for this build as it has d20 hit dice so you’ll heal for 23 when you dodge. For that I’d do Druid 15/ Barbarian 3/ Warlock 2.
So the strategy is to Wildshape and dodge first turn, dodging reduces the chance you get hit when you haven’t raged yet and you can heal due to the increased racial max HP. Then you rage for resistances and use a beast form without multiattack as you have Extra attack so you hit twice. Then when you start taking damage you can dodge as a bonus action to make it harder to hit you and heal. Before you Wildshape you can also try casting Darkness on a mundane neckless so you’re in the center of a circle of darkness you can see through.
Ankylosaurus is my preferred beast form as it has 68 HP, 8d12 HD, AC15 and it’s attack deals 4d6+4 and can knock prone which can be done twice per turn. Against a boss or if I’m worried about being one shoted then earth elemental form.
Look at the Unkillable optimised build for more details.
Mighty Mama Bear: Barbarian 3/Paladin 7/Druid 10
This build scales really well by relying on the Earth Elemental wildshape that Moon Druids get at level 10, the 2nd most powerful form possible. Before then using the Bear or Cave Bear wildshapes is still really useful. In addition, the extra levels in paladin give you a ton of extra power and only remove 1 spell slot worth of power over the Smite Bear build.
Ability Scores: Str 13, Dex 14, Con 14, Int 9, Wis 13, Cha 14 (Race: Half Elf)
- level 1-2: Druid - Circle of the Moon Subclass
- Levels 3-5: Barbarian - Totem Warrior subclass
- Levels 6-12: Paladin - Oath of Redemption subclass, 2 ASI: Str&Wis+1, Sentinel Feat
- Level 13-20: Druid, ASI: Tough Feat
Play Style: So, all of this leads to the actual mechanics of this build, so I won't make you wait any longer. The name of the game with the Mama Bear is stacking. Wild Shape allows you to retain class features while in your Wild Shape, this is especially interesting when we consider that Rage is a class feature. This means that we can Wild Shape as a bonus action one turn, unleash some attacks and draw attention, and Rage on our next turn, gaining our resistances and Rage Damage Bonus. What stands out here is that Raging prevents you from casting spells, but from both Druid and Paladin, we've got features that let us use spell slots in non-spell ways. Druid allows Wild Shape healing and the Paladin's Divine Smite is not actually a spell. We can even use our Channel Divinity while raging and Wild Shaped, meaning that we can stack the benefits of our extra HP from Wild Shape, resistance from Bear Totem Rage, damage kickers from Divine Smite, and retaliatory damage through Channel divinity. This in conjunction with our Feat choices of Sentinel and Tough means that we can effectively lock down almost any heavy hitter, forcing them to focus on us while the party focuses fire on them.
|—Spell Slots per Spell Level—|
Note that the Spells Prepared column does not account for your Oath spells, meaning you should be able to prepare a total of 21 spells daily. Also note that you should not be able to prepare any Druid spells of a level greater than 5 and no Paladin spells of a level greater than 2.
- When building a Mama Bear, I prefer to start from 1st level as a Druid.
This will circumvent the need for a higher WIS score to multiclass into DruidYou still need to meet the prerequisit to mc out of a class. and proficiency in INT saving throws will pad our negative modifier. As for starting skills, I find that the following six (Assuming that you are playing a Half Elf) work best for this build: Athletics, Insight, Intimidation, Medicine, Perception and Survival. (Athletics and Survival being standard for Outlander background) Ultimately, we will be taking 10 levels in Druid and taking the Circle of the Moon as our archetype. This Archetype will give us a few wonderful features including Combat Wild Shape, Primal Strike and Elemental Wild Shape. Once we've got our 10th and final level in Druid, our Earth Elemental form will be the main ingredient in this build's powerhouse combo. For spells from the Druid list, the Druidcraft and Guidance cantrips make for good roleplay material, and the following spells will serve you well: (This is my personal recommendation, not an expert strategic layout, adjust this list as you see fit or ignore it entirely.)
- 1st Level: Cure Wounds, Goodberry
- 2nd Level: Enhance Ability, Lesser Restoration
- 3rd Level: Protection From Energy
- 4th Level: Polymorph
- 5th Level: Conjure Elemental, Greater Restoration, Mass Cure Wounds, Wall of Stone
- Despite the small dip that we're going for with Barbarian, the features that we get from this class will be incredibly useful. First and foremost, we will be gaining the ability to Rage from our 1st level in Barbarian, and if you rolled for stats and have a particularly high CON and DEX, your unarmored defense might be more than what Half-Plate could provide. (Assuming that their is a non-metal Half-Plate armor available to you) On our 2nd level of Barbarian we get Danger Sense which will be incredibly useful and Reckless attack which might be useful in single combat. Our 3rd level, we are taking the Path of the Totem Warrior, Bear Totem, of course. (As is the namesake) With this, we now gain resistance to all but psychic damage while raging and we can now cast Animal Friendship and Speak with Animals as ritual spells.
- Paladin plays a unique role in this build, mostly being there for the bonus to saving throws and Lay on Hands. At our 1st level, we gain Divine Sense (Which is more useful than most give credit) and Lay on Hands which will allow us to add to the party's total healing pool. By 2nd level we gain Paladin spellcasting, Divine Smite (Which we will be using A LOT!) and a Fighting Style. (If you are wearing armor, I recommend the Defense fighting style, and Dueling if you are using Unarmored Defense) Our 3rd level is where things become a bit more interesting. Here, we will be taking the Oath of Redemption which is found in Xanathar's Guide to Everything. This will give us our Oath spells, Sanctuary and Sleep, and our Channel Divinity which we can use once per short rest. Our Channel Divinity options are Emissary of Peace and Rebuke the Violent, as shown here:
- Emissary of Peace: You can use your Channel Divinity to augment your presence with divine power. As a bonus action, you grant yourself a +5 bonus to Charisma (Persuasion) checks for the next 10 minutes.
- Rebuke the Violent: You can use your Channel Divinity to rebuke those who use violence. Immediately after an attacker within 30 feet of you deals damage with an attack against a creature other than you, you can use your reaction to force the attacker to make a Wisdom saving throw. On a failed save, the attacker takes radiant damage equal to the damage it just dealt. On a successful save, it takes half as much damage.
- We will likely be using Rebuke the Violent quite a bit with this build. 4th level gets us an Ability Score Improvement. 5th level gives us our Extra Attack and two more Oath spells, Calm Emotions and Hold Person. 6th level is the most important part of our Paladin levels, Aura of Protection. This is the reason for our high CHA score, adding our CHA modifier to all saving throws will offer us a great deal of protection from spells and other powerful effects. And 7th level will give us our next Oath feature: Aura of the Guardian. This will allow us to use our reaction when a friendly creature within 10 feet of us takes damage, taking that damage for them. As a final note on Paladin, there are only two spells in the Paladin spell list that I see as necessary to this build, and that is Compelled Duel and Shield of Faith. For the rest of your spells, quite literally anything will work, so choose what sounds fun, within the limits of multiclass casting, of course.
Barbarian 5+/Druid 2
This build will fall off pretty hard, but is a great early game build for campaigns that don't go over level 10. The bear shape just deals so much damage that getting a higher rage damage modifier onto it is just amazing. Great for players that want to fight in melee even outside of their wildshape.