Dexterity Barbarian (5e Optimized Character Build)

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Dexterity Barbarian[edit]

The objective of this build is to squeeze the most out of the unarmored AC feature of the barbarian. It combines DEX and CON to build your AC. Optimizing for maximum UAC is an extremely efficient way to get the most out of your ability rolls. CON is a flat HP bonus per level. DEX is your initiative modifier, and can be used as an attack modifier. By using an optimized UAC, the DEX Barbarian doesn't need to worry about don/doff times or encumbrance from armor, which is often one of the heaviest items carried. Also, unlike other characters who, if captured, may be stripped of their armor, the Barbarian is permanently protected.

There are several downsides to this build, basically that your damage output falls significantly behind a strength build:

A) Unlike the monk, the UAC optimized barbarian is quite restricted in weapon selection.

B) The Barbarian Rage damage bonus applies only to STR-based weapons.

C) Reckless Attack only works with STR-based weapons, and thus you lose the use of one of your major class features.

Race Selection[edit]

A stout halfling grants +2 DEX, essential as our primary offensive stat, and +1 CON, adding to AC and HP. The downside is the decreased speed, and the penalization on heavy weapons. That's not too big of an issue though, as there are no finesse heavy weapons anyways.

The other good option is the variant human with +1 DEX, +1 CON and a feat:

- Resilient can raise DEX again and provide DEX saving throws;

- Defensive Duelist raises AC against one attack but cannot be used with Rage;

- Dual wielder adds +1 to AC which goes well with the idea of the DEX build for the purposes of high AC if you don't want to use a shield;

- Sentinel is always a fantastic tanking feat;

- Shield master gives excellent offensive and defensive features if you want a high AC shield build, sacrificing some damage output.

Half-Elves also allow +1 DEX, +1 CON, and +2 CHA if you don't want to be utterly useless in social interactions, as well as two free skills, fluency in elvish, darkvision, and resistance to charm and sleep magic.

Background & Skills[edit]

Backgrounds provide nice flavor but are useful in that they can provide certain skills that are not available to the class. Someone suggested that one should pick Noble, but meh. Why does your barbarian need to be skilled in History and Persuasion (and INT and CHA are your lowest two abilities?). The rationale was for the starting gold, but you don't need that starting gold since armor is the most expensive item at level 1 anyway, and the gold you'll gain from adventuring will typically far outreach anyone's starting gold.

Even if you're not focussed with STR, Athletics is still a great skill in conjunction with your Rage abilities. Acrobatics and Stealth work well with your high DEX. Perception is always good to have. Animal Handling, Nature and Survival are good if you will spend a lot of time out in the rough. Insight is nice if you don't want to be constantly duped. Intimidation fits the Barbarian, but you may want to check with the DM if you can mostly rely on using STR instead of CHA for that (cf. PHB 175).

Ability Scores[edit]

Obviously, put your best scores in DEX and CON. From there, you have a few options. Your next best roll can go into WIS to boost your passive Perception, or STR to let you use standard melee weapons better. The least useful ability is a toss-up between CHR and INT, depending on if you prefer to be a bit more competent in social settings vs. general knowledge. Here are two sample ways you can distribute your ability scores.

STR. 14
DEX. 15
CON. 15
INT. 8
WIS. 10
CHR. 8
STR. 12
DEX. 14
CON. 15
INT. 10
WIS. 13
CHR. 8

Note, you'll want DEX at 15 if you choose variant human and don't pick a feat to raise DEX by an extra 1. You can have DEX at 14 otherwise, or if you pick the stout halfling.


If you're going finesse weapons over a great weapon, go for either (a) two shortswords if you want to dual-wield (if you get the dual-wielder feat which is HIGHLY recommended, then you can upgrade to two rapiers), OR (b) rapier and shield. If you're playing strictly by the starting class equipment listed in the PHB, then get a greatsword and trade it in for the desired equipment.

Note on handaxes and javelins: they don't have the finesse property, and therefore even through thrown, rely on your STR, not your DEX (PHB 147]. Get a bow instead. Or a crossbow if you have the Crossbow Expert feat, but honestly, the goal of this build is high AC meaning you're supposed to be on the front line, and there are far better feats to pick for the front line. From your explorer's pack, you get a backpack, a bedroll, a mess kit, a tinderbox, 10 torches, 10 rations, a waterskin, and a 50ft hemp rope. The explorer's pack is the single most practical pack in the game. You're all set for adventure!

Your background will give you a few things. When considering background gear, consider implicit power. Some items, though they lack mechanical stats, have a titanic amount of power in the basic reasoning of what they are and how they work. With a bit of creativity, a decent roleplayer can use this kind of implicit power to change the entire campaign. So don't think about these items as just fluffy stuff- think about what you could do with them.

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