Core Concept: While they’re not a class I’ve personally ever wanted to play, I think barbarians have a legitimate niche within fantasy adventures. Fighters are soldiers with expertly honed weapons skills and knowledge of military tactics. The fighter class can’t represent the brute ferocity of the wild-man. If you are to imagine the battles between Rome and Gaul, it would be hard name meaningful similarities between the warriors on the two sides. What I’m a little less fond of is the rage mechanic which is part-in-parcel of every barbarian class. I don’t actively dislike rage mechanics, they’re flavorful and they work fine. I just don’t think it’s such a perfect fit for the barbarian concept that it deserves to be ubiquitous.
As an example, I once made a class called the Whirling Berserker which received a bonus to attack rolls so long as she attacked a different target on each turn. As such, the character would be most effective if she moved through a battle, attacking everyone she passed, rather than engaging with a single opponent.
So while I think the concept deserves some more creative thinking than it normally gets, I none the less approve of the class’s inclusion in the Pathfinder RPG.
Fast Movement:Movement speed is important to grid based combat. And while I don’t like to be forced to use a grid, I certainly like to have it as an option. The potential problem of Fast Movement is that it does tie a group down to using a grid, because if a grid is not used, then the barbarian player’s class is functionally gimped. That being said, I have GMed for several barbarians, and none of them have complained yet during the battles where I choose to run things grid-less.
That’s really a minor issue however, as Pathfinder combat is intended to be run with a grid. And when using a grid, the rate of movement has some very interesting effects on combat. If anything, I’d like to see more movement speed bonuses and penalties in the game.
Rage: I’ve already mentioned that I don’t think rage mechanics deserve to be ubiquitous, but it’s here, so lets talk about how it’s implemented.
Honestly I’d rather see rage be more dramatically powerful, but come with more significant drawbacks. As it stands, Rage is certainly…’balanced.’ It’s a boon to the class which allows them to be competitive in combat. But that’s a metric which I believe to be overrated. Not entirely without value, mind you, but certainly overrated. I won’t go into that now, but I recommend Brendan of Untimately’s thoughts on the matter.
Instead of a small bonuses and penalties, I want to see Barbarians hurl stones that weigh as much as they do–but I also want them to have a possibility to attack their fellows, or flee from a flashy magical effect. I haven’t thought out how this might be implemented, but I’d enjoy it a lot more than a +4 bonus to Strength and Constitution. Snore.
Rage Powers: Despite myself, I love rage powers. They overcomplicate the class, confuse new players, and encourage veteran players to concentrate on their character’s ‘build,’ rather than improvement through play. But all of that aside, I think Rage Powers are awesome. They’re elegantly flavorful, and lend the rage ability the type of drama I was lamenting the lack of above.
Consider that when enraged, a character could gain the ability to see in the dark, or run twice as fast, or deflect swords with the sheer bulginess of their muscles. It is fun, and awesome. And–better yet–most every one of the rage powers presented in the core rulebook avoid my problem with feats. They’re mostly improvements to stuff the character could already attempt, or legitimately new abilities, rather than agency-damaging game options.
Though I do love them, I think Rage Powers might benefit from being made much more powerful, and acquired much more slowly.
Improved / Uncanny Dodge: There’s not a lot to say about this pair of abilities. They might be seen as complications, but at least they’re not minor, fiddly ones. The inability to be caught flat footed, or the inability to be flanked, change a lot about how combat will work. The pair works well with barbarian flavor–particularly if you consider my alternative to ‘rage’ noted above–so no complaints on that front either.
Trap Sense: This, on the other hand, is a minor fiddly complication; and not one which fits particularly well with Barbarian flavor. I’ve always hated Trap Sense, even for rogues. Perhaps it might carry more weight if traps were deadlier in Pathfinder. (Of course, traps are plenty deadly in my games. But not in Pathfinder raw.)
Damage Reduction: I think damage reduction is a really elegant mechanic, and one of the best innovations of D&D 3rd edition.* I think it’s also a good fit for the Barbarian, since they’re so ferocious and battle scarred that minor blows have completely ceased to phase them.
Greater / Mighty Rage: While I’m okay with rage as a barbarian ability, I do not like these kinds of rage ‘upgrades.’ I suppose there’s nothing inherently wrong with them, but it makes the character’s progression seem stilted. I would much rather see rage improve organically. So instead of +4 strength at level 1, +6 at level 11, and +8 at level 20; rage could simply give characters a 25% increase in strength. As the character’s strength improved, so would the strength bonus they received when they raged.
As an alternative, all improvements to rage could come in the form of something similar to rage powers.
Indomitable Will: I can’t help but feel this ought to just be a rage power. Maybe it was deemed to be out of balance with other rage power options, but as I mentioned, I think rage powers ought to have a more dramatic effect anyway.
Tireless Rage: I’ve decided I’m too tired and apathetic to write what I think about Tireless Rage. Instead, just go up and read what I think about Indomitable Will, because my thoughts on that ability are literally identical to my thoughts on Tireless Rage. I seriously considered copy-pasting it.
*Please forgive me, and correct me, if I’m missing a piece of gaming history here.