Re-skinning: Barbarian Totems

Hello everyone! Today’s re-skinning article features something akin to what we discussed last time with the dinosaur druid. There are plenty of options for players in the Player’s Handbook of 5th Edition, but those options can be multiplied much further with a little help from the imagination. So, let’s take a look at a very simple way to add some flavor to your barbarian!

Path of the Totem Warrior

Your everyday barbarian tends to go down the path of the berserker. It is a bit of a cliche of the play style and what is evoked by the idea of barbarian. Luckily that isn’t our only option when playing. The other is that of the totem warrior and this path is much more flexible than the other. In order to explore some flavor options we first need to look at the path as it is. The totem warrior is a barbarian much more attuned to nature. All totem warriors gain abilities to help represent and enhance this connection. Additionally, there are three totems to choose from to obtain certain features: the bear, the wolf, and the eagle.

The totem animal you choose helps determine the type of role you will have in your party and the things you will be able to do. The bear is very tanky in build. With strong resistances and a way to discourage enemies from attacking allies, the bear warrior does its best protecting allies from the front line. Eagle warriors on the other hand have high mobility and a higher likelihood to dodge attacks of opportunity. They would do best keeping the enemy on their toes and moving where they are needed at a moment’s notice. Finally the wolf is perfect for groups that rely on multiple melee PCs. They work well as part of a team providing allies with bonuses and being able to knock down opponents.

Aside from these concepts we also need to take a look at the utility ability that each gets. The bear is strong and capable of carrying, pushing, and pulling much more than the average person. Eagles can see much better than normal, gazing long distances for tiny details and ignoring some of the effects of dim light. The wolf gains some advantage to traveling and tracking, able to move swiftly and silently while sniffing out prey. These are especially important to consider moving forward because we want to have as little work to do as possible. As such we need to consider all aspects of the totems for alternatives.

Barbarians Of The Sea

The totem animals we start with a pretty cliche forest / near-mountain dwellers. People can come from all kinds of environs and, as such, so can barbarians who revere nature. To begin our re-skinning let’s make some options for folks playing an ocean-heavy campaign. To expand our choices even more I want to explore two takes: the shore and the water. Given that, we will have to come up with six new animals.

We can start with the bear because it is probably the easiest to consider. It needs to be strong, resistant, and the center of attention. Two perfect options are the crab and the octopus. Both of these creatures are very strong, able to hold more than you might expect. As for resistance, the crab’s is obvious given the hard exoskeleton. The octopus is also pretty resistant given its flexible form and ability to regrow arms. Both animals make perfect totemic replacements.

As for the wolf, it is a little more difficult as they work in packs and that is a big source of inspiration for the totem. For ocean dwelling or focused barbarians we can use the dolphin. These animals are social and do hunt for food, even if that isn’t our first thought about them. They are smart and tricky, the perfect source of inspiration. A shore-associated animal is harder, but I do have one for you: crocodiles! It may be surprising to some, but recent findings suggest they engage in more complex cooperative hunting than you might expect. And which are some of the largest ones? Those are saltwater crocs of course. Perfect for our barbarian needs.

Finally we come to the eagle. Starting with shore birds is absolutely easiest. To replace eagles for sea-faring barbarians we need only go so far as the albatross, large shore birds who glide over the water watching for food. In order to dive below the water’s surface, though, things are more complex. The end totem ability for eagle is flying. This provides distinct advantages and is not easily replaced. It is best to stick with something like the albatross or, perhaps, the pelican. You could pick a swift creature like the barracuda, but you will need to think about how you can make up for that last ability. Perhaps double swimming speed while raging? This one requires a little more thought and work, but I’m confident you can do it if the need strikes!

Other Animal Totems

Using these concepts to think about other totems we can get all kinds of differently flavored barbarians. The key is to continue matching those concepts to different animals of the world. Beyond that it is all about how you play your character. These animals are important for those where story is important. If you are more focused on the mechanical aspects and what type of benefits you gain, then the animal doesn’t really matter. But for those of you who want to explore some fun ideas, I have some more listed for you below! And, of course, I threw in a dinosaur example for each too. You know, just in case your barbarian comes from a lost, primordial land.

Bear Totem

  • turtle
  • hippopotomus
  • rhino
  • tiger
  • moose
  • mountain goat
  • ankylosaur

Wolf Totem

  • hyena
  • lion
  • mongoose
  • harris hawk
  • army ants
  • velociraptor

Eagle Totem

  • vulture
  • owl
  • parrot
  • kingfisher
  • pterasaur

Any animals you have used for your path of the totem barbarian? Any ideas that you have had? Let us know in the comments below!

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