The Demonscarred Barbarian, Revised 4

One of the players in my Aurikesh campaign has been playing the Demon-Scarred barbarian path that I released… uh, wow, two and a half years ago, and he’s offered some great feedback on its issues. Our conversations on some of these points have significantly informed my own design tastes, and thus my design breakdowns over in Tribality. As you’ll see, I’ve completely overhauled the design here. Also make sure you check out Stands-in-Fire’s analysis of the barbarian.

Demonscarred Path, Revised

Among the darkest and most savage tribes of the wilds, demons supplant the gods and spirits of the old faiths. The demons turn these tribes from harmony to conquest, and goad them into violence against their neighbors. In other cases, pushed to desperation by a few seasons of scarce game or the pressures of stronger neighbors, a tribe may seek out the patronage of a demon. In exchange for their service, these demonic patrons grant extraordinary power. Just as the totemic barbarians gain traits of beasts, the demonscarred gain traits from the Abyssal legions. There are also those who simply lived too long in places tainted by the power of the Abyss, and found that the totemic spirits of the earth could no longer bear their presence; such individuals make the best of a difficult situation and often wield their powers against the Abyss. Others waited to hear the call of a totemic spirit, but the spirit they heard and bonded with turned out to be a horror.

The DC for abilities granted by this Path that require a saving throw is 8 + your Constitution bonus + your proficiency bonus.

Spawn of the Abyssal Horde
Starting at third level when you choose this path, your rage brings on physical corruption representing the influence of the Abyss on you. When you enter a rage, you can expend a Hit Die. Roll the die, add your Constitution modifier, and gain the result as temporary hit points. If you roll a 1 or 2 on the die, you also immediately regain the expended Hit Die.

When a creature within 15 feet that you can see is hit by an attack, you can use your reaction to grant it resistance against the attack’s damage. You take the same amount of damage, which ignores any damage resistance or immunity that you possess. The next time you deal damage with a weapon attack, you deal an additional 1d8 damage. Any accumulated damage bonus is lost when you finish a short or long rest.

Further, you learn to speak, read, and write Abyssal.

Consider rolling on or choosing from the following table of unusual cosmetic features that manifest when you enter a rage.

1d8 Rage Feature
1 Your eyes roll back in your head, turn completely black, look like hollowed-out pits, or begin weeping ichor.
2 Your index and middle finger seem to merge into one, and your ring and pinky finger seem to merge into one.
3 Your skin seems to crack like magma, revealing fire beneath.
4 Your legs shift to become digitigrade, avian, or reptilian.
5 A ring of horns emerges, crown-like, from the top of your head.
6 Your mouth looks as though it is filled with fire.
7 A second, batlike face appears on the back of your head, or fanged mouths open up on the backs of your hands.
8 You do not cast a reflection in a mirror, or your reflection looks like a greater demon.

Abyssal Flesh
Beginning at 6th level, your flesh takes on some of the qualities that are common to demons. You gain resistance to fire and poison, and you gain advantage on saving throws against the poisoned condition.

Demon Summoning
Starting at 10th level, you learn the find familiar spell, and can cast it as a ritual. Any creature you choose as your familiar is fiendish in nature. In addition to the normal list of options, you can choose a quasit as your familiar.

Fiery Vengeance
When you reach 14th level, when you use the reaction granted by your Spawn of the Abyssal Horde feature, you can also cast hellish rebuke. The creature struck by the triggering attack is the source of the spell.


Design Notes

Other than its opening theme, this has… nothing in common with the original version. I still like things about the original, but several of the features had issues from being per-long rest. I also needed to move Lesser Aspect to 3rd level so that it’s properly formative on the whole experience, and get rid of the on-last-hit feature in Blood and Souls. Basically none of that was working right.

What I’ve done here is a tanking barbarian. It works in a similar vein to XGTE’s Ancestral Guardian, so I hope I’m doing something different enough to avoid feeling derivative. It punishes attacks against its allies by stacking up a damage boost. As Stands-in-Fire observes in the linked post, the barbarian has no particular source of pressure to draw attacks to themselves. Now, I’d argue that the 5e barbarian’s baseline state is a highly self-sufficient striker that happens to fall short on damage (compared to a damage-focused fighter), rather than a defender. It’s entirely appropriate, though, for subclasses to alter party role. The Bear totemic features do this… at 14th level.

I would have liked to have fit in more noncombat features, but I had some trouble cooking up useful, Abyss-themed noncombat material. Demon Summoning is what I landed on. (The quasit’s Magic Resistance is also a big combat feature. Have I mentioned that imps and quasits are Just Better for the Pact of the Chain?)

The Demonscarred barbarian may be a little more of a healing sink than other barbarians, what with deliberately taking damage as part of their reaction. Mitigating that further or changing around how they gain temporary hit points from Spawn of the Abyssal Hordes is a distinct possibility, based on testing feedback. Right now it functionally ranges from 3 (let’s assume for the moment you don’t play a barbarian with less than 14 Con) to 17 (20 Con) or 19 (24 Con at 20th level) hit points. That’s not great on scaling over time, but I still really like that Abyss is taxing your body in exchange for short-term strength. Just another thing to keep in mind.

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4 thoughts on “The Demonscarred Barbarian, Revised

  • Craig Cormier

    I like what I’m seeing here with this revision. I love subclasses that push characters into non-standard party roles.

    My only question regards the damage buff on Spawn of the Abyssal Horde. Is that 1d8 damage intended to be a stacking bonus? Also, the bonus damage potentially lasting past the end of the rage seems weird to me.

    • Brandes Stoddard Post author

      The reaction granted by Spawn of the Abyssal Horde doesn’t require you to be raging. I realize that could be clearer in the text, and I’ll see what I can do to touch it up. I do want the barbarian to be able to stack d8s for a horrific burst of Abyssal retribution. Also, I don’t want them to lose their defender party role just because they’ve spent all of their rages for the day. With the “expected” 6-8 encounters in a day, you’ll go through a lot of fights with no rage available in the first 10 levels of play.

  • Audra Edmonson

    This is a fantastic idea and excellent execution. I may need to try this out in my next campaign! I particularly like the rage feature table. I think a lot of players would love to roll on that.