Wizards of the Coast have finally hit a moving deadline, and released the playtest version of the Barbarian, and boy was it worth the wait! Complete kudos to Wizards’ for releasing this for free – they didn’t have to, but I’m darned glad they did.
What we have is a complete 30 level-worth of Powers and more than enough detail to generate a Barbarian at any level of play. It’s not complete – there’s only a subset of Powers and one Class Option, but it’s more than enough. We’re given the Rageblood Barbarian in full, with the Thaneborn Barbarian saved for the finished product. As with any playtest information, it’s all subject to change but there’s more than enough here to be usable, and what I see, I love!
Here we have a Barbarian who is as swift and agile as he is strong – a Primal force who is empowered by the Spirits of his ancestors and nature itself. In melee the Barbarian is designed to do stupendous levels of damage. Just take the Avalanche Strike Power as an example – it’s usable once per encounter and does 3x weapon damage (3[W], in 4e’s lingo), plus Strength bonus, plus Con bonus if you’re raging. At 1st level. The trade-off is that it leaves the Barbarian open to attack; attackers get +4 to hit you until your next turn. Heckovalotta damage (for a 1st level encounter Power), but with a good trade-off too. I like.
Then there’s the Barbarian’s iconic ability, the Rage. In Third Edition your Rage buffed up your abilities for a while, and That Was Good. Fourth Edition takes that, tosses it away and makes your Raging Barbarian a LOT cooler.
There’s different kinds of Rage.
If you’re a 3e player who’s been hanging back from playing 4e because it lacked your favourite Barbarian class, read that sentence again. Quit wussing around and get the books and this download. You won’t regret it.
Here’s how it works. All of the Barbarian’s Daily Powers are called “Rages”. In this playtest document at 1st level you can pick between Bloodhunt Rage or Swift Panther Rage. Level 5 adds Frost Wolf Rage or Thunder Hawk Rage, and so on. Each one does a certain amount of hurt against a foe, and also has a different effect that applies for the rest of the encounter. For example, Swift Panther Rage does 3[W]+STR damage (miss for half), and grants +2 speed and Shift 2 as a move action for the rest of the encounter. That’s terrific if you want to be the kind of Barbarian who wants to be fast, agile and deadly on the battlefield.
Also, once you’ve used one of your Daily Rage Powers, your at-wills get boosted too during your rage. This shifts the emphasis on when to use your Dailies as it’s better to use them soon in a climactic encounter rather than later. This is different to most other Classes where Dailies generally get saved for the face-off against the Big Bad Villain. Barbarians are going to burn their Dailies with a huge grin on their face!
What surprises me about the class as presented is that I’d have expected Barbarians to gain some kind of boost when Bloodied, such as having to use a Rage Power as their next attack when first Bloodied in an encounter, or gaining a retributive strike against the opponent who cause the Bloodied status. Maybe that’s a part of the Thaneborn Barbarian’s shtick. A few of the Powers have slightly different effects if the Barbarian or his foes are Bloodied – the best of which being the 29th level Winter Ghost Rage which does 6[W]+STR damage, ongoing Cold 10 damage (miss for half) AND the Barbarian is insubstantial while Bloodied for the rest of the encounter. Feckin’ scary, that is.
The overall feel is that this is Conan the Barbarian, if Conan was written by David Gemmell. And I can’t give it higher praise than that.
UPDATE: The much loved 4e Character Generator now includes support for the Barbarian class! Way to go! :D