Barbarians are fun characters to play in Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). If you’re thinking about roleplaying one, you may have questions about how to build the best version.
Can barbarians wear armor?
Barbarians can wear armor in Dungeons and Dragons. Barbarians can wear light, medium, or heavy armor. Barbarians should only wear armor in which they are proficient. When wearing heavy armor, barbarians lose the ability to rage attack. Wearing any armor eliminates their unarmored defense modifier.
In this article, I’ll answer the most common questions about barbarians and armor.
Can Barbarians Wear Armor 5e & 6e?
In the latest edition of D&D, barbarians can wear any type of armor listed in the Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG) or allowed by the Dungeon Master (DM).
As with any class, there are benefits and drawbacks for barbarians wearing armor.
Just because your barbarian can wear armor, doesn’t mean he or she should. You may want to consider armor proficiency, barbarian bonus actions, and the unarmored defense modifier.
Read more about the pros and cons below.
Do Barbarians Have Armor Proficiency?
Barbarians start with proficiencies in light and medium armor.
Barbarians gain these proficiencies when they choose their class at the 1st level. This is a major plus as first-level characters typically possess a low number of health points.
The option to wear armor for protection helps their survival during the first few adventures.
Compare this with wizards, who often start out with no proficiencies in any type of armor (Read: Can Wizards Wear Armor?)
Can Barbarians Wear Light Armor?
Barbarians can wear light armor.
They can wear:
- Leather armor
- Padded armor
- Studded armor
All three of these light armor types are good options for barbarians in need of extra protection (Read: Can You Sleep in Armor in D&D?). They also go well with the history, lore, and tradition of barbarians in D&D.
Can Barbarians Wear Medium Armor?
Barbarians can wear medium armor.
Medium armor includes:
- Plate armor
- Splint mail
- Ring mail
- Chain mail
Medium armor is the heaviest armor barbarians can wear without suffering a penalty to their character abilities.
Can Barbarians Wear Heavy Armor?
Barbarians can wear heavy armor.
However, barbarians that wear heavy armor typically suffer a penalty to their abilities, which includes the rage attack bonus.
A barbarian wearing heavy armor forfeits the rage ability and its benefits.
Heavy armor is so restrictive that it’s not usually a good choice for barbarians.
What Happens if a Barbarian Wears Armor?
As soon as barbarians put on armor, several things happen.
They can no longer use the unarmored defense modifier. Instead, they get the armor class (AC) benefits of the armor, which affects how easily enemies can hit them during combat.
The heavier the armor, the more protection it gives barbarians—as long as they are proficient in the armor.
When a barbarian wears heavy armor without proficiency, it only disadvantages them.
The heavy armor slows them down but does not offer additional AC protection.
Can You Wear Armor While Raging?
Barbarians can rage attack while wearing light or medium armor.
With few exceptions, they can rage in armor when they are proficient in wearing the armor. Remember, barbarians start out at level one with proficiency in light and medium armor.
Therefore, a first-level barbarian can rage attack in most armor.
However, even if a barbarian character gains proficiency in heavy armor, they still can not rage attack in it.
That’s why I suggest barbarians never wear heavy armor (except, perhaps, in very special circumstances).
Like with anything else in D&D, a Dungeon Master (DM) can homebrew additional rules or change existing “rules as written” (RAW). DMs can also drop magical items that give armor class bonuses or remove penalties.
Should a Barbarian Wear Medium Armor?
Medium armor offers some nice armor class benefits to barbarians.
The heavier the armor, the more protective it is for your barbarian character. Barbarian players must also consider their rage attack bonuses on top of their AC modifiers.
For many low-level barbarians, wearing medium armor makes perfect sense.
Can Barbarians Use the Unarmored Defense While Wearing Armor?
Barbarians can not use the unarmored defense modifier while wearing any type of body armor.
This includes light, medium, and heavy armor.
When you think about it, wearing armor naturally means a barbarian is not “unarmored.”
Yet, a DM could homebrew a special potion, spell, or item to provide the unarmored defense modifier even while a barbarian wears body armor.
Can Barbarians Use Unarmored Defense With a Shield?
An interesting fact is that a shield does not technically count as armor for a barbarian.
Yes, your barbarian character can wield a shield and still use unarmored defense.
That’s a major bonus and some cool extra protection in combat.
However, I personally prefer barbarians who use two-handed weapons, such as a two-handed battle ax or great ax.
Unarmored Defense vs. Armor: Which Is Better for Barbarians?
After reading through this article, you might wonder if your barbarian character should choose armor or unarmored defense.
Personally, I think barbarians are custom-made for fighting without armor.
Maybe grab a shield or two, but you don’t need them. I love a good “Barbarian tank” character who eventually picks up the magical Bracers of Defense.
Another way to think about this question is from a level point of view.
During earlier levels, the unarmored defense may give you a better armor class (AC). However, as you level up your character, find magical items, and gain feats, you may find that wearing light or medium armor gives you better AC.
Then, there is the roleplaying factor.
You may simply want to roleplay an unarmored barbarian (think Conan, from the movies).
There is nothing wrong with any personal preference.
Here is a good video that goes into more details about unarmored defense and how it stacks with other abilities, items, and spells in D&D:
What Do Barbarians Wear?
If your barbarian is not wearing traditional armor, you might wonder what kind of clothes they wear.
You can be creative here—it’s your character, after all.
However, to keep in line with tradition, your barbarian could wear simple tunics or basic garments made of cloth, buckskin coverings, or fur.
The keys to barbarian clothing:
- Hides and pelts
Female barbarians also wore these types of clothing. Long-sleeved tunics were very common.
As the player behind the character, you can choose to follow tradition, buck tradition, or mix tradition with your own special flair.
Goliath Barbarian Armor: What Is It and Should You Wear It?
Goliaths are half-giant tribal warriors with thick, muscular builds that make them quintessential barbarians.
Goliath barbarian armor is simply any armor worn by a goliath barbarian.
Many goliath barbarians do not wear any armor at all, except whatever AC they get from their basic coverings (tunics, leather, hides, etc).
As with any barbarians, goliath barbarians do not need any special armor.
While their strength and size make heavy armor a real possibility, this takes away their rage attack bonus action, something at the essence of playing a barbarian.
I always like playing and DMing barbarians that embrace their special traits, features, and abilities.
At the same time, there is no “right” or “wrong” here. It’s based on your personal preference.
Final Thoughts: Can Barbarians Wear Armor?
Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to wear armor is up to the player. It’s the same with players who ask, “Can Orcs ride horses?”.
Sure, if you want them to.
If you’ve read this far, you may also have other questions about playing characters in D&D: