So, I've expressed my frustration with elements of Dungeons & Dragons in the past, and one of my frustrations is that D&D lacks a lot of the variety of characters that you can play, in part due to the fact that it's a class-based RPG, so there will be arbitrary restrictions to keep the classes balanced.
So I took some time to think through what kinds of characters would be fun to play and how it could be done within the D&D system (because I play D&D with friends, and want to solve issues instead of just bringing them up), and the result was a week of intense building that resulted in a subclass (or two) for every class except the Artificer (more why later). Today I'm releasing my thoughts on a new barbarian subclass: the Path of the Blood Oath. As an aside, the timing on this couldn't be more perfect: Dave and Ted at Nerdarchy just released a video this week talking about blood magic, and they touch on the hit point mechanic as a great way to do this, so if you haven't seen their video, I highly recommend it.
As a bit of background, I intentionally have not built any of these subclasses to be "the best subclass" for any class - I think this is both good for the game (as we don't want the newest and best things to overshadow what's in the Player's Handbook or the older supplements from Wizards of the Coast), and also good for adoption: a DM is more likely to accept a new subclass if it's not as powerful as a canonized subclass. So if you compare this barbarian subclass to the Path of the Totem, for example (the most common barbarian subclass by far), you'll find that it is not as strong as that one, and that's intentional. I would argue it isn't as strong as the Path of the Zealot either, but I could see that being a more debatable claim.
The goal is to provide a subclass that is themed well, providing a different playstyle and experience that may be better at some things than other subclasses but also with unique challenges and difficulties. This is also why we have not created an Artificer subclass, as it is so new and there are so few variants that theming and balancing the subclass is hard to gauge at this point. So perhaps we'll release one in the future as we see more for that subclass.
Today, however, we focus on the Blood Oath Barbarian: the man or woman who swears an oath in their own blood to care for those around them, binding their very life essence to their word of honor.
The Blood Oath Barbarian: Theme and Inspiration
Taken from Conan the Barbarian, the oathmaker Dunlending chieftain from the theatrical version of The Two Towers, Tom Sawyer, Kevin Costner's Robin Hood, and anyone else who has cut themselves to add strength to a pact, the Blood Oath path centers around the unique principle of blood in making a pact stronger. Already present in D&D lore through hags, the Blood Oath pact that the barbarian takes is not evil like hag magic, but far more honorable: instead of gaining power from someone else's blood, you gain power to help another through channeling your own life force, making your attacks or defense on the behalf of a friend more potent.
This of course comes with a trade-off: you are physically weakened and are rewarded for sacrificing for others, so the chance that your character dies is higher. Though, for the moments of epic glory and powerful strikes, perhaps it's worth the risk.
From an alignment perspective, this is also a more Lawful-leaning barbarian, tying their life essence to the veracity of their words.
The Blood Oath: Mechanics
You can find the details of the subclass here, easily printable for your game master to consider if desired thanks to the team at Homebrewery. The blood oath centers around the use of your hit dice in combat rather than out of combat. Whether you use your hit dice to boost your damage, absorb damage on behalf of an ally, or enhance your ability to evade an attack (via a saving throw), the Blood Oath Barbarian (or "BOB," as we like to call him) is a mighty warrior who excels at performing feats of valor in battle.
Of course, all of this comes with a pretty severe tradeoff: when the battle ends and the healing process of a short rest begins, you are spent: you have limited innate healing due to having spent your hit dice during the fight.
What is more, there is a trickle down effect for consecutive days of fighting: since you only recover half of your hit dice on a long rest, if a BOB spends all of his or her hit dice in a single day (which is very likely), you will only have half of your hit dice the following day. So your ability to impress your fellow adventurers goes down with each passing day of fighting.
You also lack the innate defensive bonuses traditionally present in barbarian builds: you gain less resistances to damage, and in the case of the Path of the Zealot, you do not get the ability to stay up when you would otherwise fall unconscious. So while you are one of the strongest offensive barbarians in the game, you are more fragile than your average barbarian, and far more fragile than the Totem Warrior and Zealot (arguably the two best subclasses for barbarian in the game).
So on the whole, I'd give this subclass a B grade on a scale of A-F. I think it fills a cool niche, gives lots of room for flavorful storytelling and backstory (why have you sworn a blood oath? Why are you giving it to this party of adventurers, or a kingdom, or a cause, or an organization?), and makes combat a lot of fun in a risky way. This barbarian also has more synergies with other classes as you'll rely on them more - you will need to rely on a good healer, will welcome ranged damage and magic support, and may need another tank to take the beating for you if the fight goes on too long. So if you are looking for a new barbarian experience, I present BOB for your consideration.
We will be running these posts in tandem with other posts, as they take a lot less time to make now that we have them fleshed out, so expect some interesting content on Fridays as we close out 2020!
Until next time,