Thoughts on the LevelUp 5e Playtest VIII – Berserker

I messed up and scheduled this for the wrong date – this should have gone up on Saturday 9th but I’m just going to enjoy taking a day of time to relax a bit and work on other projects instead of stress and try and scrabble something together to get ahead again!

I think it’s fair to say that the term ‘barbarian’ has some negative connotations, and that’s probably why we’re now looking at the Berserker. I get the change, and I think most people will understand what is meant by the new name, but I think we should also mark that a berserker is a specific cultural interpretation of a raging warrior.
Right, on to the good stuff.

Things that stay the same up to level 10:
Rage at level 1 (though there’s some caveats to that – see below), Danger Sense at level 2, Primal Path at levels 3, 6 and 10 (now called Way of Wrath), ASI at levels 4 and 8, Extra Attack at level 5.
Things that are gone (quite a lot!):
Unarmoured Defence is gone (but replaced with Battle Defence), Reckless Attack, Fast Movement, Feral Instinct and Brutal Critical are all gone (but Brutal Critical resurfaces early, see below).

So what new stuff are we getting instead?
At level 1 we get an Exploration Knack and the previously mentioned Battle Defence, at level 2 we get Manoeuvres and Furious Critical, Versatile Exploration and Warrior Borne at level 3, level 5 brings Crushing Blows, Primal Presence at level 6, Evasion at level 7, and lastly level 9 brings us Battle Moxie.

So, the berserker Exploration Knacks are very much based around the importance to the class of the Constitution score – Path of Lean Winters and Path of Scorching Summers are about resistance to cold and heat, and avoiding hunger and thirst. I’ll also highlight Sharpened Senses which gives an expertise die in three different skills (Investigation, Perception, Survival) but only when used to follow a creature’s trail.
I’m not sure why that wasn’t available to rangers too. In fact, that might be coming up again shortly.

Battle Defence gives berserkers an option that changes the class dramatically from base D&D 5e, and from previous editions of the game too – either pick the normal Unarmoured Defence or Juggernaut, which gives heavy armour proficiency and bonuses to carry weight for armour.
This makes sense, since this class isn’t a ‘noble savage’ analogue as it’s often used, but it still feels weird that this class is now a huge tank.

Rage has a slight change – temporary hitpoints that regenerate every level. These replace the Rage Damage from the Player’s Handbook, and are euqal in amount (+2 damage at level 1 is replaced by 2 temporary hitpoints per round raging).

Furious Critical starts at level 2, and berserkers gain a new option every two levels. Basically, this boils down to cool things to do with critical hits, as long as the weapon used is in melee, and has any of the Heavy, Two-Handed or Versatile properties.
Stuff like Knockdown and Knockback are pretty obvious with what they do. Relentless Attack gives an additional free attack after a critical, and subsequent critical hits can continue this chain as many times as proficiency bonus. Perhaps weirdest of all, the 9th level feature Brutal Critical reappears here as Mighty Blow.
Small cock-up here – Mighty Blow requires 5th level, but since you only get new Furious Critical options at levels 4 and 6, it seems odd to pick 5th level.
Also, for a few of these options, it would be cool to have them as options for fighters. Why can’t fighters use Knockback or Knockdown on a critical hit?

Versatile Exploration kicks in at 3rd level, and gives access to fighter exploration knacks.

Warrior Borne gives three options – Agitate, Fearsome Reputation and Imposing Prowess. Basically cause people to act out by being intimidating, make people in settlements approach you to help them out with some feat of strength, or give allies expertise die and a reroll on failed Deception or Persuasion by flexing your guns.

Crushing Blows moves critical hit to 19 or 20. At level 12 it drops to 18.

Primal Presence gives another three options – Forceful, Mighty and Scary. You now use Constitution on your Persuasion, Intimidation or Deception checks.

Evasion is per the rogue ability of the same name, a nice throwback to 3rd edition when barbarians had it too.

The options for Battle Moxie are Provoking Attitude, Roaring Pause or Takes One to Know One. With these options, Rage uses can be expended like spell slots for other classes – to piss people off (direct quote – it’s a duelling mechanic), to mess with initiative order and force skill checks instead of attacks, or to look at a creature and know if it can use martial weapons or has manoeuvres.

All in all, a mixed bag. I’m starting to feel that some of the class options might be better pooled, or that there will be a different feeling to multiclassing in LevelUp 5e than in base D&D. I probably wouldn’t play a Druid/Berserker, but I might go Berserker/Ranger, for instance.

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