For some context, I am playing level 20 Barbarian, with 24 STR and CON, and have mostly adopted the totem of the bear.

When we began our campaign many levels ago, my role was to force enemies to target me, while also dealing lots of damage. I was also responsible for most out-of-combat scenarios involving strength, or other classical Barbarian roles (eg scale that wall, intimidate that person, etc). Realizing this, I spent all of my ability score increases in STR and CON, spent my gold on damage dealing items (like a Sword of Sharpness), and took feats to support this role (Shield Master to avoid damage on successful DEX saves, and Sentinel to force opponents to target me).

However, now that we have gotten to level 20, I worry that my role in the party is becoming eclipsed by other characters.

For example, the rogue in our party recently acquired a belt of Fire Giant Strength, upping his strength score to 25 without having to spend ability points like I did. While certainly good for his character, I worry that this single item makes my character's strength obsolete, since it was typically my character who was the king of strength. This is frustrating given the amount of work it required to get myself to such a high STR. Now, when scaling a wall to invade a castle for example, our Rogue is suddenly the better fit, since he now not only possess the strength to scale the wall easily, but also has the stealth skills that would allow him to be better suited to these trespassing-esque tasks. With sneak attack he is also able to deal huge amounts of damage in combat, again encroaching on my historical role as the main damage dealer.

Similarly, our party's Bard has become a skill monkey, meaning that my intimidate is no longer the best in the party, even though I am a Half-orc Barbarian and he is a Gnome.

While I recognize that we are all a team trying to survive the campaign together, I am worrying that my role in the party is slowly being absorbed by other party members.

Please don't misundertand: these concerns are not coming from a place of jealousy or frustration, but more from a concern that my enjoyment and involvement in the game is going to be minimized since I will no longer be the go-to person for many tasks I used to excel at. However, some frustration does admittedly come from the fact that I have now burned ability score increases, taken feats, and built my character in a way that, in a level or two, feels to have been almost entirely eclipsed by other characters.

As of now, I feel like my role has been reduced to taking as much damage as possible in combat, while other players do most of the heavy lifting. This usually involves just me standing next to enemies and hitting them, which gets pretty boring after a while, especially when my character is no longer the heroic barbarian of our party that he used to be. While I understand this is still a role to be played, it feels shallow, and not particularly meaningful given the much more varied roles the other PCs are now playing in our party.

So how should I deal with these changes in our game, and in my role in particular? Am I being oversensitive? Are these changes just a part of the game that I will have to deal with? Or have I just made poor decisions in optimizing my character to this point, in choosing to venture deeply into certain areas (STR and CON) instead of diversifying like my fellow PCs? Should I be speaking to my DM about this (though I'm not sure what he can do)?


4 Answers 4


As is the usual advice, I would say that talking to your DM and talking to your fellow players is a good place to start. Express your concern to your DM...he's the one who can help you with this, not us.

But, I don't think it's necessary just yet. You still have a significant role in the party.

A few points to consider...

  1. The Bard was almost certainly going to surpass you in Intimidate if he took Proficiency in that skill. Bards are a Cha-primary class who, at high level, get access to the spell Glibness. Only they and Warlocks can cast that, and you simply can't compete with a guaranteed 15 or better on any Charisma roll. I mean...that's a major feature of Bards. Insane Social Skills. This doesn't mean you can't Help though. Be big, threatening, and intimidating. Loom behind the Bard's shoulder while he does the talking. Crack your knuckles or rub the haft of your axe at meaningful times...give that Bard Advantage on his check.
  2. In terms of damage...yeah, Rogues do stupid amounts of single-target damage. That's kind of their whole schtick. But, in exchange, they are relatively fragile. Against a single target smacking them once a round, they are fairly good at not dying. But they'll go down like a chump against a mob of enemies. You won't. It's kind of a trade off. I mean...an angry 20th level Wizard can take out a significant portion of a city in a few rounds...but they are also made of glass. You don't hit quite as hard as the Rogue, but you hit hard enough to meaningfully contribute to the party's damage output, and you can get hit in the face a LOT MORE without going down.
  3. You are still significantly better at Strength-related activity than the Rogue, unless he has Expertise in Athletics. As a Barbarian, you have Advantage on all Strength Checks that you make while Raging and, because of your 15th Level Persistent Rage, coupled with the Unlimited Rages of 20th level...you should be making every strength check with Advantage, simply by firing up your Rage before you attempt it. If you want to see the actual math, you can see it in this AnyDice Program. In it, I compare the Rogue's raw Strength Check with your Advantaged Strength Check (both at a +7 to their Strength Check). Their average roll is a 17.5, yours is 20.8. And with a narrower Standard Deviation, you will consistently churn out better results than the Rogue. (And if you took the 6th level Bear feature, you can carry/lift twice as much as they can without having to make a check at all)
  4. The Rogue should probably always have been the infiltrator all along, even if he wasn't as good at climbing walls. Not being noticed is generally more important than getting over the walls in one attempt.
  5. You are still, quite definitively, the party tank. You almost certainly have the most hit points, and since you should be perpetually raging while in combat, you have resistance to everything but Psychic Damage. And the 14th level Bear trait, coupled with Sentinel makes you fantastic at keeping enemies focused on you...so the comparatively fragile Rogue can hit them like a freight train. In the entire party...you're the one who can take a Dragon's breath weapon to the face and shrug it off without flinching.

Ultimately, your choices while leveling your character resulted in a character that is immensely hard to kill, and can probably throw a horse at someone they don't like, and rip the portcullis off a castle. And he's really good at keeping enemies focused on him. You're good at being scary....but being big and threatening only goes so far compared to the clever words of a Bard who can make all sorts of insinuations and suggestions that are far scarier than a big muscular guy. Or perhaps he just knows the right things to say to make you seem even scarier.

You have somewhat pigeonholed your character into this by your Feat selection, class build selection, and ASI choices and, truthfully, barbarians have a fairly narrow class focus anyway. A Bear Totem Barbarian's primary focus is "I'll keep their attention, they can't really kill me, you guys pummel them." As D&D is first and foremost a game focused on combat...the ability to keep enemy attention focused on the guy who is near-impossible to kill is a very valuable resource to bring to the team.

Seriously...just see how your fellow players feel about the prospect of going into combat without their favorite meat shield. Based on my prior experience with tanky characters....they'll think about all the damage you soaked for them...consider all that damage hitting their characters, and not like the idea one bit.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ As an addendum to point #3, the Indomitable Might feature of the barbarian means that the barbarian's strength checks effectively have a floor of their strength score; in this case 24. In a straight roll off without proficiency or expertise, the rogue would have to roll an 18 or above just to beat the barbarian's minimum. That consistency is worth something. \$\endgroup\$
    – Adam
    Commented Jul 5, 2017 at 21:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ More likely it will be an Athletics check, not raw Strength, and in this case the Rogue can take 10 from Reliable Talent, matching you quite easily. \$\endgroup\$
    – András
    Commented Jul 5, 2017 at 21:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @András Skill checks are ability checks, just with the possibility of proficiency. Indomitable Might applies to Athletics, too. \$\endgroup\$
    – T.J.L.
    Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 1:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @T.J.L. this is the only reason the Barbarian can keep up, and only on Strength based checks. Reliable Talent applies to every skill. \$\endgroup\$
    – András
    Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 2:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @B.S.Morganstein Another thing, as brought up by anaximander...perhaps remind your DM that not all Intimidate checks need to be Charisma checks. If you can describe it the right way... Intimidate (Strength) is an equally valid way to use Intimidate. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 13:32

I don't think you have made poor choices, but you have reached a point where the game rules cap out. If you haven't already ventured outside the confines of the ruleset then you should. This is what makes the game great. Have you shared your concern with you DM? I can think of several out-of-the-box options that could apply. Epic Boons are a option too, and are not out-of-the-box. I suggest working with your DM to develop some custom designed epic boons, magical gifts...etc that are uniquely "Barbaric" not available to other classes, and allow your character to capitalize on the choices you have made.


I sympathise as you get higher level the amount of sheer brute force requirements diminish, and you get left feeling "what now?". I had tuned my Cleric pretty well into a cleric/paladin role that was leaving me thinking "i Wasted all this stuff as we spend our lives doing politics I haven't actually hit anything in months". Whereas the bard and mage who had taken shed loads of social skills were taking 90% of game time.

This was our solution.

Talk to your DM, at level 20 you must be questing with some pretty darn powerful NPCs.

The DM may allow a powerful PC to re-adjust your skills as a quest reward. You know the type of quest giver "I am a God who can't be seen to be taking sides in this issue... so could you all go and XYZ" And your reward could be to swap some strength for some agility, or relearn a feat etc. (so in game mechanic to allow you to rework your char sheet).

Some decisions made at level 5 really no longer make sense.

Then go and buy that belt of strength.


Well, you've kind of run into the wall most physical combat-focused D&D characters run into at some point, your portfolio is kind of limited and the character classes who work more outside the box now have a massively larger playing field to use. To a certain degree, there's not that much you can do about it, but I'll try to focus on some specific points you bring up. (Please note that my D&D-experience is focused on 3.5 and 4, so I apologize if anything I write isn't quite applicable to 5.)

The rogue "out-strengthens" you

To be blunt: Well, that's the simplest problem with the simplest solution, get your hands on your own magical item with a strength bonus. Your natural strength is probably a lot higher, so you should be able to come out ahead given comparable items.

The bard "out-intimidates" you

The second most simple problem, unfortunately, there's no easy solution to this. A well-played bard should and will be a master of skills, especially social ones. My advice here is to not compete (because you will lose that contest), but roleplay it. A half-orc barbarian and a gnome bard both with good Intimidation checks screams like the setup for an awesome "good cop, bad cop" routine to me.

Talk to your DM about it

This is a real no-brainer, if you have a problem, talk about it. It's just important to be sure in advance what your problem is, how to best put it to your DM and what you'd like to do about it. You don't want to sound like you're just complaining because that often leads to sounding like your blaming people.

Maybe there are other ways to make your character feel more integral to the party, maybe your character's background could play a larger role in coming adventures, maybe there's some McGuffin item you could get that's important for plot reasons. There are lots of ways to still enjoy the game even if you're not the top dog anymore (which at Lvl 20 with a physical fighting character, you most likely won't be).

  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ Minor note about how 5e items like the belts of giant strength work: they set your Strength to a new value; they don't add onto your normal Strength score. A Strength 24 character with a belt of fire giant strength has a Strength of 25; so does a Strength 11 character. \$\endgroup\$
    – Marq
    Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 13:27

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