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From the PHB, page 48, under the "Rage" section:

In battle, you fight with primal ferocity. On your turn, you can enter a rage as a bonus action.

Does this imply that a Barbarian can only enter a rage whilst in combat? And if not, does there need to be an impetus for the rage to occur, or can it be on a whim? For instance, if my Barbarian decides she wants to rage to impress the lord of a manor with her enhanced strength, is that an acceptable condition to start raging?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Rage implies, well ... rage. No matter what the rules say, if I were your DM, I'd at least expect a very good RP reason why your Character can summon his inner Primal Fury while standing in nice comfy barons lodge... \$\endgroup\$ – TheSexyMenhir Jul 13 '17 at 9:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TheSexyMenhir Rage doesn't always have to be the Dargonball "scream and punch things" variant. Think of the mercenary the Sheriff of Nottingham brought in in this movie en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robin_Hood:_Prince_of_Thieves: When he got doubted he grabbed a burning piece of wood and burned himself while staring the guy down. It would definitely count in my book. \$\endgroup\$ – Haquim Jul 13 '17 at 11:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also I really wished I could edit comments for more than a minute, so i can eliminate stupid spelling errors after submitting \$\endgroup\$ – Haquim Jul 13 '17 at 11:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ "That's my secret Cap, I'm always Angry!" \$\endgroup\$ – frarugi87 Jul 13 '17 at 14:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Haquim just copy the text, post a new comment (with the corrections) and delete the old one. \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin Jul 13 '17 at 14:46
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No, a barbarian does not need to be in combat to rage.

Defining things as "Actions" are only to specify how much you can do in a turn, since you effectively only have a 6-second timeframe to do things. Much like casting spells that require a minute long casting time - you can still attempt to cast them... you just need to be uninterrupted for 10 rounds.

The only catch is that to sustain your rage, you need to attack (which doesn't have to be successful, mind you), or take damage, "every round", so a timeframe needs to be defined outside of combat to sustain it:

Your rage lasts for 1 minute. It ends early if you are knocked unconscious or if your turn ends and you haven't attacked a hostile creature since your last turn or taken damage since then. You can also end your rage on your turn as a bonus action.

However, as suggested in the comments, setting yourself on fire would be an ideal way to maintain the rage - constant damage, therefore, constant rage.


Post Script: the rule does state "hostile creature", so it'll be up to you and the GM to define what states as "hostile". Spanking a misbehaving child, or punching a passer-by may not exactly qualify.

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    \$\begingroup\$ If you want to impress someone with your rage, and don't want it to end prematurely, set yourself on fire. Most Barbarians can deal with it just fine for a few rounds and it's sure to leave a lasting impression :) \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Jul 13 '17 at 7:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ -1 I'm confused, what in this answer prevents the barbarian from entering rage? Even if it ends early? \$\endgroup\$ – Segfault Jul 13 '17 at 17:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Erik also, ninjas can't catch you if you are on fire. \$\endgroup\$ – Revolver_Ocelot Jul 13 '17 at 18:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Segfault nothing prevents it, the question is "must the Barbarian be in combat to rage", and the answer is "no". \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Jul 13 '17 at 20:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @FuriousFolder is it both a joke and a legitimate strategy. drmcninja.com/archives/comic/4p15 \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Jul 14 '17 at 17:30
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No

It's going to be hard to restrict actions as only appropriate "in combat." To be "in combat" is vague and very easy to circumvent, if the DM was imposing these restrictions.

Take this example:

  • Your Barbarian wants to rage to impress the lord of a manor, but the DM prevents her because she is not "in combat"

  • Your Barbarian turns to her party mate and whispers, "I want to fight you"

  • Your Barbarian engages in PvP against a party mate. The two of them roll initiative. According to the D&D 5e game engine, they are now in combat.

  • The other person wins initiative and goes first. They skip their turn, opting to do nothing.

  • Your Barbarian uses their bonus action to rage and, instead of using their action to attack, does a feat of strength to impress the lord of a manor instead

  • Both party mates do not seem to be engaging in combat anymore. Combat ends

Above is a way for the Barbarian to always be "in combat" by simply always engaging in PvP against her party mates. In their combat, all the players keep choosing to not attack, but they are all still technically under initiative and hence, "in combat."

The initiative system is a meta concept

The point is, to be "in combat" in a mechanical sense is a meta concept. We use initiative because it lets us track combat actions in a fair way, but to restrict anyone from doing anything on the basis of "you have to be in combat to do that" is to restrict an in-game character due to an out-of-game reason.

Meta concepts have no equivalent in-game explanation. Nobody in real life waits until their enemies have finished taking their turns. So, it doesn't make sense to impose a meta restriction onto an in-game character this way.

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