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Based, essentially, on Can a support combat style be effective without magic?, I was thinking on a Dex-based Barbarian (at least for the low levels) using Ancestral Guardian. The fundamental concept is:

  • Be a 3rd level Barbarian (the first two levels might be harsh, this is one of my first concerns). Choose Ancestral Guardian.
  • Have 16 DEX, 16 CON, stay naked. 16 natural AC (which scales to 20 at +5/+5) isn't bad.
  • Have 13 STR, just enough to multi-class into Fighter later on.
  • Just stay far away shooting with your Longbow while Raging and triggering Ancestral protectors.

Neither Rage1 or Ancestral Protectors need a melee attack, just an attack. The multiclass into Fighter is to get Archery style - and possibly actually become a Fighter X/Barbarian 3 (Eventually Barbarian 4 for the ASI) in order to increase damage, since many other features from barbarian are Str-based, while Fighter is more open for Dex/Ranged style.

Point is: I'm aware I'm losing the +2 damage from rage, as well as losing some more damage since melee weapons are generally stronger than ranged (2d6 >> 1d10, GWF exists, etc.) but other than the average damage on hit, inability to use Reckless Attack and MAD (since it will need at least a 15/14/13 distribution on stats), is there some other trade-off I'm missing? More generally, can this build be used in an average level of play without being detrimental to the party? As a secondary question, am I missing something that actually makes the build not work at all?

The goal here is obviously to provide, when needed, guaranted resistance against enemy attacks for the whole party but myself, but I'm staying safe far away.

Also, I'm aware that a normal, Str-based, tanky Barbarian can handle the damage pretty well (i.e. I don't need to be far away shooting with a Longbow) and trigger the Protectors as well. I'm interested in this particular concept of dex-barbarian, though.


1 I mean rage doesn't need a melee attack to keep going - it needs a melee attack for the +X damage.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you more accurately define "average level of play?" I'm afraid this answer may only be answerable by a playtest (which makes it on-topic, but very difficult to answer). Focusing only on whether you are missing something by asking the individual moving pieces is an easier question to answer, but your scope is your own. Just fair warning that speculative answers would not work here without further clarification. \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron Aug 13 '18 at 1:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DavidCoffron I'm actually interested in answers that playtested it. Dex-based barbarians were a huge discussion during early-5e from what I remember, and Ancestral Guardian seems to be one of the best uses for it - so it doesn't seem that unlikely that some people tried it out. If I'm missing something, that answers the whole question (e.g. "Rage actually won't work for some reason") since it makes it instantly not viable. If I'm not missing anything, then yeah, I'd like someone that tried it out to answer. \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Aug 13 '18 at 1:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ You can multiclass into Fighter with a Dex of 13 or more, it doesn't have to be Str. \$\endgroup\$ – Davo Feb 5 at 15:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Davo you need STR 13 to multiclass as a barbarian. \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Feb 6 at 20:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Davo "To qualify for a new class, you must meet the ability score prerequisites for both your current class and your new one, as shown in the Multiclassing Prerequisites table. For example, a barbarian who decides to multiclass into the druid class must have both Strength and Wisdom scores of 13 or higher." \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Feb 6 at 20:40
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Its viability depends on external factors

It is mostly viable, actually the only viable ranged Barbarian build in my opinion1.

The external factors are:

  • party composition
  • available space
  • encounter type (if it is a single boss, or many smaller monsters)
  • enemy type (if it uses attacks)

When I played this build, it was quite useful when everything was optimal.
However, its usability decreased significantly with one of the factors missing.

Party composition

As mentioned in the comments of this answer, this tactic is only good if your party members can keep the target of your Ancestral Protectors (Target) away from you.
Either they have to physically hinder its movement, or discourage it with threats of Opportunity Attacks.
You will want to have at least half of the party members to be in melee.

When the Shield Master fighter was not present at our encounters, my Barbarian worked a lot worse.

Available space

If you fight in a dungeon, sometimes you just can't get far enough from the target while maintaining line of sight.

Encounter type

If there are lots of enemies, you might get far enough away from the Target, but his comrades still might be adjacent to you, causing disadvantage on your attacks. You have to hit your target to trigger Ancestral Protectors, so this can be a big problem for you.

Enemy type

If the enemy does not use attack, only breath weapons or spells, Ancestral Protectors become irrelevant. Unfortunately the resistance is only against his attacks.

Conclusion

It is not viable for dungeon crawling with a party of 4 Sorcerers, but with the average party in the average encounter you will do more than fine.

Recommendation

Use a Hand Crossbow instead of a Longbow and multiclass to Rogue instead of Fighter.

Hand Crossbow

With the Crossbow Expert feat you can attack without disadvantage even if you are adjacent to enemies, negating the worst consequences of a tight space and many smaller enemies.
When you already have the feat, the most DPR you can get out of Hand Crossbows.

Rogue

2 levels of Rogue make Disengage a bonus action, very valuable in tight spots.

Also a Rogue Multiclass provides better DPR increase than a Fighter2, and this area is where you are very much behind a usual Barbarian, as you can't use Reckless Attack and the damage increase during the rage.


1 Being at range gives you extra survivability, by making it harder for others to target and hit you. Ranged characters come away from most fights undamaged in experience, so resistance is mostly wasted on them, and no other significant Barbarian features are usable at range. Other ranged Barbarian's usefullness in combat is below that of a Ranger, and they are famously weak.
2 A single level of Fighter might still be a good idea for Archery fighting style.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Wouldn't a fighter give a better DPR increase if you're going hand crossbows? Add the sniper feat and you can use your extra attacks to great effect. But that does highly depend on how many levels of barbarian you are getting before you multiclass. \$\endgroup\$ – Theik Aug 13 '18 at 11:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ Barbarians also get Extra Attack on level 5, Fighters only get better on level 11. If you take so many levels of Fighter, you are actually a Fighter with a Barbarian dip \$\endgroup\$ – András Aug 13 '18 at 12:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ Op mentions "Fighter X/Barbarian 3 (Eventually Barbarian 4 for the ASI) ", which means you'd miss out on the barbarian's extra attack. \$\endgroup\$ – Theik Aug 13 '18 at 13:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Theik Don't take that too stone-craved though. I mention it as a possibility. András answer is great :) \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Aug 13 '18 at 13:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @K.M because you can attack once with your bonus action too \$\endgroup\$ – András Nov 19 '18 at 21:40
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I built a barbarian 4, Ranger 6 and it was viable to play and fun too.

If you target the fighter in front that is most in danger you also give them resistance to damage. You have the ability to deal a lot of damage (no hunters mark as you are raging to get the guardians and HM is concentration) but you can add d8 if it has been damaged and you take the hunter archetype as your ranger subclass.

I also have a cloak of displacement that really helps the build.

If something gets too close then just pull out your two handed weapon and hit it.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Great example of personal experience! \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Feb 5 at 17:49
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Your build is much weaker than you intend

At 3rd level, while you're raging, the first creature you hit with an attack on your turn becomes the target of spiritual warriors, which hinder its attacks. Until the start of your next turn, that target has disadvantage on any attack roll that isn't against you, and when the target hits a creature other than you with an attack, that creature has resistance to the damage dealt by the attack.

Ancestral Protectors only works on the first target you hit each turn. You can't apply it to multiple targets so your build will not provide the party-wide benefit you are looking for unless you're fighting a single hostile. That's rare.

Is your goal to minimize incoming damage to the party?

It looks like you're essentially trying to build a dexterity-based ranged tank. I'm not sure why you're so keen to try and build such a character because it's really not feasible. If you want to give the rest of the party resistance, really the only way to do this is by giving yourself resistance and building out your character with abilities that ensure you are the most desirable target.

Ancestral Guardians is a good choice for this but you can also pick up abilities like Protection Fighting Style from Fighter to also force disadvantage on attacks that do get directed at non-tank targets.

Battle Master has some maneuvers that help you apply this same effect again to a target you hit.

There's also the menacing strike that makes the target frightened of you (the frightened condition means it has disadvantage on all attacks against anyone as long as you are in sight).

I have found that grapple-based barbarian builds are very strong tanks due to their ability to knock a lot of targets prone (they get advantage on all strength checks, including the opposed ones for grapple and shoving prone). Prone creatures have disadvantage on attacks and attacks against them have advantage. If you grapple first and then knock them prone, the target can't stand up so they're essentially locked down. If you put your shield away, you can grapple two targets at once and even use them for partial cover (giving you the shield's AC benefit) in many situations.

Or is your goal to build a ranged damage dealer?

A better ranged build is to multiclass fighter/ranger and pick up the Archery fighting style and combine it with the sharpshooter and crossbow expert feats. This will allow you pump out three or four attacks each turn for close to 20 damage each (+d6 base, +4 dex, +10 sharpshooter, +d6 hunter's mark if you use it,+d8 superiority die if you use it) with a very good hit chance. You can action surge in the first round and positively assassinate high threat targets right out of the gates.

If you take the Battle Master specialty, you can use the menacing attack, which can be used with any attack roll (not just melee), to apply the frightened condition to multiple targets so long as you have superiority dice. That would give you some of the support ability you're looking for.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Kay, so, I'm not sure why but this answer seems to assume I'm a new player or something. I was aware from the beginning that it only triggers at one target. I'm also aware that it is a suboptimal build - I am asking how viable it is, nonetheless. So your two last sections are quite missing the point - I can make an optimal build easily (god, the link I posted has an answer from me explaining in detail a grappler build...), I just want to know if the one I suggested is viable, and if it is not, why. The only part of your answer addressing that is the first, but that's something I knew already. \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Nov 19 '18 at 19:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ PS: You can't take Archery fighting style twice. sageadvice.eu/2015/03/21/two-combat-styles \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Nov 19 '18 at 19:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Good catch on the archery style. I've fixed that. Sorry for not scrolling all the way down to your answer on the link. I stopped as the answer. I apologize that it was not clear to me you "already knew" Ancestral Guardians' limitations because you pointedly ask "is there something that does not make this build work?" Since the point of the build is, as you say, to provide party-wide resistance, the ability you seem to center the build around would not allow it. Not sure why you're asking questions you already seem to know the answer to. \$\endgroup\$ – Rykara Nov 19 '18 at 20:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ I know it is not optimal, I did not know if it was viable, which are two very different things. My question asks whether it's viable, your answer answers whether it's optimal (as I said, I already do know it is not). Additionally, as I mentioned in the comment in the question "@DavidCoffron I'm actually interested in answers that playtested it." - which I was not able to. These are the reasons I asked it. \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Nov 19 '18 at 20:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah. I think part of the problem stems from me interpreting "viable" as "if it's not close to optimal, it's not worth playing." That's on me. In a boss-style fight, I can see the build being very helpful. It's really hard to say how often that would come up, though, so the overall viability would be highly variable, I would think. \$\endgroup\$ – Rykara Nov 19 '18 at 20:19

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