After some great feedback from goodguy5 and linksassins on my first version of this homebrew (Original post Is this homebrew Path of the Totem Warrior for grapplers balanced?), I did a lot of revising. Please, check this out and let me know if I'm there or at least getting closer to balancing this Totem Spirit option (or perhaps just a homebrew Primal Path) aimed at the players looking for more grappling options.

Totem Spirit Serpent v2.0

Serpent’s Grasp

3rd level – As the Serpent constricts around its prey, every effort to escape only tightens its grip. While raging each attempt an opponent fails on a Grapple check to resist you or to escape your grapple on them, inflicts damage equal to your str+rage.

I went back and forth on this one for a while, between it being an attack one could make after having a successful grapple with 2d6+str+rage, or even 2d8+str+rage being the giant constrictor snake does 2d8, and a grapple can't crit. Thought maybe having damage like that would also balance out if it was restricted to requiring both hands free. But in the end, the feedback I received on my original post pointed out that if damage was going to be involved, it needed to be cantrip level damage. Bottom line here that I am looking for, is for the players that want to grapple as damaging attacks and not really crowd control, can do so and not feel completely left in the dust by the damage from the rest of party. So adding some damage while still being able to crowd control, happy medium maybe? To sum up my question here, does what I settled on above seem balanced?

Serpent’s Entangle

6th level – The Serpent didn’t seem all that threatening, until it began to wrap around its victim’s neck. While not wearing armor and having both hands free, you count as one size category larger when you grapple or are being grappled.

I’m not sure if this deviates to much from the rest of the out-of-combat utility theme for the rest of the level 6 paths or spirits. I don’t want this totem spirit or path option to outclass the others, just wanting it to be a different flavor of play. The goal with this is so a player isn’t boned wanting to be a pure grappler when up against much larger category creatures. An archer can still shoot any size creature, a melee can still whack any size creature, a caster can still sling spells at any size creature… but a grappler simply cannot. With this ability the only thing out of their grasp is something Gargantuan, which could also be overcome from a race pick or enlarge spell, keeping your grappling barbarian always in the fight doing what they made their character to do. I figured it would be best to add that both hands need to be free and no armor can be worn for this, so a player can't grapple two adult dragons, one in each hand, nor can they wield a weapon, shield, etc. I thought that gave good balance to offset the power this ability gives.

Serpent’s Prey

10th level – You commune with your Serpent spirit that grants you a serpent’s vomeronasal system, being able to smell and track prey by picking up chemical information with your tongue. You can cast Blindsight on yourself for one hour, but only as a ritual.

Yes, I had to google vomeronasal systems, lol. But Blindsight for an hour isn't unbalanced, is it?

Serpent’s Strike

14th level – A coiled Serpent is always ready to strike. While not wearing armor and having both hands free, you may now use your bonus action to initiate a grapple instead of your attack action. In addition, when a creature within 5 feet of you hits you with an attack, you can use your reaction to initiate a grapple.

For this level 14 ability, my thought here is to pull in reactions and bonus actions into the grapple arsenal. My thoughts on why it would be balanced here are that both reactions and bonus actions are only usable to initiate a grapple, not do damage, nor maintain a grapple, or shove, or pin, those still require attack actions. For those players trying to play just a grappler, not wanting to use weapons, they can now use reactions and bonus actions to grapple. So a player wouldn't be able to use a bonus action or reaction to initiate a grapple if they already a grapple going with one of their hands. Is this balanced?

All in all, I think by default it looks stronger than the other options for a barbarian, but with the added restrictions it makes it a focus to only those players that are wanting to play a character that just uses their bare hands and grapples everything. Or is it still too powerful?

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    \$\begingroup\$ @Deltatheduck please don't answer in comments. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 6, 2018 at 11:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ I like that you leaned into the snake theme. It almost gives it a creepy Culebra vibe from the new Dusk Till Dawn series. \$\endgroup\$
    – goodguy5
    Nov 6, 2018 at 12:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ The wording on the first ability, Serpent's Grasp, is a little confusing (to me, anyway). Would it be the same to say "Each time you successfully initiate a grapple or an opponent fails to escape your grapple.... damage"? \$\endgroup\$
    – goodguy5
    Nov 6, 2018 at 12:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ I can't find a spell named "blindsight", do you know where it's from? \$\endgroup\$ Nov 6, 2018 at 18:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KamilDrakari: Indeed, there is no such official spell. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Nov 6, 2018 at 20:00

1 Answer 1


There are a few problems.

And most of them are related to the "structure" of Totem Warrior features.

Grappling uses at least one hand, so any feature that requires both hands to be free is basically incompatible with grappling.

In general, remember that Totem Warriors don't need to stick to one Spirit, for example they could choose Bear at level 3, Serpent at level 6, and Eagle at level 14. As such, just adding new Spirit options significantly increases the number of possible Spirit combinations, which makes the subclass more flexible and therefore slightly more powerful.

Serpent's Grasp

Balance-wise, I think you did a great job! Cantrip damage would be too much, because the barbarian eventually gets two attacks and the grapple is only going to replace one of them. Not to mention that the damage can also trigger during the enemy's turn when they try to escape the grapple, which costs no action economy for the Barbarian.

However, I don't quite agree with this reasoning.

Bottom line here that I am looking for, is for the players that want to grapple as damaging attacks and not really crowd control, can do so and not feel completely left in the dust by the damage from the rest of party.

In 5e, grappling is all about control and, in my experience, control is what draws the vast majority of players to grappling. Moreover, the niche of "the Barbarian that damages through grapples" is already filled by the Battlerager. As such, I think the better direction is to improve the control or expand the list of creatures which the Barbarian can grapple.

Serpent's Entangle

In my opinion, counting as one size larger for grapples is almost necessary for a grapple-focused character to remain relevant and it also really looks cool.

However, Aspect of the Beast options should be non-combat abilities, whereas Serpent's Entangle is definitely a combat ability. This point is especially important because, as mentioned above, Totem Warriors can mix and match Spirits.

Serpent's prey.

Level 10 is the same for all Totem Warriors: they just get Spirit Walker. So I'm not quite sure how the Serpent's Prey fits in. It would be out of place as a replacement for Spirit Walker and it would be power creep as an addition to Spirit Walker.

Moreover, you did not specify the blindsight's range and "vomeronasal system" sticks out as overly modern jargon.

Serpent's Strike

This might be a bit much, for example: the Wolf option similarly applies a condition as a bonus action, but doesn't also apply one as a reaction; the Berserker can attack as a bonus action and as a reaction, but needs two features to do so.

For these reasons, I do not think that that Serpent's Strike should work with both the bonus action and reaction. Moreover, the bonus action grapple overlaps with the Tavern Brawler feat, so I think it's best if Serpent's Strike focuses on the reaction.

The 5 feet restriction is redundant, because the Grapple rules already restrict the range. The no-armor restriction is also unnecessary in my opinion.

Final result

I have made adjustments to the wording to bring it in-line with 5e standards and the Totem Warrior structure.

Totem Spirit

Serpent. While you're raging, you can inflict damage equal to your Strength modifier + your Rage bonus whenever you successfully grapple a creature and whenever a creature fails to escape from your grapple. The spirit of the serpent makes your grip into a deadly trap.

Or alternatively

Serpent. While you're raging, you count as one size category larger for the purpose of grapples and you ignore other creature's immunity to the grappled condition. The spirit of the serpent lets you constrict just about anyone.

The second alternative is basically your Serpent's Entangle and honestly, I think it is more unique. However, that alone wouldn't compete with Wolf and Bear, so I further expanded the list of creatures that a Barbarian can grapple.

If the players wonder how the hell the Barbarian can grapple a ghost, just point out that Totem Warrior features are explicitly supernatural and magical:

In battle, your totem spirit fills you with supernatural might, adding magical fuel to your barbarian rage.

Aspect of the Beast

Serpent. [Some out-of-combat utility.]

I tried looking at the Giant Constrictor Snake for inspiration, but there isn't much there. 10 feet of Blindsight and 30 feet of swim speed are both biased towards combat. The Wolf and Tiger options cover the predator flavor really well, so there is no point aping that a third time.

Perhaps you can google some fun facts about snakes to find something suitable. Alternatively, you could just let your players reskin Wolf or Tiger as Serpent.

Spirit Walker

There's no room for Serpent stuff here.

Totemic Attunement

Serpent. While you're raging, when a creature hits you with a melee attack, you can use your reaction to attempt to grapple it.

However, this kind of trigger will discourage enemies from attacking the Barbarian, so it might be best to find a different trigger.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you! Your suggestions are fantastic as well! For the aspect of the beast, perhaps some kind of water breathing or holding breathe. The water breathing spell lasts 24 hours, not sure if that would be a bit much. An anaconda can hold its breath for 10 minutes. \$\endgroup\$
    – Raptor
    Nov 6, 2018 at 20:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ A snake is a reptile, and thus has different metabolism and needs than mammal predators; you could suggest a trait that models the serpent's much lower metabolism. For instance, a serpent/snake can hold its breath much, much longer than a mammal - model this with the ability to hold one's breath for 10 times the normal duration, or some similar amount. Also, snakes and reptiles do not need to eat very often due to their lowered metabolism - model this by preventing the barbarian from receiving a level of exhaustion from not eating for 24 hours, or perhaps even from not taking a long rest. \$\endgroup\$
    – Viishnahn
    Nov 6, 2018 at 21:42

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