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I've had my fair share of arguments while playing sessions with my friends about rules & limitations in game. One for certain that caught my eye is the physical Totem you acquire as a Path of the Totem Warrior Barbarian (PHB, p. 50).

In the PHB it states you must make/acquire your totem object, whether it be an actual totem or a piece of accessory like an earring/necklace/etc.. based on your animal. With the addition of changing your physical appearance to look similar to your totem animal.

The player in the campaign I'm with chose the Lion as their Totem Animal, in regards to the PHB this would be in place of the Tiger Totem for it's abilities.

The argument that I got into with him is when he finally got to 3rd level to attain those abilities, he acquired more than he got, even more so later on at level 6.

The totem is said to gain magical abilities of your animal, but it refers to the animal benefits in the PHB, like abilities gained for classes, this was not the case.

He gained an +4 Initiative Bonus, a +2 Dex Bonus, a +10 Move Speed from just his Physical Totem, which is an Earring. Nothing in which is said in the PHB, and in his words, "It's said in the PHB, the Totem has the option to grant magical benefits." He basically kept avoiding the argument and kept on saying he's following the rules.

But it isn't referring to magical stat boosting effects like a magic accessory, it refers to the animal abilities you're supposed to gain at that level, like,

Tiger (3): While raging, you can add 10 feet to your long jump distance and 3 feet to your high jump distance. The spirit of the tiger empowers your leaps.

and

Tiger (6): You gain proficiency in two skills from the following list: Athletics, Acrobatics, Stealth, and Survival. The cat spirit hones your survival instincts.

Funny thing too, is that he's also dipping into the other animal benefits without care, like the use of the Level 3 abilities without raging or using both the Tiger & Bear Level 6 benefits when he's only supposed to have 1 animal benefit of that level. I've also talked to the player about this, yet he never listens.

What I'm getting at is, he's basically powerplaying the class, and misreading what gaining magical benefits is for the Physical Totem.

Is the Physical Totem just to give the animal abilities listed as per Level 3, 6, 14 or does it in conjunction give additional magical stat effects like magic items?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site! Take the tour. Are you the DM in this game? If not, what has the DM said in response to your concerns? \$\endgroup\$ – MikeQ Oct 31 at 5:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you! I've spoke to the DM & other players in my group about this, but they've decided to let it slide since the person playing has no relevance to the session's plot and is only available for a short time, but for future reference, this clears up my two cents on that subclass. \$\endgroup\$ – AFlyingKite Oct 31 at 8:19
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The Path of the Totem Warrior subclass gives specific abilities at 3rd, 6th and 14th level specifically as outlined in the subclass description.

For your player, who is using the Tiger totem spirit (but for their own purposes, representing it as a Lion), this would lead to them gaining:

3rd level (Totem Spirit - Tiger): While raging, you can add 10 feet to your long jump distance and 3 feet to your high jump distance. The spirit of the tiger empowers your leaps

Note that, at level 6 and level 14 you can choose a different totem animal. You do not have to commit to your choice you made at third level.

6th level (Aspect of the Beast - Tiger): You gain proficiency in two skills from the following list: Athletics, Acrobatics, Stealth and Survival.

14th level (Totemic Attunement - Tiger): While you’re raging, if you move at least 20 feet in a straight line toward a Large or smaller target right before making a melee weapon attack against it, you can use a bonus action to make an additional melee weapon attack against it.

The only other thing the physical totem can do is listed in the description of the Totem Spirit section, emphasis mine.

At 3rd level, when you adopt this path, you choose a totem spirit and gain its feature. You must make or acquire a physical totem object — an amulet or similar adornment — that incorporates fur or feathers, claws, teeth, or bones of the totem animal. At your option, you also gain minor physical attributes that are reminiscent of your totem spirit. For example, if you have a bear totem spirit, you might be unusually hairy and thick-skinned, or if your totem is the eagle, your eyes turn bright yellow.

But, it seems like you understand all that already.

What you have is a problem player. You have identified that the player is, at best, misreading and misunderstanding the nature of the subclass, but you have also identified that the player is blatantly cheating by using the benefits of the other Totem Spirit animals.

Depending on your situation, and your group dynamic, it's up to you how you want to handle it. I assume you're the DM in this game, so generally the pieces of advice to dealing with a player that doesn't want to follow the rules/plays in bad faith are:

  1. Explain why the rules are there in the first place.

    The game is boring for the other players if their characters feel comparatively weak and ineffective.

  2. D&D is about fun. Fighting about rules isn't fun.

    This is largely self-explanatory, but try to have the player understand why you dislike having these disagreements. The game is not designed to be adversarial in nature.

  3. Don't play with this player.

    If all else fails, there's no reason to spend time playing D&D with a player that openly cheats and uses bad faith arguments to cause division. Find a new group.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for the support, Yvihs. Although, I'm not the DM for the session currently, I'll keep that advice in mind for future sessions to come. The group dynamic currently is still normal, to be real the impact of the barbarian player to our group is next to none, but this does clear matters upon character creation for our future sessions. \$\endgroup\$ – AFlyingKite Oct 31 at 8:37
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None of what your co-player is saying is valid

Totem Spirit Feature

For a start, the physical totems that you must collect as part of the primal path are in no way connected to the features you get.

At 3rd level, when you adopt this path, you choose a totem spirit and gain its feature.

You are gaining the feature of a totem spirit, not subject to the magical properties of an item. The item is just something you must acquire as part of the totem spirit selection:

You must make or acquire a physical totem object — an amulet or similar adornment — that incorporates fur or feathers, claws, teeth, or bones of the totem animal.

Nowhere in the rules does it link this item to any class feature.

Magic Items

Additionally, these physical totems are not magic items. If they were meant to be magic items, the text would mention that fact. The physical totems are just artisanal creations meant to reflect the choices made through the Path of the Totem Warrior.

You may be able to use a magic item as a totem if it meets the requirement of an "[adornment] that incorporates fur or feathers, claws, teeth, or bones of the totem animal," (some examples would be Quaal's feather tokens if a bird totem animal is chosen) but it doesn't sound like that is what is going on here.

As a GM, I might allow these physical totems a magical Minor Property based on the tables in the Dungeon Master's Guide to give them some more flavor, but the rules do not permit that by default. Besides, these minor magical effects are things like:

Unbreakable. The item can’t be broken. Special means must be used to destroy it.

...and...

War Leader. The bearer can use an action to cause his or her voice to carry clearly for up to 300 feet until the end of the bearer’s next turn.

There are some properties that provide small mechanical benefits such as:

Guardian. The item whispers warnings to its bearer, granting a +2 bonus to initiative if the bearer isn’t incapacitated.

... but the benefits your co-player is claiming are certainly not minor. The +2 Dexterity is akin to a Very Rare magic item like an Ioun stone:

Agility (Very Rare). Your Dexterity score increases by 2, to a maximum of 20, while this deep red sphere orbits your head.

Other animals

As I mentioned in the first section, the class features are not tied to the totems, so acquiring a totem of multiple animals would not confer the benefits of multiple totem spirits at the same level. The rules are very specific (emphasis mine):

you choose a totem spirit and gain its feature.

While the rules do clarify that your totem spirit may provide benefits from different animals at the various levels (i.e. Tiger at 3rd level and Bear at 6th level):

You can choose the same animal you selected previously or a different one.

... this does not suggest that you can benefit from multiple totem spirit selections at the same level.

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