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I had a look around but couldn't find an answer to this. Is it obvious when a Barbarian begins to Rage? A canny opponent might know of a Barbarian's rage ability and therefore, if they determine the Barbarian is indeed raging, employ strategies that make the Rage fade i.e. not attacking and using terrain, movement, etc to not let the Barbarian do any damage.

Is this possible to determine?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I do know that there have been various times on Critical Role when, while fighting Barbarian opponents, Matt has told the party that the enemy is entering Rage. So for what it's worth, one of the best-known DMs out there seems to believe it's obvious enough for the PCs to notice. \$\endgroup\$ – Mason Wheeler Dec 30 '19 at 16:16
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Maybe

The rage feature only states that "you fight with primal ferocity". The player could describe this in a number of ways: The character could launch him/herself into battle screaming maniacally or fight with a cold focus that hides an inner boiling anger.

I believe how obvious this is would be up to the DM, but bear in mind that concepts such as class and level are merely tools to enable the rules and have no meaning in the game (at least as directly relates to appearance).

If some person isn't wearing heavy armour (and a fighter may not be wearing heavy armour due to preference, affordability or because they are attending a royal banquet) then how do you tell if they are a fighter or a barbarian? If they are wearing heavy armour then how do you tell if they are a fighter or a cleric (unless they cast a spell)? And so on.

Of course, keeping clear of a very angry or focused individual intent on cutting you in half with an axe is possibly a wise course of action in any case.

Other features may be more obvious in-game: A barbarian's reckless attack is clearly representative of the character going 'all-out' but leaving themselves open to attack in return. But it would be a DM call (possibly based on the intelligence of the opponent) on exactly how that affects tactics without getting "meta"

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    \$\begingroup\$ "Of course, keeping clear of a very angry or focused individual intent on cutting you in half with an axe is possibly a wise course of action in any case." This answer should receive some commendation, even if just for this line. Here's an upvote good sir! \$\endgroup\$ – John Hamilton Dec 30 '19 at 12:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ If they are wearing heavy armour then how do you tell if they are a fighter or a cleric (unless they cast a spell)? .... but some fighters cast spells! Eldritch Knight* or Cleric? ... *(or Magic Initiate, or High Elf ...). It may be difficult to tell even after they cast a spell. \$\endgroup\$ – Glen_b Dec 30 '19 at 23:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ What’s most important is whether players should RP as knowing the mechanics of rage, I.e. that avoiding a round of attacks will end the rage, or that the person has temporary resistance to mundane damage. Nothing about seeing someone become angry or focused naturally implies those mechanics. \$\endgroup\$ – jerclarke Mar 23 at 18:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ The only way I’d say PCs should be notified about rage starting this way is when they are fighting similar barb enemies over and over, and seeing/learning the patterns of their strength and resistance (or if they learned it in game somehow). At that point they’d be looking for it in this group of enemies and could start using it to their advantage. Anything else seems like meta gaming. \$\endgroup\$ – jerclarke Mar 23 at 18:13
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The descriptions of rage point towards it being at least noticeable

Throughout the Barbarian class descriptions there are explanations or references to rage including the following:

These barbarians, different as they might be, are defined by their rage: unbridled, unquenchable, and unthinking fury. More than a mere emotion, their anger is the ferocity of a cornered predator, the unrelenting assault of a storm, the churning turmoil of the sea.

[...] For every barbarian, rage is a power that fuels not just a battle frenzy but also uncanny reflexes, resilience, and feats of strength.

[...] Barbarians come alive in the chaos of combat. They can enter a berserk state where rage takes over, giving them superhuman strength and resilience.

[...] In battle, you fight with primal ferocity.

At least to me, these point towards it being a noticeable shift. A sudden great increase in reflexes, strength, and many other things, they also gain more damage on their attacks and resistance to Bludgeoning/Piercing/Slashing.

The fact that this is a primal, berserker state of sheer force would lead at me to conclude that it is indeed noticeable. The Barbarian has gone from their usual form to this figure of pure, well, rage.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Good points but any melee combatant could show a battle frenzy in which they simply seem to fight harder and more brutally than those around them without it being a Rage. I will admit that feats of strength and uncannily fast reflexes would be good indicators though, better than outward displays of extreme anger. Thanks. \$\endgroup\$ – Steve Dec 29 '19 at 22:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ This implies that the increased performance is perceptible, however it doesn't follow that this would impart any special knowledge of the mechanics required for tactically forcing things back to "normal". \$\endgroup\$ – aroth Dec 30 '19 at 12:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ I would also point out that while the character gets stat increases to reflexes and strength, what the opponents observe would be the outcomes of individual rolls. That might make it hard to tell the difference between a "raged barbarian" and a regular focused/lucky combatant (dice are on a hot streak). \$\endgroup\$ – Barker Dec 31 '19 at 0:36
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Entering a rage is not inherently perceptible, per the rules.

You can flavor the feature how you want, but no part of it is required to be visible.

The Rage feature says:

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

While raging, you gain the following benefits if you aren’t wearing heavy armor:

  • You have advantage on Strength checks and Strength saving throws.
  • When you make a melee weapon attack using Strength, you gain a bonus to the damage roll that increases as you gain levels as a barbarian, as shown in the Rage Damage column of the Barbarian table.
  • You have resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage.

[...]

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.

Now, enemies might notice that your attacks become more effective (and theirs less effective) while in this state, and that you seem more capable in performing acts requiring strength... But "fighting with primal ferocity" is not really a description of a visible effect of entering a rage; it is simply the flavor/fluff that explains why you get the mechanical benefits that follow. "Entering" a rage is not an inherently perceptible act.

As always, DMs can house-rule otherwise. But the rules do not indicate that entering a rage is obvious or perceptible to opponents. The feature's limited flavor/fluff restrictions around rage also give players the ability to reflavor it relatively freely. For instance, it could be flavored as an extreme focus, rather than an overt expression of anger.

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