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A barbarian's Rage ends early

if your turn ends and you haven't attacked a hostile creature since your last turn or taken damage since then.

Players of barbarians, including those in my own play group, have expressed frustration with this limitation in any 'large map' combat, where enemies are spread out and movement between them takes more than one turn. This frustration has generated many questions on this site about whether rage can be maintained RAW by such techniques as; obtaining a mount (even if not culturally appropriate), keeping a bag of small animals to kill, attacking oneself, poking oneself with a needle as an object interaction, setting oneself on fire, and attacking creatures that might not be present.

While my game play itself is not always serious, the themes, motifs, and settings are. It would hurt suspension of disbelief for barbarians to adopt such 'silly' techniques as those above, even if they were functional RAW.

On the other hand, I would be fine with permitting an approach that was influenced by real world warrior techniques that did not involve attacking an opponent or taking damage every six seconds, such as a Maori haka peruperu or a Cheyanne Hotamétaneo'o staking himself with a dog rope, which would not RAW maintain rage.

I am considering granting the following ability to certain barbarians in my campaign, specifically those who can articulate an in-game cultural practice used to maintain rage:

Focused Rage You can also maintain your rage by spending your action to do so. This cannot extend the duration of the rage beyond its limit of one minute.

Presumably the designers of the game had a reason to limit barbarian rage in the way that they did, and also to provide Persistent Rage as a high-level feature. Designer reasons are off-topic, and I do not intend to ask about their reasoning here.

However, as part of a house rules question, I think it is fair to ask what exploits exist for a barbarian who is allowed to maintain rage without attacking or taking damage?

and then also

does my proposal to require the barbarian to spend its action to maintain rage sufficiently limit these potential exploits?

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6 Answers 6

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No this is not unbalanced because your barbarian can do this now

All they need is a decent long range weapon like a longbow and make an attack with their action. Frankly, if your battles have nearest enemies more than 600 feet away they are highly unusual. Shooting the bow is actually better because they might even hit the enemy.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Exactly... even a few javelins, which can reach 120 feet (and a barbarian might have a better chance of hitting with), should cover most of the gaps. But you only have to make an attack, it doesn't say you have to have a good chance of hitting. (A thrown weapon is nice because you don't have to think about juggling items to free both hands before using it, though.) \$\endgroup\$ Apr 5 at 13:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Barbarians can get javelins as part of their starting equipment, which I had always assumed was intended to help keep the barbarian useful even if they could not get within melee range. \$\endgroup\$
    – Anketam
    Apr 5 at 14:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ The flip side of this is that making an attack when not in melee range at least potentially costs the barbarian some resource. Given this, I would argue that it’s not an exact one-to-one equivalency here, but I would also argue that it’s probably not enough of a difference to matter (especially since there is no practical gold sink in 5e once you have core gear until you need healing potions, so burning arrows/javelins/daggers for this is not as much of a problem as it would be in some other systems). \$\endgroup\$ Apr 5 at 16:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @kirt I actually think that's probably a separate question - and one you can determine the necessity of from this one. \$\endgroup\$
    – NautArch
    Apr 5 at 17:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ They can blindly throw rocks at the concealed enemy. As far as RaW is concerned, this in an attack. \$\endgroup\$
    – lvella
    Apr 6 at 17:46
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From personal experience it's fine

Apparently, my group had completely overlooked this rule during my last campaign which ran from 1st to 9th level. Several large map encounters had situations in which the Barbarian's rage would have stopped under this rule. It caused no difficulties and did not seem in any way unbalanced. Since your solution - make them take an action - is more restrictive than simply ignoring the rule it should also be fine.

I suspect the rule is mostly there as a roleplaying thing - a raging Barbarian should be fighting not taking other actions - but, in my experience, players want to play their Barbarians at least as aggressively as this rule mandates anyway so I think it is covering off a possibility which is unlikely to occur. You could, perhaps, reword the rule to add a "or move towards an opponent currently out of range" to keep the spirit of the rule intact whilst working better for large maps.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Narratively, using their action to Dash towards an enemy seems very on-brand, especially if the actually get there this round. If the enemy is still a mile away it gets silly. (And exploitable if you pick some distant creature as your enemy and run towards them, when you're actually retreating from nearby opponents for whatever reason.) \$\endgroup\$ Apr 7 at 1:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ Just moving but using your action for something else (like making a perception check to look for other hidden enemies, or drinking a potion) sounds like something that could end the rage of a less experienced barbarian (without Persistent Rage), at least narratively. But in terms of players having fun, yeah it makes sense. Of course, barbarians do get multiple rages per day, so making them spend a bonus action and a usage to re-rage is ok if they're not running so many encounters per day that they often run out. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 7 at 1:57
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The biggest exploit is the ability to 'pre-rage'

In scenarios where the player knows a battle is imminent, the barbarian could begin their rage one or more rounds before initiative is rolled, which would cost them some of the duration of rage, but nets two valuable benefits:

First, they have a free bonus action for the first round of the combat. The value of this depends on the player's available bonus actions, some barbarians don't have any uses for a bonus action besides raging, others may be two-weapon fighters, great weapon fighters, or shield masters, and an extra bonus action is very helpful.

Second, they would have their rage defenses up before their first turn. Most barbarians have experienced rolling a natural 1 on initiative and getting beaten up pretty bad before finally being able to rage. If a barbarian could pre-rage, they would still get their resistances during the enemies turn.

Not a big deal

While pre-raging can be mechanically beneficial, and so changes the balance of the game, I find the concept to actually aid verisimilitude. If the party is busting down the door, why wouldn't the barbarian psyche themselves up beforehand? If you have a good party that is willing to actually let the BBEG finish their monologue, why wouldn't hearing it start the barbarian seething?

Exactly when the DM calls for initiative is subjective anyway; most DMs aren't thinking about the fact that rolling initiative after the door is broken down rather than before may completely change the fight for a barbarian, they are focused on the pacing and drama.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I hadn't considered this - I was thinking of more devious strategies that come from multi-classing. Solid answer; thank you. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Apr 5 at 18:26
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There is a more elegant solution

As noted in you question and most of the answers, the big factor seems to be distance; the character cannot reach someone to attack within their turn.

Yes, they can fire one or more arrows and/or javelins. That was already an option, but it uses resources and may cause action economy issues in between attacks.

Making the barbarian use an Action works, but that seems like a waste.

Why not use an existing mechanic, the Dash action, that would also help the narrative?

Focused Rage. You can also maintain your rage by taking the Dash action and using at least half of your movement toward a visible enemy. This cannot extend the duration of the rage beyond its limit of one minute.

If the barbarian uses their action to Dash towards an enemy, it still (usually) takes up their Action, gets them to the next battle quicker, and would be more inline with what they would try to do. Are they going to saunter over at normal walking speed to the next enemy? No, they are going to run full steam at them.

The exception would be something like a multiclass barbarian/rogue which could Dash as a Bonus Action. Or a barbarian/fighter using an Action Surge. But even then, it would be no different than a running and throwing/firing something.

After much debate, I added in a clause about moving towards an enemy.

If the character wants to Dash to where the enemy will be shortly, as in cutting them off, so long as half of their distance brings them closer to an enemy, then they can maintain their rage. They can no longer say, "I think I heard movement in that direction," and Dash away to whatever direction they want. At least half of their movement must be at an enemy they can see.

There is also the tactic of raging, running into a room, and using the Dodge action to be a meat shield. RAW, this works so long as every round someone hits the barbarian as this automatically maintains rage. So their next turn they just Dodge again. The problem is when everyone misses.

Without multiclasssing, a barbarian cannot Dash and Dodge on the same turn. So by making it a Dash action, they would not be able to Dash to maintain rage AND also Dodge. But now, because the fix states the barbarian must use, "at least half of your movement toward a visible enemy," they cannot continue to stand still as a blockade. The must use their movement, with half of it toward an enemy. So that can be retreating half and going back to the same spot. Or running to a different enemy, then coming back. But they cannot stand still. And who knows, maybe in the ensuing Opportunity attack, they get hit and don't even need to Dash at all?

Sneaky barbarians might try do a two-space shuffle; step back 5ft, walk toward the enemy 5ft, repeat until movement used up. Technically, half movement was toward an enemy. But even then, an enemy could Ready and action to race through when the Barbarian steps away once they caught on.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @Exempt-Medic The "Dash" mechanic... Use an Action and go longer distance \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Apr 5 at 18:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ I like this answer, but would make sure that the Dash was taken towards an opponent as @JackAidley suggests. I suspect that one of the exploits that the original rule was attempting to prevent was raging and then running away, or raging and dodging as a damage super-sponge - neither of which are particularly barbaric. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Apr 5 at 18:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt, I'll add it in, but it becomes as exploitable as punch yourself. "I think I heard an enemy behind us so I'm going to Dash away from everyone." He says he's going toward an enemy so it would still work. As for Rage/Dodging, that would require two Actions on the same turn, one to Dash, and one to Dodge. Which means MC Barb/Rog or Bard/Fighter (Action Surge) \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Apr 5 at 19:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ "The character can say, "I think I heard movement in that direction," and Dash away to whatever direction they want.", I don't think that kind of complex reasoning is very much in spirit of raging... \$\endgroup\$ Apr 6 at 5:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ To be more clear, I think the RAW restriction on losing rage if you don't attack or take damage is in part to prevent a barbarian from raging, then running into battle and taking the dodge (dodge tank) - they are hard to hit and they take half damage, but at least if they are missed they lose rage (RAW). Without any such restrictions, that would be a viable strategy. Allowing them to spend an action to maintain rage means they can keep rage up even without taking damage, but it also means they can't take Dodge, which was part of the intent of my proposed house rule. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Apr 6 at 6:15
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Double Battle Exploit

The biggest "exploit" I see here is the potential for back-to-back battles with one rage. A three round battle is 18 seconds. So if the barbarian uses their action to maintain the rage after the fight ends, and the next fight starts within 20ish seconds the barbarian could get two full encounters in under one rage.

Not a Huge Problem

Most of the time you probably won't have two battles that close together - the second set of bad guys probably would hear the fight and come join if they were that close, and looting the corpses would probably take a minute or two anyway.

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They already can... by hurting themselves

If a barbarian wants to maintain rage, they can do so by taking damage. Perhaps by headbutting the nearest hard object. Perhaps by hitting themself with their own weapon.

Traditionally, this is done while screaming at their out-of-range foes. :-)

I challenge your assertion that this is silly. Its a common trope for an opponent (especially a berserker) to scream and hurt themself to psych up for battle. It intimidates foes, and probably scares friends (both of which are also tropes for a berserker).

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    \$\begingroup\$ -1; To quote the question: "rage can be maintained RAW by such techniques as [...] attacking oneself [...] It would hurt suspension of disbelief for barbarians to adopt such 'silly' techniques as those above, even if they were functional RAW." \$\endgroup\$ Apr 6 at 3:25

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