We start playing Curse of Strahd and I am looking for a max DPR (Damage Per Round) Barbarian for the setting. I know there is a nice polearm build but I reckon the weapon should be a bludgeoning one. The DM said we would probably play until level 12, so the max should be (if possible) for most levels from 1-12. Human Variant is available but no other variant rules like flanking. No third party rules are allowed.

Multiclassing only in Paladin or Fighter. All official sourcebooks are allowed. Races: Orc, Half Orc, Variant Human and Goliath.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Just basically one barbarian in a room against one target bashing away with a weapon? Most damage wins? \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Aug 2, 2022 at 15:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you looking for a build that does most damage in general or is it specifically against undead only that you’re concerned about? Also is multiclassing an option? Does your group use optional features? Which are allowed sourcebooks? Do you use the new races from the Monster of the Multiverse or the older versions? Do you expect to be able to get any magic items? \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Aug 2, 2022 at 17:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Multiclassing only in Pala or Fighter. All official sourcebooks are allowed. Races: Orc, Half Orc, Human Variant and Goliath. I do not know stradh yet and do not want to have any spoilers. So I do not knowing I get any magic items. I would like to have a char that works in the setting. But I think a general should work with undead too. \$\endgroup\$
    – ruedi
    Aug 2, 2022 at 17:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ The easy answer is to take 11 levels in paladin and smite everything. Problem solved. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 3, 2022 at 13:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ Paladins are boring ;) Seriously, party exist of a Wizard, Sorcerer, Cleric, Paladin and me the Barbarian. So Paladin and Barbarian in front. Should do the job. And as far as I see the pala dpr is not much above the barbarian, if at all e.g. \$\endgroup\$
    – ruedi
    Aug 3, 2022 at 14:44

2 Answers 2


On speccing against undead

Without employing too much meta knowledge about the specific monsters of the adventure, we can use a bit of knowledge about undead to make decisions (which is probably justifiable as in-world knowledge too).

Your thought about bludgeoning damage isn't bad, but it's only skeletons which have a vulnerability to bludgeoning damage. A few undead (such as Shadows) have vulnerability to radiant damage, so grabbing that would be valuable. Doubly so, since very few undead are resistant (or immune) to radiant damage, so having it would be useful to have some consistent damage in the face of resistances to non-magical attacks. (On that note, you'll probably want to get a silvered weapon as soon as you can afford it, if not supplied with a magic weapon by then.) Conversely, necrotic and poison damage should be avoided in particular.

Barbarian zealotry

Accepting the above as showing that we want to lock into bludgeoning+radiant as our damage suite, we can start choosing things for our Cleric Barbarian. To get radiant damage, Path of the Zealot has Divine Fury:

While you’re raging, the first creature you hit on each of your turns with a weapon attack takes extra damage equal to 1d6 + half your barbarian level. The extra damage is necrotic or radiant; you choose the type of damage when you gain this feature.

Path of the Zealot is also one of the few barbarian subclasses that add damage, and quickly the most linear for that. As Groody's answer mentions, Totem (Bear) would give you a lot more resilience, though with zealot you could rely on being cheap to revivify.

You're pretty open as to race, though Aasimar will get you some additional radiant damage, Orc or half-orc would offer some more damage on crits (see the notes for Brutal Critical), and variant human will be an option for picking up feats earlier.

Since polearms don't really come with bludgeoning damage (outside of the butt-end attack of Polearm Master) and the classic Greataxe even less so, we can look at two primary weapon choices: Maul and two-weapon fighting.

Modelling Damage

Rather than doing a full damage analysis, we can do a couple of simplifications and assumptions. Firstly, we'll only compare damage during rages. The accuracy of that will depend on your table and/or campaign, so it's not possible to get around it without some kind of assumption. Second, we assume a representative hit chance of 65%. The DPR can then be calculated as: $$ \text{DPR} = \sum_\text{attacks}\big[h (D+m) + cD\big] $$ where h is the hit chance, D is the die damage, m is the static modifier, and c is the crit chance (0.05 for normal attacks, 0.0975 with advantage).

For simplicity, I'll be dealing with a Strength mod of +4, and rage bonus of +2, and I'm ignoring Brutal Critical, and the Divine Fury damage. I'll get back to how these shift things afterwards. The relevant feats considered here are Great Weapon Master for the maul (ignoring the bonus action attacks) and Dual Wielder for the two-weapon mode.

Weapon Mode Maul Reckless
Two-Weapon Reckless
Base 8.80 12.09 10.10 13.85
Base + Feat 9.55 15.40 11.50 15.80
Extra Attack 17.60 24.18 16.45 22.52
Extra Attack + Feat 19.10 30.81 18.55 25.45

As mentioned, there are a few things not considered in the above analysis.

  • Your strength modifier won't actually make a difference between maul and two-weapon, since with the Two-Weapon Fighting style it won't be added to the bonus action attacks.
  • Your rage bonus increasing (as it does at 9th) favours Two-Weapon in a way not shown here, since you do get to add that to the bonus action attack.
  • Similarly, Brutal Critical also slightly favours two-weapon since it'll only add 1d6 to the critical hits of maul attacks, whereas with two-weapons it'll affect the "whole" damage die.
  • Divine Fury is also slight more consistent with two-weapon fighting, since you'll get one more opportunity to hit, and it only cares about the first hit each turn.
  • IIRC, a lot of undead have relatively low AC for their CR, and you may well be fighting higher counts of lower CR enemies which would give you a higher hit chance than the 65% assumed here. That would heavily favour any usage of Great Weapon Master.
  • Two-Weapon fighting consumes a lot more bonus actions than using a maul. That's relevant for your first turn, since Rage also uses a bonus action to activate. If you end up with other bonus action features, those will also eat into your damage while benefitting from the almost obscene synergy between Great Weapon Master and Reckless Attack.

Other than the feats, you don't actually have any major investment into one or the other, so you may well want to consider using two-weapon fighting during early levels and/or against high AC opponents, and switch to the Maul once you have Extra Attack and Great Weapon Master.

For more on two-weapon versus heavy weapon barbarians, see: How does the barbarian's bonus damage from Rage interact with two-weapon fighting?, Is dual-wielding superior to great weapons for a raging Barbarian?, Great Weapon Master vs. Dual Wielder for a half-orc Barbarian

Running the same analysis on Polearms we get:

Base Reckless With Extra Attack Reckless Extra Attack
Base 7.75 10.63 15.50 21.26
with PM 13.40 18.33 21.15 28.96
with PM & GWM 16.40 26.38 25.28 40.68

Obviously, this means forgoing most of the bludgeoning damage (the relevance of which depends on how anti-skeletons you are) and it needs two feats locking you into v.human if you want to pump your Strength up to +5. You otherwise get kinda the best of both worlds when it comes to the damage discussed above; getting two-weapon fighting's efficiency on Divine fury and Brutal Critical.

If your group has a player planning on playing a Cleric, I would check in with them to make sure your character doesn't step on their turf thematically.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – linksassin
    Aug 4, 2022 at 3:41

Vanilla Barbarian with Polearm Master and GWM starts at net 10 damage, and averages about 30 net damage per round

I think it is a trap to worry too much about bludgeoning. First, you'll fight not only undead, there will belots of other monsters -- without disclosing anything about the campaign, for Dracula-style gothic horror think wolves, bats, lunatics, were-creatures, gypsies, scarecrows and so forth. Second, among undead only skeletons are vulnerable to blunt weapons, and at a mere 13 hp they can go down in one hit either way. You will get much more mileage from just optimizing for gross damage output.

Assumptions and build

Race: Variant Human, pick Polearm Master

Ability Scores: (assuming the standard roster)
15 Strength, +1 from Variant Human for 16 (+3)
Rest however you prefer, probably set to get +2 on Dex and Con.

Weapon: Glaive or Halberd 1d10 slashing (and 1d4 bludgeoning with butt)

Rage: We assume 5 encounters per day1; Rage will on average only add a fraction of the full damage per attack equal to the number of times we can rage out of five, until we get to 5 rages per day on level 12.

Your raw average damage per round will consist of Attack action plus Bonus Action polearm butt, with Great Weapon Master (GWM) once you get it.

Your expected damage per round will consist of that times your to hit chance. Because to hit is heavily influenced by GWM we calculate it for each level. It assumes AC on average equal to what DMG p. 274 recommends for monster AC by CR. You always attack with Reckless Attack to offset the to hit downside from Great Weapon Master. You deal more damage this way than by the higher to hit chance. (Pick Bear Totem to soak up some damage this will cause you.)

Level Relevant Feature Rage Dmg Raw Dmg To hit (%) Dmg/Round
1 Rage, Polearm Master 0.8 16 +5 (65%) 10
2 Reckless Attack 0.8 16 +5 Adv (87.75%) 14
3 Path Totem 1.2 16.8 +5 Adv (87.75%) 15
4 Great Weapon Master 1.2 36.8 +5 -5 Adv (57.75%) 21
5 Extra Attack 1.2 56.8 +6 -5 Adv (57.75%) 33
6 1.6 58 +6 -5 Adv (57.75%) 33
7 1.6 58 +6 -5 Adv (57.75%) 33
8 ASI Str +2 1.6 61 +7 -5 Adv (57.75%) 35
9 2.4 63.7 +8 -5 Adv (64%) 41
10 2.4 63.7 +8 -5 Adv (57.75%) 37
11 2.4 63.7 +8 -5 Adv (57.75%) 37
12 ASI Str +2 3 68.5 +9 -5 Adv (64%) 44

Considerations for build choices

The unexpected choice of this build is to defer maximizing your Strength until level 8. Normally, +1 to hit and damage is the best you can do (and it has other benefits like for athletics, grappling, carrying stuff; there are few saves for it), but it is not better than getting the combo of Polearm Master, Rage and GWM as fast as you can.

As shown in this answer, greatsword (or maul, if you want bludgeoning damage) is a great weapon choice for consistent damage. The increase from 1d10 to 2d6 is worth about 1.5 points, later 3 per round with Extra Attack. Polearm Master however gives you an extra attack worth 6 points intially and later with rage and GWM over 16 points, outperforming this by far. The bonus attack also deals bludgeoning against skeletons, if you care about that.

We are not using Path of Berserker for Frenzy, as you have good use for your bonus action with Polearm Master and it is not possible to keep Frenzy up during each fight. One use you can sleep off, after that it goes downhill. For one fight with a maul, this would be worth 2d6 instead of 1d4, or 5.5 more damage, but even that and better base damage would not compensate for the remaining four fights without bonus attacks.

The early extra attack from Polearm master with variant human also outperforms the expected small contribution from half-orc's Savage Attacker (about 0.35 points with a maul) and even from playing a hobgoblin (worth over 7 points in the surprise round, but nothing afterwards, and a normal fight takes 3-4 rounds). I think it is also better than two-weapon fighting, because you get to apply GWM to all your attacks.

Beyond Single Class and PHB

This assumes no multiclassing. You get more out of it taking a couple levels in fighter for action surge. If you took the last four levels in fighter, using raw numbers it would cost you about 3-5 points a round in missed rage damage improvements and brutal criticals, but you could pick Great Weapon Fighting style at 9 to get 2.2 points back, action surge at 10 to double your Attack action once per fight for another near 50 points, martial archetype at 11 to take Battlemaster and get superiority dice that help further with hitting or extra damage, an still pick ASI at 12. Overall you'd come out clearly ahead by over a dozen points per round.

I also like the idea of Someone_Evil to take Path of the Zealot over Totem Warrior for access to radiant damage, which really helps against Zombies. If you do not care for your own hp, you could add that for an extra 3.5+(0 to 6) points of radiant damage a turn.

1 This is based on the recommended XP per day from DMG p. 84 and encounter XP thresholds from DMG p. 82. It the average for Medium to Deadly encounters, as in my experience easy encounters are rarely used. Including Easy, the average would be 7 per day, lowering rage damage a bit more, but it would not have a material influence.

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    \$\begingroup\$ We had a bear barbarian with GWM and Polearm in one of our campaigns, and he dished out unreal amounts of damage while shrugging off hits like nothing. Although we played up to about level 15, so my memory may be colored by that. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 2, 2022 at 20:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ Good job calculating the DPR of the build, and doing so for each level. This is a good baseline for other builds to compare to! \$\endgroup\$
    – user77842
    Aug 3, 2022 at 1:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ Zealot barbarian is very much worth considering. At 3rd level, you get Divine Fury for an extra 1d6 + level/2 radiant damage on the first hit of your turn, while raging. Bypasses undead fortitude on standard zombies and some others, helps against vampires for [spoiler reasons], and a few undead are even vulnerable to radiant. However, bear-totem's resistance to non-physical damage can be huge in a campaign where I assume there's a lot of necrotic and other non-physical damage. Oh, nvm, Someone_Evil already posted that as an answer. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 3, 2022 at 21:59

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