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The premise:

Damage comparison between 2 different builds, with no prep, no help, no magic items, only standard equipment and class features. No class features that get expended and can't be used each round, because this is meant to be over a full day. Rage is going to be included although that doesn't meet the expended use clause, but that is an exception.

All levels are important, but mostly 1-10.

Buffs provided to allies are not important to this question.

The character:

Str: 18 Dex: 15 Con: 17 Int: 9 Wis: 11 Cha: 11

Yes I rolled stats, and 3 high rolls is the only reason I am considering a barbarian. These are the base stats before any racial add-ons.

My base build is a variant human, taking GWM at level 1. My +1 stats would put Dex to 16 and Con to 18. Using a greatsword or greataxe depending on level (accounting for brutal critical), always being reckless. I am also banking on knowing the AC, or at least working it out early enough to decide to use GWM based on the actual formula to get max damage out of it (IE: looking to often not use it on the first attack because of Divine Fury).

At level 4 I would add +2 to Str, at higher levels I would probably increase Dex or Con or take some feats for RP.

The comparison:

Use the same rolled stats (you can change the order if there is valid reason) but using the Path of the Beast subclass.

You can have any race, but no weapons because the point of Path of Beast is to claw stuff!

You can pick whatever feats are needed at various levels.

Single class (or maybe a tiny dip, but without delaying extra attack and not to grab action surge unless you can convince me it helps Beast more than Zealot)

The question:

Can Path of the Beast compare at all?

My thoughts:

I am not great with specific DPS calculations, but am pretty good with gut instinct. GWM is always powerful, especially when used mathematically like I will, and Divine Fury is already like having an additional attack. Bite does healing which is ok, but is less damage than a 2 handed weapon even without GWM, claws is better than divine fury to start but quickly falls behind, tail I am not too bothered about because I could take a glaive if I wanted range.

Taking GWM specifically into account I don't see any way it can compare, but I would really like to know otherwise.

I am also not considering resistance either, I will get my hands on a magic weapon easily enough when it is needed, but I am not counting that into damage numbers.

Bonus:

Aside from berserker (exhaustion sucks) can any barbarian subclass match zealot?

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2 Answers 2

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For pure damage output, claws cannot rival GWM/Polearm Master

Simply put, the combination of GWM and Polearm Master has a filthily high damage output, as you get a bonus action attack, and can use GWM on it too. (And of course, you are attacking recklessly, to offset the downside of GWM).

For example, at 5th level with Extra Attack, a variant human that did pick Polearm Master instead of adding +2 to Strength has 3 attacks with advantage. If they use a halberd for example, this will be 2d10 + 1d4 + 12 Strength + 30 GWM + 6 Rage, with reckless attack mostly negating the -5 to attack, so the normal 65% hit chance. That is roughly 63 raw damage (including critical chances), or 41 expected damage.

For comparison, Path of the Beast gets an extra claw attack when taking the attack action (and if your goal is max damage, then healing from bite is not the way to go), which at level 5 with using your ASI to max Strength to 20 translates to 3d6 + 15 + 6 with advantage, or about 88% to hit chance, for raw damage of about 33, and expected damage of about 29. GWM/Polearm beats that by more than 30% extra, and that is before any secondary effects from other subclass features. The one benefit of Beast is that you can pick whatever race you want, as you do not need two feats by level 4, so you can get something like Hobgoblin that in the right circumstances adds some additional damage.

Subclasses

Ruling out Berserker, as per your request, for pure damage, Path of the Zealot is one of the best subclasses. You get one attack with an extra d6 + half level (which is rounded down) once a turn if you hit. Using the 65% per attack hit chance (as your are using GWM/Polearm, not claws) and about 72.5% overall to hit with any of the three attacks you have, at 5th level, this nets you 5.5 raw and and 5 expected damage a turn. The upside is that this works pretty reliably, even if you only have one opponent.

If you often fight groups of opponents, and charge into them, then Path of the Storm Herald can outperform this. You get a 10-foot aura that if you pick Desert deals 3 damage to everyone within (no save or attack roll needed). Even using the somewhat conservative guidance of the DMG, p. 249, a 10-foot radius aura translates to 2 affected enemies, or 6 damage a turn. (Note that its fire, which is less reliable than necrotic, but even accounting for that it still would be 5-6, better than 5). In reality, you often will be able to catch more than 2 opponents with this, and if you get 4 or 5, this really is getting substantial. But of course, if you only have one opponent, then this performs worse, at only 3 damage instead of 5. Still, overall this might deal a tiny bit more damage, as fights with only one opponenet tend to be the minority of cases.

For example, in Mines of Phandelver, only 9 out of 41 encounters are with a single opponent. In that adventure, the expected overall damage for a Storm Herald is a little better on average than that of a Zealot.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Never a let down. Thank you. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Oct 19, 2023 at 21:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ A tiny nitpick, but you have 3 attacks with 65% chance to land the Divine Fury from Zealot. Then, wouldn't we land at least one of them ~95% of the time? It doesn't change the conclusion, but the expected Zealot damage does jump a bit. \$\endgroup\$
    – The Blest
    Oct 20, 2023 at 18:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TheBlest Good catch thanks for the "nitpick", I updated the numbers, and you are right, it still all holds up, but the margin is more narrow between the subclasses. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 20, 2023 at 22:18
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Path of the Beast is slightly behind Path of the Zealot DPS-wise, but not much.

To compare 2 subclasses of one class and their 'DPS' - you need to compare their specific abilities that they get at levels 3, 6, 10 and 14, since the rest they get is absolutely the same.

Level 3.

Path of the Beast.

To utilize level 3 ability Path of the Beast requires to utilize specific attacks, which utilize d8s and d6s as damage dice. Highest potential DPS is Claws option, which allow to make an extra attack. So, a total possible damage in round is equal to 2d6+8 (twice strength)+4 (twice rage bonus), which leads to ~19 damage per round. Also, it have versality, allowing to target two targets instead on one (so less damage is wasted to overkill, if fighting lots of low-hp enemies, like goblins or kobolds) and giving you two chances to hit (higher chance to deal at least some damage in round).

Path of Zealot.

Path of Zealot plainly adds 1d6+half level to damage to one target. So, with Greatsword you'd deal 3d6+4(str)+2(rage)+1(divine fury) - which averages to 17.5 damage per round.

As you can see - at 3rd level Path of the Beast seems to overdamage Path of the Zealot and has more reliable damage chances due to having multiple attacks. Downside is that with Path of the Beast - you have limited weapon options, as you can't use magical weapons with those natural attacks.

Level 5.

At this point barbarians get second atack, so let's see how it changes potential damage.

Path of the Beast: 3d6+15+6 - 31.5 damage per round

Path of the Zealot: 5d6+10+4+2 - 33.5 daamge per round

Ability to utilize weapons with high damage allows Zealot barbatian to do slightly more damage if they'd hit. Having 3 attacks instead of 2 allows Beast barbaian to have more chances to land at least one hit.

Level 6.

Neither of subclasses gain increase in damage (zealot deals +1 more due to divine fury), but it's important to notice that at this level Path of the Beast barbarian turns his natural weapons magical, allwoing to bypass magic resistances, while Zealot lacks such ability and has to depend on whatever weapons party would find and depending on GM - party is not guaranteed to find magical Greatswords/Greataxes, which may reduce DPS of the Zealot.

Level 10.

Path of the Beast:

At this point, Beast barbarian can become a deadly alpha-strike machine, as it gets an ability that allows to deal 3d6+6d12+15+9 damage once - a whooping average of 73.5 in a round, if he hits with all three attacks and enemy would fail DC 15-16 Wis save three times - which may require picking the right enemy and some preparations and coordination with the rest of party to debuff the enemy.

Without that feature - Beast Barbarian deals 3d6+15+9 -34.5 damage

Path of the Zealot:

No significantly damaging abilities, so damage is 5d6+10+6+5 - average of 38.5 damage.

Level 14.

Path of the Beast.

At this level Beast Barbarian gives extra d6 damage to up to 5 party members on their attacks, technically increasing damage per round caused by Beast barbarian by up to 5d6 - which would make Beast better than Zealot, if all party members would use some attacks requiring attack rolls and hit.

So, it would be 3d6+15+9 - 34.5 damage without party and up to extra 5d6 - 17.5 (average) damage from other party members

Path of the Zealot.

No damage increase from abilities.

5d6+10+6+7 - average of 40.5 damage

Conclusion: Path of the Beast is a good subclass DPS-wise. Due to having 1 extra attack with Claws - it doesn't fall much behind DPS-wise, compared to Zealot. Due to having more attacks with Claws that Zealot with Greatsword - it has higher chace to hit. Taking Dual Wielder feat may open a way to adding one more attack as a bonus action (since it's said that both hands transform into claws that count as weapon) and, maybe, one-level dip into Fighter for two-weapon fighting style may be benificial as well.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Useful as a baseline, but really helps to highlight really how lack of access to great weapon master is going to affect beast unfortunately. That was part of the question so I can't upvote this answer (since you never mentioned it) but I won't downvote it either. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Oct 20, 2023 at 7:41

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