The term "barbarian" comes from the ancient Greek "Barbaroi," and is used to designate an uncivilised person or a person of an inferior culture. In reality, practically all foreigners or those who did not speak Greek were deemed to be "barbaros" and sometimes the term was used even for Greeks from other states. Later on, the term came into used mostly to designate the migrating tribes that conquered Rome during the dark ages and after that it referred to Goths and Vikings more specifically. In the pre-modern Chinese view of the world, there was the middle kingdom, the center of human civilization which was surrounded by Barbarians which got more barbaric the further away you got from China.
Barbarian characters have been a staple of fantasy at least since Conan the Barbarian (ie. since the beginning) as "noble savages" (to a varying degree of "noble") who impress with their might and courage. Today, barbarians in fantasy retain this image of a savage warrior, clad in simple or primitive clothing that rely more on brute strength and chaotic violence than any precise fighting style or cunning. Seriously, when was the last time you saw a barbarian with more than 10 INT in D&D ? Derp.
Barbarians are usually the subjects of the best fantasy movies. Conan the Barbarian and The Barbarians as well as Fire and Ice are excellent examples of awesome, cheesiness, and awesomeness and gayness, respectively.
GARRRRRR!!!! I SMASH YOU WITH GREATAXE FOR 1d12+STR*1.5 DAMAGE! (interestingly, great axes and 1d12 weapons weren't in Dungeons and Dragons 2e and 1e horrible, isn't it? You could only deal 1d12 or better if you were attacking a size Large creature.)
Barbarians in D&D 3.5
d12 hit points, uncanny dodge, illiteracy, damage reduction and can fly into a rage for some stat bonuses at the expense of AC and passes out when the fight is done. Unless you get Tireless Rage... They mesh well with Frenzied Berzerker as a prestige-class. Too bad Frenzy sucks (Bullshit, with Frenzy you can keep on fighting even when your hit points are like negative thirty billion as long as the frenzy hasn't ended yet.) Supreme Cleave and Supreme Power Attack are must haves though. See for yourself. While the Frenzied Berserker attacking your allies due to a class feature seems bad, a successful calm emotions spell should prevent conflict (provided it is cast before the Berserker has a chance to turn on his friends, and it lasts long enough enough that the frenzy runs out of turns). Hopefully the DM will even allow you to voluntarily fail your saving throw against it.
Barbarians in Pathfinder
A lot like 3.5 barbarians, with the loss of illiteracy (unless your archetype forbids reading), the addition of more trap sense (pfffffff), a "rounds of rage per day" mechanic that went up with level and constitution modifier (good thing!) and, the major new feature and draw, rage powers.
That's right, every two levels your barbarian bro learns a new way that getting really fucking angry can give him superpowers. These powers range from the useful (making combat maneuvers in place of regular attacks) to the impractically awesome (beating an opponent with another opponent) to the outright supernatural (sprouting claws and horns before gaining a pounce attack) to the hilarious (gaining big bonuses on swim checks).
...That last one makes sense mechanically (rage buff strength, after all, and strength is the stat used in swim tests), but the mental image is never not funny. ("FUCK YOU WATER! WRAAAAAAAAGH!")
Not necessarily top-tier even among its fellow beatstick classes, but fun as hell and much more customizable than before. Lost a lot of its draw in 2014 when the Bloodrager class was released. Why play a guy who fights by getting angry when you can play a guy who fights by getting angry, grows claws, wings, and fangs when he gets angry, and can cast spells like a weak sorcerer? Shoot, with the "this really shouldn't exist" Primalist archetype, you can even get enough rage powers to make it practically obsolete (though practically everyone knows this to be utterly fucking cheese and thus refrain from using it). The only draws left are basically the few archetypes that can do things it can't, like the Invulnerable Rager for Damage Reduction shenanigans. Also the Bloodrager's rage is classed as a supernatural(Su) ability and so is affected by anti-magic. Whether it some how stops him being angry all together or just cancels the magical effects is down the GM. The PF Barbarian is also the foundation for Wrassle Baba, the D&D equivalent of Brock Lesnar.
Pathfinder Unchained offered a revision to the barbarian, introducing a rage that wasn't so dependent on stats (so now you get +2 to melee attack/melee damage/thrown damage/Will and +2 THP/HD to prevent death once rage runs out and your HP drops with your Constitution) and a few reworded rage powers. It was largely considered a sidegrade at best and a mild downgrade at worst since it lost out on all archetypes RAW.
Barbarians in D&D 4th Ed
4th edition initially left the Barbarian out of the game, one of the many things that triggered a kneejerk fa/tg/uy Raeg, whilst the designers tried to give it a more solid identity than just "Fighter who gets really angry".
Their decision? To tie it into the new mystical power group on the block; the Primal Spirits. Barbarians now mechanically emphasized their distinct culture background by having a certain level of affinity for primal magic, which mostly manifested through a deep, instinctive connection to totemic or guardian spirits. By allowing these spirits to partially merge with them, the Barbarian could carry out feats of superhuman prowess. But, unlike the similarly themed newcomer class, the Warden, the 4e Barbarian was more of a Martial/Primal hybrid; the bulk of its powers still relied on its combination of distinctly ferocious fighting style and the ability to tap into a "primitive" wellspring of feral vitality and brutish prowess, thematically very close to Conan and his "savagery-bestowed" might. Only the Daily powers, the Rages, were distinctly magical in nature, as it was in this state of primordial ecstasy that a Barbarian could open itself up to let a spirit channel its magic through their veins. Or, if they didn't want to be magical at all, they had a class feature called Rage Strike, which let them burn unused Daily powers with the Rage keyword to make a perfectly mundane (just really, really hard) blow.
Thus, Barbarians made their triumphant return in the Player's Handbook 2 and was surprisingly welcomed.
Like all 4e classes, Barbarians have a precursor to 5e's subclass system. For them, it's the class feature "Feral Might", which is more or less their particular fighting style, granting them a bonus Encounter power and bonuses to certain appropriate attacks. 4 Feral Might branches were ultimately released; Rageblood Vigor & Thaneborn Triumph in the PHB2, and the Thunderborn Wrath & Whirling Slayer in Primal Power.
- Rageblood Vigor gives you "old school" barbarians; they charge into battle headlong and rely on rage to weather the counterattacks as they kill shit. Their bonus power is Swift Charge (instant charge once a bitch dies), and they gain temporary hit points whenever they drop an enemy with their attacks.
- Thaneborn Triumph allows for "chieftain"-flavored barbarians; they dabble a little in the Leader role, as they work particularly well with others and specialize in Charisma. Their bonus power is the Roar of Triumph, which lets them penalize nearby enemy defenses once per encounter after killing an enemy, and their class feature is that enemies they bloody grant an attack roll bonus to the next attack against them made by either the barbarian or one of his allies.
- Thunderborn Wrath gives the most overtly magical barbarian subclass, with fluff about how their battle cries are so awesome, spirits of thunder follow them and join in whenever the barbarian starts hollering. They do bonus thunder damage to each adjacent enemy whenever they bloody an enemy, and their War Cry is like the Thaneborn's Roar of Triumph, except that it pushes instead of dropping defenses.
- Whirling Slayer permits dual-wielder barbarians who rely on mobility more than other barbarians, lashing out in all directions and skipping away from retaliation blows, which their class feature and their Whirling Lunge power supports.
The Essentials subclass for the Barbarian, the Berserker, was released in "Heroes of the Feywild". Overtly called a part-Martial Striker/Defender (in contrast to the Barbarian being pure Striker), it basically dropped the rages to focus on purely mundane attacks based on being tougher, stronger and quicker than a "civilised" man... you know, the same shit Barbarians could already do if you wanted to play them that way?
Barbarians in D&D 5th Ed
Barbarians in 5th edition D&D are largely unchanged from 3.5 barbarians, except their rages are better (1/2 damage from all bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage, as well as damage bonuses) and can get their Con bonus to AC if they don't wear armor, meaning that you can now be a truly manly berserker and charge into battle without a shirt on (and
not die putting heavy armor users to shame. Seriously, with Con 18 and Dex 18 your AC is 18, the same as a full plate). Their rage only applies to melee attacks now, though, so bows are less viable than previous editions.
They choose one of two paths at third level: the raging berserker, which was based of a prestige class from 3.5 and turns the Barbarian into a rage warrior of death, but, unfortunately, their primary power, Frenzy, is very poorly-designed, applying a crippling and hard-to-remove level of Exhaustion every time the barbarian chooses to activate it in exchange for an extra attack as a bonus action. Their other powers aren't bad, but it's a hard sell when the other path's powers are good out-of-the-box.
The other, more-popular choice is the totem warrior, which makes the Barbarian a little more druid-like, allowing him to commune with the animal spirits and channel the Wolf, Bear or Eagle to gain powers. Wolf is the pack-hunter one, giving you better tracking and stealth during travels, the ability to knock enemies prone instantly after attacking, and giving advantage to your friends when you are surrounding your enemy. Bear is the tanky one, making you resistant to all damage (minus psychic, because GET OUT OF MY HEAD, CHARLES) and forcing enemies to focus fire on you while raging, and making you better at pushing and carrying stuff. Eagle has the best utility ones, giving the barbarian a bonus-action dash, eagle vision (he can literally see something a mile away without a problem) and eventually allowing the barbarian to fly while raging... but not allowing him to maintain himself on air after his turn. So essentially, it's just the ability to jump your speed whilst raging. Oh, and they are also the only class that gets to go over the hardcap of 20 for Strength and Constitution, gaining +4 to both at level 20.
If neither of those tickle your fancy, the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide not only introduced the new Elk and Tiger spirits for the Totem Warrior, they also introduced the Battlerager; named after a temp-HP-gaining Fighter subclass, it actually borrows its lore from a special order of dwarf barbarians in the Drizzt novels, and so is a heavily armored barbarian who wears massively spiky armor and basically specialises in hurling himself blindly into the fray so he can use his armor to rip 'n' tear people whilst he rages.
Xanithar's Guide to Everything brings us three additional subclasses. The Ancestral Guardian is able to commune with/summon its ancestral spirits while raging, giving it overtones of the Shaman from 4e. At 3rd level, as the Ancestral Protectors, they can just distract a single target within 5 feet as you rage, giving them disadvantage on attack rolls. At 6th level, upgrading to Ancestral Shield, they can transfer your rage-granted damage resistances to one ally for a turn. At 10th level, you can Consult the Spirits for Advantage on an Intelligence or Wisdom check 3 times per long rest. Finally, at 14th level, the Vengeful Ancestors can react to someone hitting you or an ally with a melee attack by beating the shit out of them, inflicting 2D8 Force damage.
The Storm Herald, meanwhile, has a little in common with certain Rage Powers from the 4e Barbarian, in that it's a barbarian who taps into primal magic while raging to cloak itself in a shield of elemental energy. You need to pick whether your storm is a Fire Storm, Lightning Storm or Ice Storm at 3rd level, which determines what sort of benefits you get whilst raging. Your aura starts off by inflicting fire, lightning or cold damage (as you'd kind of expect), then gives you either fire resistance, water breathing or cold resistance, then it extends that benefit to your allies, and finally it starts messing with the terrain around you; fire storms force enemies to make Strength checks to be able to move, lightning storms force enemies to make Strength checks to avoid being knocked flat on their asses, and ice storms just make all the ground around you difficult terrain.
The Zealot has a "holy berserker of the gods" feel to it, but can be refluffed into more of a necromantic Bloodrager type. It can veil itself in an aura while raging that inflicts necrotic or radiance (chosen each time you rage) on all enemies within 5 feet, no longer requires material components to be the subject of Raise Dead or similar resurrection spells, can choose to automatically end its rage to change a failed saving throw into a successful one, can unleash an inspiring battle cry once per long rest, and can keep fighting at 0 hit points so long as it's raging.
|Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Classes|
|Player's Handbook 1:||Cleric - Fighter - Paladin - Ranger - Rogue - Warlock - Warlord - Wizard|
|Player's Handbook 2:||Avenger - Barbarian - Bard - Druid - Invoker - Shaman - Sorcerer - Warden|
|Player's Handbook 3:||Ardent - Battlemind - Monk - Psion - Runepriest - Seeker|
|Heroes of X:|| Blackguard - Bladesinger - Binder - Cavalier - Elementalist - Hexblade - Hunter|
Mage - Knight - Protector - Scout - Sentinel - Skald - Slayer - Sha'ir - Thief
Vampire - Warpriest - Witch
|Settings Book:||Artificer - Swordmage|
|Others:||Paragon Path - Epic Destiny|
|Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Classes|
| Barbarian - Bard - Cleric - Druid - Fighter - Monk |
Paladin - Ranger - Rogue - Sorcerer - Warlock - Wizard
|Artificer - Mystic|
|The Classes of Pathfinder|
|Core Classes:|| Barbarian - Bard - Cleric - Druid - Fighter - Monk |
Paladin - Ranger - Rogue - Sorcerer - Wizard
| Alchemist - Antipaladin - Cavalier |
Inquisitor - Oracle - Summoner - Witch
| Arcanist - Bloodrager - Brawler - Hunter - Investigator |
Shaman - Skald - Slayer - Swashbuckler - Warpriest
| Kineticist - Medium - Mesmerist |
Occultist - Psychic - Spiritualist
|Ultimate X:||Gunslinger - Magus - Ninja - Samurai - Shifter - Vigilante|
Barbarians in other Things
Warhammer Fantasy - Warriors of chaos