Vlad Țepeș was the medieval ruler of Wallachia, a Romanian principality. Vlad’s strict legal code and penchant for violently colorful punishments earned him the name Vlad the Impaler. Though you may know him by another nickname: Dracula.
Path of the Impaler Barbarians follow in Dracula’s steps to enforce their code with ruthless displays of punishment.
Path of the Impaler (Barbarian)
Unlike most barbarians, those who follow the Path of the Impaler are typically lawful. They inherit their barbarian moniker from the savage methods they employ to enforce their rigid structure.
Path of the Impaler Class Features
Pulling straight from the Dracula mythos, our first subclass feature is Bloodlust. Full disclosure: Vlad the Impaler probably did not drink blood, but certainly had a thirst for it!
This feature enhances your Rage by giving you a bonus action attack. It’s important to give the Barbarian something to do with its bonus action in the subclass, since their only main class feature that uses it is Rage. This is especially true where you have a class that thematically encourages its players to use a polearm, and who therefore will not be leveraging Two-Weapon Fighting.
In order to make this not a copy-paste of the Path of the Berzerker’s Frenzy feature, there’s a few changes:
- The feature only procs when you damage a foe, not every attack. This feeds the narrative of losing control when you see blood.
- You gain health equal to your rage damage. Health equal to the damage you deal with an attack would be too much, but Rage damage scales very nicely for this purpose. This feeds the narrative of drinking blood.
- Removed the exhaustion mechanic. By now, I think we’ve all realized that the Frenzy’s exhaustion mechanic is bad. Not necessarily on its own, but certainly in the context of a game that does not mete it equally among the other classes.
Since the bonus action attack can interact with the popular Polearm Master feat, I think it’s important that you get it first, so you don’t make an uninformed decision and trap yourself.
This class feature provides benefits in both the combat and social pillars.
In combat, this feature provides another boost to Rage by preventing you from getting knocked prone. This is mostly a ribbon feature, especially with the Barbarian’s increased movement speed, but it’s bursting with flavor!
In social interactions, the Path of the Impaler gets different benefits depending on who they’re dealing with. Their ruthless diplomacy gives them advantage on Charisma (Persuasion) checks when dealing with bureaucrats, royalty, state officers, and clergy. Their iron-fisted rule also gives them advantage on Charisma (Intimidation) checks when dealing with lay people. This drives the narrative of the Path of the Impaler being a lawful Barbarian who functions in society–a break from many of the standard notions of barbarianhood.
This gruesome feature is based around something Vlad the Impaler actually did! He would impale his enemies on pikes as a warning to any who may cross him or his ways. The Path of the Impaler Barbarian can make a frightening totem to scare enemies in the same way.
Finally, building on the theme of the prior feature, which was so notable that it made it into Vlad’s moniker, we have the capstone. While this subclass thematically suggests polearm use, there’s nothing requiring that you actually use a polearm (here’s why). Yet, I still wanted a class feature that encouraged the narrative of impaling.
Now you can deal piercing damage with any weapon! Your melee damage type is seldom impactful in 5th Edition, but this drives the narrative. But, this is just the rock on which we will build our church.
Any time you deal piercing damage, you can use a reaction to thrust through the attack, making an attack with the same weapon against a new target behind them! We roughly achieve the “behind them” limitation by making you select a target within 5 feet of them that has cover. Features that require tactical positioning make the game more engaging for melee characters.
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