There’s no power fantasy so pure as the barbarian. You are a creature of fury and might. Your muscles bulge. Your steel gleams. Dio songs start playing when you strut into the room. But then it happens: You see a spooky ghost. One failed save later and the power fantasy evaporates. Suddenly your indomitable wall of man-muscle is leaving piss streaks all the way back to the dungeon entrance.

It’s not supposed to be this way.

Some versions of the class seem to acknowledge this weirdness. 5e gives us the Path of the Berserker, with its immune-to-frightened ability mindless rage. Over in Pathfinder 1e, you get a +2 morale bonus on Will saves even during vanilla rage. The image of the indomitable warrior is so baked into adventure fantasy gaming that paladins get fear immunity, and even basic-ass fighters get bravery. So why should my badass, fights-to-the-last, would-never-abandon-an-ally-in-battle berserker become a wimp at the sight of spooky scary etc.?

The real issue here isn’t in mechanics. It’s in the “class fantasy” attached to the image of the warrior. We’ve all seen unflappable fighters on page and screen. Geralt of Rivia never flinches. Arwen defies the Ringwraiths. And that’s the expectation when you show up to play a tough-guy class. That’s also why you tend to catch flack from your buddies when the halfling bard stands his ground while your armored hulk hides behind a rock.

Speaking personally, I think the solution might lie in recalibrated expectations. We all want our fighters to be tough, our wizards to be clever, and our rangers to shoot straight. The dice sometimes have other ideas. And that reality means my character concepts need be flexible enough to accommodate those embarrassing screwups.

What do the rest of you guys think though? Are you on board with my “accept your imperfections” suggestion? Or is there a mechanical solution to the failed class fantasy of the fearless warrior? Sound off with your own take on sudden-onset-gutlessness down in the comments!


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