D&D 5E Barbarian Review: Path of Wild Magic Subclass

Elvish Reclaimer by Victor Adame Minguez

Last time, we looked at the Path of the Beast, and now let’s look at the second of the barbarian subclasses found in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything: Path of Wild Magic. As the name suggests, this barbarian shares some design space with the Wild Magic sorcerer. I’m hoping that they share little else, as the Wild Magic sorcerer is awful. The UA version of this barbarian subclass also had the dubious distinction of breaking the game by granting everyone in the party infinite spell slots and twenty temporary hitpoints. Let’s find out what this newest Path of Wild Magic subclass has in store for us, starting at level 3.

Level 3 – Magic Awareness

As an action, you can open your awareness to the presence of concentrated magic. Until the end of your next turn, you know the location of any spell or magic item within 60 feet of you that isn’t behind total cover. When you sense a spell, you learn which school of magic it belongs to.

You can use this feature a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus, and you regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.

An off-brand Detect Magic spell that lasts a single round instead of 10 minutes and can be used while raging isn’t something I’m particularly excited about. Thankfully, this is a support feature rather than the subclass’s core ability, so it can afford to be on the weaker side.

Level 3 – Wild Surge

The magical energy roiling inside you sometimes erupts from you. When you enter your rage, roll on the Wild Magic table to determine the magical effect produced.

If the effect requires a saving throw, the DC equals 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Constitution modifier.

Speaking of core features, it’s time to cover the barbarian’s version of the Wild Magic table. Given how important this feature is to the entire subclass and how different each effect can be, let’s cover each individually instead of lumping them all together.

1. Shadowy tendrils lash around you. Each creature of your choice that you can see within 30 feet of you must succeed on a Constitution saving throw or take 1d12 necrotic damage. You also gain 1d12 temporary hit points.

I’m glad they removed the friendly fire aspect that the UA version of this ability had, but they also nerfed its effect so heavily that it is very unexciting. Targeting what is, on average, the second-strongest monster save, using a spell DC derived from a secondary stat, and having no effect on a successful save is a recipe for a feature that will do little more than add 1d12 temporary hitpoints when the barbarian rages. That additional HP is nice, but nowhere near what other barbarian subclasses can do.

2. You teleport up to 30 feet to an unoccupied space you can see. Until your rage ends, you can use this effect again on each of your turns as a bonus action.

Out of the repeatable abilities on this list that cost a bonus action, this is probably the strongest one. As many casters will tell you, Misty Step is a good spell, so giving that ability to a barbarian for an entire combat can ensure they’re always where they need to be to properly bap their opponent.

3. An intangible spirit, which looks like a flumph or a pixie (your choice), appears within 5 feet of one creature of your choice that you can see within 30 feet of you. At the end of the current turn, the spirit explodes, and each creature within 5 feet of it must succeed on a Dexterity saving throw or take 1d6 force damage. Until your rage ends, you can use this effect again, summoning another spirit, on each of your turns as a bonus action.

Speaking of bad bonus-action abilities, this one is a doozy. As a low-damage ability that does nothing if the target saves, has friendly fire, and costs a bonus action, this is easily the worst possible outcome. The action cost is particularly painful, as many barbarians use Polearm Master to turn their bonus action into an extra attack.

4. Magic infuses one weapon of your choice that you are holding. Until your rage ends, the weapon’s damage type changes to force, and it gains the light and thrown properties, with a normal range of 20 feet and a long range of 60 feet. If the weapon leaves your hand, the weapon reappears in your hand at the end of the current turn.

Although not actively awful like the exploding flumphs, this weapon modification is still very weak. The addition of a thrown property, while cool, is useless most of the time. The barbarian is usually in melee with whatever it wants to hit, and a throwing attack doesn’t work with the Extra Attack feature since the weapon doesn’t reappear until the end of your turn. The force damage component has some use prior to acquiring magical weapons, as many mid- and high-level monsters are resistant or immune to nonmagical physical damage. Once you get even a +1 weapon, though, it’s almost entirely redundant.

5. Whenever a creature hits you with an attack roll before your rage ends, that creature takes 1d6 force damage, as magic lashes out in retribution.

Finally, a decent outcome that doesn’t require additional bonus actions to activate. A single d6 isn’t a huge amount of damage, but most barbarians get hit quite a bit, and thankfully there is no save on this damage. This outcome isn’t enough to make this feature good, but I wouldn’t feel actively bad if I rolled it.

6. Until your rage ends, you are surrounded by multi colored, protective lights. You gain a +1 bonus to AC, and while within 10 feet of you, your allies gain the same bonus.

This is easily the strongest outcome in my mind. AC is good even for a barbarian, and the ability to share that AC with your fellow frontline characters helps make everyone more resilient.

7. Flowers and vines temporarily grow around you. Until your rage ends, the ground within 15 feet of you is difficult terrain for your enemies.

Back to average outcomes, this one is a solid meh. I’m glad it has no activation cost, but without some additional effect like Spirit Guardians’ damage, fifteen feet of difficult terrain won’t do much to impede your opponents without a very narrow chokepoint.

8. A bolt of light shoots from your chest. Another creature of your choice that you can see within 30 feet of you must succeed on a Constitution saving throw or take 1d6 radiant damage and be blinded until the start of your next turn. Until your rage ends, you can use this effect again on each of your turns as a bonus action.

Rounding out this feature’s results table, we have another lackluster damage ability. I prefer this one to the exploding flumphs, as it can be targeted and has the decently powerful upside of blinding the target. Unfortunately, it still costs a bonus action, and the barbarian’s easy access to advantage through Reckless Attack makes blinding a target relatively weaker.

Overall, this ability is quite bad. Most of the results are middling to awful, and the few good outcomes don’t make up for it. In order for random abilities like these to be competitive, all of their outcomes must be powerful and widely applicable. This is because the player using the ability can’t plan around a specific result, so every result needs to be at least moderately useful. Unfortunately, this is very hard to do without either reducing randomness or making each result so strong you wind up with an overpowered ability.

Level 6 – Bolstering Magic

You can harness your wild magic to bolster yourself or a companion. As an action, you can touch one creature (which can be yourself) and confer one of the following benefits of your choice to that creature:

  • For 10 minutes, the creature can roll a d3 whenever making an attack roll or an ability check and add the number rolled to the d20 roll.
  • Roll a d3. The creature regains one expended spell slot, the level of which equals the number rolled or lower (the creature’s choice). Once a creature receives this benefit, that creature can’t receive it again until after a long rest.

You can take this action a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus, and you regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.

While I’m glad they fixed the infinite spell slot loop present in the UA version of this ability, they didn’t have to completely defang the feature in the process. The first option this feature grants is just terrible. Not only is a d3 a very awkward dice size, but it’s worse than the level 1 Bless spell, which really stings in a level 6 feature.

As for the second option, it is so restrictive in how it can be used that its power level is average at best. Not only are the total uses of Bolstering Magic limited by your proficiency, but you can only use the spell slot restoring effect on someone once per long rest, and you still have a two-in-three chance of returning a spell slot too low-level to be worth a level 6 ability.

Level 10 – Unstable Backlash

When you are imperiled during your rage, the magic within you can lash out; immediately after you take damage or fail a saving throw while raging, you can use your reaction to roll on the Wild Magic table and immediately produce the effect rolled. This effect replaces your current Wild Magic effect.

Another middling ability, Unstable Backlash looks to reduce Wild Magic variance by allowing players to reroll until they get a result they want to keep. However, even the best Wild Magic results are not particularly good, and a level 10 feature that doesn’t even guarantee that I get those good results isn’t very exciting.

Level 14 – Controlled Surge

Whenever you roll on the Wild Magic table, you can roll the die twice and choose which of the two effects to unleash. If you roll the same number on both dice, you can ignore the number and choose any effect on the table.

Another variance-reduction ability, Controlled Surge suffers from all of the same issues Unstable Backlash does. I wouldn’t have considered Wild Surge a particularly good ability at level 3 if it only had the best results on the Wild Magic table, and I certainly don’t consider it good at level 14.

What I’d Change

I admit to some trepidation when looking at how to best change this subclass. At its core, the Path of Wild Magic is based on randomness, and it’s that very randomness that makes the subclass so bad. Even Wizards’ design team seems to agree with me to some extent, as the final two subclass abilities are spent trying to make the randomness less random. So while I think it would improve the subclass’s overall power, I refrain from further reducing the variance of these abilities, as I know that’s what makes subclasses like this attractive to some players.

To start, I would remove the bonus action cost from results 2, 3, and 8 of the Wild Magic table. I would make the teleport effect part of the barbarian’s movement and modify the two damage effects so they can be done as part of whichever action the barbarian takes. I would also change result 4 to make the weapon return to the barbarian’s hand as part of each attack, allowing it to function with Extra Attack.

For Bolstering Magic I would improve the first bullet point to be 1d6 instead of 1d3. Don’t make players roll dice that don’t exist, and don’t make level 6 abilities worse than level 1 spells. I would also remove the limitation on the second bullet point and refund the ability’s use if the target has no spell slots to regain with the result rolled. The ability is already limited to the barbarian’s proficiency, and abilities that have a decent chance of being total wastes feel bad.

And that’s it. Both barbarian subclasses in Tasha’s leave me feeling disappointed, this one even more than the Path of the Beast. However, unlike the Beast, I don’t think there is a way to save this subclass without removing its central theme, randomness. I was hoping that Wizards would use the introduction of a new source book to improve the classes that currently lag behind in power, but that’s certainly not been the case for the barbarian. I guess it’s back to Bear Totem for optimizers like me.

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