Barbarians are strong melee fighters who start the game with poison resistance. Because barbarians can fight their way through situations that would kill other players, and because they need not worry about poison, they are one of the easier roles for a new player. When a barbarian starts the game with a dog, the dog is always named Idefix.
Barbarians are warriors out of the hinterland, hardened to battle. They begin their quests with naught but uncommon strength, a trusty hauberk, and a great two-handed sword.
- Either of these cases (50% chance each):
- a +0 ring mail
- a food ration (with the usual chance of getting a stack)
- one random food-class item
- an oil lamp (16.7% chance)
Barbarian start with Basic skill in Axe, Bare hands and the skill for their sword (short or two-handed).
The status line shows you to be one of the following ranks when you reach the specified experience level:
- XL 1-2: Plunderer/Plunderess
- XL 3-5: Pillager
- XL 6-9: Bandit
- XL 10-13: Brigand
- XL 14-17: Raider
- XL 18-21: Reaver
- XL 22-25: Slayer
- XL 26-29: Chieftain/Chieftainess
- XL 30: Conqueror/Conqueress
Barbarians receive an excellent two-handed major weapon and a somewhat weaker one-handed minor weapon. Fifty percent of new barbarians start with a two-handed sword and an axe (1H). The other fifty percent start with a battle-axe (2H) and a short sword (1H). A barbarian wielding a battle-axe will be able to dish out copious amounts of damage, and will most likely be skilled with axes by the time he receives Cleaver. Barbarians that start out with a two-handed sword often wind up saving it for those special occasions, and instead use their one-handed axe as their primary weapon to prepare for Cleaver.
Although your ring mail will get you by in the beginning of the game, it is the weakest mail armor, so you'll do well to keep an eye out for some heavier and better armor. Defense-wise, whichever armor gives you the lowest AC, is the best. Every moon has a dark side, though. Heavy armor (like plate mail) will limit your loot-carrying capacity, so packrats are ultimately better off searching high and low for a dwarvish mithril-coat (these are often found in the Gnomish Mines) in the early game.
Later in the game, Cleaver becomes a risky weapon to carry, since if it becomes cursed, it will leave you with no hands free to get it uncursed. Prayer is a workable strategy in the upper dungeon, but this is no longer available in Gehennom, and the pace of the endgame is too hectic to rely on being able to pray. Most barbarians, therefore, will wish to replace or augment Cleaver with a one-handed artifact weapon. Frost Brand is one possibility, although selection should be driven by play style and available resources.
Neutral barbarians who are not averse to wishing for quest artifacts may find The Orb of Fate a worthwhile use of a wish. The Orb provides valuable enhancements to a combat-reliant character, confering half physical damage and half spell damage, as well as doing a number of other useful things. It is, in short, everything that the Heart of Ahriman isn't (including very heavy – a significant downside factor). Chaotic barbarians, on the other hand, would likely prefer The Master Key of Thievery due to its half physical damage and other effects, though it unfortunately does not offer the half spell damage that the Orb does.
Barbarians start off with but one food ration, but this is generally not a problem. Most fresh corpses (even the poisonous ones) will slide down a barbarian's gullet like an eel in a waxed tube. However, like other classes, barbarians need to avoid eating old corpses (including any corpse of a mummy or zombie). Cannibalism does not fly as far as human barbarians go, so human corpses (including Keystone Kop) should not be consumed unless you are willing to suffer the consequences. Human barbarians will also gain aggravate monster if they eat dog or cat corpses (this won't be too much of a problem if you have stealth, though), so this should be avoided in all but the most desperate times.
Because barbarians have low intelligence (their stat used to cast spells), are restricted in most schools (though can reach skilled in attack spells), and have the heaviest spellcasting penalty in the game, they make generally poor spellcasters. They do have one special spell, haste self, which is easier than the others.
Barbarians are unlikely to do any spellcasting until the late game. Once they gather an ascension kit with a helm of brilliance, no metal nonmagic armor (for example, a dragon scale mail, gauntlets of dexterity, speed boots or jumping boots) and no shield, it might be feasible to enchant the helm of brilliance and start casting some spells, especially haste self and attack spells like force bolt or magic missile. A robe will likely also be necessary.
The most obvious strategy is to fight with Cleaver (using the axe skill). The problem is that Cleaver is a two-handed weapon, preventing two-weapon combat, and furthermore its status as a two-handed weapon becomes annoying in Gehennom when monsters start cursing your stuff (though genociding liches and keeping Cleaver blessed will greatly reduce the danger of it becoming cursed). You could try to alternate between Cleaver (or another artifact) and fighting bare-handed. A better solution for that late into the game is to sacrifice for more gifts until you receive a good artifact sword such as Frost Brand (using the long sword skill). Once you have Frost Brand at skilled, then start fighting with two weapons, preferably with a silver saber or silver spear as your secondary weapon.
Going on the quest
The barbarian quest is not especially difficult, although it does have a couple of wrinkles. There will be a very large number of trolls on the quest. They can form an almost perpetual swarm around the character, rising from the dead faster than they can be permanently disposed of. There are far more of them than even a hungry barbarian can eat, so a tinning kit can be extremely helpful in this situation, as can a wielded cockatrice or chickatrice corpse. A corpse-eating pet is another option. As a last resort, you can lure one or two trolls at a time from Thoth Amon's lair to the previous level and dispatch them there. This gets the trolls off your back while you to kill all the ogres and Thoth Amon. If your character is not strong enough to yawn at trolls in melee, they can be the biggest hazard on this quest.
The barbarian's quest is also full of magical loot - scrolls, potions and wands - presenting both an opportunity and a challenge, since the swarms of ogres and trolls will be trying to use these items against the character. Attacks from a wand of sleep can be very dangerous to an otherwise strong combatant. These risks are eliminated if you postpone the quest until you have reflection, or at least a good assortment of intrinsics.
Another reason to delay going on the quest is the lack of incentive from the quest artifact: The Heart of Ahriman. The Heart is infamous as one of the most useless quest artifacts. It is a luckstone, but another luckstone is guaranteed at Mines' End. It provides stealth, but the barbarian gets that for free at Level 15 (one level after the quest even becomes an option). You can #invoke it for levitation, but this particularly quirky form of levitation is only slightly preferable to the potion of levitation, and much less desirable than that provided by other means, such as a ring of levitation. (However, it does let you ride a non-flying steed.) The most potent use of the Heart may be as an artifact sling stone, which isn't saying much.
Although altar-scumming in the lair can result in loads of gifts for the patient adventurer, the real reward for the quest is certainly the Bell of Opening, which is required to win the game. But this is, perhaps, another argument for going on the quest late rather than early. Until you obtain the bell, it is safely in the possession of your quest nemesis. Once he's dead, the bell is your responsibility. On the other hand, if lacking a silver saber, the Bell (which is silver) can be an effective weapon against the shades in Orcus-town.
Barbarians can expect to be overcharged in SLASH'EM's shops, by a factor of 3. This, combined with barbarians' low charisma, makes many items (in particular the now 1000zm base-cost magic lamp) nigh-unaffordable, forcing barbarians to resort to other means, such as their second sacrifice gift (see below).
In addition to Cleaver, barbarians get Deathsword as their second sacrifice gift; it is a chaotic two-handed sword with +5 to hit and +14 to damage against humans. This can be useful for murdering shopkeepers and aligned priests, it can also be useful against werecreatures and for cleaning out barracks. Other significant targets are: the quest nemesis: Thoth Amon, the Wizard of Yendor and the high priest of Moloch as well as his attendant aligned priests. Since it is such a specialty weapon, you won't likely want to waste any skill points on two-handed sword.
Unfortunately, the fact is that barbarians' first two guaranteed sacrifice gifts both become outclassed by SLASH'EM's mid-game, and approach obsolescence by its endgame. A barbarian can either expect to have more of a challenge fighting monsters, to do a lot of sacrificing, to spend a wish or two, or to be crowned to get Stormbringer or Vorpal Blade, which are both respectable weapons in SLASH'EM – Vorpal Blade has had its chance of beheading doubled to 10%. It goes without saying that many spoiled chaotic barbarians will try for the infamous Bat from Hell, but the old favorites from vanilla remain good choices.
Spears are much more common in SLASH'EM, making them a more viable distance weapon if you don't mind the weight, which barbarians should be able to carry.
A droven barbarian is an easy race-role combination for SLASH'EM players. At the start of the game, a droven barbarian should immediately unwield the weapon (w-) and fight bare-handed. This gains access to the drow's very useful melee sleep attack, an immense help for the difficult melee environment at the start of SLASH'EM. The ability to repeatedly put your opponent to sleep should compensate for bare hands doing less damage than good weapons! To train your axe skill, wield your axe or battle-axe against monsters with sleep resistance. Eventually, you will be fighting primarily with Cleaver, alternating to bare-handed only when you need it. Drow cannot two-weapon, but fighting bare-handed should more than offset that.
In UnNetHack, the The Heart of Ahriman gives its owner displacement instead of stealth. Considering that Barbarians acquire intrinsic stealth at level 15, this makes The Heart a more desirable acquisition.
They dressed alike -- in buckskin boots, leathern breeks and
deerskin shirts, with broad girdles that held axes and short
swords; and they were all gaunt and scarred and hard-eyed;
sinewy and taciturn.
They were wild men, of a sort, yet there was still a wide
gulf between them and the Cimmerian. They were sons of
civilization, reverted to a semi-barbarism. He was a
barbarian of a thousand generations of barbarians. They had
acquired stealth and craft, but he had been born to these
things. He excelled them even in lithe economy of motion.
They were wolves, but he was a tiger.
- u_init.c in NetHack 3.6.0, line 40
- u_init.c in NetHack 3.6.0, line 673
- u_init.c in NetHack 3.6.0, line 679
- attrib.c in NetHack 3.6.0, line 27
- role.c in NetHack 3.6.0, line 109