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, assuming naming options are unchanged. The barbarian's attack messages replace most instances of "hit" with "smite" (e.g. "You smite the foo!"), but this is flavor text with no gameplay effect.
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 (orcish ring mail for orcs)
- a food ration (with the usual 1⁄6 chance of getting a stack of 2)
- if an orc, two more random food-class items (each of which also may be a stack of 2)
- an oil lamp (1⁄6 chance)
Barbarians start with Basic skill in Axe, Bare hands, and the skill for their sword (short or two-handed).
Most Barbarians should begin training up their axe skill in preparation for Cleaver, an artifact battle-axe and their first sacrifice gift. Cleaver's ability to slice through multiple foes will provide a well-needed early boon for dealing with hordes of enemies.
The starting ring mail is adequate for the early stages of the game, though it is among the weaker mail armor - even more so in the case of orcish barbarians and their racial equivalent. As a melee-dominant class, the average barbarian does not have to be picky about wearing metal armor, and can simply go for whichever set of armor grants the lowest AC possible; this leaves only the usual question of weight vs. carrying capacity. The barbarian's combat capabilities make the Gnomish Mines a viable if risky choice to visit early, as they are likely to come across enchanted armor to pet test, especially an elven or dwarvish mithril-coat.
While barbarians overall should have no trouble dishing out damage, players should be wary not to lean too much on their health and armor to carry them through every fight. The intrinsic poison resistance that barbarians start with widens the list of edible corpses that can be eaten in lieu of permafood. Orcish barbarians find the poison resistance redundant, but will appreciate the additional lack of penalties for cannibalism or eating cats and dogs. For chaotics, orcish barbarians will also have an easier time converting early altars than their human counterparts due to the earlier presence of same-race monsters; human barbarians can still make use of werecreature corpses, but will have to contend with them calling for help and potentially catching lycanthropy from bites.
The barbarian quest is not especially difficult, though there are some significant wrinkles. While the monster generation is biased towards ogres, which are generated in large numbers upon entering and can be dealt with via the usual tactics for handling crowds of monsters, it may also contain a very large number of trolls, which can be the biggest hazard for an underleveled or under-prepared barbarian. If enough trolls are present, they can form an almost perpetual swarm around the player as they rise from the dead faster than they can be permanently disposed of. A tinning kit can be extremely helpful in this situation, as can a wielded footrice 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 and eventually leaves you free to kill all the ogres and Thoth Amon.
There is also the notable lack of incentive presented by the quest artifact: The Heart of Ahriman, infamously regarded as one of the most useless quest artifacts. Its base item is a luckstone, but another luckstone is guaranteed at Mines' End; it provides stealth for a class that obtains the intrinsic at XL 15 (one level after the quest even becomes an option). Barbarians can #invoke it for levitation, but this particularly quirky method 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.
On the other hand, the floors above the lair are also full of varied scrolls, potions and wands among other loot - but the swarms of ogres and trolls will be trying to use these items on you from the home level on, and an ill-placed attack from wand of fire or even a wand of death can be very dangerous to an otherwise strong combatant. Altar-scumming in the lair can also result in loads of gifts for the patient adventurer as well. Postponing the quest is still a valid option until the player has a contingency, but is not as necessary if they have a source of reflection, such as Sokoban's amulet of reflection; they should also have a good assortment of intrinsics by the time the quest is available.
Since the Bell of Opening is required for the Invocation, a player may be inclined to leave the quest until later on and retrieve the Bell once they are otherwise ready to perform it; on the other hand, the Bell is also a viable alternative if they are lacking a silver weapon, such as a silver spear or silver saber, for the shades in Orcus-town.
Cleaver becomes a risky weapon to carry into the lowest floors and beyond, 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. In addition to 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 basic, then start fighting with two weapons, preferably with a silver saber or silver spear as your secondary weapon.
Barbarians have the highest spellcasting penalty in the game. Without a robe, it is impossible for them to cast any spell other than their special spell, haste self, at lower than 66% fail (67% without helm of brilliance). Even haste self will cap at 30% fail (34% without helm of brilliance). Spellcasting is essentially out of the question until the Barbarian can manage to find a robe, but once they locate one they might be able to make use of some low level non-combat spells. As of 3.6.2, barbarians can advance to Basic in escape spells, making the spell of haste self more viable to learn.
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.
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 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 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 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.
The Heart of Ahriman now grants MR, reflection, half-spell damage, drain resistance, fire resistance and poison resistance while carried, and #invokes for blessed remove curse. This makes uncursing your weapon a tad easier, so barbarians can possibly wield Cleaver late in the game.
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.