Why Pathfinder’s Barbarian Rage Rules Are Stupid and Need to Change

According to Pathfinder rules, Amiri the Barbarian is more likely to wield that giant sword, but also more likely to die after being knocked down than any other character class.

According to Pathfinder’s rules as written, a Barbarian, upon ending her rage, loses the HP she had gained as a result of her +4 morale bonus to Constitution. These are ALWAYS subtracted at the end of her rage, unlike temporary HP.

Quoted from the Core Rulebook:

The increase to Constitution grants the barbarian 2 hit points per Hit Dice, but these disappear when the rage ends and are not lost first like temporary hit points… If a barbarian falls unconscious, her rage immediately ends, placing her in peril of death.

Many monsters focus their attention upon other enemies, once the enemy in front of them has fallen unconscious.

Of course, this all leads to the perverse result that barbarians — the paragons of fortitude and hardiness — are more likely to fall unconscious and/or die than other characters because of how the rules of Death and Dying work. And why? Not because they were weak, but because they were really mad when they got knocked down.

Does this make sense to anyone? Not to this blogger. And doesn’t this defeat the purpose of rule mechanics, to simulate an (admittedly fantastic) reality? And since we have assigned the Barbarian the largest (d12) Hit Die, shouldn’t that mean our rules should make the Barbarian more likely to be badass and not more likely to be dead?

Conceptually, negative HP are not the equivalent of positive HP. Positive HP measures how hard it is to knock a PC down; negative HP measures a PC’s distance from death and the likelihood he or she will stabilize. In fact, Pathfinder already introduces a different set of rules for negative HP, by basing it on a different set of factors than it does positive HP.

Positive HP is an abstract amalgam of the PC’s level, class, Constitution, and luck. It describes not simply the amount of physical punishment a PC can withstand, but also the PC’s ability to avoid blows and the training that comes with his or her class. Hence, a PC’s positive HP increases with experience, having a martial character class, having a high Constitution, and good luck.

In contrast, negative HP denotes one thing alone: the PC’s constitution — or her ability to avoid slipping into death after being knocked down in relation to the power of the blow that struck her down.  Hence, a character dies upon reaching his or her negative Constitution score.

When a Barbarian rages, having more positive HP makes sense. After all, she is now a nigh-unstoppable killing machine, someone to fear who can dish out more damage and is now harder to knock down.

However, once the Barbarian is knocked down, does she now become more likely to die because of her rage? This Rot Grub thinks not. Why do we even care at this point? After all, when I’m unconscious, I’m already not angry anymore. So why simulate a transition between more-angry unconsciousness and less-angry unconsciousness? And why should becoming less angry induce a coma?

Enough of my rant. I did not raise this problem just to complain, but to fix it. So as a result of my theorycraft and frustration, I have arrived at the following houserule and proposed rule revision to Pathfinder:

When a Barbarian’s rage ends while in positive HP, subtract the HP gained from the rage, but never go below 1 HP. If the Barbarian is at negative HP upon ending rage, do not subtract the HP gained as a result of the rage.

Questions? Comments?

Controversy and rage are always welcome at The Rot Grub.

EDIT: I’ve noticed quite bit of traffic to this article. Please feel free to peruse my site. Also, if you want to know what I’ve been focusing on lately, namely it’s been twenty middle-schoolers with little Life XP but high scores in Imagination and Enthusiasm!

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About ronaldsf

Grandmaster of the Pathfinders' Guild at Martin Luther King Middle School.
This entry was posted in Rule Rants, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Why Pathfinder’s Barbarian Rage Rules Are Stupid and Need to Change

  1. maraichux says:

    Barbarian is not a tank. But take a look to raging vitality. And, by the way, a barbarian is the best at smashing enemies

  2. ACO says:

    It’s pretty… appropriate as is. Berserkers tearing through enemies, ignoring wounds that would have put any other man down, only to die after the battle once their fury fades? That’s right out of historical myth.

    • ronaldsf says:

      Hmm, never thought of it that way. But what this usually means is the barbarian consciously stays pissed off until someone gets him a healing potion. Pathfinder/D&D still has lots of room for heroic death.

      • Neophage says:

        This can be quite easily countered by a addendum to the rage power: If there are no enemy in sight, the barbarian’s rage ends.

        That way, the barbarian can’t just stay mad at corpses until a cleric or someone with a healing potion gets to him. That barbarian has to chose between higher damage, higher risk of death, or lower damage, lower risk of death.

  3. rederic says:

    I felt much the same way at first.
    Now, I look at it more like the Barbarian is front loading her negative HP’s into positive HP’s, which is quite dangerous to her, but lets her function longer through wounds that would have killed lesser beings.

  4. Hunter Parker says:

    Actually it makes perfect sense if you look at the context of rage. They get so mad that they basically put all of their efforts into attacking, so they really don’t care if they… Say, lose an arm. They’re just going to keep smacking away until they literally can’t do it anymore, or they beat whatever is in front of them to a bloody pulp.

  5. Don’t forget that there are Rage Powers that allow you to continue fighting even when in Negative HP and does NOT break rage.

  6. mop says:

    Half-Orcs can also take a racial feat, Ferocious Resolve giving them the Ferocious trait and continue fighting to negative your constitution( when you would die anyway). There are also other feats to us barbarians in the fight even in the face of death.

  7. ronaldsf says:

    In the developers’ discussion of the upcoming Pathfinder Unchained hardcover (think of it as Unearthed Arcana for Pathfinder RPG), they are considering ending this “Calm Down and Die” rule. Needless to say, I approve. >:D

  8. boxy0512 says:

    A barbarian in a rage is sacrificing almost all pretense of defense in exchange for more damage and their adrenaline keeps them going beyond a characters normal ability to live, even a tough one (d12 HD, probably pretty high con as well) but their body is still taking all that damage. Once they relax…. So if they’re knocked out while under the affects of adrenaline, they’re in even more danger than if they had been knocked out normally, which is a pretty realistic way to run it. The rage is natural, not supernatural, even if it makes the barbarian capable of seemingly supernatural feats.

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