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Barbaric Traits


I've recently been re-reading the Berkley Publishing Corporation authorized editions of Robert E. Howard's most famous barbarian stories published under the titles The Hour of the Dragon, People of the Black Circle, and Red Nails. Howard's tales have stood the test of time for about four score years, and they are fertile fields for fantasy RPG inspiration.

While Howard's vibrant prose held my attention rapt, I wasn't so awed that I couldn't pause every now and then to jot down a noteworthy adjective or colorful phrase. Out of this list grew the traits found in this PDF.

I've also been DVRing the cartoon adventures of a certain sun-sword wielding barbarian and watching the episodes with my son. I'd forgotten how much I enjoy post-apocalyptic science-fantasy. Makes me want to pit pure strain human fanatics against a band of intrepid mutant heroes. I've gotten a few traits from my TV viewing as well.

These traits aren't intended solely for barbarians. After all, barbarian isn't just a character class. It's also a state of mind, a way of life, even a badge of honor when compared to the effete, duplicitous ways of civilized people. If you're next character hails from some savage frontier where honor and sharp steel matter more than manners and shiny coins, then a couple of Barbaric Traits might be just what you need for some untameable flavor.

As always, if you have any questions or comments, don't hesitate to email me.


Mark “the Destroyer” Chance

Spes Magna Games

Table: Traits Summary

Trait Name Type Benefit
Battle-Born Combat +1 attack rolls when outnumbered
Beast Slayer Combat +1 attack rolls vs. animals
Blood-Mad Combat +2 weapon damage when injured
Combat Healer Combat +2 Heal with first aid and poisons
Skirmisher Combat +2 AC vs. AoO when moving
Smoke-Stained Hand Combat +2 damage with normal fire
Spring-Steel Quickness Combat Initiative and attack roll bonus in surprise round
Steel Suffices Combat Damage bonus vs. DR
Wild Reaver Combat +1 attack rolls when mounted
Barbaric Mythology Faith +1 bonus to select Knowledge
Face Death Faith Save bonus vs. death and fear
Fateful Birthmark Faith +1 bonus when recovering
Heathen Oath Faith Bonus when swearing specific task
Lords of Light Faith Save bonus vs. “dark” magic
Motivational Expletive Faith +1 bonus after expletive
Ophidian Cultist Faith Bonuses with reptilian creatures
Superstitious Faith Save bonus vs. evil creatures
Thrive on Success Faith Save bonus when successful
Blasphemed Nature Magic +2 Spellcraft with “dark” magic
Child of Darkness Magic +1 AC bonus with “dark” magic
Deadly Touch Magic Bonus with melee touch spells
Hell-Tongued Magic Bonus language and Diplomacy bonus
Lambent Gaze Magic Hypnotic power with certain spells
Poisonous Sorcery Magic Bonus with ability damage spells
Prestidigitator Magic +1 bonus with Sleight of Hand
Seer Magic Bonus while using divination
Voice of Pain Magic Bonus with damaging verbal spells
Aura of Menace Social +1 bonus to Intimidate
Black Corsair Social Bonus with select pirate skills
Barbaric Ambassador Social +1 bonus with select skills
Iron Nerves Social +2 Will saves vs. fear
Pack Horse Social +5 STR for carrying capacity
Rebellious Beauty Social Bonus with certain interaction checks
Sorcerous Taint Social Interaction bonus based on alignment
To the Conqueror Social Wealth and equipment bonus
Wild Lander Social +1 bonus with select wilderness skills
When you create your character for a campaign, ask your DM how many traits you can select. In most cases, new PCs should gain two traits. Some DMs may wish to adjust this number somewhat. Even if your DM normally doesn’t allow traits, you might still be able to pick up some with the Additional Traits feat. Of course, since these traits are so cool, you'll probably want the Additional Traits feat regardless.

Combat Traits

These traits are associated with combat, battle, and physical prowess. They give characters minor bonuses in battle and represent conflicts and physical struggles in the character’s backstory.


Violent circumstances figure prominently in your birth and early childhood. Perhaps you were born on the field of battle while raiders attacked your village. Perhaps from an early age circumstances forced you to kill or be killed. You have learned to face down unfavorable odds and still emerge victorious.

You gain a +1 trait bonus to attack rolls2 in melee combat when you are threatened by more than one foe.

Beast Slayer

Dangerous beasts hunt the wilderness and ancient ruins. Fell wizards always seem to have a monstrous serpent on hand to crush the life out of their enemies. You excel at fighting such menaces.

You gain a +1 trait bonus on attack rolls against animals. Knowledge (nature) is always a class skill for you.


The sight, smell, and/or taste of your own blood inflames your senses, driving you into a near rage.

Whenever you're injured in combat, you gain a +2 trait bonus to your melee and thrown weapon damage rolls but suffer a -1 penalty to your Armor Class. You remain in this near rage for a number of rounds equal to 3 plus your Constitution modifier. This traits works only once per day.

Combat Healer

On the field of battle, injuries often require immediate treatment, and the cleric isn't always on-hand. Veterans trained you to treat mortal wounds and poisons.

You gain a +2 trait bonus to Heal checks when providing first aid or treating a poison. Heal is always a class for you.


Never get pinned down. A moving target is a live target, and a quick-footed warrior better throws his foes into disarray. You slip by your enemies with practiced ease in order to gain advantageous ground or position.

You gain a +2 trait bonus to Armor Class when you move out of or within a threatened area. A condition that makes you lose your Dexterity bonus to Armor Class (if any) also makes you lose this trait's bonus.

Smoke-Stained Hand

The violent use of fire figures prominently in your background. You have well-learned the benefits of fire as a weapon.

You gain a +2 trait bonus to damage when using any non-magical fire as a weapon, including alchemist fire.

Spring-Steel Quickness

When danger strikes without warning, you act with speed and determination.

You gain a +2 trait bonus to initiative checks and a +1 trait bonus to attack rolls when able to act during a surprise round.

Steel Suffices

Monsters impervious to normal weapons stalk demon-haunted ruins and cursed wildlands. You have less reason to fear these monsters because your normal weapons strike hard and true even against horrors with supernatural resistance to harm.

You gain a +2 trait bonus to damage against a creature with supernatural damage reduction so long as the weapon you wield does not bypass the creature's DR.3

Wild Reaver

You were practically born in the saddle. Your people use mounts for transportation and war, riding hard out of wilder lands to raid civilized places before retreating once more to ancestral lands.

You gain a +1 trait bonus to weapon attack rolls when mounted. Ride is always a class skill for you.

Faith Traits

These traits rely upon conviction of spirit, perception, and religion, but are not directly tied to the worship of a specific deity. You do not need a patron deity to gain a Faith Trait, as these traits can represent conviction in yourself or your philosophy just as easily as they can represent dedication to a deity.

Barbaric Mythology

Against the night, your people would light bonfires and gather to hear tales of gods and demons, heroes and villains, and intrigues and wars. Such epics fired your imagination and spirit of adventure, and they remain with you to this day.

You gain a +1 trait bonus on any two of Knowledge (history), Knowledge (local), and Knowledge (religion). One of the two chosen skills is always a class skill for you.

Face Death

Hiding until threats pass might be prudent, but the path to glory often demands otherwise. You might not quite laugh in the face of death, but you don't shy away from taking action just because danger is afoot. Besides, even if you die, what great rewards await you in the halls of fallen warriors!

Your barbaric faith grants you a +1 trait bonus to your Fortitude saves versus death effects and your Will saves versus fear effects.

Fateful Birthmark

The gods have marked you for a certain fate, and that mark seems to make death shy away from you.

You gain a +1 trait bonus on checks to Constitution checks made when recovering from injury. Even if severely wounded and left alone to die, you are treated as if recovering with help.4

If you take the Leadership feat, you gain a +1 trait bonus to your leadership score as people who recognize your fated status are attracted to your banner.

Heathen Oath

You grew up in a community that was at least largely pre-literate. Your culture placed premium value on honesty and honor. After all, when oral tradition and verbal agreements comprise most of a community's history and law, liars are criminals. You words is your bond, even to the point where your oaths contain spiritual power.

Once per game session, you may swear a heathen oath to accomplish a single, specific task.5 You gain a +1 trait bonus to any attack roll, saving throw, or skill check related to accomplishing that specific task (your choice upon swearing the oath). You can only have one heathen oath active at a time.

Lords of Light

No matter how fearsome the night, relief is as near as the next sunrise. Light scatters the darkness and reveals the unholy creatures that dwell in lightless spaces. The purifying, protective powers of light better prepare you to face supernatural threats.

You gain a +1 trait bonus on saves against spells with darkness, death, evil, or fear descriptors.

Motivational Expletive

You have a special phrase, a sort of quick invocation to whatever spiritual powers you recognize. You draw strength from these words.

Once per encounter6, you may exclaim your motivational expletive to gain a +1 trait bonus to your next attack roll or skill check. You cannot use this trait if you cannot speak.

Ophidian Cultist

Serpents (and other reptiles) have long been objects of fear and veneration among your people. You have some familiarity with such creatures owing to time spent with ophidian priests.

You gain a +1 trait bonus to Diplomacy, Handle Animal, and wild empathy checks (if you have that class feature) regarding reptiles and creatures with the reptilian subtype.


The world is a dangerous place influenced by unseen forces and malevolent spirits. The ignorant and incautious are more likely to fall victim to these malign supernatural powers. Fortunately, you are well-versed in the little rituals and taboos necessary to defend yourself against harm.

You gain a +1 trait bonus on saving throws against the spells, spell-like abilities, and supernatural abilities of evil fey, outsiders, and undead.

Thrive on Success

Nothing succeeds like success. You gain spiritual strength when you've done well, especially when you've avoided some hazard.

Whenever you make a save, you gain a +1 trait bonus to your saves that lasts until the end of your next turn.

Magic Traits

These traits are associated with magic and focus on spellcasting and manipulating magic. You need not be a spellcaster to take a Magic Trait (although several of these traits aren’t as useful to non-spellcasters). Magic Traits can represent a character’s early exposure to magical effects or childhood studies of magic.

Blasphemed Nature

An ancestor of yours performed some act of blasphemy. Perhaps a wicked grandfather offered up some terrified virgin to a hellish entity in exchange for victory in battle or power over his tribe. The consequences of this horrible crime infect your family tree.

You gain a +2 trait bonus to Spellcraft checks regarding spells with the darkness, death, evil, or fear descriptors. Spellcraft is always a class skill for you.

Child of Darkness

The taint of sorcery hovers about you. Maybe your family had a habit of consorting with unwholesome powers. Maybe something both less and more than mortal flow faintly through your veins. Practicing dark magic causes you to surge with unnatural vigor.

For one round after you cast any spell with a darkness, death, evil, or fear descriptor, you gain a +1 trait bonus to Armor Class.

Deadly Touch

Your eldritch studies included a focus on spells that require touching your foe.

You gain a +1 trait bonus to hit point damage inflicted with melee touch attacks. Melee touch attacks that don't inflict hit point damage gain a +1 trait bonus to their save DCs. This trait has no affect on melee touch attacks that neither inflict hit point damage nor have a save DC.


Unholy texts contain rituals useful in pursuit of magical power. Authored in strange languages, often by writers with bizarre views, studying these texts demands special knowledge. Consequently, you've gained insight into the language and psychology of certain unnatural creatures.

Choose one bonus language from this list: Abyssal, Aklo, Draconic, or Infernal. You gain a +1 trait bonus to Diplomacy checks when interacting with creatures whose native tongue is the language you chose for a bonus language.

Lambent Gaze

Hypnotic power burns in your eyes. You've learned to unleash this power in conjunction with spellcasting.

Your enchantment spells gain a +1 trait bonus to their save DCs as long as the target is within 30 feet of you and meets your gaze.

Poisonous Sorcery

Many spells wreak havoc on the body's health, and you excel with such toxic magic.

You gain a +1 trait bonus to ability damage (such as chill touch) or the ability score penalty (such as ray of enfeeblement) caused by spells that inflict such damage. You must include at least 25 gold pieces of some poison as a material component to gain this benefit.


You have remarkable training in the finer points of somatic components.

You gain a +1 trait bonus Sleight of Hand checks and to concentration checks made to cast spells with somatic components while afflicted with the grappled condition. Sleight of Hand is always a class skill for you.


Many magical practitioners possess divinatory powers. Your divinations, however, are a cut above the average, for they grant you supernatural insight.

You gain a +1 trait bonus to Intelligence- and Wisdom-based skill checks made in conjunction with or while under the effects of a divination spell. For example, you gain a +1 trait bonus to Spellcraft checks made with detect magic to identify the properties of a magic item.

Voice of Pain

Words have power, and you know this better than many.

Whenever you cast a spell that inflicts hit point damage and that has a verbal component, the spell's save DC gains a +1 trait bonus (if applicable). Also, choose one of the spell's target who can hear you cast the spell. Against this target, the spell gains a +1 trait bonus to damage.

Social Traits

Social Traits are a sort of catch-all category. These traits reflect the social upbringing of your character, your background in high society or lack thereof, and your history with parents, siblings, friends, competitors, and enemies.

Aura of Menace

Sometimes the best way to win a battle is to cause a foe to back down before the fighting starts. You are scary: your posture, your visage, that cold glint of promised violence in your steely gaze. All of these qualities at least make you appear as a force to be reckoned with.

You gain a +1 trait bonus on Intimidate checks, and Intimidate is always a class skill for you.

Black Corsair

Not all barbarians inhabit thick jungles, rugged highlands, or burning deserts. Some scour waterways and coastal regions aboard black-sailed ships.

Choose two skills from this list: Climb, Knowledge (geography), and Swim. You gain a +1 trait bonus to those skills, and one of them is always a class skill for you.

Barbaric Ambassador

Barbaric lands often teem with valuable raw goods. Civilized folks place high value on scented woods from untamed forests and the exotic pelts of wild animals. Negotiators are needed to barter acceptable trading terms. You have ambassadorial experience acting as a liaison between your clan and neighboring peoples.

Choose two of these skills with which you gain a +1 trait bonus: Knowledge (local), Knowledge (nobility), and Linguistics. One of those skills is always a class skill for you (your choice).

Iron Nerves

It takes iron nerves to survive in a barbaric world. You don't scare easily. Nothing seems to faze you, at least not for long.

You gain a +2 trait bonus to Will saves against fear effects. If someone uses Intimidate to demoralize you, you are demoralized for 1 fewer rounds.

Pack Horse

Heavy labor figures prominently in your past. Maybe you worked in a mine, hauling raw ore to the surface. Perhaps you once sweated in a slave galley, pulling the oars and shifting cargo.

You gain a +5 trait bonus to Strength for determining your carrying capacity.

Rebellious Beauty

You are strikingly attractive, and you know it. You've learned to use your good looks and self-confidence to get your way.

Choose either Bluff or Intimidate. You get a +1 trait bonus to checks on a character is that is (or could be) sexually attracted to you with your chosen skill. You get a +1 trait bonus to Will saves against compulsions.

Sorcerous Taint

Hellish influences have entered your family line. Perhaps a distant relative made an unholy pact with some eldritch horror. Maybe an ancestor practiced the infernal arts. Whatever the source, there is something less than holy about you.

You gain a +1 trait bonus to Diplomacy checks when interacting with evil, intelligent creatures. You gain a +1 trait bonus to Intimidate checks regarding non-evil, intelligent creatures. Either Diplomacy or Intimidate is always a class skill for you.

To the Conqueror

You lived as a raider before becoming an adventurer (which often isn't terribly different), and you still have some of the booty you seized.7

You enjoy a one time bonus to your starting wealth. You start with the maximum amount of gold pieces for your class. You gain an additional amount of equipment valued at no more than 600 gold pieces total. This latter bonus must be taken in the form of equipment. Unspent funds from the 600 gold pieces are lost.

Wild Lander

In uncivilized wildernesses, only the fittest survive.

Choose one terrain from this list: cold, desert, forest, jungle, mountain, plains, swamp, underground, or water.

Choose two of these skills: Knowledge (nature), Stealth, and Survival. You gain a +1 trait bonus to checks with the two chosen skill when in your chosen terrain. One of the two chosen skills is always a class skill for you.

1 As is my habit, rules hyperlinks lead to d20pfsrd.com.

2 I went back and forth on this one between a +1 trait bonus to attack rolls or a +1 trait bonus to Armor Class. I finally just flipped a copper piece.

3 Why does the bonus to damage disappear if using a weapon that does bypass DR? Well, because otherwise the trait would be too good for a trait. This is also pretty much an example of a disassociated game mechanic, something I try to avoid on my better days. The link in the previous sentences goes to an essay on The Alexandrian site.

4 See “Stable Characters and Recovery”.

5 For example, “By the demon dogs of uncaring Kromm, I shall slay the evil sorcerer Khexaltun, and not even his most powerful spells will protect him!” would make a great Heathen Oath for a +1 trait bonus to saves.

6 Quid Novi? subscriber Joe Medica sagely advised that I define what I mean by encounter. Here's my definition of an encounter: The interval between the time the DM tells you to roll initiative and when it's no longer necessary to roll initiative, but also including those instances where your character hasn't rolled initiative, but is still trying to accomplish something, such as disabling a trap. In other words, I know an encounter when I see one.

7 Go ahead and giggle. You know you want to.

Section 15: Copyright Notice - Barbaric Traits

Barbaric Traits. Copyright 2010, Mark L. Chance, published by Spes Magna Games.