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Rules Review: Fate, D20 and Barbarian Rage

January 18, 2014

One example of how we are streamlining D20 with Fate is to look at the Barbarian Rage ability.

On its surface, there’s nothing wrong with the idea of a rage or frenzy power being a barbarian ability. The rage ability is based, at least in part, on Celt and Norse berserkers. In fantasy literature, Howard has Conan going into a battle frenzy seemingly once per story, and I’m pretty sure Leiber has Fafhrd occasionally going berserk. However, here’s the Barbarian’s Rage ability from the D20 SRD:


A barbarian can fly into a rage a certain number of times per day. In a rage, a barbarian temporarily gains a +4 bonus to Strength, a +4 bonus to Constitution, and a +2 morale bonus on Will saves, but he takes a -2 penalty to Armor Class. The increase in Constitution increases the barbarian’s hit points by 2 points per level, but these hit points go away at the end of the rage when his Constitution score drops back to normal. (These extra hit points are not lost first the way temporary hit points are.)

While raging, a barbarian cannot use any Charisma-, Dexterity-, or Intelligence-based skills (except for Balance, Escape Artist, Intimidate, and Ride), the Concentration skill, or any abilities that require patience or concentration, nor can he cast spells or activate magic items that require a command word, a spell trigger (such as a wand), or spell completion (such as a scroll) to function.

He can use any feat he has except Combat Expertise, item creation feats, and metamagic feats. A fit of rage lasts for a number of rounds equal to 3 + the character’s (newly improved) Constitution modifier. A barbarian may prematurely end his rage.

At the end of the rage, the barbarian loses the rage modifiers and restrictions and becomes fatigued (-2 penalty to Strength, -2 penalty to Dexterity, can’t charge or run) for the duration of the current encounter (unless he is a 17th-level barbarian, at which point this limitation no longer applies).

A barbarian can fly into a rage only once per encounter. At 1st level he can use his rage ability once per day. At 4th level and every four levels thereafter, he can use it one additional time per day (to a maximum of six times per day at 20th level). Entering a rage takes no time itself, but a barbarian can do it only during his action, not in response to someone else’s action.

I find it all to be a bit…overwhelming. Fiddly, cascading bonuses to requisites? Check. Fiddly bonuses to particular saving throws? Check. You get a penalty to AC but you also get a bunch of temporary hit points (based on your temporary Con bonus). So you are more likely to be hit, but it really doesn’t matter because you have more hit points; both adjustments basically cancel each other out. Once the rage is over, you now have fiddly penalties.

There are 3 limits on when the ability can be used, two of which have to be tracked: once per encounter, a number of rounds per instance, and a number of times per day.

Everything is spelled out what a barbarian can and can’t do while raging. This is a matter of taste. I think just stating “skills or abilities cannot be used if they require patience, concentration, or would simply be inappropriate for someone basically in a frenzy.” would be sufficient.

This is exactly the sort of D20 rule that we want to streamline by bringing in Fate. Here is the (Battle) Rage trait from Aspects of Fantasy:


For the cost of a fate point, you go into a rage that provides the following benefit:

Roll two dice when making a melee combat roll and take the best result.

While raging, skills or abilities cannot be used if they require patience, concentration, or would simply be inappropriate for someone basically in a frenzy. Aspects can be invoked if they are appropriate.

Combat related traits and maneuvers can be used in conjunction with Battle Rage unless noted otherwise.

A fit of rage lasts for an encounter; however, you can only go into a rage once per scene. You may prematurely end your rage if desired. Entering a rage is a free action.

Once you are done raging you have a temporary aspect called Weary that lasts for the rest of the scene. This can be compelled by the GM when trying to do anything strenuous, like breaking down a door, climbing up a wall, etc.

Like the D20 Rage ability, the AoF Battle Rage trait provides a very nice combat benefit, but with some limitations and negative after-effects. You get essentially the same overall affect (barbarian gets nice combat ability) without all of the text and math.

One other thing, in AoF Battle Rage is only a background trait for two Barbarian backgrounds, Berserk and Tribesman. Other backgrounds can choose the Battle Rage trait if they so desire, but they don’t have it by default. So if a barbarian player wants a disciplined but merciless ‘Mongol-type’ steppe raider he doesn’t have to have Battle Rage if he doesn’t want it.

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