Why are barbarians barbarians and not berzerkers?


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion

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for a class that is so core to the game shouldn't they be scripted around something a little more flexible than the same old Conan reference?

The simple name (and flavor) change from barbarian to berserker would allow for a much more open class, dwarf, and elf berserker would make more sence as well as eliminating the need for alignment restrictions (that goodness we already dropped the literacy deal)

at the same time it would not in any way restrict the standard flavor of barbarians as it would simply make sense that barbarians have a natural affinity for the berserk style of fighting.


shoot... just did a forum search and im clearly not the first person to have thought of this.


Wanna know something crazy? If you really break it down, the only thing Conan has in common with PF Barbarians is a tendency to use 2h weapons and light/no armor.
Compare 'Age of Conan' Barbarians with PF Barbarians and you'd be pretty surprised. ;)


Neo is correct. He would have some levels of rogue and probably ranger if he were to be statted out.


In fact, a lot of people peg Conan as being closer to a Ranger than a Barbarian.

Edit: Ninja'd by wraithstrike


yea... I know.
but its also a fact that the barbarian class is vaguely based on the Conan imagery so the point that the class should be called berserker rather than barbarian is still relevant... unlike debating the comparison of the barbarian class to the Conan character.


Barbarian: Although their kin usually call them berserkers, dwarf barbarians are a valuable part of many dwarven armies.

from the APG

so the name is "out there".

edit: also, I doubt any barbarian would call himself barbarian, as the name was initially an insult, close to "those who speak gibberish", and meant most foreigners, and implied stupidity or lack of culture. That's what I learned in school at least.


true. and another reason why barbarian is a silly term for people who rage out in combat.

its almost as silly as the old basic dungeons and dragons race/casses


true. and another reason why barbarian is a silly term for people who rage out in combat.

its almost as silly as the old basic dungeons and dragons race/classes


The closest thing you'd ever get to a true Barbarian (A Howard Barbarian anyway) is a 2H Ranger with no spells and no animal companion.

Since that's really just a class nerf, everything's better off as-is, IMO.


other than an amazing thread jacking...

WTF does that have to do with changing the name of the class?


Barbarian fits the stereotype of the class it represents. It doesn't matter whether the stereotype is true or not.

Yes, technically 'Berserker' would fit better as a class name, but Barbarian fits just as well. At the end of the day, it's just nitpicking.


I prefer barbarian. Berzerker could be a prestige class or something.


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I'll bite, why does it need to be changed after so many years and editions of being barbarian?

Just because Conan is a famous barbarian doesn't mean all barbarians have to be like him, think back to Rome and the Goth barbarians, the Goths would have been very much like the pf barbarian and were regularly called barbarians by the culture they fought against. Same goes for the Huns and most residents of Gaul at the time, the Berbers of northern Africa and most of the Celt and Pict residents of Great Britan.

The early greeks regarded anyone who was not greek as a barbarian, the word originated from people with no Greek or poorly pronounced words, but this was not accepted by many of the scolars and thinkers of the greeks and has a single mention in the illiad describing a band of Carians fighting on the side of Troy.

Similar words are used throughout Asia and in China especially, Europeans have been using the word for years to describe Vikings, local tribes in the tropics, Africa and the Americas as well as the Irish being described in such a way as well as the Italian usage for many years describing anyone who was not Italian.

Now with that in mind the image that is evoked in my mind when we say barbarian are of the Goths, a huge well equipped army of strong but dirty warriors, they seem unorganised to a "civilised" viewer but their command structure and leadership are sound. Bear in mind to the Romans who were clean and washed and had due process etc the Goths would be the epitome of the word but to the Goths they were just fighters who had slightly different looking equipment.

Flying into a rage definately evokes a feeling of the berserker but even then would a berserkers rage be as controlled as a barbarians? For me the mechanic is tied to the name as it is the name i have been gaming with for many years, the frenzied berserker prestige class from 3.5 represents unbridled and uncontrolled destructive power.

I think many of the archtypes the barbarian provides are better suited to being called a barbarian by local civilisations than berserkers, invulnerable rager, mounted fury, superstitious, drunken brute, savage, totem warrior, armoured hulk, sea reaver. I think the Taldans and Chileaxians in Galarion and similar nations in other settings would refer to people like this by the term barbarian, within their own tribe they would probably be called warriors or something similar since they are the uncivilised version of a fighter.

In the end your talking about abstract class titles, fighter, barbarian, paladin and comparing it to what should be an in character name, Swordlord, Berserker, Templar... Call them what you want at home but leave the well established and widely used class names alone.


i think the barbarian name fits perfectly. initially barbarians were any race of peoples that were not civilized greeks or romans. the name itself was derogatory, ment to make fun of how the city dweller heard the non citizen language.

as a class name this gives players lots of lee way to bring thier own spin on a savage warrior. doesn't matter if they were influence by native american, zulu, or any other culture not limitied to simply norse viking mythology.

berzerker comes from a shock troop the vikings used that wore bearskins, hence berserker. most people are of a mind set that these warriors are apeturd nuts, attacking friend and foe alike.

now picutre just one of them in any party as i have seen players use them by taking the prestige frenzied berzerker. the idea sours for me quick. the player in question used it as card blanche to kill other players, npc's, and monsters while enable to skirt the rules (rape, theft, and casual murder particularly) for the sake of "roleplay"

picking the name berserker by itself is more inclusive to one set of warrirors and now broad enough to encompass other cultures, who have been called barbabrians at one time or another.

and my take on conan, having been a huge fan of r.e.h. is that the mongoose d.20 books, and especially the a.o.c. mmo did a great enough translation of his abilities.


blue_the_wolf wrote:

for a class that is so core to the game shouldn't they be scripted around something a little more flexible than the same old Conan reference?

The simple name (and flavor) change from barbarian to berserker would allow for a much more open class, dwarf, and elf berserker would make more sence as well as eliminating the need for alignment restrictions (that goodness we already dropped the literacy deal)

at the same time it would not in any way restrict the standard flavor of barbarians as it would simply make sense that barbarians have a natural affinity for the berserk style of fighting.

We were having a discussion in another thread about Barbarians being able to use Combat Expertise that kind of touched on this. In my opinion game mechanics can have different flavors and shouldn't be tied to a 'purist' interpretation. For example, in my campaign a Barbarian may well be a bezerking brute from the north capable of flying into fits of unstoppable rage... but that mechanic could also be applied to a religious zealot entering a state of fervor in the face of the enemies of his God... or perhaps to a sort of zen master who entered into a combat trance that focused the body and mind to the exclusion of all else. All would be perfectly acceptable interpretations of the Barbarian mechanic in my mind, and if that line of thought was embraced, we might see some very interesting new rage powers...

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
blue_the_wolf wrote:

for a class that is so core to the game shouldn't they be scripted around something a little more flexible than the same old Conan reference?

More flexible? Sounds like they're a lot LESS flexible if not even flanderised compared to the barbarian. The barbarian actually is a fairly broad class, especially when you add the urban archetype to the mix.


Except that "native american, zulu, or any other culture" don't always, or even often, have a "rage" warrior tradition, so why use barbarian to play them? Ranger would be more appropriate for many, straight fighter for others.

The core ability of the barbarian class is rage. Berserker is good term that evokes that. Since there are examples of barbarian groups without berserkers and, at least in fiction, civilized warriors who fight fueled by anger, why link the two concepts.

Of course, nothing prevents you from playing a civilized Barbarian or a barbaric Fighter, but the terminology is confusing.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
thejeff wrote:
Except that "native american, zulu, or any other culture" don't always, or even often, have a "rage" warrior tradition, so why use barbarian to play them? Ranger would be more appropriate for many, straight fighter for others.

There actually is no set in stone rule that you MUST use the barbarian class to portray members of Amerind tribes.

Although it would be one way to distinguish cultural differences between one tribe and another in a fantasy realm.


I think it is interesting to note that in the Ad&D 1st edition modules CB1 and CB2 Conan is a 13th level fighter


I think it is interesting to note that in the Ad&D 1st edition modules CB1 and CB2 Conan is a 13th level fighter and 7th level thief


blue_the_wolf wrote:
for a class that is so core to the game shouldn't they be scripted around something a little more flexible than the same old Conan reference?

They are called Barbarians for the same reason that Rangers are Rangers and Paladins are Paladins. Because that was the name of the class when it was written. It did indeed take a lot of inspiration from Conan but it also got it from other works of literature (Fafrd for example) and savage warriors of history as well.

It is not a berserker because 1) It is not a strictly NORSE inspired class (and Berserk is a norse derived word and concept for the most part) and 2) because Barbarians do not Berserk, they Rage, which is a weaker but far more controlled version of the berserking concept.

'Berserking' generally removes the ability to tell friend from foe, which is usually not that fun when you start killing your groupmates, so they went with Rage as a usable mechanic without the non party friendly results.

There were numerous ways to handle actual 'berserking' in 3.0/3.5 with an actual Berserker clas in Deities and Demigods and the Frenzied Berserker in complete warrior for 2 example.

As always you can call a class anything you want in your home game, but it works better for Paizo to keep the class as it is named to provide backward compatibility and increased transparency for the game. They can keep attracting old fans by keeping terms that they will recognise and be compfortable with. It also make conversion from D&D much easier for those starting up Pathfinder.


by calling the class barbarian your attaching the rage mechanic to a social status or cultural archtype it locks people into a cirtain way of playing a class.

as an example, what if instead of gunslinger they used cowboy or outlaw?

by calling the class berserker you free the mechanic from the uncivilized brute arch-type and focus on a person who knows how to manipulate and enhance the natural emotions of combat into greater battle prowess and special abilities. rather than being limited to uncivilized barbarian this can be almost any kind of person from a focused monk to a psychotic delusional. one could play an aristocratic berserker who rages out in combat just as easily as one can play an uncivilized brute.

just because it has always been some way does not mean that it has to be that way always. I remember arguing that its silly that barbarians be illiterate and people telling me "but thats the way its always been" but now that its changed people generally like it.

Note... berserker may not be the best choice either... i just think barbarian is one of the worst choices.


blue_the_wolf wrote:
by calling the class barbarian your attaching the rage mechanic to a social status or cultural archtype it locks people into a cirtain way of playing a class.

Which is PART of the reason they named it that. It is SUPPOSED to represent a certain concept. That said, nothing in existense forces you to roleplay that class as presented. You cna always talk with the tables GM and give him a concept using any of the mechanics in the game and come to a table solution that works.

But the class is presented as it is because the writers and designers wanted to represent a concept as they saw it and that is what they did. The rest is in the players hands to run with.

Barbarian is a perfect name for the class it is, from where the class came from, and for the concept that the writers were trying to portray.

But, again, nothing stops you from changing it to suit you and your players needs at your home table.

Liberty's Edge

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Names of classes are totally irrelevant in game.

One of my characters I'm playing now is a wild-rager barbarian / inquisitor. He would never, ever, refer to himself as a barbarian, heck, he can be quite civilized. However, he is full of divine wrath and woe unto those who draw his ire.


blue_the_wolf wrote:

by calling the class barbarian your attaching the rage mechanic to a social status or cultural archtype it locks people into a cirtain way of playing a class.

...

Note... berserker may not be the best choice either... i just think barbarian is one of the worst choices.

And in my opinion Berserker is way worse. Not only does it carry a similar uncivilized status (Berserker means bear-shirt after all) but it now evokes the imagery of someone who has has a short temper and lacks control. If someone told me they were playing a Berserker, I would have to wonder if their character is one that should be locked up.

Maybe you're having problems accepting it because of the antiquated use of the term by Greeks to refer to foreigners, but the newer use of the word Barbarian generally refers to who is a bit of a brute and lacks etiquette. Which, I think in my own personal opinion, fits quite well with the Barbarian whom runs around wears less armor and rages. It also doesn't have that insanity clause that is attached to Berserker.


Yeah, because "short temper and lacks control" has nothing at all to do with "Rage" mechanic. Those Barbarians don't have a temper, they just have Rage powers.

Berserk to you may mean insanity, but it seems to fit the Rage mechanic better than anything else in the game. It's the only historical or genre source for the rage abilities of the Barbarian class that I know of. Rage may be toned down a bit from some depictions.


thejeff wrote:

Yeah, because "short temper and lacks control" has nothing at all to do with "Rage" mechanic. Those Barbarians don't have a temper, they just have Rage powers.

Berserk to you may mean insanity, but it seems to fit the Rage mechanic better than anything else in the game. It's the only historical or genre source for the rage abilities of the Barbarian class that I know of. Rage may be toned down a bit from some depictions.

Honestly, the rage mechanic works more like an adrenaline rush.

In the end it's just a name. Or are we going to have to change the name of Druid, Cavalier, and Oracle as well?

You're just asking to exchange the current and accepted terminology for some that's just as if not more unclear, ambiguous, and hasn't been accepted. Why? What good will come of it?

Since I'm not Greek, I use foreigner to describe foreigners and tribal to describe tribal people. I use Berserk in common language to describe someone who's lost their mind in frustration. I use Barbarian to describe an uncouth person, which the barbarian class mechanics and fluff lend well to.

Liberty's Edge

Neither short temper nor adrenaline rush have much in common with "rage" (aka the ability that makes you grow claws, get stronger and tougher, and wave your sword through magic as though magic weren't there). They had to call the ability something and they went with rage. Doesn't mean, in game, its all about getting angry.


Too me it's much less ambiguous. I've seen it cause confusion in game and some weirdness in world building, where tribal societies have Barbarian warriors by default, even when the rage mechanic didn't fit the rest of the culture's inspiration.

Whatever. It's not a big deal for me. Just a preference.


ShadowcatX wrote:
Neither short temper nor adrenaline rush have much in common with "rage" (aka the ability that makes you grow claws, get stronger and tougher, and wave your sword through magic as though magic weren't there). They had to call the ability something and they went with rage. Doesn't mean, in game, its all about getting angry.

Okay so some of the rage abilities are bit more supernatural. I didn't say it was an adrenaline rush, but the actual rage does share a lot in common with one. When things get serious and you have to kick it up a notch, suddenly you're hitting harder, lasting longer, and then you're fatigued afterwards.


Ragnarok Aeon wrote:
thejeff wrote:

Yeah, because "short temper and lacks control" has nothing at all to do with "Rage" mechanic. Those Barbarians don't have a temper, they just have Rage powers.

Berserk to you may mean insanity, but it seems to fit the Rage mechanic better than anything else in the game. It's the only historical or genre source for the rage abilities of the Barbarian class that I know of. Rage may be toned down a bit from some depictions.

Honestly, the rage mechanic works more like an adrenaline rush.

In the end it's just a name. Or are we going to have to change the name of Druid, Cavalier, and Oracle as well?

You're just asking to exchange the current and accepted terminology for some that's just as if not more unclear, ambiguous, and hasn't been accepted. Why? What good will come of it?

Since I'm not Greek, I use foreigner to describe foreigners and tribal to describe tribal people. I use Berserk in common language to describe someone who's lost their mind in frustration. I use Barbarian to describe an uncouth person, which the barbarian class mechanics and fluff lend well to.

If someone said "I need you to stat up a barbarian tribe", would you give them all class levels in Barbarian?

I think this is the point some people are making. Barbarian peoples are much more diverse than a single class. The class is more representative of a combat theme than a social theme. I don't think the OP is necessarily calling for a rewrite of all Paizo books, but rather trying to start an honest discussion about the name of the class.

Just because people are more comfortable with a name, does not necessarily mean it is a better name either. If the name were changed, it wouldn't take long for people to get used to it.

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

It's too late to move past it now. It was something that moved forward through the editions. You can house rule the name to something else, but something as big as a class name won't be changed. It is referenced in far too many places.

It all started in the 80's with Unearthed Arcana, evolving to where it is now. Seeing as it hasn't changed names in 25 years, I don't see anything official happening.


On that note, I think Monk is much stranger. Outside of D&D and certain versions of Final Fantasy, I never use monk to refer to a barefisted combatant who teleports and slides down walls, unless of course for whatever reason that person is also a chaste disciple who spends a lot of time in temples and praying.


Well, the monk is very definitely a eastern archetype. Think Shaolin monk in any of a hundred Kung-fu movies.

Dark Archive

Ragnarok Aeon wrote:
On that note, I think Monk is much stranger. Outside of D&D and certain versions of Final Fantasy, I never use monk to refer to a barefisted combatant who teleports and slides down walls, unless of course for whatever reason that person is also a chaste disciple who spends a lot of time in temples and praying.

Well, now World of Warcraft is jumping on that boat with the upcoming "Mists of Pandaria" expansion; those monks are pretty much D&D/FF-type monks as well.


My point is, that changing the name of the Barbarian is as futile as changing the name of the Monk. For the same reasons.


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Shar Tahl wrote:

It's too late to move past it now. It was something that moved forward through the editions. You can house rule the name to something else, but something as big as a class name won't be changed. It is referenced in far too many places.

It all started in the 80's with Unearthed Arcana, evolving to where it is now. Seeing as it hasn't changed names in 25 years, I don't see anything official happening.

Not necessarily; if Thieves can become Rogues and Magic-Users Wizards, it's not impossible that Barbarians could transform into Berzerkers. However, it's too late to do something like that in the context of Pathfinder RPG; that's the kind of change you make in the transition from one edition to the next, and the whole point of Pathfinder RPG is not to make any huge changes that would invalidate much of what was already in print for D&D 3e/3.5/D20/OGL. Changing a class name might not seem all that huge, and maybe they could have done it if they'd wanted to when the Pathfinder core rules first came out, but it's done now, and I don't see Paizo creating a new edition of the rules unless virtually all the company's leadership is replaced by people with very different ideas of what their game should be.


Kavren Stark wrote:
Shar Tahl wrote:

It's too late to move past it now. It was something that moved forward through the editions. You can house rule the name to something else, but something as big as a class name won't be changed. It is referenced in far too many places.

It all started in the 80's with Unearthed Arcana, evolving to where it is now. Seeing as it hasn't changed names in 25 years, I don't see anything official happening.

Not necessarily; if Thieves can become Rogues and Magic-Users Wizards, it's not impossible that Barbarians could transform into Berzerkers. However, it's too late to do something like that in the context of Pathfinder RPG; that's the kind of change you make in the transition from one edition to the next, and the whole point of Pathfinder RPG is not to make any huge changes that would invalidate much of what was already in print for D&D 3e/3.5/D20/OGL. Changing a class name might not seem all that huge, and maybe they could have done it if they'd wanted to when the Pathfinder core rules first came out, but it's done now, and I don't see Paizo creating a new edition of the rules unless virtually all the company's leadership is replaced by people with very different ideas of what their game should be.

I pretty much agree with this. The name bothers me, but it's not really a big deal. I'd like to see it changed in a future edition, but it certainly isn't a make or break kind of thing.

It's interesting to note that the original Unearthed Arcana Barbarian was very much barbarian in the "from a barbaric tribe" sense and not a berserker. Lighter armor, superstitious, illiterate, lots of nature based skills. Would fit very well, with some archetypes, in most "primitive" cultures.
When they brought it into 3E, they added the Rage power as the main class feature and lessened the connection to "primitive" cultures. Paizo has weakened that connection even more, if only with changes to the flavor text. But it's still there in the name.

Grand Lodge

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Calling them Berserker is just as silly as Babarian. Do all your Barbarians wear Bearshirts?


Maccabee wrote:
Calling them Berserker is just as silly as Babarian. Do all your Barbarians wear Bearshirts?

I keep trying to let this argument go, because I don't really care that much, but this is just silly.

Words don't mean what their roots mean. The word Berserker is derived from the words for Bear shirts. It does not mean "Guy who wears a bear shirt". It never did. Certainly not in English.

Shadow Lodge

ShadowcatX wrote:
Names of classes are totally irrelevant in game.

Exactly. I find it ridiculous that there was actually serious talk about "preserving backward compatibility" as a primary reason to keep the name of the class.


exactly, discrediting the concept based on some 1000 year old root translation is silly and irrelevant.

having said that I agree that we cant exactly expect them to issue a mass errata to change the name immediately.

however... should people open their minds about the idea it will eventually evolve and change in future editions.

the goal of my post is not to demand an immediate change. but to open the discussion in hopes that opinions eventually change.

with that in mind... dont change it because thats the way its always been is a silly argument

Shadow Lodge

Ragnarok Aeon wrote:
On that note, I think Monk is much stranger. Outside of D&D and certain versions of Final Fantasy, I never use monk to refer to a barefisted combatant who teleports and slides down walls, unless of course for whatever reason that person is also a chaste disciple who spends a lot of time in temples and praying.

Monk annoys me FAR more. Let's face it, most people don't think kung-fu when they hear the word "monk"...they think about a guy that has given away everything he owns, wears a burlap sack, and has possibly taken a vow of silence.


Kthulhu wrote:
Ragnarok Aeon wrote:
On that note, I think Monk is much stranger. Outside of D&D and certain versions of Final Fantasy, I never use monk to refer to a barefisted combatant who teleports and slides down walls, unless of course for whatever reason that person is also a chaste disciple who spends a lot of time in temples and praying.
Monk annoys me FAR more. Let's face it, most people don't think kung-fu when they hear the word "monk"...they think about a guy that has given away everything he owns, wears a burlap sack, and has possibly taken a vow of silence.

outside of those that play D&D or games based off of it.


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blue_the_wolf wrote:

yea... I know.

but its also a fact that the barbarian class is vaguely based on the Conan imagery so the point that the class should be called berserker rather than barbarian is still relevant... unlike debating the comparison of the barbarian class to the Conan character.

"Berserker" is a very specific term, though. It refers to a class of Norse fighter that wore the skin of bears and went crazy in battle. They counted their numbers amongst others who were not considered quite the same as they.

Whereas, "barbarian" is a generic term that could encompass both a berserker, and whatever other less civilized nature-warrior you wanted to build.

So, the opposite of what you are saying is true. "Berserker" is not a generic catch term for barbarian. Barbarian is.

Shadow Lodge

I DO play D&D and similar games, and unless you're talking about a monk in the context of those games, I still think of the western variety.


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Gilfalas wrote:
blue_the_wolf wrote:
by calling the class barbarian your attaching the rage mechanic to a social status or cultural archtype it locks people into a cirtain way of playing a class.

Which is PART of the reason they named it that. It is SUPPOSED to represent a certain concept. That said, nothing in existense forces you to roleplay that class as presented. You cna always talk with the tables GM and give him a concept using any of the mechanics in the game and come to a table solution that works.

But the class is presented as it is because the writers and designers wanted to represent a concept as they saw it and that is what they did. The rest is in the players hands to run with.

Barbarian is a perfect name for the class it is, from where the class came from, and for the concept that the writers were trying to portray.

But, again, nothing stops you from changing it to suit you and your players needs at your home table.

You're talking about playing a fighter who just happens to come from a less-civilized tribe. So just play a fighter, and call him whatever you want. Call him by his tribe name.

At the heart of what you are suggesting is a core mechanic change, not a name change. You're just describing it as a name change. But as others have pointed out, Conan has been statted out in the past as a fighter. Keep in mind that Conan bore many titles over many stories, not just "barbarian." The tag he bore at any given time had nothing to do with a class mechanic in an RPG. It had to do with the plot of the story.

So just play barbarous fighters if it's such a stick in your craw. And stop mincing words. And worse, stop trying to retcon terms from short stories and novels into game terms. Those authors were not thinking of these things when they wrote what they did.


Kthulhu wrote:
I DO play D&D and similar games, and unless you're talking about a monk in the context of those games, I still think of the western variety.

Ah, same here. I do find it annoying when I try to GM a game and I tell someone that they find a monk in a temple, their first thought is asian kung-fu man...


Bruunwald wrote:
blue_the_wolf wrote:

yea... I know.

but its also a fact that the barbarian class is vaguely based on the Conan imagery so the point that the class should be called berserker rather than barbarian is still relevant... unlike debating the comparison of the barbarian class to the Conan character.

"Berserker" is a very specific term, though. It refers to a class of Norse fighter that wore the skin of bears and went crazy in battle. They counted their numbers amongst others who were not considered quite the same as they.

Whereas, "barbarian" is a generic term that could encompass both a berserker, and whatever other less civilized nature-warrior you wanted to build.

So, the opposite of what you are saying is true. "Berserker" is not a generic catch term for barbarian. Barbarian is.

Except the term has ALSO come to mean anyone who fights in a reckless and ferocious manner.

Again, a scenario.

You are a writer of modules. Someone hires you to write a module. The only directions are to include a "barbarian tribe".

Would you interpret that as "a tribe of people who only take the barbarian class"?

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