Friday 12 November 2021

In depth Whirlwind Barbarian guide



Long time barb player here, I wanted to make a definitive whirlwind barbarian guide for players who like to play barbs and like to do that from ladder start. I have looked around a lot and it seems a lot of the better guides from the past are not accessible, and the one on Icy-Veins leave a lot to be desired, with wrong information and bad gear suggestions. I've left a message on their boards asking if they want help with a guide, but for the meantime I want to put this on reddit as a source for new players and even veterans not well experienced with barbs. I hope this guide helps people and if you have any suggestions or believe some information is bad, please post why and we can go over it, either I can help you or you can help improve the guide.

This guide isn't really to give you a copy and paste format to copy, it's to teach you how WW barbs work and hopefully give enough information that people understand why certain items are best, and so allow people to have the knowledge to gear barbs themselves while knowing why they are doing it. If anyone is good at formatting things like this with contents etc, please let me know.

Why to make a whirlwind barbarian.

  • Extremely tanky - whirlwind has no synergies, allowing for max investment into shout and battle orders early in the game, this is often overlooked in frenzy vs whirlwind debates. Lategame a well geared barbarian is arguably unkillable, with good gear the only reason to take a shield is to protect from deaths due to client crashes/disconnects, and also to fight stygians while amped :)
  • One of the highest melee damage specs in the game, bested only late game by extremely expensive Dream Paladins or Fireclaw Druids, yet neither match the all around stats of the whirlwind barb, and both are considerably more expensive to make functional.
  • Nice options for gear progression if you have the right knowledge
  • It's fun and can clear all content, in end game gear it can clear high end farming areas very well.
  • You can not be put into hit recovery
  • More flexible gearing options than other barb specs - you do not need cannot be frozen.
  • Buff your friends
  • Arguably the best rune finder for online play, possibly bested by endgame Sorc/Paladin/Amazons farming Chaos Sanctuary, but it's close.

Basic D2 Gameplay Mechanics to know for building a Barbarian or any class in general.

  • Diablo 2 used to run at 25 frames per second. D2R now runs past this, however the vast majority of core game mechanics still operate within 25 frames/segments per second. Increasing or decreasing values of hit recovery/block/attack/cast speed etc reduce the amount of frames required for your character to complete these animations, thus making them faster.
  • Hit recovery - When your character receives more than 1/12th of their maximum health in damage in a single hit, they are put in to hit recovery animation. The base frame length for this animation is 5, meaning a barbarian in a normal attack/running(non whirlwind) animation will be unable to move/attack for 5 frames, or just under 0.20 seconds. This is important, it means whirlwind barbarians do not lose dps when hit, Frenzy and Berserk barbarians do, it's another reason why WW is so much stronger than other barb specs.
  • Block rate - The same as above, but for blocking. Our base block rate is 4 frames, or around 0.15 seconds.
  • Attack speed, again the same as above, however it's worth noting now that whirlwind actually operates slightly differently, attack speed is based on the weapon(s) in hand and the ias on that weapon only. For other attacks it operates normally, increased attack speed on other pieces of gear will make your normal attack animations faster.

How does Whirlwind work

What I can tell you:

  • Whirlwind is based off of weapon speed and increased attack speed found only on the weapon itself.
  • Whirlwind always makes a hit check (the game calculates if you hit any targets in range) every 4th and 8th frame.
  • While dual wielding, the game makes a hit check with the main hand only on the 4th frame, then it does hit checks for both weapons on the 8th frame and every x frames after based on weapon speed.*
  • While wielding a 2handed weapon, the game makes a hit check every 4th and 8th frame, then every x frame after based on weapon speed.
  • A character can not be put into hit recovery animation or blocking animation while whirlwinding, but they can still be hit and they can still block.
  • The chilled effect from cold damage does not change your attacks per second during whirlwind.
  • Decrepify does not reduce your attacks per second while whirlwinding, however it does reduce your damage.
  • Like attack speed, on weapon effects like crushing blow or deadly strike only apply to the weapon they are on, not both. ty /u/daanno2 for noticing this wasn't in the guide.
  • Whirlwind can not proc on kill/on hit spell effects, if you are using obedience and want the enchant you need to kill a few mobs with concentrate/berserk to get it to proc. ty /u/daanno2 for noticing this wasn't in the guide.

Frames per attack during whirlwind animation after the 8th frame :

One handed weapons

Weapon Speed16 or higher1510-10-34
Frames per attack after the 8th frame1012864

Two Handed weapons

Weapon Speed16 or higher0-10-30-60
Frames per attack after the 8th frame14121064

How do we get our weapon speed:

Go to this site, find your weapon, look at the square bracketed value, subtract the IAS on the weapon you are using from this value.

Example: IK Maul

Base weapon speed shown in brackets is 10, it has an additional 40% increased attack speed. 10 - 40 = -30.

So the IK maul hits the second to last whirlwind breakpoint, it needs 30% more ias to hit the last breakpoint, so if we put 2 sheals in it, or 2x 15 ias jewels, it hits max attacks per second with whirlwind.

What I can't tell you:

*Some people claim both weapons make a hit check on the 4th frame and not just the main hand, and some people claim after the 8th frame the weapons hit at alternate intervals (not the same time, it's extremely difficult to get the right information on this.)

Dual wield whirlwind has a bit more in-depth mechanics based off of weapon speed and weapon range, it doesn't actually class each weapon individually all of the time. I don't want to put this in the guide however as I'm not 100% convinced anyone really knows anymore, I've found a lot of sources on old pvp boards but nothing I'm confident enough to put in the guide as fact. If anyone has good information on this please post. I would rather put my hands up and say I'm not 100% sure on this rather than give you bad information/advice.

So we know that no matter what:

  • Whirlwind always hits on the 4th and 8th frame regardless of weapon speed with a 2 handed weapon.
  • Whirlwind always hits on the 4th frame with the mainhand and on the 8th frame with both weapons while dual wielding.
  • It's only after frame 8 that weapon speed takes effect on our hits per second, or FPA (frames per attack).
  • We can negate the lack of speed on slow 2 handers by ensuring we do short whirlwinds, since for the first 8 frames (just under 0.25 seconds), we always hit the same amount of times - this is very important for early-mid game gearing options, as it means we aren't limited in weapon choices provided we know the drawbacks of slow weapons and how to negate them.
  • It's best to have two one handers with the same ias to work out our damage reliably
  • It's best to hit max breakpoint on any weapon we use

Physical damage game mechanics

Attack rating and Defense rating *chance to hit*

  • The value the game uses to determine if your hit check is successful. A calculation is used with your attack rating + level vs opponents defense rating + level to determine if your attack hit or not.
  • You get raw attack rating from dexterity (4 per point) and items. It's worth noting that pumping dexterity is a very inefficient way to gain attack rating.
  • You get % increases on your base value from skills and items.
  • The game also calculates your chance to hit with your level, which is very important. You will gain a few % chance to hit vs level 85 mobs from levelling to 85 from level 80 alone, with no improvements in your attack rating.
  • The weapon mod -% target defense is very strong, reducing the armor value of an opponent so increasing your chance to hit significantly, works on bosses.
  • The weapon mod ignores target defense is extremely strong, giving you a flat 95% chance to hit on all monsters except bosses and uniques. This is one of the strongest melee mods in the game, and arguably the strongest, allowing us to completely negate attack rating, only really hurting us against Baal and Ubers when in end game gear.

Damage Calculations and how to calculate our damage

The game multiplies base weapon damage by our enhanced damage % found on skills/items.

To simplify it for us, we calculate our mean damage:

If we have a weapon that does 50-100 damage, we add both values and divide by 2 to find out average. 100 + 50 = 150, 150/2 = 75.

We then multiply out average damage by our % enhanced damage. Say we have 150% from whirlwind, and 150% from weapon mastery, it's a total 300% enhanced damage. 75 x 3 = 225, + 75 from our base damage = 300 average damage per hit. We then multiply this by *deadly/critical strike rates (please see below).

On weapon % enhanced damage effects our base weapon damage, and is multiplicative with our % enhanced damage found on off weapon sources. Non weapon enhanced damage % is additive.

Deadly and Critical strike


We have 30% critical strike, and 50% deadly strike:

The game checks to see if we land a critical strike, if successful we do double damage, if we miss:

The game then checks to see if we land a deadly strike, if successful, we do double damage. If we miss we no longer have a chance to do double damage for that hit.

So, from this we know that 30% critical strike and 50% deadly strike gives us a 65% chance to do double damage. Since 30% of our strikes land a critical strike, 70% miss, 50% of those missed hits land a deadly strike. 50% of 70% is 35. 30 + 35 = 65. So when we do our damage calculations, we multiple our total damage in this case by 1.65.

It's worth noting that it is actually possible to get 100% deadly strike from gear, negating the need for critical strike, although no use for whirlwind barbs, it does mean a frenzy barb using 2 death runewords can actually forgo weapon mastery in favor of more damage from synergies, provided they have enough attack rating. This also opens up the possibility of a very cool Axe + Sword frenzy build :)

Open Wounds

  • Gives attacks a chance to inflict a bleed DOT effect on monsters.
  • While monsters are under this effect, they can not regenerate life.
  • Useful for bosses with large hp pools, not much use for general PVM.

Crushing Blow

  • Provides a chance to reduce a monsters current health by 12.5%
  • Worth noting current, not maximum.

Prevent Monster Heal

  • Prevents monsters regening life, however open wounds also does this, probably one of the weaker melee stats except if you don't have open wounds.

What is dangerous to a whirlwind barb

Whirlwind barbs are essentially unkillable for most content. You hit too fast and leech too much to really be killed. If you are in endgame gear, you could spin almost indefinitely through 10 packs of fanat minotaurs without dying, literally for hours, because the chances of them all successfully hitting you while you not hitting them enough times in succession to leech back the damage are astronomically small. However some things are very dangerous to us, and it's important to know what in order to know how to best deal with it, especially if you play hardcore.

  • Mana Burn - If we have no mana we can't whirlwind, if we can't whirlwind we can't leech, if we can't leech we eventually die.
  • Physical Immunes - If we can't deal physical damage we can't leech life and we can't leech mana.
  • Because of the above two things, mana burn and physical immunities mean we can be put in to hit recovery - this is bad.
  • To deal with these things, we need to berserk, meaning we have 0 defense so we will be put into hit recovery again - manaburn/physical immunity creates a very bad loop of no damage + no leech + hit recovery animations for whirlwind barbarians, in conjunction it's our kryptonite.
  • Gloam/high elemental damage monsters with conviction auras - barbs naturally have very easy access to high resistances, however enemies with conviction and high damage can pose a danger.
  • Stygian dolls - the only real counter to this is a stormshield or max block with significant damage reduction from other sources. You can outleech them in hell, but it requires 45%+ lifeleech, which isn't really an ideal figure to aim for. If you get amped while fighting these sit back and let your merc do the dirty work.
  • Any situations with the above things together. A room with gloams + a conviction aura with minotaurs with physical immunity + mana burn and something like fanaticism is a very dangerous room, I have almost ripped 2 times on my main barbarian since launch, both cases were rooms such as these when he was a bit worse geared than now.
  • Please note that although these are dangerous, with good game and itemization knowledge you can still kills these things moderately safely and quickly, a well prepared whirlwind barbarian can kill anything.

How do we deal with these situations?

By preparing our barbarian with clever gear choices.

  • For Minotaur/Phys immune/Mana burns we get off weapon IAS to make sure we berserk fast, and we dump all available skill points after our core build in to berserk. The goal is to make sure when you need to berserk you do it fast and with a lot of damage to remove the danger ASAP.
  • For Gloams - don't consider your fire or lightning resist capped at 75 in hell, another 50-75 points goes a long way into making your barbarian a real tank for any situation the game might throw at you.
  • By stacking our HP to make we it takes a very, very large amount of damage to put us in to hit recovery
  • By using Arreats to take us to a very good Faster Hit Recovery breakpoint, while also giving us a lot of + points into berserk.


By order of importance:

20 Whirlwind

20 Weapon mastery

20 Battle orders

Natural resistance until capped

20 Shout

Increase speed

Find item

Battle cry

Pretty self explanatory, use battle cry for bosses, when in early game gear you will need more in natural resistance, as your gear gets better you need less and less. I often have 5-8 points in this on levelling barbs/ladder starts and then respec later and have 1-3.



BiS - double grief Berserker axes

Runner up - double grief Phase Blades

3rds - BOTD 2 hander/1handers/Beast

Explanation on Berserker Axe vs Phase Blades - Zerkers give a bigger AOE radius, slightly more damage and don't require high dex investment, netting us a good 500+ HP over phase blade users. Considering Grief as ignore target defense, the AR bonus from the dex needed for phase blades is largely wasted. Berserker axes are the true minmax option for a WW barb.

Counter Argument - Phase blades provide faster, thus safer berserking, and don't need to be repaired. Phase blades are slightly faster than Berserker axes during normal attack animations, but when decrepified or frozen they are significantly faster. Phase blades also always hit the whirlwind breakpoint, berserker axes need 34% for max whirlwind breakpoint and 35% for a 10 frame berserk with laying of hands + highlords. Grief Phase blades always get a 9 frame berserk with the same gear, regardless of ias roll.

Personal preference I guess, for me I prefer the smoother clears that Zerker axes provide.


Bis - Enigma

Close runner ups - Fortitude/CoH/Skulders

3rds - Guardian Angel/Shaftstop/Leviathan

Amulet and rings:

Bis - Highlords

Dual leech rings/Ravenfrost

Runner up - angelic combo if you don't have ignore target defense, mana leech ring with good stats.


Laying of hands, unless you are a singer barb always use these.


War Travelers or Gore Rider - personal preference, a bit more damage vs a bit more mf. I take Gores but War Travelers are not a bad pick, but a lot more expensive.


String of ears 100%, do not use Verdungo's. Verdungo's is a pvp belt. Life gained from +Vitality items is not effected by Battle orders, Verdungos gives a minor 120-160 life increase over string and 10% faster hit recovery. The hit recovery does not take us past a breakpoint asssuming we are using Arreats, and is eclipsed by damage reduction + life leech from string.

The only barb who should take a Verdungo is a berserker, for everyone else String is vastly superior, it just makes you tankier for most content.


Arreats for normal people

Guillaume's Face for maniacs.

Arreats is the better all around helm, but for raw damage Guillaume's is stronger, however despite being cheaper individually, it works out being a bit more expensive since you need to find resists from other places.


Act 2 blessed aim or preferably Might.

Reapers toll is sort of a must.

Levelling weapons:

Insight runeword

Obedience runeword

Both slow, but give access to high % ed weapons in exceptional and elite polarms, and with short whirlwinds we can get around the slow attack speed without losing as much dps as we need to, insight helps with this especially due to mana costs of short whirlwinds, both solid picks.

Good Budget Items:

IK Maul (double sheal)

Windhammer (sheal)

BIS Budget gear:

I had a look on a softcore trading site, this is probably the best setup at the cost of 1-3 Lem runes and some pgems. And that's probably overpriced, I would say you can pick up all the below gear with perfect gems with the exception of Gore Riders and Guillaume's.

Arioc's Needle (sheal) - sleeper overpowered and probably one of the most overlooked weapons in the game. 50% deadly strike, max whirlwind breakpoint, +2-4 skills and ignore target defense. If you ever do a single player playthrough and find this item don't throw it, if you ever make a barb it's strong enough to do hell with comfortably. The deadly strike puts it's damage well past Bonehew's* (*with a highlord amulet) and the ignore target defense frees up our ring and amulet slot, giving us room for resistances or leech/a highlord :).

Bonehew (double sheal)- better damage than Arioc's until you get a highlords, but you need to use angelic ring + amulet.

Obedience - very slow, but the crushing blow + resistances + ability to get a self casted enchant make it very strong.

IK Helm OR Guillaume's Face - if you are struggling for resistances take IK and put some Ral/Ort runes in it.

Ring 1 Mana/Life leech or resistances/anglic

Ring 2 Mana/Life leech or resistances

Amulet with Mana/Life leech or resistances/angelic

Wealth runeword/Smoke runeword/Black Hades

Laying of Hands

IK Belt or string - if you are struggling for resistances it's a choice

IK Boots or Gorerider

I'm probably going to make the above budget build to demonstrate how strong Arioc's is, but need to make another barb to do it since all my characters are hardcore and I don't want to rip a level 90+ barb in test gear :)

If people have stuff to add please let me know!