Pathfinder - The Swashbuckler Handbook
Last Updated: October 29, 2018
I support a limited subset of Pathfinder's rules content. If you would like help with Pathfinder player options not covered here, please email me and I am happy to provide additional assistance.
I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks. Also note that many colored items are also links to the Paizo SRD.
- Red: Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
- Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances
- Green: Good options.
- Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.
The Swashbuckler is a very exciting take on non-magical combat in Pathfinder, which can become a boring war of attrition between stat blocks. The Swashbuckler has the ability to serve as a Face and a Striker, but could be turned into a Defender with a few feats.
Swashbuckler Class Features
Hit Points: d10 hit points is standard for martial classes, but with only light armor and bucklers you will need to be careful to defend yourself or you will burn through your hit points very quickly.
Base Attack Bonus: Full BAB.
Saves: Reflex is the Swashbuckler's only good save, and with good Dexterity it will be fantastic, but you really need to work to fill in the gaps in the Swashbuckler's defenses. Charmed Life helps a bit, but it has limited uses per day.
Proficiencies: You get martial weapons, but with only light armor and bucklers, your AC isn't going to be great until you pick up Nimble.
Skills: 4+ skill ranks is nice, and Swashbucklers get all of the skills required to be a Face.
Panache (Ex): Panache fuels the Swashbuckler's Deeds. You get a very limited pool, but you can recharge it by scoring critical hits or by killing worthy opponents. Because Panache is so important, almost every Swashbuckler will use a weapon with a high threat range, such as a Rapier or Scimitar.
Deeds: Swashbuckler Deeds, much like Gunslinger Deeds, are a list of special uses for Panache. Sweashbucklers get all Deeds automatically, assuming that they are sufficiently high level. For more information on Deeds, see my Swashbuckler Deeds Breakdown.
Swashbuckler Finesse (Ex): This is a fantastic option for a class dip for a ton of builds. You can use Weapon Finesse with any light or one-handed piercing weapons, which includes things like heavy picks and spiked heavy shields. The ability to use Charisma in place of Intelligence for Combat Feats means that you can get Combat Expertise without the requisite 13 intelligence and pick up all of the cool combat maneuver feats which require it. Remember that Slashing Grace allows you to treat your selected slashing weapon as piercing for feats and such, so you can use a scimitar or falcata.
Charmed Life (Ex): Not quite as good as Divine Grace, but this will help compensate for the Swashbuckler's poor saves when save-or-suck effects arise.
Nimble (Ex): Free AC is great.
Bonus Feats: Swashbuckler levels count as Fighter levels, which means you can take Fighter-only feats like Disruptive. The retraining option is an often-overlooked benefit of Fighter bonus feats which allows you to do ridiculous things like take Weapon Specialization at 4th level, then retrain that choice at 8th level into Improved Critical, or something else with a level-dependent prerequisite. Don't actually take Improved Critical because you get Swashbuckler Weapon Training.
Swashbuckler Weapon Training (Ex): You are treated as having Improved Critical 3 levels before you could get it, and probably a level or two before you could afford a +1 keen weapon. The attack and damage bonuses are nice, too.
Swashbuckler Weapon Mastery (Ex): Your Rapier/Scimitar now has 14-20/x3 criticals with no enhancements or feats.
Str: You might take 13 for Power Attack, but certainly no more than that, and even that is difficult to justify. This is generally the Swashbuckler's dump stat.
Dex: The Swashbuckler's primary ability; applies to attacks, AC, Reflex saves, many important skills, and if you take Slashing Grace it applies to damage.
Con: Swashbucklers need hit points to compensate for their AC, and they need help with Fortitude saves.
Int: Only needed for skills. If you plan to play a Face, don't take less than 10, otherwise you can dump this.
Wis: Only needed for Will saves.
Cha: Determines the size of your Panache pool, and how many points you start the day with.
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Dexterity is key to the Swashbuckler, and because the Swashbuckler doesn't need to be enlarged like many martial characters, small characters are perfectly viable. Bonuses to Charisma are also helpful because they boost your Panache points.
Dwarf: No bonus to Dexterity, and a penalty to Charisma. While Dwarves are typically fantastic melee characters, the Swashbuckler isn't a good option for Dwarves.
Elf: Bonuses to Dexterity and Intelligence are both good for the Swashbuckler, but be careful of the penalty to Constitution. Most of the Elf's racial abilities are focused on magic, but alternate racial abilities can make the Elf a slightly better choice. The Elf favored class bonus provides a nice boost to the Swashbuckler's Panache points, which makes the Swashbuckler more sustainable in combat.
Gnome: Though not as good as Halflings, Gnomes get a bonus to Charisma, and have some interesting abilities. If you're willing to trade some offensive ability for some hit points, the Gnome isn't a terrible option. The Gnome favored class bonus gives more uses of Charmed Life, but Swashbucklers already get enough uses of Charmed Life to get through the day.
Half-Elf: The Half-Elf has a lot of great options for the Swashbuckler, including a flexible ability bonus and some bonuses to social skills. Alternate racial abilities offer even more useful options. The Half-Elf favored class bonus gives more uses of Charmed Life, but Swashbucklers already get enough uses of Charmed Life to get through the day, so take the Elf or Human favored class bonuses instead for extra Panache points.
Half-Orc: A flexible ability bonus, Darkvision, and some other situational abilities. The favored class bonus takes a horrifying 12 levels to match the effects of Power Critical, so take the Human favored class bonus for extra Panache points.
Halfling: Bonuses to both of the Swashbuckler's most important ability scores, small, and a collection of interesting racial abilities. Look at alternate racial abilities (especially Fleet of Foot and Low Blow). The Halfling favored class bonus gives more uses of Charmed Life, but Swashbucklers already get enough uses of Charmed Life to get through the day. The Halfling racial feats Improved Low Blow and Risky Striker are both excellent.
Human: Always the gold standard, Humans are fantastic Swashbucklers. The extra feat can get you to Slashing Grace at first level, and the racial ability bonus can go into Dexterity. On top of that, the Human favored class bonus adds to the size of the Panache pool.
- Anatomist (Combat): Confirming critical hits is crucial, and any bonus to those rolls is important, especially once you get iterative attacks with progressively lower attack bonuses. Because this is a trait bonus, it stacks with other options like Power Critical.
- Bloodthirsty (Combat): A nice source of damage once you can reliably deliver critical hits, but Anatomist will likely deliver more total damage by making your critical hits more reliable.
- Killer (Combat): If you do the math, Bloodthirsty will give you the same bonus damage on a critical hit while also providing the extra damage upon reducing an enemy to 0 hit points.
- Resilient (Combat): Fortitude saves are important, but there are more appealing combat traits. Instead, take Life of Toil.
- Indomitable Faith (Faith): Will saves are important, and Swashbucklers are bad at them.
- Life of Toil (Social): +1 to a bad save.
- Flame of the Dawnflower (Sarenrae): Scimitars are a great weapon for the Swashbuckler, so you can get a lot of damage out of this.
- Acrobatics (Dex): Helpful for getting around in combat, but not essential.
- Bluff (Cha): Essential for a Face.
- Climb (Str): Too situational.
- Diplomacy (Cha): Essential for a Face.
- Escape Artist (Dex): Situational, but the class skill bonus is worth one rank.
- Intimidate (Cha): Essential for a Face.
- Knowledge (local) (Int): Useful for identifying humanoids and for campaign-specific topics.
- Knowledge (nobility) (Int): Depends largely on your campaign and your GM's play style.
- Perception (Wis): The most rolled skill in the game.
- Perform (Cha): The Swashbuckler is not a Bard.
- Ride (Dex): The Swashbuckler is not a mounted combat character.
- Sense Motive (Wis): Essential for a Face.
- Sleight of Hand (Dex): Situational, but the class skill bonus is worth one rank.
- Swim (Str): Too situational.
- Combat Expertise: An excellent way to overcome the Swashbuckler's poor AC, and it opens up a lot of great combat maneuver feats. You can ignore the Intelligence requirement thanks to Swashbuckler's Finesse.
- Combat Reflexes: Helpful if you really like Opportune Parry and Riposte.
- Confounding Tumble Deed: This is really only useful if you have a rogue to take advantage of it.
- Disarming Threat Deed: Situational.
Dodge: More AC never hurts, but Combat Expertise will
have a much better payoff.
- Dueling Cape: Use a real buckler, and throw a tanglefoot bag if you need to entangle your enemies.
- Extra Panache: Considering how small the Panache pool is, 2 extra points is huge.
- Pommel Strike Deed: Or you could take Improved Trip, which doesn't consume Panache and which gives you a bonus to the check.
- Power Attack: If you can spare the points to get 13 Strength, this is quite a bit of extra damage.
- Signature Deed: Your GM might be nice enough to let you apply this to a Swashbuckler Deed. RAW you can't, but there are several places in the class's text which mention Signature Deed. This is probably errata waiting to happen. Assuming that you can, this is an absolute must.
Weapon Focus: The bonus is small, but it opens up
other great options.
- Slashing Grace: Essential on any Swashbuckler. Dexterity is your primary ability, so this is a ton of extra damage, and it opens up your weapon choices quite a bit.
- Weapon Specialization: Not a lot of damage, and because most Swashbucklers don't use two-weapon fighting, this won't be very helpful.
- Two-Weapon Fighting: Because the Precise Strike deed doesn't apply when using two-weapon fighting, this will seriously cut into your damage output on most builds. It also removes the possibility of a buckler, which is a crucial part of the Swashbuckler's AC, and adds a huge feat tax to remain viable.
- Falcata: Always a tempting option, especially with Slashing Grace, but the Swashbuckler really needs a big threat range to fuel the Panache pool.
- Rapier: The obvious option. It's usable with Swashbuckler's Finesse, and has an 18-20 threat range.
- Scimitar: Basically a rapier that does slashing damage, so you can use it with Slashing Grace for a considerable damage boost.
Armor is presented in the order in which you should acquire it, rather than alphabetical order. Magic armor is covered below in the Magic Items section.
- Studded Leather: Your starting armor. Ditch it as soon as you can get a Mithral Shirt.
- Buckler: Works with Precise Strike, and leaves your hand free for holding things like torches.
- Mithral Shirt: Your go-to armor. A total +10 AC bonus, and it won't hurt your move speed.
- Haramaki: If your Dex bonus ever his +10, upgrading to Haramaki will get you slightly more AC than a Mithral Shirt, but that probably won't happen until exceptionally high level.
- Answering (+1): Opportune Parry and Riposte is fantastic, and boosting your enhancement bonus makes it more likely that you'll successfully parry.
- Confounding (+1): Spend a Panache point as an immediate action when an enemy moves into your threatened area to trip them. That will handicap their attacks against you and prevent them from moving past you.
- Duelist's Comate (35,320 gp): 3/day is not enough for how much this thing costs.
- Flamboyant (+1): 1 extra point of panache can be very useful, especially if you have trouble earning panache points throughout the day.
- Flamboyant, Greater (+1): Too expensive.
- Keen (+1): Swashbuckler Weapon Training makes this redundant..
- Speed (+3): More attacks means more chances to score a critical hit, but Speed simply isn't worth it. For the gold it costs to add Speed to a +1 weapon you can buy 2 pairs of Boots of Speed and still have gold left over.
- Swashbuckler's Rapier (7,320 gp): Bane is really good, but only if you know what you're fighting. This solves that problem, giving you all of the wonderful benefits of Bane for one round at a time. Be sure to mind your Panache pool, as this makes it very easy to burn all of your Panache in a hurry.
- Celestial Armor (22,400 gp): Unless you have heavy armor proficiency and a Dexterity modifier of at most +5, Celestial Armor is the best armor in the game if all you need from your armor is AC. For more, check out my Practical Guide to Celestial Armor.
- Spiteful (+7,000 gp): Hopefully you won't get to use this enough to justify the cost.
- Evasion: Evasive makes this redundant.
- Protection: +1 is an inexpensive boost to AC, and AC bonuses against firearms are important in a campaign where they're allowed.
- Resilience: Remove pesky status conditions like blindness through sheer force of being cool and also owning this ring.
- Belt of Physical Ability Scores: Go for Dextertity and Constitution.
- Boots of Speed: At just 12,000gp these are a steal. Activate them as a free action one round at a time, and you can easily stretch their use throughout an entire day. An essential for nearly any melee character.
- Cloak of Resistance: Too crucial to forego.
- Headband of Alluring Charisma: Helpful but not essential, so don't pour too much money into it.
- Reduce Person: A medium Swashbuckler may appreciate the bonus Dexterity, but remember that if it drops your Strength below 13 you won't be able to use Power Attack.