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DnD 3.5 - The Swashbuckler Handbook

Disclaimer

RPGBOT uses the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which tend to be more consistent than 3.5 handbooks. Because so little of 3.5 is available on the SRD, I will attempt to tag items with a superscript indicating their book of origin. For help identifying sourcebook abbreviations, see my Sourcebook Abbreviations Guide.

  • 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.

It's important to note that I generally omit campaign-setting specific content. I am of the opinion that those options are intended to be limited to campaigns run in those settings, and as such they don't really apply to a generic campaign. Those options also tend to be wildly unbalanced and rarely recieve errata. I also omit the use of "Flaws" since they allow a massive increase in power with essentially no cost to the character.

Introduction

The Swashbuckler is a great concept, but falls short in implementation. The Swashbuckler attempts to be a charismatic Fighter with a sense of Panache, but comes out as a lightly armored Fighter with less feats. Swashbuckler can be a great class dip for weapon finesse builds, but single-class Swashbucklers are dismally ineffective. With some clever build choices, the Swashbuckler can be a Defender, Face, and Striker.

Swashbuckler Class Features

Hit Points: d10 hit points is standard for a melee class.

Base Attack Bonus: Full BAB.

Saves: Fortitude is the Swashbuckler's only good save, but Grace and a dependence on Dexterity will help with the Swashbuckler's Reflex saves.

Proficiencies: Martial weapons and light armor, but no shields. None of the Swashbuckler's class features require that you don't use a shield, so you can use a masterwork buckler or a bigger shield if you pick up shield proficiency.

Skills: 4+ skill ranks is better than a Fighter, and Swashbucklers get every social skill except Intimidate, which allows you to be a Face as long as you're not trying to intimidate people.

Weapon Finesse (Ex): A good reason for finesse fighters to take a single level dip into Swashbuckler. Largely defines the play style of the class.

Grace (Ex): The bonus is puny, but it helps make the Swashbuckler's Reflex saves decent.

Insightful Strike (Ex): This is a cool idea, but the actual damage bonus will generally be pretty small, especially compared to things like Power Attack.

Dodge Bonus (Ex): This would be great if it were a flat Dodge bonus to AC, but instead it only applies to melee attacks from one enemy at a time.

Acrobatic Charge (Ex): Very situational, and you can jump over difficult terrain as part of a charge.

Improved Flanking (Ex): Fairly useless unless you have Daring Outlaw and can capitalize on Sneak Attack.

Lucky (Ex): Rerolls are great at any level, but a Cleric can do this at first level. Save this for save or suck effects.

Acrobatic Skill Mastery (Ex): Nice if you take Leap Attack, but generally not useful.

Weakening Critical (Ex): Strength damage is nice at any level, especially against weaker creatures. Combine this with ambush feats and you can put out quite a bit of ability damage.

Slippery Mind (Ex): Rerolls are great, but this only affects on school of magic, making it very situational.

Wounding Critical (Ex): Constitution damage is always nice, but there are much better ways to do it, including ambush feats.

Alternate Class Features

  • Arcane StuntCM: Potentially a nice way to add some cool utility abilities, but replacing Grace means that you can't take Daring Outlaw. If your DM is really nice, they might let you advance this in place of Grace with Daring Outlaw. If you're dipping into Swashbuckler for one level, this is basically free.
  • Shield of BladesPHB2: The AC bonus is one higher than the Dodge bonus, and it works against everything instead of just melee attacks from one target. If you're using Two-Weapon Fighting, this is a good option.
  • Swift and DeadlyDotU: I can't really think of a situation in which to use this, but it's no worse than Acrobatic Charge.

Abilities

The Swashbuckler's abilities look like a finesse Fighter. Dexterity is crucial, but everything else is largely secondary.

Str: Take 13 for Power Attack, but you don't need any more. The Swashbuckler can't afford a ton of Strength for damage, so we need to get it from somewhere else. Take 15 if you plan to be permanently reduced.

Dex: The Swashbuckler's primary ability.

Con: Hit points are crucial for hit points.

Int: 4 skill ranks is plenty to get all of the Swashbuckler's good skills, but Precise Strike allows you to apply Intelligence to Damage. If you have extra skill ranks, pick up Spot and Search as cross-class skills. You will likely want 13 so that you qualify for Combat Expertise.

Wis: A bit of Wisdom for saves is nice, but you don't need much.

Cha: Despite the theme of the class, the Swashbuckler doesn't strictly need Charisma. Take a bit if you plan to play a Face, but otherwise you can dump it.

Races

Dexterity bonuses are crucial. If you're going for a Defender build, you may want to be medium so that you can be Enlarged, but the Dexterity penalty makes that unappealing. Being Medium is still nice if you want to be Reduced, but it's hardly necessary.

Dwarf: Doesn't really fit the theme of the class, and doesn't really offer anything specifically useful.

Elf: The Dexterity bonus works, and the Elf's other class features can be nice, but be careful with the Constitution penalty.

Gnome: Nothing useful for the Swashbuckler.

Half-Elf: Awful.

Half-Orc: The only really interesting thing offered by the Half-Orc is Darkvision.

Halfling: The Dexterity bonus is great, and the Strength penalty is easily overcome, but the Halfling's affinity for Stealth is wasted on the Swashbuckler.

Human: Bonus feat and bonus skill rank.

Skills

  • Balance (Dex): Too situational.
  • Bluff (Cha): Helpful for a Face.
  • Climb (Str): Too situational.
  • Diplomacy (Cha): Essential for a Face.
  • Escape Artist (Dex): Too situational.
  • Jump (Str): Situational, but essential if you go for Leap Attack.
  • Sense Motive (Wis): Helpful if you plan to play the Face.
  • Swim (Str): Too situational.
  • Tumble (Dex): Situational. Useful if you like to rely on Fight Defensively, or if you like to move around a lot.
  • Use Rope (Dex): Too situational.

Feats

  • Combat ExpertisePHB: A nice way to boost your AC, and it opens up a lot of good Special Attack feats, but the Swashbuckler doesn't typically have enough Strength to make them work.
    • Improved DisarmPHB: Very situational.
    • Improved FeintPHB: Feinting as a move action means that you only get one attack, which means that your damage typically won't be very good.
      • Surprising RiposteDotU: Worthless unless you have a Rogue in the party who isn't already flanking the target.
    • Improved TripPHB: Great for Defender builds, but Swashbucklers typically don't have enough Strength to make it work.
    • Whirlwind AttackPHB: Requires a ton of feats, and it's terrible.
  • Combat ReflexesPHB: Essential for Defender builds.
    • Deft OpportunistCAd: A +4 bonus to hit is pretty nice.
  • Daring OutlawCS: This feat almost single-handedly redeems the Swashbuckler. A Swashbuckler without Daring Outlaw is either a class dip or a bad idea. It requires three levels of Rogue (or a level of Rogue and a level of something else), which also brings Trapfinding, Evasion, and the option of several interesting class features. Sneak Attack also opens up Craven, which can be a huge pile of damage if you flank or use Feint.
  • Daring WarriorCS: The benefits aren't worth a feat no matter how you use this.
  • Deadly DefenseCS: A cool concept, but 1d6 damage just isn't enough, and it prohibits you from using a buckler.
  • Improved CriticalPHB: Great for triggering the Swashbuckler's high level critical hit abilities, but because you will typically be relying on Sneak Attack for damage, critical hits won't do a lot by themselves.
    • Twist the KnifeEoE: With a rapier and Improved Critical you can expect to get critical hits reliably. This penalty is fairly impressive, and it stacks with effects like Shaken and Sickened for a truly debilitating pile of penalties. Unfortunately it will only last for two rounds.
  • Martial StudyToB: A lot of maneuvers work very well for the Swashbuckler.
    • Martial StanceToB: A lot of stances work very well for the Swashbuckler. Assassin's Stance grants Sneak Attack, which may allow you to qualify for Daring Outlaw without a class dip.
      • Shadow BladeToB: Only works with Shadow Blade weapons, but Short Swords and Spiked Chains are on the list, and adding Dexterity to your damage is very appealing. Note that this is in addition to Strength, so you can now add Strength, Dexterity, and Intelligence to your damage.
  • Power AttackPHB: A crucial source of damage for any full BAB character. Less important if you use Daring Outlaw and rely on Sneak Attack, but if you go for a spiked chain it can be very effective.
    • Leap AttackPHB: Charge builds are popular because they work, and Leap Attack is a central point of nearly any good charge build.
  • Serpent FangSs: Costly, limited to once per round, and it only extends your reach by 5 feet.
  • Stand StillEPH: Fantastic for Defender builds, especially because Swashbucklers typically don't have the Strength to back up Trip.
  • Two-Weapon FightingPHB: If you're going for Daring Outlaw, Two-Weapon Fighting can be a great to maximize your damage.
    • Improved Two-Weapon FightingPHB: More attacks can mean more damage.
      • Greater Two-Weapon FightingPHB: Even at full BAB, your third iterative attack won't do a lot of good.
    • Two-Weapon PouncePHB2: It's much easier to get real Pounce from a Barbarian dip.
    • Two-Weapon RendPHB2: The damage is garbage.
  • Vae SchoolDotU: A great option for Spiked Chain defender builds, but usually requires that you have someone to flank with.
  • Weapon FocusPHB: +1 to hit is nice, but not very useful unless you're going for Two-Weapon Fighting.
    • Power CriticalPHB: Great for the Swashbuckler's high level abilities which trigger on critical hits.

Weapons

  • Rapier: The Swashbuckler's go-to option.
  • Short Sword: Only worthwhile if you go for the Shadow BladeToB feat.
  • Spiked Chain: Arguably the best weapon in the game, and essential if you're going for a Defender build. Works with Shadow BladeToB for extra damage.
  • Kukri: If you plan to use Two-Weapon Fighting, the Kukri is your best bet. Essentially the same as a rapier with a smaller damage die.
  • Whip: Spiked Chain is strictly better.

Armor

Armor is presented in the order in which you should acquire it, rather than alphabetical order.

  • Studded Leather: Starting armor.
  • Mithral Shirt: Your go-to armor for the majority of your career.
  • Masterwork Buckler: Won't mess with your class features, and it's one of the cheapest AC bonuses in the game.

Magic Items

Weapon Crystals

  • Energy AssaultMIC: Many weapon users pick up an energy enhancement for a bit of extra damage, but at 3000gp an energy assault crystal is cheaper than any actual enhancement (minimum of 6000gp on top of a +1 weapon). You can also swap out the crystals if your enemies are resistant to whatever you're using.
  • Life LeachMIC: Not terribly exciting, but stealing health from enemies you hit in combat can get you the extra hit points you need to get through a fight.

Armor/Shields

  • Animated ShieldDMG (+2): An animated shield is a crucial AC boost for two-handed and two-weapon builds of any kind. At 9000gp, a +1 animated shield is one of the cheaper ways to boost your AC once you already have cheap AC boosts like a +1 Ring of Protection.

Armor/Shield Crystals

  • Iron WardMIC: A splash of DR on your armor/shield. For 500 GP the lesser version is basically 10 hit points per day.

Rings

  • EvasionDMG: Excellent at high levels, and any good Swashbuckler will have a good enough Reflex save to put it to good use.
  • ProtectionDMG: You're probably the party's Defender, so you need all the AC bonuses you can get.

Wondrous Items

  • Armbands of MightMIC: Fantastic if you want to use Power Attack and/or special attacks like Trip.
  • Belt of StrengthDMG: See Gauntlets of Strength, below.
  • Circlet of IntellectDMG: Pricey, and all it gives you is damage.
  • Cloak of ResistanceDMG: Vest of Resistance is identical and takes up a much less useful slot.
  • Gauntlets of StrengthDMG: Strength is a good source of extra damage, and if you choose to be Reduced you can offset the Strength penalty with a belt and continue using Power Attack. Unfortunately the default +2 Strength item is gauntlets, so you can't use them with your Gloves of Dexterity. Your DM may be nice enough to let you get a +2 belt instead.
  • Gloves of DexterityDMG: Dexterity is the Swashbuckler's primary ability. Get these early.
  • Ioun Stone (Dusty Rose)DMG: At only 5000gp, a Dusty Rose Ioun Stone provides a cheaper boost to AC than upgrading your Ring of Protection from +1 to +2. The bonus is an insight bonus, which makes it easy to stack because insight bonuses to AC are extremely rare.
  • Shirt of Demonskin/The Fey/The Inevitable/Ironskin/The Moon/Slaadskin/The TreantMIC: DR 3/something for 15,000 gp. Expensive, but it's a great way to get DR. Absolutely do not get a Shirt of Resilience. By the time you can afford this nearly everything you meet can bypass DR/magic. DR/adamantine is my favorite because only things like Iron Golems can bypass it without an adamantine weapon.
  • Vest of ResistanceMIC: Same cost as a cloak, and takes up the largely useless "torso" slot. A strictly better choice than a Cloak of Resistance, unless you plan to buy a Shirt of X for DR.

Permanent Spells

  • Enlarge PersonPHB: Essential for Defender builds, large size gets you constant reach. Coupled with a spiked chain, you get a total of 15 foot reach, allowing you to dominate huge portions of the battlefield. The penalty to Dexterity cuts into your attacks of opportunity and attack bonus, and you lose a total of 2 to your AC, which can be problematic.
  • Reduce PersonPHB: If you're medium you can reduce yourself for an easy +2 to Dexterity, but remember that it may prevent you from using Power Attack because of the -2 penalty to Strength, so pick up a Strength-boosting item to offset the penalty.
  • See invisibilityPHB: With no built-in way to handle invisible creatures, the ability to always see them is a fantastic benefit.

Multiclassing and Prestige Classes

  • BarbarianPHB: A single level can get you Pounce and Rage, both of which can be extremely helpful.
  • FighterPHB: A great source of bonus feats without cutting into your BAB. Don't bother with Daring Warrior. The Hit-and-Run TacticsDotU ACF works particularly well when combined with Daring Outlaw.
  • RoguePHB: Daring Outlaw is basically required.
  • SwordsageToB: One level gets you a +2 to both of the Swashbuckler's bad saves, maneuvers, and a stance. Because the Shadow Hand school is available to Swordsages (and only Swordsages), you can take the Martial Stance feat to get Assassin's Stance, which grants you Sneak Attack and might qualify you for Daring Outlaw. A second level allows you to add Wisdom to your AC, but the Swashbuckler really doesn't need more MAD, so one level is fine.
  • WarbladeToB: One level gives you maneuvers and stances, Int to reflex saves (which will stack with Grace since it’s an Insight bonus), and the ability to retrain weapon-specific feats like Weapon Focus to use another weapon. Maneuvers are useful, but Swordsage's access to the Shadow Hand style is a better option.