Something has changed within me

Something is not the same

I’m through with playing by the rules

Of someone else’s game

Idina Menzel – Defying Gravity

Introduction

A Swashbuckler is a flashy, showy, bombastic adventuring type, usually but not necessarily a swordsman. In Dungeons and Dragons 5e, the Swashbuckler is a Roguish Archetype specializing in a mix of Charismatic Panache and being an expert duelist. Some hear the name Swashbuckler and think pirate, and while that is a perfectly reasonable direction to take, there are plenty of other ways to play one. For every Captain Jack Sparrow among their ranks you’ll also find a d’Artagnan, Peter Pan, Robin Hood, and Zorro.

What sets Swashbucklers apart from other Rogues right away is their Rakish Audacity, allowing one to reliably apply Sneak Attack damage while in one-on-one combat. Additionally, Fancy Footwork grants the Swashbuckler what amounts to a free disengage vs their dueling opponent, for the most daring of acrobatic movements about the battlefield to leave a foe in shambles and disarray.

Speaking of acrobatic maneuvers, more accomplished Swashbucklers can give themselves Advantage on Athletics and Acrobatics checks in order to pull off such marvelous stunts. Never discount the usefulness of a well-timed shove or a daring leap to get yourself out of a jam. With such graceful mobility, your opponents won’t stand a chance against such a Master Duelist, turning a miss into a feint and exploiting the opening.

In the example build provided below, we’ll explore a fun way to build a Swashbuckler into a tough melee combatant that can hold its own with the best of them. Not a tank by any means, but not made of paper, the Thundering Thrillseeker shows off in combat as a nimble duelist that darts in and out of the fight with precision attacks.

If you’re looking for something a little more advanced than our typical example builds, we have a multi-classed build featuring Hexblade Warlock, The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. Utilizing the Hexblade’s ability to use Charisma for attacks and damage, this alternative build is able to bring some additional magic to the table like an Arcane Trickster light. Have a look if you want to see another fun way to build a Swashbuckler.

Table of Contents

Disclaimer

RPGBOT uses the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.

  • Red: Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational. Nearly never useful.
  • Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances. Useful sometimes.
  • Green: Good options. Useful often.
  • Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character. Useful very frequently.

We will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, in handbooks for official content because we can’t assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. We also won’t cover Unearthed Arcana content because it’s not finalized, and we can’t guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.

The advice offered below is based on the current State of the Character Optimization Meta as of when the article was last updated. Keep in mind that the state of the meta periodically changes as new source materials are released and this article will be updating accordingly as time allows.

RPGBOT is unofficial Fan Content permitted under the Fan Content Policy. Not approved/endorsed by Wizards. Portions of the materials used are property of Wizards of the Coast. ©Wizards of the Coast LLC.

Swashbuckler Features

  1. Fancy Footwork: You only need to attack the target, not hit them, so if you miss and don’t want to stay in melee range you’re free to retreat unimpeded. Using two light-weapons for two-weapon fighting allows you to move past and attack two enemies if you feel the need. The choice between using Cunning Action to Disengage and relying on Fancy Footwork will depend both on what you’re wielding and on how many enemies you need to evade.
  2. Rakish Audacity: This is absurdly good. Any Rogue can Sneak Attack if an ally is within 5 feet of the target. Rakish Audacity allows you to Sneak Attack if no one except the target is adjacent to you, which means that as long as you’re not getting mobbed you can reliably Sneak Attack whenever you hit.

    As long as you can get away from other enemies (such as by using Cunning Action to Disengage) you’re nearly guaranteed to be able to Sneak Attack. Since you still need to be within 5 feet you’re likely making melee attacks, but you could technically use a crossbow with Crossbow Expert.

    Oh, and as if this wasn’t absurdly good already, you add your Charisma bonus to Initiative checks on top of your Dexterity.

  3. Panache: Be sure to take Expertise in Persuasion to make this work. It’s worth the investment.

    Tanking generally isn’t in the Rogue’s skillset, but the first portion of this feature is a taunt mechanic. The DM could technically end the ability by having the creature walk out of the 60 foot range before returning, but that would be a cheap metagame trick, so feel free to shame your DM if they try it. With passable AC and Uncanny Dodge, you can easily handle being one creature’s sole focus for extended periods, leaving the rest of your party to handle the rest of the encounter until one section of the party comes to help the other.

    Out of combat, you can use this to Charm creatures, making them a very loyal friend for a very brief period. The effect doesn’t let the creature know it was charmed or that you did anything unusual, and since it doesn’t grant temporary immunity or have a usage limitation, you can use Panache on the same creature repeatedly to keep it Charmed. If you can succeed on the initial Charisma (Persuasion) check, this will trivialize social interactions with single creatures that aren’t already hostile to you.

  4. Elegant Maneuver: Advantage is great, especially on a skill like Athletics which is used to Shove enemies prone. Unfortunately, this uses your Bonus Action just to grant you Advantage, so you still need to use your Action to use the skill, leaving you no opportunity to attack. You’re most likely to use this to escape grapples, to leap over difficult terrain, or do other fancy stuff like that.
  5. Master Duelist: Sometimes you can’t risk missing, and in those cases this is a life saver. Most of the time you can still use Fancy Footwork to move away and return to attack later, but sometimes that just isn’t an option and you need to deal damage right away rather than letting things drag on.

Swashbuckler Ability Scores

Normally, Rogues have some flexibility in their scores, as after Dexterity and Constitution are shored up there are usually points left over to lean into different skill categories. The Swashbuckler however has features that care about their Charisma score, which means Swashbucklers tend to also take on the Face role in a party.

Str: We end up with the ability to get Advantage on Athletics at 13th-level, so it’s not a high priority by any stretch, but letting Strength be your 4th-highest score on a standard array spread is a decent option.

Dex: This is our AC, our attack with Finesse or Ranged weapons, and our Initiative checks.

Con: Don’t get yourself killed doing ridiculous stunts.

Int: Reading books is for uncool people.

Wis: Being aware of our surroundings is for uncool people. No wait, this is another good option for the 4th-highest score instead of Strength.

Cha: We have features that benefit from our Charisma score, with benefits to Initiative as well as Charming targets. That said, a Swashbuckler doesn’t need to go this route if they just want to do damage.

Point BuyStandard Array
Str812
Dex1515
Con1513
Int88
Wis810
Cha1514

Swashbuckler Races

We can follow the guidelines of the Rogue Races Breakdown for anything not listed below.

  • BugbearMMoM: The Swashbuckler’s bonus to initiative works well with the Bugbear’s Surprise Attack, but Long-Limbed doesn’t work too well with Rakish Audacity as we have to be within 5 feet of the target.
  • Custom LineageTCoE: Can’t go wrong with an extra feat.
  • FairyMMoM: Fancy Footwork for Fly-by attack, and that extra verticality gives us more spaces that work for Rakish Audacity.
  • HarengonMMoM: If you want to go first all the time, Harengon add PB to their Initiative on top of Rakish Audacity adding Charisma and Dexterity. This in turn means that once Reliable Talent is gained at 11th-level, a Harengon can’t roll under 10+PB+DEX+CHA for all Initiative checks, which at that level will total about 10+4+5+3 = 22.
  • (Half-)High ElfPHB: Easy access to Booming Blade combines well with the Fancy Footwork and Panache combo, dipping in to land a Booming Blade then dashing out and leaving the foe to either stand there or eat the secondary damage.
  • Variant HumanPHB: Bonus feats are great.

Swashbuckler Feats

The Rogue Handbook already details feat selection fairly well.

  • Inspiring LeaderPHB: We’ll already be building for Charisma, so Inspiring Leader will work well for us.

Swashbuckler Weapons

For weapons, we follow the Rogue Handbook.

  • Rapier: This is the largest damage die for a Finesse weapon outside of taking the Elf-only Revenant Blade feat.

Swashbuckler Armor

  • Studded Leather: The best option outside of multiclassing.

Swashbuckler Multiclassing

Also reference the Rogue Handbook.

  • Hexblade Warlock: Because we get nice benefits out of Charisma, using it for attacks too is helpful. This is also a way to get Booming Blade and Green-Flame Blade.

Example Swashbuckler Build – Thundering Thrillseeker

Every gambler knows

That the secret to survivin’

Is knowin’ what to throw away

And knowin’ what to keep

Kenny Rogers – The Gambler

The Swashbuckler is a fine subclass that can be played single-classed for 20 levels without any major issues and that’s the aim of this build. With features like Fancy Footwork, we’ll dart in and out of the fray to avoid taking a beating. That is a job for other less sophisticated scoundrels. We’re the kind of scoundrel who would rather end the fight with one well-placed strike at the heart.

Abilities

We’ll be using a Half-High-Elf to get a +2/+1/+1 to our abilities. We’re going to customize our origin so that the +2 can be in Dexterity instead of Charisma. Using Point Buy, we put 15s in Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma and place the +2, +1, +1 in those three stats, respectively.

BaseIncreasedLevel 20
Str888
Dex151720
Con151618
Int888
Wis888
Cha151618

Race

We’re taking Half-Elf for a mixture of the ability spread and access to the High-Elf Descent trait that allows us to pick a Wizard Cantrip. We choose Booming Blade. Because Rogues do not have Extra Attack, this is a great way to increase our damage when other classes would gain that feature.

Multiclassing

Originally, we had planned a build with some multiclassing in this guide, but there are far too many differences between the two builds that a simple paragraph wouldn’t be enough to explain the single-classed version. We decided it would be a waste to just throw that all away, so to that end, we’ve spun the multiclassed build off into its own article, The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. Yes, it’s Peter Pan.

Background

For a background, Gambler is wonderful, both for a personality and for the skills we acquire: Deception and Insight. A gaming set proficiency of your choosing is a wonderful addition; they are interchangeable in the grand scheme of things.

Skills and Tools

From Rogue, we choose Acrobatics, Intimidation, Persuasion, and Stealth. We also get Thieves’ Tools. From Gambler, we get Deception and Insight, as well as a gaming set. We later take Skill Expert and gain the Perception skill.

For Expertise, at 1st level, we take Acrobatics and Deception.

From Skill Expert at 4th level, we take Insight.

For Expertise again, at 6th level, we take Intimidation and Persuasion.

Together these Expertises make us an unrivaled Face as well as a paragon of acrobatic stunts.

Feats

At fourth level, we take Skill Expert for a +1 to Dexterity, Perception Proficiency, and Insight Expertise.

At eighth level, we take an ASI for +2 Dexterity. (18=>20)

At tenth level, we take the Inspiring Leader Feat. At this level this is 13 THP per short rest for the entire party and it will go up by one every level. That’s not a lot per person at one time, but that’s still between 52 and 78 damage across 4-6 people that won’t need to be healed later.

At twelfth level, we take the Tough Feat. This will add 24 hit points right away, more than adding +2 to Constitution.

Another option that gives us less HP overall, but improves our saves and support capability, would be to take Resilient (Constitution) now at 12 and Chef at 19, resulting in the same total Constitution, with a higher save and with additional healing for the party during short rests. 

At sixteenth level, we take an ASI for +2 Charisma. (16=>18)

And at nineteenth level, we take an ASI for +2 Constitution. (16=>18)

Levels

LevelsSneak AttackFeats and FeaturesNotes and Tactics
11d6Sneak Attack
Skills-Acrobatics-Deception-Insight-Intimidation-Persuasion-Stealth
Expertise-Acrobatics-Deception
Thieves’ Cant
Elf Cantrip-Booming Blade
Grab a rapier, some leather armor, and your starting equipment.
Like any other Rogue, we start with our skills, sneak attack, and not much else. We do, however, have the Booming Blade Cantrip, which works well with Sneak Attack. It’s not quite a gish, but it does give us that hint of gish flavor.
Work with your team to make sure you can deliver Sneak Attacks and try not to die on the way to 2nd-level.
21d6Cunning ActionWith Cunning Action we can Dash, Disengage, or make a Stealth check to hide as a bonus action.
Handy in all sorts of situations, this will get us out of many jams. We can immediately pretend to be a swashbuckler by walking into melee, using Booming Blade, then using Cunning Action to move away without provoking an Opportunity Attack.
32d6Swashbuckler-Fancy Footwork-Rakish AudacitySwashbuckler comes with a lot as soon as it’s acquired.
Fancy Footwork is like a free disengage against any target we make a melee attack against, hit or miss. Use Booming Blade to perform hit-and-run tactics.
Rakish Audacity does two things. First, it adds our Charisma modifier to our Initiative checks. Second, it also applies our Sneak Attack damage to targets as long as the target is the only creature within 5 feet of us. Make sure no one (including your allies) is crowding you.
42d6Feat: Skill Expert-Skill–Perception-Expertise–Insight+1 DexterityWe take Skill Expert in order to get an extra skill, Perception, and to gain expertise in Insight. Our lower Wisdom score is a problem when reading people, so this will compensate for that.
53d6Uncanny DodgeSpend a reaction when we get hit to take half damage from an attack. The nice thing to notice is that this isn’t resistance to the attack, so it stacks with resistance.
63d6Expertise-Intimidation-PersuasionGet even better with the rest of the Face skills. Now we’re basically the best negotiator.
74d6EvasionThis is a powerful ability, taking no damage on successful Dexterity saves, and half damage on failed saves.
84d6ASI: Dexterity +2And here we cap our Dexterity. Now we’ll have the best attacks and AC we can have.
95d6PanacheIn combat this is an Interesting taunt mechanic, useful to get a target to tunnel vision us instead of the rest of the party. Out of combat, this just makes negotiation and other Face activities even easier.
105d6Feat: Inspiring LeaderInspiring Leader ends up being a sizable chunk of temporary HP when totalled across the party. 13 per person sounds small, but across four targets that’s still 52 damage that won’t need to be healed later per short or long rest. 
On an average day with two short rests, that’s 156 HP. And this will only get stronger with every level.
116d6Reliable TalentReliable Talent is worded strangely, but the way I think about it is that it’s Advantage where one of the dice is always a 10. That makes it really easy to remember.
126d6Feat: ToughWe could increase our Constitution, but it’s better to do Tough first and then later increase Con if we still want more. With Panache encouraging our foes to tunnel vision us, it would be smart to have more hit points.
Alternatively, taking Resilient (Constitution) would give us no HP right now, but boost our save by +4 right now, with another +1 next level when PB hits +5.
If we go this route, then taking Chef at 19 instead of the Constitution ASI will round out the Con score and provide additional support options to the party.
137d6Elegant ManeuverA little on-demand Advantage for Athletics and Acrobatics. It’s nice and we’ll get use out of it if we need to do daring flips and such. Also great to get out of a grapple.
147d6BlindsenseFinding hidden things is nice, but the range is rather short. Not bad; it won’t help us too often unless our allies like to rely on things like Darkness and Fog Cloud, but we’ll be happy when it does.
158d6Slippery MindWisdom save proficiency. Nothing fancy, just a really nice thing to have.
168d6ASI: Charisma +2More Charisma. Good for initiative checks and Face skills, though we should already be winning those all the time with our Expertise and Reliable Talent.
And with this bump, our Inspiring Leader feat is now handing out 20 THP per person per short rest, which across four people is 80 THP. Across a full day with two short rests, that comes to 240 THP, which is about as much HP as an extra body at this level.
179d6Master DuelistReroll a missed attack, but with Advantage, once per rest. Not a bad feature. Helps secure damage and kills.
189d6ElusiveThis is a great little feature, nobody can get Advantage when attacking us unless we’re incapacitated.
1910d6ASI: Constitution +2More hit points, less dying.
2010d6Stroke of LuckThis is similar to the feature we got from Swashbuckler at 17, but instead of a reroll, this one just makes the attack hit.
Unlike Master Duelist, this feature also works on failed ability checks, treating them as a 20.