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Pathfinder 2e - The Swashbuckler Handbook

Last Updated: September 23rd, 2020

Disclaimer

RPGBOT uses the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks.

  • 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.

Introduction

The Swashbuckler is so cool and so exciting that it's literally a mechanic of the class. Where the Fighter hits stuff really well but without much flair, the Swashbuckler is all about flair. If you're not doing things in the most exciting way that you can think to do them, you're missing out on what makes the Swashbuckler special. The Panache mechanic encourages you to do things other than hitting things, and the subclasses really encourage diverse tactics between swashbucklers.

Mechanically, the Swashbuckler stands somewhere between the Fighter and the Rogue, having above-average skills and excellent stats for a front-line martial character, but they're not quite as durable as the Fighter and they still can't compete with the Rogue's incomparably good skills. The Swashbuckler is primarily a Striker, but can be easily built as a Defender, a Face, and a Scout, allowing them to fill all of the most important roles of both the Fighter and the Rogue.

Panache

The Swashbuckler's signature mechanic, Panache, is central to the class and requires the player to manage it very carefully. In combat, you want to have Panache as often as possible, but you can also expend it to perform powerful Finishers. This creates an important "gameplay loop" where the Swashbuckler gains Panache, does cool stuff, exspends Panache, then works to get it back.

Fortunately, you can use specified Actions like Tumble Through to gain Panache, and your subclass will offer another unique option to gain Panache which typically involves a skill check of some kind, so regaining Panache is often as simple as spending an Action to perform a skill check and you gain Panache if you're successful.

Fighting Styles

Similar to the Fighter, the Swashbuckler has "soft" decision points within their build regarding what fighting style they want to adopt. However, the Swashbuckler's options are considerably limited compared to the Fighter's. Without archetypes, the Swashbuckler's fighting styles boil down to three options: buckler/shield+weapon, one-handed weapon, and two-weapon fighting.

Buckler/Shield+Weapon is frustrating. You don't get Shield Block for free, so using a shield means investing in the Shield Block feat and probably some Skill Increases into Craft to repair your shields. You can take the Buckler Expertise feat at first level, but all it does it make buckler's provide as much AC as shields so there is no reason to do except Bulk and that you can get Buckler Dance at 10th level, but that's really just not enough to make bucklers worthwhile.

Single Weapon is the best option by far. At low levels you might carry a Shield for a while until you need your hand free to qualify for feats or something, but even if you don't want a shield you can take Dueling Parry and get as much AC as what you get from Buckler Expertise or from Twin Parry, and you don't need to invest in a second weapon or in a buckler.

Two-weapon fighting is a trap. You get feats 3 levels than other fighting styles, and they're not any better. You get the added utility of being able to choose which weapon to use with any given Attack, but you also need to pour precious gold into a second weapon in a game where gold is as precious as feats. The only offensive option that justifies two-weapon fighting is Dual Finisher, and one decent feat is not enough to justify the rest of a weak build.

Finishers

"Finishers" are the primary way in which you'll consume Panache. The term "Finisher" is somewhat confusing, and you might assume that is means a "finishing blow", or to "finish" the target. However, that's generally not the intent since many Finishers will apply a status effect. Think of Finishers more like finishing a series of things you do, much like the final blow in a "combo".

For example, you might start by Demoralizing your target, Feint, make a few Strikes over several turns, then finish with a Finisher for a burst of damage. Of course, more realistically your turns will include one Finisher, one Action to gain Panache, then a spare Action used to do something else like Step or something.

Reactions

Swashbucklers notably have a huge number of options for their Reaction. Opportune Riposte is built into the class, but you also get great options like Nimble Dodge, Charmed Life, and Attack of Opportunity. These options are generally all very good, but you still only get one Reaction (until you can get Inexhaustible Countermoves at level 20), so be careful not to invest too many feats into options which use your Reaction.

Swashbuckler Class Features

Key Ability: Dexterity.

Hit Points: 10+ hit points matches the Fighter and other front-line martial classes.

Initial Proficiencies: .

  • Perception: Start at Expert, and you advance to Master.
  • Saving Throws: Bad Fortitude Saves, average Will Saves, and the best Reflex Saves (matching the Rogue). You'll do really well against common Basic Reflex Saves, but you'll need to beef up your Constitution and Wisdom to compensate for your other saves.
  • Skills: A total of 6+ skills, so the Swashbuckler matches the Ranger and has more base skills than any other class except the Rogue, though the Ranger gets skill increases and skill feats at the same speed as everyone else. Stylish Tricks offers 3 additional Skill Feats over the course of your career, but those additional feats are restricted.3
  • Attacks: Trained in simple, martial, and unarmed. Not terribly exciting, but you've got a full range of options and you may be able to access Uncommon weapons using racial feats. Swashbucklers advance their weapon proficiencies at the same rate as most martial classes, falling just behind the Fighter.
  • Defenses: Trained in unarmored defense and light armor, which makes sense for a Dexterity-heavy class. Unfortunately, your proficiency improves slower than other front-line martial class like the Fighter and the Ranger, so your AC will lag behind other front-line martial classes at several points in your career.
  • Class DC: The Swashbuckler's biggest use for their Class DC is for Critical Specialization Effects, but since you get Critical Specialization effects with any weapon that you're likely to use, this will see a lot of use. The Swashbuckler's Class DC progression is roughly average.

Confident Finisher: A great introduction to Finishers, Confident Finisher isn't especially impressive but the Failure effect adds some reliability so low-level swashbucklers won't feel robbed when they spend their Panache and miss their attack.

Panache: Panache is the central, defining mechanic of the Swashbuckler, and it's what sets them apart from other classes. While any class can brag, boast, tumble about, swing from chandeliers, and generally show off, the Swashbuckler uniquely gains the ability to empower themselves by doing so, and unless you're ready to play that way you're going to struggle as a swashbuckler.

Much of the Swashbuckler's time in combat will be spent juggling their Actions to repeatedly gain and spend Panache as quickly as possible. A number of Swashbuckler Class Feats have the "Finisher" trait. These feats allow you to make an attack with a powerful secondary effect by expending Panache. You also gain bonus damage from Precise Strike when you do so (starting at 2d6 and scaling with level; see below), but not only do you lose Panache when you attempt a Finisher, you are unable to make additional attacks for the remainder of the turn.

Managing Panache is absolutely central to the class. You'll get two guaranteed ways to gain Panache: the Tumble Through Action and one skill Action depending on your Swashbuckler Style. Tumble Through is unglamorous, but important. Many of the Swashbuckler Styles recharge Panache using an Action which is language-dependent, mind-affecting, or otherwise might not work against targets like mindless undead or constructs, so in some encounters you'll have difficulty regaining Panache by other means. Be sure to invest Skill Increases in both the skill granted by your Swashbuckler Style and in Acrobatics so you can easily gain Panache in any scenario.

Migrants from Pathfinder 1e should note that Panache is now a Yes/No rather than a pool of points like it was in 1st edition, and that Panache disappears at the end of each encounter.

Precise Strike: The flat bonus is a small but still impactful amount of bonus damage. This will easily make up the difference between using Dexterity with a Finesse weapon compared to using Strength, assuming that you're just making regular Strikes. The damage bonus applies to all of your Strikes, so it's easy to rely on this is as a constant increase to damage so long as you have Panache.

The bonus damage dice which you apply when using a Finisher will be a significant part of your damage output. You might use a Finisher as often as every turn. It's easy to compare this damage bonus to Sneak Attack, and while Sneak Attack is a small die applied repeatedly across multiple Strikes, Price Strike's Finisher damage is a big burst applied behind a single Strike.

Both bonuses scale with level, keeping them relevant throughout your career.

Swashbuckler Feats: See Swashbuckler feats, below.

Swashbuckler's Style: See "Subclasses - Swashbuckler's Style", below.

Skill Feats: Standard for everyone except the Rogue.

General Feats: Standard.

Great Fortitude: Your only improvement to Fortitude saves, and you get it at level 3.

Opportune Riposte: It only applies on Critical Failures, so you'll get the most use out of this when you have really high AC, when your attacker's attack bonus is poor (debuffs help), when your opponent is making numerous attacks with a Multiple Attack Penalty, or some combination of the three. Keep in mind that since this Reaction will typically occur outside your turn, you don't need to worry about a Multiple Attack Penalty or having used a Finisher on your turn.

Skill Increases: Standard for everyone except the Rogue.

Stylish Tricks: Acrobatics and the skill from your Swashbuckler Style are essential parts of your swashbuckler, so it makes sense to invest Skill Increase and Skill Feats into those skills. However, that would normally create a "feat tax" which would lock you into spending your regular Skill Increases and Skill Feats. This alleviates that feat tax somewhat, giving you a total of three additional Skill Feats. Don't forget: Assurance is a skill feat, and putting Assurance into both Acrobatics the skill associated with your Swashbuckler Style is a perfectly fine option.

Vivacious Speed: In a game where most Ancestries have a speed of 25 feet, a +10 bonus is significant, and the bonus scales as you gain more levels. The only problem is that in most cases your go-to tactic is to gain Panache, then expend it almost immediately.

Ability Boosts: Standard.

Ancestry Feats: Standard.

Weapon Expertise: Your proficiency with weapons advances at the same rate as other martial classes like the Barbarian and the Rogue. You also gain access to Critical Specialization effects with all weapons with which you have Expert proficiency, which means that any simple or martial weapon is covered.

Evasion: Reflex saves are the most common type of "Basic Save", and often Basic Saves are the ones where the difference between a Success and a Critical Success is the most significant. This will protect from a lot of damage from area effects like fireballs and breath weapons.

Weapon Specialization: Since your Proficiency with weapons improves at the same rate as martial class like the Barbarian and the Champion, you'll get the best bonuses.

Exemplary Finisher: The benefits vary depending on your Swashbuckler Style.

Swashbuckler Expertise: Better class DC.

Continuous Flair: Vague, and the bonus is both small and of a common type.

Vigilant Senses: The best Perception progression in the game.

Improved Evasion: Great for all the same reasons that Evasion is great. Taking half damage on a failure means that a Failure and a Success on a Basic Save are functionally identical.

Light armor Expertise: More AC is always great.

Weapon Mastery: More attack bonus.

Greater Weapon Specialization: More damage.

Keen Flair: More critical hits is fantastic. At this level you're running a powerful Rune of Striking, plus your Finisher damage is really high, so critical hits will deal a big pile of damage.

Resolve: Fantastic, but it comes online very late the game.

Eternal Confidence: The wording here is somewhat confusing, so allow me to clarify: You get to add the effects of Confident Finisher in addition to the effects of whatever Finisher you're using. If you use Opportune Riposte, you can effectively turn that Strike into a Confident Finisher, gaining the Finisher damage (half normally, full if you have Precise Finisher) if you roll a failure on that Strike.

Light Armor Mastery: More AC is always great.

Subclasses - Swashbuckler's Style

Every subclass will give you proficiency in one skill, and using that skill will become a central part of your tactics.

Battledancer

The Battledancer is a great go-to option. Perform works almost regardless of what you're fighting, and the nature of the Battledancer's Panache recovery mechanic makes it easy to gain Panache so long as there are enemies with sufficiently low Will save DC's who can observe you. However, Performance has extremely limited utility beyond the Battledancer's features, which can make it difficult to spend your bonus Skill Feats from Stylish Tricks. You can still put them into Acrobatics feats, Fortunately.

  • Skill: Performance is a skill that usually only matters in social situations, so it's odd to see it appear in combat. Fascinating Performance adds the ability to Fascinate a target, and take Focused Fascination to further limit whichever creature you Fascinate. As your Proficiency in Perform improves, you gain the ability to Fascinate more creatures. Unfortunately, the duration of the effect is only one round, and targets get immunity for an hour after the Fascinate effect wears off, so it's a bad idea to fascinate more than one creature in combat.
  • Panache Recovery: Your skill check with the Perform Action only needs to exceed the Will DC of an observing foe, so as long as there's an enemy in the fight a low Will DC you can easily recharge your Panache in any fight. Due to the almost total lack of traits on the Perform Action, it's easy to use it on foes who might be difficult for other Swashbuckler Styles to target in order to recharge Panache. However, your GM might reasonably add traits like Auditory or Language depending on the nature of your performance.
  • Exemplary Finisher: A free Action is really great, but the utility of Step is greatly diminished for the Swashbuckler. Your reliance on Tumble Through to gain Panache makes it an appealing way to gain Panache while also repositioning yourself to flank a target. However, Step can still be useful in encounters with multiple enemies or if you need to move out of reach.

Braggart

Do you like to Demoralize things? Go for Braggart.

  • Skill: Intimidation is a staple Face skill, and Demoralize is a fantastic combat option for high-Charisma characters.
  • Panache Recovery: Demoralizing foes applies Frightened. Frightened is a good debuff, and allowing you to continually refresh it thanks to the Exemplary Finisher effect means that your target may remain in a perpetually debuffed state for as long as you're fighting it. Frightened penalizes the victim's checks and DCs, lowering their attacks, their AC, and their save DC's in addition to the obvious stuff like skill checks and such. However, remember that languages can be a barrier so you'll need to invest resources in learning langugaes in which to Demoralize things. Even then, not all enemies will understand language so you may take a penalty or your may be totally unable to Demoralize some foes if they're mindless or otherwise immune to fear. Be sure that your Acrobatics bonus is good enough that you can Tumble Through whenever Demoralize isn't doing the trick, or if you're below level 9 when Exemplary Finisher removes the temporary immunity from Demoralize.
  • Exemplary Finisher: Demoralize normally only works on each target once per encounter because they gain temporary immunity for 10 minutes. That means that without this feature, Demoralize only works once per enemy per encounter, so this feature solves a huge limitation on Demoralize.

Fencer

Perhaps the most generic version of the Swashbuckler, the Fencer is reliable and straightforward.

  • Skill: Deception is a staple Face skill, and Feint is a great option if you're only making one attack (a Finisher, ideally) per turn. Even if you just roll a Success, they're still Flat-Footed against your next melee attack, and since you're only making one attack that's all that you need.
  • Panache Recovery: Feint will be your go-to option. Create a Diversion is neat, but unless you're planning to run away and re-emerge later it's not particularly useful for a front-line martial class that's intended to fill in for a fighter or an equivalent Defender character.
  • Exemplary Finisher: You'll never benefit from this unless you manage to hit the target with a Reaction (which is absolutely possible thanks to Opportune Riposte), but a -2 penalty to AC is significant, especially since many of your allies' class features might depend on targets being Flat-Footed. This also significantly reduces the need to Flank enemies, reducing the need to spend Actions shuffling around your enemies to get into position.

Gymnast

If you want to play a swashbuckler and not be a Face, this is the way to do it. Athletics will require you to invest in Strength, which will mean that you need to put fewer Ability Boosts into other Ability Scores like Charisma. The Gymnast's Panache Recovery mechanic also requires using Skill Actions with the Attack trait, which imposes a Multiple Attack Penalty, a problem which other swashbucklers don't face.

  • Skill: Athletics is hard for a Dexterity-based class, but you'll want some Strength for the bonus damage so you'll have enough to be at least passable with Athletics. You'll likely need to give up on Charisma-based capabilities, but if you want to play Swashbuckler without playing a Face, maybe that's what you want.
  • Panache Recovery: Three potential Actions to gain Panache is more than any other Swashbuckler Style, and the effects work on nearly any target unlike things like Demoralize. Grapple targets the target's Fortitude DC and Trip targets their Reflex DC, so you can select which one you believe to be lower. Grapple should be your go-to because if you can make the target Restrained you may be able to rob them of one or more Actions while they try to Escape on their own turn.

    However, keep in mind that Grapple, Shove, and Trip all have the Attack trait so they'll impose a Multiple Attack Penalty. Consider weapons with the Agile trait to mitigate this penalty, and look for weapons with the Grapple, Shove, or Trip traits to gain an item bonus on the Athletics checks. Also remember that using a Finisher means that you can't use Grapple, Shove, or Trip later in your turn because they all have the Attack trait.

    If you take the Disarming Flair feat, you can add Disarm to the list of Actions which you can take to gain Panache. However, Disarm suffers from the same Attack trait limitations that your other options do.

  • Exemplary Finisher: Not a ton of damage and no fancy effect, but it's nearly-guaranteed damage since you'll frequently perform an Athletics check the apply on of these effects, then follow it with a Finisher which will gain this bonus damage.

Wit

Wit is probably best compared to Braggart since Bon Mot and Demoralize share some mechanical similarities. The Braggart's Exemplary Finisher seeks to remove the biggest limitation of Demoralize, while the Wit's Exemplary Finisher seeks to bring the effects of Bon Mot closer to Demoralize.

Bon Mot is easy to compare to Demoralize. Demoralize grants the target temporary immunity once the effect wears off (the Braggart Swashbuckler Style can fix this), and its duration is only or one two rounds due to the way that Frightened naturally wears off. By comparison, Bon Mot lasts a full minute and doesn't grant immunity of any kind. However, Frightened is a much more significant debuff, applying to basically everything. Bon Mot penalizes Perception and Will Saves, which is only significant if you can capitalize on enemies' low Will saves.

  • Skill: Diplomacy is the most essential Face skill in the game. If you're built for Charisma and you get one skill, make it Diplomacy. You also get the Bon Mot feat for free, which is really nice because Bon Mot is a pretty good feat, especially if you have allies who can target enemy will Saves like many spellcasters.
  • Panache Recovery: Bon Mot is a good option but it has some limitations. The effect lasts a full minute so it's easy to spread it around rather than repeatedly targeting one creature, provided that you have multiple enemies. But you can also repeatedly affect the same target, effectively resetting the duration. However, because Bon Mot has the Linguistic trait it only affects foes which understand the language that you use. You can invest in learning more languages, but that won't let you use Bon Mot on creatures that don't speak languages like animals, dinosaurs, and unintelligent undead.
  • Exemplary Finisher: -2 is a decent penalty, even if it's not very flashy. However, since it only applys to attacks against you your allies may find that enemies are attacking them instead of you.

Ability Scores

Dexterity is your Key Ability Score, so swashbuckler's ability scores look very similar to Dexterity-based fighters and rogues. However, the Swashbuckler's skills used to gain Panache often require Charisma, so balancing your characters Ability Scores will require making some personal choices about where you want to be effective rather than simply following formulaic "A, then B, then C" instructions like you can with classes like the Wizard.

Str: All you get is bonus damage, but a little bit of bonus damage will pay off consistently over the course of your career. The Gymnast Style also uses Athletics for its Panache mechanic, so you may need to invest in Strength to keep refreshing Panache.

Dex: Your Key Ability, Dexterity will power your attacks, your Class DC, and your AC, not to mention Reflex saves.

Con: Crucial on any character.

Int: Swashbucklers get a total of 6+ trained skills at first level, and if you're filling in for a rogue in your party you may still need more. However, if your party has plenty of skills to go around, this may be your best option for a dump stat.

Wis: Perception and Will Saves.

Cha: The majority of Swashbuckler Styles use a Charisma-based skill for their Panache mechanic. If you chose one of those Styles, Charisma will be very important. You might also choose to play your Party's Face since you'll likely get a Face skill from your Style, putting you on the path to success with little effort.

Ancestries

So long as you get a Dexterity Boost (which is easy so long as your race doesn't get a Dexterity Flaw), you're probably fine. Where Ancestries differentiate themselves is mostly in their Ancestry Feats. Several Ancestries offer unique feat combinations which support various play styles and builds for the Swashbuckler which can produce some incredibly effective characters if you know what to look for.

Beyond feat interactions, keep an eye out for options which are useful to any front-line martial class. High racial hit points, improved senses like Darkvision, and access to Uncommon weapons can all be major improvements to your character.

Catfolk: Catfolk are an easy and obvious choice for the Swashbuckler. Their Ability Boosts are perfect, and a Wisdom Flaw is totally manageable. Catfolk Weapon Familiarity offers acces to both the Catfolk Claws and to the Kukri, which are great options for the Swashbuckler. There is some overlap between swashbuckler feats and catfolk feats, like Charmed Life and the Cat's Luck feat chain, but that allows you to replace some powerful Class Feat options with Ancestry Feats and use those Class Feat slots for other options.

Dwarf: The Ability Boosts/Flaws are workable, though you'll want to avoid Charisma-based builds so the Gymnast may be your best bet. Unfortunately, none of the Dwarf's Ancestry Feats do anything to support the Swashbuckler.

Elf: The Elf can work, but it has some limitations A Constitution Flaw and 6 base hit points makes you exceptionally frail. Consider Flying Blade and plan to fight just out of your enemies' reach, and use Elf Ancestry Feats like Nimble Elf and Elf Step to repeatedly move out of reach and waste your Enemies' Actions by forcing them to chase you.

Gnome: The Ability Boosts are great, but the Strength Flaw will cut into your damage output slightly. Gnome Weapon Familiarity gets you acces to the Kukri, but with a Strength Flaw relying on Trip is hard to do. The most likely reason to consider the Gnome is if you want to introduce some magic to your character via Ancestry Feats. You can easily build yourself with decent Charisma, making options like Animal Accomplice and First World magic tempting options on top of your skills and combat capabilities.

Goblin: Perfect Ability Boosts, and a Wisdom Flaw is manageable. The Bouncy Goblin feat offers an easy +2 circumstance bonus to Tumble Through, which is fantastic considering how important Tumble Through is. You do need to take the Unbreakable Goblin Heritage to get it, but bumping your racial hit points from 6 to 10 is a great choice at low levels. Other Goblin Ancestry Feats offer a lot of greta options, too: Goblin Weapon Familiarity grants access to the Dogslicer; Roll With It offers a great way to mitigate damage from big attacks while also forcing enemies to knock you out of their reach; Goblin Scuttle allows you to more easily keep enemies in reach; and Very Sneaky allows you to easily employ stealth in combat to repeatedly hide and reemerge to attack.

Halfling: Similar in some ways to the Catfolk, though not as perfect a match for the Swashbuckler. The Halfling's Ability Boots and Flaws are slightly worse for most swashbucklers (though you can use the Optional Flaw rules to bring them closer together), but there are still a lot of great Ancestry Feat options to choose from. Halfling Luck is a great complement to Charmed Life, and the Step Lively feat chain allows you to occupy the spaces of larger foes (though I still haven't found an explicit mechanical reason to justify doing that).

Human: Two flexible Ability Boosts means that you can build your Ability Scores however you like. The Human has several unique options beyond their Ability Boosts. Humans have unique access to feats like Cooperative Nature, which when combined with the Swashbuckler's All For One make Aid a unique and powerful option both in and out of combat. Unconventional Weaponry makes Advanced Weapons viable in addition to granting access to some Uncommon weapons, many of which are excellent options for the Swashbuckler.

Kobold: The Kobold shares some of the same challenges as the Elf. Low racial hit points and a Constitution Flaw make melee combat a challenging prospect. Flying Blade allows you to fight at range, and that is the most obvious solution to the Kobold's hit point problem, but their Ancestry Feats may be enough to overcome the gap. Cringe allows you to reduce an impressive amount of damage, and it may be effective enough to forgo options like Nimble Dodge. Grovel allows you to Feint at range, making a ranged Fencer viable. Between the Scales works great in conjunction with Feint, allowing you to add Backstabber to weapons like the Starknife. Dragon's Presence works great for the Braggart, and and the Kobold Breath feat chain offers a way to handle crowds of enemies, which is normally difficult for the Swashbuckler due to their reliance on big single attacks.

Orc: Only two Ability Boosts, and one of them is in Strength. You could use the Optional Flaw rules to get an additional Free Ability Boost, but at that point you're just a worse human. The Orc's Ancestry Feats don't offer much to the Swashbuckler, though there are a few gems. Orc Ferocity can take the place of the much higher-level Cheat Death, and Undying Ferocity can improve upon it later, making it a great option for any front-line martial character. However, both of those options are available to the Half-Orc, and the Half-Orc's Ability Boosts will be easier to work with, and you also get access to Human Ancestry Feats and the handful of Half-Orc Ancestry Feats.

Ratfolk: Low racial hit points and a Strength Flaw are manageable, but that's not a great start, and the Ratfolk's Ancestry Feats offer almost nothing useful to the Swashbuckler.

Tengu: Only two Ability Boosts, but you can make that work. Tengu Weapon Familiarity offers access to the Wakizashi, and Squawk! is great insurance for the Braggart, the Fender, and the Wit since their skills used to gain Panache are all covered by Squawk!. The rest of the Tengu's Ancestry Feats don't offer much for the Swashbuckler, but you can still find several interesting options which are just generally useful.

Backgrounds

Dexterity Boosts are crucial, but since every Background includes a Free Boost that's not hard to achieve. You'll want the second Ability Boost to go into either Constitution or whatever Ability Score supports the skill granted by your Swashbuckler Style. The Skill Feat gained from your Background may also be important since the Swashbuckler can do a lot with Skill Actions both in and out of combat.

If you're having trouble deciding, here are some suggestions:

  • Emissary (Wit)
  • Sailor (Gymnast)
  • Ward (Battledancer)
  • Warrior (Braggart)

Skills and Skill Feats

You get Skill Increases at 3rd and 5th level to raise skills to Expert, increases at 7th, 9th, 11th, and 13th level to raise skills to Master, and increases at 15th, 17th, and 19th level to raise skills to Legendary. That means that you can maximize at most three skills, and the rest of your skills might not advance beyond Trained.

You get Skill Feats at even-numbered levels, giving you a total of 10 Skill Feats (and maybe another from your Background) by 20th level. Generally you want to invest these feats in the same skills which you are choosing to maximize, though in some cases you may want to grab feats from skills which don't require that you be more than Trained.

  • Acrobatics (Dex): You get Trained for free, and using the Tumble Through Action is the single standard option to gain Panache, so investing in Acrobatics is wise for situations where your Swashbuckler Style's Panache option doesn't work or where your DM doesn't give you a chandelier to swing from.
    • Assurance: It's not much fun, but Acrobatics if your backup option whenever the fun option provided by your Swashbuckler Style isn't working. Assurance ensures that it works reliable in the worst of cases. See my Practical Guide to Assurance for more information.
    • Cat Fall: Falling damage is reasonably common, but that's not why you're here. You're here because dropping into combat from a ridiculous height and being unharmed is really cool, and doing things are really cool is what the Swashbuckler is all about. As a GM, if a player went to great effort to drop from a ridiculous height at the start of combat I would probably grant them Panache.
  • Arcana (Int): Intelligence is the closest thing that the Swashbuckler has to a dump stat.
  • Athletics (Str): Primarily important for the Gymnast, but Athletics is still a great tactical option for any character with decent Strength to make it viable. If you're a Gymnast, as a GM I might consider granting Panache for jumping in ways that are both cool and unnecessary to reach wherever you want to go, so consider feats like Powerful Leap and Wall Jump.
    • Assurance: Great, but not always effective. Worth considering for the Gymnast. See my Practical Guide to Assurance for more information.
    • Hefty Hauler: If you're not putting much into Strength, you might have some trouble with your Bulk Limit. Normally a pack animal can address this, but if you need some more help or if bringing a mule into a dungeon doesn't sound like fun, this feat can help.
  • Crafting (Int): The Swashbuckler shouldn't use Shield Block so you don't need Crafting to repair bucklers/shields, and their only reason for high Intelligence is for additional skills. There is very little to support pursuing Crafting.
  • Deception (Cha): Essential for the Fencer of for any Face build. Unfortunately, none of the Skill Feats improve Feint.
  • Diplomacy (Cha): The essential Face skill. Most swashbucklers have enough Charisma to back this up, and it's essential for the Wit since they rely on Bon Mot.
    • Bon Mot: Even if you're not a Wit, Bon Mot is a great feat. One action to impose a minute-long -2 or -3 penalty to Will saves is very effective if you can follow it with other effects like spells or Demoralize.
  • Intimidation (Cha): Demoralize is a really good use of an Action in combat, even if you're not a Braggart.
    • Battle Cry: Start every fight by making one enemy Frightened and if you're a Braggart you gain Panache!
    • Intimidating Glare: Already a great feat, but absolutely essential for the Braggart due to their reliance on Demoralize.
    • Intimidating Prowess: I would only take this if you have 20 Strength, and that's unlikely for the Swashbuckler.
    • Scare to Death: Spend one Action to pick out the creature in the room the lowest Will save and kill them or send them fleeing. This doesn't seem very sporting, but it's simply too good to pass up if you're already built for Intimidation.
    • Terrified Retreat: If the target's level is lower than yours, there's probably more than one creature in the fight, and sending one or more of them fleeing will make the fight much easier for you. However, this can cause enemies in melee with you to flee, and you don't have Opportunity Attack or another Reaction which you use when enemies move out of reach, which means that you could accidently scare your target so much that you need to chase them to keep fighting them.
  • Lore (Int): Versatile, but vaguely defined and hard to rely upon. You likely won't have enough extra skill options to take Lore beyond what you get from your Background.
  • Medicine (Wis): You need Wisdom to compensate for your relatively poor Will saves and to boost your Perception, so you may have enough to make this work. It's also your only healing option short of resting or items.
  • Nature (Wis): You'll have the Wisdom to make this work passably, but I would leave it a Wisdom-based spellcaster if you have one in the party.
  • Occultism (Int):Intelligence is the closest thing that the Swashbuckler has to a dump stat.
  • Performance (Cha): Unless you went for Battledancer, there is little reason to take this. If you did go for Battledancer, consider the Acrobatic Performer skill feat so that you can focus on Acrobatics to get more out of your limites Skill Increases.
    • Virtuosic Performer: Choose Dance because it doesn't have an auditory or language component. The bonus scales to +2, so you might postpone this until you can increase your Proficiency in Performance to Master.
  • Religion (Wis): You'll have the Wisdom to make this work passably, but I would leave it a Wisdom-based spellcaster if you have one in the party.
  • Society (Int): Intelligence is the closest thing that the Swashbuckler has to a dump stat. This seems like it would make sense thematically, but I wouldn't go beyond Trained.
  • Stealth (Dex):The Swashbuckler is built around Dexterity and light armor, so you have everything that you need to be good at Stealth. You might even be your party's Scout, in which case this is absolutely essential.
    • Swift Sneak: Extremely helpful if you're sneaking in combat.
  • Survival (Wis): Only situationally useful.
  • Thievery (Dex): The Swashbuckler is built around Dexterity, so you have everything that you need to be good at Theivery. Used for both opening locks and disabling traps, no adventuring party is likely to succeed without it.

Feats

Swashbuckler Feats

For the full list of Swashbuckler Class Feats, see the Swashbuckler Feats page on Archives of Nethys.

1st Level
  • Buckler Expertise: You're spending a feat to make the AC bonus from bucklers as good as the AC bonus from shields. Unless you're absolutely struggling with Bulk, there's very little reason to use this. Why not just grab a shield? Why not use Nimble Dodge, which provides the same AC bonus as a Reaction rather than spending an Action every turn to maybe have the AC bonus matter.
  • Disarming Flair: Disarm is only situationall useful since not all enemies use weapons, and even in situations where it applies you need to roll a Critical Success to do anything that affects the target on their own turn.
  • Dueling Parry: A +2 Circumstance bonus matches the effects of a shield without the Bulk. But is 1 Bulk really worth a Class Feat? The real reason that you want this feat instead of using a shield is because your hand is free, which can enable you to do some other things, including some other Swashbuckler feats. Even so, Nimble Dodge is a better option you can get Dueling Dance at 10th level. Both the Fighter and the Swashbuckler get access to this Class Feat. The text is identical.
  • Flying Blade: This enables ranged swashbuckler builds. However, since you're limited to thrown weapons you'll need to get a Returning Rune so that you can afford to have a decent magic weapon also avoid spending half of your Actions drawing daggers. Unfortunately, you won't be able to afford that at first level.
  • Focused Fascination: Tempting for the Battledancer, this turns Perform into a weird sort of taunt mechanic with very limited and specific effects. However, it has some problematic limitations. First, ou can only use Focused Fascination when you use Perform+Fascinating Performance on a single target. Second, Fascinating Performance grants the target immunity to itself for an hour after the effect's 1-round duration wears off.
  • Goading Feint: A more defensive alternative to the normal Feint effects. The wording of the feat is intentionally worded so that you can't look for weird, game-breaking combinations with feats intended to work with the normal version of Feint, which is disappointing but probably a smart game design choice. Notably this doesn't override the effects of an ongoing Feint, so you could technically use both regular Feint and Goading Feint on the same target, though the short durations of the effects make it difficult to justify the Action cost to do so in most cases.
  • Nimble Dodge: +2 circumstance bonus to AC as a Reaction. That's the same bonus provided by Raise a Shield, Dueling Parry, and many similar effects, and the Swashbuckler's Reaction is considerably less useful at this level than an additional Action on your turn, especially since you won't get Opportune Riposte for another 3 levels and you can't get Attack of Opportunity until 2 levels after that. Even with Opportune Riposte and Opportunity Attack, this is still a more reliable and consistently effective use for your Reaction.

    If you're taking Swashbuckler Multiclass Archetype feats, this is porbably you go-to feat because it works equally well on literally any character that's not using a Shield or some other ability which grants a consistent Circumstance bonus to AC. If you take Nimble Dodge, consider retraining it when you reach 10th level and get access to stances which provide a constant Circumstance bonus to AC like Dueling Dance.

  • One for All: On its own, this feat isn't great. Aid isn't useful enough to spend an Action on your turn to maybe give an ally a bonus on a check. But it interacts really well with some other options.

    Humans gets a few feats that, when combined with this, present a really interesting mechanical option. Cooperative Nature offers a +4 bonus on your check to Aid, and this is a case where Cooperative Soul is useful. Between the two, you're considerably more likely to roll a Critical Success, and even if you don't you still get a Success. On its own that just guarantees a +1 bonus to your ally's check, but if you're a Wit that means that you can recharge Panache while also helping an ally, which might be more impactful than another Bon Mot, especially if you've already hit several enemies with Bon Mot.

    However, the wording specifically requires that you check meets or exceeds the numerical DC for a "Very Hard" check for your level, so you'll need to check page 503-504 of the Core Rulebook and look at table 10-5 for the base DC and add +5 to it (see table 10-6). These DCs are written to scale at a rate that you'll likely never be guaranteed succeed. At any given point you're likely to beat that DC about 25% of the time unless you have poured an unusually large number of Ability Boosts into Charisma, and succeeding one out of four time is absolutely not good odds. Take this feat because you want to make Aid a viable combat option, and consider the Panache a very occasional additional benefit.

  • You're Next: A great feat for any Intimidation build, but especially useful for the Braggart because of their reliance on Demoralize. Both the Rogue and the Swashbuckler get access to this Class Feat. The text is identical.
2nd Level
  • After You: Starting with Panache is a big advantage, but so is acting early in combat. Use this cautiously.
  • Antagonize: Spectacular for an Intimidation build with enough durability to survive a lot of attacks. The Frightened condition is a good debuff, but it normally wears off after a round or two and Demoralize gives the target immunity to your Demoralize for 10 minutes after you use it, so after a round or two of being debuffed the target goes back to normal and you're reduced to stabbing them. The Braggart can remove the temporary immunity, but that's only against one target. This allows you to spread Demoralize around, and force enemies to either remain at Frightened 1, run and hide, or attack you instead of your less-durable allies.
  • Charmed Life: This only works once per round since it uses your Reaction, but honestly that's enough. This will compete with Nimble Dodge and Opportune Ripose for the use of your Reaction, but a +2 bonus to a save is mathematically significant and you can use it literally any save with no limitation except that it uses your Reaction.
  • Finishing Follow-Through: Not essential, but this will happen frequently enough that it will feel satisfying and will save you a few Actions that you would normally need to spend to gain Panache after performing a Finisher.
  • Tumble Behind: Tumble Behind grants you Panache, making it an essential backup option for any Swashbuckler if your other options aren't working for whatever reason. Making a creature Flat-Footed on top of the existing effects of Tumble Through means that you get the benefits of Feint on top of regaining Panache and hopefully putting yourself into a better tactical position. Of course, if you're using Tumble Through you may be able to get into positiong to Flank, which makes the Flat-Footed effect redundant. Both the Rogue and the Swashbuckler get access to this Class Feat. The text is identical.
  • Unbalancing Finisher: Flat-Footed is a fine debuff, but there are so many ways to get it that it feels wasteful to give up Panache for it. Trip them, Grapple them, Feint, Flanking, or any number of other options can make a target Flat-Footed. Unless your party is heavily dependent on the Flat-Footed condition, this isn't a good choice. Even then, it probably won't replace Confident Finisher as your go-to Finisher option.
4th Level
  • Flamboyant Athlete: The Climb and Swim speeds are already really good. Those alone would likely bring this feat to Green, but that's not all that you get. Reducing your High Jump and Long Jump DCs effectivelly dramatically improves how high/far you can jump at low levels, and at high levels makes those checks nearly guaranteed. Since this effect reduces the DCs rather than granting a bonus, it works with Assurance, potentially allowing you High Jump and Long Jump great distances at little risk.

    However, until your skill bonus with Athletics improves considerably, Leap will get you just as far as Long Jump and High Jump, and weirdly Flamboyant Athlete actually widens this gap. For example: At level 4 with Assurance in Athletics and Flamboyant Athlete, you could Long Jump 16 feet guaranteed if you spent 2 Actions to do so. At the same level with Flamboyant Athlete you can Leap 15 feet as an Action with no check. If you have Panache, Vivacious Speed raises your speed above the 30-foot speed requirement to add another 5 feet to Leap, allowing you jump 20 feet, and then you can add Powerful Leap to add another 5 feet on top of that, bringing you to a total of 25 feet. You can't jump farther than your Speed with Leap or Long Jump, so having Panache to benefit from Vivacious Speed is going to be crucial if you want to jump insane distances.

  • Guardian's Deflection: Situational. If you spend a lot of time adjacent to your allies in melee this can be really impactful, but bunching up in melee isn't always a great option so you may spend a lot of time totally unable to use this feat. Both the Fighter and the Swashbuckler get access to this Class Feat. The text is identical.
  • Impaling Finisher: Situational by design, this allows you to capitalize on enemies positoning themselves adjacent to each other. If you ever see two enemies adjacent to each other, it's easy to set this up by using Tumble Through both to position yourself and to get Panache. Two targets for one Finisher means that you're potentially getting two very high-damage attacks out of a single Action, and you don't even need to worry about Multiple Attack Penalties unless you made an Attack beforehand. However, this only works in melee since you need to be adjacent to one of the targets, and obviously in single-enemy encounters this will be totally useless.

    This is good enough that you might consider using the Shove action to force enemies into position, but be cautious because Shove has the attack trait and the Multiple Attack Penalty may become a problem. Still, for a Gymnast that's an easy way to force enemies into position while also gaining Panache, and Shove allows you to remain adjacent to the target by Striding as part of the same Action.

    From a narrative perspective, there's some silliness which you need to ignore. Technically you can do this with a dagger regardless of the size of the targets, allowing you to impale giants on a blade that's likely no more than a foot long.

  • Leading Dance: Amusing, and definitely worth considering for the Battledancer. This is an easy replacement for the Shove Action both because it doesn't use a Strength-based skill and because it doesn't have the Attack trait so Multiple Attack Penalties and Finishers won't make it difficult to use. You could use this to position foes to be Flanked or to set up Impaling Finisher. You may even be able to use this to dance enemies into pits, off cliffs, etc.. As a battledancer I would definitely take this, but I don't think I could justify this for other swashbucklers.
  • Swaggering Initiative: This is objectively a good feat, but it's the same bonus as Incredible Initiative and your Class Feats are more important than your General Feats. The advantage of Swaggering Initiative over Incredible Initiative is that you get to Interact to draw a weapon as a Free Action. If you're not walking around with your weapon in your hand (which you should be doing anywhere that you expect to encounter violent opposition), that saves you an Action in the first turn of combat. But you can (and should) do a lot to avoid being surprised in most situations, and in those rare cases where you are ambushed, just spend the one Action and spen your Class Feat on something more impactful.
  • Twin Parry: The first indication that the Swashbuckler supports two-weapon fighting. Two-weapon fighting is a hard choice for the Swashbuckler because it conflicts with Finishers.
6th Level
  • Agile Maneuvers: The bonus is small, but that's not the biggest problem. The problem is juggling these Actions around a Finisher. Since all three have the Attack trait, you can't use them after a Finisher in the same turn, which is the only time when they would have a Multiple Attack Penalty. This is objectively useful if you're running around with Panache and not using it immediately to perform a Finisher, and it's an interesting option for characters taking Multiclass Archetype Feats, but even for the Gymanst Swashbuckler (the most likely user of this feat) this is a hard feat to benefit from.
  • Attack of Opportunity: This is the first option that the Swashbuckler gets to compel enemies to remain in melee with them, which is crucial for a front-line martial character who is likely replacing a fighter or an equivalent character in a party.
  • Combination Finisher: A good way to justify making a different Attack before performing a Finisher. Multiple Attack Penalties are huge, so do everything you can to minimize the penalty. Use an Agile weapon, and look for ways to reduce your target's AC like Feint or Trip. For the Gymnast this is absolutely essential since options like Trip will be your go-to means of regaining Panache, but this is still a spectacular option for other swashbucklers. Even with this feat with this feat, I don't recommend wasting a Finisher on your third Attack in a turn, but if you feel compelled to try it, be sure to use Confident Finisher so you're still guaranteed to get a little bit of damage even if you miss.
  • Precise Finisher: Confident Finisher is already great insurance, and adding this makes it even better. If you're making more than one Attack per turn and ending with a Finisher, or if you're facing enemies with high AC, Confident Finisher is a great way to guarantee a decent amount of damage even if it's on a third Attack in one turn. Of course, it might make more sense to save that Panache for your next turn and use that Action for something more impactful than a few d6's of damage.
  • Vexing Tumble: Similar in many ways to the Tumble Behind feat, but you don't move through enemies spaces and you don't trigger Reactions. When facing multiple foes in melee, this is a great way reposition yourself safely while also gaining Panache. In many cases this can (and possibly should) replace Tumble Through as your backup option for gaining Panache. However, unlike Tumble Behind you need a Critical Success to make other creatures Flat-Footed with Vexing Tumble.
8th Level
  • Bleeding Finisher: This is a massive amount of persistent damage. 3d6 persistent bleed, and it goes up to 4 at level 9, eventually maxing out at 6d6. Bleed damage doesn't work on every enemy, but it's works on a lot of them.
  • Dual Finisher: For a two-weapon fighting build this should be your go-to attack option. You get the Finisher bonus damage on both attacks, so you can do quite a bit of damage using a single Action. However, two-weapon fighting is still a profoundly difficult option for the Swashbuckler.
  • Flamboyant Cruelty: This would be interesting if the Swashbuckler had an easy way to apply any of these except Frightened, but you don't get one until Targetint Finisher 2 levels later, and even then you need to score a critical hit to make those effects last more then one round in order to get more than +1 or +2 to damage from this feat.
  • Nimble Roll: Charmed Life covers all three types of saving throws and it was available 6 levels ago. The added movement is neat, but it's a Stride with the Move trait so you provoke Reactions when you use this, potentially exposing yourself to more damage all so you can move 10 feet.
  • Stunning Finisher: Stunned is a great condition because it robs the target of Actions on their turn. This effect has the Incapacitation trait, so you don't want to use it on creatures that are higher level than you, but the vast majority of enemies you face will be your level or lower. The best use case for this is in fights against single foes of your own level because removing one Action from them tilts the action economy in your favor more than taking one action from a room full of 20 zombies or something like that.
  • Vivacious Bravado: If you're on the front lines as your party's Defender, you're going to be attacked a lot. In some cases you're going to be hit, so temporary hit points do a lot to keep you alive without eating precious resources like spell slots spent to heal you. However, using an Action for temporary hit points that last one turn is a hard ask. That same Action could be spent to Raise a Shield or to use a Parry weapon, and deflecting even one attack would likely save you from a similar amount of damage. This is a good option if you have a spare Action and nothing else to do with it, but in those cases you could Demoralize or do any number of other things.
10th Level
  • Buckler Dance: One Action to get a +1 Circumstance bonus to AC for the rest of the fight (+2 if you also take Buckler Expertise). Unless you're using Shield Block with your buckler, I would strongly consider taking Dueling Dance instead and giving up on bucklers entirely.
  • Derring-Do: This is insanely good. Many of the Action options to gain Panache have Critical Success effects, and rolling twice on your skill check makes it considerably more likely that you'll get that benefit, and dramatically reduces the possibility of failure. If you're using Assurance you'll want to stop, but remember that this only works when you have Panache so it doesn't work outside of combat.
  • Dueling Dance: One Action to get a +2 Circumstance bonus to AC for the rest of the fight. Both the Fighter and the Swashbuckler get access to this Class Feat. The text is identical.
  • Reflexive Riposte: This means potentially an extra attack every round, so be sure that your AC is as high as you can get it.
  • Targeting Finisher: The effects are good, but without a critical hit you'll need to continually reapply them because the duration only lasts until the end of your next turn.
12th Level
  • Cheat Death: Incredibly powerful. The fact that the Doomed condition only takes 10 minutes to wear off (rather than wearing off 1 point per day) means that you can use this repeatedly in the same fight, and the effects will wear off while the rest of your party Refocuses, treats their wounds, and looks for loot between fights. If you take this, strongly consider Diehard to raise your Dying threshold from 4 to 5.
  • Mobile Finisher: In many cases you'll spend one Action on your turn to gain Panache and one to perform a Finisher, which leaves you with a spare Action which you could use to Stride. This is a fine option, but it's really underwhelming at this level.
14th Level
  • Flamboyant Leap: If you invest enough feats into jumping, this can sometimes substitute for flight. Unfortunately, you can't use it in conjunction with Wall Jump or Cloud Leap. Of course, even with a ton of investment in jumping, and enemy can typically fly out of your jump range and render this feat useless. You need a better way to counter flight, and this probably isn't it.
  • Impossible Riposte: It's like the Monk's Deflect Arrows+Arrow Snatching feats, but it's one feat and it also works against spells. The attack does need to critically fail, unfortunately, but over the course of a character's career that's going to happen frequently enough that this is worth the feat. The reflected attack uses your own damage for whatever you would normally riposte with, so even if some level 1 wizard throws a Ray of Frost at you, you still deal damage from your +2 Striking Rapier with a flaming rune a racing stripe (that's not a thing, I'm being absurd to reinforce the point).
  • Perfect Finisher: It doesn't sound exciting, but the possibility of scoring a Critical Hit increases significantly and the possibility of missing decreases significantly. The additional damage from a Critical Hit, especially if your weapon has the Deadly trait (take a look at Deadly Grace, below). If you need a reliable pile of damage or if you want to fish for Critical Hits, this is a great option and should likely replace Confident Finisher as a nearly-guaranteed source of damage.
  • Twinned Defense: Single-weapon and weapon+buckler builds got their equivalent feat 4 levels ago. Both the Fighter and the Swashbuckler get access to this Class Feat. The text is identical.
16th Level
  • Deadly Grace: Not every swashbuckler will use a rapier, but it is the go-to option, and other Deadly weapons like the Filcher's Fork and the Starknife are great choices too. Doubling the effect of Deadly will add a huge amount of damage to your already incredible Critical Hits, and since Perfect Finisher came online 2 levels earlier you're going to roll a lot of those.
  • Felicitous Riposte: This makes your ripostes more reliable, which means more damage output. If you took Impossible Riposte, I would absolutely take this.
18th Level
  • Incredible Luck: Charmed Life is arguably the best thing that you can do with your Reaction, and adding a free reroll to it makes Charmed Life incomparably powerful.
  • Lethal Finisher: This is a really tempting option, but it's a huge gamble. The damage is objectively good; 12d6 damage on top of your normal Strike damage is great (though it's only 6d6 more than you can expect from other Finishers). However, there are two failure points. First, you need to hit with your Strike (normal for any Finisher), and then the target gets a Fortitude Save which determines how much damage they take.

    Compare this to Perfect Finisher. For the sake of arguement, let's say that scoring a a Critical Hit with Perfect Finisher is just as likely as the target failing their save against Lethal Finisher. If you score a Critical Hit with a +3 Greater Striking Rapier (the expectation at this level; Major Striking is a level 19 item), you'll deal a total of 3d8+3d6 damage before considering your Strength score, other runes, Deadly Grace, Critical Specialization effects, or any number of other things. That's slightly more than the additional 6d6 damage gained between each degree of success on the saving throw against Lethal Finisher, and when the more damage you add to your rapier the more things tilt toward Perfect Finisher. If you add Deadly Grace and upgrade to Major Striking, the gap becomes 8d8+4d6, which is greater than the gap between a Success and a Critical Failure against Lethal Finisher, at which point Lethal Finisher is unjustifiable.

    To summarize: On its own, Lethal Finisher is pretty good. But Perfect Finisher is considerably better, especially with other options that support it.

  • Parry and Riposte: The limitations on this are hard. This will work better if you're facing few or single enemies, but against crowds this is borderline useless.
20th Level
  • Inexhaustible Countermoves: Finally a good way to handle being outnumbered! If you take this, definitely make sure that you also took Impossible Ripose and Felicitous Riposte so that you can respond to ranged attacks, reach attacks, and spell attacks. You might also take Parry and Riposte because it's so grat against single foes, but it's not crucial.
  • Panache Paragon: An extra action is always welcome, and allowing you to use that Action to gain Panache is great. If you took Class Feats which offer additional options to gain Panache those won't work, but many of the default options are going to be your best option anyway.

General Feats

  • Diehard: Swashbucklers are typically on the front line of their parties, so you're going to take a lot of damage, and as a result you may find yourself dropping to 0 hit points frequently. This is especially crucial if you take Cheat Death.
  • Fleet: If you need more speed, get Panache and the bonus from Vivacious Speed will at least double this.
  • Incredible Initiative: Going first is always great. However, Swaggering Initiative provides the same bonus and also allows you to draw a weapon, so don't make the mistake of taking both.
  • Toughness: Swashbucklers already get a lot of hit points, but they also take a lot of damage so you want as many as you can possibly get.
  • Shield Block: Bucklers can be used with Shield Block, but their hardness and hit points are considerably lower than those of a regular shield, so doing so will quickly result in broken and destroyed bucklers. You'll likely be better served

Weapons

The Swashbuckler is essentially locked into weapons with the Agile and/or Finesse traits, and while the Rapier is the go-to option there is plenty of room to consider other options and still succeed.

Agile is tempting since Pathfinder 2e's martial characters often depend on making numerous Strikes in a turn, which leads to a growing Multiple Attack Penalty. However, the Swashbuckler's reliance on Finishers means that second or third attacks are a rarity so Agile is considerably less appealing than it usually is.

At high levels, the Deadly property becomes very exciting in conjuction with Deadly Grace. Gymnasts will find that weapons with the Trip and Shove properties are helpful since they're reliany on those Actions to gain Panache. Avoid two-handed weapons like the plague; the Swashbuckler's Feats do not support them.

  • Claw Blade: Similar to the Dagger and the Starknife, but you trade the ability to throw the weapon for a better Deadly die and the Disarm trait. If you're not throwing your Starknife they're roughly equivalent until you can pick up Deadly Grace at high level, so it's hard to justify investing feats to get access.
  • Dagger / Starknife: All the appeal of the Short sword, but you take a smaller hit die in exchange for the Thrown property and the Deadly property on the starknife. The Starknife is a better version of the Dagger, but I've listed the Dagger because a lot of players (including me) frequently forget that the Starknife exists.
  • Dogslicer: Roughly equivalent to the Shortsword, but you trade Versatile for Backstabber.
  • Elven Curve Blade: Uncommon. The Swashbuckler's only option with the Forceful trait. Personally I think Forceful is a waste on the Swashbuckler since Finishers are such a crucial tactical option, and the Swashbuckler's Class Feats don't support a two-handed weapon.
  • Filcher's Fork: Uncommon, but an absolutely stellar weapon. Agile, Backastebber Deadly, Finesse, and Thrown are a great combination of properties. The damage die is only d4, but if you can get easy access to this I would consider on par with the Rapier and the Starknife.
  • Gauntlet: A great backup weapon, it does as much damage as the Dagger or the Main-Gauche and has Agile, so it's great for second or third attacks in a turn.
  • Light Mace: With Agile and Finesse, the Light Mace is one of the Swashbuckler's only options for bludgeoning damage, and it's their only viable option with the Shove trait. That's not worth much on its own, but for the Gymnast that's
  • Main-Gauche: Trade the Dagger's throwing range for Disarm and Parry. Probably not a great choice since two-weapon fighting isn't a great option for the Swashbuckler. Get a shield instead.
  • Rapier: If you're only making one attack per turn (Finishers every turn!), the Rapier is a fine choice since the Agile property won't matter. The Deadly trait is always tempting, and d6 is the largest damage die you'll find aside from the Elven Curve Blade.
  • Sickle / Kukri: Trade the dagger's Thrown and Versatile properties for the Trip property. Trip can be very effective if you have the Strength to make it work reliably. Probably the Gymnast's go-to weapon option since you can get an item bonus to your Athletics check to Trip. Upgrade to the Kukri (which is Uncommon) to improve the damage die.
  • Scorpion Whip: Your only option for Reach, the Whip also has both Disarm and Twip. It's a great option for the Gymnast, matching the damage die of the Sickle and adding Reach. However, it's Uncommon.
  • Shortsword: Not fancy, but very effective. The biggest damage die you'll get with the Agile property, and Versatile is great for a class with so much dependence on weapon damage.
  • Spiked Chain: The traits and damage die are tempting, but the Swashbuckler's Class Feats do not support a two-handed weapon.
  • Wakizashi: Uncommon. Start with the Rapier, and drop its damage die one step to get Agile. This gives up a little bit of damage to benefit from the best traits of both the Shortsword and the Rapier, which is an interesting option if you're fishing for Critical Hits.

Armor

  • Buckler: Until you can pick up Buckler Dance, a buckler is strictly worse than a regular shield unless you need the ability to hold stuff in the same hand. You could also take a weapon with the Parry trait to get the same AC bonus. Avoid Shield Block; bucklers are very frail compared to shields.
  • Shield: Swashbucklers have no viable way to use two-handed weapon options, and between an Action spent on a Finisher and an Action spent to gain Panache, many swashbucklers will frequently find themselves with a spare Action to spend. Raise a Shield is a great option, and while using a full-sized shield may not feel very swahbuckler-y, it's a still a great option until 10th level when you can get Buckler Dance or Dueling Dance. Shield Block is tempting up to that point, but it's likely not worth the feat and the time spent repairing shields.
  • Explorer's Clothing: Once you get to 20 Dexterity at 10th level, consider trading in your Leather Armor for Explorer's Clothing to gain the Comfortable property.
  • Leather Armor: Probably your armor of choice until 10th level, at which point you might switch to Explorer's Clothing, but if you're meeting the Strength Threshold of 10 (which you should be) the Check Penalty should never be a problem. The only advantage which Explorer's Clothing provides at that point is the Comfortable property.

Archetypes

  • Acrobat: The Acrobat Dedication feat will automatically increase your Proficiency in Athletics at every level where you could increase it, saving you 3 Skill Increases. Graceful Leaper is tempting for the Gymnast Swashbuckler, and Tumbling Opportunist allows you to use Tumble Through (which gives you Panache) and Trip a creature using a signle Action.
  • Fighter: The Fighter has a lot to offer the Swashbuckler, even with low-level Class Feats. Double Slice offers Two-Weapon Fighting builds a crucial attack option which might make them good enough to compete with other swashbuckler builds.
  • Rogue: Twin Feint is tempting for Two-Weapon Fighting builds, but Sneak Attacker is a trap. The damage won't add up enough to justify the feats to get it since you're not making numerous Strikes.