“You are better than I am,” Inigo admitted.
“So it seems. But if that is true why are you smiling?”
“Because,” Inigo answered, “I know something you don’t know.”
“And what is that?” asked the man in black.
“I’m not left-handed,” he said tossing his rapier into his right hand.
—The Princess Bride
Table of Contents
What is the Swashbuckler 5e Subclass?
Source: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything
To understand the Swashbuckler class, it’s good to know what “Swashbuckler” actually means. Swashbucklers refer to a specific archetype of adventurer or swordsman. These types of characters are usually arrogant or enjoy showing a bit of flair when they fight others.
The term Swashbuckler even refers to this, with “Swash” being an old term description for someone with “swagger” and buckler referring to short rounded shields that would be strapped to their arms.
In essence, these were characters who were skilled swordsmen who liked to show off.
Some examples of the Swashbuckler archetype in pop culture are:
- Captain Jack Sparrow – Pirates of the Caribbean
- The Bride – Kill Bill
- Inigo Montoya – The Princess Bride
- Violet Song – Ultraviolet
Swashbuckler Ability Scores
When rolling up a new Swashbuckler character, most of their ability scores will be the same as any other Rogue.
First and foremost is Dexterity. It’s going to be your primary Ability Score. Dexterity is going to affect your ability to hit targets and deal damage since Swashbucklers will primarily use Finesse weapons to deal damage and sneak attack.
Next up in priority are both Charisma & Constitution. Charisma affects a few of the Swashbuckler’s abilities, and if you’re creating a confident fighter with swagger, you have to be a little bit charismatic. Constitution is always needed for melee fighters since it’s going to determine your maximum HP.
Now we’re getting into the less useful ability scores or ability scores that don’t really affect anything the Swashbuckler does.
Intelligence & Wisdom are your mid-tier dump stats. They’re not particularly important, but they do affect saving rolls.
Finally, the ability score that is a complete dump stat to a Swashbuckler is Strength. Put your lowest score here. You don’t need it at all since you’re basically replacing everything with Dexterity using Finesse weapons.
Swashbuckler Abilities & Skills
Like all subclasses the Swashbuckler gains new abilities and skills when they choose the subclass and as they level up. They are:
- Fancy Footwork
- Rakish Audacity
- Elegant Maneuver
- Master Duelist
One of the first abilities the Swashbuckler gains with its subclass is Fancy Footwork. This can negate an enemy’s opportunity attacks against the Swashbuckler for the rest of their turn.
Whenever the Swashbuckler makes an attack against a target (doesn’t have to hit), the target cannot make any opportunity attacks against the Swashbuckler for the rest of the turn.
This basically means a Rogue can stab an opponent and moonwalk right out of range while shooting finger guns, and there’s nothing that they can do to stop them.
It’s an excellent ability that lets the Rogue move in and out of combat without getting locked up into a melee slugfest.
Player: I rolled a “1” on my spot check, what do I notice about the Rogue?
DM: The Audacity…
Seriously though, the Rogue Swashbuckler is all about their swagger. What’s the point of beating an enemy if you don’t look good doing it?
Rakish Audacity is another of the core abilities of the Swashbuckler and it does two things.
- Bonus to Initiative
- Alternate Sneak Attack requirements
Swashbucklers can now add their Charisma bonus to their initiative rolls. Cool… It’s not that exciting, but every little bit helps.
The cool part about Rakish Audacity is actually the alternate requirements for their Sneak Attack.
Swashbucklers can still use their Sneak Attack just like any other Rogue, but they also can use their Sneak Attack if you are within 5ft of the target and there are no other creatures within 5ft of the Swashbuckler.
You don’t need to have Advantage on your attack rolls to use your Sneak Attack in this instance, but if you have Disadvantage on the attack you cannot use your Sneak Attack.
This means that whenever you attack an enemy 1-on-1 you turn it into a spectacle and can constantly hit them with your sneak attack damage.
That’s absolutely brutal and one of their better abilities.
The Swashbuckler at level 9 becomes even more confident in their abilities and charm with the Panache skill.
Panache has 1 of 2 effects depending on if the target is hostile or not. Either way, the Swashbuckler rolls a Charisma (Persuasion) check vs. the targets, Wisdom (Insight), and the target must understand the language the Swashbuckler is speaking in and hear them.
Panache acts like a taunt buff. If the Swashbuckler succeeds on their Charisma check, the target basically is so annoyed with the Swashbuckler that they have to attack them.
The target has Disadvantage on all attack rolls against anyone other than the Swashbuckler and cannot make opportunity attacks against anyone other than the Swashbuckler either.
It sounds silly that being annoying to an enemy is useful, but it’s great for helping out players locked into melee combat. After using Panache, they’ll be able to simply walk away from the target without fear of any opportunity attacks.
If the Charisma check succeeds and the target isn’t hostile, it acts like a charm spell. It’s non-magical, so your character is actually just charming.
As a bonus action, the Swashbuckler can now gain Advantage on their next Dexterity (Acrobatics) or Strength (Athletics) check.
Elegant Maneuver is useful, but not the most exciting skill, especially for a level 13 ability.
The final Swashbuckler ability all but guarantees a hit at least once per rest period. If you miss, you can reroll an attack, but with Advantage instead. That’s 3d20s to get your attack roll in.
This is a handy ability, and you’ll be using it every chance you get.
Best Species/Races for Swashbuckler
With the new variant rules introduced in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, there are now more choices than ever and you can customize your ability scores.
Anything that gives you a bonus to Dexterity with a secondary bonus to Charisma will be a good choice for a Swashbuckler.
There are a few character races that do have some decent bonuses for Swashbucklers.
Fairies can fly and have high dexterity which adds a whole new dimension of movement to their abilities. They’re small creatures, but they’ll be able to pack a punch.
High Elves are also a good choice. They get a bonus to both Dexterity and Charisma as well as several spells like Booming Blade that work well with the Swashbuckler subclass.
Best Feats for Swashbuckler
This feat is great for avoiding attacks. It requires Finesse weapons, but as a Swashbuckler, you should always be using Finesse weapons anyway. It basically adds your proficiency bonus to your AC every time you’re attacked.
Dual Wielder is great for those of you planning on creating a dual-wielding Swashbuckler. It grants a +1 AC and the ability to use a non-light weapon in either hand.
This allows you to dual-wield Rapiers. If you’re planning on optimizing a dual-wielding Swashbuckler, then this is the way to go.
Rapiers deal 1d8 and have the Finesse property, so you’ll still be able to add your Dexterity modifier to everything, and you’ll still be eligible to use your Sneak Attack while using Rapiers.
Inspiring Leader grants temporary hit points to allies and is dependent on your Charisma ability modifier. Since your Swashbuckler should already have a decently high Charisma, this is a good way to add some survivability to your character.
Rogues are already proficient with Light Armor, so the only real benefit is the added Dexterity. It’s not great, but it’s not the worst.
I really like the Lucky Feat, and it goes so well thematically with the Swashbuckler.
It basically lets you reroll d20s 3 times per long rest. Combine this with the Swashbuckler’s other abilities to force rerolls and you can basically fudge the dice to whatever you want.
Whenever you’re facing off against spellcasters, it’s always a good idea to get in close and beat them up quickly before they can cast their big spells, and Mage Slayer makes this much easier to do.
How to play a Swashbuckler
Swashbucklers can fill several different party roles, but they will primarily be damage dealers, and if they so choose the party “face”.
During combat, character positioning is key to effectively playing as a Swashbuckler and luckily they have quite a few different abilities to move around the battlefield.
Their Fancy Footwork ability can easily allow them to get behind enemy lines. Every time they make an attack against a target, they’ll negate any opportunity attacks that would be made from disengaging.
You can run at a wall of enemies, stab them, and then use the Rogue’s Cunning Action to continue moving past their defenses and end up in the back line. That’s a huge advantage.
Because the Swashbuckler can use their Sneak Attack without needing Advantage when nobody else is nearby you’re going to want to isolate opponents one at a time. This is why they make excellent duelists.
Their Panache skill is key for dueling. When used against enemies they are basically forced to attack the Swashbuckler. They don’t have to, but it ruins their attacks if they don’t.
The Swashbuckler can stand at the edge of the battlefield luring out enemies with their Panache skill and dispatching them one at a time, just like old school Kung Fu movies.
Meanwhile, you can get tank characters to hold the line and gatekeep any enemies that would interrupt the duel.
Finesse Weapons are going to be your friend, and the Rogue class is one of the best if you plan on Dual Wielding Finesse weapons.
To show you how much potential damage you can do, a Dual Wielding Swashbuckler at level 3 with Rapiers can potentially deal 5 – 34 damage every single turn and simply walk in and out of combat. All while never triggering an opportunity attack.
The Face of the Party
As a character that relies on Charisma, there’s always the pressure of having your character be the Party Face. This basically means you’re the one that’s going to be doing the talking and the negotiating when it comes to NPCs.
This isn’t really a big deal, but if you don’t like playing characters that have an invested interest in out-of-combat options you’ll want to talk with your party. Otherwise, you’ll end up as a bunch of murder hobos.
Optimizing a Swashbuckler
Before building your Swashbuckler, you’ll want to decide whether or not you want to Dual Wield or use a single-handed weapon and shield.
Either option has its advantages, but it’s entirely up to your playing style. Dual Wielding is a bit flashier and adds more damage potential, but a sword and shield are still an awesome way to go.
If you want to use a weapon that’s not a Rapier, I would suggest talking with your DM to come up with a variant of the weapon you want to use so that it can have the Finesse property.
Things like spears or glaives do not have Finesse, but there are some really cool character archetypes you can create with different weapons.
Otherwise, every Swashbuckler basically is going to be some variant of Zorro. A good compromise is to simply give it the same stats as a Rapier (1d8 & Finesse) to make it more appropriate.
Finally, there are a few different races/species that offer limited flight like the Owlin or Fairies. Having a flying advantage takes the Swashbuckler’s maneuverability to new heights.
Swashbuckler 5e FAQs
Are Swashbuckler Rogues good?
Rogue Swashbucklers are excellent damage dealers, and the Swashbuckler’s ability to consistently use their Sneak Attack damage can add to their damage-dealing abilities.
What race is best for Swashbuckler?
Any race or species that grant a bonus to Dexterity or Charisma make excellent Swashbucklers. High Elves, in particular, make some of the best Swashbucklers and they’ll have access to the Booming Blade spell which can increase their damage-dealing potential further.
What is the advantage of a Swashbuckler 5e?
One of the best advantages of the Swashbuckler Subclass is the alternate Sneak Attack requirements. Whenever they are fighting an enemy 1-on-1 with nobody else around, they can use their Sneak Attack every single round which adds a ton of potential damage.
Before starting GameCows with his wife Kendra, he used to teach English Language Arts in the US. He combined his love of gaming with education to create fun game-based learning lessons until he eventually decided to run GameCows with Kendra full-time. He’s known for pouring over rulebooks in his spare time, being the rule master during game night, and as the perma DM in his DnD group. Bryan loves board games, writing, traveling, and above all his wife and partner in crime, Kendra.