Swashbuckler 5e Guide
Published on April 2, 2023
In this post, we will be examining the Swashbuckler rogue’s class features and how you can optimize your Swashbuckler rogue through choosing your race, background, ability scores, and feats.
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What is a Swashbuckler?
Swashbucklers are an interesting twist on Rogues. Their main subclass feature is the tweak to Sneak Attack, which allows Swashbucklers to apply their extra damage when dueling an enemy 1v1 rather than the original circumstances (advantage, an ally within 5ft, etc).
This allows Swashbucklers to be a bit more autonomous than a normal rogue. They can dive into combat, do massive damage on a target, then move away because of their Fancy Footwork ability. No more waiting in the shadows for one of your party members to engage an enemy before you rush in.
Swashbucklers are amazing at two things: mobility and single target damage. Their Fancy Footwork ability allows them to disengage from a target for free they made a melee attack against it. Combine this with their buffed sneak attack and Swashbucklers will commonly find themselves dancing around the battlefield, sneak attacking to their heart’s content.
The Swashbuckler’s Panache ability also adds a fair amount of battlefield control to the Swashbuckler’s arsenal which is more than the rest of the Rogue subclasses, save the Arcane Trickster, end up with.
As with most rogue subclasses, Swashbucklers tend to be a single target combatant. Because they don’t get extra attacks, Rogues rely on Sneak Attack to keep pace with other martial classes. Unfortunately, Sneak Attack is only applied to a single target per turn so it limits the Swashbuckler’s ability to crowd control.
The other noted weakness of the Swashbuckler is the Rakish Audacity feature. While good in theory, most Rogues don’t find a whole lot of trouble scoring Sneak Attack against enemies once per turn as long as they have another martial class at their party.
Swashbuckler 5e Guide Rating Scheme
This guide is meant as a deep dive into the Swashbuckler Rogue subclass. For a full overview of the Rogue class, check out our rogue 5e Guide.
For our full class guides, we use the following color rating scheme:
- Red isn’t going to contribute to the effectiveness of your character build at all
- Orange Situationally good, but a below-average option otherwise
- Green is a good option
- Blue is a great option, you should strongly consider this option for your character
- Sky Blue is an amazing option. If you do not take this option your character would not be optimized
For our subclass guides, we focus mainly on the Blue and Sky Blue options, because the other options are discussed in the parent guide or other subclass guides. We also discuss options that normally would be good for a typical build, but underperform when used in a subclass.
Did you know?
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Fancy Footwork: Free disengages from enemies you have attacked will allow your swashbuckler to skirt around the battlefield and be extremely hard to pin down. This is a super fun and super great ability.
Rakish Audacity: Their Rakish Audacity allows Swashbucklers to add their CHA modifier to their Initiative roll. Due to their long list of Proficiencies and the Expertise ability, Rogues are usually considered a “skill monkey” class. This means that they are quite likely to have a solid CHA modifier to help be the face for the party.
This feature also buffs the Rogue’s Sneak Attack ability. Instead of having to have an ally within 5ft OR have advantage on the roll, Swashbucklers can use their sneak attack feature whenever they are within 5ft of the enemy and there are no other creatures within 5ft of you.
The wording is quite confusing, but essentially Swashbucklers get sneak attack if:
- You have advantage on the attack roll
- The target you are attacking has an enemy within 5ft of it
- You are attacking a target and no other creatures are within 5ft of you
Long story short, there are very few opportunities that Swashbucklers will ever NOT have sneak attack against a target.
Panache: Panache is an outstanding ability. Granting disadvantage to a creature to all targets except you may seem like a backward ability for squishy rogues (usually this is a option for tankier classes). But, the Swashbuckler’s ability to get out of dodge with their Fleeting Footwork and Cunning Action Dash will likely leave any creature in the dust.
Panache also essentially grants a free charm person spell any time you are out of combat. Talk about value for a subclass feature.
Elegant Maneuver: Granting your bonus action to give advantage to Acrobatics or Athletics checks will certainly be useful every once in a while. Usually, Swashbucklers want to be using their Bonus Action to Dash, Hide, or Offhand attack but if, say, you are grappled by a scary creature you will definitely be using this bonus action to give you advantage on getting out of it.
Master Duelist: This is kind of a last-ditch effort ability. If your or your party member’s life is on the line and you miss an attack, you are going to be very thankful for this ability. Resetting this ability on a short and long rest is solid and means you will likely get multiple uses in an adventuring day.
The Basics of Playing a Swashbuckler
Are you looking to engage in daring adventures with sword-swishing bravado? Swashbucklers are rogues who weave in and out of combat as they use their sword skills and beguiling charisma to best foes.
They are an interesting take on rogues, who usually need allies or the advantage of being unseen to land deadly strikes. Thanks to Rakish Audacity, Swashbucklers can Sneak Attack when facing off against enemies one-on-one, even without advantage or an ally nearby. This and their abilities to dodge retaliatory strikes and draw enemies ire makes them play more as a martial character then one that has to fight from the shadows.
That’s not to say that Swashbucklers can’t be sneaky. They still have awesome Stealth thanks to their DEX skills and ability to get an Expertise in Stealth. In reality, Swashbucklers can have even more utility than regular rogues because of their propensity to stack into CHA instead of CON.
Swashbuckler rogues can make the most out of their ability to trigger Sneak Attack more easily by maximizing two things:
- Fishing for advantage to make crits more likely.
- Looking for ways to get more attacks in, which will make it more likely to land an attack each round.
Because Swashbucklers get free Disengages from creatures they attack and don’t need to Hide so they can get advantage on attacks and Sneak Attack, they can choose to offhand attack consistently rather than use their Cunning Action.
Swashbucklers that want to lean into a more offensive role will:
- Maximize their dual wielding abilities with the Dual Wielder feat and by picking up the Two-Weapon Fighting Style either with Fighting Initiate or multiclassing into fighter.
- Find ways to consistently get advantage (before Master Duelist kicks in at 17th level). This can easily be done with a familiar from the find familiar spell that you can pick up via Magic Initiate.
Swashbucklers are also looking for ways to trigger opportunity attacks so they can net more Sneak Attacks. Sentinel doesn’t work well because Swashbucklers like to draw enemy fire and stay out of range. This means that multiclassing into fighter for three levels so you can pick up the Battle Master subclass, and therefore the Riposte maneuver, is your best bet.
Rogues? Tanking!? Hear me out. Tanks are all about reidrecting attacks away from your allies. Instead of traditionally doing this with lots of hit points and heavy armor, Swashbucklers achieve this with drawing enemy attacks then dancing out of the way; When you combine Fancy Footwork with Panache, you can make an enemy have disadvantage against anyone but you and kite them around the battlefield while still landing strikes.
These builds might want to focus less on the offhand attack style discussed previously and may want to invest more resources in their defense. This could come in the form of taking Magic Initiate to get booming blade so they can prevent enemies from following them. It might also come in the form of a fighter multiclass to get some more hit points, a shield proficiency, Action Surge, and a fighting style that can boost AC.
These builds will also pretty much need to take an expertise in Persuasion as it greatly increases their efficacy of Panache.
Maxing for Swashbuckler
Rogues aren’t known for their defensive capabilities but Swashbucklers specialize in staying out of harms way, rather than blocking attacks.
- You start with light armor proficiencies, which means studded leather is your best bet.
- When you max your DEX, hopefully no later than 8th level, you’ll have a decent AC of 17.
The most optimal damage output for Swashbucklers is by maxing their DEX, grabbing the Two-Weapon Fighting Style, and the Dual Wielder feat. This build will likely come fully online by 5th level if you dip into the fighter class instead of relying on the Fighting Initiate feat.
Seeing as we’re investing so heavily in our dual wield build, we won’t get 20 DEX until 11th level. But, we’ll be dual wielding rapiers and hopefully outputting 2d8 + 2xDEX + Sneak Attack per round. At 5th level we’ll have +3 to DEX, which averages out to 15 damage (9 + 6) before Sneak Attack.
This more or less keeps up with the output of a Sharpshooter build and you don’t even need to take the -5 to your attacks each round and will outpace Sharpshooter as our DEX goes up.
Swashbucklers are rogues and therefore gain Ability Score Increases (ASI) at 4th, 8th, 10th, 12th, 16th, and 20th level. Because their attack rolls, damage, AC, Stealth, and Sleight of Hand all depend on DEX, it’s the Swashbuckler’s highest priority.
Seeing as the Swashbuckler’s Rakish Audacity feature allows them to add CHA to their Initiative, it becomes a higher priority to buff. The suggested order of ASI is DEX > CHA > CON.
STR: Leave the heavy lifting to your friends.
DEX: Swashbucklers, like every rogue subclass, love DEX. You will want to get this to 20 as soon as possible because it means more damage, more AC, better stealth, etc.
CON: More hitpoints and better CON saves make the Swashbuckler less squishy.
INT: Let the wizard be the smart one, you’re the stabby one.
WIS: Can help with WIS saves and Perception.
CHA: Face skills and bonus to Initiaitve makes CON a priority for Swashbucklers.
Best Races for Swashbuckler 5e
If you’re using the Player’s Handbook to create your Swashbuckler, consider the following options:
Elf: A +2 to DEX, Darkvision, and proficiency in the Perception skill. This is a great start for Swashbucklers.
- High: Beneficial here is longbow proficiency and a free cantrip from the wizard spell list. The cantrip could be minor illusion, mage hand, or prestidigitation, or even better, green-flame blade and booming blade.
- Wood: Wood elves are your stereotypical choice for Rogues. Everything here is useful: WIS bonus (for Perception), longbow proficiency, and the ability to hide in nature. The biggest benefit here is the additional movement speed. Swashbucklers live and die on their ability to move freely through the battlefield. More movement means more opportunity to get in, do massive damage to a high-value target, and get out.
Half-Elf: The +2 CHA bonus and a +1 to DEX is a great starting ASI. On top of that, Darkvision, Fey Ancestry, and two skill proficiencies make Half-Elves very appealing.
Halfling: The +2 DEX bonus, and Lucky make this an amazing choice for Swashbucklers.
- Lightfoot: +1 CHA will help with face skills and, because of Rakish Audacity, help with initiative rolls. The ability to hide behind larger party members will allow more situations to roll with advantage in combat.
- Variant: +1 DEX and +1 CHA is a decent base for Swashbucklers. The free feat and skill is another huge benefit of going with the Variant Human. Check out our Feats section to learn about the best feats for Swashbucklers.
If you’re looking for more options for your Swashbuckler outside of the standard ones offered in the Player’s Handbook, or if you’re using the Customize Your Origins optional rule from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, here are some solid options:
Tabaxi: Tabaxi were basically made to be played with the rogue class and being an Swashbuckler doesn’t change this. Skill proficiencies, climbing speed, and Darkvision all fit in perfectly. To top it all off, combining the your Cunning Action to Dash as a bonus action and the tabaxi’s Feline Agility means that a character could move up to 120 feet in a single turn while still able to make an attack!
Best Backgrounds for Swashbuckler
- Entertainer: Acrobatics is always a good skill to have for Swashbucklers because they will likely be doing parkour at least once per combat. The Performance skill can make up for the lack of a Bard in the party and infiltration to important events but isn’t great for much else.
- Pirate: Athletics, Perception, and a very flavorful background. This is a great background for the unsavory swashbucklers.
- Sailor: Athletics, Perception, and a very flavorful background. This is a great background if your swashbuckler toed the line and kept to the straight and narrow.
- Charlatan: Deception and Sleight of Hand are two skills that Swashbucklers already have access to and are great skills to have. Proficiency with forgery and disguise kits will also come in useful.
- Criminal: Proficiency with Stealth and Deception can help your ability to sneak around and lie, which is right up the Swashbuckler’s alley. The Thieves’ Tools proficiency is redundant.
- Urchin: Sleight of Hand and Stealth are two perfect skill proficiencies for Swashbuckler because of Mage Hand Legerdemain. Combined with a perfect tool proficiencies in the Disguise kit and a redundant Thieves’ Tools pickup, and you’ve got yourself a very tempting option of Swashbucklers.
Best Feats for Swashbuckler 5e
- Actor: If you are lacking a bard in your party, or just want to be Mission Impossible-style amazing with infiltration this is a solid feat to pick up. Not only will it boost your Swashbuckler's CHA (and therefore initiative), but it will also give you advantage on Deception and Performance checks when trying to pass yourself off as someone else AND mimic other people's speech patterns.
- Crossbow Expert: Because Swashbucklers can Disengage for free when you make an attack, they don't need their bonus action for Cunning Action as much. This means you're free to make more offhand attacks to boost damage. The hand crossbow is a decent d6 damage and can be used at range or melee thanks to this feat.
- Defensive Duelist: While rogues already have access to Uncanny Dodge, Defensive Duelist allows you to parry like the best sword masters out there. It's also better to not be hit at all, rather than take half damage.
- Dual Wielder: Because Swashbucklers can Disengage for free when they make an attack, they don't need their bonus action for Cunning Action as much. This means you're free to make more offhand attacks to boost damage.
- Elven Accuracy: A half-feat that can boost DEX is already off to a gppd start. The feats effect of granting “mega advantage” will be awesome for never missing when you approach from unseen or use Steady Aim to gain advantage on your attacks. The fact that this is limited to the elf race isn’t a huge issue because of the elf’s synergies with this build.
- Fighting Initiate: Good for picking up Archery, Dueling, Defense, or Two-Weapon Fighting, whichever suits your playstyle best.
- Inspiring Leader: Swashbucklers love their CHA. If you're able to give your party a rousing speech each Short or Long rest, this can equate to tons of hit points over a campaign.
- Lucky: Lucky is rarely not useful and is especially amazing on Swashbucklers because of how many important skill checks they'll be making.
- Magic Initiate: Being able to pick up a cantrip and a 1st level spell is so insanely good for the Swashbuckler. Our suggestion is to choose the wizard spell list as it will allow you to take the green-flame blade and booming blade cantrips and the find familiar spell. Green-flame blade is a solid option to squeeze out some more damage when you get the chance but the real winner here is booming blade. Swashbuckler's Fancy Footwork allows them to move away after taking a weapon attack, so you can move in, attack, and move out without provoking an opportunity attack. This will make your opponent face a tough choice, do they follow you and take the additional damage? Or just let you escape? Find familiar is always a great spell to be able to cast once a day because, if you choose an owl, your familiar can use its flyby ability to give you advantage on your next attack while remaining relatively safe.
- Piercer: Works well for extra damage output for rapier/ranged builds.
- Sharpshooter: Even though Swashbucklers want to be in melee combat, this is still a great damage boost for ranged builds.
Multiclass Options for Swashbuckler
Swashbucklers are great candidates for multiclassing because they play more of a martial playstyle than other rogues. They also can easily get access to Sneak Attacks without having to lean too hard into being ‘rogue-like.’
Because Swashbucklers stack into CHA, a bard dip is a great way to pick up spells, more proficiencies, Bardic Inspiration, and maybe even a subclass. For cantrips, you can’t go wrong with vicious mockery and mage hand. For spells, dissonant whisper, cure wounds, healing word, disguise self, or faerie fire are good choices.
Two levels can get you Jack of All Trades, which is useful if you want your Swashbuckler to be a skill monkey. a three-level dip can get you a subclass and 2nd level spells, but your mileage will depend on what level your campaign is going up to.
A one-level dip gives you a Fighting Style. Defense, Dueling, and Two-Weapon Fighting are all good for Swashbucklers, so pick whichever best fits your build. You also get proficiencies for all armor and shields. With your boosted DEX, you won’t want to choose medium or heavy armor unless you find mithral splint or plate. The +2 from the shield is useful if you want to go more of a tank style than a duel wielder. You also gain some self-healing with Second Wind.
A two-level investment gets you Action Surge, which can be extremely useful when you want to use Panache and attack in the same round.
Further investment into a fighter is going to depend on what level your campaign is going up to. Picking up the Battle Master subclass will net some awesome maneuvers, specifically Riposte which can net extra Sneak Attacks per round.
Swashbuckler 5e Build Example
Sources Used in This Guide
- BR: Basic Rules
- : Bigby Presents: Glory of the Giants
- SotDQ: Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen
- ERLW: Eberron: Rising from the Last War
- EEPC: Elemental Evil Player’s Companion
- EGtW: Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount
- FToD: Fizban's Treasury of Dragon
- GGtR: Guildmasters' Guide to Ravnica
- MotM: Monsters of the Multiverse
- MToF: Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes
- MOoT: Mythic Odyessys of Theros
- PAitM: Planescape: Adventures in the Multiverse
- PHB: Player's Handbook
- SAiS: Spelljammer: Adventures in Space
- SCoC: Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos
- SCAG: Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide
- TCoE: Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything
- TTP: The Tortle Package
- WBtW: The Wild Beyond The Witchlight
- VRGtR: Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft
- VGtM: Volo's Guide to Monsters
- XGtE: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything