Swashbuckler 5e Guide

Published on October 26, 2020, Last modified on November 17th, 2020

In this post, we will examine the different choices you will be presented with when leveling up your Swashbuckler in D&D 5e. We will be discussing everything from which ability scores to max out, to which races will give you the best stats (and everything in-between). This article will focus primarily on content from the Dungeon Master’s Guide and Player’s Handbook, but will also delve into some of the content in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything.

What is this guide?

This guide is meant as a deep dive into the Rogue Subclass, the Swashbuckler. You can find a full overview of the Rogue class here: DnD 5e Rogue.

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 is an OK option
  • 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 and options that are different from the parent class’ rating for races, backgrounds, and feats. This is to allow a streamlined view of the subclasses features and because the other options are discussed in the 5e Rogue Guide or other Subclass Guides.

Did you know?

D&D Beyond can help create your characters by making choices using a step-by-step approach. Full customization and control of your character, none of the flipping through hundreds of pages to reference obscure rules.

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.

Strengths

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.

Weaknesses

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.

Before You Start

Races

Check out our Guide to DnD Races for non-standard races. Keep in mind, most races and subraces are limited by the setting and source material chosen by the DM. Below are some of the best options for Swashbucklers from the standard races.

Elf: A +2 to DEX, Darkvision, and proficiency in the Perception skill. This is a great start for Swashbucklers

  • High Elf: 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 Elf: 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.

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.
  • Stout: +1 CON score increase is solid and the poison resistance is helpful. This subrace is mainly carried by the base Halfling stats.

Variant Human: +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.

Backgrounds

We cover the best background for Rogues in our 5e Rogue Guide, the only changes would be:

  • 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.
  • Sailor: Athletics is always a solid choice for rogues that want to climb to gain the high ground and perception is one of the most important skills in the game. This background goes to Sky Blue if you are playing in a campaign that heavily involves sailing.

Ability Scores

Ability Score Increases (ASI) at 4th, 8th, 10th, 12th, 16th, and 19th level.

Rogues are considered a SAD (single ability dependant) class, this means that most Rogues can do quite well by pumping their DEX and spreading the rest of their skill points as they so choose.

Because 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.

Swashbuckler Class Progression

1st Level

Hit Points: Refer to the 5e Rogue Guide

Saves: Refer to the 5e Rogue Guide

Proficiencies: Refer to the 5e Rogue Guide

Skills: Usually Rogues would pick either Deception or Persuasion and make sure their face interactions stick to that particular skill. Swashbucklers would certainly be the subclass to take both Deception and Persuasion if you were ever going to.

Expertise: Refer to the 5e Rogue Guide. Rogue’s pick up another Expertise at 6th Level.

Sneak Attack: Refer to the 5e Rogue Guide

Thieve’s Cant: Refer to the 5e Rogue Guide

2nd Level

Cunning Action: Refer to the 5e Rogue Guide

3rd Level

Rogueish Archetype: Swashbuckler

Source: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything

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.

5th Level

Uncanny Dodge: Refer to the 5e Rogue Guide

7th Level

Evasion: Refer to the 5e Rogue Guide

9th Level

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.

11th Level

Reliable Talent: Refer to the 5e Rogue Guide

13th Level

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.

14th Level

Blindsense: Refer to the 5e Rogue Guide

15th Level

Slippery Mind: Refer to the 5e Rogue Guide

17th Level

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.

18th Level

Elusive: Refer to the 5e Rogue Guide

20th Level

Stroke of Luck: Refer to the 5e Rogue Guide

Feats

We cover the best feats for Rogues in our 5e Rogue Guide, the only changes would be:

  • Actor: If you are lacking for a Bard, 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.
  • 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 HP over a campaign.
  • 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.
  • Mobile: This is one of those weird times that a feat becomes worse for a subclass. Fleeting Footwork already allows you to disengage against creatures you swung at this turn, so taking this feat for 10ft of extra movement and avoiding difficult terrain when dashing isn’t worth it.

Example Swashbuckler Build

1st Level:

  • Race: Lightfoot Halfing
  • Background: Sailor
  • Ability Scores: STR 8, DEX 15, CON 15, INT 8, WIS 8, CHA 15
  • Skill Proficiencies: Perception, Stealth, Persuasion, Deception
  • Equipment: Shortsword, short bow, burglar’s pack, leather armor, two daggers, and thieves’ tools
  • Expertise: Stealth, Persuasion
  • Sneak Attack
  • Thieves’ Cant

2nd Level:

  • Cunning Action

3rd Level:

  • Rogueish Archetype: Swashbuckler
  • Fleeting Footwork, Rakish Audacity

4th Level:

  • Feat: Magic Initiate
  • Cantrips: Booming Blade, Green Flame Blade
  • Add Spells: Find Familiar

5th Level:

  • Uncanny Dodge

6th Level:

  • Expertise: Deception, Perception

7th Level:

  • Evasion

8th Level:

  • ASI: +2 DEX (DEX 17)

9th Level:

  • Panache

10th Level:

  • ASI: +2 DEX (DEX 19)

11th Level:

  • Reliable Talent

12th Level:

  • ASI: +1 CHA, +1 DEX (DEX 20, CHA 16)

13th Level:

  • Elegant Maneuver

14th Level:

  • Blindsense

15th Level:

  • Slippery Mind

16th Level:

  • ASI: +2 CHA (CHA 18)

17th Level:

  • Master Duelist

18th Level:

  • Elusive

19th Level:

  • ASI: +2 CHA (CHA 20)

20th Level:

  • Stroke of Luck

Hope you liked the guide! If you have any questions or feel like we missed something for the Swashbuckler, go ahead and post a comment below. If you like our content subscribe to Arcane Eye!

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