Swashbuckler 5e Guide

Published on October 26, 2020, Last modified on May 19th, 2022

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 this guide?

This guide is meant as a deep dive into the rogue subclass, the Swashbuckler.

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, 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?

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.


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.

Before You Start


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.

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-Elfs 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.
  • 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.


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.
  • 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.

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


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.
    • Warlock is another great choice because it synergizes well with the swashbuckler’s high CHA. You get to pick up Booming Blade, Eldritch Blast, and Hex, all of which are great spells for the swashbuckler.
  • 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

Other Rogue Subclass Guides

Sources Used in This Guide

Mike Bernier

Mike Bernier is the lead content writer and founder of Arcane Eye. Outside of writing for Arcane Eye, Mike spends most of his time playing games, hiking with his girlfriend, and tending the veritable jungle of houseplants that have invaded his house. He is the author of Escape from Mt. Balefor and The Heroes of Karatheon. Mike specializes in character creation guides for players, homebrewed mechanics and tips for DMs, and one-shots with unique settings and scenarios. Follow Mike on Twitter.

25 thoughts on “Swashbuckler

  1. Was thinking about making a Swashbuckler multiclassed with College of Swords bard to proper zone into being a swave mouthy sword figther 🙂

    1. College of Swords certainly has a good thematic fit, but it’s class features lack luster so I’d rather go with one of the other Bard sub-classes. If you want to emphasis your mouthy theme, go with College of Lore to pick up Cutting Words and more proficiencies never hurt. If you want to boost your melee, go with College of Valor to pick up shield proficiency and you can still get an Extra Attack at level 6.

  2. Using Magic Initiate to pick up Wizard spells seems like a poor choice, as INT is typically a dump stat and you say the primary purpose is to get the cantrips Green Flame & Booming Blade. Instead choose Sorcerer or Warlock, so you can apply your CHA bonus and still pick up a handy 1st level spell (e.g Shield or Absorb Elements). Yes you loose access to Find Familiar, but you already say the Swashbuckler will almost always be able to sneak attack, so the value of a familiar to Help is minimal.

    Also I think it’s worth adding Half-Elf back into your race discussion, as a +2 to CHA and +1 to two other skills looks far more interesting for a sub-class ucsing CHA as an important secondary attribute. One can easily start the game with 16’s in DEX, CON, and CHA. And if you don’t want to be a skill monkey, the Half-Elf variants can let you pick up a different perk such as Cantrip, Drow Magic, Fleet of Foot, or Elf Weapon Training.

    1. Thanks for the comments Cannae! We’ve adjusted the Magic Initiate to include some good Warlock choices and added in the Half-Elf to the races section 🙂

  3. If you take the Magic Initiate (Warlock) you can take Booming Blade and Eldritch Blast, which key off of your Charisma.

    Not a lot of level 1 spells are worth it though.

    Half-Elf does make a pretty good Swashbuckler, but then Half-Elves make pretty good everything, especially charisma based characters.

    1. Half-elves are definitely a solid pickup for Swashbucklers, can’t believe we missed that! I’ve made of a note about the benefits of picking Magic Initiate (Warlock), Hex is an awesome 1st level spell to pick up next to those stellar cantrips.

  4. Thank you for this great article! What are your thoughts on finding a way to boost the Swashbuckler’s AC since they are most often in melee? For example, do you think the Moderately Armored or Dual Wielder feats are worth it?

    1. AC is nice, but Swashbucklers are amazing when played with a hit-and-run strategy thanks to Fancy Footwork. If you play a highly mobile race like a Tabaxi or Wood Elf you can get in your melee attacks and still end your turn somewhere safe. Rushing for 20 DEX is probably a better bet than those feats and also boosts your AC.

  5. I really like to pick up a single level of Fighter at 4th level also. Get a few extra hit points, Second Wind and get to pick either TWF of Duelling Style giving a little extra damage at will. I think the fighter multiclass also fits the theme well.

  6. Pardon me if this is a duplicate post please use this one . I love your guide. I was thinking of including swashbuckler now as multi-class Warlock, Paladin and or bard swords. They would be a dual wielder and a paladin of ellistraee. I’m willing to multi with three classes because I think it would be interesting to have so many options like a true bard. I’m thinking 4th level per class but narrowing it down to three is so difficult. thoughts?

    1. Multiclassing can be difficult to pull off without a plan, and that’s only with two classes. Even with two classes you are seriously delaying some of the character defining things you get (such as extra attacks).

      If you are starting at a high level, try out your idea with three classes. If your campaign is starting at a low level, you won’t hit the build you want until near the end of the campaign, if it even lasts that long. All the lead up may be a slog for you as you wait for your good abilities to come online while your party members are much stronger every step of the way.

      1. I concur. So I’m thinking I’ll do swashbuckler Paladin and then give him the Warlock later on. I think the swashbuckler roughly takes care of The Bard and the Warlock takes care of the sorcerer possibility. Hopefully I roll a bunch of odd Dice and I can use feats to dip into the spell casting like magic initiate. Swashlock!!! Thanks for the discussion

  7. Hey guys I chose varient human and the sailor background. I opted for the feat at first level and chose tavern brawling( if that’s the name) he isn’t really high in charisma but has a high strength and dext and highish constitution. I’m thinking he will love to sneak attack and has high stealth and athletics. Best is the ability to grapple as a bonus action. Do you think this is an alright sounding build? Brawling goes very well with Rouge swashbuckling and sailor. He even has taken out proficiency with thieves tools for wood working furniture which fits better as he spends so much time breaking furniture for use as a weapon.

    1. Sounds like a fun build for combat and role-play! Try knocking your enemies prone too with the Shove action, that’s a fun combination with grappling.

  8. Love the guide! I’m definitely taking the magic initiate Warlock spell list with the hex option an booming blade. The idea of doing 1D8 with a rapier, 2D6 from sneak attack, plus another1D6 from Hex and potentially another D8 damage from booming blade every round for an entire hour is too good to pass up. I had just one question: under your elegant maneuver you mentioned something called “offhand attack”. Is that something specific? Is it another option for cunning action?

    1. If you are wielding a light weapon in each hand you can use a bonus action as an “offhand attack” (using your non-dominant hand to make an attack, you can’t add your ability score modifier to the damage though).

  9. Thank you for the guide. From it, I see that my feats are going to tied up until at least 12 level.

    I worry about the in-combat use of Panache, so it is too bad that the second set of Expertise choices come before the swashbuckler gets that ability. Do I double my proficiency into Persuasion or not? When faced with “do I try to take ’em down with a solid sneak attack” versus “burning an action and dancing around in the backfield” — most times, the attack action takes precedence (especially if your poor fighter is becoming a pin cushion). However, if the following holds true, I could see a first round of combat going as follows:

    1. See your enemy >60 ft away
    2. Win initiative
    3. Use your bonus action to Dash 30 ft closer to your enemy and draw your main light weapon
    4. Use your Panashe action to taunt the enemy (and win (they are now at a disadvantage to hit anyone but you))
    5. Ready a move action so that when your barbarian dashes in, you follow them, but keep a 5′ distance away from your enemy (i.e., right in behind your barbarian, but not in melee range)
    6. Finish the round
    7. Top of the round
    8. Draw your off-hand weapon and step forward 5′ from in behind the barbarian to engage in melee
    9. Take your attack action (successfully dealing sneak attack damage)
    10. Take your bonus off-hand attack (just for salt)
    11. Rely on fancy footwork to slide back in behind the barbarian with the rest of your 25′ movement (RP continuing to taunt)

    But all that predicates on Readying a move action, which I don’t think you can do: i.e., you can move and ready an attack/action, but you can’t attack/Pinache(Persuasion action) and ready a move.

    So I come back to wondering about the in-combat use of Panache. Out of combat, as noted, it rocks.

    1. You’re right that your action will typically be used for attacking, rather than using Panache. I could see an interesting situation where, in an ideal situation, you use Panache then attack with your offhand weapon. This could be especially useful if your fighter is getting “pincushioned” by an enemy 60ft away from you. They’ll likely have to waste their turn full dashing to get in range, which will allow opportunity attacks and kiting possibilities.

  10. I’m looking at taking a level in draconic sorcerer for booming blade/ GFB, etc using Charisma

    Draconic resilience AC 13+dex

    Draconic Resistance to an element

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