There are some swordsmen who can’t sit by and allow basic combat needs to be their legacy. These swordsmen are filled with a passion for both combat and glory, duelists whose names will be known throughout the land. They are the Swashbuckler. The Swashbuckler is a class that you can find in both the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything; nothing really changes. Perhaps you’re a pirate, or a fencer, or a circus performer. In all ways, however, you’re a master of the battlefield. Let’s see what mastery implies within the Swashbuckler 5e Guide.
Dominate with Style: Swashbuckler 5E
The Swashbuckler turns the rogue into a fleet-footed fighter, able to dive in and out of the battlefield with ease. Later on, you gain an ability that allows you to force enemies into duels, or even charm them if you’re outside of combat. You almost become a defender, whose mobility is the most important aspect of their character kit.
The first ability is about standard for a skirmisher style… but it’s essential and strong.
When you choose this archetype at 3rd level, you learn how to land a strike and then slip away without reprisal. During your turn, if you make a melee attack against a creature, that creature can’t make opportunity attacks against you for the rest of your turn.
The Rogue has the Cunning Action ability that allows them to take the Withdraw action. This is essentially the Withdraw action, but you get to save your Bonus Action. That’s pretty great!
You get two major advantages from this. One is dual-wielding. If you really want to swing that second weapon, you can, since you’ve got 1/3rd of your Cunning Action reliant on swinging a weapon attack. You’ll give yourself two chances to gain Withdraw for free, land a sneak attack, and get away; that could be two attacks on one creature, or one attack on a second creature! That’s efficiency! It doesn’t stop you from being fully surrounded; you’ll need to Disengage then.
Alternatively, you can use the Cunning Action to instead Dash or Hide post-movement. With the Dash action, you’ll be dashing around the battlefield with 60 ft movement speed. With Hide, you’ll become an extremely annoying stealth monger, unable to be really targeted by most creatures. And trust me, that’ll become really annoying for most enemies later on, when you force them to target you!
Cunning Action is one of the most important parts of the Rogue, so having it be available for more than Disengage lets you become a rather impactful skirmisher.
In addition, at level 3, you attain two other benefits to distance you from other rogues.
As a Swashbuckler, you can give yourself a bonus to your initiative rolls equal to your Charisma modifier.
You also gain an additional way to use your Sneak Attack; you don’t need advantage on the attack roll to use your Sneak Attack against a creature if you are within 5 feet of it, no other creatures are within 5 feet of you, and you don’t have disadvantage on the attack roll. All the other rules for Sneak Attack still apply to you.
Those are both incredibly efficient bonuses. Any bonus to initiative can be useful, and if you boost your Charisma as your secondary stat, you can get another +5 or so. That’s a huge chance to get ahead of the game and potentially get an early stab off.
Which is great, because now you can get Sneak Attack whenever you’re in a duel-oriented scenario! You can get Sneak attack if you’re dueling the enemy, or if someone is helping you fight them. That’s… Essentially every melee encounter. Notably, this doesn’t specify whether an unconscious creature counts. That might be up to GM interpretation. If it does, then you’ll only have one melee situation where you can’t get Sneak Attack (an ally knocked out next to the enemy), which is wild!
Both of these abilities are rather impressive buffs, and a single one would easily qualify as a level 3 buff for any other class. Clearly, the Swashbuckler’s elegant style needed the extra boost, just to be as confident as possible.
Swashbucklers actually started in 3rd edition, where they were their own class. Panache was a major element of the Swashbuckler from then on, and of course it had to make its way here somehow!
At 9th level, your charm becomes extraordinarily beguiling. As an action, you can make a Charisma (Persuasion) check contested by a creature’s Wisdom (Insight) check. The creature must be able to hear you, and the two of you must share a language.
This is… Different. Panache used to be a resource a Swashbuckler could burn to get feats of strength. Now you can use a Persuasion check to attain a few benefits as an Action; useful if you’re far away from an enemy, or even in social situations!
If you succeed on the check and the creature is hostile to you, it has disadvantage on attack rolls against targets other than you and can’t make opportunity attacks against targets other than you. This effect lasts for 1 minute, until one of your companions attacks the target or affects it with a spell, or until you and the target are more than 60 feet apart.
Okay, so if you’re fighting an enemy, they’re hostile to you. That means that spending this action in any combat scenario means you have this taunt effect. In most cases, this does mean that you’ll be targeted by that enemy exclusively. However, this has no effect on DC spells. You can’t throw this on a Lich and be the only person affected… Unless your GM has that be the case. You are beguiling, after all! It should be at least more likely for you to be the target.
Against enemies that mostly just slap you, this ability is very useful. Very few beings can be useful with constant disadvantage on attacks. However, your health and armor probably won’t let you support this ability for extended periods of time, so you’re going to have to be extremely careful about using this. Make sure your healer is nearby, and try to find good ways to generate AC.
If you succeed on the check and the creature isn’t hostile to you, it is charmed by you for 1 minute. While charmed, it regards you as a friendly acquaintance. This effect ends immediately if you or your companions do anything harmful to it.
Sweet, an out-of-combat application! Love these.
Charming someone is only so useful. It’s safe to assume that this isn’t exactly the same as Charm Person, so they might not know they were charmed afterwards. Or the Charm simply isn’t as mind-controlling as expected.
A creature can be Hostile and not in combat with you, but you can use this on an Unfriendly to get the Charm. This can turn a situation where you’d normally be in a really bad place conversationally into a fantastic one. Charm means you get advantage on Charisma checks, so you’ll have easy DCs to land with two rolls to land them.
This ability is crazy strong, as long as you land the Persuasion check. You should grab Persuasion with Expertise to make this easier to us. Then, your healer will only have to worry about you… or you’ll be a fantastic conversationalist, situationally dependant.
Phew! That was a lot of good stuff! Let’s slow down and find something that’s simple… And bad.
Starting at 13th level, you can use a bonus action on your turn to gain advantage on the next Dexterity (Acrobatics) or Strength (Athletics) check you make during the same turn.
I’m joking, it’s not bad. It’s just nothing compared to your earlier abilities.
Acrobatics and Athletics very rarely take more than one action to perform, and you can theoretically spam bonus actions if you need to balance or whatnot. This let’s you become the party’s first choice to, for example, jump across a cavern, or pole-vault over an obstacle.
Your Athletics checks aren’t going to be very impressive. But, if you’re proficient in Athletics, you might be able to land a few Trips or Grapples using this ability. Or maybe doing cool things like diving over a table to get a good stab off.
Realistically, Rogues don’t get too much off of combat maneuvers. Sneak Attack is just too much damage to leave on the table to instead Shove someone. If Shove or Grapple would leave you in a really good spot, Elegant Maneuver is a smart choice. Otherwise… Your bonus action is really good. Try to save it for Cunning Action or emergency Two-Weapon Fighting.
Your final ability returns to the impressive skills of your level 3 and 9 abilities… But with an important asterisk.
Beginning at 17th level, your mastery of the blade lets you turn failure into success in combat. If you miss with an attack roll, you can roll it again with advantage. Once you do so, you can’t use this feature again until you finish a short or long rest
See that last sentence? Yeah, this is your only ability limited by rests.
That’s not to say it isn’t absolutely fantastic! Not only do you get to reroll an attack roll – your most important element in combat – you get to reroll it twice! With advantage! That means, no matter what the situation is, you’re getting Sneak Attack. Despite the flavor text of the ability, you can use this with ranged weapons, Rules as Written.
So, when do you want to burn this? Well, if you have spellcasters that rely on Short Rests (like Warlocks), then you’ll have those often. Try to coordinate with your team to determine when you’ll be refreshing abilities, and then use this just before you rest. Or, if an enemy’s about to wipe your party off the face of Toril… It might be time to use this to maybe not get wiped off the face of Toril. Just a thought.
Otherwise, use Fancy Footwork to just skirmish and try again next round.
Best Race for Swashbuckler Rogues
The Swashbuckler is a Rogue; that Dexterity better be as high as possible! Thankfully, 5e loves giving races Charisma boosts, so that shouldn’t be a problem. What might be harder to find is a Charisma boost, since you’re going to want high Charisma for Rakish Audacity and Panache. Afterwards, Constitution keeps you alive for a bit longer.
These Volo’s Guide felines are purr-fect for your new role. Their stats are flawless (+2 Dex, +1 Cha), letting you fight and talk flawlessly. Darkvision is critical for a stealthy rogue, and Feline Agility lets you Dash for free! You also gain Perception and Stealth proficiency without even blinking an eye. Your Claws are somewhat wasted, since their dice are a bit low compared to Rapiers, but hey, at least you have a free off-hand weapon!
Besides… You’re a cat. Staggeringly audacious confidence might as well be your middle name!
Despite my insistence that you need good Charisma and Dexterity, here I am. This race from Eberron: Rising from the Last War gains +2 Constitution, +1 Float (Dexterity). Not quite perfect, but it offers you an immense amount of tankiness that is otherwise hard to find. Constructed Resilience is decent for combat, but better for a scout or night watch. Integrated Protection is critical for you, however. +1 to AC means you’ll actually be fairly hard to hit. You can take Moderately Armored to gain another +2 with a Shield, and just become impossible to put down when you use Panache. In case that wasn’t enough, Specialized Design can shore up holes in your Skills, and give you a Disguise kit proficiency. Awesome for a performer!
You were designed to be the greatest fencer in the world… Right?
Conclusion – Our Take on the Swashbuckler 5E
The Swashbuckler is an interesting rogue. Your low HP makes it difficult to take the Defender role, but you have ways to boost your HP and AC to acceptable levels. You’re not quite as diverse out-of-combat as the other archetypes, but your combat ability is actually much better than most of the others. And you just get so much to help you out! If you’re looking for a new take on rogue that allows you to become a party leader, then the Swashbuckler’s a great choice!