Rogues come in all shapes and sizes, and they have become a mainstay when it comes to RPG games. The class has become an identity appearing as archetypes and even stereotypes. These characters are masters of stealth, assassination, and thievery.
I have played all the base Rogue subclasses in the available books. Tried out a few of the subclasses in Unearthed Arcana: D&D’s public beta test. Over a decade, I have had to play with and against hundreds of Rogues and have learned how to play with and around them.
In this Swashbuckler 5e Guide, we’ll be talking about the Rogue subclass, Swashbuckler. Let’s get to it.
Rogues gain their abilities through training and learning the ins and outs of a quick fight. You could come from the streets or taught by a dark guild. Anything goes when it comes to these masters of espionage.
These abilities revolve around movement and using your Sneak Attack to strike fast. Much like the Dread Pirate Roberts or Zorro, this Subclass is full of elegance and special action.
This falls in the same category as Eldritch Knights and Bladesingers as classes that subvert expectations. They perform splendidly solo and in small parties. While keeping their effectiveness in large parties through minor skirmishes.
This Subclass excels at getting into the thick of a fight and getting out of it. Swashbucklers can weave in and out of combat. Taking minimal damage and charm foes into not attacking them.
Let’s look into the nitty-gritty that makes this Subclass such a hit.
You get this the moment you learn the Swashbuckler subclass. So at level 3, you know how to strike and slip away without a counterattack. 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 the turn.
This ability has no cooldown, meaning if you attack more than one enemy, they all cannot attack. Yes, “attempt” even if you miss the Attack, they still cannot make an opportunity attack against you.
It’s a great way to get in and deal with damage before repositioning to a safe spot. It even leaves your bonus action open to hide or dash as part of a Rogue’s Cunning Action.
You also gain at level 3. This feature lets you add your Charisma modifier to your initiative rolls. Additionally, you gan a new way to use your Sneak Attack. You do not need an advantage on your attack roll to use Sneak Attack so long as you fulfill these conditions.
- You are within 5 feet of the creature you are attempting to Sneak Attack.
- No other Creatures are within 5 feet of you.
- You do not have disadvantage on the attack roll.
- All different Sneak Attack rules still apply.
This feature is a 2-in-1 package, so at level 3, you get all these abilities on top of your boost to Sneak Attack. Level 3 is a power spike for rogues, and this all but proves that point.
The increased initiative lets you start earlier in combat. If you are lucky you can delete an opponent with a surprise round coming in. The additional method of using Sneak Attack works hand in hand. Going first usually means going in alone and attempting to kill or get out alone.
Learned at level 9. This ability takes your charm to a beguiling level. 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.
If you succeed on the check and the creature is hostile to you, it has a disadvantage on attack rolls against targets other than you and can’t make opportunity attacks against targets other than you.
This effect lasts 1 minute until one of your companions attacks or targets the creature with a spell. The effect also ends if you and the target are more than 60 feet apart.
If you succeed on the check and the creature is not hostile to you, it is charmed by you for one minute. While charmed, it regards you as a friendly acquaintance. This effect ends immediately if you or your companions do anything harmful to it.
This is an extensive skill to explain, so let us break it down into three parts.
First is the activation condition. Attempting to succeed on the check against the creature forces an opposing roll. The target must share a common language with you; this does not mean Common the language but rather any language both you and the target know.
Many monsters in D&D are intelligent and have their language, but some learn other languages on top of their own. It also must be able to hear you. Otherwise, you cannot convince them of anything.
Once these conditions are fulfilled, you roll off and see if you surpass the target’s roll. Assuming you won, the effect depends on whether the creature was hostile to you then.
If it is hostile towards you, it can only make opportunity attacks against you. It then has a disadvantage on attack rolls against your companions. This effect lasts for one minute or ten rounds in combat.
It also breaks if your companions attack the target or cast a spell at them. This effect ends if you and the target are more than 60 feet apart.
Since the creature knows it is under that effect, it will try to end Panache as soon as possible. It may try to take attacks from your allies or run away from you to break the effect.
For Panache’s non-hostile effect, it is considered a charm effect. So charmed creatures are willing to help you out. After an additional Persuasion roll, you can convince them to help you at their own risk. This is great for gathering information or avoiding combat.
Since it does not have a recharge time and is not once per combat, you can repeatedly use this if you wish. Unlike other charm effects, the target will not be hostile against you after it ends. So out of combat, you may choose to do this as much as you want to.
Starting at level 13. You can use a bonus action on your turn to gain advantage on the following Dexterity (Acrobatics) or Strength (Athletics) check you make during the same turn.
This is used for parkour or grappling, a creative ability limited by your rolls and imagination. You can use this to make a dramatic entry or an exciting escape. Since Charges do not limit it, you can keep maneuvering around the battlefield so long as you have a bonus action to spare.
At level 17, you have mastered the art of your swordplay, allowing you to turn failure into success in combat. If you miss an attack roll, you can roll the Attack again with advantage. Once you do so, you can’t use this feature again until you finish a short or long rest.
Used right, this ability can change the outcome of a fight. As you land a fatal blow against essential enemies. It is powerful in a game of odds and dice rolls to be able to reroll an attack.
It instantly activates your Sneak Attack since you gain an advantage. At this level, your odds of hitting should be pretty high, so barring two low rolls in a row, this should hit or even crit.
As this Subclass has plenty of complicated abilities. There would be many interactions that need clarifying, and here are the ones I find occur most often.
Fancy Footwork applies only on your turn, for your turn. This means that if you moved past your turn. Perhaps as a Held action or reaction, it would open you to an opportunity attack.
Rakish Audacity adds your Charisma and Dexterity modifier to your initiative roll. This makes you nearly twice as fast as you once were. If you are genuinely chasing the highest initiative. This also pairs with the Alert feat granting you anextral five to the initiative.
The movement part of Rakish Audacity applies to all types of movement. So if you can fly or swim, try to think in three dimensions. The Sneak Attack addition, however, does not work if allies are near you.
So either keep them near the enemy or keep the enemy to yourself. There will rarely be a scenario where it cannot activate with this Subclass.
Panache is one of the more interactive skills, let’s say. When it comes to Fey ancestry and charm resistance, it does get affected by it.
However, since it is not a “Saving Throw” but a contested roll, it usually rolls flat unless they are immune or have a bonus to checks. Unlike spells that charm, upon the end of the effect, they are unaware of the ability being used.
Only that they were charmed for that short duration. This means that they were, for the moment, smitten with you, and they got over that brief feeling.
Master Duelist does get held back by the advantage and disadvantage negation. Meaning that if you were rolling with disadvantage and missed, you would make a flat roll rather than a roll with advantage.
Those are most of the everyday interactions you will encounter in your D&D experience. So let’s move on to how you can build your Swashbuckler.
Naturally, you can go all-in on rogue and hit level 20. Which gets you maximum Sneak Attack damage, Elusive, and Stroke of Luck. These combined make you a force to be reckoned with while dueling enemies.
However, if you are looking at other classes that meld well with Swashbuckler. Here is a short list that you might enjoy.
You can get up to three levels in it to get a subclass. If you invest in one level. You get a fighting style to match your swashbuckling (two-weapon fighting comes to mind). Two levels in Fighter get you Action Surge which may be helpful if you find yourself missing often.
Fighter Subclasses that fit the build are Battle Master (for Maneuvers) or Champion for Crit Fishing. Battle Master allows you to control the battlefield more, moving the enemy or allies around and disarming or knocking people prone like a pirate would.
On the other hand, Champion is generally good for a martial class if you want to land critical hits more often.
This takes a little more investment as you want to get the level 3 subclass feature as soon as possible. Getting the spells is an added bonus, but you are mainly aiming for the fighting style and features given at level 3.
In more detail. Fey wanderer gains a bonus on their Charisma checks and bonus damage on singular attacks like Sneak Attack. All this at level 3! Swarmkeepers earn various bonuses so long as you hit a melee attack.
Their spell pool is also an excellent selection, with faerie fire and mage hand. Gloomstalker’s benefits only last for the first turn aside from the dark vision. So I would say it’s a better fit on an Assassin rather than a Swashbuckler, but it’s still a hefty bonus.
A Warlock class is also possible, but you would be taking 7 levels in it rather than 3. This is both to gain access to the higher level spells and to have more invocations available to you. Level 7 specifically allows you to get four invocations and 4th level spells.
The Subclass to take here is Hexblade. It improves your attacks and diversifies your options with powerful spells. You take Pact of the Blade at level 3 as it gives you access to eldritch smite and other useful invocations later on.
As for Races
A few examples would be:
- Aarakocra: (Dex +2, Wis +1) they have an innate fly speed and move quite fast in comparison.
- Drow: (Dex +2, Cha+1) They have Darkvision and innate spell casting but have trouble seeing in sunlight.
- Halfling, Lightfoot: (Dex +2, Cha +1) natural Lucky mixed in with easy access to stealth makes you quite a rogue to contend with.
- Tabaxi: (Dex +2, Cha +1) they have high movement speed paired with natural stealth makes them seem made for the class.
- Tiefling: (Cha +2, Dex +1) this is a specific bloodline of Tieflings, so be sure your DM is ok with it first. It makes for the stealthy suave kind of Swashbuckler.
Need to be considered when we talk about builds. You want feats that let you attack more often or increase your defense.
- Fighting Initiate (allows you to choose a fighting style without classing into Fighter)
- Defensive Duelist (increases your AC if you are using a Finesse Weapon
- Piercer/Slasher (functionally the same depending on weapon type)
- Fey Touched (boosts your charisma and lets you have spells to boot)
You can build a full Swashbuckler if you put points into Dexterity and Charisma. Good Luck and Have Fun!
Question: What is the Best Race for a Swashbuckler?
Answer: It depends. There is no objectively best race. Some races suit the abilities of a Swashbuckler better than others. For example, the flexible V.Human, the charismatic Tiefling, or skillful Half-Elves.
Question: Does Rakish Audacity Give the Swashbuckler Advantage?
Answer: No, it does not. It lets them Sneak Attack without the need for advantage. So long as they are near no one else.
Question: Does Fancy Footwork Activate if I Miss the Attack?
Answer: Yes, it does. The wording is that you have to “make a melee attack” and not “hit an enemy with an attack.” So, if you attempt a melee attack and miss, you still have Fancy Footwork.
Swashbuckler 5e Guide: Final Thoughts
This Subclass is excellent when the rogue is scouting ahead and encounters a problem. He can either try and assassinate the enemy in a drawn-out fight or stall long enough for backup to arrive.
While it is not great in one versus many scenarios, it excels in every other one. This even includes out-of-combat with information gathering or lockpicking. A worthwhile addition to any 5e party.