Learn all about swashbucklers and how to use them in our guide to this versatile subclass
The swashbuckler is a rogue subclass in D&D 5e introduced in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. They are the very essence of roguish charm, with quick feet and a quicker wit, they are both charisma kings as well as devilish dualists.
While rogues generally fare quite well in melee combat, swashbucklers knock this up a notch. Where most rogues benefit from attacking with allies at their side, swashbucklers become more dualists, taking on enemies one on one (though they’ll happily work with allies too). This expands a lot how easily your rogue can mash their enemies with sneak attack.
They also have quick footwork making it even easier for you to manoeuvre between enemies. They are also the most charismatic of all the rogue subclasses (and rogues are generally a reasonably charismatic bunch to begin with). This makes them a great face for your party too.
If you’re looking for inspiration for your swashbuckler, they’re littered throughout popular media. Think Captain Jack Sparrow, Zorro or Peter Pan. Basically any charismatic charmer with a penchant for swordsmanship and trickery. Our subclass guide tells you everything you need to know to create a great swashbuckler including tactics and great character options to optimise your swashbuckler.
How does a swashbuckler work?
Your most important ability remains your sneak attack, so like most rogues, you’ll want to ensure you’re landing this as much as possible. Fortunately, swashbucklers are the most reliable sneak attackers of all the roguish subclasses.
At level 3, not only does rakish audacity allow you to land a sneak attack even when you don’t have advantage or allies backing you up (as long as you’re only in 5ft of one enemy) so it’s easier to make a sneak attack, you also get fancy footwork too. While on the surface, this allows you to disengage an enemy without taking the disengage action as a bonus action, in practice, this means you have a bonus action for something else like a weapon attack with your offhand (if you take the two-weapon fighting feat). This gives you an extra chance to land your sneak attack if you missed the first time.
If you make it all the way to 17th level, you’ll also get an ability that allows you to automatically hit once a day if you missed an attack too. Really great of you desperately need to land an attack.
One of the most fun ways to play as a swashbuckler is to use your level 9 ability, panache. This allows you to taunt an enemy so that they get disadvantage when attacking allies, encouraging them to attack you. If you’re clever, you can use your fancy footwork to move away from this enemy forcing them to move past your allies and invoke opportunity attacks or attack allies with disadvantage. A really great ways to nullify enemies.
It may seem strange to set yourself up as a bit of a tank and encourage enemies to target you, and while you’re not much of a tank, a solid AC and uncanny dodge make you reasonably durable. Just make sure you beef out your constitution a bit. Remember though, you’re still not great at handling crowds as you can only use uncanny dodge once a turn with your reaction so avoid large groups of enemies and instead focus on occupying a single, powerful enemy while your allies focus on crowd control.
Outside of combat, you’ll need to pump some points into charisma to get the most out of panache and rakish audacity and make sure you’re proficient in persuasion. This means you’ll make a great face for the party so you’ll want to focus on charisma skills and using that charming persona of yours for the good of the party.
Rogue class features
|Party Role||Stealth, Utility, Support Fighter|
|Saving Throws||Dexterity, Intelligence|
|Hit Dice||1d8 + Consitution modifier per level|
|HP at 1st Level||8 + Constitution Modifier|
|Armour Proficiency||Light armour|
|Weapon Proficiency||Simple weapons, hand crossbows, longswords, rapiers and shortswords|
|Skills||Choose four from Acrobatics, Athletics, Deception, Insight, Intimidation, Investigation, Perception, Performance, Persuasion, Sleight of Hand, and Stealth|
Like all rogues, you’ll get 1d8 hit die making you one of the more vulnerable classes that often get in the thick of combat. You do have class features that help with this though like uncanny dodge. On top of this, swashbucklers are only proficient in light armour meaning dexterity is extremely important for rogues, and not just to get a decent armour class, but also so you can deal decent damage with those finesse. Your proficiency in dexterity and intelligence saving throws makes you great at dodging area of effect spells, though intelligence tends to be one of the least important saving throws to be proficient in.
Swashbucklers aren’t proficient in a huge array of weapons, but they do get a few d8 damage dealing weapons like rapiers and longswords which is handy. Rapiers are particularly useful as you can duel-wield them with the dual-wielder feat and get two chances at sneak attack while gaining d8 damage. Alternatively, you can stick with shortswords at d6 damage each but still get 2 attempts at sneak attack.
|3||Fancy Footwork, Rakish Audacity|
Essentially a way to slip in and out of combat (as rogues should) without using your bonus action to disengage. This is great as it allows you to take two weapon fighting instead, giving you an extra chance to land that sneak attack (or just add a bit more damage). You do need to attack the foe to make this work, but it’s not like you even need to land a hit!
You can add your charisma modifier to your initiative score which is already pretty good, but you can also land a sneak attack without advantage and when no other creatures are within 5 feet of you which is very useful.
You can either force an enemy to attack only you by giving them disadvantage against your allies or charm a non-hostile creature with your silver tongue. This can be very useful as if you’re clever, and with all your manoeuvrability, you can force enemies to either have disadvantage or incur opportunity attacks from your allies, plus using uncanny dodge to soak up the damage. Just make sure you have expertise in persuasion.
Advantage on acrobatics checks is pretty decent but a bit situational and does take up your bonus action, meaning you’ll usually take it to avoid or get out of things like grapples.
Reroll a missed attack with advantage is pretty good, but only available once per combat at best. It might save your skin when you can’t afford to miss though!
Optimising a swashbuckler
Now you know what swashbucklers are and how they work, it’s time to think about how you build a nicely optimised swashbuckler. While we’ll give you some ideas of different ways of optimising your swashbuckler, you do not need to follow this advice. You might instead want to go for something that flavours nicely for your character or simply want to experiment a bit. There are many ways to create a well optimised swashbuckler but we’ll go through some of the more typical ways to create a highly effective swashubuckler character.
Best swashbuckler ability scores
For swashbucklers, dexterity remains your most important ability score not only for the extra damage with finesse weapons, but also for the extra durability from a higher AC. You only get light armour so need the bonus to your AC, plus most of your best weapons are finesse weapons (and sneak attack can only be used with finesse weapons) so you’ll want to maximise this.
Constitution and charisma are even more important for swashbucklers than some other rogues. Constitution as you’ll very much be a frontline fighter and will often find yourself goading enemies into attacking you. You also have a couple of subclass features that rely on a decent charisma, especially as you’re likely to operate as the face of a party.
Beyond this, strength is always going to be unimportant for you. Most things you might need strength for, you can do with dexterity. Intelligence will help your insight and investigation, but that’s about it so is fairly unimportant. Wisdom is your other option and will help your perception and a bunch of saving throws so is potentially of some use.
We’d typically prioritise your ability scores roughly in this order:
Best swashbuckler races
Typically, you’ll want to make sure you take a race that adds to your dexterity ability score with constitution and charisma as secondary options. With the customised origins rules outlined in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, you can technically take any race and choose how the ability scores are distributed. Also, many more recently released races, particularly those released in Monsters of the Multiverse, have these rules already baked into them.
With this in mind, we’ll take into consideration the rules as they’re presented in their most recent release for each race and consider features that complement a swashbuckler well. These are the best races to use for a rogue:
- Autognome – Extra protection from armored casing is very useful for a swashbuckler that can do with the extra toughness. Built for success is great for ensuring you get your sneak attack bonus and you get a few other little goodies too.
- Bugbear – Long-limbed lets you stay out of the way of combat while getting into the melee and preserving your bonus action for something more useful. Proficiency in stealth is always handy for swashbucklers and surprise attack gives you even more damage on your first turn. To really optimise for a bugbear, consider going with two weapon fighting to give yourself 2 chances to land a surprise attack (as many swashbucklers would do anyway).
- Changeling – If you’re playing a campaign with lots of social intrigue, then a changeling is a great option! A couple of face skills and the ability to appear in whatever form you like is very powerful for any rogue especially a swashbuckler that is a little more suited to those face skills. You may find this race a little more limiting in combat heavy campaigns though.
- Deep Gnome (Svirfneblin) – A deep gnome’s skills are very complementary of a swashbuckler’s. Disguise self and nondetection are great spells for rogues, magic resistance is always a very useful resistance to have (perhaps the most useful) and is more important for a frontline swashbuckler than other rogue subclasses. Plus you get advantage on stealth checks.
- High Elf – With your free cantrip, you can get booming blade which is a great option for a swashbuckler as you can use it in conjunction with sneak attack and disengage causing enemies to chase you and adding some bonus damage (and this doubles up with panache nicely to create an even more effective tactic). Add in +2 dexterity, darkvision and perception and you’ve got a pretty great swashbuckler.
- Kenku – Can mimic the voices of others, which is great for charisma based rogues like swashbucklers. You also get 2 extra skill proficiencies plus multiple opportunities to give yourself advantage on skill checks you have proficiency in making you nearly unstoppable for a few skill checks everyday. As rogues are one of the go to skill classes (the other being bards), beefing up your skill proficiencies is a great way to go.
- Kobold – Similar to a high elf (weirdly) but you can get booming blade with draconic sorcery for extra hit and run damage and draconic cry is a great way to get advantage for your sneak attack.
Best swashbuckler backgrounds
There are quite a few good options for backgrounds for a swashbuckler so use a background that will complement what you want to do well. We’ve listed below the backgrounds we think work well with a swashbuckler:
- Charlatan – Deception and sleight of hand are great skill proficiencies for swashbucklers and disguise and forgery kit proficiencies are great too. The ability to forge documents is a little niche but could be useful in some circumstances.
- Courtier – Proficiency in insight and persuasion are great and 2 languages is useful too.
- Criminal – Deception and stealth are great skill proficiencies for a swashbuckler. You already have thieves tools proficiency so can swap for a similar tool proficiency.
- Faction Agent – Insight and the choice of another skill make a great choice of proficiencies. You also get 2 languages and affiliation with a powerful organisation.
- Far Traveler – Insight, perception and a language are pretty good for a swashbuckler. Unfortunately, proficiency in an instrument isn’t that great but you could make use of it.
- Urban Bounty Hunter – 2 skill proficiencies from a choice of 4 great options plus thieves tools and a gaming set proficiency.
- Urchin – Sleight of hand and stealth are great skill proficiencies and thieves tools and disguise kit are great kit proficiencies, plus you can move across cities really quickly.
Best swashbuckler feats
when taking an ability score increase or using a variant Human, you can gain access to feats, taking one instead of the ability score increase. Some DMs will also give you a feat when you create your character for added flavour. Just check with your DM that they allow feats.
Feats can add powerful options to a character, but it’s important you pick feats that will complement a swashbuckler’s skillset nicely. We’ve pulled out some of the best options below:
- Alert – You already get to add your charisma modifier to your initiative score so depends how desperate you are to make sure you go first. If you’re playing a bugbear swashbuckler though, we’d highly recommend this feat for that surprise attack.
- Actor – A great way to further enhance your charisma skills with +1 to your charisma, advantage on deception and performance checks, and the ability to mimic speech. Works well with swashbucklers.
- Dual Wielder – If you want to go with two-weapon fighting, then this will give you a bonus to your AC and allow you to wield d8 damage weapons like rapiers with both hands rather than d6.
- Inspiring Leader – Grant a bunch of temporary hit points to everyone (probably) in your party. Very handy when preparing for battle and works particularly well for the high charisma swashbuckler.
- Lucky – Making 3 rerolls a day is powerful for any class!
- Magic Initiate – Get 2 cantrips and a 1st level spell from any spell list. Great for getting top cantrips from other classes like booming blade which works with your sneak attack and is even better with panache.
- Skill Expert – Better at even more skills is great.
- Skilled – 3 more skills to be proficient in is also great.
Best swashbuckler skills
Rogues are one of the most skilful classes (behind only bards) and gain access to proficiency in more skills than any other class except bards. You’ll likely be called on a lot for anything dexterity based and, as a swashbuckler, a lot of charisma based activities too so these skills will be important for you. Swashbucklers are also great at filling in the skill gaps in a party so work with your party to see what skills you’ll need to fill.
Below we’ve ordered the most important skills for a swashbuckler roughly by their importance but depending on your party, you may want to focus on different skills ahead of others:
- Stealth – Really important for all rogues want to catch enemies unawares or sneak around somewhere.
- Perception – If you’re in dungeons, you’ll likely be exploring out front and you’ll need a high perception to make sure you spot those traps. Proficiency will be particularly important as your wisdom likely won’t be really high.
- Persuasion – the most important charisma skill and one you’ll want to invest in as a swashbuckler, particularly to get more use out of panache.
- Deception – Often important, especially for swashbucklers that like to talk their way into or out of a sticky situation.
- Insight – Important skill for a character that will likely do a lot of talking.
- Intimidation – Reasonably important face skill, especially for moments of interrogation or even negotiation, but your mileage may depend on your temprement.
- Investigation – Important skill for a character that will likely do a lot of investigating but can be shared with other party members, especially if you have a wizard or artificer.
- Acrobatics – Most characters will want this or athletics to avoid grapples and for other physical checks. Swashbucklers are better at dexterity so acrobatics makes more sense.
- Sleight of Hand – If you expect to be picking pockets, or quickly swapping idols from plinths Indiana Jones style, then your rogue is the right character to be proficient in sleight of hand. It’s not an integral skill though.
Best swashbuckler weapons
Swashbucklers have proficiency with simple weapons, hand crossbows, rapiers, longswords and shortswords.
As your primary combat ability should be dexterity, and you’re built around melee combat, you’ll want to focus on using finesse weapons. This means despite the d8 damage, a longsword is rarely a good option for a rogue. Fortunately, rapiers also offer d8 damage and are finesse weapons so represent your best option for melee combat. Shortswords make a reasonable alternative but at d6 damage, are usually a lesser option unless you want to do some two-weapon fighting, in which case, they’re your best option. You can take the dual wielder feat to use rapiers for two weapon fighting which can be a great option too.
For ranged weapons, a light crossbow is your best option. It has d8 damage and while it has the reload property, this doesn’t affect most rogues as you can only make 1 attack a turn anyway so offers no disadvantage. It’s not as useful for a swashbuckler as you’ll likely want to get into the thick of combat quickly, but there may be points when that’s not the best option.
Best swashbuckler armour
Most swashbucklers are only proficient in light armour making studded leather your best option. Even if you multiclass or take a feat that allows heavier armour, you probably won’t get much benefit from it as your dexterity will likely be quite high anyway and medium or heavy armour will likely inhibit your stealthiness.
Best swashbuckler multiclass options
Multiclassing can be a powerful way of getting extra abilities from another class and when used right, can really optimise a character. Getting it wrong though, can leave you with abilities that don’t complement each other well.
The main thing to think about is your ability scores. Typically, as a swashbuckler, you’ll have high dexterity, decent constitution and decent charisma so will want to lean into classes that utilise these ability scores.
With that in mind, some classes just don’t work well for a swashbuckler. For example, any spellcaster that doesn’t use charisma is likely to be a poor option unless you only intend to take buffs or healing spells. Swashbucklers will have similar issues with monks who rely on wisdom and unarmed strikes which don’t allow for sneak attacks. Barbarians also offer a poor choice as you’ll want to maximise on power with a big heavy weapon that relies on strength (which swashbucklers almost always dump).
However, there are some great classes for swashbucklers to multiclass into which include:
- Fighter – Fighting style can be great to get more out of your attacks while shield proficiency goes some way to improving your durability.
- Ranger – You can get a fighting style to improve your combat abilities, plus giant killer will let you use your reaction to get an extra attack in and give you a second sneak attack each turn.
- Sorceror – A charisma based caster works well for rogues who can easily focus on charisma. Draconic bloodline will give you a bit of extra armor class and you can take booming blade will give you a bit of extra damage while still letting you make a sneak attack.