The Swashbuckler is a highly mobile rogue subclass that fights with style and pizzazz. Well, technically, panache. All the cool guy words.
Fun and useful both in and out of combat, Swashbucklers are as charming as they are dangerous.
I’ll cover how Swashbucklers work, the tactics and strategies that make them tick, and solid multiclass options to consider. Let’s get into it.
The Swashbuckler has the following features on their spell list:
Fancy Footwork – 3rd-level
If you make a melee attack against a creature, that creature can’t make opportunity attacks against you during your turn — regardless of whether or not the attack lands. Creatures you don’t attack can still make opportunity attacks against you as normal.
Fancy Footwork Tips
Be uber mobile. This is basically the best part of the Mobile feat, a top-tier choice in its own right. Being this slippery without needing to use your bonus action to Cunning Action in order to Disengage. Which frees your character up for other bonus action uses, like two-weapon fighting.
Use two-weapon fighting for twice the effect. While spreading your damage is usually unadvisable, it can be the right choice for Swashbucklers. If you attack two targets, you’re able to get away from both of them without triggering an opportunity attack.
Two-weapon fighting is also just great for a Rogue, as it significantly increases your chance to hit (and thus trigger that juicy Sneak Attack damage) each round.
Hit and run. If you don’t decide to dual wield, then you can still use your Cunning Action to Dash or Hide each round as a bonus action. This means you can get in, get out without suffering an OA, and then put too much distance between yourself and your target for them to be able to catch you without dashing themselves.
Or you can try to hide, but those aren’t usually the tactics that a bold and brash Swashbuckler uses!
Pair with Booming Blade. Booming Blade is a cantrip that allows you to make a melee attack that “sheathes the target in booming energy,” causing it to take 1d8 thunder damage if it willingly moves 5 feet or more before the start of your next turn.
This operates quite nicely with a Swashbuckler, who will always run away from their target after attacking them — now they have to decide; chase you and take damage, or sit still and wait for you to come in and do the same thing next turn? Melee enemies will always move, so you’ll always get that bonus damage (assuming the attack lands).
However, note that this spell is less attractive if you’re a two-weapon fighter, since the Booming Blade attack does not count as the Attack action, so you cannot make your offhand attack after using it — that requires an Attack action with a light weapon.
Help your friends. Being able to duck into and out of fights in a pinch is good for more than just saving your own hide — it’s helpful for your squishy friends as well. For example, if your Wizard pal gets ambushed while your tank is far away and would risk multiple opportunity attacks to move over to help, you’re the best chance at relief.
Get in, make some attacks, and cover the Wizard as they retreat — now enemies have to suffer opportunity attacks if they want to pursue the squishy.
Rakish Audacity – 3rd-level
More importantly, you gain an additional way to Sneak Attack — if you are within 5 feet of a creature, no other creatures are within 5 feet of you, and you don’t have disadvantage, you can use your Sneak Attack. You can still gain Sneak Attack the normal way Rogues can (having attack advantage or attacking a creature within 5 feet of your ally), and you still have the normal Sneak Attack rules (must use a finesse or ranged weapon).
Rakish Audacity Tips
Fight one-on-one. Swashbucklers are the ideal dueling subclass thanks to this feature. Whenever you’re in a 1v1, you essentially have the upper hand.
In most scenarios, Rogues don’t have trouble proccing their Sneak Attack every round anyway. But Rakish Audacity does open up new playstyles, where you don’t have to be nearly as reliant on sticking to whatever target the party’s tank is fighting.
Position wisely. Note that you don’t literally need to be in a 1v1 situation, proximity-wise, for this feature to function. You just can’t be next to anyone but your target. Since you don’t take opportunity attacks for maneuvering around a target without leaving their reach, this is pretty easy to proc at all times.
The enemy can be grouped; you just can’t be within 5 feet of anyone but your target. It’s okay if your target is within 5 feet of someone else, be it an ally or foe.
Start fights on your terms. The bonus Charisma modifier to your initiative makes Charisma an attractive ability right from the get-go — possibly above Constitution as your secondary stat (Dexterity is still your primary ability, as a Rogue).
Going first is a big deal as a Swashbuckler, especially if you can get a surprise round in and eliminate an enemy before the enemy even has a chance to respond.
Panache – 9th-level
This feature comes with two distinct effects, one for combat and one for out of combat. In both cases, you make a Persuasion check contested by the creature’s Insight check, and the creature must be able to hear you and share a language. Here’s what happens if you win the contest:
In combat use: Creature has disadvantage on attack rolls on creatures other than you and can’t make opportunity attacks against targets other than. Lasts for one minute, until an ally of yours attacks it/affects it with a spell, or until you’re more than 60 feet apart.
Out of combat use: Creature is charmed by you for 1 minute and regards you as a friendly acquaintance. Basically, Charm Person without the downside of the creature knowing it was charmed by you after the effect wears off.
Get Expertise in Persuasion. First off, you should be proficient in Persuasion from the get-go as a Swashbuckler. Then choose it as one of your skills to have Expertise in to double that proficiency bonus.
With this small investment, you can make sure that Panache lands a whole lot more often. This is huge both in and out of combat, as it locks you in as the party’s primary Face character and makes you a reliable tank in combat. Speaking of which…
Be a tank. Most tanks sit in one place and absorb damage — boring. With Panache, you can force an enemy to fight you or be less effective. If you kite said enemy with Cunning Action dashes, they have two choices — give chase, and possibly never catch up to you before they die, or attack your allies with disadvantage. Talk about a rock and a hard place.
Note that this is especially useful on melee foes. It’s okay on ranged enemies, but not as good as melee foes unless you have ample cover around to force the ranged attackers to adjust their positioning (hopefully in a way favorable to your party) in order to attack you.
Don’t use it on spellcasters. Spellcasters usually have spells that force saving throws, and these are unaffected by the disadvantage that Panache imposes. In other words, it’s basically useless against spellcasters who are playing smart (and most DMs implicitly assume that spellcasters know how to strategize and make optimal decisions in combat).
Help your friends escape. Panache makes it so an enemy can’t take opportunity attacks against anyone but you. That means you can effectively save your buddies (yes, plural!) from 60 feet away with it.
Pair with Fly. This is where things get really silly. If you use Panache on a melee enemy while flying, they pretty much just have disadvantage for the whole fight, since there’s no point in trying to chase you. Use this on a big bad and watch as their offensive capability drops to nil while your party dismantles them (or ignores them until they take care of other threats).
Consider the cost. Panache is great and all, but it does eat up your entire action, meaning you don’t get an attack or that sweet Sneak Attack damage for a round. Seeing as combat doesn’t usually last more than six rounds, you’ve got to ask yourself if a soft taunt/debuff is worth 17% of your damage potential for a fight.
Sometimes, it is. But if there are no melee foes around and/or the space is small/without much cover, Panache probably won’t do much for you. Panache is best in big spaces where you can kite and against scary enough foes to be worthy of debuffing.
Be your party’s face. Honestly, the out-of-combat use of Panache might be stronger than the in-combat effect. The Charmed condition grants you advantage on all social skill checks, and with Expertise in Persuasion, you’re the go-to character for smooth-talking.
Elegant Maneuver – 13th-level
Bonus action use to give yourself advantage on your next Acrobatics or Athletics check you make during the same turn. Unlimited uses.
Elegant Maneuver Tips
Shove better. Your Athletics modifier might not be good unless you picked up proficiency in it, but advantage makes it strong regardless. It’s not often that you’ll want to give up your action just to push someone, but if they’re near a cliffside and you have a chance to induce huge fall damage, Elegant Maneuver’s value skyrockets.
Escape grapples. On the other side of things, you might need to escape an enemy’s grapple with an Acrobatics check. If it’s a do-or-die situation and freedom is essential, again, Elegant Maneuver is your best friend.
Use it 100% of the time out of combat. The above situations are semi-rare, but run-of-the-mill Athletics/Acrobatics checks out of combat — jumping gaps, balancing on logs, climbing something difficult, etc. — happen all the time. Having advantage on all these quite common checks is not insignificant.
Master Duelist – 17th-level
If you miss an attack, you can reroll with advantage. Only one use, requires a short rest or long rest to recharge. This works with ranged weapons as well, flavor text notwithstanding.
Master Duelist Tips
Kinda disappointing. As far as capstones go, turning one miss into a hit is pretty weak. But if it’s a do-or-die moment, it’s a good thing to have in your back pocket. Plus, it gives you advantage, so if you don’t already have Sneak Attack for some reason, you do with Master Duelist.
Like all Rogues, Swashbucklers want to max out their Dexterity as soon as possible, so picking up feats is a luxury for later levels. But when you can afford to pick them up, here are the best feats for a Swashbuckler:
Inspiring Leader. Requires 13 Charisma, but you should have at least 14 from Point Buy. Gives allies temporary hit points equal to your level + your Charisma modifier after giving a 10 minute speech. You can give this out every short rest, so the more of those your party takes, the more effective health you provide for your party throughout an adventuring day.
At 8th-level with a +2 Charisma modifier, with a party of 5 players, this can add up to 150 temporary hit points in a day — that’s basically an extra two characters worth of health; nothing to sneeze at, and it kinda fits that a Swashbuckler would give rousing speeches to their comrades.
Magic Initiate. Two cantrips and a 1st-level spell of your choice from any full caster’s spell list. If you’re not dual-wielding, Booming Blade is an excellent choice for the Swashbuckler’s kiting playstyle. It will truly make melee enemies weep, deciding between adding to your DPR and standing still.
And for a 1st-level spell, why not Find Familiar to add even more utility to your character both in and out of combat, without requiring a good spellcasting ability modifier?
Fey Touched. +1 Charisma and the ability to use Misty Step and one 1st-level Divination or Enchantment spell once per day. Misty Step is an incredible short range, bonus action teleport that makes your character even more mobile (hello, extra verticality!) and slippery.
For a 1st-level spell, something simple and effective like Bless — boosting 3 allies attack rolls and saving throws by 1d4 for 1 minute, including possibly yourself — is a great choice.
Actor. +1 Charisma, advantage on Deception and Performance checks, and the ability to mimic a creature’s voice. The half ASI is nice if it bumps your Charisma modifier, and the skill advantages round out your character as the party’s definitive Face. With Expertise in Persuasion already, there’s no social skill check you’re not adept at…except Intimidation.
Swashbuckler 5e Multiclass Options
These are some of the best multiclass options for Swashbuckler Fighters to consider.
Hexblade Warlock. Since Hexblades use Charisma as their attack modifier, Hexblade/Swashbucklers can go all in on Charisma and make Dexterity their secondary stat (still need +2 for the AC). Hexblade also gives you medium armor and shield proficiency, making you tankier to boot. You can also get Booming Blade and the Shield spell from this, adding even more utility, damage, and tankiness to your gameplay. Throw Fiendish Vigor in there, and you’re quite a formidable foe at 4th-level, when this build fully comes online.
College of Swords Bard. Medium armor proficiency, two-weapon fighting style (or dueling, but you don’t have shield proficiency, so two-weapon fighting is likely the better choice), and Blade Flourish for extra AC, AoE damage, or extra mobility/battlefield control. Plus, Extra Attack at 6th-level, which adds up to quite a powerful 9th-level character.
But even at 6th-level, with both subclasses online and access to 2nd-level Bard spells, your character is quite the skill monkey and provider of in-combat utility and damage.
Oh, and just being a Bard gets you even more expertise and Jack of All Trades, providing another small buff to your initiative and all other non-proficient skill checks. And, of course, Bardic Inspiration and Song of Rest for even more utility.
Battle Master Fighter. Fighter multiclass gets you medium armor and shield proficiency, as well as a fighting style (Dueling if you want to wear a shield, two-weapon fighting if not). Second Wind for an extra self-heal once a short rest and Action Surge at 2nd-level for even more damage. You can even use Action Surge to Ready an action to attack on another creature’s turn for more Sneak Attack damage per round.
Then there’s the wonderful suite of Battle Master maneuvers that adds much greater complexity and utility to your kit. Precision Attack is excellent for ensuring that you land your attacks more often, guaranteeing more Sneak Attack damage. Bait and Switch makes you even more of an ally-rescuing tank who can help their buddies avoid opportunity attacks as well as they do (and provide a short-term AC buff to them).
And Riposte is just plain cool and thematically on-point for a Swashbuckler, allowing you to take advantage of your enemy’s misses with a free weapon attack (and more Sneak Attack damage).
Swashbuckler Strengths and Weaknesses
Mobility. Being able to attack and retreat without suffering opportunity attacks is huge. Rogues can always do this with a Cunning Action Disengage, but Swashbucklers can use that Cunning Action to Dash instead. Being able to Dash every round while taking no opportunity attacks makes Swashbuckler game incredibly dynamic — you can be wherever you’re needed on the battlefield as quickly as anyone.
I’ll add that, from a pure enjoyment perspective, the Swashbuckler’s emphasis on movement makes it (subjectively) more fun than many melee classes, who often stand in one spot for the whole duration of a fight.
Single-target damage. Right from 3rd-level with Rakish Audacity, Swashbucklers are defined by their ability to trigger Sneak Attack without the help of their allies. This makes them incredibly independent and scary in one-on-one fights. And if you lean into the damage element by using two-weapon fighting, you highly increase your odds of triggering Sneak Attack every round of combat — the source of most of a Rogue’s damage.
Single-target tanking. Swashbucklers are quite good at soft-tanking in a playstyle that emphasizes kiting rather than purely absorbing damage. This aspect of the subclass really comes online at 9th-level with Panache, where you’re debuffing an enemy unless it attacks you and removing its ability to make opportunity attacks against your allies.
With +5 Dex at 8th level, you’ll be up to a reasonably high 17 AC. And if you dip into Fighter for shield proficiency, you can actually become quite hardy.
Out-of-combat utility. Most martials don’t have a whole lot to do outside of combat — not so for Swashbucklers. With Expertise in Persuasion for better Panache checks and incentive for making Charisma your secondary stat for initiative bonuses, you’re naturally going to be good at these abilities anyway.
And with a free and unlimited Charm Person effect, you’re likely the most reliable Face in the party — even if your group has another Charisma-based character.
Large groups of enemies. It’s hard to make full use of Fancy Footwork and Rakish Audacity when you’re surrounded on all sides. There’s nowhere to kite safely, since trying to move in any direction will trigger an opportunity attack. And you’ll have a harder time getting Rakish Audacity’s Sneak Attack from having multiple enemies around you.
This is a problem for all Rogues; it’s just especially pronounced for Swashbucklers, whose features rely on single-target focus.
Tight spaces. Movement is key to optimal Swashbuckler gameplay, and tight spaces — small dungeons, interiors of small buildings, etc. — hinder this gameplay significantly. Even if you can get away without triggering an opportunity attack, if the enemy can easily walk up to you on their turn, half the benefit of Fancy Footwork is negated.
Ranged enemies. Fancy Footwork isn’t good for much if you’re being targeted by enemy archers. Especially if there’s no cover for you to take as you attempt hit-and-run tactics. This is especially true for enemy spellcasters, who can ignore the effects of your Panache feature by using saving throw-based spells instead of making attack rolls at disadvantage.
Is the Swashbuckler a Good Subclass in 5e?
Yes, the Swashbuckler is a good subclass. It deals reliably high damage and is incredibly dynamic, mobile, and tactically interesting to play.
On top of that, it has great utility outside of combat, by way of a free Charm Person via Panache and an incentive to invest in Charisma. Elegant Maneuver also makes you the ideal Athlete and Acrobat, but that comes online very late in the game.
Swashbucklers also multiclass extremely well, adding depth and complexity to their gameplay, while also remedying many of a Rogue’s natural weak points.
Roleplaying a Swashbuckler
The Swashbuckler is ripe for roleplaying opportunities, as a silver-tounged schmoozer, a braggadocious duelist, and an unpinnable acrobat. Which of these identities you choose to lean into will define how and why your character chose this path in life.
Here are some backstory concepts for a Swashbuckler Rogue:
A foul-mouthed pirate. You’ve been raiding coastal villages and robbing merchant ships for years, and spreading your name far and wide while you were at it. Bored by mere booty, you aspired to fame (or infamy; it’s all the same to you). You got your wish, and caught the attention of too powerful an adversary when you robbed a royal vessel.
After years in prison, you managed to stage your escape with a combination of smooth words and great feats of athleticism. Far from repentant for your crimes, you now seek to rebuild your old skill with a blade, and remind the realm of your name.
A prodigal child. You were raised in great wealth, and you put it to extravagant and regular use. But when the ostentatious balls and their diversions failed to scratch your itch for adventure, you sought out the seedier parts of town. And you started sparking fights with local roughs to test your mettle and see what your trainer’s lessons were really worth.
You earned yourself more than a few bloody lips in these barroom brawls, and lost more than a fair sum of coin in ill-advised gambling. Soon, your extracurricular activities were a source of embarrassment for your noble family. They shipped you off to a sinecure position in a remote location…or they tried. You paid off the coachman, and set off on your journey, eager to seek out new challenges.
A notorious performer/burglar. Known as the greatest traveling performer in your humble region of the world, folks came far and wide to see your acrobatic stunts and dramatic performances. Little did each village know that they paid you twice whenever you visited; once with the price of admission, and once with whatever you stole after learning the village’s secrets.
It was a good life, but dangerous. And when your crew decided your cut was too high, they robbed you of everything you were worth. Never a fighter by nature, you’ve now taken up the sword, ready to add to your diverse skill set and seek vengeance from the fools who stole from you.