The Swashbuckler Rogue
Let’s just go ahead and call this week Swashbuckler Week! I recently played a one-shot as a swashbuckler rogue and immediately found myself loving them. In fact, they’re on my short-list to play out in a full campaign when I get the chance. So, in light of that, here’s the build I’d end up using!
Goals of This Build
Mobile and Maneuverable
One of the core mechanics of rogues is that they are extremely mobile. I mean when you can use the Dodge, Dash, or Hide actions as a bonus action you can generally run circles around friend and foe alike.
The features from the swashbuckler archetype take the rogue’s incredible base mobility and maneuverability and kicks it up a notch. Right off the bat, you get Fancy Footwork which allows you to move away from a creature you attack without requiring anything out of your action economy.
You’re fast, you’re slippery, and you still have plenty of other tricks up your sleeve. If you have a mind for good combat positioning and hunger for tactical combat, the swashbuckler is a character that will satiate your desires.
A swashbuckler build would be a complete and utter failure if it was not a fantastic duelist. That’s why we live and die by the sword, or swords if you so choose to go a more dual-wielding build.
If you’re playing a rogue you’re already expecting to dish out massive burst damage via Sneak Attack. The swashbuckler archetype takes Sneak Attack and adds a twist to it, it allows you to 1v1 a target while still being able to deal Sneak Attack damage.
Of course, it goes without saying that you also get some features and tools to give yourself the upper hand in one on one combat. You can charm your foes into an unideal position and then finish them off with a quick blow while your party engages with the enemy minions. En garde!
Books Needed for This Build
Optional Books for Races
Note: Urchin & rogue is the D&D version of peanut butter & jelly. But I’m from Boston. We eat peanut butter and fluff here. We’re going with Charlatan for this one. (You can choose whatever background you want since you can swap the skill proficiencies).
Race: variant human, any elf, tabaxi, bugbear, or goblin
Note: Any race with +2 Dexterity will do, really. I didn’t include halflings as you have 25 ft. of speed which feels subpar for a build that values mobility. However, I chose tabaxi as their Feline Agility trait works really well with the swashbuckler rogue’s kit.
Ability Scores: This was done using point buy. Check out this post for more info on point buy!
STR: 10 (+0)
DEX: 16 (+3) – +2 from Tabaxi
CON: 13 (+1)
INT: 12 (+1)
WIS: 12 (+1)
CHA: 14 (+2) – +1 from Tabaxi
Note: We definitely want that +3 Dexterity modifier no matter what. Having a +2 modifier in Charisma is fantastic and highly desirable as well. You can certainly optimize the other ability scores for some additional Constitution or crank up your Charisma even higher.
Skills: Acrobatics, Intimidation, Investigation, Persuasion (Rogue) & Deception and Sleight of Hand (Charlatan) & Perception and Stealth (Tabaxi)
Note: Holy shit lol.
Post Level 1
Rogue 19/Fighter 1
For 95% of this build, we’ll be going rogue. However, there are some very nice perks in a fighter multiclass for any martial character, but rogues in particular.
Yep, we’re dipping a single level into fighter for this one. In fact, you’ll do it at 4th level. You go in there, get your 1 fighter level, and get the hell out and keep leveling rogue as if nothing happened. However, in doing so we’re going to gain a ton.
For starters, we’ll gain proficiency with medium armor, shields, and martial weapons. Really, all we want here is the shield proficiency. We also get the excellent 1st-level fighter feature Fighting Style and they throw in Second Wind for free.
We have two Fighting Style options, depending on what type of swashbuckler you wish to make. The first and my personal choice is Dueling. This gives us a +2 bonus to damage rolls with a weapon provided you are only wielding a melee weapon in one hand and no other weapons. This means we can use a rapier and a shield while dealing an average of 6.5 + DEX modifier damage per hit.
The other Fighting Style option is Two-Weapon Fighting. This allows you to add your ability modifier to the damage of the second attack. For now, you can only use two weapons with the light property, but if you opt to go this route you’ll want to pick up the Dual Wielder so you can use two melee weapons that aren’t light.
For more information on dual wielding and Two-Weapon Fighting check out this article!
“But what if we’re actually going to play to level 20?”
I’d still skip out on going 20 levels into rogue for Stroke of Luck. Nothing against it, but Master Duelist makes up for about 1/2 of Stroke of Luck’s usefulness. Dipping a level into fighter gets us all of that good stuff I already mentioned, and we still get to max out our Sneak Attack dice and get all of the rogue’s ASIs.
Ability Score Increases (ASIs)
We get a total of 6 ASIs throughout our journey to level 20.
Ability Score Priorities
Dexterity >>> Charisma >> Constitution > Wisdom >= Intelligence > Strength
Dexterity is quite possibly the best ability score in the game. There are a ton of regularly-used skills that require it, it’s a popular saving throw ability, your initiative is based on it, your AC is based on it, and as a rogue, your attacks and damage revolve around it as well. Cap your Dexterity at 20 ASAP, as in within your first 2-3 ASIs.
Charisma is extremely important for swashbucklers as a lot of our features revolve around it. Due to this, we’ll probably end up being the face of the party, so extra Charisma never hurt anyone. I don’t think you need to cap it at 20 but shoot for 16-18 for that sweet, sweet +3 or +4 modifier.
Constitution is nice because it’s also a popular saving throw ability. It also bolsters our base HP so it aids in our survivability. Personally, I wouldn’t go buck-wild with Constitution. You can grab a half-feat and boost it up to a +2 modifier easily. 16 Constitution is our absolute max though.
Intelligence and Wisdom are roughly equal in usefulness depending on how you wish to play your character. Are you more perceptive or inquisitive? Naturally, I’d give a slight edge to Wisdom just because it’s a common saving throw ability.
Strength isn’t super useful to this build. However, as a tabaxi, we have unarmed strikes that deal extra damage based on our strength modifier. I still wouldn’t put extra points into it, but it’s not entirely useless.
Dual Wielder* – This is a fantastic feat if you’re looking to dual wield two melee weapons instead of roll with the rapier & shield duelist combo. You’ll gain some AC while you are currently dual wielding, dual wield melee weapons that aren’t light, and draw/stow two one-handed weapons at once. It’s a lot of value for a dual wielding playstyle.
Mage Slayer – While this is a niche feat, it does its job well. You gain the ability to use your reaction to make an attack against a creature that casts a spell within 5 feet of you. This gives us another opportunity to flex our Sneak Attack damage. It’s a fun feat if you find yourself facing off against a plethora of spellcasting enemies.
Magic Initiate (Sorcerer) – With this feat, you gain 2 Cantrips and 1 1st-level Spell from the Wizard Spell list. Can you say Green Flame Blade or Booming Blade? I mean, if we’re only able to make one melee attack per turn anyways we may as well cast a cantrip that gives us some additional damage and perks for doing so.
Resilient (Constitution) – If you have an odd number for your Constitution score you might as well pick up this feat. This way you get that additional +1 modifier to your Constitution and gain proficiency in Constitution saving throws. We’ll have a total of 4 saving throw proficiencies at level 15 thanks to Slippery Mind!
Sentinel – This is similar to Mage Slayer except it has many more opportunities to be used. There will be plenty of times where you wish to engage a creature in one-on-one combat, or you have them locked in an ideal position. This ensures that they won’t slip away from your duel without your permission.
Lucky – Lucky is a great feat for any build.
Class Features – Rogue
Expertise – Level 1 & 6
If the eight skill proficiencies weren’t enough for you, you can now gain expertise and double the proficiency bonus of two of your skill proficiencies. You can optionally gain expertise with your thieves’ tools.
You gain this feature twice so in total we’ll have expertise in four different skill checks.
Level 1: Persuasion & Thieves’ Tools
Level 6: Dealer’s Choice
I highly recommend grabbing expertise in both Persuasion and Thieves’ Tools. Persuasion is directly tied to the swashbuckler’s Panache feature so it’s incredibly important to have a high modifier. Thieves’ tools are particularly useful for disabling traps or unlocking doors.
Honestly, you can probably choose to gain expertise in whatever skills you desire. Persuasion is the one mandatory skill that you absolutely need for this build. My personal favorites for level 6 would be Stealth and Perception/Investigation, though Deception and Intimidation are great options for a face character.
Sneak Attack – Level 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17, 19
This is the rogue’s bread-and-butter combat feature. Unlike the other martial classes, rogues do not get the Extra Attack feature. Instead, they play as a high-burst character with few attacks per turn, but their attacks hit hard.
Sneak Attack starts-off at level 1 dealing an additional 1d6 (3.5) damage once per turn. This damage increases every other level by 1d6 (3.5) damage.
Granted, they have plenty of tools to offset the risk of missing with their 1 or 2 attacks per turn, but it can still bring a bit of risk into their combat effectiveness. Rogues revolve around being able to regularly dish-out their Sneak Attack damage. They become sub-par when they’re unable to.
Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to trigger Sneak Attack. You can use it once per turn provided you have advantage on the attack roll with a finesse or ranged weapon. However, you don’t need advantage on the attack if an enemy of your target is within 5 ft. of your target. Swashbucklers also get an additional trigger which we’ll discuss later.
Sneak Attack provides a ton of burst damage. It’s by far the leading factor into why I frequently wind-up multi-classing into rogue whenever I play a DEX-based martial class.
However, in this build, we’re getting the maximum benefits of Sneak Attack as it caps out at 10d6 at level 19. That’s an average of 35 extra damage which is nothing to scoff at for a feature that has no cool-down and can be used multiple times in a round.
Thieves’ Cant – Level 1
Thieves’ Cant is essentially a unique language that only thieves, rogues, and other unsavory characters know. It takes considerably longer to communicate using Thieves’ Cant, but it’s a way to ensure that your messages won’t be intercepted by most eavesdroppers.
You’ll also learn secret signs and symbols that you can use to mark locations. These symbols can convey simple messages such as if the surrounding area is dangerous or has plentiful easy marks for pickpockets.
This isn’t anything crucial to our swashbuckler build, but it’s certainly a fun tool to use for role-playing.
Cunning Action – Level 2
We wanted mobility, now let’s get some mobility. Cunning Action is possibly one of my favorite features in the game. It’s got a ridiculous amount of utility packed into a small, 2nd-level-sized package.
This feature allows you to take the Dash, Disengage, or Hide action as a bonus action. This is part of the reason why I opted to go with the rapier and shield duelist combo instead of a dual wielder build. I’ll always have a bonus action available to use Cunning Action.
Keep in mind that you can still use your action to take a Dash, Disengage, or Hide action and use Cunning Action. This means that you could take two Dash actions on a turn, or Disengage and Dash in the same turn if you’re caught in a tough position.
If you choose to play a tabaxi like me you can couple your Cunning Action with Feline Agility to bolt around the battlefield with lightning-fast speed.
Uncanny Dodge – Level 5
Our Consitution is ok. We can take a solid hit or two. Mediocre HP wouldn’t be a problem for most rogues, but we’re playing a swashbuckler which with the Panache feature at level 9 is able to essentially taunt an enemy.
My point is that we’re going to be a target if our high damage output doesn’t make us one already.
Uncanny Dodge, however, gives us a way to use our reaction to reduce an attack’s damage by half. This is an exceptional feature as it gives us a fantastic survivability option, but it also gives us a regular use for our reaction. I’m all about maximizing that action economy!
You can use Uncanny Dodge to brace yourself for an attack that you know is bound to hit you hard. Another great use is for mitigating damage while you’re at low HP.
There’s really no wrong way to use Uncanny Dodge, unless you think you have a better way to use your reaction, such as if you have the Sentinel feat and have a wider window to make opportunity attacks against enemies.
Evasion – Level 7
Evasion is another survivability feature that rogues get, however, this one doesn’t require anything out of our action economy to use. It’s purely a passive feature.
If you make a Dexterity saving throw to take half damage you take no damage on a success and half damage on a failure.
It’s certainly not a fun feature, but it’s a fantastic one that will save your ass many times.
Reliable Talent – Level 11
Sorry, were eight skill proficiencies, up to four of which have been upgraded to Expertise not enough for you? My bad.
Well, with Reliable Talent, whenever you make an ability check that allows you to add your proficiency bonus to it you can treat any roll of 9 or lower as if it were a 10.
Cool, so now we can’t roll lower than a 10 on any of these skills. This is going to be exceptional for Panache as it guarantees that we have at least a 10 on each of our Persuasion checks!
In fact, with a base of 10 for our roll, Expertise and a +3 Charisma modifier the lowest we can roll for a Persuasion check is a 21. Nice!
Blindsense – Level 14
You can now sense the location of any hidden or invisible creature within 10 ft. of you provided that you are able to hear.
This is peak “I’m not in here with you, you’re in here with me!” No one gets to hide from you unless you let them.
Or if they’re further than 10 ft. away from you, but considering how fast we can move you can thoroughly sweep a room pretty quickly to locate a hidden creature.
Slippery Mind – Level 15
As if Evasion wasn’t enough, you now have another feature that aids you in saving throws. Slippery Mind gives you proficiency in Wisdom saving throws.
If you’re truly living on the edge and took Resilient (Constitution) you’ll now have proficiency in four saving throw abilities. Three of which are the most popular saving throw abilities in D&D 5e.
Elusive – Level 18
What other survivability features could possibly be crammed onto our character sheet?
How about becoming so quick and Elusive that attack rolls can no longer have advantage against you unless you’re incapacitated? Sounds good. We’ll take it.
This is an excellent end-game feature. It’s an extremely powerful feature and basically, another survivability tool to throw into the pile of survivability and maneuverability options we have already.
It’s not even a feature that’s tied to any sort of action or requires a short or long rest to use again. This is just an always-on passive feature. It’s fantastic.
Roguish Archetype – Swashbuckler
Fancy Footwork – Level 3
Essentially, you gain the ability to move away from a creature without provoking opportunity attacks from them. Provided you’ve attacked them with a melee weapon this turn. This doesn’t require you to use a bonus action, action, or anything. It’s awesome.
The catch, of course, is that only the creature you’ve attacked is unable to make opportunity attacks against you. If you’re within range of other creatures that you haven’t attacked, they can still make opportunity attacks against you.
On paper, this sounds pretty weak, but in practice, it’s an extremely useful feature when used well. It just takes a bit of tactical know-how and creativity to do so. Take a look at the diagram below to see what I’m talking about.
As a swashbuckler, you want to keep to the outskirts of a fight. Let the front-line plow through the enemy line. We’re here to whittle down the enemy forces from the outside-in.
Keep moving to a creature on the edge of the enemy formation, attack, then use Fancy Footwork to move back into an ideal position. Rinse, and repeat.
Another great option is to lure creatures out of their formation and strike them down while they’re alone.
“But what if you’re going to get surrounded?” Don’t be surrounded! We have Fancy Footwork and Cunning Action to let us dip in and out of combat quickly if we’re up against very fast creatures. Basically, don’t end your turn in a position where the enemy can use their movement to gang up on you.
As you can imagine, Fancy Footwork also couples well with Feline Agility which lets you double your speed until the end of your turn. This combo will be available fairly regularly considering the fact that Feline Agility’s cooldown resets after you move 0 feet on one of your turns.
Rakish Audacity – Level 3
Rakish Audacity is a two-parter. The first of which allows you to add your Charisma modifier to your initiative rolls. For reference, we’d be at a +5 to initiative with the point buy build we came up with. It’s very possible to have a +8 or +9 bonus by the end of this build.
Going early in the initiative order is almost always beneficial, but it’s especially beneficial for swashbucklers. Due to our “dive and weave” positioning, we have the upper-hand at gaining a strategic foothold on the battlefield before the enemy is able to get into a proper formation.
The second perk of Rakish Audacity is that you can use Sneak Attack against a creature if you are within 5 ft. of them when you attack them, and as long as there are no other creatures within 5 feet of you. You also cannot have disadvantage on the roll to use Sneak Attack in this way.
Keep the “no other creatures within 5 feet of you” part in the back of your mind. You’re not required to be 1v1ing each other in the corner to use Rakish Audacity. You can be on the perimeter of a group of enemies provided you aren’t within 5 ft. of anyone else.
Of course, the regular methods of using Sneak Attack are still entirely possible. Rakish Audacity just gives you another option.
Panache – Level 9
Panache is another two-part feature, except this one focuses more on using your wit and charm than your sword.
To use Panache you have to use an action to make a Persuasion check against a creature’s Insight check. The effects of Panache differ depending on how the creature perceives you when you use Panache.
If you succeed and the creature is hostile to you, the creature attacks with disadvantage on attack rolls against targets other than you. They also cannot make opportunity attacks against creatures other than you. This lasts 1 minute, until one of your companions attacks the creature, or if you and the creature are more than 60 feet apart.
If you succeed on the check, but the creature isn’t hostile towards you, the creature is charmed by you for 1 minute. You’re regarded as a friendly acquaintance until the end of the charm. However, the charm ends early if you or your friends attack the creature. It’s a mini Charm Person without the downsides
There’s no short or long rest requirement to regain the use of this feature. You can Panache as much as you desire. It’s a very solid utility feature both in and out of combat, especially since we have expertise in Persuasion checks!
Elegant Maneuver – Level 13
Compared to the rest of the features, Elegant Maneuver is probably your weakest one. And by weak, I mean that it’s a situational feature.
Elegant Maneuver lets you use a bonus action to gain advantage on your next Acrobatics or Athletics check you make during the same turn. This is very useful for situations where you know there’s an obstacle you have to move past using one of these skills.
Another use of Elegant Maneuver is to break free of a grapple. Our survivability and playstyle revolve entirely around being able to move about the battlefield. A grapple is one of the few things that can allow the enemy to dogpile on us and make quick work of us. Breaking free of grapples is important.
If there’s an Acrobatics or Athletics check to be made, you basically have permanent advantage on it from level 13 and onward.
Master Duelist – Level 17
If you miss with an attack roll you can choose to roll the attack again with advantage.
As I mentioned earlier this is very similar to the rogue’s capstone ability Stroke of Luck which lets you turn a missed attack or failed ability check into a success. Master Duelist is clearly weaker, but it’s a solid substitute. Because of it, I don’t feel bad about missing out on Stroke of Luck to take that dip into fighter.
You only get this once per short or long rest. Choose your reroll wisely!
Strengths of this Build
We have some excellent damage output thanks to Sneak Attack and the Duelist Fighting Style. This can only be improved on depending on the feats you end up taking as well.
Dual wielders will certainly come out ahead in the damage dealing department, but personally, I still prefer the +2 AC we gain from using a shield. I also love having a bonus action available to use Cunning Action or Elegant Maneuver whenever I please. Again, this is a matter of playstyle preference.
We’re also damn quick thanks to Cunning Action and Feline Agility. Rakish Audacity ensures that we’re going early in the combat order so we can be sure to take an ideal position in the battlefield and, of course, deal the first strike to the enemy!
Also, let’s give another quick shout-out to Fancy Footwork which gives us plenty of opportunities to dip and weave into a more ideal position throughout the course of a combat encounter.
We deal some hefty damage, we’re slippery, and we’re damn quick. This is the ultimate dream for a combat-focused rogue, except we have tons of out-of-combat utility as a face character thanks to our skill proficiencies, Panache, and our high Charisma!
Weaknesses of this Build
Honestly, the most glaring weakness is part of what makes the swashbuckler so strong in the first place. It’s a hyper-focused archetype that revolves entirely around making you a fantastic melee combatant. You’re not a well-balanced master of combat.
What I mean to say is that our ranged options are possible, we can still proc Sneak Attack from afar, but we’re wasting our potential when we’re forced into a situation where we have to use ranged attacks. We’re at our absolute best in melee combat. Fighting at long-range sucks.
We’re also very squishy up until we get Uncanny Dodge at rogue level 5, which for this build is character level 6. We have tons of AC, but if we get hit by a ton of damage we don’t have anything in terms of mitigation.
Post rouge level 5 we’re in a much better spot and only continue to improve in terms of survivability, but those first 5 character levels can be rough.
The swashbuckler really suffers from having a lot of “looks bad on paper” features. Nothing looks super exciting or flashy, but when you actually get to play as one, it all comes together into a well-oiled whirring dervish.
Personally, I would put the swashbuckler just behind arcane trickster in the ranking of rogue archetypes based on combat prowess. Sure, swashbucklers have a very defined playstyle, but they have the tools to make it work and make it work well.
You’re not going to be a front-line bruiser, but no matter how you slice it you’ll be doing some massive damage. It’s also a very customizable build thanks to how many ASIs rogues get. Pick and choose fun feats to truly make your swashbuckler unique!
If tactical combat is one of your favorite parts of D&D, the swashbuckler is one of the most fun and rewarding character options for you.
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