© Wizards of the Coast by Anna Podedworna

Swashbuckler Rogue Guide 5e: Charming, Dangerous, With Style

When I mention a rogue, what comes to mind? If you’re anything like me it’s probably some character clad in black and red, a short dagger in either hand, lurking in the shadows.

Spies, thieves, assassins, these are the archetypes that I picture whenever someone mentions a rogue, be it D&D or not.

Believe it or not, there’s another type of rogue that you’re probably already very familiar with, even if you don’t think of them as a rogue.

Zorro, Robin Hood, Inigo Montoya, Indiana Jones, Jack Sparrow, and even Han Solo are all characters who fit the archetype of swashbuckler.

While most people, myself included, picture pirates whenever the word swashbuckler is mentioned, the term actually defines a much broader character.

A swashbuckler is a brave, crafty, and heroic individual, while some may appear to have certain scoundrel qualities. Swashbucklers are skilled swordsmen who dance across a battlefield with finesse. 

Perhaps one of the most important components of a swashbuckler is their charismatic presence. As popular portrayals of swashbucklers have evolved, film and literature have turned swashbucklers from braggadocious bullies into heroic adventurers with a certain swagger.

In D&D, this gives us a really exciting character to play. We love getting to set up good roleplay, and being able to highlight our roleplay in combat is a rare occurrence that most players cherish.

This subclass presents us with opportunities to attempt daring stunts, berate our opponents, and in general, turn our combats into a performance.

Class-Defining Abilities

  • Charismatic rogue
  • Improved sneak attack
  • Light on your feet

Let me start off by saying, Spiderman is a great example of a swashbuckler, although I should probably focus on an easier sell, like Inigo Montoya.

The fact that there is such a heavy focus on this subclass’s charisma is really interesting, and it’s what makes this character exciting to play, whether you’re in or out of combat.

So let’s talk about how your charisma turns you into a better rogue.

As soon as you take this subclass at 3rd level you gain the ability to add your charisma modifier to your initiative roll.

Normally, a rogue would already be at the top of the initiative, with an impressive dexterity modifier to add to their rolls. With your two highest ability scores boosting your initiative you’re practically guaranteed to get the jump on anyone and everyone.

At 9th level, we see the big ability that puts our charisma in the foreground. Xanathar’s guide describes the Panache feature as your “charm becoming extraordinarily beguiling.”

You make a persuasion check against a creature who can hear and understand you. The effects of a successful persuasion will depend on whether or not the creature is hostile towards you.

If they are hostile, they become locked in one on one combat with you. Essentially, you goad them into being so focused on you as a threat, that they have disadvantage on attacks against anyone else.  

To me this feels like the classic hero move, getting the big bad to focus on you. Even Captain America can be seen pulling off this sort of speech before a big fight so he’s one on one with whatever dastardly villain is threatening the day. What I love is the variety that comes with this kind of a move. 

You probably won’t be saying “Hey! Fight me!” everytime you want to use this feature. Instead, you’ll be pulling off insults, threats, dares, or huge speeches. Each villain you come across is going to provide a different opportunity for you to use your words like weapons.

Now, you can also use this ability on non-hostile creatures. Instead of goading them, you are literally charming them. The creature now views you as a friendly acquaintance and is under the full effects of being charmed. 

Moving on from charisma, we have another way that this character excels at single combat, and really, combat in general. You gain an additional use condition for your sneak attack at 3rd level, that can completely change the dynamic of a rogue. 

Normally, a rogue either needs advantage against their target, or for their target to be within 5 feet of another enemy of the target, not incapacitated, and to not have disadvantage on them. Basically, you either have advantage on them or being near an ally (the enemy of my enemy is my friend logic) let’s you get a ‘sneak attack’ in.

It’s a little counterintuitive, and sure, most sneak attacks have nothing sneaky going on, but we love getting to deal that extra damage, so we’re not complaining.

Well, the swashbuckler introduces a new condition; if you are within 5 feet of your target, no other creatures are within 5 feet of you, and you don’t have disadvantage on the attack roll, you can make a sneak attack.

Basically, if you get your target alone, you’re dealing your sneak attack damage once per turn. Standalone, this ability is awesome. You’re almost guaranteed to get extra damage in each turn. 

Of course, you don’t lose out on the other sneak conditions. Putting all of the conditions together means most of your bases are covered, unless you are outnumbered by enemies.

Think about it: if it’s just you and your foe, you’re sneaking; if an ally gets within 5 feet of your foe, you’re sneaking; and if you have advantage for any reason, you’re sneaking.

Play your cards right and you’ll never have to miss out on your bonus d6’s.

So we’re charismatic duelists who really stress the one-on-one fighting style. For a rogue, this might put us in danger. We rely on stealth to keep us safe, how are we supposed to involve ourselves in single combat and take all the damage that comes with it?

That’s where all of the other abilities come in. Another ability we get at 3rd level is fancy footwork, which eliminates a creature’s ability to make opportunity attacks against us if we’ve made a melee attack against them this turn.

You might as well call this ability hit and run. Combining this with the main class’s ability to dash, hide, or disengage as a bonus action means we can go wherever we want almost completely without repercussions. 

We also get elegant maneuvers at 13th level, which lets us take a bonus action to prepare us for a acrobatics or athletics check so that we make the roll with advantage. This is an ability that you have to be creative to use.

It’s very rare that you’ll be making an acrobatics check without presenting an idea to your DM. But if you are creative, there are plenty of exciting options.

Maybe you’ll clip a halyard to bring yourself atop a sail-like Jack Sparrow, or maybe you want to pull off any one of the stunts in the fight between Inigo Montoya and the Dread Pirate Roberts.

No matter how you want to fight, the swashbuckler subclass is going to let you do it better.

Limitations

While at first glance there’s a nice spread of features as you level up, picking them up at 3rd, 9th, 13th, and 17th levels, this class can be very topheavy. Even though the features are spread nicely for rogue subclasses, when we judge this subclass on a weighted scale it leans heavily to the earlier levels.

At 3rd we’re picking up two features, and essentially three abilities. This is when we save ourselves from opportunity attacks, and improve upon our initiative and sneak attack conditions.

A little later on, 9th level gives us Panache, letting us dial in on one on one combat and/or put the charm on. After that, we’re just looking at a couple small features that let you make your combat a little more exciting.

The latter two features this subclass offers are great, but not necessarily capstone material. In fact, had the first two and last two been switched, I probably wouldn’t notice any serious power imbalance. 

So we get really cool abilities out the gate, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, right? Well, no.

It doesn’t have to be, but it can become pretty annoying. Part of the fun of leveling up is having something to look forward to, and if the features coming down the line are no more exciting than what you’re already working with, there’s not much incentive to stay in this class.

Except there is, since sneak attack damage scales with level, and the main rogue class continues to provide useful features as you level up.

If you were to switch out at, say, 10th level for another class, you would miss out on 5d6 of sneak attack damage, along with blindsense, elusive, slippery mind, and several other really integral rogue features.

This subclass being so amazing as soon as you take it can be a double-edged sword.

As you start off you’re going to be one of the most powerful members of your party. As your teammates get stronger you might find yourself left in the dust if you don’t make very clever use of your latter abilities.

Now, this is one of the best problems you can have. Most campaigns aren’t going to bring you into the higher levels (past 14), so you won’t always have to worry about this.

Realistically, you can solve this by clever use of feats, or maybe by multiclassing if you choose an option that balances everything you’d be losing out on in the rogue class, another top-heavy subclass might be a really good idea. 

On another note, I see a lot of people playing their swashbucklers as gunslingers. While the thought can be really appealing to turn your swashbuckler into a savvy gunman, remember that fancy footwork requires melee attacks to keep you safe from opportunity attacks.

Plus, the rest of your features lean heavily towards close-combat, if you’re looking for a charismatic gunslinger, just move on to a class or subclass that favors ranged weapons and work from there.

Black Citadel’s Ranking and Tier System

Color and Tier ranking is very helpful when you’re trying to digest a lot of information.  In our ongoing series of 5e class guides, we use the following color rating scheme:

  • RedC Tier. Red options can sometimes be situationally useful, and might make for an interesting narrative choice, but are largely less effective than other tiers.
  • GreenB Tier. Solid but nothing that is absolutely critical for a build, or Green can be very good but only in very specific situations.  
  • BlueA Tier. An excellent choice. Widely regarded as powerful in some way, useful, highly effective. 
  • PurpleS Tier. The top of our rankings. Objectively powerful or transformative in some way.  No choice in D&D is essential, but these options are worth strongly considering when you create your character.

Our goal here is to provide scannable, but comprehensive guides for you as you develop your character.

While we might sometimes make reference to unofficial or homebrew content to illustrate a point (or just because it’s too cool not to talk about) every option we suggest is legal in the official rules for D&D 5e as published by Wizards of the Coast.

Race Choices

Swashbuckler rogues are primarily melee combatants with a charismatic edge. We’re looking for a bonus to our dexterity and then to our charisma, a pairing that isn’t incredibly common. After that we want anything that will complement our playstyle.

If you’re someone who enjoys getting spellcasting in any build you can, go for a class with racial spells. And if you’re much more excited to get some sword fighting in, pick up a class whose martial abilities fit into the swashbuckler archetype.

The following are a few races I think are well-suited to be swashbucklers:

Drow – +2 DEX, +1 CHA. Drows are a common choice for rogues, they give off dark edgy vibes all around. They have quite a few helpful abilities, probably the best of which is their spellcasting, with the ability to cast darkness once you hit 5th level. One point of caution though is that the drow race has built-in disadvantage whenever you or your target is in sunlight, eliminating A LOT of opportunity for sneak attacks.

Halfling (Lightfoot) – +2 DEX, +1 CHA. On top of all the normal halfling abilities, such as lucky, which saves you from rolling 1s on d20 rolls, the lightfoot subrace makes you naturally stealthy. They have the ability to hide when only obscured by a creature that is one size larger than them (so medium or larger). Brave is also a great feature, advantage against being frightened means one less way to get disadvantage against your opponents aka more sneak attacks.

Variant Human – +1 two abilities of your choice (DEX and CHA). Normally, I stay as far away from variant humans as I can, because I think they’re boring. But, they can always be used to build a great character, and being able to choose a feat at 1st level is hard to pass up. Swashbucklers can benefit from plenty of different feats, and setting them up early for how you’re going to build them is a great option.

Tabaxi – +2 DEX, +1 CHA. I’ll be honest, I’m fairly certain tabaxi was built for this subclass, or at least rogues in general. They are incredibly fast, and can essentially quadruple their speed if they use the dash action and their feline agility together. They have proficiency in the stealth skill built in. Plus they can climb things with their claws. Okay that last part is just cool, but still. This race has a lot to offer.

Tiefling (Dispater, Glasya) – +2 CHA, +1 DEX. Both of these bloodlines are great for swashbucklers. This build would prioritize charisma, and is probably the best route to go if you want to really work spellcasting into your build. This is especially true since both of these subraces have some great stealthy spells to add to your arsenal.

Skill Choices

We tend to choose these based on our highest stats, but choosing a different route based on how you want to roleplay isn’t a bad idea, especially since adding your proficiency bonus might compensate for a not-so-good ability modifier.

Rogues get to choose four from Acrobatics, Athletics, Deception, Insight, Intimidation, Investigation, Perception, Performance, Persuasion, Sleight of Hand, and Stealth.

Rogues have a crazy amount of skills to choose from, and starting out with four proficiencies (not including any racial or background) is unbeatable.

Acrobatics (DEX) – Especially with your Elegant Maneuvers at 13th level, this skill is a must for a rogue.

Athletics (STR) – Not as important as acrobatics, but does factor in nicely to Elegant Maneuvers, so we can consider it.

Deception (CHA) – Of the charisma options, this is one of our least likely choices.

Insight (WIS) – Leave this for a party member with higher wisdom to focus on.

Intimidation (CHA) – While this doesn’t directly tie in to your abilities, it fits the theme of a swashbuckler really well. Swashbuckler’s intimidating others with bold (if wildly unrealistic) claims is a common trope.

Investigation (INT) – Skip this, it;s for another type of rogue.

Perception (WIS) – Perception is a skill that’s never bad to grab, but it’s not necessary.

Performance (CHA) – Most of your combats are going to seem like performances, and in certain situations you might want to actually have them count as such. Choose this only for a very specific build/plan.

Persuasion (CHA) – Yes. 1000% yes. You ARE a persuasive character.

Sleight of Hand (DEX) – Maybe. This skill is good for a specific build, and mainly a different type of bard like thief or scout would pick this up.

Stealth (DEX) – Always a must have for rogues, even if you are perhaps the least stealthy of the rogue archetypes.

Background Choices

We get a lot of skills thanks to the rogue class. While we still want to look for good skill proficiencies, we can put a little more focus into other features that a background can provide us for.

Plus, we can greatly embellish on our background once we’ve chosen one. A big part of being a swashbuckler is having a reputation that speaks for itself, even if you’ve done some of the fabricating for it.

Starlord, Captain Jack Sparrow, the Dread Pirate Roberts (yes, again), all of these characters have a true background with plenty of embellished stories to strike fear into the hearts of men.

Pirate – Proficiency in Athletics and Persuasion. Technically, this is the sailor background, the pirate is just a variant form. Choosing the variant form means that you can get away with minor crimes, and that you have a bad reputation. This can be great, even if you’re not an evil character. Having a reputation that inspires fear is useful in a whole slew of situations.

Gladiator – Proficiency in Acrobatics and Performance. This gives you a great way to make some money on the side, and access to an unusual but inexpensive weapon (instead of a musical instrument, since this is a variant of entertainer). Find yourself in any fight club or pit and get some exciting one on one combat to pull in a steady income.

Mercenary Veteran – Proficiency in Athletics and Persuasion. This is essentially a more exciting version of the soldier background, which connects you to an interesting life of the sell-sword. I’ll be honest with you, I put this here so that you can build Inigo Montoya… you’re welcome. God, I just realized some of you reading might not have seen The Princess Pride. Do yourself a favor and watch the movie before playing this character. Consider it assigned reading.

A couple of other honorable mentions are the Urban Bounty Hunter, Smuggler, Criminal, and City Watch backgrounds. Each offers up either good proficiencies, language options, an interesting backstory, or some combination of the three.

Swashbuckler Rogue Progression

Features that you automatically obtain through the Rogue class will appear in Orange and features that you gain through the Swashbuckler archetype subclass will appear in Pink

Filling out the Character Sheet (Level 0)

Hit Dice: 1d8 per Rogue level

Hit Points at 1st Level: 8 + your Constitution modifier

Hit Points at Higher Levels: 1d8 (or 5) + your Constitution modifier per rogue level after 1st

Proficiencies

Armor:Light armor

Weapons: Simple weapons, hand crossbows, longswords, rapiers, shortswords

Tools: Thieves’ Tools

Saving Throws: Dexterity, Intelligence

Skills: Choose four from Acrobatics, Athletics, Deception, Insight, Intimidation, Investigation, Perception, Performance, Persuasion, Sleight of Hand, and Stealth

Equipment:

You start with the following equipment, in addition to the equipment granted by your background:

  • (a) a rapier or (b) a shortsword
  • (a) a shortbow and quiver of 20 arrows or (b) a shortsword
  • (a) a burglar’s pack, (b) dungeoneer’s pack, or (c) an explorer’s pack
  • Leather armor, two daggers, and thieves’ tools
© Wizards of the Coast

1st Level

Expertise:

Choose two proficiencies which you have, either in skills or thieves’ tools. You now double your proficiency bonus for these ability checks.

Sneak Attack:

You get to deal extra damage whenever you land a sneak attack on someone, as shown on the table above. Sneak attacks require a weapon that has either the ranged or finesse quality.

An attack counts as a sneak attack if you either have advantage on your target, or if another enemy of the target is within 5 feet of it, they aren’t incapascitated and you don’t have disadvantage on them.

Thieves’ Cant:

You understand Thieves’ Cant.

Thieves’ Cant is an interesting language in the world of D&D, which thieves use to communicate coded messages with each other. Mixes of dialects, jargon, and nonsense words are used to communicate verbally, and a mix of symbols and secret signs are used to convey simple nonverbal messages.

2nd Level

Cunning Action:

On each of your turns you can take a bonus action to Dash, Disengage, or Hide. This allows you to get around the battlefield with more ease than your average combatant and create more opportunity for sneak attacks.

3rd Level

Roguish Archetype:

At third level you choose your roguish archetype: Swashbuckler.

Fancy Footwork

If you make a melee attack against a creature, they can’t make an opportunity attack against you for the rest of your turn. This is especially useful when used with Dash in your Cunning Action.

Rakish Audacity:

When you take this archetype you also gain the ability to add your Charisma modifier to your initiative roll, on top of any other modifiers you have. 

Additionally, you gain a new condition that you can make sneak attacks under.

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. 

Steady Aim (Optional):

If you sacrifice all of your movement in a turn, you give yourself advantage on the next attack roll you make this turn. 

4th Level

ASI

You can either increase one ability by 2 points or two abilities by 1. Alternatively, you can choose a feature, if you already have great stats this is a great choice.

5th Level

Uncanny Dodge:

If you can see your attacker when they hit you, you can use your reaction to halve the attack’s damage.

6th Level

Expertise:

You get to add expertise to two more skills, or thieve’s tools.

7th Level

Evasion:

When you have to make a Dexterity saving throw in order to take half damage from an effect you now take no damage on a successful save and half damage on a failed save. 

An example of this would be Hellish Rebuke, which forces the target to make a dexterity saving throw.

On a failed save, the target would normally take 2d10 fire damage, and a successful save would take half. Instead, a rogue now takes half of 2d10 on a failed save and no damage on the successful save. 

It’s important to remember that this ability has no impact on other effects a dexterity saving throw might cause, such as being knocked prone.

8th Level

ASI

9th Level

Panache

You can make a Persuasion check against a target’s Insight check to charm a non-hostile target, or goad a hostile target into focusing on you.

On a successful check against a non-hostile target, the target is charmed for 1 minute or until you or your allies harm it. The target regards you as a friendly request for the duration.

On a successful check against a hostile target, the target has disadvantage on, and can’t make opportunity attacks towards, any creatures 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.

10th Level

ASI

11th Level

Reliable Talent:

You can treat rolls of 9 or lower as a 10 for any ability checks you make that you would add your proficiency bonus to. To clarify, this ability works on ability checks, not attack rolls or saving throws. 

12th Level

ASI

13th Level

Elegant Maneuver

You can use a bonus action on your turn to gain advantage on the next Acrobatics or Athletics check you make during the same turn.

14th Level

Blindsense:

You know where any hidden or invisible creatures within 10 ft of you are, so long as you can hear.

15th Level

Slippery Mind:

You gain proficiency in Wisdom saving throws

16th Level

ASI

17th Level

Master Duelist

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.

18th Level

Elusive:

So long as you are not incapacitated, no attack roll has advantage against you.

19th Level

ASI:

20th Level

Stroke of Luck:

If your attack misses a target within range, you can turn the miss into a hit. Alternatively, if you fail an ability check, you can treat the d20 roll as a 20.

Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

Feat Options

Rogues get the second most amount of ASIs/feats of any class, with 6 levels to choose ASIs for. Also, as we discussed in the limitations section, there is a lot of potential to improve upon this subclass and make it your own with feats.

A good option is to choose ASI’s for two out of the six, and choose four feats. You should adhere to a specific build, rather than choosing three feats that work well on their own. 

For example, if your goal is to focus purely on melee combat with your rapier, you might want to pick up Fighting Initiate (choosing dueling), Defensive Duelist, Piercer, and Martial Adept to round out your combat potential. 

The following options are great choices for the swashbuckler rogue to pick up.

Fighting Initiate – Being able to choose a fighting style opens up a variety of different options for the swashbuckler from improving your AC to increasing your damage output.

Defensive Duelist – This is a great way to boost your AC if you’re using a finesse weapon.

Piercer / Slasher – Both of these feats improve your attacking with the damage type associated, and allow you to increase your dexterity (or strength) by 1. 

Martial Adept – The maneuvers of the battle master fighter subclass are a very natural mix with the swashbuckler, allowing you to pull off impressive stunts during combat.

Disarming Strike, Riposte, Parry and many others are all great options. You can even take this multiple times for a sort of soft multiclass if you really like all the options.

Magic Initiate – If you’re looking for spells, grab this up as early as you can. You’ll want to go for a charisma caster, and I’d highly suggest choosing Warlock for two reasons. Eldritch, and Blast. Eldritch blast is an amazing cantrip to have at your side no matter what. 

Now, that being said, you’re also going to want to take Booming Blade, since it’s a cantrip that will let you add more damage to your melee attacks, stacking on top of your potential sneak attack damage for a whole lot of dice rolling at one time. 

I mean, a 5th level swashbuckler using booming blade on a rapier is going to deal 1d8 (weapon) +3d6 (sneak) +1d8 (cantrip) for a total possible 34, with potentially another 2d8 coming in after the attack. As for spells, follow your heart. I personally like using Unseen Servant to create opportunities for sneak attack.

Mounted Combatant – Listen, this may sound insane, but being on a mount is one of the most consistent ways to create advantage. Just get a large mount and you are set.

Eldritch Adept – Whether or not you chose to grab Eldritch Blast with Magic Initiate, there are a lot of very useful invocations you can add to your arsenal of abilities.

Shroud of Shadow, Repelling Blast, One with Shadows, Mask of Many faces, and more are all great to consider for a swashbuckler looking for more magic in their life.

Fey Touched – This lets you boost your charisma by 1, and gives you access to Misty Step and another divination or enchantment spell once a day. Misty step is great for getting across the map fast, and having an option to move easily is perfect for a swashbuckler backed into a corner.

Swashbuckler Rogue Builds

For the following example build we’ve used the standard set of scores provided in the PHB (15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8) when deciding ability scores. The only levels mentioned for the purpose of these builds are those when you will have the opportunity to make a decision on how your adventurer grows.

Race: Tabaxi

Background: Gladiator

Ability Scores:  STR 10,  DEX 16, CON 13, INT 8, WIS 12, CHA 16

Skill Proficiencies: Perception, Stealth, Acrobatics, Performance, Athletics, Intimidation, Persuasion, Sleight of Hand

Language Proficiencies: Common, Goblin, Thieves’ Cant

Tool Proficiencies: Thieves’ Tools, Disguise Kit, violin

Equipment:  a rapier, a shortbow and quiver of 20 arrows, a burglar’s pack, leather armor, two daggers, and thieves’ tools, a whip (unusual but inexpensive weapon), a love letter, a costume, and a belt pouch containing 15 gp

1st Level

Expertise:

We’ll start off with expertise in persuasion and acrobatics. 

4th Level

ASI: 

Going for a martial focused build, we’ll start off by grabbing up Piercer. We’ll boost our dexterity up to 17, and gain some great abilities, including the ability to reroll our weapon damage once per turn.

6th Level

Expertise:

Intimidation and stealth are solid choices for the next bout of expertise we gain.

8th Level

ASI: 

Let’s take a +2 to our dexterity, moving us up to 19 for a modifier of +4.

10th Level

ASI:

Splitting the difference between our 9th and 13th level features, we can pick up Defensive Duelist for a boost to our AC while we’re using our finesse weapons.

12th Level

ASI:

Before we start using our charisma left and right for Panache at 13th level, let’s boost it by 2 so we have a +4 modifier. 

16th Level

ASI: 

We can take martial adept here and grab up an impressive maneuver. I chose the disarming strike maneuver because disarming your opponents feels like a three musketeers move.

19th Level

ASI: 

Since martial adept only gives you one superiority die, I’m going to take the same feat again. This time I’ll go with Riposte for a fun reaction attack.

Multiclassing

So I started to touch on this earlier on, in the limitations section. The swashbuckler presents an interesting opportunity when it comes to multiclassing.

Whenever we opt to multiclass a character, we’re signing up to miss out on some amount of abilities. Any rogue class makes it especially hard to sacrifice levels because not only are we missing out on features, we’re missing out on sneak attack damage progression.

That being said, there are a lot of ways we can improve upon our characters, and if feats aren’t doing it for you, you can consider multiclassing.

Since our characters are based on dexterity and charisma, we can go in two ways, either moving towards a dexterity based combatant, or towards a charisma based magic user.

Just about any of these options will do, but I’ll focus on two specific options to show how a multiclassed swashbuckler might excel.

Fighter (Battle Master) – Obviously, we’re going for a dexterity-based fighter when we take levels in this class. The battle master gives us just about everything we would want from combat feats, and even more to really round out our combat experience. 

There are a couple options here for how our characters will look at 20th level. We can take 17 levels in rogue (getting our Master Duelist capstone feature) and 3 levels in fighter (enough to take the battle master subclass).

Or we can split the difference more, taking 13 levels in rogue (2nd to last subclass feature) and 7 levels in fighter (up to the 2nd subclass feature)

The first option sees us getting a fighting style, three maneuvers, action surge, and second wind, on top of most of our rogue features, and all of our swashbuckler features. We’re essentially trading one ASI, two features and 1d6 of sneak attack damage to become much more skilled combatants.

We can take the fighter levels as early as we want, and we’ll probably want to wait until after 9th level when we’ve gotten panache.

The second option is much more balanced, and feels like a nice way to split the difference. Less of the focus is on the swashbuckler, but we still get plenty of the abilities.

Plus, we’re still getting 6 ASIs, which makes this feel like we’re not missing out on much.

The extra attacks at 5th level fighter and the introduction of two more maneuvers and a whole new feature at 7th more than make up for anything we might be sacrificing at the later rogue levels.  

Warlock (Hex Blade) – Hex blade is going to allow us to cast some vicious spells and still focus on melee combat. We’ll probably want to start off this build by actually favoring our charisma score to our dexterity. Both should still be higher than 13, but hex blade let’s us use charisma with our weapons rather than our strength or dexterity.

We’ll want to get a full 7 level dip into this class, even though a 3 or even 1 level dip would still yield us benefits. Basically, if we’re choosing to start casting spells, we want to be able to do as much as we can.

Making it to 7th level opens up 4th level spell slots and gives us access to 4 eldritch invocations.

At our 3rd level in warlock we’ll definitely want to take the pact of the blade. This will let us conjure our weapons up out of thin air (interdimensional space) and opens up exciting invocations like Eldritch Smite and Improved Pact Weapon so that our melee damage, which is still our focus, can become even stronger.

Warlocks are well known for giving Eldritch Blast to anyone who takes a level, but choosing to stick out longer and yield all the benefits that hex blade offers is the way to go. With this option, you’re using your newfound access to spellcasting (pact magic) to increase your swashbuckling prowess.

Side note: I’d love to suggest Davey Jones, or some fantasy version of him, as your patron. Let me know if you decide to build this character!


Beginner’s Guide to Swashbuckler Rogue

A well-armed pirate leaps from the crow’s nest to confront his enemy. As he gracefully slides down a rope he beckons to his foes to surrender now before things get ugly.

Rapier in hand, the masked man slowly approaches the corrupt sheriff. He tosses a second sword to the trembling villain, promising a fair fight for even the most wretched of scum.

A halfling lurks in the shadows. As she sees her opening, she leaps out to attack, and just as quickly disappears into darkness once more. 

Swashbucklers, or the idea of swashbucklers, permeate popular culture. Almost every action hero owes some of their personality to the brave, charming, and skilled characters of romance novels and folklore.

Perhaps best pictured as a swordsman with a feathered cavalier hat, the famous swashbucklers are often thought of as pirates and scoundrels.

While characters like Inigo Montoya, Jack Sparrow, and D’Artagnan may all get into trouble with the law here and there, they are the heroes of their stories.

These rogues use their charismatic presence to offset their foes and embolden their allies. They use their masterful skill with a sword, or any weapon for that matter, to save the day and emerge victorious from any fight.

Speed, Elegance, and Charm

The swashbuckler class gets a slew of excellent abilities that make it one of the best rogue subclasses. Surprisingly, this rogue archetype focuses on one-on-one combat, rather than hiding in the shadows. 

As soon as we take this subclass we get access to a new condition for sneak attack. Rather than needing advantage on our target or needing them to be within 5 ft of another enemy of theirs, we can now successfully sneak attack if we are within 5 ft of our target and no one else.

 This new condition completely changes the dynamic of sneak attack. Now we’re dealing extra damage just because we’ve got someone alone. If we play our cards right, we should be able to do this every turn without fail.

That’s where speed, elegance, and charm come in. The rest of our features all help us achieve this goal of single combat. Third level gives us more than just a not so sneaky sneak attack.

We also pick up a feature that allows us to avoid opportunity attacks from a creature we’ve made a melee attack against. 

Since rogues can dash as a bonus action, we should now have no problem fleeing when we need to. Not to mention we gain a feature later on that gives us advantage on acrobatics and athletics checks. This is the class to take if we want to pull off fancy stunts.

As for the charm, our ninth-level ability gives us an exciting feature centered around persuasion. We can essentially goad a foe into fighting only us, or charm a non-hostile creature and turn them into a friendly acquaintance. Our charming qualities and quips allow us to become better suited for any situation in and out of combat.

The Art of the Blade

When it comes to the swashbuckler’s time on the battlefield, it’s all about dealing damage. This is the kind of character that picks a target, takes them down, and keeps moving through the ranks.

Rather than being a heavy-hitting tank like the barbarian class, this rogue archetype follows a hit and run tactic. Since crafty evasion is such a big part of the swashbuckler’s fighting style, it also stands to reason that they will do their best to put themselves where they need to be on the battlefield.

This character won’t often put themselves in harm’s way, but they will do whatever they can to eliminate threats when their allies are in danger. Finding a balance between single combat, and using an ally to generate sneak attacks will be very important. 

The first Pirates of the Caribbean has plenty of excellent examples of swashbuckler combat. One of the later fight scenes is possibly my favorite. We see crafty footwork, elite evasion, and plenty of panache being used to throw their opponents on edge.

Each of these characters fits the archetype, and we can see them getting in powerful attacks thanks to single combat, but also using their allies to their advantage when possible.  

Bravado and Confidence

Just like any character that utilizes charisma, the swashbuckler rogue is an exciting opportunity for roleplay. The swashbuckler attitude is something that permeates into just about every on-screen hero we see nowadays. 

Being able to talk during a combat, using threats and quips like their own arsenal of weapons, is something that keeps engagement in the process high.

With most other characters, it can be a hard sell to include roleplaying in the midst of combat. Instead, we have it built in!

Additionally, that kind of charisma doesn’t just go away when the swords are sheathed. This kind of character will continue to boast, brag, quip etcetera, just like any of the dashing characters we see in film and other media.

So make sail, dawn your feathered cap, and gear up as many one-liners as you need, this is going to be a great character for you. Hone your skills with the blade, and sharpen your tongue. And as always, happy adventuring!