Swashbuckler Rogue — how to play in DnD 5E

With one hand raised, the other still on his drink, and a smile on his face, Fabian looked around at the thugs amassing around his tavern table. It all seemed a little much to him. Sure, he’d swindled that noble out of some gold with loaded dice, but hiring local muscle to settle the score was a tad dramatic. The exchange was going surprisingly well, with compliments and the notion of bribing them to just go away seeming like a winning strategy. It was a shame Fabian couldn’t help but make a quip at the lead thug’s expense, the shift in tension and atmosphere was palpable, and a good beating seemed inevitable now. Sloshing his wine into the group’s faces, he drew his rapier and kicked the table over. Delivering several precise cuts in quick succession, Fabian promptly dissuaded them of any ideas of following him as he gracefully rolled through the window and ran down the street, still weighed down by the noble’s gold.

Dripping with swagger and confidence, this Rogueish Archetype highlights the charming and cocky nature of some iconic sword fighters, which also makes them excellent skirmishers in 5E.

In this Swashbuckler Rogue 5e mini-guide, we’ll break down what this Oath provides you, as well as give you an insight on how to play this interesting subclass.

Flair and Audacity: Swashbuckler Features

Level Three

Fancy Footwork – A creature you attack during your turn is unable to make an opportunity attack against you for the rest of your turn. The hallmark feature of the Swashbuckler, this makes you a great skirmisher, mirroring one of the benefits of the Mobile feat. To get the most out of this feature, you should aim to get more attacks and increase your movement speed. An easy way to do the former is to use an offhand weapon with the two-weapon fighting (TWF) rules from the Player’s Handbook (PHB).

Rakish Audacity – You can add your Charisma modifier to your initiative rolls. In addition, you can use Sneak Attack against a creature without advantage if you’re within 5 ft of it, with no other creatures within 5 ft of you. As normal, you can’t use Sneak Attack if you have disadvantage on the attack. An excellent feature that gives you an impressive initiative modifier combined with your high Dexterity. This feature also helps ensure that you can reliably qualify Sneak Attack, meaning that you should have Sneak Attack the majority of the time you’re hitting a monster.

Level Nine

Panache – You can make a contested skill check against a hostile creature with an action, contesting your Persuasion against their Insight. In order to make this check, the creature must be able to hear you, and you must share a language. If you succeed on this check, the creature has disadvantage on attacks against anyone but you, and can only make opportunity attacks against you. This lasts for one minute but ends early if you and the target are ever more than 60 ft. apart from each other, or if one of your companions attacks or affects the creature with a spell.

You can also use this ability against nonhostile creatures, instead charming them for 1 minute as a result if you succeed on the contested check. This effect ends early if you or one of your companions does anything harmful to the creature. Whilst charmed in this way, the creature regards you as a friendly acquaintance. A combination of a tanking feature and a social feature, this allows you to draw aggression towards yourself instead of your allies. This can be extremely reliable as long as you have a decent Cha modifier and take Expertise in Persuasion, the former being needed to get the most out of Rakish Audacity and the latter easily done with your level 6 Expertise choices.

Level Thirteen

Elegant Maneuver – As a bonus action, you can give yourself advantage on the next Athletics or Acrobatics roll you make on that turn. This is a very, very niche feature that will probably be most often used in the exploration pillar of the game. However, it can be used to get out of, and into, grapples fairly reliably.

Level Seventeen

Master Duelist – Once per short or long rest, if you miss with an attack, you can reroll it with advantage. A great way to ensure that you make that big hit when you need it most, the advantage on the reroll not only makes it more likely that you will hit but can help you qualify for Sneak Attack, even if it’s just canceling out a source of disadvantage.

Rogues with Style – Sample Build

The Dashing Swordsman (Half-Elf Rogue 20)

Str 10 Dex 15 Con 13 Int 8 Wis 12 Cha 14

Your half-elf ASI will push your Charisma to 16, whilst the floating +1s will push your Dex to 16 and your Constitution to 14. You’ll be taking the variant option for half-elves in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, trading your Skill Versatility feature for the wood elf’s Fleet of Foot. This additional movement speed will be valuable for acting in a skirmishing capacity.

This build is all about capitalizing on Fancy Footwork to allow you to skirmish in and out of the front line, whilst avoiding the Mobile feat to reduce redundancy of features. If you have any party members capable of casting Longstrider or similar speed buffs on you, then this will help a great deal but isn’t necessary. This build works best in a party with another frontline character as the monsters will be deterred or hindered from pursuing you.

Key Levels

1-4: These early levels will be a little awkward before you get your subclass, for the first two levels, you can either use a shortbow for the relative safety of ranged combat or a rapier, using Cunning Action to Disengage. Once you become a Swashbuckler, you should switch to using two shortswords, leveraging two-weapon fighting to not only increase your chances of landing Sneak Attack, but also allowing you to disengage from multiple monsters with Fancy Footwork. Your ASI at 4th level should be used to boost your Dexterity to 18.

5-10: Uncanny Dodge is a significant boost to your durability, allowing you to step into a tanking role when your party needs you, or cover when the monster closes on you after you hit and run. Your 6th level Expertise choices should include Persuasion, setting you up to reliably leverage the Panache feature later on. Evasion is another solid boost for your durability, but not actively used or particularly relevant for your role unless your own party starts throwing Fireballs at you. Your 8th level ASI can either be spent on maxing your Dex score, or taking the Slasher feat, increasing your Dex by 1, and using scimitars to reduce your target’s speed. Once you get Panache, you now have a significant social tool, but also have the choice in combat to start drawing aggro of significant threats towards you. This should be reserved for tougher, higher damage dealing monsters, rather than minions. Should you choose to start tanking in this way, your reaction should be reserved for Uncanny Dodge, and you should consider using your bonus action to Dash to maneuver the affected creature into more desirable positions. If you took the Slasher feat at 8th, then you should take Skill Expert to round out your Dex score, choosing whichever skills interest you the most.

11-15: Reliable Talent boosts the effectiveness of Panache substantially, boosting your minimum result into the 20s if you have Expertise in Persuasion and a moderate Charisma score. Your ASIs can be used for anything that interests you, if you’re looking to increase your damage, then Fighting Initiate is recommended to pick up Two-Weapon Fighting to add your Dex modifier to your bonus action attack. Elegant Maneuver isn’t very impactful for you but is helpful for escaping grapples, which some monsters impose automatically upon hitting you. Slippery Mind is a valuable boost to your defenses, with Wisdom-targeting effects becoming more common at higher levels.

16-20: The twilight levels of your adventuring career bring two more ASIs to be used as you see fit, with Lucky, Tough, Defensive Duelist, and Fey Touched are all excellent choices. Elusive is another great addition to your defensive repertoire, and Stroke of Luck guarantees a bad day for certain monsters, no matter what you roll on the d20.

Here is a suggested Ability Score Array for this build using the point buy method, before applying racial ability score increases:

We hope that you’ve found this article helpful and are now prepared to smirk in the face of evil before dashingly striking at their hearts. If you’re interested in more Rogue information, then check out our Rogue guide, and our classes section if you still want to learn more. Until next time, may your one-liners land and your footwork never fail.

Editor-in-Chief