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Swashbucker Handbook (In Progress)


For this guide, I'll be using the color system common in other handbooks:

Blue: It doesn't get better than this. Blue options are the best choices.

Green: Not the absolute best, but very strong choices.

Orange: This option is decent, but very situational or not as good as many other choices.

Red: Worst amongst your options, best to avoid.



1- Why Play A Swashbuckler?
 
The Swashbuckler class makes for one of the strongest melee characters
in the game, and easily the best at TWF. They have:

 -The full BAB, d10 HD, Weapon Proficiency, and Weapon Training of the
Fighter.

-The precision damage (with some minor caveats.....more on that
later), Uncanny Dodge, and Evasion of Rogues.

 -The good Fortitude and Reflex saves of the Ranger.

-Some other goodies like increased crit threat range on finessable
weapons, more skill points than the Fighter, etc. The Swashbuckler has
come a long way since 3.5!

But the downsides are:

-No medium armor or shield proficiency. This means no Celestial Armor,
unless you take Medium Armor Proficiency as a feat. Obviously, this
means that they can't tank quite as well at earlier levels, when AC
matters more.

-Like most TWF and/or precision damage classes/builds, they really
suffer when you can't full attack.

-There is some wonk in the RAW for the class as far as bonus feats and
qualifications for certain of those bonus feats, coupled with the
purpose and role of this class....I discuss this below.

The Swashbuckler is a good class if you don't feel like
multiclassing Fighter/Rogue, if you need a lightly armored fighter, or
if you want a serious damage machine, and don't mind them being a bit
of a weak sister for the first few levels. The Swashbuckler's Find The
Mark ability can also make for a decent crit monster, though it's not
until much higher levels that this is really viable.

2- Swashbuckler Functions/Types

Damage, damage, damage. There are two ways to go about this with the
Swashbuckler:

-Two-Weapon Fighting: Get two short swords, and get as many attacks a
round as possible, at as high an attack bonus as you can manage,
ensuring that you Thrust as much as possible. This will be ok at
first, and can get very, very nasty later on.

-Critical Monster: Get a rapier, ensure that you Thrust as much as
possible, and stack some nasty critical effects on top of that. This
style doesn't really come into it's own until later, but when it does?
You'll be Thrusting for +4-5d6 damage, and threatening on a dice roll
of 13-20. That's a 40% chance to crit. Rock on. This build may not do
anywhere near as much damage as a well built TWF Swashbuckler, but they will have
more room for feats, making for a slightly more well-rounded
character. OR, if your DM allows the Dervish Dance Feat, you can wield
a scimitar AND add your DEX to damage rolls. This would be the best case scenario for this build, otherwise you're doing a LOT less damage than the TWF build. But even with it, you won't be doing as much damage as the TWF Swashbuckler by a good degree. Still, the critical feats you can qualify for later are nice. I recommend picking from Bleeding, Exhausting, Sickening, and Tiring Critical. Forget the others.
 
 
3- Swashbucker Races

 
Human: One of the best, especially for feat-heavy TWF builds. The
extra feat is key, the extra skill point is not too bad either.
 

Half-Elf: What a difference in this class from 3.X! The good
mechanical advantages here are low-light vision and the bonus to
enchantment saves, which will be very handy. Either Acrobatics, Bluff,
or Escape Artist may be good choices for the free Skill Focus,
depending on your build. Or, consider the alternate racial trait
Adaptability from the APG. 

Dwarf: You know....this isn't a bad swashbuckler race at all. Bonuses
to two of the most important stats, and a penalty to the most useless
one. Some good mechanical advantages, though the slow movement hurts.
Not good for a mobility type, but an interesting dark horse choice
otherwise. If you use a Dwarf, I recommend using the alternate racial
trait Stubborn from the APG.  

Half-Orc: This one is just kind of there....no big strikes against
it, but no real perks there either, save for darkvision and (maybe)
Orc Ferocity.

 Elf: Much like the Half-Elf, but worse. The racial advantages
are....ok, but the stat tweaks are rough. The DEX bump is nice, the
CON hit really hurts, and the INT boost isn't really helpful at all.

 Halfling: Much like the Gnome, but could work if you're doing this with a Crit Monster/Dervish Dance build. Far from optimal, however 

 Gnome: Some of the class abilities are nice, though the reduced
movement stings. The bump to CON is nice, the bump to CHA is
completely and utterly useless, and the STR penalty really hurts. I
would avoid.
 
4- Swashbuckler Attributes:

 
Clearly, DEX will be your highest priority. Your next priority will be
CON, since you're a frontliner. This is followed by STR, unless you're
going for a Crit build with Dervish Dance, in which case sink just
enough into STR so that you won't be encumbered. Next priority is
Wisdom, which gives you a boost to the ever-important Will save, and
some key skills. Following behind that is INT, which is not terribly
important to this class, but you will want at least a 13 to take
advantage of some of the nastier feats available to you. CHA is your
big dump here.

5- Swashbuckler Class Features/Favored Class

Evade: Just like Dodge, only the bonus increases at  levels 4, 9, 14,
and 19. Slightly makes up for not being able to wear heavier-than-
light armor or shields, so that's handy

Bonus Feats: You get Weapon Finesse for free at 1st level, and
"Fighter" bonus feats at level 3, and every third level from there.
This is where I have to make a note about what I feel is a major flaw
in the design of this class. Many of the bonus feats, especially the
ones that you will need for TWF characters, require multiclassing into
Fighter. It just doesn't add up, especially considering class design
in PF, that a class that gets Weapon Training as a class feature can't
have it's levels count as Fighter levels for the purpose of feat
qualification.

How to deal with this? Fortunately, this is very easily houseruled.
Most, if not all people I've talked to on the boards said their DMs
had no problem whatsoever handwaving this stumbling block, and
allowing Swashbuckler levels to count as Fighter levels for the
purpose of feat qualification. Another option is the one my DM
employed, partially aping the Weapon Aptitude class feature from the
3.5 Warblade, so that Swashbuckler levels count as Fighter levels -2
for feat qualification. 

Thrust: This is the class ability that makes the Swashbuckler stand
out. Mechanically, it works exactly like Sneak Attack, except that you
can only deliver Thrust damage with a finessable weapon that delivers
piercing damage. This limits practical Swashbuckler weapons to:
Dagger, Punching Dagger, Spiked Gauntlet, Light Pick, Starknife, Short
Sword, Rapier, and Siangham (though this particular choice is far from
optimal, since it requires Exotic Weapon Proficiency, and even then,
it will crit less often than the Short Sword).But that's a relatively
small trade-off considering you're getting precision damage without
multiclassing in a full BAB class. This goes up every 3 levels, maxing
out at +7d6 at level 20. 

Uncanny Dodge: Just like the Rogue class ability. Guess who doesn't
have to worry about being caught flat-footed? This is extra sweet,
since your flat-footed AC will suck on toast. 

Evasion: Again, just like the Rogue class ability. Handy. 

Weapon Training: Just like the Fighter ability. Take Light Blades for
your first trained category (duh), Bows for your second, and whatever
strikes you as most useful after that. 

Improved Uncanny Dodge: This is good, not awesome.....what IS awesome is that you get it a level before Rogue does! 

Find the Mark: This class feature increases the threat range on your
finessable weapons. This is green for TWF builds, and blue for
Critical Rapier Death builds.

Improved Evasion: Cool, not a game changer. You should already have a
gross Reflex save at this point, and it is the least vital save in the
game, generally.

Deflect Arrows: Nice bonus, not vital. 

Improved Mark: Just like Find The Mark above. 

Favored Class Bonus: You are a melee character, and one without heavy
armor. You'll want to put this into HP, always.

6- Swashbuckler Skills

Perception: No, it's not a class skill. Yes, it is the most used and
one of the most important skills in the game, so max it out.
 
Acrobatics: Though this is more useful for Critical focus builds, it
never hurts to have lots of ranks in this. If you don't feel compelled
to max it out, take at least 3 ranks to get the bonuses to fighting
defensively and full defense.

Sense Motive: Great skill for the paranoid player. Also, being feinted
is pretty much the only way that you can get sneak attacked after you
pick up Improved Uncanny Dodge (and it would REALLY suck if you get
Greater Feinted....), so I recommend maxing this out. 

Escape Artist: Nice, but you DO have good CMD........
 
Bluff: Can be good for some things, but CHA should be your worst
score. 

Climb: Good, but not as useful later on. Invest a few ranks.

Swim: See Climb. This is blue in an aquatic/nautical campaign.

Diplomacy: If for some reason you have a decent Charisma, this might
be worth sinking some ranks into. If you have a decent rogue or cleric
in the party that serves as the face, this is red.

Perform: Not real helpful, but you will need 2 ranks if you plan on
taking Dervish Dance as a feat. 

Craft: Pretty much useless.

Ride/Handle Animal: A world of no.

Intimidate: You're not the brute, and your CHA sucks. This is orange-
green if you insist on a Dazzling Display build.

Profession: Nice for flavor, but not all that helpful, generally. This
could be orange in the right campaign (ie Profession: Sailor in a
nautical campaign).

 7- Swashbuckler Feats:

Agile Manuevers: Not particularly helpful, as you'll be fighting with
light weapons, and stuff like Sunder won't be very effective even with
the boost from this. There are some good uses, but this is still very
situational 

Bleeding Critical: Definitely one of the better critical feats. No save, and it will tie up the bad guy or one of his allies undoing the damage this does.  

Blind Fight: Not a bad feat at all, but it's situational, and you have
more pressing things to worry about 
 
Blinding Critical: You can't get it until later, and it's not that strong.
 
Catch Off Guard: Why would you be using improvised melee weapons?
Avoid this. 
 
Combat Reflexes: The usefulness will be somewhat hampered because you
won't be using a reach weapon, but your high DEX could make it an
attractive choice. This becomes more attractive if you're going for
the Step Up feat.
 
Combat Expertise: Hmmm. This scales a lot more slowly in Pathfinder,
and isn't as immediately useful as fighting defensively with 3+ ranks
in Acrobatics. But, you might need this as a prereq for certain feats, most notably Gang
Up.  
 
Critical Focus: Nice, but not earth-shattering. Necessary for a critical build.

Dastardly Finish: This can be really powerful if your DM allows it,
but you'll qualify for it a lot later than Rogues do, and reliable
methods of stunning and/or cowering opponents may be in short supply
at that stage in the game.

Dazzling Display/Shatter Defenses/Deadly Stroke: There is a lot of
love for this tree from certain quarters, but I think it's one of the
biggest traps in Pathfinder. Why? Firstly, there are a number of
creatures that are immune to mind-affecting abilites from the get-go,
so this is wasted on them. Secondly, more and more things seem to be
immune to fear effects as the game rises in level, so this would be
not just situational, but flat-out useless. This is obviously a no-go
for TWF, and there are much stronger choices for Critical builds.
 
Deafening Critical: Not very strong, allows for a save.

Dervish Dance: OH YEAH!. A Scimitar as a piercing weapon, AND you
add your Dexterity to attack and damage rolls. This feat is the All-
Spark of Critical builds, and it's as blue as it gets for them. All
that, and you can get it by level 3.
 
Double Slice: This is a must if you have a STR of 16 or greater, and
you're a TWF build. Otherwise, it's not the strongest choice for you.

Exhausting Critical: Nice, but it's a long time before you qualify for it.
 
Fleet: Useless to a TWF build, completely sub-optimal for a critical
build

Gang Up: You're flanking an opponent if two other allies are adjacent
to it? So THAT'S what you take Combat Expertise for! Essential for TWF
builds.
 
Great Fortitude/Improved Great Fortitude: You have good FORT saves,
and should have a decent CON. These might be handy, but you shouldn't
have a problem in this area to begin with.

Improved Critical: Even for a Critical build, poor use of a feat. Why
get this when you can get a Scabbard of Keen Edges, or keen blades?
The only reason to take this is if you somehow don't have access to
the aforementioned abilities, and you're playing a Critical build.

Improved Disarm/Greater Disarm: Not awful, but keep in mind that a lot
of things that you fight can't be disarmed, and that most of your weapons will be suboptimal for this.  
 
Improved Feint/Greater Feint: Can be very useful at later levels, but
not as helpful for TWF builds. Not helpful against lots of monsters.

Improved Initiative: A strong choice, especially at higher levels.

Improved Trip/Greater Trip: Not helpful against many monsters, and you
have stronger choices.

Improvised Weapon Mastery: Extremely sub-optimal for this class. 

Intimidating Prowess: Only helpful if you're doing a Dazzling Display
build, and even then, not very. 

Iron Will/Improved Iron Will: Arguably the most important save in the
game, and your weakest one. Get Iron Will as soon as you can fit it
in, and give Improved Iron Will some serious thought, as it can really
save your bacon when you biff a save.
 
Lightning Reflexes/Improved Lightning Reflexes: Your DEX and REF saves
are both great, and you get Improved Evasion, so pass on these.

Lightning Stance/Wind Stance: Not bad for a critical build, but not
essential either. If you have open slots, worth considering.
 
Mobility: A strong choice for a Critical build. This is red for TWF
build. 

Outflank: A really strong choice, but with some obvious disadvantages:

You need a party member who has it, or an Inquisitor to take advantage
of it. Still, well worth considering.


Quick Draw: You can draw weapons whilst moving. You don't need this.

Sickening Critical: Very nice! No save!
 
Spring Attack: See Mobility 

Step Up/Following Step/Step Up And Strike: This seems like a big feat
investiture, but it can really pay off, especially once you pick up
the latter two, as it increases your chances of getting into a nice
flank AND doesn't incur a movement penalty in the following round like
Step Up. For a TWF build, give this tree serious consideration. For a
critical build, it is practically essential. 
 
Stunning Critical: Save required? Not very strong.
 
Throw Anything: No. 
 
Tiring Critical: Not bad, amongst the better Critical feats

Toughness: Vastly improved over it's 3.5 version, this is a strong
choice, especially as it builds with level.

Two-Weapon Defense: This feat is complete and utter garbage. Avoid.

Two-Weapon Fighting/Improved Two-Weapon Fighting/Greater Two-Weapon
Fighting: This is the core of your build for TWF builds. This is
orange for Critical builds. 

Two-Weapon Rend: Can I get a hell yeah? This is the crown jewel of the
TWF tree, and you have 2 more chances to perform this at higher levels
if you don't hit with the first two attacks. VERY nice 

Weapon Focus/Greater Weapon Focus: No matter what your build, make
sure to pick up Weapon Focus. Ditto for GWF if your Swashbuckler
levels count as Fighter levels. 

Weapon Specialization/Greater Weapon Specialization: See above

Vital Strike/Improved Vital Strike/Greater Vital Strike: Since you're
using light weapons, this is not so strong. Avoid.

8-Multiclassing(?)

The way that the Swashbuckler is designed, taking levels in other
classes to supplement it is far from ideal. Just taking one level in
something else ultimately loses you 1d6 thrust damage, and it's hard
to think of a good reason to do that for.

Duelist: Even for a Crit monster, which would probably be one-handed
anyway, this PrC offers you NOTHING. No number of Duelist levels at
any point gives makes up for damage ouput lost in Swashbuckler levels,
and the class abilities are subpar compared to the Swashbuckler
abilities.

Fighter: I can only imagine somebody taking levels in this to qualify
for certain feats if their DM insists on Swashbuckler levels not
counting as Fighter levels in any way, but it's not really worth it
then. But, a few Swashbuckler levels would be a nice dip for a Dex
based Fighter. A dip might makes sense so that you can get Celestial Armor, or other Mithril Medium Armors.

 
Rogue: If you're filling the Rogue slot in the party, you're better
off going straight Rogue. If you're playing a Swashbuckler for all the
right reasons (damage), all any Rogue dip really gets you is lost BAB
and class abilities you don't really need.
 
9- Recommended Swashbuckler Equipment
 
Armor- Mithril Chain Shirt/Padded Armor: The maximum AC bonus you can have from +5 Padded Armor is 14, and that's with a DEX of 26 or higher. The maximum AC bonus you can have from a +5 Mithril Chain Shirt is 15, with a DEX of 22 or higher. However, you would have a higher Touch AC 2 points higher with the Padded Armor, and that value is more important.
 
Belt: Yeah, you're going to want to start out with a Belt of Incredible Dexterity, and go from there to the ones that pump up all the physical abilities. DEX should be your priority, though.
 
Boots: At lower levels, you can't go wrong with Boots of Striding and Springing. At higher levels, Boots of Speed are IT.
 
Chest: Vest of Escape, all the way.
 
Eyes: Most of the time, Eyes of the Eagle are your best bet, but Goggle of Darkvision can be handy, when you can afford them.
 
 Gloves- Dueling Gloves: An extra +2 attack and damage bonus to your Weapon Training bonus, for 1000gp less than a +4 Belt of Giant Strength? Not bad at all!
 
Helm: A Headband of Inspired Wisdom, when you can afford it, is the way to go here.
 
Neck: Amulet of Natural Armor is a good choice.
 
Rings: A Ring of Protection is always good. Energy Resistance is also a strong choice, Freedom of Movement is superb.
 
Shoulders: Little beats a Cloak of Resistance, at any level.
 
Weapon Qualities: For this class, I feel that the optimal weapon enhancement compostion would be keen ghost touch speed weapons. Maybe Vorpal for Critical builds, as you'll have a pretty good chance of decapitating stuff once you pick up Find The Mark and Improved Find The Mark.
 
Wrists: Not much to choose from here..Bracers of Archery, when you afford them.