The swashbuckler is a pretty standard archetype of fantasy and historical literature. Musketeers, pirates, really any sort of dashing and charming fighting type fits the bill. Even in core D&D it’s not very hard to make a character that is capable of these things. Take some rogue, maybe a little fighter or bard, flavor accordingly and there you go. Despite this workable build I was pleased to see the Swashbuckler gets it’s own base class in Complete Warrior. I’ve been wanting to try one for a while and I just started up a new campaign and I decided, at the last minute, to go for it. I’ve only played a couple of adventures with my NE human swashbuckler and I like him very much, but looking ahead the class itself seems very underwhelming, but more so than that it seems like it is fraught with missed opportunities to do what this type of character class is supposed to do.
The vitals of the class are on par with any of the better martial classes in the game. Full BAB, d10 HD, 4+ skill points, and one good save (Fortitude). It’s really in the class features and skills that it falls flat. The description of the class says that Swashbucklers rely on Dexterity primarily but also on Intelligence and Charisma. DEX and INT make sense, but not so much Charisma. There are only two CHA based skills on their list and not a single class feature related to the stat, which sort of strikes me as odd. If a Paladin can have all sorts of abilities based on Charisma, why can’t the Swashbuckler, a character who supposedly gets by on their charm? Also missing from the skill list are appraise, search, spot, and listen. This is the pirate type class we are talking about, yet they are unable to use appraise or search? Would it be so broken if they could? Their list is mainly physical stuff like climb, tumble, and jump. All good skills and a necessary part of the dashing class, but some other options would be nice.
At first level the Swashbuckler receives Weapon Finesse for free, which is an excellent feat and most likely will dictate the fighting style of the character for their entire career. The problem is that they also get all martial proficiencies, none of which work with weapon finesse, essentially limiting them to a rapier. So why even give them those options? What sort of swashbuckler in going to wield a greataxe? Rather than the martial weapons I would like to have seen a progression of abilities related to light weapons. Maybe a free Weapon Focus, Improved Disarm, an AC bonus when wielding a light weapon. Something that reflects their mastery of that sort of finesse weapons instead of wasted knowledge of falchion swords. Plus, they can only wear light armor so they are really never going to be front line types, more a dash in and out type of combatant, so something to help them survive a bit would be nice.
At second level Grace is awarded to the class, giving them a +1 bonus to Reflex saves. Lame. How about just giving them the good progression of Reflex saves, which makes total sense based on what the character is supposed to be. Instead they get a crappy bonus that they receive again at 10th and 20th level. I think that should have the good Reflex save and Grace should be some sort of initiative bonus.
Insightful Strike comes on the scene at third level and, for my money, is the best feature that the class has. When using a weapon that works with Weapon Finesse the character gets to add their INT modifier to damage. That’s pretty cool, nothing overpowering, but cool nonetheless. I like that this is a reason to make a smart fighter, a vehicle to allow brains to triumph over brawn every once in a while. It unfortunately makes the class great for a three level dip as well, since the features that come after it are generally garbage. Improved Flanking is very nice, as is Lucky. Both are versatile and demonstrate something unique about the class. Dodge is okay, but it’s really just a feat. But six dead levels out of 20? That’s right, six levels the Swashbuckler receives nothing other than what the standard HD increase brings. I think what this character really needs is a combat feature related to Charisma. Maybe it’s just a smite type ability giving CHA to damage or attack a couple of times a day, or an AC boost. Something. Survivability seems to be a concern of the class. With the full BAB the temptation to be in the frontlines is there but the light armor make them vulnerable. Sure the D10 is nice but CON is going to be very low on the attribute list so Hit Points will be at a premium.
The build that I have tentatively worked out for my new character is Swashbuckler 3/Bard 3/Dread Pirate X. This gives him some competent fighting capabilities, the ability to inspire allies (which will stack with the Dread Pirates similar ability), the bard skill list will make him much more pirate like since he will finally be able to appraise, and the 1st level spells means he can heal himself (which seems important since he is not getting on very well with the party cleric). Plus I will only be losing one point of base attack, keeping me on pace to take Improved Critical when I get a feat at 9th level.