Friday, August 8, 2014

Swashbuckler in D&D Next

When my friend asked me to come up with the perfect swashbuckler for the D&D Next rules, I eagerly accepted the challenge. The first thing you realize is you are presented with a huge number of options. With weapon finesse being a base ability on weapons like the short sword, dagger, and rapier the option of whether to use strength or dexterity in melee is left entirely to the player. We typically see the Errol Flynn type swashbuckler as dexterous and acrobatic, but you could also build a character like Hogan the Grim from the Warriors Three who is a barbarian wielding a mace. It is more or less attitude if you ask me. So let’s start at the most obvious place.

The fighter has a ton of hit points. They are proficient with all simple and martial weapons. You gain the fighting style class feature at first level. Leaving archery and great weapon style aside, you can either grab a bonus to your armor class, a bonus to damage if you are only wielding a single weapon or the ability to add a little extra damage with your offhand if you are fighting with two weapons. Protection is more for the sword and board type fighter, but if you are interested in running a buckler and rapier I can’t see avoiding it. Disadvantage is a big mechanic in D&D Next, and being able to protect your allies is the meat of the game.

Fighters get all the right skills which give you a lot of leverage when choosing a background. They have the ability to draw some extra hit points during the fight by using second wind. They can also take an additional action in every encounter using action surge at second level. When they gain their martial archetype and at least one feat we can see how versatile the system is.

The Champion begins at third level with the ability to score a critical hit on a 19-20 (typically just on an attack score of 20 for other characters). This allows you to roll and extra damage dice on the attack. I’d probably favor the champion if I was making more attacks than average. If you attack twice each turn because you are duel wielding, then you’d see the most benefit from an ability that doubles your chance to score a critical hit. All fighters gain an extra attack at 5th level, and are up to three attacks by 11th so it isn’t like the Improved Critical ability from the Champion is ever going to be wasted. Keep in mind though if you are multi-classing, that this bonus is only weapon attacks.

A Champion also gets Remarkable Athlete at 7th that affects Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution checks as well as increases how far he can leap (… I am doing the voice of Tim the Enchanter from Monty Python). They also wind up with an extra Fighting Style at 10th, so now you can fight with two weapons and gain a bonus to defense. For feats, it is really up to you. With a good dexterity score and two weapon fighting style rolling lots of attacks with short swords is going to push out a pile of damage. It may be worth taking Duel Wielder to step up your damage dice to a d8 instead of d6. Duel Wielder also gives you a bonus to Armor Class. It doesn’t give you a stat bonus though, so it depends on what your ability scores are like- if you can round your 15 dexterity to a 16 or get an extra hit point per level by bumping up your constitution I’d almost rather do that at early levels. Most of the monsters don’t have a large amount of hit points so two 1d6+3 attacks should suffice for plowing through little monsters.

Athlete for example lets you add a +1 to your Strength of Dexterity. You can climb without reducing your speed, only need a 5ft running start to make a running long jump or high jump, and can pop up from being prone by expending 5ft of movement (normally half your speed). If your Dexterity is an odd number, you might consider grabbing Resilient for the plus one stat increase. Resilient for a fighter would also let you use your proficient bonus against Dexterity saving throws in addition to Strength and Constitution granted by your class. Tavern Brawler grants you a bonus to either Strength or Constitution, lets you attempt to grapple an opponent you hit in melee with an unarmed attack as a bonus action, and gives you a d4 unarmed attack you are proficient with. I can see the swashbuckler flipping the table on the guards questioning him or hurling a mug across the room. The Tavern Brawler feat also gives proficiency with improvised weapons.

Lucky always comes to mind when I think of a Swashbuckler. In this edition it gives you three luck points every day to roll an extra dice on any d20 roll or even when you are attacked by another creature. Mobile grants you an additional 10ft of speed. It also lets you avoid opportunity attacks from enemies you attacked (even if you miss) and ignores difficult terrain when you take the dash action. Savage Attacker (remember when I mentioned Hogan the Grim) gives you the ability to reroll a damage dice once per turn. That is amazing for raising the amount of damage you are causing with weapon damage. Tough adds two hit points per level.

I don’t want to focus too much on the Champion though. We still have two more fighters to go. The Battle Master has a combat superiority die to use in every encounter. At third level they have 4 d8’s, but that number steps up to five at 7th, and one more at 15th. You begin with three maneuvers and gain additional ones at 7th, 10th, and 15th. Without pushing out the entire list, I’ll just say they are super cool. Parry lets you reduce the damage from an enemies attack by your roll on the superiority dice plus your Dexterity modifier. Riposte lets you attack an enemy who missed you as a reaction, adding the superiority die to the damage you caused on a hit. Lunging attack adds the superiority dice to the damage, but increases the reach of you attack by 5ft. Evasive footwork is done during your move, and lets you add your superiority die to your armor class. Commander’s Strike lets you forgo an attack to grant an ally a weapon attack adding the superiority die to the damage roll while Rally grants a number of temporary hit points plus your charisma modifier to an ally as a bonus action.

If you are interested in playing a fighter who does more than roll to hit, the Battle Master is for you. You can also spend a feat to gain two maneuvers using the Marital Adept feat. It grants an additional superiority dice if you already have the class feature or adds a single d6 if you do not. You could even gain the use of these maneuvers running another class. The last remaining fighter archetype is the Eldritch Knight. Nothing wrong with a little swords and sorcery, am I right? I do think however that since you are limited to abjuration and evocation spells it doesn’t lend itself as well to a swashbuckler as it would other builds.

At third level you cannot be disarmed, can always teleport your bonded weapon to your hand, and get a handful of spells to enjoy. With two cantrips and three spells known your ability to do what you do is better, but I’d prefer movement or less ranged attacks as a swashbuckler. The full spell list for the cantrips includes Blade Ward, Dancing Lights, Fire Bolt, Light, Ray of Frost, and True Strike. For first level spells Alarm, Burning Hands, Chromatic Orb, Mage Armor, Magic Missile, Protection from Good/Evil, Shield, Thunderwave, and Witch Bolt. As a fighter you gain a bonus attack at 5th level, and as an Eldritch Knight at 7th level you can cast a cantrip and make a weapon attack as a bonus action. So if we go dueling fighting style with the rapier you have a single weapon attack with a plus two damage modifier and can spam True Strike every turn to gain advantage on your attack rolls or Blade Ward to gain resistance to piercing, slashing, or bludgeoning attacks. The Shield spell is always cast as a reaction to gain +5 AC until the start of your next turn, and Mage Armor gives you a base AC of 13+ Dex modifier and lasts for 8 hours. That is better than any of the light armors in the Players Handbook if you have a high score in Dexterity.

The second way I would consider building a Swashbuckler is to go Rogue. But I will save that for my next post.

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