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As far as I'm aware, it is common knowledge that the Swashbuckler is only useful because of the Daring Outlaw feat and Insightful Strike. Between them, they only require three levels in Swashbuckler.

However, when I've looked through discussions on the Swashbuckler, I've often seen four levels of Swashbuckler mentioned as a possibility, despite this giving no new class features:

What is the value of this extra level? I suspect that it has something to do with how Daring Outlaw stacks, but it's not obvious to me. Is there some hidden assumption about Rogue levels and/or BAB?

Finally, I am strictly talking about 3.5e. Not PF or 5e's Swash.

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2 Answers 2

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I would note that all the builds offered are strictly about Swashbuckler 4/Rogue 16, and not about any other combination of Swashbuckler.

The principle draw of the Swashbuckler is their Insightful Strike feature, at level 3, which is very useful for a Rogue: a Rogue generally has good Int, and relies on adding a lot of damage bonuses to its attacks.

If you zoom in on the choice available to a Swashbuckler 3/Rogue 16, what should the character choose? Let's have a look:

  • Rogue 17: +1d6 Sneak Attack
  • Swashbuckler 4: +1 BAB, +1 Fort, +1d6 Sneak Attack (Daring Outlaw)

Ignoring the Dead Levels article, and the often use partial BABs/saves houserule.

Well, it's no wonder everyone leans toward Swashbuckler 4/Rogue 16, is it?

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    \$\begingroup\$ It might be worth saying outright that the combination rogue 17/swashbuckler 3 has a base attack bonus of +15 while the combination rogue 16/swashbuckler 4 has a base attack bonus of +16. That extra iterative attack pretty much is the reason. (Of course, instead of swashbuckler 4 the character would be even better off with 1 level in class that offers both full base attack bonus and sneak attack so as to also improve the character's saving throws more—for instance, if allowed, a class like the ninja from Rokugan (a third-party but Wizards-licensed product.) \$\endgroup\$ Nov 30, 2019 at 18:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan: Indeed, the extra iterative is important. However I wanted to make the point that Rogue 17 simply had nothing to offer over Swashbuckler 4 + Daring Outlaw. There's no trade-off involved here, weighing the 4th iterative over something else: instead Swashbuckler 4 offers everything that Rogue 17 does, and beyond. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 30, 2019 at 19:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well I'm silly - you're entirely right, the bulk of what I linked was about level 20. I can't even call it a hidden assumption. \$\endgroup\$
    – J. Mini
    Dec 1, 2019 at 12:41
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After a lot of Google-Fu i think i found the mysterious 4th-level ability!

At 2007-02-27 Wizards of the Coast released an online supplement called "Character Class: Dead Levels II" Link.

This was part of a series where character classes got "padded" with more abilities, so gaining a level always felt worthwhile.

In this supplement, the Swashbuckler gains a 4th level ability called "Seduction (Ex)".

You can read the specifics in the linked article, but essentially you got a very powerful new use to your bluff skill, where you could now roll to "seduce" a secret out of someone.

The difficulties are as followed:

.--------------.------.--------------------------------------------------------------.
|   Secret     | DC*  |                           Example                            |
:--------------+------+--------------------------------------------------------------:
| Common       |  10  | Password told to the city guard, known by 16 or more people  |
:--------------+------+--------------------------------------------------------------:
| Uncommon     |  20  | Identity of thieves' guild leader, known by 9 to 16 people   |
:--------------+------+--------------------------------------------------------------:
| Valuable     |  30  | A merchant ship hauling exotic goods, known by 5 to 8 people |
:--------------+------+--------------------------------------------------------------:
| Deadly       |  40  | Plans to invade a foreign land, known by 3 to 4 people       |
:--------------+------+--------------------------------------------------------------:
| Unutterable  |  50  | The mental disability of a king, known by 3 or less people   |
'--------------'------'--------------------------------------------------------------'
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    \$\begingroup\$ Good find. I'm not sure that minmaxers would necessarily care about this, but it seems like about the only thing the swashbuckler has going for htem. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 29, 2019 at 8:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ "... So gaining a level always felt worthwhile." I wish that lesson had stuck around for 5e. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jason_c_o
    Nov 29, 2019 at 10:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ "In order for this iteration of the Bluff skill to work, the nonplayer character must find the swashbuckler physically attractive and be in a position to actually know the secret in question". I'm with jgn on this one. It's definitely an answer, but I doubt it's the answer. What optimised Swashbuckler has a decent Cha stat? \$\endgroup\$
    – J. Mini
    Nov 29, 2019 at 12:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Jason_c_o For your entertainment - part one says: "The monk is the only other core class, aside from the barbarian, that has no dead levels. Players always have something to look forward to with the monk, which boasts the most colorful and unique special abilities of all the character classes". Maybe not all lessons were good ones. They even thought that faster uses of Disable Device was "a significant incentive to actually take all twenty levels of the rogue class"! \$\endgroup\$
    – J. Mini
    Nov 29, 2019 at 12:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ For optimization, i think Swashbuckler 4 has more to do with more Base Attack Bonus or the better Hit Die. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 29, 2019 at 12:49

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