Remember that one kickass fencing scene from The Princess Bride where Wesley and Inigo Montoya duel like epic sword masters from the classic pulp adventure romances?
That's the Swashbuckler class; stylish, witty and fucked against opponents whose armour is made not of good humour but steel. Better off using the Daring multi-class feats with Rogue or Fighter and getting some decent feats or class features. Or house-ruling a Daring Weeaboo feat for Swordsage/Warblade synergy. In 1st edition AD&D, Unearthed Arcana put some feelers this-a-way with the Acrobat, but - well, UA.
European sword fighting in the Renaissance was broadly divided into two camps, those being the German and Italian schools. The German style was a direct evolution of older medieval sword fighting; it favored the longsword and employed both thrusting and slashing techniques (akin to the lightsaber fighting of Star Wars). Whereas the techniques for fencing popularly associated with swashbucklers falls firmly in the Italian school, using rapiers with an emphasis on thrusting attacks.
As firearms proliferated and early single shot pistols began to appear the Italian school became dominant. A short, easily carried thrusting rapier or saber was much more useful in a close quarters fight than a full size sword.
Dungeons & Dragons
In 3rd (point five) edition the Swashbuckler was a class in Complete Warrior. Since this was an early 3.5 book made when WotC hadn't yet acknowledged martials were stupidly underpowered (this was the book responsible for the Samurai class that's barely better than the Warrior NPC class), like most martial classes in 3.5 there was little reason to stay in it beyond a dip. The main way of making it work was to take 3 levels to get Insightful Strike (intelligence to damage) and Gish (this is still worse than one level dip gish due to less casting, but not terrible). Complete Scoundrel retroactively saved the Swashbuckler by adding the Daring Outlaw feat, which made Swashbuckler levels stack with Rogue levels for determining sneak attack damage while maintaining full BAB (minus 1). This didn't get as much popularity as the Ranger+Scout counterpart Swift Hunter because Swashbuckler was a worse class than Ranger and only Swift Hunter had a way to bypass immunity to Sneak Attack, but it did save the class from total pointlessness.
5e brought back the Swashbuckler as a new Rogue archetype; debuting in Unearthed Arcana, it became an official subclass when it was printed in the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, and it was subsequently reprinted in Xanathar's Guide to Everything. They get to add their Charisma bonus to initiative, Sneak Attack enemies with none of the Swashbuckler's allies next to them (as long as it’s a one-on-one fight), and don't provoke AoOs from enemies they attack in melee. And that's just at level 3.
At 9th lvl, you can use Persuasion to either cause disadvantage and prevent AoOs from a hostile creature against any target except yourself or Charm a friendly creature, for one minute. This can be used to great effect in both combat and roleplay situations. 13th lvl allows you to take a bonus action to gain advantage on your next Acrobatics or Athletics check. The Swashbuckler caps off at lvl 17 with the ability to reroll a failed attack with advantage, once per short rest. This means you automatically count as Sneak Attacking if the reroll hits. Overall, the rules compel and reward the Swashbuckler to play like, well, a Swashbuckler. An edge in one on one duels, supplemented by the ability to throw off friend and foe alike with your dashing charm, and some good movement utility.
Or, if that's not Errol Flynn enough for you, you can take the College of Swords Bard, also from Unearthed Arcana, which takes its cues from the Blade bardic kit of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. You get a bunch of fancy weapon tricks, extra attacks, and expertise in two-weapon fighting, plus the ability to spice your skills up with magic.
|Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Classes|
|Barbarian - Bard - Cleric - Druid - Fighter - Monk |
Paladin - Ranger - Rogue - Sorcerer - Warlock - Wizard
|Tasha's Cauldron of Everything:||Artificer - Expert - Spellcaster - Warrior|
|Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft:||Apprentice - Disciple - Sneak - Squire|
In Pathfinder, this class is basically a Gunslinger except he uses one-handed stabby weapons (especially rapiers) instead of firearms. He's a squishy fighter who has some MAD with Charisma (for panache points, the class's equivalent of gunslinger grit) and Dexterity and only gets light armor without spending feats. Worst of all, a Cavalier gets an archetype in the same book Swashbuckler was introduced in that gets all of a Swashbuckler's GOOD abilities and can do better, while Magus can cherry pick some of the better ones. Swashbuckler is perhaps the weakest martial PC class in Pathfinder: Even with feat investment its damage can't really compete with a great sword wielding Warrior (the NPC class) whose only feat is power attack, while its AC takes too long to surpass heavy armor, and doesn't even get the wealth of quality archetypes the pre-Unchained Monk got. They can still throw out or block a lot of damage around with their panache/grit points, and they regenerate them fairly quickly and easily, but lots of other martial classes can do the same, and without the frills. Aside from being able to add their charisma modifier to a save a few times a day, they have no protection against spells. Even their official description can't really say they shine that much, saying they need to steal killing blows!
Some people believe Swashbucklers are Tier 5 (and some believe the Pathfinder version could fall into tier 6). According to these people, they are also both there for the same reason: They focus on poor fighting styles without really doing anything to make them not suck, gain no meaningful class features after the first few levels, don't have enough skill points to be useful in that role, and have poor saving throws. They are useful exclusively as a dip, if that, only. If you want to play a movement based swashbuckling hero, play something from the Book of Nine Swords/Path of War, or at least Swift Hunter based Ranger/Scout or an Unchained Rogue with a Slayer dip.
Other Pathfinder 1.0 players are of the opinion the Swashbuckler is one of, if not the best, martial class in the game. With their parry and riposte abilities, they become nearly un-hittable in melee. Even swinging at them could end up in the deaths of most combatants as they can "riposte" to get a counter-attack as an immediate action. When using the Charmed Life ability, they can effectively shrug off most spells that have saving throws. They get improved critical for free at 5th level therefore, with a high-crit range weapon like a rapier, they are scoring critical hits often which refuels their pool of panache to keep doing their tricks that avoid taking hits. They can pump up their dexterity which ups their to-hit bonus, damage, and AC all at the same time. With the right build and feats, they can easily chew through foes faster than Inigo Montoya going through the guards of the man who killed his father.
|The Classes of Pathfinder 1st Edition|
|Core Classes:||Barbarian - Bard - Cleric - Druid - Fighter - Monk |
Paladin - Ranger - Rogue - Sorcerer - Wizard
|Alchemist - Antipaladin - Cavalier |
Inquisitor - Oracle - Summoner - Witch
|Arcanist - Bloodrager - Brawler - Hunter - Investigator |
Shaman - Skald - Slayer - Swashbuckler - Warpriest
|Kineticist - Medium - Mesmerist |
Occultist - Psychic - Spiritualist
|Ultimate X:||Gunslinger - Magus - Ninja - Samurai - Shifter - Vigilante|
Revamped to be the Hybrid Fighter Bard Rogue with all the entertainment bravado. It's basically the class that rewards you for spending your actions on the fun things that normally won't have any effect on the battle (cartwheels, back flips, taunts) but activates a special state of Panache that you can then expend for a finishing blow rather than last edition's points. While this generally forces you to focus on your chosen skills for skill feats, you do get a few levels where you get an extra skill feat on those particular skills. Generally, they have to work harder than the Rogue or Investigator to set up but deal more damage when they do so. Also, while their archetypes allow for a variety of means to power their abilities, they all mean you'll suffer from MAD to some degree. Despite these downsides, many people consider the Swashbuckler to be awesome, since their abilities allow them to be highly mobile, and the sheer amount of great feats allow them to pull off a ton of awesome finishers.
- Battledancer: The most bard-like of the lot, granting you training in Performance and the Battle Performance skill feat so you can distract people with your dancing, triggering Panache.
- Braggart: The bully of the lot, granting you training in Intimidation and triggering Panache whenever you scare the enemy. Your particular finisher rider allows you to scare them again, negating the typical immunity after scaring them once.
- Fencer: The trickster of the lot, granting you training in Deception and triggering Panache whenever you distract or fake out an enemy.
- Gymnast: The most direct attacker of the lot, granting training in Athletics and lets you trigger Panache upon using the various combat maneuvers tied to it. Your finisher even adds extra damage if you grab or trip the foe.
- Wit: The most face-like of the lot, granting you training in Diplomacy and the Bon Mot skill feat so you can trigger Panache as you insult the foe.
|The Classes of Pathfinder 2nd Edition|
|Core Classes:||Alchemist - Barbarian - Bard - Champion - Cleric - Druid |
Fighter - Monk - Ranger - Rogue - Sorcerer - Wizard
|Advanced Player's Guide:||Investigator - Oracle - Swashbuckler - Witch|
|Secrets of Magic:||Magus - Summoner|
|Guns and Gears:||Gunslinger - Inventor|
|Dark Archive:||Psychic - Thaumaturge|