When I heard that Epic Endings was a thing (a wonderful podcast that you should listen to, given the chance), I immediately set to creating a number of characters. The intent was to make as many silly, self-sufficient characters as possible. My initial attempt was Grapple Cop (itself being an idea born from listening to the DnD RAW episode on grappling), and I cover the logic behind that character in the first episode of our own podcast Bookwyrms. Once I got over attempting to take advantage dips into Fighter (don’t sleep on Improved Critical and Extra Attack), I tried thinking of ways to solve problems beyond murder.
I’ve had great success with Bard and Warlocks at lower levels, so I couldn’t see any reason why you couldn’t /talk/ your way around a level 1 module as well. While a Hexblade might do the job, it lacked a certain versatility that a single-player experience would benefit from. Bards were versatile, but couldn’t exactly survive a standup fight. Thumbing through Rogue Archetypes, my eyes fell on Swashbuckler and the character began to develop.
The idea for the character came from equal parts Princess Bride, Errol Flynn, and Lupin IIII; a charismatic rogue swinging from the rafters to save the girl. Those guys seemed to hold their own from dozens of opponents, being both adept in combat and social encounters. Bard/Rogue was definitely the way to go. A few points:
- Rakish Audacity rewarded a high Charisma, something I was planning on doing (with the social aspect). The Sneak Attack rider on RA worked well with Fancy Footwork, rewarding something I’d probably be doing in a single player experience: kiting encounters.
- Elegant Maneuver and Expertise in Athletics and Acrobatics would help me live out my chandelier swinging dreams, aiding in the aforementioned kiting. If I got caught in a corner, Fancy Footwork would keep me mobile.
- Slippery Mind is pretty good.
This is all on Rogue though. Why even bother dipping into Bard at all?
- While Rogues have Expertise, Bards bring Jack of All Trades. A +3 to untrained skills isn’t the best, but it makes me versatile (again, something I value when it’s just me). Tack on that a single level of Bard gives you Expertise, and you can master SIX skills. Given the importance of Athletics/Acrobatics in kiting our opponents, we can value these Expertise tremendously.
- Spellcasting provides extra options that a pure mundane would lose out on. I’ll go into detail of my spell selection later, but suffice to say that there’s some fun to be had.
- Bards have better starting Saving Throws. (When the heck do I need to roll an Intelligence save?)
So, I’m starting as a Bard.
What kind of bard? College of Valor comes to mind first, but Combat Inspiration benefits from having other people around. College of Swords is more selfish, and Blade Flourish has the added benefit of giving us more movement. Tack on Blade Flourish for selfish uses of Bardic Inspiration and we have a stew. We take 5 levels of Bard for Font of Inspiration (more Blade Flourishes). For fighting style, I’d recommend the Unearthed Arcana Mariner (climb speed, swim speed, /and/ a +1 to AC? Sign me the hell up!). If your DM’s a stickler, just go with Dueling (boring, but dependable).
We can’t take any more levels, since that would deny us Slippery Mind. I could see forgoing that for Countercharm and Extra Attack. Since I value saves more (and Sneak Attack is only once per turn), I’m going to stick with Bard 5.
Now, we’re Bard 5/Rogue 15 with a focus on Dex/Cha. What about the stats?
With point buy, we can get the following spread:
- STR 10 (Don’t really need to worry about STR saves and Expertise/Elegant Maneuver will make up for our terrible base Athletics.)
- DEX 15 (Finesse weapons for Sneak Attack, DEX generally being good with Evasion, bonuses to AC, good on a number of skills.)
- CON 12 (+1 HP per level. That’s about it.)
- INT 8 (I personally like a dumb swashbuckler. There’s few INT saves, and he’s not going to be rolling knowledge checks, like, ever.)
- WIS 13 (Need a minimum of 13 to multiclass, and it feeds into Perception/Insight.)
- CHA 14 (Bardic Spellcasting, Rakish Audacity, and a number of social skills make this high priority.)
What race? Half-Elf is generally good, especially if we value Charisma. +2 CHA, +1 WIS, +1 DEX. Now we’ve got:
- STR 10
- DEX 16
- CON 12
- INT 8
- WIS 14
- CHA 16
Not bad for level 1!
I chose the Entertainer background because it gives us proficiency in Disguise Kit and two relevant skills for being a swashbuckling hero. Honestly, you could go with whatever you’d like, but this is my personal preference.
While I could aim to maximize my stats (there are 5 available ASIs), I would much rather diversify with Feats. As this is a level 20 character, there’s no particular order. For the sake of completeness though…
Prodigy: I thoroughly enjoy this feat. An additional proficiency and expertise is always useful. Tack on a tool of our choice, and we’re golden! (We’re going to Forgery Tool proficiency to combo with our next feat.)
Actor: CHA Bump! Advantage on skills we’ll already have at ridiculous levels! Combined with our
Athlete: DEX Bump! Unimpeded climbing! Recovering from prone is nice. And while the rules for jumping are annoying (High Jump of 3 feet), we hope that the DM will allow us to use our glorious Athletics instead.
ASI: +1 Dex, +1 CHA. Get us to our +4s. Boring. Standard.
Medium Armor Master: Give us some more survivability in the form of heavier armor. And now we don’t take disadvantage from wearing Medium armor!
For skills, I selected the following (marking Expertise with an asterisk):
- Swinging from chandeliers, deftly tumbling about the battlefield, and sweet backflips!
- Jumping up to said chandeliers, jumping over chasms, swimming through moats, climbing up the exterior of towers, out running guards and jealous lovers!
- We will lie through our teeth and wear disguises to get into places we’re not supposed to.
- See through illusions! Try to figure out if we’re being lied to. Not expertised, since we have better things to do.
- See traps and ambushes before they take us by surprise! Find hidden doors! See things in general!
- We will lie through our teeth and wear disguises to get into places we’re not supposed to. Also, we can play a mean series of instruments to actually impress people.
- Sometimes, people just need to be convinced that you’re right. The Panache Feature of Swashbuckler also acts as a non-magical Charm. Useful in single combat, and for getting people on your side.
- Sleight of Hand
- Sometimes you need to pickpocket the enemy’s plans from that guard, pick a lock when you’re captured or just hide a weapon on your person. If you’re lucky, your DM will even allow you to use Sleight of Hand with a Mage Hand!
- Just solid for getting in and out of a secured location. We are rogues, after all.
For spells, I selected the following:
Mage Hand: Useful, versatile. A lenient DM might let you pickpocket or make other Sleight of Hand tricks with it. Alternatively, I’d select Prestidigitation (always maintain that evergreen scent and coiffed hair).
Minor Illusion: Combined with Deception, you can have a relevant prop in your hand at all times.
Vicious Mockery: “You wave that sword like a feather duster!” Just a touch of Monkey Island, and a way to batter cowards who use a bow and arrow.
Feather Fall: Jump out tower windows dramatically without fear of falling to your death.
Healing Word: If things go terribly wrong, you’ll want this in your back pocket.
Enhance Ability: A versatile ability, should we ever get hirelings. Or need to solve a puzzle (advantage on Int checks!).
Invisibility: While we have some really good stealth, a little Invisibility never hurt anyone.
Suggestion: Again, while we have a high Deception or Persuasion, sometimes you run across someone who’s /too/ dedicated to their job and refuses to leave their post.
Dispel Magic: Sometimes, the enemy is a wizard who had a chance to buff up. Sometimes there’s a magic trap on a door. For those situations, there’s Dispel Magic.
Hypnotic Pattern: When you absolutely, positively, need to lock down a large cluster of enemies.
Leomund’s Tiny Hut: Cornelius does not ‘rough it’.
And that’s it. A versatile, charismatic rogue right out of a swashbuckler film. He’s charismatic enough to talk through passive opposition, and capable enough to defend himself (provided that there’s room to maneuver). He’s self-sufficient for Epic Destinies, but can fit just as well as a party face.
Medium Humanoid, Chaotic Charmer
Armor Class 19 (15 [Half-Plate] + 3 [Dexterity Bonus] + 1 [Mariner Fighting Style])
Hit Points 123 (19d8 + 28)
Speed 30 ft.
Initiative. +11 (4 [Dexterity Bonus] + 4 [Rakish Audacity] + 3 [Bard of All Trades])
Saving Throws DEX +10. WIS +8. CHA +10.
Skills Acrobatics +16, Athletics +12, Deception +16, Insight +8, Perception +14, Performance +16, Persuasion +10, Sleight of Hand +10, Stealth +10
Senses Darkvision 60ft. Passive Perception 24
Languages Common, Elvish, Halfling, Draconic
Fey Ancestry. Cornelius has advantage on saving throws against being charmed, and magic can’t put him to sleep.
Fighting Style: Mariner. As long as he is not wearing heavy armor or using a shield, Cornelius has a swimming speed and a climbing speed equal to his normal speed, and gains a +1 bonus to AC.
Reliable Talent. Whenever Cornelius makes an ability check that lets him add his proficiency bonus, he can treat a d20 roll of 9 or lower as a 10.
Elegant Maneuver. Cornelius can use a bonus action on his turn to gain advantage on the next Dexterity (Acrobatics) or Strength (Athletics) check he makes during the same turn.
Bardic Inspiration (d8). As a bonus action, Cornelius can choose one creature other than himself within 60 feet who can hear him. That creature gains one Bardic Inspiration die. Once within the next 10 minutes, the creature can roll the die and add the number rolled to one ability check, attack roll, or saving throw it makes. You can use this feature a number of times equal to your Charisma modifier (a minimum of once). Cornelius regains all of his expended uses of Bardic Inspiration when he finishes a short or long rest.
Blade Flourish. Whenever Cornelius takes the Attack action on his turn, his walking speed increases by 10 feet until the end of the turn. If a weapon attack that he makes as part of this action hits a creature, he can use one of the following Blade Flourish options (only one Blade Flourish option per turn).
Defensive Flourish. Cornelius can expend one use of his Bardic Inspiration to cause the weapon to deal extra damage to the target he hits. The damage equals the number rolled on the Bardic Inspiration die. The number rolled is also added to his AC until the start of his next turn.
Slashing Flourish. Cornelius can expend one use of his Bardic Inspiration to cause the weapon to deal extra damage to the target he hit and to any other creature of his choice that he can see within 5 feet. The damage equals the number rolled on the Bardic Inspiration die.
Mobile Flourish. Cornelius can expend one use of his Bardic Inspiration to cause the weapon to deal extra damage to the target he hit. The damage equals the number rolled on the Bardic Inspiration die. He can also push the target up to 5 feet away from him, plus a number of feet equal to the number rolled on that die. He can then immediately use his reaction to move up to his walking speed to an unoccupied space within 5 feet of the target.
Evasion. When Cornelius is subjected to an effect that allows him to make a Dexterity saving throw to take only half damage, he instead take no damage if he succeeds on the saving throw, and only half damage if he fails.
Panache. As an action, Cornelius can make a Charisma (persuasion) check contested by a creature’s Wisdom (Insight) check. The creature must be able to hear him, and must share a language.
If he succeeds on the check and the creature is hostile to him, it has disadvantage on attack rolls against targets other than him and can’t make opportunity attacks against targets other than him. This effect lasts for 1 minute, until one of Cornelius’ companions attacks the target or affects it with a spell, or until he and the target are more than 60 feet apart.
If he succeeds on the check and the creature isn’t hostile to him, it is charmed by him for 1 minute. While charmed, it regards Cornelius as a friendly acquaintance. This effect ends immediately if Cornelius or his companions do anything harmful to it.
Spellcasting. Cornelius is a 3rd-level spellcaster. Their spellcasting ability is Charisma (Spell save DC 18; +10 to hit with spell). As a member of the College of Swords, he can use melee weapons he is proficient with as a spellcasting focus for his bard spells. He has the following Bard spells prepared:
Cantrips (at will): Minor Illusion, Prestidigitation, Vicious Mockery
1st level (4 slots): Feather Fall, Healing Word
2nd level (3 slots): Enhance Ability, Invisibility, Suggestion
3rd level (2 slots): Dispel Magic, Hypnotic Pattern, Leomund’s Tiny Hut
Sneak Attack (8d6). Cornelius deal an extra 8d6 damage to one creature he hits with an attack if:
Cornelius has advantage on the attack roll;
Another enemy of the target is within 5 feet of it, that enemy isn’t incapacitated, and Cornelius doesn’t have disadvantage on the attack roll
Cornelius within 5 feet of it, no other creatures are within 5 feet of him, and he doesn’t have disadvantage on the attack roll.
Fancy Footwork. During his turn, if Cornelius makes a melee attack against a creature, that creature can’t make opportunity attacks against him for the rest of his turn.
Rapier. Melee weapon attack: +10 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 10 (1d8 + 6) piercing damage.
Uncanny Dodge. When an attacker that Cornelius can see hits him with an attack, he can use his reaction to halve the attack’s damage against him.
A nobleman in exile, Cornelius adventures to find the six-fingered man who killed his father. Once that is completed, he hopes to return home to reclaim his rightful place at his estate.
Cornelius is more of a lover than a fighter. His life aboard a pirate ship has left him hardened to risk, and quick to defuse tension with an easy smile and genuine compliment. He lifts up his allies with an upbeat personality and encouraging words, when he isn’t too distracted ogling women. He honestly searches for love, and has a soft spot for women in need of rescue (whether by towers guarded by dragons or loveless political marriages). Woe betide anyone who wrongs them on his watch.
Ideal: “It’s a part of every gentleman’s job to give women something to dream about!”
Bond: “I swear on the soul of my father, Byron Nightbloom, we will get through this.”
Flaw: “For love, a man will destroy himself, and that right willingly. ”