Apr 302014

A Dashing Swashbuckler
Dashing, yes! But in DDO, gimped.

Last week, Turbine developer Vargouille introduced a new Bard prestige enhancement tree called “Swashbuckler”. Clearly inspired by the movies, the Swashbuckler enhancements utilizes a single-weapon fighting style that among other things, improves the critical profile of finesse weapons.

It’s hard not to love the idea of a swashbuckling hero. If this doesn’t excite you, I can only ask, have you never seen Princess Bride? Pirates of the Caribbean? Anything with Errol Flynn in it? Or really, any movie that features a sword fight? Because they are all swashbuckling.

Even the most jaded of us have to admit: hey, that’s pretty cool!

But those are movies, while this is DDO. Once one has gotten over the awesomeness of imagining your character as the Fourth Musketeer, one has to start dealing with the reality of how it will work. And to be frank, it is a bit puzzling.

What place will the single-weapon fighting style (SWF) (lol at SWF) have? Our existing styles all have clearly defined roles and trade-offs:

Captain Jack Sparrow

  • Two-Handed Fighting (THF): Best damage per hit. Slowest attack speed. No defenses. Splash damage. One less equipment slot for hanging magic bonuses and augments.
  • Two-Weapon Fighting (TWF): Less damage per hit, much better attack speed, minor defenses. No splash damage.
  • Unarmed Fighting (monk): Best attack speed. Least damage per hit. Slightly better defenses. No splash damage. One less equipment slot for hanging magic bonuses and augments. Have to be monk.
  • Sword and shield (sword & board or S&B): Worst attack speed. Less damage per hit. Best defenses. Possibility of splash damage depending on weapon choice.

I was going to put all this in an Excel radar chart except I haven’t installed Excel on my new machine yet, and it would have only added color. The words explain the tradeoffs quite well.

But it does beg the question: where does SWF fit in all this?

  • Single Weapon Fighting (SWF): Less damage per hit. Slowest attack speed. No defenses. No splash damage (swashbuckling weapons are all finesse). One less equipment slot for hanging magic bonuses and augments.

Not very enticing.

In the movies, and for that matter in real life, SWF with a finesse weapon is the chosen method for duels because it is the fastest attack style. While this will seem counter-intuitive to someone used to DDO, one weapon is faster than two. TWF is actually more of a defensive style; the second weapon is there to block. Albeit a defensive style that includes an additional avenue of attack when the blocking weapon is used offensively.

And of course, SWF is much faster than S&B and especially much faster than THF.

Dread Pirate RobertsBut in DDO it will be slower than TWF as DDO’s offhand weapon is purely offensive and in some builds can double the rate of attack. Also, SWF will have the same damage per attack as TWF. Same damage, slower attack rate. That is going to be problematic for meleers.

Turbine appears to be countering this by throwing a hodgepodge of everything they can think of into the Swashbuckling enhancement tree. And some of that looks pretty fun!

But … and there is a but … but all of the Swashbuckling stance bonuses do not actually improve SWF although they require it. The Bard will still be using an inferior attack style while earning his or her various enhancement-based goodies. You can look at the enhancement tree and get excited about the abilities there, but then compare that to a fighter who can also get exiting abilities while in TWF or THF. Or a rogue who gets exciting abilities and is still able to TWF. Or a ranger that has the best TWF of all and who also gets, yes, you guessed it, lots of exciting abilities.

My opinion, to make this something that is considered to be a viable and effective choice, not just fun but also competitive, Turbine may have to do something to SWF itself. For instance, increase the attack speed of SWF.

Or better, give it a chance to “Feint” (because that is something one does in a sword fight), a 10% chance to be missed that calculates together with Dodge, Incorporeal and Concealment.

Now you have something that someone who is not a Swashbuckler might still want, instead of TWF or THF. Imagine a form of SWF that is so interesting that certain types of Rogues want it. Some Fighters too, and Rangers, and maybe even the odd Barbarian here and there.

Once you have achieved that, once you have made SWF something that is by itself worthwhile and part of the balanced melee style discussion, only then you will have truly given Swashbuckler a reason to exist, because the Swashbuckler will be the best SWF build of all.

  20 Responses to “The Problem With Swashbuckler Isn’t Swashbuckling. It’s SWF.”

Comments (20)
  1. Good post. 🙂

  2. I think they just want a hoard of new characters on the servers called ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’…

  3. I have a slightly different take. Posted this in forums:

    I still can’t get excited about this whole Swashbuckling thing, for a couple of reasons.

    1. Thematically it just doesn’t fit. Bard? Really? Seems like a Rogue or Fighter to me.

    2. Single weapon fighting is now a prestige enhancement? Why? What’s so special about fighting with a single weapon? An expert fights with big two handers or equips a weapon in both hands – that’s special. But heck, the untrained peasant or thug can fight with a single weapon. That’s WHY it takes an expert to fight with a weapon in each hand or wield a big weapon that the normal foot soldier, pirate, bandit, thug, or peasant would have a hard time with.

    3. A “swashbuckler” to me is just a name applied to a person who fits the role, not a special skill set or class. A Kensai with rapier or shortsword specialization and weapon finesse who wears a feathered hat and says “en guard” could be a swashbuckler. Or a rogue with dex-to-damage and weapon finesse who wears a red scarf and says “Arrgh, ye scurvy dog”.

    Put me down as “I just don’t get it”. What’s next, a prestige enhancement called “Bandit”, or “Bodyguard”, or maybe “Adventurer”?

    To me a MUCH better idea would have been to build a prestige around the “Deulist” from Dragon Magazine issue73:


    However, this is obviously a fighter (or perhaps Rogue) prestige, not bard.

  4. What the Swashbucker should have can be seen in the Neverwinter Nights 2 version I loved. First off, it’s a Rogue version, so Sneak Attack worked well. The key involved its highly defensive and counter-attack style. VERY high ripostes with tremendous damage. In short, a kind of light tank that doesn’t slash, slash, slash as much as waits for an opening. Think about how we play. Few of us are blocking, we’re slash, slash, slash and enemies get in licks when we miss or they get the better roll. Imaging if your weapon works best by blocking most that comes along, ranged or melee. And when they don’t hit, your attack is tremendous. I agree that it’s a tougher build and is counterintuitive to how DDO plays, but I think it could be done if they really increase the riposte effect. At the same time, they should also have great burst attacks and Evasion far earlier than the rough-in showed.

    • That is actually a very good point there. Not make this compete with TWF for the speed but allow some form of dodging/evading/ducking/parrying (including using bucklers, daggers or kama to parry off hand?) and THEN pounce with a very nice armor piercing attack – or even instakill like thing.
      If you could actually block damage from EE monsters effectively, doing melee would be far more viable at high lvl

      Although I think it would still be a good one to allow the reality to work too – you are just incredibly much faster when you are trained at fighting with a light blade and trained where to hit (dex to hit, maybe give perform an effect and off course finesse.)

      One think that might have been missed by Geoff though, is that the devs mentioned that the feat for SWF would be usable for doing S&B as well, as long as you are not having a weapon in your off hand. Which would make a focus on parrying/blocking in the SWF feat even more logical

  5. One note: To fight unarmed you don’t have to be a Monk, but effective and fluid unarmed fighting for non-Monks requires training in Grandmaster of Flowers. You don’t do as much damage as a Monk, however, since you don’t get a few key feats, but you’re not doing the “Elaine dance” as you fight with your fists, either.

    • I don’t consider non-Monk unarmed combat to be a “real” style. It is more like the absence of style.

      • I’m forced to agree. 🙂 I’m sure that the devs purposely used the Elaine dance from “Seinfeld” for bad fist fighting.

      • Cue ‘Enter the Dragon’ music:

        “The Art of fighting without fighting?”

        “It’s like a finger pointing to the Moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you’ll miss all that Heavenly glory.”

        End odd, seemingly random, obscure pop culture reference.

  6. I think to make SWF viable…they need to add some extra goodies. I think SWF should offer the highest chance of Double strike in the game. Also…Improved Parrying? Superior Parrying? Expand on the improved Critical feat…maybe increase to Superior Critical by increasing the threat chance by +2 over improved critical (with a slight penalty of -0.25X multiplier) for Swashbucklers only? Give Swashbuckler improved evasion?

  7. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, I feel they need to really up a lot of the defensive bonuses…

    If we were to combine everyones’ ideas, dodge, parry, evade, feint, riposte, etc, it could be quite a fun AC/Dodge tank type. Hell, Swashbuckler needs a taunt that acts like intimidate to hold the attention of the target “… my name is Inigo Montoya …”, perform skill could effect the DC instead of intimidate…

    • Actually a perform based intimidate would be awesome and something useful for the skill to do besides the DC value of bard songs. Not enough skills have active uses in DDO.

  8. At least we can get the pirate hats from Crystal Cove (if we don’t have them already…)

  9. Maybe I’ll update the Lamannia client when the times comes 😀

  10. I agree Geoff. Simply increasing critical will not help. And honestly I think the whole melee combat system needs to be revised. Wea pond should have an additional Stat for attack speed. Small one handed weapons like daggers and kukris would be the fastest and large weapons like falchions, great swords, and great axes would be the slowest. This Stat would be multiplied by some base attack speed value, 2 hick could be based upon strength and dexterity or something else entirely.

  11. I think it’s going to need something pretty special to make it really viable.. a couple of ideas:
    – Stacking fortification bypass… combine with precision, an appropriate weapon/black dragon scale plus the stuff from swashbuckler & destinies, getting 100% or even higher fortification bypass should be achievable & would probably make up a lot for the other effects you might lose – swashbuckler bard/rogues would have flavour and effectiveness.
    – Riposte effects
    – AC boosts, or maybe even a separate dodge chance (like the elusive target epic feat) to really maximise the feel of a nimble & evasive character
    – Doublestrike boosts

    As it is, without seeing what the swf feats themselves would be, I’m leaning more towards sword & buckler with a bit of shield mastery to boost doublestrike.- wouldn’t be surprised if Crystal Cove gets a makeover to coincide with the launch epic 3bc & the swashbuckler too, actually, especially considering how a number of the bits of loot from there would fit it perfectly.

  12. What we actually got for SWF:

    Single Weapon Fighting
    While Single-Weapon Fighting, your weapon die gains an additional +2 sides.

    Single Weapon Fighting: Requires fighting with a single one-handed melee weapon, and wielding only an orb, runearm, or nothing in your offhand.

    For instance, a 1d8 weapon instead deals 1d10 damage. This only functions for weapons with a single base weapon die (Example: This wouldn’t function for weapons that do 2d4 base damage.)

    Feat Requirement: 2 ranks of Balance

    Improved Single Weapon Fighting
    Your bonus for Single Weapon Fighting increases to +4 sides.

    For instance, a 1d8 weapon instead deals 1d12 damage. This only functions for weapons with a single base weapon die (aka: This wouldn’t function for weapons that do 2d4 base damage.)

    Feat Requirement: 4 ranks of Balance, Base Attack Bonus +6

    Greater Single Weapon Fighting
    Your bonus for Improved Single Weapon Fighting increases to +6 sides.

    For instance, a 1d8 weapon instead deals 1d14 damage. This only functions for weapons with a single base weapon die (aka: This wouldn’t function for weapons that do 2d4 base damage.)

    Feat Requirement: 7 ranks of Balance, Base Attack Bonus +11

What do you think?

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