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One of my favorite things to do as a gamer is to find mechanics that are considered niche, useless, or which are otherwise overlooked and to find ways to make them extremely effective. Recently I've been looking at the whip, a weapon usually considered far too underpowered to bother using in Pathfinder, and figuring out how to put a little crack into it.
Originally I gave it to the magus in my guide Where There's A Whip There's A Way over on my gaming blog Improved Initiative. But since a lot of folks said they didn't want to play magi with this weapon, I thought that I'd expand the options and talk about how a whip can become a deadly weapon in the hands of a swashbuckler.
It's All in the Feats
As with so much in Pathfinder, what you can do is completely dependent on how you spend your resources. And if you want to make a whip-wielding swashbuckler, then you're going to need all the feats you can get.
First and foremost, you're going to need proficiency with the whip. Which means you'll either need to take a swashbuckler archetype like the Mysterious Avenger, or you'll need to burn a feat for Exotic Weapon Proficiency (Whip). Once you have that, you've taken the first step down the path.
The next step is to take Weapon Finesse (because sadly a whip is still a slashing weapon, so your Swashbuckler's Finesse doesn't help you here, though you can also bypass this step if you take the Mysterious Avenger archetype as a whip counts as a one-handed piercing weapon for all of that archetype's deeds and abilities), and Weapon Focus (whip). These two feats are the prerequisites for Slashing Grace, which allows you to consider the whip a one-handed piercing weapon, thus allowing you to use your swashbuckler class features with it. It also lets you add your Dexterity modifier to your damage, which is going to help a lot in the long run.
At this point, you need to take Whip Mastery. This lets you deal lethal damage with your whip, and your attacks can no longer be blocked by armor (two of the major drawbacks of the whip in its natural form). It also lets you avoid the attacks of opportunity normally incurred when you use a whip. Now we're getting somewhere.
The next set of feats you're going to want is Improved Whip Mastery, and Combat Reflexes. The one increases your threatened area with the whip, and gives you additional attacks of opportunity equal to your Dexterity modifier. A solid thing to have, especially if combined with Lunge, though that's optional.
Also, because your swashbuckler levels count as fighter levels for the purposes of qualifying for feats, you can also add Improved Weapon Focus, Weapon Specialization, and Improved Weapon Specialization to your feats as you level. Additionally, if you wanted to use your whip for disarming or tripping your foes, you might be able to play a range game and avoid attacks of opportunity. However, the Improved and Greater versions of those feats will substantially increase your chances of making your actions count when you let the leather fly to crack weapons out of their hands, or to send them tumbling onto their backsides. Which are even more effective if you do that as an attack of opportunity while they were trying to close with you.
Some Tips for Feat Economy
That is a lot of feats, and swashbucklers only get bonus feats every four levels (in addition to the regular progression of one feat every odd-numbered level). So how do you get all of these feats without waiting until you're in double-digit levels to feel like you're hitting your stride?
The first, and most obvious, thing to do is to make your character a human so you can gain a bonus feat at first level. In the early stages of the game, that one extra feat can make a lot of difference. Additionally, a two-level dip into fighter pairs nicely with this strategy. That gives you two bonus combat feats, boosts your Fortitude save, keeps your BAB going strong, and the levels don't even interfere with your progression when it comes to qualifying for feats. You'll even have proficiency with other types of armor and shields, which can free up your options.
I've mentioned it already, but the Mysterious Avenger archetype really saves you on your feat economy, giving you whip proficiency and negating the need for you to take Weapon Finesse as part of your feat progression. You lose out on Nimble, swashbuckler weapon training, and the bonus feat you gain at fourth level, but it is still one of the best ways to crack that whip and have your enemies take notice. It also gives you additional fun goodies.
Also, remember, these are not the only feats you can take to make this character concept work. Nor do you necessarily have to take them in this particular order. These are just the feats I personally found most useful, and presented in what I think is the most logical order in which to take them.