Firearms for Pathfinder

I’m preparing to run a pirate-themed Pathfinder game set in Golarion, the main Paizo campaign world.  You can’t have a good pirate game without guns and cannon, so I started looking into that.  The Pathfinder Campaign Setting book has rules for firearms but they are quite underwhelming in general.

I went on a mad tear of Internet research and comparison of existing D&D 3e/3.5e gunpowder rules, from the 3.5e DMG, Stormwrack, d20 Past, Seas of Blood by Mongoose, Broadsides! by Living Imagination, Iron Kingdoms by Privateer Press, Skull & Bones by Green Ronin…  What I wanted was something that hit the sweet spot of late middle ages gun tech without getting too “fantasy-ey” (arcane pistol with intelligent demon bullets!) or too late tech wise (flintlocks, percussion cap weapons, ships with 30 cannon per side on them…).  My players expressed the concern that usually when they see gun rules for D&D they either nerf guns so that they really suck and no one would use them, or make them so good that everyone would always use them.  Quite a challenge.  Here’s what I came up with in response for Pathfinder or D&D 3.5e – comments are welcome!

Gunpowder Weapons In Golarion


The current state of the art in personal firearms is a smoothbore weapon with a wheellock firing mechanism.  Earlier matchlocks, which required a lit match held in a “matchlock” to fire, and the even earlier hand culverins, which required manual application of a lit match, are still in circulation but no regular forces use them.  Though most firearms come from the mass production gunworks of Alkenstar, there are skilled craftsmen in other locations that can and do build firearms.

The smiths of Alkenstar have just developed snaplocks, but have kept the innovation to themselves so far.  More reliable and inexpensive flintlocks are doubtless not far behind.  A couple artisans have made rifled hunting weapons but these are still unique curiosities.

Name                Cost      D (S)  D (M)     Crit     Range    Weight  Type
One-Handed Ranged Weapons
Pistol              250 gp    1d6     2d4      x3        50 ft.   3 lbs.  P
Blunderbuss pistol  500 gp    1d10    2d6      19-20/x2   5 ft.   5 lbs.  B and P
Two-Handed Ranged Weapons
Musket, short       500 gp    1d10    2d6      x3        100 ft.  8 lbs.  P
Musket, long        750 gp    1d10    2d6      x3        150 ft. 10 lbs.  P
Blunderbuss         500 gp    1d12    3d6      19-20/x2   15 ft.  8 lbs.  B and P
Explosive Weapons
Bomb                150 gp    1d10    2d6      x2          5 ft.   1 lb.   B
Smoke bomb           70 gp        Smoke        x2         10 ft.   1 lb.   -

Proficiency: All wheellock weapons require Exotic Weapon Proficiency (firearms) to use without penalty.

Reload: All wheellock weapons hold one shot and take two full round actions to load.  Reloading takes two hands and provokes attacks of opportunity.

Inaccurate: All non-rifled firearms have an inherent -1 to hit penalty.

Exploding Dice: Whenever you deal damage with a firearm and roll maximum on any damage die, reroll that die and add that roll to the total as well. If you roll maximum on rerolls, continue to reroll, adding to the damage each time.

Misfire: Whenever you roll a natural 1 on an attack roll made with a firearm, your firearm might misfire. Immediately roll 1d20. On a 1, the firearm is broken and the powder explodes out the breech, dealing the weapon’s damage to you; on a 2–7, the firearm is broken; on a 8–18, the firearm misfires and is fouled; and on a 19–20, it simply misfires. A fouled firearm requires 2 full rounds to clear before it can be reloaded.

Melee: Pistols may be used as saps and muskets as clubs in melee combat, but they are reasonably fragile and whenever you roll a natural 1 on the attack roll the weapon is broken.

Pistols have a hardness of 10 and 10 hit points; long weapons have a hardness of 10 and 20 hit points.

Weapon Descriptions

Pistol: a single shot wheellock pistol.

Blunderbuss Pistol: Also known as a dragon, this is a large pistol with a bell-shaped barrel.  A blunderbuss pistol’s damage suffers a -2 penalty per range increment beyond the first.

Musket, short: A wheellock musket with a short barrel suitable for use in close quarters.  Also known as an arquebus.

Musket, long: A wheellock musket with a 4 foot long barrel.  The long musket must be braced on something or else suffer a -2 penalty to hit.  Many such muskets come with a inherent pintle mount so that they can be braced while standing; it requires a move action to set up the pintle.

Blunderbuss: This is a heavy musket with a bell-shaped barrel, also referred to as a musketoon.  A blunderbuss’ damage suffers a -2 penalty per range increment beyond the first.

Bomb: A bomb, also known as a grenade, is thrown as a splash weapon.  It requires one full round action to prepare and light.  Once thrown, it explodes and does damage to everyone in a 5’ radius from the target or target square.  Bombs do 2d6 damage to a directly targeted creature and 2d4 splash damage.

Smoke bomb: A smoke bomb is thrown as a splash weapon, and puts out a 10’ radius cloud of smoke.  It requires one full round action to prepare and light.  The smoke dissipates normally.

[Edit:  Dang it, forgot ammo and costs!]

Ammunition: Round lead bullets are sold in bags of 20, weighing 2 pounds, for 5 gp.  As guns of this era are often not in standard calibers, the shot normally require modification by the gun owner before use.  Many gun owners will simply cast their own shot using Craft (gunsmith).

Gunpowder:  Black powder is sold for 40 gp per pound.  It is usually carried in a gourd, horn, or metal flask to keep it dry.  In volume, it is supplied in 30-pound kegs (40 pounds total weight).  Creating gunpowder from scratch requires a DC 25 Craft (alchemy) check.  A thrown bomb takes about half a pound of powder; you can get 40 muzzleloader shots out of a pound.  For cannon, you need an amount of gunpowder equal to the weight of the ball.


I took the exploding-die damage and the misfire (edited) from Pathfinder.  I thought those were good, but their damages, costs, and violation of tech level weren’t (they had percussion cap revolvers, for example).   I broke it up into a couple more weapons.  I’m tempted to go as far as d20 Past did and differentiate between the matchlock and wheellock weapons, but for a first cut thought this would be enough.  I tried to target early 1500s tech in general as consistent with other developments in Pathfinder.

I don’t mind gunpowder in my fantasy, especially if it’s kept to a realistic 1500-and-earlier kind of level.  With the same caveat as my players – it shouldn’t be too nerfed or too good.  I hope I’ve hit that balance here – the reload times make it unlikely you can get too many shots off in one combat, and the inaccuracy and unreliability and cost are down sides – but the lure of that damage potential is a big draw.  They’re too expensive for low level, not competitive at high level, but at mid level you’d be tempted to have a pistol on you that you’d fire in the first round and then drop and go to melee… Which is the desired simulation.

In my game guns will be rare enough that there’s no prestige classes or whatnot for them.  I will include a feat that lets you not provoke attacks of opportunity and a reload feat that lets you spend one full round instead of two, but that’s it.

Next time – cannon!

24 responses to “Firearms for Pathfinder

  1. One thing I keep from d20 modern when working with firearms in all d20 games is that they should use 2 dice for damage. While you’ve done this for all but the blunderbuss, the small versions mostly deal single-die damage. I would instead have them deal the next die size down as the Medium weapons, but still two dice. So instead of 1d6/2d4 it would be 2d3/2d4, and instead of 1d10/2d6 it would be 2d4/2d6, etc.

  2. I considered that… I was torn between 2 dice (especially because of the exploding damage mechanic) and following the normal rule for up/down damage dice with weapon size. I tend to agree 2 dice would be better, and after reading the d20 past rules I feel better about going to 2d8 on the muskets too…

  3. I think that the exploding dice ability is pretty cool, but it is pretty much offset by the inaccuracy and misfire chance. This leaves us with a weapon that does a bit more damage than an equivalent projectile weapon (average damage of 7 for a medium pistol with exploding dice accounted for versus a medium hand crossbow doing about 4 damage and having no inaccuracy or misfire chance.) and takes much longer to load.

    I would consider making firearms a simple weapon. Pretty much anyone can point and shoot a black powder gun, the real skill comes in how fast you can reload it. To reflect this, you could create a series of feat that allow characters to reload their weapons more and more quickly (or fire multiple guns). This keeps the weapon relevant at higher levels (because a character is not taking a whole round to fire their weapon and two more to reload it) but it also gets players to use up feats on the firearms to realize their full potential.

    If you are worried about everyone running around with a gun (although I personally like the idea of everyone shooting a pistol off before going at it, in a pirate setting) the price will keep these fancy new weapons out of most people’s hands.

  4. although I personally like the idea of everyone shooting a pistol off before going at it, in a pirate setting

  5. Well, black powder firearms are actually pretty complicated – at least as complicated as equivalent “exotic weapons.” Anyone should be able to fire a hand crossbow or a repeating crossbow, too, but those are exotic weapons. The difficulty of reloading and maintenance (and rarity in general) is taken into account with what’s exotic.

    This can lead into a philosophical discussion of “what makes an exotic weapon exotic” but IMO if hand and repeating crossbows count, black powder weapons totally count.

    One system – Iron Kingdoms maybe? Made you make a skill check for each reload. I think that’s a bit too sim-heavy for what I want to do.

    In terms of feats, most missile feats would transfer, and I’d let a rapid reload feat take it to one round and let paying for a masterwork weapon get rid of the unreliability problem (or reduce it to always just a dud-fire without the more severe issues). You can always fire two weapons using normal 2h rules and you can always carry a brace of preloaded pistols (perhaps in conjunction with quick draw, which goes from a suck feat no one takes to kinda interesting now).

  6. I agree, difficulty of use is pretty much fluff. This fluff usually accompanies exotic weapons (i.e. the spiked chain) but not always (the repeating crossbow). I have to disagree with firearms being more complicated to use than, say, a longbow. The firearms is what democratized armies. They no longer needed to be made up of elite trained soldiers because of just how easy they were to use.
    I think what SHOULD accompany every exotic weapon is superiority to non-exotic weapons. The current firearms you are proposing are not superior to their non-exotic counterparts. The damage they do is not on par with martial weapons. A composite shortbow with a +2 strength adjustment can be fired twice a round with rapid shot. A musket can be fired once every other round with the rapid reload feat. This means the bow can be fired with a -1 to hit (-2 for rapid shot and +1 for point blank shot) 6 times in 3 rounds for an average damage (if everything hits) of 39 (3.5 (comp shortbow) +2(strength) +1 (point blank shot) = 6.5 x6). A musket would also be fired at a -1 to hit but could shoot twice in three rounds for an average damage of 19 (7 (musket) + 2.33 (exploding damage) = 9.33 x2).

    Now my example was over three rounds but it did not take into account what would happen once a character starts getting multiple attacks. Even in if you only take one round of combat and one feat per character (point blank shot for the archer and exotic weapon prof. for the musketeer) the archer will do an average of 6.5 compared to the average of 9.33 and will have a +2 advantage to hit over the musketeer.

    From a purely meta-standpoint who will spend a feat on a weapon that does less damage than a martial weapon and will never be able to be fired more than once every other round? While this makes sense because realistically a musketeer could not fire more than 4 shots a minute (about every other round) a longbow man could not fire any more than 8 arrows a minute. In D&D a character with a long bow and rapid shot can fire 60 arrows a minute (7.5 times as many as is really possible).

    To be fair, this is a level 20 character with rapid shot but even a level 1 fighter with point blank shot and rapid shot can fire 20 arrows a minute, 2.5 times as fast as what is realistically possible. A level 6 fighter can up that to 30 times a minute almost 4 times as much as what is really possible. Why shouldn’t a musketeer be able to fire 10 shots per minute (2.5 times as fast as is really possible) or as much as 50 shots per minute at level 20 (12.5 times as fast as is really possible)? Especially if he has to sink 3 or 4 feats to do so.

    If a character is going to use a feat, they are going to want it to be for something they are going to be able to continue to use. Also, if they cannot be fired more than once a round, they will be non-existent at higher levels.

  7. I have always argued that firearms should be martial not Exotic. They aren’t *that* much more complex than late period crossbows which are Simple.

    The problem is that 3.5/PF uses two different definitions of the word ‘exotic’. One is that the weapon is rare within that culture. Such as the kama. Yet the kama is dirt common in Asia. It is simply an Asian version of a sickle. No reason it is exotic.

    The second definition is that the weapon is superior to other martial weapons. It has a larger damage die, can do extra things or an increased range.

    We need to use the latter definition and ignore the former. And your firearms aren’t sufficiently superior to justify an ‘exotic’ label. Not to mention they occasionally blow up.

  8. The Tunnels and Trolls 5th ed. I bought back in 1982 (?) had one page in the rules called ‘Gunnes’.
    I always loved that it was in there. My newer Fiery Dragon T&T does not have these rules in it. I like the idea of adding them in to my newly acquired Pathfinder game. Great idea.

  9. Yeah – for the “exotic” thing, at least IMC, and in Golarion as written, guns will be rare, therefore “exotic.” I understand y’all’s points, but I think in general the way things work in d20 is a) if you’re adding new weapons at all, usually they should be exotic and b) if they are as complex as existing exotic weapons, they should be exotic. Hand crossbow is exotic, kama is exotic, therefore guns are exotic. Change for your campaign as appropriate.

    On the “superior” part – I think it’s in how you use them. These guns are clearly superior to bows given one shot. They are not over sustained fire. However, if you just want to fire once in the first round while you’re closing to melee, they are a much better weapon – way more punch in the short term. If you want to be a dedicated ranged combatant/marksman, these guns aren’t for you, and neither really is the late medieval timeframe.

  10. My point is that the kama should NOT be exotic. It is no different than a sickle. It’s like saying a sword made by a Dwarf is exotic just because a Dwarf made it. It is used in exactly the same way. A kama = sickle in every conceivable way.

    If a warrior can use a late period crossbow, he can use an early firearm. Now feel free to do what you wish in your campaign. But I just don’t think firearms of this tech level deserve the exotic label.

    I know that in my next campaign they will be martial.

    • I appreciate that, but my design philosophy for this is “do it within standard d20/PF rules”, not reinvent the framework. I agree that the whole “exotic” category really needs more rethought, but that’s out of scope for this specific item.

  11. I think ruling firearms as simple would fall within d20/PF framework for exotic weapons.

    Exotic weapons are not deemed exotic because of how complicated they are to use, the repeating crossbow is a good example of this. A very good argument could be made that it is simpler to use than a bow which is a martial weapon.

    Exotic weapons are also not deemed exotic because of their strangeness or how exotic their origins are. The dwarven waraxe and bastard sword are good examples of this.

    The one thing all exotic weapons have in common (in theory) is that they are slightly better than their non-exotic counterparts. The repeating crossbow is a light crossbow that can be reloaded as a free action, the bastard sword is a longsword that does slightly more damage, and the dwarven war axe is a battle axe that does slightly more damage. The kama is a sickle that can be used with a monk’s flurry of blows ability.

    Using this format, I do not think your firearms qualify as exotic. But hey, this is your campaign. Do what you think will work best for your players. 🙂 I feel like I know them after reading your excellent campaign summaries but you are the one that really knows what will work best for them.

  12. Have you thought about having firearms conduct touch attacks (don’t know if you have this aready or if it is different under Pathfinder RPG rules)? They are the whole reason people stopped wearing heavy armor in the first place, and this effect would fit in well in a pirate-themed game.

    It would also give another reason for people to use them, probably without upsetting game balace too much (it seems like something you would use to open up a fight, then charge in with cutlas swinging).

  13. Looks like you’ve struck a pretty good balance between attractive damage and daunting reload time. That is the main drawback to early firearms, they take so long to reload that they are hardly worth the investment, especially in game terms when you want to participate in every round not spend your turns reloading. I know my players wouldn’t get the hint and go to melee after that first shot.

  14. I’ve been working on firearms rules for my campaign setting too, and only recently converted them to Pathfinder, because wow, what a system 😀

    The first iteration for my gnus was almost identical to what you’ve got here, but after research (depending on how much you trust wikipedia) I found that these stats were way off.

    Firstly, muskets are way more advanced than the basic Arquebuses and calivers that were the first firearms. If you want to keep it basic, stick to those. At close range firearms would pierce even plate armour, which led to the retirement of plate armour from the field (obsolete).

    Here’s a quote:
    “In terms of accuracy, the arquebus was unable to match the accuracy of a bow in the hands of a highly-skilled archer. However, the arquebus had a faster rate of fire than the most powerful crossbow, had a shorter learning curve than a longbow, and was more powerful than either.”

    My firearm rules have them as simple weapons, Arquebus is 1d12 (x2 crit) with a 70ft range increment. Historical records show that effective kill range for smoothbore gunpowder weapons wasn’t much more than this, since the ball would spin wildly and head off to god knows where after only a short distance.

    Bottom line: Crossbow has the best range, longbow has the best rate of fire and arquebus has the best damage dice coupled with ease of use. I’m still playtesting them in my campaign and such, so if you want to compare notes or anything feel free to drop me a line 🙂

  15. Yes, I deliberately advanced past the first couple gens of weapons (hand fired and matchlock) as a design choice for a couple reasons.

    One, I wanted pistols.

    Two, Golarion allegedly has percussion cap firearms – I think that’s way way too advanced, but I didn’t want to back it up too much. Golarion tech, from the chapter in the back of the Campaign Setting, is very late medieval/early Renaissance. Printing presses, etc.

    I think the predominance of magic and other factors noted in the Campaign Setting explain why guns haven’t spread as much as they did IRL.

    As for the accuracy, exactly, that’s why they all have the “inaccurate” descriptor.

    I think they are certainly not simple weapons, however, especially at this juncture. The reloading and maintenance is very complicated. Even just firing an old black powder weapon – and God forbid the earlier hand-fired ones where you were trying to aim while sticking a burning match in the breech with one hand – wasn’t super straightforward. I’d tend to say until flintlocks and the Colonial era, firearms don’t qualify as “simple” under any definition.

  16. Ah, we played today and we had our very first PC firing of a gunpowder weapon in anger! He got a pistol off a dead ship captain in an earlier adventure, and now that they’re in a city he went and bought gunpowder and shot from a deaf gnome gunsmith.

    Then later, when a casino they were in was being robbed, he jumped up on the bar and bullseyed the enemy wizard from across the room, despite one range increment and the inaccuracy penalty, and the 2d4 damage exploded, and BANG! Right through the chest, down to -1 hp. “HELL YEAH!” the PCs all exclaimed. Firearm experiment successful.

  17. Well if the firearms are new to your world, by all means make ’em exotic. Especially considering the stats you’ve given them, they’re crazy powerful. Consider though that they were faster to reload than a heavy crossbow, which was 1 full round. But hey, adapt it to your setting as you wish 🙂

    • Even later era muskets when they had developed paper cartridges and other optimizations, the most experienced individuals (and that potentially means “has a feat in that”) could only get up to 4 rounds off a minute. So as it stands alone, the math is easy.

      With crossbows, it’s confused by what type you mean – there was a vast spectrum of tensions and reload schemes, from hand pulled to one or two foot belt hook pull to ones requiring a winch mechanism. I assume that D&D “light crossbows” are one hand pulls and “heavy crossbows” are foot pulls of some variety. The later you get, the longer reload times were because they wanted a stronger punch and so went to super crazy reloading processes. But many crossbows did reload faster than gunpowder weapons.

  18. P.S. By request, I’m noting that these gun rules are open content under the OGL (except for the Paizo PI in there). I’ll get around to posting a full proper notice sometime but use away.

  19. Two rounds to reload is rediculous, no one will use guns past the first shot in every battle IMO.
    Also The exploding dice rule seems to make it too powerful. it already does more damage than any other ranged weapon and 90% of melee weapons too, it crits, that’s good enough on the damage side of things.

    I would drop reload time down to a move action or full round at the very most. And need the explosive dice rule.

    • Those two things balance each other out. If you want a bow, use a bow. Guns are slow to reload but can do lots of damage when they hit. They are not necessarily meant to be used every single round in combat, as Pathfinder is medieval/Renaissance fantasy. Try reading any sword-and-gun fantasy (or sword-and-blaster), from Solomon Kane to some Burroughs… That’s how they work there too.

  20. Given the ease of use, and the intention of the firearm to get a pot shot off before melee, would it be a good idea so that a pistol\short barrel firearm can be fired as part of a charge, double move, or withdraw action. This could counter balance the reload time by making it more readily available as an additional attack.

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