Fixing the Gunslinger

We have been using primitive firearms in our Pathfinder campaign Reavers on the Seas of Fate, and watched with interest Paizo’s publishing of new gun rules and the Gunslinger class as part of a playtest for Ultimate Combat. In this last Reavers session, I put in a pirate captain with four levels of gunslinger to kick the class’ tires.

The gunslinger class is fine.  But the gun rules Paizo published are awful and suck utterly. Because their gun damage output is so low, and because they published them before the gunslinger class and they were therefore not up for playtest, to be viable the gunslinger ends up spending loads of abilities on getting more and more attacks, which is of course totally unrealistic with early firearms. It also drove them to include revolvers and other anachronistic weapons in a desperate attempt to fix their rules by sacrificing the game world, and even with all that they don’t favorably compare to the other classes in damage output. I actually had Wogan switch over to the Paizo gun rules for several sessions to give them a fair shake but we all decided they were just preposterously bad.

If your sword-and-sorcery fantasy world concept includes people reloading and shooting guns multiple times a round or blazing away with twin revolvers, then sure, use their rules. I think that’s a bit of a stretch however. A lot of people don’t like including firearms at all, and many of us who do want it to be more “Pirates of the Caribbean” than “Hard Boiled.” The “emerging guns” level as they describe it in the Paizo playtest doc.

Luckily, the fix is simple. I used my existing gun rules – in fact, after consideration and a year of playtest, I upped their damage to pistol: 2d6, musket: 3d6. I’ll note the gun rules in the Freeport Pathfinder Companion from Green Ronin have them doing even more damage that I just upped ours to, like 3d6/4d6! I didn’t want to go all that way yet, but after more time I can’t say we won’t. Then I told everyone “there is no combination of powers that lets you get off more than a shot per round per chamber.” Reload time is move action minimum.  No class powers to reload faster. And I don’t have revolvers and whatnot – I mean, maybe something like that could be found as part of a crashed spaceship in Numeria, but not in common use.

In fact, this pirate captain had as much as I’m willing to do in medieval/renaissance fantasy, which is a double pistol (two barrels). You can shoot both in a round at -4, or do one at a time. He had Rapid Reload so he could load and fire once a round. Or you can draw and shoot multiple pistols in a round (needing quick draw), but then you run out of loaded guns quick.

We did keep one part of the Paizo rules, kinda, in that they had firearms be a touch attack in the first range increment. We changed that to “versus flat-footed AC” (like everyone on the playtest boards told them they should do, but they ignored). This provides firearms a little extra boost. They still need it, because one shot at 2d6 damage is still worse than your average archer who can crank out 2 1d8+STR attacks with Rapid Shot (and a hundred other enhancement options besides). Especially since the guns have misfire chance.

Even with all that, the captain had a hard time hitting Sindawe – of course he wasn’t single class gunslinger (he was level 8 to the PC’s level 5, though) and Sindawe had a monk’s AC, where even flat-footed is high,and he was spending ki on keeping it at like 25.

The pirate captain got to use all his abilities. He used pistol-whip on a pirate the PCs charmed to attack him, he used quick clear because his gun jammed while Sindawe was swimming around the cave, he used snap shot on the PC’s first action, and used utility shot to set off the gunpowder keg bomb. And he combined his rogue sneak attack with it once when Sindawe was flat-footed.

So in the end, fixing the gunslinger to be a playable and balanced and non-anachronistic class is easy.

  1. Fix the guns. Use my gun rules and up the damage to pistol: 2d6, musket: 3d6
  2. Fix the gunslinger.  Change the “super fast actions” powers like Lightning Reload to something else. Maybe have Rapid Reload just take reload times down to one full round action and then Lightning Reload can take it to one move action.

I have to admit, I’m a little cheesed at Paizo. They keep running these playtests, but of the wrong things. It’s always “here, playtest this class,” seemingly more as a marketing promo than as an actual desire for input, but it’s the weapons that everyone can use that need more playtesting. Adventurer’s Armory was poorly tested and edited and was riddled with errors and bad ideas many of which haven’t been clarified to this day (like how brass knuckles etc. interact with monk attacks). They should have playtested these gun rules – most of their Gunslinger playtest was an exercise in “how do we make bad gun rules feasible” which is not an insipiring mission statement.

16 responses to “Fixing the Gunslinger

  1. I share many of your complaints/concerns about the Paizo playtesting methodology and am equally disappointed on the various mechanics and even flavor surrounding Ultimate Magic/Combat. I am only hoping that there is other salvageable stuff in those books. As a subscriber and supporter of Paizo and 3.x gaming (vs. 4.x gaming that is) I purchase them regardless but I hope I’ll actually get something for the money. In all honesty I’m not expecting much.

    • Yeah, I feel like they are putting out too much rules content too quickly. Nothing about UC has said “must buy” to me yet from the gunslinger and samurai. They showed remarkable restraint between the PHB and the APG, but now it’s GMG/UC/UM (along with rules bits in Inner Sea and AA) in very quick succession, and quality is suffering.

  2. I actually think people (including you) are being too harsh about UC. Sure, the gunslinger/firearm rules might have issues (I haven’t tested them, so not saying they don’t, I just can’t confirm it directly), but a) there’s still a final revision to the class at least before the book comes out (as today’s Magus preview shows, at least some changes happen between final playtest version and release version). Also, we really don’t know much about the book other than the gunslinger, samurai, ninja, and firearm rules, which is a pretty small percent of the book. It’s like trying to judge how good the APG would be based only on the witch, cavalier and anti-paladin, and that book was chock full of tons of other stuff.

    • It was, but the witch, cavalier,and anti-paladin were a good chunk of it… (And they did the alchemist too didn’t they?) Maybe they’re not playtesting enough of the book, but what else do we have to go on?

      Here’s a gunslinger and a ninja and a samurai. All three are not what one would call core D&D/Pathfinder/Golarion fantasy stuff anyway, so like the alchemist, are a hard sell on that front. Then they just aren’t too good either, and the playtests seem pro forma, with some changes being made but certainly not many and certainly not some of the ones the playtesters are all in sync on (like flatfooted vs touch on the guns).

      I certainly hope it will be good, but especially after Adventurer’s Armory, which was a complete and horrendous disappointment, I am not just going to assume it. They are master adventure craftsmen, but game rules, maybe, maybe not.

  3. So far I’ve also been disappointed with the gunslinger just from reading the 2 iterations of the beta rules. What irks me most is that the gunslinger has very limited grit/day (not even 3+wis), and the most reliable way to restore grit is through criticals, which again is easiest to do through amassing as many attacks/round as possible.

    There is also the issue that ranged attacks are easily the most feat-heavy character style in the game, and the gunslinger gets very few bonus feats. At a minimum you’ll need Point Blank Shot, Precise Shot, and Rapid Shot to match a melee character. Dead Eye and Improved Precise Shot are almost required as soon as you qualify. Then for a gunslinger/crossbow user you also need Rapid Reload, and either Lightning Reload or the crossbow version of that in the APG, as well as Improved Critical to squeeze every last bit of crit chance possible to reload your grit. Finally, those going with a pair of pistols also need two weapon fighting, and will certainly want greater/improved two weapon fighting if they can squeeze it in somehow. And somewhere in all this, you’ll want to fit in extra grit to supplement your pitiful starting 1-4 grit, as well as grit-related feats to augment the gunslinger’s only unique class abilities.

    Finally, I don’t think gunslinger fills enough viable niches. Rangers do the gunslinger’s job and also can track, talk to animals, and have 6 skills/level. Paladins can make great longbow users with the PF smite (I’m playing one at the moment), and can also be party faces, tank, heal, and remove status effects. Zen Monks are more mobile, have better defenses, can be decent scouts, and will deal more damage during flurry rounds than a gunslinger. A fighter specialized in longbows with the archer APG abilities has many of the gunslinger’s abilities without the clunky gun rules or grit mechanics, and enough bonus feats to actually use a ranged weapon competently. What does a gunslinger bring to the table that these classes don’t?

    I honestly think that PF knows how to make an interesting ranged character – the ‘Zen Monk’ archetype from the APG takes the monk and gives it a very refreshing twist. But the Gunslinger in its current implementation seems to be inferior to a fighter, zen monk, paladin, or ranger as a ranged damage-dealer, and lacks useful secondary roles besides maybe being a passable tank.

    I’d say the first solution is to change the gun rules. I like the idea of building 1 attack/round into the mechanics as an advantage – for example, allow the gunslinger to move while reloading, and gain a scout-like bonus to damage for moving to a “ranged flank” position or something. Then figure out what else the gunslinger can contribute to the party. For an example off the top of my head, maybe give him 4 skills/level instead of two, and bonuses to all knowledge-type skills with the ability to use wisdom for Knowledge skills, giving him the bard’s “Man of the world” kind of knowledge as a second role.

    • Or something, I agree. Even going with “gunslinger” over something more period appropriate like a Musketeer feel (gun, rapier, light armor) is a bit of a misstep I think.

  4. I honestly see no reason for guns to target flat-footed AC. Having a dex modifier and dodge bonus doesn’t always represent seeing the attack coming and dodging (more like erratic movements, rather.), maybe at higher levels of it. I doubt many people could realisicly see an arrow coming and react to it, but bows and crossbows don’t deny dex. The game isn’t supposed to be a real life simulator, so having higher levels of dex and dodge bonus could eventually mean that you are dodging bullets. I’m not sure why people don’t like the idea of that, being that they are playing a fantasy game, after all. I know this is months old, but might as well post it anyway.

    • Agreed, since even magical rays don’t target flatfooted. Yeah, in our game we’ve gone to hit vs normal AC for firearms, but with high crit and damage. That only breaks simulation as much as the normal hit vs AC system for everything else does.

  5. Cardboard Tube Knight

    People like to complain too much about the gunslinger and the like. I mean just the whole “period appropriate” argument is stupid when you’re talking about a place that doesn’t exist. Don’t like or want guns, don’t use them. End of story. Whining that they shouldn’t be there or that Ninjas and Samurai seem “wrong” makes you sound small minded (and in the case of the last two, a little racist).

    • You didn’t read a word of the article did you?

      • Cardboard Tube Knight

        Yeah I actually did read the whole thing, always try to when I comment. But I just think people are too rough on these characters…now I might be looking at an article from before the actual ruleset dropped.

  6. So it looks like this was written during the testing of the class. I don’t know what changes, if any, were made for the final release.

    How many of these suggestions do you think should still stand, and which things were fixed (if any) that I don’t have to worry about if I want to run Gunslinger?

    • None were fixed. The “playtest” was very pro forma, and the core problem with the Gunslinger are the gun rules, which they refused to alter. We still use my gun rules to this day.

      • That’s disappointing, and I have a feeling my GM won’t try to help the gunslinger class; he’s already very restrictive on guns.

        Luckily my party isn’t built for damage (we’re largely a bunch of tabletop newbies, barring our GM and Cleric), so I should be able to get by for awhile.

        • Yeah, we are still mostly disallowing Ultimate Combat. We’re using some of the Asian stuff now because we’re doing Jade Regent but that’s an unusual exception.

  7. gisle grøndahl

    I believe the gunslinger class in general is a bit on the weak side, and the mechanical balancing factor; touch attacks with guns, breaks immersion hard, and really does not make much sense in the world at large.

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