Tag Archives: gunpowder

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.

Black Powder Weaponry Rules, Razor Coast, and More

Check out these awesome black gunpowder weapons rules for Pathfinder published as a free preview for LPJ Design’s upcoming “Pirates of the Bronze Sky.”

Do they look familiar?  They should, since they’re the firearms rules I put up here some months ago!  Woot!   Thanks to Louis Porter for putting me in print!  I can’t wait for the full product to come out, it’s looking to be loads of fun.

Meanwhile, I’m working as a proofer on Sinister Adventures‘ much-delayed Nick Logue mega-adventure Razor Coast.  Nick finally realized he was never going to get it all done himself so has handed it over to Lou Agresta to take it from manuscript to product.  He has quickly mobilized forces and put a process in place that I’m convinced will finally get this puppy out in a decent timeframe.  See the Sinister forums for updates.

What can I say, I’m a sucker for pirate adventures.  Heck, now that Green Ronin is going to be doing a Pathfinder version of their Freeport book, it’s a new Golden Age of D&D piracy!  I’m already running my own Pathfinder version of the Freeport Trilogy.

So right now, I’m a busy boy – please forgive the lighter than usual blog-posting regimen!

Cannon for Pathfinder

Field Grade Weapons

Most cannon are cast bronze, smooth bore, muzzleloading weapons, although some are breech-loading and older ones are constructed of iron bars welded and bound together. Because they are expensive and rare, many cannons are ornately carved and decorated, and larger ones often have unique names.


Name	       Cost	  Damage   Weight      Range        Mount	Crew	Ready
Bombard	       10,000 gp  12d10    8000 lbs.   400 ft.	    -		6	10/4
Cannon          8,000 gp  10d10    6000 lbs.   300 ft.	    Very Heavy	5	6/3
Demi-cannon     6,000 gp   8d10	   4000 lbs.   250 ft.	    Heavy	4	5/2
Culverin        4,000 gp   6d10	   3000 lbs.   200 ft.	    Medium      3	4/2
Small culverin  2,000 gp   4d10	   2000 lbs.   150 ft.	    Light       2	3/2
Swivel-gun      1,000 gp 2d10/4d6   200 lbs.   100 ft./25 ft.	-	1	2/1

Damage: Assuming solid shot, this is the damage done on a direct hit. Cannon (with the exception of swivel-guns) cannot effectively be aimed at a specific person, but instead are aimed at a specific area with the intent of damaging a structure. Monsters that are size Huge or larger can be individually targeted (assuming they stay still for the several rounds needed to aim and fire the weapon). When a cannon hits its target area, it only does its listed damage to that 10x10x10 part of the structure, not any creature there. (On a natural 20, the cannon hits an unlucky person in that area dead on and does full damage to them as well.) However, cannons often do splash damage. If the cannon is using stone shot and firing into a stone environment (like most towns), this damage comes from stone fragments (slashing), or if the cannon is using any solid shot and firing into a wooden environment (like a ship), the damage comes from wooden shivers (piercing). Anyone in the 10×10 target area must make a DC 15 Reflex save or else take ¼ the direct damage inflicted by the shot from the fragments. For example, if a PC is hiding in a 10×10 wooden shack that is hit by a culverin inflicting 35 points of damage on the structure, he may take 8 points of fragment damage if he fails his save.

Crew: All members of the crew must have at least one rank in Profession: siege engineer.

Ready: Cannons all require the listed number of full round actions to reload and then aim with a normal crew. They must be re-aimed every time they are fired because their recoil moves them significantly out of place. If they are operated with a smaller crew than the listed minimum, the time it takes to reload them is proportionately longer.

Proficiency: All cannon require Profession: Siege Engineer (or Artillerist, or Cannoneer, or whatever you want to call it) to operate.

Inaccurate: All cannon have an inherent -4 to hit penalty due to the difficulty of aiming them precisely. This penalty may be reduced by 1 for every 5 points the gunner has in Profession: siege engineer. A gunner uses their base attack bonus, Int bonus, and other modifiers for range, vision, motion, etc. to determine their total attack bonus.

Misfire: Whenever you roll a natural 1 on an attack roll made with a cannon, the cannon might misfire. The crew chief must immediately roll a Profession: siege engineer check at DC 15 (the rest of the crew may assist). A successful check indicates that the wad simply misfired and the cannon must be reloaded. A failure by up to 5 indicates that the cannon is fouled and requires 2 full rounds to clear before it can be reloaded. A failure by up to 10 means that the cannon gains the broken condition and requires repair before further use. A natural 1 on this check means that the cannon has exploded and does its full normal damage to everyone and everything within 10 ft.

Weapon Descriptions

Bombard: Very large caliber front-loading cannon used in sieges. They fire hundred pound stone balls. Bombards are too large for most ships to carry. A variant of bombard that is used for indirect fire is called the mortars.

Cannon: A heavy bronze cannon firing a 36 to 50 pound shot, also known as a basilisk. These usually can only be placed on the bow mount of very large galleys.

Demi-Cannon: Also known as the cannon-perier, it fires a 24 pound shot. This is the heaviest weapon that can be fired from the side of a ship, and a large ship at that.

Culverin: The culverin is a medium cannon firing an 18 lb shot. These are the most common large weapon mounted broadside on sailing ships.

Small Culverin: Also known as the demi-culverin, this weapon fires a 10 lb shot and is suitable for mounting on many ships, including on the top deck.

Swivel-gun: Swivel-guns, which come in varieties also known as falcons, falconets, or robinets, can take a 1-2 pound solid shot or be filled with a dozen pistol shots. They do 2d10 damage with solid shot, but when loaded with pistol shot do 4d6 damage, less 2 points per range increment, in a 10×10 square. A gunner applies their Dexterity bonus to hit instead of their Int bonus with a swivel-gun.

Ammunition: stone or lead solid shot are the most common ordnance in cannon. There is also chain or bar shot which is effective against rigging (normal solid shot passes through rigging doing only minimum damage). Grapeshot or canister shot can also be used; this does not do structural damage but targets the crew, doing half the listed damage to all crew in a 10x10x10 area.


Taking the Stormwrack method of doing ship damage, where e.g. a caravel has 24 hull sections with hardness 5 and 80 hp each, and six must be destroyed to sink the ship – it requires 3-4 good hits with a culverin to destroy one 10x10x10 section. Given that the cannon can only fire slightly better than once a minute, that’s a good balance of enough damage with promoting resolution by boarding and melee. A heavily armed small carrack might sport 2 culverins below and 5 demi-culverins on deck per side, which at that rate could sink a ship of its class but only with some work.

Example of cannon fire: A pirate sloop approaches a merchant caravel and decides to soften them up a bit before closing. They aim their two starboard culverins and fire. The base AC to shoot a caravel is -3 because it’s just a big ass object really (value taken from Stormwrack), or AC3 if you want to shoot at a specific section. In this case the pirates just want to hit wherever on it to demoralize the crew. The ships are 200 yards apart, which is three range increments out for the culverin (-6 range). There is a moderate wind (no penalty) and both the firing platform and the target are moving (-5 for each, says Stormwrack, though that seems high ). Total AC to hit is 13. The master gunner (+5 BAB, +2 Int, 10 ranks in Prof: SE) and a crew of three is manning one gun and a bunch of gunner pirate mooks (+2 BAB, +0 Int, 3 ranks in Prof: SE) are manning the other. So the two shots are +5 vs AC 13 (about a sure thing) and -2 vs AC 13 (hit about half the time).

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!