Tag Archives: guns

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.

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!