Guns. Man I have so many complicated feelings when I read that word, particularly when it comes to gaming. In a medieval fantasy setting, how does one create firearms that don’t do what firearms did in our real world – make other weapons obsolete.

Drawbacks

And then this guy blows up in your face!

It seems like a popular way to make guns less attractive to adventurers and NPCs is to give them a drawback. Here are some of the more popular drawbacks I’ve seen:

  • Explosive I’ve seen a lot of firearms for systems with the caveat of roll a 1 when attacking with this weapon and it explodes dealing the wielder x amount of damage. That’s an interesting drawback! Makes using a firearm risky. However in order for this risk to be fun it needs to have the threat of actually happening. Rolling a 1 on a twenty-sided die occurs 5% of the time, which seems like a good amount of minimal risk, but at the same time I can’t think of ANYTHING that lasts long on the market that also has a 5% chance of fiery-explosion-in-your-faceville. Who would buy that?!?! And even worse, if you survive the malfunction, you have to go buy another one that has the same risk? Cutting those odds down would have to involve a trigger that then sets some more rolls into motion and that would then slow down play at the table. I’ve got to pass on this drawback for Exploration Age’s firearms.
  • Reload Times Well when you consider the real world this actually makes a ton of sense. Primitive guns took quite a while to reload. If you don’t believe me go watch some Revolutionary War reenactments. However, at the table this goes down one of two ways. One, you have one player who took the right feats, ability score increases, and sacrifices to be a great gun fighter who is at best useless every other round. This can severely hamper that person’s fun. Two, all your players carry a gun and use it as an encounter power and then drop the firearm and use other weapons. Either way, I think it’s still missing the mark for someone who wants to create a firearms using character.
  • No Magic This may actually be the worst drawback that is often involved when firearms make an appearance in a fantasy setting. They cannot be enchanted, because, ya know, in a world of squid-headed brain-eaters with mind powers and githyanki knights from the astral plane riding red dragons the thing that doesn’t make sense is a magic gun. That aside, this means most folks aren’t going to carry firearms around for the second half or more of their adventuring career. Regular gun or magic bow that increases you attack and damage bonuses while also possibly granting you a cool special ability and has a sweet name like Oathkeeper or Heartseeker? Not to mention, many high level creatures have damage resistances and immunities that cannot be pierced without a magic weapon, meaning bringing a gun to a dragon fight is a terrible idea. This drawback doesn’t make guns even with regular medieval weapons, it makes them the worst weapons around.
  • Expense This is usually a drawback added to one or more of the drawbacks above in a fantasy setting when firearms get involved. This does make some sense to me, the technology is newer and the weapons are more complex and require more sophistication in their design. Still it seems like an unfair way to punish someone for their character concept, especially if they’re buying a new weapon all the time because their gun just exploded. Plus when you really think about it many guns today are probably cheaper than swords, so I’m going to say that firearms have actually been around for a while and that accounts for their price being on par with other weapons.
  • Feat Tax In many settings a feat is required to use a firearm. This doesn’t make much sense to me since one of firearms advantages is that they are easier to use than most bows. Also, this prevents a character from using firearms until at least fourth level which means you can’t start out as a gunslinger. Going to have to say no.

What’s The Advantage?

A pet bear AND a gun? That’s cheating.

Why do we usually go through adding drawbacks to firearms in fantasy settings? Well, they often deal a lot more damage than other weapons, which, again, at first blush makes sense.

Ok, but, now let’s really think about it. In D&D hit points aren’t meant to simply represent the number of times a character can be stabbed with a sword or shot with an arrow before he or she kicks it. It’s a combination of that, plus stamina. So not every hit your character takes is a physical hit so to say. You’re being worn down for that final killing blow. I’m not sure why dodging a sword swing or crossbow bolt would waste anymore stamina than dodging a bullet.

Maybe some of you don’t agree with that Wizards of the Coast approved interpretation of hit points. In that case consider the following – if a PC could take say four or five sword hits or arrows without going down, why couldn’t he or she take four or five bullets? Let’s face it in the hands of a trained warrior a sword, bow, spear, trident, axe, hammer, or whatever is just as deadly as a gun. Likewise those not proficient with a sword or bow are just as likely to injure themselves or an unintended target as those not proficient with firearms.

Therefore I believe it is totally plausible that firearms in a D&D game would deal damage on par with other weapons. Maybe just a bit higher? If that’s the case then firearms don’t really need a drawback.

Which brings me to another point, I don’t think PCs who want their characters to use firearms are looking to deal more damage in the game. I believe they have a character concept involving firearms they think would be fun to play. They aren’t trying to break the game, just play an interesting character who uses a different kind of weapon.

Firearms in Exploration Age

So how about guns in Exploration Age, huh? Well, take a look at these charts and weapon descriptions I’ve been working on below and allow me to explain my thinking.

There are two types of firearms in Exploration Age. Those powered by gunpowder and those powered by aberrant magic. Take a look at the descriptions and table below to see what kinds of firearms you could have in your game.

Name

Price

Damage

Weight

Properties

Aberrant Revolver

50 gp

1d6 varies

5 lb.

Ammunition (range 80/320), light, see description

Aberrant Rifle

75 gp

1d8 varies

10 lb.

Ammunition (range 100/400), see description

Arquebus

75 gp

1d12 piercing

9 lb.

Ammunition (range 30/120), heavy, loading, two-handed

Blunderbuss

50 gp

1d8 piercing

8 lb.

Ammunition (range 15/60), heavy, loading, two-handed, see description

Pistol

20 gp

1d6 piercing

4 lb.

Ammunition (range 20/80), loading, light

Aberrant Revolver Using technology discovered in the aberrant ruins, researchers at The Arcane College created a weapon capable of carrying eight pieces of ammunition. The gun can only take alchemical charges and depending on the ammunition it can deal fire, lightning, cold, or acid damage. Once an aberrant revolver has been fired eight times it needs to be reloaded using an action. An action may also be used to change out the type of ammunition in the aberrant revolver.

Aberrant Rifle Like the aberrant revolver, the aberrant rifle was also created by The Arcane College. This weapon packs more of a punch and can shoot further distances, though it is bulkier and requires two hands to use. The gun can only take elemental charges and depending on the ammunition it can deal fire, lightning, cold, or acid damage. Once an aberrant rifle has been fired eight times it needs to be reloaded using an action. An action may also be used to change out the type of ammunition in the aberrant rifle.

Blunderbuss  The blunderbuss is a firearm designed for close combat. Instead of bullets, a handful of pellets may be loaded into the gun. When pellets are loaded, the blunderbuss does not attack normally. Instead all creatures in a 15 foot cone must make a successful DC 14 dexterity saving throw or take 1d4 piercing damage.

Ammunition All firearms require ammunition to use. All bullets come with the appropriate amount of gunpowder needed to propel them from their weapons. The arquebus, blunderbuss, and pistol use bullets, the blunderbuss can use pellets, and the aberrant revolver and rifle take alchemical charges.

Name

Price

Weight

Alchemical Charges (20)

Acid

1 gp

2 lb.

Cold

1 gp

2 lb.

Fire

1 gp

2 lb.

Lightning

1 gp

2 lb.

Bullets (20)

1 gp

2 lb.

Pellets (20 handfuls)

1 gp

2 lb.

 

So you can see, the arquebus, blunderbuss, and pistol are all primitive guns. They have the loading property, which means they can only be fired once per round, but do not take a full action to reload. The arquebus does more damage than a heavy crossbow, but sacrifices significant range to do, which feels realistic and not too overpowered nor like too much of a drawback. The pistol is the same deal when compared to the hand crossbow.

The crossbow information from the last D&D Next public playtest packet.

The crossbow information from the last D&D Next public playtest packet.

The blunderbuss is a special case as per it’s description. It has a very small range, but can be loaded with pellets, giving it a shotgun feel. This allows for a little more variety and another kind of feel a player wanting to play a gun-wielding PC might be after, though it is not overpowered since the spread option does only a little damage.

The aberrant guns take a different approach to firearms. This is a bit more sci-fi. I know, I know, don’t put your lasers in my fantasy, but hear me out! Exploration Age is already a world of airships, living constructs, and other strange magic technology. I think it makes sense that a world with a history so full of wars would have invested in a few weapons, especially with all this aberrant technology lying around, waiting to be discovered.

When it comes to distance and damage, you can see the aberrant revolver and rifle are just like the shortbow and longbow presented in the last public playtest packet for D&D Next. There are a few big differences when you look at descriptions of these items. The guns take an action to reload every 8 shots, that’s their disadvantage. Their big advantage is that they can do variable elemental damage types based on the ammunition with which they are loaded.

Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 11.29.21 AM

Shortbow and longbow stats from the last D&D Next public playtest packet.

Also, take a look at the supplemental rule I’m adding to Exploration Age which allows the use of two light ranges weapons at once, so a character can use two pistols or two aberrant revolvers and have more a gunslinger feel during play if that’s what a player is after.

Ranged Two-Weapon Fighting When you are fighting with two light ranged weapons, you can attack twice when you take the attack option on your turn, attacking once with each weapon. You don’t add your ability modifier to the damage of the second attack, however. If you haven’t used your full move for the turn, you can move between attacks. And if you are wielding a light melee weapon in one hand instead of a light ranged weapon, your attack with that weapon is a melee attack.

This is based on the last public playtest packet’s melee two-weapon fighting rule.

The two-weapon fighting rules from the last D&D Next public playtest packet.

The two-weapon fighting rules from the last D&D Next public playtest packet.

So, how’d I do? Does this make sense or the guns too absurd in some way? Too little damage? Too much? Not enough drawbacks? Too many? I really want to know what you think!

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcast on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

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Comments
  1. qpop says:

    I was going to say that if I’m using guns then I probably AM trying to break the game in some way, but then you might not let me make my dragonborn aberrant pistol wielding ranger who has been fighting the Ones Below for so long that he’s starting to become a little deranged…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Michael Robbins says:

    I’ll be the first to preface this comment with, “I don’t like guns in fantasy”, so the following is coming from that stance. I apologize in advance for the negative slant.

    I don’t think your ideas here are that imbalanced, although I think historically you are missing the point of how it wasn’t that firearms did so much more damage than a sword or an arrow, it was the way they punched through armor so easily and could be used with soooo much less skill than an English longbow or something similar. I agree with you that the “feat tax” for firearms is illogical. Just line the peasants up in a line, give them all a gun, and yell “Fire”. Its the whole reason that Japan banished the gun as an affront to samurai culture. “I train my entire life with this katana and crazy big horse bow only to get mowed down by a guy that picked up his gun 2 weeks ago? That sucks”.

    I think the bigger issue with introducing firearms is the more logical “Stage 2” problems that come to mind…you have now introduced black powder and explosives. That is an entirely different can of worms. Grenades can now be made. Bombs can now be made…certainly not C4 or anything, but still very effective in siege warfare. Speaking of siege warfare, you’ve also opened the door to cannons. You can argue that cannons are much harder to craft than a rifle or pistol, which is absolutely true, but if your nations have the metallurgy skills to make, say, a large bell for a church or town hall, the same techniques can be used to cast a solid metal cannon capable of handling the internal explosion of powder to propel shot. Cannons then make castles obsolete. The culture of a lot of stereotypical D&D ideas goes away.

    Introducing black powder and guns combined with later Middle Ages level metallurgy skill is just a slippery slope to me. When those things all coincided in the real world, it led to things happening…there is a very good reason that people stopped fighting with the weapons of the previous age, and that effect in a fantasy campaign setting would be detrimental in my opinion.

    On the other hand:

    I do really like the idea of the aberrant guns (although I am not sure I would include the “clips” being so large) and the ability to do some elemental typed damage. I can imagine members of your two adventurer guild societies doing research on what they might fight on a particular run and bringing the appropriate ammo without having to always worry about having a wizard on the mission. It also allows some avoidance of the Stage 2 issues because you can simply say that the alchemical ammo is not explosive like black powder, thereby negating some of those Stage 2 issues as I referred to them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah I have trouble with armor pentration and keeping things balanced. But HP is meant to represent vitality and AC is more for armor strength… so should guns get bonuses to hit? Seems real good. I feel like early guns weren’t so awesome with the accuracy, so maybe that’s more of a balance. Granted, I’m making adjustments because I don’t want these things to replace the other weapons, so it’ll cost a little realism to keep them down.

      Also to your point on cannons and grenades, I agree! That’s why they’ll be making an appearance as well, though I don’t necessarily feel the need to provide stats for cannons the same way D&D doesn’t give you stats for a lot of other siege equipment. But who knows? I will definitely be doing it for myself at some point so I’ll provide!

      The clip size was something I very much struggled with in this game. I was thinking at higher levels fighters, rangers, etc. get four attacks per round. With a smaller clip, suddenly they’re reloading every other round, but that wouldn’t be true for most of the campaign. Hmmmm. Gotta give that a think…

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  3. Rudy Basso says:

    Can I please test these rules with my fighter in our game? I want to carry (and use) an Arquebus.

    Also re: blunderbuss – it does 1d8 to primary target and 1d4 to all others in the cone? I would increase the damage to everyone within the cone to 1d6 and maybe expand the cone a little further.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Totally you can! The idea behind the 1d4 and the cone being 15 feet is that I need to compare it to things like at will spells. A gun shouldn’t be able to out do any spell in my opinion, so I need to keep the cone small and the damage low otherwise mages can’t compete!

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  4. Steel says:

    As much as i love these rules, i find the prices to be a bit… cheap. A pistol, which would be comparable to the hand crossbow in your charts, is only 20gp to produce and sell, while a hand crossbow, a supposedly simpler weapon (the hardest peice to craft is the trigger mechinism) and is completely made of wood (a far easier weapon to make) is 75gp. If anything, a pistol would cost about 150 gp as not only does the metal need to be cast from iron or bronze, if it is to work properly it must be done from a very specific type of mold. This is before i even start to consider the fireing mechanism which may be a simple flint lock or a flash pan from the age of sail to a more modern pin and cap type mechanism that we find in the civil war era.

    Of course i’m not claiming to be an expert at firearms or long range weaponry, but logically speaking the crossbow replaced the short and the long bows in warfare (for foot soldiers at least) not because they were cheaper to make, they were far more expensive, but because of the ease of use and increase projectile range and power. Firearms had the same drawbacks but also the same benefits, although they had the additional cost of accuracy over distance (you couldn’t figure out how to adjust your aim as well during volley fire).

    Another thing i’d change, and this would counter a complaint that they don’t do enough damage (i think all firearms should be devistatingly destructive, from the musket ball to the pistol round) as well as an additional benefit for choosing a more expensive pistol which does the same damage as a shortbow or hand crossbow, is that you get a similar system as the advantage system when rolling damage (you roll 2d6 and take the better number) This keeps it from becoming too devistating on the feild (the whole exploding die concept for some house rules is a bit much) while making the expense worth it.

    So in general, make your firearms more expensive but have a simple yet effective benefit for those who think the cost is justified

    Liked by 1 person

    • I see your point about the pistol. Another struggle I went back and forth on. In the playtest rules the hand crossbow is more expensive than the heavy, so the materials argument doesn’t add up to me since you’d need more materials to make a heavy crossbow. There must be a certain level of expertise required to make the hand crossbow. WIth the rules I have in place I went with 20gp, but you’re right I should probably make it a little more expensive.

      I like that advantage damage idea, but it feels a little game-breaky to me. I agree that firearms are pretty destructive, but again, I want to make them fun for players who want to use them and the players who don’t, which means they can’t break the game. I’ll need to figure out a good justification for why firearms might not be as penetrating and destructive.

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      • Steel says:

        To answer your question about the materials cost a hand crossbow as opposed to a heavy crossbow, the difference there is that a hand crossbow is ALWAYS a specialty item, and done to the specific individual’s size specifications and often crafted from only a few types of wood to keep the downsizing from being too ineffective, thus more expensive material would be needed (think using a certain type of a springy wood like yew as opposed to a stiffer yet more common material like oak, though I might be getting that mixed up there), then there is the whole fact that it is specifically made for a person.

        The heavy crossbow however, they use more common materials and then a simple iron bar as the “bow” part. Myself I’m not too terribly sure why they have the heavy crossbow as less expensive than the hand crossbow thanks to that iron bar, but it probably is something along the lines that it gets more mass produced for the various armies than a simple crossbow.

        Glad you like the advantage/disadvantage idea on damage, I know I’m going to use it if any of my players want to use guns, though I’d probably keep damage between d4s and d8s to keep it from getting totally out of hand, I might even use it for rules on typical seige engines. Also sorry for the late reply, didn’t see your reply

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I see your point. Pistol definitely needs a price boost.

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  6. Azerial says:

    I believe Pathfinder with it’s Gunslinger class and Firearms are pretty well off and balanced. Might just be me though… Love my swashbuckling pirate with his cutlass and black powder pistol

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Adding firearms to certain fantasy games always has my players ignoring the existence of them, they don’t believe that a fantasy game needs them. The only exception to this game when I was running Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay which has primitive firearms and the players were pretty cool with them in that background; heck one of them even became a duellist and had to obtain a brace of pistols before he could enter the career.

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