The evolution of technology in most fantasy role-playing campaigns is almost always somewhat warped from what we know from our own mundane history. Bronze Age through Dark Age weapons and armor are common fare, although some armors and weapons trickle in from as late as the Renaissance. But in almost all cases, and particularly in Dungeons & Dragons settings, firearms plays a very small role in warfare. The development of guns and black powder weapons seems universally affected by the existence of magic, and the two seem mutually exclusive in many settings.
The late fantasy author Joel Rosenburg explored the effects of introducing gun powder and firearms into a medieval-magic setting in his Guardians of the Flame series. Its sudden appearance as a weapon of power in the land causes considerable upheaval among a magocratic society, and brings about a disruption of the social structure of the world. Ironically, guns have pretty much had that same effect on our own non-magic laden history every time there is a new innovation in firearms. On the other hand, many fantasy games embrace guns, swords, and sorcery successfully into their settings. Notably among those worlds are the famed MMO World of Warcraft and the dungeon delving games Torchlight and Torchlight II. By their standards, guns are just as viable a weapon as a bow or crossbow… or a fireball!
So with that in mind, recently Randomology Games has released a supplement for 4E which proposes ways to bring guns into almost any D&D campaign. Elves with Shotguns takes a gamist approach to firearms, so almost any class in a D&D setting can shoot up those pesky monsters Wyatt Erp style!
Elves with Shotguns
- Design: Michel Martín del Campo
- Illustrators: Xochitl Muñoz and Michel Martín del Campo
- Publisher: Randomology Games
- Year: 2012
- Media: PDF (44 pages)
- Retail Price: $5.00 from RPGNow.com
Elves with Shotguns is a gaming supplement by Randomology Games offering variant rules to introduce firearms into 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. The supplement provides rules for using firearms of a wide range of types, from the earliest black powder weapons to more modern guns and rifles. The book also includes more than thirty magic items, ranging from alchemical versions of black powder to magical firearms and gear to a pistol/bullet/bandolier artifact set. The author proposes ways for most classes in the 4E Players Handbook to take up firearms as part of their profession, and has suggested powers and feats to allow these weapons to be a part of almost any campaign. The author provides a black and white version of the PDF for printing purposes.
The production quality of Elves with Shotguns is a mixed bag ranging from barely fair to quite good. For the good stuff, I have to point out the author’s engaging writing style, relaxed and easy to read, often waxing humorous and whimsical at times. For example, the author sprinkles the rules and content with short narratives about D&D characters using firearms during a delve, blasting away at spiders and other monsters with gusto. Also, the material and rules for using firearms in D&D 4E is presented in a pretty logical way, and the author offers several variations of the variant rules so that Dungeon Masters can pick their comfort level with guns in their campaign.
On the downside, the layout of the text (i.e. wall) and lack of headers made getting the information a chore at times, although the author does use sidebars on occasion which does help a bit. While there is a table of contents in Elves with Shotguns, the lack of PDF bookmarks in the book makes navigation a chore – I imagine DMs will end up adding their own bookmarks to easily get to various weapon tables and to parse the magic items by types.
And sadly, the artwork in Elves with Shotguns is below average by most standards, with the character portrayals poorly proportioned and the item appearances middling fair at best. While I realize that professional grade artwork can gobble up a 3rd Party Publisher’s budget for a release in no time flat, low quality artwork can often detract from the overall design aesthetic.
Bringing a Gun to a Swordfight
As mentioned in the review’s introduction, the author of Elves with Shotguns takes a fairly gamist approach to adding firearms to a D&D 4E game. Fun beats out simulation in this supplement, and the author is very clear about the direction his rules design takes with regard to debating over firearm technology:
[But] this is a game.And:
Using guns in a fantasy setting should be fun. We could spend hours debating the finer points of different calibers, the historical precedents for this and that, or we could just try to capture the FLAVOR of bringing firearms into a fantasy setting.
This book is just a way to bring new flavor into your game. If you want to debate real firearms, then debate real firearms.With those points in mind, Elves with Shotguns sets out to make using guns in a D&D setting easy and straightforward. The supplement is divided into four chapters, with the first focusing on three possible and broad historical eras for firearms. These start with the early black powder weapons in Era 1 and end with the more advanced rifles and semi-automatic guns of the late 19th century in Era 3. The author gives examples of nearly a dozen firearms from the three eras, which can be created by alchemists, and have non-magical enhancement bonuses, like masterwork items, up to the Epic Tier. Each type of gun requires reloading after one or more shots, making some of them unable to function with character powers which fire more than one attack.
Out of game, please.
For the most part, guns can be usable by all classes as a ranged attack, although the author points out in a later chapter that they can be limited to being considered a superior weapon and requiring a feat to use. As far as damage goes, guns do comparable damage to bows and crossbows (d8 and d10), although some hit as high as d12, which in the case of non-firearms is possible only by using a feat. However, most firearms are also brutal weapons, and some can cause ongoing bleed effects, making them fairly potent and more powerful than non-firearm ranged weapons.
The chapter ends with a selection of non-magical gear that a character will need to have on hand to be effective with their guns. These items include things like ammo boxes, cartridges, holsters, and reloading kits – the availability of which is dependent upon which of the three Eras is chosen for play.
The second chapter in Elves with Shotguns presents a massive array of alchemical and magic items that can be used in a campaign which includes firearms. The author presents a wide array of alchemically produced black powder variations, including some that create radiant blasts, fiery projectiles, and even concealing smokes when fired from a gun. There is a new type of armor enchantment to protect against firearms for any type, and then a wide range of guns, rifles, and blunderbusses, such as the combo sword-rifle weapon called the Eladrin Firearm, and the Pact Gun usable by Warlocks. The author also includes seven types of enchanted ammunition, and eight other magic items for various slots such as Duelist’s Gloves (hand), the Sniper’s Goggles (head), and the Cross Pistols Tattoo. A three part artifact known as the Acolyte’s Regalia rounds out this section of the book, offering a powerful bandolier, pistol, and bullet bound to a unique storyline bridging all three tiers of play.
Chapter 3 in Elves with Shotguns contains character class options for using firearms. The author includes class options for all melee-style combatants - Barbarians, Fighters, Paladins, Rangers, Rogues, and Warlords - all of which can substitute a class power or option to gain the use of guns in a new way. For some classes, the author’s suggestions feel ill-fitting, such as in the case of the Barbarian and Paladin, and while the option exists I can’t see many players very excited about the trade-off just to get a boomstick. On the other hand, the other melee dominant classes have some fairly solid suggestions for class feature substitutions, and the Fighter even has really cool marking feature for the Artillery build called Artillery Taunt. There are also new feats for use in a D&D campaign that features firearms, including a couple Multi-class Feats to gain specialty Encounter and Daily powers with guns. Other feats have some expected and visceral names like Double-Tap, Pistol Spin, and Sharpshooter.
The author closes with some comments about using alternative rules as they appear in Elves with Shotguns, and mentions some considerations DMs might want to take into account before turning a fantasy city like Waterdeep into Dodge City. There are some tweaks and tips here, including the aforementioned one of making all firearms require a feat to use like an exotic weapon, and the dangers of using both magical guns and magical ammo on a campaign setting.
Overall Score: 3.3 out of 5.0
While mixing high wizardy, flashing swords, and fire-belching blunderbusses might not be to every D&D gamers’ taste, Elves with Shotguns offers a decent set of variant rules for letting players and DMs bring all three elements together in nearly any D&D campaign setting. The rules are fairly well balanced, and the author wisely brings three levels of firearms to the table, so that DMs can involve guns at a level in their campaign that best suits them. While the artwork was a bit disappointing, the author’s writing style was instantly engaging, and brings to focus lots of ideas on using firearms in a lot of different ways for DMs and players.
The supplement is very modestly priced for all the content inside, making Elves with Shotguns worth a peek if you feel that urge to bring a new weapon class and dynamic to your D&D 4E game.
So until next review… I wish you happy gaming!
Reviewer’s Note: This Reviewer received a complimentary copy of the PDF from which the review was written.
Grade Card (Ratings 1 to 5)
- Presentation: 2.50
- - Design: 3.0 (Good solid writing and humor goes a long way to help the mediocre layout)
- - Illustrations: 2.0 (Weak artwork fails to enhance the supplement)
- Content: 3.5
- - Crunch: 3.5 (Lots of crunch; decent variant rules; but wise DMs will tread cautiously using guns in D&D)
- - Fluff: 3.5 (Enjoyable fluff; was fun to read the anecdotes of gun play by heroes)
- Value: 4.0 (Lots of material here for just a few bucks!)