D&D 5E Guns and D&D - are we doing it wrong? An alternative

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Guns - how to incorporate them in a D&D game?

(for clarity, this is for low tech guns - muzzleloaders, not modern metallic cartridge weapons)

So far the approach has been to have them be a bit like an "extra" crossbow - even more damage, even slower rate for fire. But then people want to shoot their guns all the time so there are feats/ways to load them faster, and now there are potential balance issues. Other ways include adding them some kind of armor piercing bonus, something that is easier to do in some rulesets than others (3.x did it well, 5e would be more clunky).

I've never been fully satisfied with this state of affair. On one hand, the rate of fire often becomes rather ludicrous compared to historical weapons (given the short 6 second rounds). On the other hand, the extra damage often isn't... that much more, for balance reasons. Having a gun pointed to your head is not much more threatening than a bow. So how do we make them "better", more... gunnish?

I think the answer can be found in an element of 4e. Guns are encounter powers. D&D battles are not the long, slow battles where ranks of gunners shoot at each other from a fairly great distance. They are intense, close combat skirmishes that go fast. So a gun using PC would fire a pistol or two at the start of a fight, then switch to other weapons. Because they are used once, rate of fire issues go away. And because they are used once, they can do more damage without being unbalanced.

I'm not sure how to balance this exactly, the devil is in the details, after all. But I think this would be a much more satisfying way to incorporate guns in a D&D game than the current approach.
 

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this is definitely an interesting solution, and i think it could work. you could even, theoretically, use it to help a bit with the martial/caster divide, by letting martials pick up various firearms as powers as they level up. it'd be kind of weird, though, and much more in line with 4e game design then 5e, but it's a route you could go.

from a verisimilitude perspective however, it's a bit bizarre. in reality, it takes about as long to load a (smoothbore) muzzleloader as it does to load a heavy crossbow, and in 5e at least, that happens between turns (or between attacks with crossbow expert - which is personally my biggest problem with that feat!). then there's also the question of what happens when a PC goes full pirate and decides to roll up with a full bandolier of pistols. do you just let that happen, or do you arbitrarily cap how many guns you can fire before a short rest?

there's also the problem inherent to this approach, which is that it completely negates the idea of a firearm as a primary weapon. you cannot have a character who mains an arquebus like another character mains a greatsword or longbow or heavy crossbow, because they can only use that arquebus, at most, once per fight (more likely once every other fight), and then they have to swap to something else. that entire aesthetic simply cannot exist with this method. which, depending on the campaign, could be fine...but i don't really think it's great as a universal solution.

the solution i've pondered for a while is to give firearms a second damage die and make their damage dice explode, but don't allow ability modifiers to be added to their damage. that does a few things:
1. it reduces the gap between skilled and unskilled firearm users (which is a big reason they got as popular as they did to begin with) by removing the ability modifer to damage.
2. it keeps firearms about as capable as other ranged weapons by throwing in the second damage die. a 2d4 firearm is about as damaging as a hand crossbow wielded by someone with a +3 dexterity modifier, for instance.
3. it somewhat displays the absolute horror show that is terminal ballistics - both by removing the ability modifier to damage (e.g. a bullet overpenetrating a target and causing minimal damage) and by making the damage dice explode (e.g. a bullet not only expanding within the target, but also possibly bouncing off of bones and causing even more damage).

1 and 3 help firearms feel unique and (at least somewhat) true to life, while 2 prevents firearms from becoming over-or-underpowered, since they're pretty much always within the expected band of ranged damage anyway (well, aside from the exploding dice, but you could remove that if it really worries you). in turn, because the firearms aren't overpowered, you can sling them around as a primary weapon instead of just as an encounter power. in theory, anyway.
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
Honestly the primary problem with guns is that people overthink and overdesign them mostly due to the design philosophy of weapons.

Every D&D weapon is designed, in large part, mindful of the myths of the weapon in mind. Swords are a noble's weapon meant for fighting other people, so there are like a billion magical swords just lying around in every official adventure (after all, only nobles could afford enchanting that many weapons). Axes are the savage weapons of brutes, and therefore barbarians have abilities that are specifically designed to work with greataxes but not greatswords. Staffs are the weapon of the wizened, so they also function as a magical focus for wizards. Daggers work with sneak attacks, but your fists don't, because assassins use daggers in the night, while martial artist make a big show about punching you in the face. And this also applies guns. Guns are thought of as weapons of little skill needed and immense power output, to the point where they violate the rules of all other kinds of combat, obsoleting everything else.

What happens when people consciously or subconsciously work this idea into the rules of guns, is that people put too much power in the gun itself, and not enough in the character wielding the gun. Which is totally backwards compared to every other weapon in the game. Swords and bows are mundane and lethal, yes, but even mundane martial characters do impossible things with them, like interrupt someone else's turn and attack 8+ times in a fraction of a second (hi to you, Samurai) or boost the power of a single attack to do over 4X damage (Pick any Rogue). So naturally, when you make a weapon that is supposed to break the rules of the weapon subsystem, it breaks the rules of the weapon subsystem. They just don't jive, because they aren't supposed to jive.

So how are you supposed to put a square shaped weapon into a circle based hole? You don't. Instead you look for a subsystem that fits better. You want an object, that deals significant burst damage, can't be significantly boosted by the character using it, and has limited uses?

You want a magic wand. One shot takes one charge. "Reloading" the wand (with whatever frame of time you want)gives you another charge. You could even have special guns with multiple charges (like double barrel guns). You can set the damage to be however high you want. You can set the default accuracy to whatever you want. You can customize the damage type, area of effect, exactly how much noise and flash and even smoke they give off. Basically everything is fair game once you stop designing the gun as part of the weapon system.

Or, you can just make them slightly tweaked copies of crossbows that make a loud noise. If you are more interested in making the character using the gun more important than the gun itself.
 

GrimCo

Adventurer
From historical view, firearms surpassed longobow in rate of fire only with the advent of breach loading guns. Until that point, trained archer was vastly superior in rate of fire. For close skirmish type engagements, best example of gun use are dragoons and chasseurs. They would start attack with gunfire and then switch to saber. No reloading in combat.

One thing that made guns prevalent was ease of use. It takes years to train archer, but it only takes hours to train rifleman.

With those two things, i would keep it as a simple weapon. No feats or anything to speed reload times. 3-5 full rounds to reload ( pistols take shorter time, rifles take longer). Keep damage same, but it ignores all non magic armor and defense (so you shoot at effective AC10). For magic armor, you need magic AP rounds. They have one good shot and that's it.
 


aco175

Legend
I played in a game at the local convention last weekend and was given a NPC to play as well. He turned out to be a Spelljammer giff/hippofolk soldier type with a pistol and a grenade. The pistol was like shooting 2 eldritch blasts+ each round and the hand grenade was like a fireball scroll with less radius.

It was fine for the convention, but not really my style of D&D.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
I don't think the problem is with guns in D&D, but with wanting to have both guns and middle-age weapons, and balance them with each other. Firearms are simply vastly superior than old historical weapons.

If everyone had guns, they could use normal weapon rules, and narrate minor HP damage as still not hitting your target properly.

In the best case, I could imagine using scarcity of ammunition to have a long-term effect similar to making them "encounter powers" without breaking suspension of disbelief, but you can't avoid a "nova" against a BBEG every now and then.
 

I think the answer can be found in an element of 4e. Guns are encounter powers. D&D battles are not the long, slow battles where ranks of gunners shoot at each other from a fairly great distance. They are intense, close combat skirmishes that go fast. So a gun using PC would fire a pistol or two at the start of a fight, then switch to other weapons. Because they are used once, rate of fire issues go away. And because they are used once, they can do more damage without being unbalanced.

I'm not sure how to balance this exactly, the devil is in the details, after all. But I think this would be a much more satisfying way to incorporate guns in a D&D game than the current approach.
I've messed with this idea a lot actually, in a long-term project of mine which is a re-jigging of Ravenloft into Regency/Napoleonic era England (happy to drop my WiP rules in here, if you're interested).

It's a worthy idea, but it does run pretty hard into some of the base assumptions of 5e.

First is that most martial PCs will specialise for one kind of combat. Feats and fighting styles (and battlemaster maneuvers, and subclass/class abilities, etc etc etc). The system is not real friendly for those who want to be jacks-of-all-trades, which is awkward for those PCs who want to take one volley with their horsepistol or blunderbuss and then wade in with a sabre.

Second is that D&D abstracts encumbrance. IF you make a gun an 'encounter power' without implementing the rule in strictly game-y terms, then I guarantee every party will have a PC who's carrying 7 or 8 or more loaded firearms all the time (perfectly manageable, with a moderately decent Str!) which means that they can fire them every round regardless of the intention of the rule. I know that the American Revolution 5e-esque game that kickstarted a while back and whise name I've forgotten had some sort of more granular encumbrance rule to address this problem - such a rule would 100% be needed. Of course, this strategy is partly historical! I think Napoleon's lancers routinely carried a couple fo pistols in addition to their lance. But it's certainly abusable.

Third is that 'disposable' or one-shot weapons are kinda anathema to a player base who for 50 years has associated success with getting cool loot like powerful magic weapons. Being able to use that weapon only once per fight will not go down well among many.

Fourth (and the big one!) is that martial classes rely heavily on getting extra attacks for their damage output, and this rule removes that factor compeletely. If you can only use a musket once per fight, then what's the motivation for a 10th level fighter to ever use one, even in the first round of combat? They'd do better taking their three attacks with a longbow. And that's not even taking into account additional attacks from stuff like Haste, battlemaster maneuvers and other special abilities etc. It shouldn't be detrimental to a skilled warrior to use the most advanced weapon of their time!

There's other problems with firearms in general which have been discussed on here and in other D&D fora for many years of course. D&Ds combat/damage system is heavily based around armour, what do you do with a weapon that historically made armour obsolete? And if the unchallenged best weapon in the time period/setting is a ranged weapon based on dex, and rapiers still exist, it just makes Dex an even more overwhelmingly strong ability score, and remove the one niche in the game for high-Str characters, which was sheer damage output. But the 'one shot and then draw your sword' model of firearms has plenty of problems of its own.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
You want a magic wand. One shot takes one charge. "Reloading" the wand (with whatever frame of time you want)gives you another charge. You could even have special guns with multiple charges (like double barrel guns). You can set the damage to be however high you want. You can set the default
This is precisely how I did it when I ran Curse of Strahd and one of the players found the "rifle" down in the tombs beneath the castle. I used the mechanics of the Wand of Lightning Bolts and just changed the damage type to magical bludgeoning damage. Simple, easy, balanced. And if someone asked why they only got 7 "shots" (charges) with it before requiring a Long Rest (as per the magic item), I simply said the rifle got too dirty after too many shots and you needed Long Rest to take the rifle apart and clean it all out. But it didn't matter anyway... as has always been the case at my tables regarding wands, I never had a time where the person actually blew through all 7 "shots" in the day and had to actually worry about it.
 

GrimCo

Adventurer
In a game where every class has access to damage cantrip on par with crossbow and Wand of Magic Missile is uncommon item, early guns are obsolete. TBH, even crossbows are obsolete. I can't remember someone actually used one in the game. You eather go with archer build or just spam cantrips which have damage scaling with character level. So guns need to do something extra. I would stick with ignoring non magical armor and defenses.

For more steampunkish version, i would just use wand of magic missile and refluff it to 1d6+1 but no auto hit, 7 charges and that's it. Recharge to full after Long rest. Why only 7 charges? Gun has enough steam under pressure for 7 shots, then you need to refill it and steam pump takes time to build up needed amount. Same with rifle, just use d10. With that, you can have it with burst and full auto mode. Burst- 3 charges in one action, full auto- all 7 charges in one action. So, you give player option do lay down suppressive fire, unload on multiple creatures nearby.
 
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