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Guns in D&D - A Hot Take

Celebrim

Legend
Well, so much of this depends on your assumptions, and that's to not even get into the whole problem of hit points are a narrativist device and not a simulationist device. They exist to provide characters plot armor more than they exist to model real world wounds.

For example, let's say we are playing 3.X edition. Commoners have the same 4 h.p. on average, but they don't instantly die until -10 h.p.

So now we are saying that 1/3rd of bullet wounds do ~14 or more damage, and less than 2/3rds do ~13 or less damage - leaving the target dying but capable of being saved if they receive immediate medical attention. Perhaps a few ordinary people get hit on rare occasions for 3 or less damage and so would survive without medical attention, and a few stabilize despite being in the dying condition.

With this new set up, it's possible to argue that bullets do 1d20 damage.

Personally, I have set guns doing damage along the lines of 1d10 with a 19-20 critical and a x3 modifier on damage.

As for ignoring armor, they don't really ignore armor, they are just comparatively good at penetrating armor; that is to say, when attacking a target that reduce the effective AC granted by armor by a certain amount. They don't always reduce it to zero. But the first sorts of "gonne" that would be invented are actually only slightly better at penetrating armor than ancient weapons, so the advantage I generally use is a reduction in AC of 1 or 2 depending on how advanced the weapon is.

There are a couple of other import advantages of a firearm. The first, and the one most overlooked in most games and the one least represented in typical D&D rules, is that firearms are very simple weapons to learn and operate. It's very easy to levy a peasant militia and teach them how to use firearms with reasonable effectiveness. They are 'simple' weapons which all classes are proficient in, even commoners and the like. It's much easier to learn how to use a firearm with reasonable effectiveness than even a spear or a dagger. You just load, point, and fire. You can learn this in a week or two, whereas learning to use a longbow might take 10 years.

The other aspect of a firearm that gives them an advantage is related - it's much easier to be accurate with a firearm than with other missile weapons because they shoot straight and at a high velocity. You have to lead your target less and adjust your aim less. While there might be some inherent limits in the accuracy of a smoothbore weapon, that's vastly overcome in the initial phases of learning how to shoot one because they are just so easy to aim (and impossible to dodge). The result is that I give an accuracy bonus to most even primitive firearms, usually just +1 for most weapons that would show up in a D&D campaign.

One advantage early firearms most certainly DO NOT have is high rate of fire. An early hand gonne might take 6 full rounds to reload, and lowering that rate of fire requires as much practice as it takes to get really accurate with say a bow. Long training with a hand gonne or smoothbore musket is generally focused on increasing the rate of fire, and less on getting them accurate.

What is the result of all of this?

Well the result is terrible for heroes, that's what.

You have a weapon that is practically a one shot weapon which gives a relatively unskilled warrior a high damage attack that effectively has a significant bonus to hit, both because it partially ignores armor and because it has an inherent bonus to accuracy. For a hero, the fact that you only get one shot and you are tending to get into fights where you are heavily outnumbered makes the firearm really unattractive. But if you are say a goblin mook, who is forced to face off against heroes who can cut through you by the dozens, the gonne evens the odds immensely.

If you get up to the level of something like a flintlock rifle, it's probably not even particularly attractive to heroes compared with the longbow, but by golly it becomes a problem when facing off against masses of foes. Suddenly they have the means of hitting you despite your high AC, and when they hit they tend to hit pretty hard. Massed volleys of musket fire is a significant problem for mid-level characters, even if it is just 1st level warriors doing it.
 
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Celebrim

Legend
A popular theory is that guns took over in warfare not because of their damage, range, or ease of use, but because they are loud. When you hear a row of guys fire mini-cannons at you, it is kinda scary.

In most early gun battles, the majority of injuries were caused by bayonets, often after one side had routed. The gun volleys were just the intimidating set-up for the bayonet charge. So the theory goes.
Yeah, they had this theory even back in the 18th century, and the problem with it is statistically it was wrong even then.

It was actually more the other way around.

Even in wars in the 17th century, wounds from bayonets were actually pretty rare. The musket volleys were doing most of the damage, and commanders that relied on the bayonet charge tended to get their troops cut to pieces. By the American revolution, the firearm had evolved to the point that the bayonet was almost useless, but it would take another 150 years before people would realize it. Even by the Napoleonic Wars, the bayonet probably accounted for 1% or less of all casualties, but commanders (commanders who weren't Napoleon at least, who seems to have figured this out pretty quickly) were still ordering bayonet charges like they were the actual decisive part of the combat.

It's actually far more likely that the real value of the bayonet was that it was intimidating. You'd exchange volleys, and then if the other guy was still coming at you in mass with this long pointy piece of steel leveled at you, you'd probably decide now was the time to think about either quitting the field or dropping your arms and surrendering. Observers actually drew the wrong conclusion. Seeing a battle won at the point of a bayonet, they thought that the bayonet had won the battle. Usually though the actual decisive point had occurred earlier, where one side or the other hand been degraded by accurate fire - either accurate rifle fire (as in the case of American armies made up of men with lots of hunting experience) or perhaps even more often accurate deployment of comparatively light field artillery, such as 3lbers and later 6lbers.
 

Celebrim

Legend
I'm curious what your source is for this statement? To my understanding, guns came a couple centuries after plate armor was first "popular"
No, if you look at a time line, they developed at about the same time - they all were introduced into Europe around the 13th-14th century. Cannons, gonnes, plate, and trebuchet all developed nearly simultaneously in the West. The impetus behind plate armor initially was the crossbow and the longbow could easily penetrate mail even at fairly long ranges. Gradually as the "hand gonne" and eventually the musket began to show up on the battlefield, then impetus behind plate increasingly became protecting command and control assets (the people in charge) from musket fire, allowing them to maneuver around the battlefield and keep control of the army. Plate like you tend to see in paintings or movies didn't really become a thing until the 15th-16th century, by which point it was standard for armorers to prove your plate was good enough by shooting it with a pistol at close range and proving that it would resist the impact.

(but they were in China many years before, of course).
Not that many. The Chinese as everyone knows invented gunpowder, but they were never really quite sure what to do with it to weaponize it. They initially used it as rockets, and tried a variety of designs for using it to propel arrows, but they really never came up with a great design. For the longest time they used 'fire lances', which had a lot of the features of a "gonne" but weren't a true high velocity missile weapon like modern firearms. The true "gonne" was invented in the East just shortly before it started appearing in the West, and the rate of innovation in firearms was much higher in the West so that within rather short order firearms technology in the West was superior to the East.

Exactly why this happened is hard to pin down, but I think the biggest clue is that when the Portuguese introduced the musket to Japan, they very quickly started innovating and improving it, so that there was actually a decade or two where advances in Japan were leading those in Europe (independently). However, in Japan the aristocracy so hated the weapon because it meant any old peasant could kill a Samurai in what was not a fair fight, that they pretty successfully banned it and wouldn't really use it again until the Meiji restoration. The West had had similar issues with weapons like the crossbow, which the Pope had even banned at one point, but no one was ever able to successfully ban a weapon in the west. Someone was always willing to break the rules to get an advantage, and you had nations with individualist traditions like England and Switzerland, and the Hanseatic League, and later the Low Countries where they preferred weapons that impowered the ordinary citizen.

Even so, crossbows and longbows had plenty of penetrating power to pierce plate armors. Oddly enough, layered armors were more effective at stopping penetrating attacks.
Generally you wore a gambeson underneath your plate armor. But a gambeson alone wouldn't stop a musket ball, and would tend to fill the wound with bits of cloth that would then cause the wound to get infected.
 
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Hriston

Adventurer
In real life, statistics show that roughly 1 in 3 victims die from a single gunshot wound, 2/3 survive assuming they get immediate medical attention.
Fact check: I'm not sure where you got your statistics, but https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gunshot_wound says in 2015 there were 205,000 deaths resulting from a total of 1 million such wounds inflicted in interpersonal violence globally, so following the rest of your argument, the correct damage expression would be more like 1d5 - 1.
 

flametitan

Explorer
OK, there seems to be a quite a bit of misinformation going on here.

Plate armor: Not invented to stop bullets. In fact, the opposite. The first plated armor was in Mycenean-era Greece from around 1400 BC. So it's been around for a long time. It started to see less usage when heavy crossbows were able to penetrate it, and almost disappeared when gunpowder arrived on scene in the 16th century (the Ottomans used hand cannons for infantry in the late 15th century, but Europeans didn't see it until later). Full plate armor existed in the form we romanticize about in the early 15th century--well before firearms were on the common battlefield in Europe.
Not quite. Not wrong (The increasing power of firearms and the increasing ease of access to them was what led to the decline of full plate suits), but gunpowder in general has a longer history in Europe, with likely reference to it in the 13th century, and hand cannons appearing in the 14th century. Full plate made a resurgence between the 13th to 15th Century, after having seen disuse in the early medieval period (the metal and craftwork needed to fit it was expensive, so it was often easier to make maille halberks instead,) but its rise was unlikely to be related to firearms specifically (which were dangerous to use and difficult to field effectively), and instead likely a matter of general protection versus most weapons and improved metallurgy.

As far as modelling firearms in an rpg without disrupting the weapons and armour table, I'd think the best starting place would be the matchlock Arquebus, as that weapon was contemporary to the peak of plate armour while still being recognizably gun-like.
 

Prakriti

Hi, I'm a Mindflayer, but don't let that worry you
As I've said before, the best way to represent gun damage in D&D is not with dice, but as a percentage of the target's total health. A critical hit should do 100% damage (i.e. instant death unless the target is protected by Aid or some other spell that applies health over and above the maximum). Non-critical hits should probably do about 75%.
 


Sacrosanct

Legend
As I've said before, the best way to represent gun damage in D&D is not with dice, but as a percentage of the target's total health. A critical hit should do 100% damage (i.e. instant death unless the target is protected by Aid or some other spell that applies health over and above the maximum). Non-critical hits should probably do about 75%.
That’s true of every weapon though, right? Firearms are just another weapon. Taking a critical hit to the melon from a battle axe isn’t gonna leave you in much better shape than getting shot in the face.

It’s D&D. Lethality is muted in exchange for survivability and fun.
 

Derren

Hero
Plate armor was not invented to stop bullets specifically, but the bullet proof, armorers shooting armor they made as a proof of quality, was a real thing. But such armor could not only defeat bullets, arrows and bolts likewise had little chance penetrating them.

But the reason why guns replaced bows as not their power, in the beginning they were worse than (cross)bows in many areas, but their logistics.
Every arrow needed to be hand crafted. The tip had to be made, a useable piece of wood had to be found, carved and feathers had to be attached. Compared to that gunpowder could be made in large quantities and smelting lead bullets was easy when you had a cast and doable on the field.

Also, probably even more importantly, guns could be used by nearly everyone to full effect. Bows on the other hand required strong men with lots of training. Not for hitting a target, but to pull and release a bow over long periods of time (like an entire battle). Bows used in war had a lot higher draw strength than bows you usually see today and continuously firing them tired people out fast. In order to last through an entire battle an archer had to train a lot to keep his strength up. That was the reason why under English law, everyone had to practice shooting with their bow each week. So that the pool of people strong enough to handle bows would be larger.
Just to give you an idea on how much strain than caused, archaeologists usually identify archers, especially longbow archers, by deformities of the skeleton caused by using high strength bows.

Crossbows could use mechanics to enhance the muscle power of the user through levers and winches. Still, the force of the arrow had to come from the archer or crossbow user at one point. Firearms on the other hand didn't require the user to use his own muscle power. The entire force of the bullet was supplied by the gunpowder.

D&D does not model either of those advantages, thus making guns rather useless.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
In real life, statistics show that roughly 1 in 3 victims die from a single gunshot wound, 2/3 survive assuming they get immediate medical attention.

The average person in D&D is modeled by the Level 1 Commoner

A Level 1 Commoner has 4hp
Dying at zero HP is a DM convenience and need not be for everyone. The DM can give the normal death saves. (PHB 198)

Chance of surviving death saves is ~60%. https://rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/76958/what-is-the-probability-of-surviving-my-death-saves

Which is pretty close to the 2/3 survive.

So all we know is that a gunshot wound must do at least 4 points of damage in all occasions.

If, of course, we think that real world life-and-death statistics properly model and are balanced with the chances of surviving the other weapons in a high fantasy game.

I'll leave my thoughts on the last as an exercise for the reader.
 
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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I'm curious what your source is for this statement? To my understanding, guns came a couple centuries after plate armor was first "popular" (but they were in China many years before, of course). Even so, crossbows and longbows had plenty of penetrating power to pierce plate armors. Oddly enough, layered armors were more effective at stopping penetrating attacks.
Late medieval steel chest plates resisted bullets quite well, until guns got better. But it isn’t odd at all that layered armor is good at stopping projectiles. Each layer reduces the force that meets the next layer. I’d think that is exactly the expected outcome.

While you are correct about trauma, you are incorrect about bleeding. Arrows cause less bleeding because the shaft is largely blocking the wound. A bullet wound doesn't do that. Especially if there's an exit wound, which is devastating.

And in case anyone is curious about my credentials, I'm an ex-combat medic military veteran who has extensive experience around all kinds of firearms
how much experience you got with medieval to renaissance firearms?

Here is the Real Hot Take:

This thread, and the literal decades of people arguing ballistics and/or forensics, are exactly the wrong way to try and figure out damage dice for a gun in D&D. You need to address the mythology of the gun in order to make it fit into D&D.
Yep. Realism is meaningless unless it is soemthing IN GENERAL your group is into.

Make guns match what people expect at the table, what matches fiction, and is still pretty balanced.
 


Sacrosanct

Legend
I am not sure where the idea plate armour was designed to stop bullets came from. Sure accuracy was a problem, but even early guns had considerable stopping power at short and medium ranges. This video may be useful:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kEPG98tTIlU
Plate wasn’t designed to stop bullets because it existed long before bullets were on the battlefield so obviously it was designed to stop other weapons. Some advanced plate could stop period bullets, but by then the cost to do so was so prohibitively expensive only the extreme wealthy could afford it. It certainly wasn’t an option for the infantry who was facing increased firearm useage In battle. Doesn’t mean it completely disappeared. IIRC, people were still using plated body armor in WWII in rare occasions. I know aircrews used plated armor much later, but I’m talking armor for the average soldier that was worn AND the soldier was expected to be mobile.
 
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Hussar

Legend
.

Just assign a basic damage roll. 1d6 for small caliber, 1d10 for medium, and 2d6 for large. Note, damage is not around pistol vs rifle, but actual size of the lead hitting you.
A question. Would you simply ignore pistol vs rifle when determining damage? Because, despite usually being smaller caliber, rifle rounds are typically far more damaging than pistol rounds simply due to muzzle velocity.

Your earlier picture shows that. A 9 mm pistol round scratches the paint while your 5.56 mm rifle round punches straight through.
 


This is again the classic debate about realism vs gameplay. Not only in the RPGs but also in the shooter videogames where the PC survive any shots and it is healed in only a second touching a medic kit.

The new technologies changed the sci-fi fiction, but also the high-fantasy genre. Now it isn't only the steampunk but also the "arcanepunk" or magic technology has appeared in the last years. Now fanboys wonder about why a steampunk mechanical golem is possible but not create modern firearms, or the fantasy equivalent of the graphene by alchemy.

This is not only about the balance of power between Ashe, McCree, Doomfist, Genji, Hanzo, Reinhardt and Bridgitte (heroes of Blizzard's Overwatch). Usually our point of view is only PCs are gunslingers and the enemies are only walking dartboards, but I am afraid you have forgotten when the PCs are more melee warriors (monks, barbarians, paladins..) and the enemies are gunslingers (for example steampunk goblins as alien invaders). A sniper from the top of a tree could be a nightmare for heroes without ranged attacks.

Other matter is when players create their own homebred rules against firearms. For example a catrip of low level spell to create a piece of ectoplasm to block enemies' canons or a bulletproof magic field for clerics of a war god. Maybe in a city firearms aren't used because they are too loud and the sacred temple creates an anti firearm field. In the battlefield the god of war could punish guns and rifles sending petitioners from the Valhalla with a ballistic damage resistance, or blessing no-gunslingers fighters with temporal bulletproof resistance because werebeast traits. Or the spellcasters could send by teletransportation summoned swarms or war beasts (if they are only mind-controlled animal who would worry about their sacrifice?). Or create illusions to hide squads like a smoke grenade, or duplicating illusory images to trick shooters. Or wizards could add an arcanepunk motor to the war-chariots and this would mean the end of the chavalry. Maybe they can create machine guns but they are useless in the magic because their mechanical pieces are blocked by low level spells and then they jam easily.
 

Quartz

Adventurer
A popular theory is that guns took over in warfare not because of their damage, range, or ease of use, but because they are loud. When you hear a row of guys fire mini-cannons at you, it is kinda scary.
I've not heard (ahem) that before. The key factor AFAIAA was training: it's easy to train someone to use a gun whereas archery takes years.
 


Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Yes! It is a pet peeve of mine when people want to give guns extraordinary damage. I get that being shot can be deadly, but is it really more deadly than being cleft in twain by a greataxe? Or stabbed by a shortsword? The advantage of modern guns is their rate of fire and ease of use.
In a hit point system, yes. Greataxes to that much damage in order to reduce the hit point pool by more than say a longsword or dagger.

If you want guns to retain their deadliness, but not do a lot of damage, create a system where you have hit points and body points. Then allow bullets to bypass hit points and strike the much lower body pool directly. You could even do a location chart in order to see when bullets strike the head or heart, causing fairly immediate death.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
A question. Would you simply ignore pistol vs rifle when determining damage? Because, despite usually being smaller caliber, rifle rounds are typically far more damaging than pistol rounds simply due to muzzle velocity.

Your earlier picture shows that. A 9 mm pistol round scratches the paint while your 5.56 mm rifle round punches straight through.
I would. For a few reasons:

1. Velocity does impacts wound channel, but mostly penetration and range. You could take less tissue damage from a high velocity round that went right through you, then you would from a lower velocity round that mushroomed and stayed inside you. In fact, that's why they created rounds that are designed to tumble in the first place, and why organizations like the FBI demand the rounds they use penetrate only a certain distance. For maximum stopping effect.

2. Because of so many factors, then you go down that dangerous path I mentioned earlier, about getting too complicated and bogging the game down. There are so many different ammunition types that you'd be all over the place trying to capture them all. For example, a .357 is used both in pistols and rifles, and acts much differently than a similar sized round in the 9mm. But are you using JHP? FMJ? Frangible? High Velocity? And if the mass and velocity are high enough, even if it goes right through you, it could still pretty much wreck you. Just way too many things to factor and way too many lines to draw. I've been down that rabbit hole. Often. And keep getting sucked back in :)

3. Since velocity impacts penetrating power and range much more than wound channel (even though it has a big impact here as well), the difference in captured better in game in the much different ranges for each (the max eff range for a pistol is about 50m while a rifle is 400ish. I.e., a medium pistol might do the same damage as a medium rifle at each bullet's effective range, but you wouldn't see it used nearly as often because it has a crappy effective range. I.e, getting hit in the chest by a 50 AE (.50 cal Desert Eagle) at 30 yards and a 7.62 at 200 yards isn't gonna matter too much to me which was worse. I'm pretty much screwed.*

So yeah, it comes down to a point where you just have to bring back a notch and go with a simpler approach knowing that there will be cases where it might be off.



But less than being beheaded. With a sword.
I imagine beheading would be considered a critical hit, and doesn't even exist in D&D rules unless you're using a vorpal weapon. The equivalent in game mechanic for a gun would probably do the same thing. I mean, does losing your whole head in a clean slice really make much of a difference compared to losing half of your head from a 7.62 round? And you're comparing slashing vs piercing. It would be like saying "Well, I can remove a head with a perfectly placed hand axe, but can't with a perfectly fired arrow, so that means the hand ax should do much more damage than the arrow." or "A spear head is three times larger than an arrowhead, so it should easily do three times the damage." Weapons do different types of trauma, so rather than look at what it could do with a perfect blow, we look at what it typically does in average combat. Ultimately, realism goes out the window for ease of gameplay, survive ability, and fun. It's just something we have to accept. It's why I think it's flawed to introduce firearms into the game and try to emulate realism there, when we don't with the weapons that already exist in the game.


*To avoid confusion, do not equate a .50 AE round with a .50 cal rifle round. Completely different. Caliber is determined by projectile diameter, not mass or velocity. It's like how a .22 and a .223 have almost the exact same diameter, but one is a tiny little plinky varmint round, and the other is used as the NATO standard rifle round (5.56). One is stopped by a small book, the other will go through 1/4" of steel plate with ease.
 

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