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Pathfinder Guns & Gears: An In-Depth Review

Hello again my friends, and welcome back to another PAIZO PRODUCT REVIEW! Today we’re looking at the recent Pathfinder Guns & Gears supplement, which is almost certainly guaranteed to cause a bit of an argument between you and your GM when it contacts their precious setting! But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s break this down!
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JUDGING A BOOK BY ITS COVER​

Guns & Gears has a lot of exciting and interesting options and flavor packed into its 235 pages but, at least to my eye, you wouldn’t know it from the cover, which seems most focused on the very angry fire giant screaming in the center—while its guns and gears are tucked off to the bottom corner. But I don’t want to waste too much time on the cover when all the fun stuff is on the inside, so take this as a reason to consider the special edition, and let’s move on!

INTRODUCTION​

In what appears to be a recurring element for recent Paizo books, Guns & Gears starts with an excellent introduction that addresses the mechanical and thematic issues that come with introducing guns and clockwork or pre-steampunk technology to a setting so strongly based on feudal technology. This section, like the one in The Mwangi Expanse, uses real-world examples to support the decisions incorporating the book’s content into Golarion or settings like it—in this case, making note of the fact that black powder development on Golarion is slowed by the utility and ubiquity of magic, or the way real-world plate armor was capable of protecting users from period-appropriate firearms. There’s a brief mention here on the way different regions of Golarion have developed the various technologies, but that gets a full chapter at the end of the book, so we’ll get to that later.

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GEARS CHARACTERS & EQUIPMENT​

Guns & Gears only has two base classes to offer, and the first is the champion of Gears: the Inventor. Defined by its ability to augment a minion, armor, or a weapon, the Inventor is the class you’re going to reach to when you want to play Iron Man in Pathfinder 2E.

One of the fundamental features of the class is called “Overdrive”. This feature is purpose-built for enabling situations where a character yells “WATCH THIS!” to be immediately followed by a tremendous BANG, and laughs are had all around the table. Inventors also get access to a number of feats with the “unstable” keyword, which I love as a bit of game design that allow a character to gamble with a bit of damage for a bit of extra payoff.

Gears-based characters can also now choose a new ancestry—the Automaton. These characters come with a delightful bit of planar and mechanical worldbuilding, and to my mind are ideal for every cheese monkey who’s ever grown irritated at the difference between their Big “Freaking” Cannon and their weak, spindly character. Now YOU can be the anti-tank cannon of your dreams; Bastion players rejoice!

There are also a number of noteworthy Archetypes for Gears characters. Most prominently to my mind is the Overwatch, which near as I can tell is a way of giving Improved Initiative to the entire party(!). Sterling Dynamos as a background feature some excellent efforts to include and normalize the presence of amputee characters or those without the standard number of limbs for their ancestry.

Other interesting Archetypes include the Trick Driver and Vehicle Mechanic, the implementation of which requires the implementation of vehicles to your campaign, a prospect which is disruptive enough that it merits not one but TWO sidebars. Also, these two come with a sidebar about unions—shoutout to the UPW for giving us a good example!

Gears equipment seems mostly focused on sprucing up repeating crossbows or other ammunition-based weapons, but there’s a few delightful paragraphs dedicated to explaining the development of technology in different prominent regions in Golarion. Most amusing to me is the Stasian technology coming out of Irrisen and Ulstalav – you developers may not be allowed to call them Tesla coils, but that won’t stop me from doing so, or from enjoying the bejeebers out of insane gnomish inventors making Tesla coil guns.

The Gadgets section of the Gears equipment feels like a bit of a whiff, though—they seem neat, certainly, but I’ve never been convinced that the Pathfinder adventurer economy really has room for disposable or one-use items.

Really, what gets me excited in the Equipment section is when it cranks the scale up into the industrial: namely, vehicles and siege equipment. SIEGE EQUIPMENT! AHAHAHA! And, of course, gear- and steam-based vehicles mean exactly one thing in my mind (even if it isn’t explicit in the book): TRAINS. Trains mean train heists mean the best session or arc your players will experience in their campaign.

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GUNS CHARACTERS & EQUIPMENT​

GUNS! Let’s be honest, this is the real reason you’re here. You want that pew-pew! The second of the two base classes available in Guns & Gears is the Gunslinger, which allows players to live out their dreams of being the Orc With No Name, a very Precise Sniper, or a Doom Gal using shields and shotguns to impact the battlefield like a wrecking ball. There’s a bit of disparity lingering in my mind between the image of a pistolero using a gun-twirling fast-shooting fighting style and the mechanics of reloading in Pathfinder 2E, but I imagine that will settle one way or another once it comes in contact with the enemy—I MEAN, your players.

Archetypes for Guns characters start out with, in my fevered opinion, the best of the lot: the Artillerist. Just seeing a whole archetype dedicated to the concept of “any problem can be solved with the proper application of heavy artillery” sends me into a tizzy—and honestly makes this whole book worthwhile for me.

Other delightful archetypes for Guns characters include Beast Gunners, which appear to be Paizo’s acknowledgement and adoption of the incredibly popular Monster Hunter series, and Bullet Dancers, for the nerds of you who have seen Equilibrium and always wanted to do Gun Kata but didn’t have Christian Bale’s choreographer or cinematographer. If you haven’t seen Equilibrium—get on that!

Guns Equipment is largely devoted to (you guessed it) firearms, and the quite lengthy section before the personal firearms where the devs try to cut off at the pass any arguments about making guns more automatic or modern. IT’S FOR GAME BALANCE, STEVE. That said, they do kinda shoot themselves in the foot by a) mentioning that they’ve already included WW1-era weapons in various APs and b) describing the mechanics of a hypothetical modern longarm.

As for other equipment—beast guns are GROSS and BIOLOGICAL and WONDERFUL and please keep them away from me. The siege guns, on the other hand … well, the less I have to say about how excited I got, the better. It’s definitely inspired me to try my hand at coming up with rules for modelling Age of Sail ship combat—and, inevitably, how to abstract that down so players don’t have to worry about two hundred NPCs taking three actions each to fire forty cannons in a round, and how those numbers change once the arm-sized splinters start flying.

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THE ROTATING GEAR​

The last major section of Guns & Gears dives into how and where these relatively advanced technologies have impacted Golarion. I gotta say, this section really has a special love-hate place in my heart. On one hand, I dig the hell out of seeing all of Golarion laid out in a broad view, complete with trade routes and the flow of specialized goods. They’ve even made four circular views of Golarion to show its true shape as a spheroid—truly just jaw-dropping worldbuilding on display here. That having been said, I got the same initial reaction to the massive world map that I did when I first realized Golarion had 10,000 years of recorded history: it’s … a bit much, isn’t it? Like I said with that history in The Mwangi Expanse: use it as a Backstory of Doom, don’t commit it to memory. And, while I can’t fault the map of Arcadia for its legibility (nor its cartographer for getting published in a setting book like this), I also can’t help but feel it looks a little ... flat? Uninspired? It’s an effective map, if not an exciting one.

CONCLUSION​

Guns & Gears (and yes, I have misspelled it Funs & Gears like 4 times now) is an incredible shot in the arm for the technological texture and advancement of Golarion and any campaigns using the PF2E system. It also, I have no doubt, will be the source of an incredible number of arguments about whether or not guns have a place in your game. Read the introductory paragraphs of the equipment section VERY closely, as they will have ammunition for you to fend off your biggest munchkin if things get out of hand. Just make sure you give them a siege engine once in a while!
 

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Ben Reece

Ben Reece


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I believe the feats in the Gunslinger class do work with crossbows, so if you want to play a non-gunpowder universe, you can still use those classes as a sort of bolt-slinging desperado with hand crossbows.
 

Ixal

Adventurer
It is not the firearms as long as they remain in the early development stage. It's the steampunk stuff crossing over into the medieval setting that I dislike.
This.

This picture (From the Pathfinder World Guide) is imo completely appropriate for Golarion
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Some steampunk John Wick copy is imo not.
 


Ixal

Adventurer
Do we have these "steampunk john wick" images?
Can't find the individual pictures on the net, but here is a review video showing some art.
Most of it is ok, but then you have things like the Doc Oc goblin at 1:30 or the rocket jumping away from a laser bear at 6:30. And of course all the futuristic looking robots, a motorized wheelchair at 6:15 and a rocket hammer at 2:50.

Just think about what profound effect the industrialization (decoupling of labour from muscle power) and mass transportation had on the real world. Guns&Gears introduces both in the form of robots and steam wheelchairs, yet this technology does not spread or influence the world at all.
 
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JThursby

Explorer
Just think about what profound effect the industrialization (decoupling of labour from muscle power) and mass transportation had on the real world. Guns&Gears introduces both in the form of robots and steam wheelchairs, yet this technology does not spread or influence the world at all.
Golarion is not Earth, it doesn't respond to the same development pressures.

It hosts dozens if not hundreds of sentient species, while we have one. Most governments are still hereditary monarchies while Earth at the same time in the setting is transitioning to more meritocratic governments. The existence of gods and magic fundamentally changes medicine, agriculture, politics, trade, religion, but most importantly of all, war. War has been the driving factor of technological development on earth, and on Golarion their preferred tool of war is magic, so it's better developed. There's lots of examples of fighting magocracies in Golarion's history: The Runelord's squabbling kingdoms, Geb vs Nex, Jistka vs Osirion, the Whispering Tyrant vs everyone else, and so on. It's no coninsidence that Nex is both the pinnacle of arcane warfare and the center of learning for most of the Arcane world in Avistan/Northern Garund. With magic so well developed, technological solutions are novelties rather than necessities.

From a storytelling perspective as well, it's more important that the default world of the game is as inclusive as possible for people's preferred types of stories. The ultimate coherence of the big picture aspects of the world don't matter when people playing in it will only see the tiny fraction of it that they want to play in. If that means different areas are going to say no thank you to tech by default to preserve a sliver of medeival stasis that's not a dire contrivance that ruins the story for people.
 

Jimmy Dick

Adventurer
Golarion is not Earth, it doesn't respond to the same development pressures.

It hosts dozens if not hundreds of sentient species, while we have one. Most governments are still hereditary monarchies while Earth at the same time in the setting is transitioning to more meritocratic governments. The existence of gods and magic fundamentally changes medicine, agriculture, politics, trade, religion, but most importantly of all, war. War has been the driving factor of technological development on earth, and on Golarion their preferred tool of war is magic, so it's better developed. There's lots of examples of fighting magocracies in Golarion's history: The Runelord's squabbling kingdoms, Geb vs Nex, Jistka vs Osirion, the Whispering Tyrant vs everyone else, and so on. It's no coninsidence that Nex is both the pinnacle of arcane warfare and the center of learning for most of the Arcane world in Avistan/Northern Garund. With magic so well developed, technological solutions are novelties rather than necessities.

From a storytelling perspective as well, it's more important that the default world of the game is as inclusive as possible for people's preferred types of stories. The ultimate coherence of the big picture aspects of the world don't matter when people playing in it will only see the tiny fraction of it that they want to play in. If that means different areas are going to say no thank you to tech by default to preserve a sliver of medeival stasis that's not a dire contrivance that ruins the story for people.
Of course it doesn't respond to the same development pressures. The fantasy world is just that, a fantasy. There's no way it could actually exist because the dominant species would have a mastery of magic and be long lived. These fantasy settings are made to include many different possible settings for people to enjoy. The problem is that it reaches the point of absurdity, but we are willing to overlook it and that's fine.
 

Ixal

Adventurer
Golarion is not Earth, it doesn't respond to the same development pressures.

It hosts dozens if not hundreds of sentient species, while we have one. Most governments are still hereditary monarchies while Earth at the same time in the setting is transitioning to more meritocratic governments. The existence of gods and magic fundamentally changes medicine, agriculture, politics, trade, religion, but most importantly of all, war. War has been the driving factor of technological development on earth, and on Golarion their preferred tool of war is magic, so it's better developed. There's lots of examples of fighting magocracies in Golarion's history: The Runelord's squabbling kingdoms, Geb vs Nex, Jistka vs Osirion, the Whispering Tyrant vs everyone else, and so on. It's no coninsidence that Nex is both the pinnacle of arcane warfare and the center of learning for most of the Arcane world in Avistan/Northern Garund. With magic so well developed, technological solutions are novelties rather than necessities.

From a storytelling perspective as well, it's more important that the default world of the game is as inclusive as possible for people's preferred types of stories. The ultimate coherence of the big picture aspects of the world don't matter when people playing in it will only see the tiny fraction of it that they want to play in. If that means different areas are going to say no thank you to tech by default to preserve a sliver of medeival stasis that's not a dire contrivance that ruins the story for people.
Development is more interconnected than you think. You need certain developments in manufacturing to reliably build small scale steam engines like they would need for the wheelchair.
But even when you ignore things like metallurgy it still does not make sense that only one area of the world possesses a much higher technology level and that this technology does not spread at all. The same way it doesn't make sense that people know how to build steam engines but only use them for wheelchairs and not for any other form of application.
 

Jimmy Dick

Adventurer
I don't care what world you build, one absolute law that will not change is that population depends on food. That is not going to differ in any world. Until a civilization is large enough to have people for both food production and specialists for anything else, it will not progress very far. Even then, it will be limited by food supplies. Now, in a fantasy world, the large monsters could become food supplies themselves, but it is pretty likely they would be far rarer than most fantasy settings have them. But then it is fantasy and adventurers need to slay those things, so no big deal.

It's just really hard to set up a fantasy world that would be very realistic. Of course magic will change a lot of things. Personally, I think a lot of available magics would just take the place of technological advances. You could have low level wizards with a shop set up all over the place making magic lights, stoves, irons, waterproof roofing, self-driving nails, automatic cooking devices, automatic brooms for sweeping, etc. Hospitals would be set up for magic healing of all kinds. It would be pretty interesting to see self-driving wagons transporting freight.
 

JThursby

Explorer
I don't care what world you build, one absolute law that will not change is that population depends on food. That is not going to differ in any world. Until a civilization is large enough to have people for both food production and specialists for anything else, it will not progress very far.
I like how this principle is what keeps the undead state of Geb relevant as a trading power and gives them allies instead of being a target for constant crusades: their undead majority population needs little food, so their massive agricultural surplus makes them an excellent trading partner, especially along the desert regions north of the Barrier Wall mountain range and their nominal rival Nex. This isn't for the purpose of arguing anything, I just think it's neat.
 

Jimmy Dick

Adventurer
I like how this principle is what keeps the undead state of Geb relevant as a trading power and gives them allies instead of being a target for constant crusades: their undead majority population needs little food, so their massive agricultural surplus makes them an excellent trading partner, especially along the desert regions north of the Barrier Wall mountain range and their nominal rival Nex. This isn't for the purpose of arguing anything, I just think it's neat.
Do the undead eat? Obviously, they don't have to, but the old zombies legends have them consuming brains while ghouls eat pretty much anything alive. Do the undead get weak if they don't eat? I agree, it is a neat thing to consider. If they do require some sort of food source, that makes the undead even more problematic as they would constantly be requiring food sources of people.
 

Jimmy Dick

Adventurer
I should add to that. If the undead were a real thing in a fantasy world, I am certain that most cultures would destroy their dead so they could not be animated as undead. This would limit replacements for the undead nations. I really don't think a fantasy world would have an undead nation in existence as it would always be a major threat to everyone on the planet. Instead, you would probably see a common thread running among all living cultures where wiping out pockets of undead binds them together and overrides any disagreements among them. Wars would be waged in such as way that all forces would destroy their dead lest some evil necromancer use the battlefield as a way to raise an army of the undead.
It might even affect how nations engage in warfare. A nation that turned to generating undead to avoid defeat would be seen as a pariah nation and a crusade mounted by all nations to wipe it out. The mere threat of potential undead animation would play a role in diplomatic negotiations. Major wars might be prevented and more diplomacy used as well.
Lots of things to consider there.
 

Short of good planning, I can foresee this loop happening one time at my table, before the next encounter completely demolishes the person who chose to stand completely still for 4 rounds.
PF2e is not great for anyone who wants to just stand still and attack non stop à la 5e. Granted the ranged attackers do get to do it more often.
It depends on party comp and the capability of the enemies a well as map size, there are definitely encounters that would challenge this rotation, but if you're using a double barreled musket you have a 60ft range (the pistol equiv is 30 ft, which is def riskier), and you're likely have other party members who are enticing targets. If the distance isn't small (and don't get me wrong, sometimes it will be) they'll likely be blowing a bunch of action to get in close to you.

Actually, to address this concern, I would probably take Running Reload at 4 to allow me to use my reloads to reposition, since there's at least one "normal" reload every turn I could comfortably use to get out of trouble-- you're giving up some reload+demoralize to do it (assuming you're a pistolero) but that isn't necessarily a problem, especially if you have other forms of setup going on in your party (like inspire courage, fear, flat footed, etc.)
 

Can't find the individual pictures on the net, but here is a review video showing some art.
Most of it is ok, but then you have things like the Doc Oc goblin at 1:30 or the rocket jumping away from a laser bear at 6:30. And of course all the futuristic looking robots, a motorized wheelchair at 6:15 and a rocket hammer at 2:50.

Just think about what profound effect the industrialization (decoupling of labour from muscle power) and mass transportation had on the real world. Guns&Gears introduces both in the form of robots and steam wheelchairs, yet this technology does not spread or influence the world at all.
To be fair, those more gonzo items are marked 'rare' the book is actually split into sections deliberately (and it says this in the "How to use this book" section at the beginning) to allow the GM a veto through reference oto each category. So Stacian tech (the rare electrical stuff, thats buggy and only a few enthusiasts have) is in its own little pigeonhole, both classes are marked 'uncommon' and so on, even individual feats for the archetypes are marked seperately if they reference one of the sections they know not everyone will like (like there's a feat from the Sterling Dynamo archetype called 'Stacian Smash' the archetype itself is uncommon as a matter of needing GM approval, but the feat is marked Uncommon on its own to indicate that even if you can take the archetype, you have to ask about that feat separately.)

You could be like "You can use the Guns section, but not the gears section" because they essentially built them as distinct books, the character options are placed into categories.

There's actually a bit of info on how it affects Golarion, in this section. There's also a separate chapter of the book that goes over the lore implications on various areas of the world.
 
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So wait, the book introduces Steampunk tech to the setting... but there are still no stats for a steam locomotive in it?

The steampunk tech present is, for the most part, mad-scientist ad-hoc stuff. As far as I can tell, it wouldn't be any particularly easier to see a locomotive than it would be its magical equivalent (which is not to say either is impossible but it'd require getting multiple groups and a lot of money together for it).

Whoops, didn't realize this was a moderate necro.
 
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