"Realistic" gunpower weapons for a swashbucking campaign.


Homebrew and House Rules


I am starting a short swashbuckling campaign in the next week or so and while I want to include gunpowder weapons, I'm not really satisfied with how they work.
Now, I know very little about realism while a weapon is involved so I am more after their cinematographic representation.

I want to achieve the following:

1) Pistols and guns to be attractive for melee characters with little feat investment as a one-use weapon for the opening of the fight. Basically shooting a weapon even as a melee character should be very rewarding, but shooting it and reloading it in the middle of the fight should not be a good idea in most cases.

I assume this should happen with full round reloading and a gun stats that deliver more damage in one shot without much feat investment than a melee attack from melee focused character.

2) I want to avoid "a golf bag of guns" syndrome. I want them to carry 1 or 2 guns at best, rather than 10 so they can fire without reloading.

The cost of the guns can't be the way to achieve that since they will be able to pick more from the bodies of their enemies. I believe some sort of penalty for each gun you have readily accessible on your body should be the way to go. "Gun check penalty"? I would assume swashbuckling, tumbling, running, attacking and defending with 6 pistols on your belt won't be very comfortable. What penalty makes sense here? What I am aiming for is carrying one gun to be good idea most of the time, carrying two to be borderline bad idea unless you are preparing yourself for short ranged fire exchange.

3) I want to make opponents armed with guns scary enough that it is usually advisable to take cover and wait for an opening rather than charge them blindly (unless you can reach them in one turn of course). In the same line of thoughts I also want cover to be more viable even for a character without heavy investment into AC.

4) I want ranged character to be dangerous if left unchecked (without being terribly overpowered) and at the same time I want them relatively easy to shut down one engaged in melee (so that for them it is probably good idea to switch to a melee weapon even if not focused in its use).

Does anyone have an idea how to achieve this? I have some ideas, but I'd rather hear some untainted ideas first before sharing them for critique.


Guns are already pretty scary. The first thing that comes to mind is to make it harder to rapid reload firearms (might even want to do this with crossbows -- non-motorized super-fast cranking of of a crossbow that has enough tension to require cranking in the first place is going to look cinematically fishy). Do this by tweaking the Rapid Reload and related feats to be harder to get. I'm not sure just what tweaks to use off the top of my head (maybe require really high Dexterity to use on firearms and really high Strength to use on crossbows), but I'd be interested to see what other people have to say here.

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You could acheive a lot of that just by increasing the availability of firearms, but make alchemical cartridges unavailable.

For #2, I'm not so sure that's something you should worry about. Guns are pretty expensive and heavy. People did carry multiple guns like that.

A lot of this doesn't really make guns more realistic.


Cyrad wrote:

You could acheive a lot of that just by increasing the availability of firearms, but make alchemical cartridges unavailable.

For #2, I'm not so sure that's something you should worry about. Guns are pretty expensive and heavy. People did carry multiple guns like that.

I would certainly make guns more available. Actually I never knew that alchemical cartridges exist (I have never used guns in my games before), so yes - I would remove the reload reduction from their effect and keep them only as a special ammo option (entangling, etc.), thanks for bringing them up.

Cyrad wrote:
A lot of this doesn't really make guns more realistic.

That's why I'm using "realistic" in ""s and also said this:

Cyrad wrote:
Now, I know very little about realism while a weapon is involved so I am more after their cinematographic representation.
UnArcaneElection wrote:
Guns are already pretty scary.

In the hands of a gunslinger they are. But for your average lvl 6 fighter - dealing 1d12+0 damage is not something that makes a viable weapon to open the fight with.

I certainly want the rapid reload feat to be hard to obtain and under no circumstance I want people shooting a single firearm more than once per round, but my problem with the high stat requirements is that crossbows and firearms were pretty easy for your average Joe to use and it was part of their appeal.


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Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber
Anger Nogar wrote:

but my problem with the high stat requirements is that crossbows and firearms were pretty easy for your average Joe to use and it was part of their appeal.

Some options:

1st change. Make them simple weapons rather than exotic. This makes them much easier for average Joe to wield effectively. Which is effectively a +4 to hit (in addition to being a touch attack at close range) for anyone not automatically proficient with firearms.

2nd change, give guns free vital strike feats at BAB 6/11/16. So the damage isn't totally irrelevant.

3rd change, give guns a dex (or maybe int) to damage cost modifier akin to a mighty bows strength for an extra 100gp per point.


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I'd go with the simplest changes that you can. So, as few rules for firearms that are different from the normal rules rather than starting with the Pathfinder rules for firearms - which are pretty terrible.

1) 'real' muskets could be fired about 3 times per minute, after quite a few months of specialised training (cf the Duke of Cumberland's army). So, I'd go with reloading taking about 6 rounds; knock off 2 rounds for the Rapid Reload feat (but let it apply to all black powder firearms); and knock off a further 2 rounds for using alchemical cartridges too. I'd make this the same for all muzzle-loaded guns, for simplicity.

Effectively, this means no characters will reload during a fight. Using double barrelled guns, or pepperboxes, or multiple guns would be necessary if someone wants more than one shot. Which is what happened, apparently. See various pirate-themed movies. And, yes, impose some penalty for being encumbered if anyone has too many! Eg -1 for all d20 rolls (except Intimidation) per gun after 2.

2) remove the whole 'hits touch AC' business. Normal AC. See all the threads about gunslingers killing dragons too easily. Plus it's simpler.

3) allow 'Dex to damage' for all firearms, so they are relevant. Allow an alternative for taking multiple rounds to line up a sniping shot, perhaps +2 damage per round. Don't let that stack with Dex though.

4) keep misfires, which then need the gun to be cleaned out. About 10 mins to do, but these will be less important because no-one will be reloading in combat anyway.

5) decide if you want guns to be entirely non-magical - ie incompatible with enchanting as magical items at all - or not.

6) you could make guns simple, or martial, or exotic. And you could make firing them be simple, but reloading them martial, or exotic.

Above all make them fun to use for your group, without making them too big a part of the story - unless you want them to be.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I'm very interested in this as well, although I'm very hesitant with how to follow through on it. I largely agree with the points Gilarius makes. Get rid of touch AC, make dex to damage more accessible, and in-combat reloading is ludicrously impractical if we're being realistic about it. Which is fine, a fire-and-forget weapon is exactly what firearms should be in my view.

With that said, I'd like to add a few points of my own:

1) I think you need to get rid of the Gunslinger class. The class is easily the most flavorless in all of Pathfinder and the only reason he has any relevance at all is that "guy who uses a gun" is such an exclusive niche. If we're making that less exclusive then there's really no reason for the gunslinger to exist at all.

2) Regarding touch AC, it's not even realistic. The actual penetration power of firearms was not categorically better than other projectile weapons. Depending on the exact weapon and period we're talking about, they often had less penetration power than crossbows!

3) Reduce the cost. Guns were adopted primarily because they weren't expensive to produce. Bows weren't just harder to use, they were also more expensive both in terms of the weapon and its ammunition.

4) I'd personally up the damage dice and reduce the critical threat range. Gives vital strike a bit more oomph and helps the gun stand out a bit more in spite of its misfire chance and losing out on hitting touch AC.


Also good points from Dasrak.
I forgot to mention dropping the gunslinger and probably all archetypes which add firearms since they'd be redundant.

If you went with guns being simple to fire but still want some sort of training being necessary, I'd increase the misfire by 4 unless it was loaded by someone with the feat to represent that.


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Guns should probably hit against flatfooted (not touch) AC, or have some sort of better bonus to hit against regular AC. It is a practical impossibility to dodge a firearm projectile aimed at you at close range- the best you can do is avoid getting aimed at.

Seconded to drop Gunslinger and gun archetypes. Also nix alchemical ammo, make them difficult to craft/obtain and valuable (but worthwhile) or impose some sort of harsher disincentive to load up on non-standard cartridges.

Alternatively, you could rework guns from the ground up. Perhaps have guns be 1d6 per 2 BAB + DEX blast with a save of 1/2 BAB + DEX + Weapon Focus (if applicable). A better gun might have 1d8 instead of 1d6, a worse gun might be 1d4. It would take the place of a regular attack, as normal. Think of it like a single sneak attack swing with a save to negate.


I think that the problem with trying to make guns threatening by having them do damage is that they can't compete with just hitting an enemy with your greatsword. A melee specialist attack scales with levels, to be useful gun damage has to scale with levels and strength. but then what's the point? My alternative is status effects.

Change guns as follows:
A pistol is a heavy crossbow with the following changes.
- 50ft range
- one-handed
- light weapon
- you may fire a pistol as part of a charge. If you are wielding a two handed weapon, you can drop the pistol and attack normally.
- A creature hit by a pistol is staggered. Creatures up to one size category larger than you get no save, larger creatures make a fortitude save with DC 10 + 1/2 your BaB + your dexterity modifier
- When you reload a gun and provoke an attack of opportunity, taking this attack does not expend your foe's attack of opportunity for the round.

What does this accomplish? Well now a pistol is useful because it lets you charge an enemy without being full-attacked on their turn. This is pretty cool. However, you would not want to reload the pistol, as it does less damage than your sword, you can't full attack with it and doing so takes a long time anyway.

You won't see PCs specializing in pistols since heavy crossbows are poor weapons. This meets your points (1) and (2).

Muskets function like pistols except they deal d12 damage and have 100ft range. Ranged foes are scary since they take away your full attacks while you are busy fighting their friends. However, to make closing with them viable, add the following rule:

Creatures that are not staggered, gain Step Up as a bonus feat. This makes it so that when you close with a ranged foe, they can't just step back and stagger you, and they will provoke for reloading and attacking. This change meets your requirements (3) and (4).

Cover, even with low AC works fine in the core rules. If you fully hide yourself behind a wall, you get total cover and can't be shot at all. If you have an arrow-slit, then you can attack enemies but you have improved cover from them (that's +8 AC).

With these changes you may see low-level non martial combatants, like wizards, carry several guns to apply debuffs. This is unavoidable if you want NPC ranged foes to be threatening.

Also, for giggles, you can add this feat:

True Grit
Nothing slows you down
You always get a save to resist being staggered by firearms. Further you get a +2 bonus to resist effects that make you staggered, dazed or stunned.

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