Without question, Critical Role has changed the way many people view Dungeons & Dragons. Perhaps one of the most potentially confusing for we DM’s, is the use of guns.
Yes, there were guns in D&D 3e, but until the character of Percy shot his way into our hearts, not many players were interested in them.
Now that Matt Mercer’s “Gunslinger” is available, it might leave some DMs scratching their heads, wondering how (or even IF) they should be using guns in their campaigns.
Are guns too overpowered to be using in a high fantasy game? What are the mechanics for guns in 5e?
Don’t worry, Halfling Hannah has got your back! To successfully use guns in your D&D campaign, you need to consider the following:
How will guns affect your game?
Rarity of guns and ammunition in your world
Mechanics of guns (reloading, misfiring and breaking)
Fun Ways to Introduce Guns if your game doesn’t currently include them
How Will Guns Affect Your Game?
If a player wants to create a character who uses guns, you really need to consider how the additions of guns will affect your world, especially if they were not presentbefore.
In some cases, this will be easy to answer, in others, you may need to spend some time reworking elements of your world to allow for such modern weapons.
In a primitive world, like the one I talk about in 10 Amazing Settings for Your Homebrew Campaign, guns would obviously make no sense; however, in a more traditional setting, and especially in a high tech or futuristic setting, guns would present little to no problem.
Consider carefully the world you are trying to build before saying yes to firearms in your campaign.
Rarity of Guns in Your World
When a player asks you if he/she can be a gunslinger, the next thing you need to consider is the continuity of the game.
Guns as a Rare Item
Of course, in a world where there is magic, monsters, and arcane weaponry, it isn’t fair fetched that there could be guns. But what you need to decide is how common such weapons are.
If guns are mostly unheard of to common people, then repairing a broken gun, finding ammunition and upgrading the gun are all going to be extremely difficult.
For the most part, the player will have to craft their own weapons or seek out specialized engineers. This can add an unfair level of challenge to the class, which you will want to explain to the player ahead of time.
Although it isn’t right to punish players for their class, in some cases it will be a necessity to keep the world constant, you simply need to be clear about it before hand.
If he/she wants to play the character regardless of the disadvantages, then make sure to provide the player with opportunities, such as NPCs, that help level the playing field.
For example, while in a major city the player could befriend a member of the Black Market who agrees to provide cheap ammunition in exchange for completing a job.
Need some help creating interesting NPCs for your party to interact with? Check out my article on how to create Unforgettable NPCs!
This fits in the story, provides a fun side quest for the party, and helps mitigate some of the disadvantages of using a rare item.
You should make sure that there are several opportunities like this in a world where guns are rare. (without overdoing it, of course. Part of the fun of using a rare item is the challenge it involves!)
Guns as a Common Item
On the other hand, if guns are plentiful, then your players shouldn’t have a problem, but it does dramatically change the structure of your game.
Suddenly, bandits, guards, and even merchants will be carrying guns, making jobs and encounters, potentially, more dangerous for players.
You, as the DM, will also need to be aware of who might own a gun and why. This can add a whole other layer of complications for the DM, or a whole other layer of fun challenges, depending on how you want to look at it!
Next, you will need to familiarize yourself with the D&D 5e rules of using guns.
Gun Mechanics in D&D 5e
Regardless of which gun the player is using (see the chart below of firearm options, damage, and number of shots before reloading) the mechanics stay the same.
Light, reload 1, misfire 1
Reload 4, misfire 1
Two-handed, reload 1, misfire 2
Reload 6, misfire 2
Reload 1, misfire 2
Two-handed, misfire 3, explosive
Reload 1, misfire 3, explosive
In order to keep guns fair in D&D, they come with a number of drawbacks. Although they do more damage than traditional bows and arrows, they take more time to reload, they can misfire, and they can even break.
Reloading (1 Action):
To keep guns from having an unfair advantage in a mostly medieval, fantasy world, some disadvantages come with the increase of fire power. Guns can only be shot a certain number of times before they must be reloaded (see the chart above for reload numbers for each gun). Reloading is an Action, which is a huge disadvantage in combat.
Guns are considered a relatively new technology in D&D and, therefore, have some risks. If a player rolls an attack and the roll is equal to or lower than the weapon’s misfire score (see the chart above), the gun misfires and requires an action to repair. The chance of misfire increases by 1 if the player firing the gun does not have proficiency in firearms.
If the attempt fails, the firearm is broken and must be mended outsideof combat at a quarter of the cost of the firearm.
When an attack hits, everything within 5 feet of the target must make a Dexterity Saving Throw (DC equal to 8+ your proficiency bonus + dexterity modifier) or suffer 1d8 fire damage. If the attack misses, the ammunition does not explode.
Understanding the Gunslinger
Gunslinger is a custom fighter class created by Matt Mercer for his own party. I will list the highlights of this archetype which you might want to know before allowing it in your campaign, but you can find the class in Matt Mercer’s campaign setting bookTal’Dorei(pick it up at your local game store and support local nerds!!)
If you can’t get to a local store right now, you can still support local by purchasing this book here from our partners, Noble Knight Games. As an added bonus, you get $5 off! (Huzzah!)
Firearm Proficiency: add your proficiency bonus to firearm attacks
Gunsmith: You can use Tinker Tools to craft ammunition at half-cost, repair damaged firearms, and even create new firearms (left up to the DM’s discretion)
Adept Marksman: Allows for powerful “Trick Shots” to damage or disarm targets
Quickdraw: Player can stow and draw a firearm as one interaction.
Rapid Repair: You can attempt to repair a misfired weapon as a Bonus Action
Lightning Reload: Reload as a Bonus Action
Vicious Intent: Critical hits on 19 and 20
Hemorrhaging Critical: After a critical hit, the target suffers half the damage again at the end of their turn.
The mechanics of this class are actually very well balanced. The player using the Gunslinger class shouldn’t see a large variation of play from the other members of the party.
Trick Shot Bard (Blade Adaptation)
For those players wanting to do a combination of magic and firearms, the Trick Shot Bard is a great option! This adaptation of the Blade archetype from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything (which you can purchase at your local game store) has some really fun elements!
First of all, if you don’t have a copy of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, I highly suggest picking one up. It gives so many more options for classes, as well as lots of additional Dungeon Master Tools. Again, pick it up at your local store, or here from Noble Knights ($10 off retail this time!Whoot Whoot!)
To play a Trick Shot Bard, choose the College of Swords archetype at level 3. Not all bards sing, in this case, danger acts are more his/her style. Performing daring acts of weapon expertise, these Bards are called “Blades.” Simply adjust the rest of the class for firearms instead of blades, and BOOM! You have a Trick Shot Bard!
I especially love the use of Flourishes with this class. While the Gunslinger has “Trick Shots” the Blade has “Flourishes” such as:
Defensive Flourish, Slashing Flourish, and Mobile Flourish, all of which are easily adaptable to firearms. To read more on this class, be sure to check out Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, page 15.
Fun Ways to Introduce Guns into Your Existing Campaign
If a player wants to create a new gunslinger character in the middle of your already existing, gunless, world, there are some fun options for how you can do this!
(My personal favorite!) Giffs, also known as Hippo Folk, can be found in Volo’s Guide to Monsters (again, shameless plug for local game stores! 🙂 or check it out on Noble Knights and get $10 off retail price!They are a space faring race of military gunslingers who are highly sought after as mercenaries. Giff love explosives and firearms, the louder the better. If you are looking to introduce guns to your campaign, Giffs are a great way to do it!
Whether your party has ticked off the wrong people, and they hire Giff mercenaries to “take care of them” or they end up working with Giffs as a part of a job, the Giffs’ love of guns and amazing fashion makes them a great way to give a new player access to an otherwise unheard of weapon. Plus, they are so much fun to play as an NPC! DM win-win!
Another way to introduce guns to your campaign is to create lore around them. Myths of an extremely powerful weapon created long ago that was locked away because of its potential to slaughter the world.
Players can go on a side quest/good-old-fashion-dungeon-dive to find the weapon with the new (or existing) PC. Not sure exactly how to make that side quest and then get your players to actually follow it? No problem! I created an easy step by step guide for how to create awesome side quests. Check it out!
If you are introducing a new character, this quest allows for some bonding time and makes joining the party more natural. The new PC can either hire the party or come across them and persuade them to help, it’s up to your and your player!
Firearms can be a fun addition to your campaign, or they can clash with everything you are striving to do. In the end the question is not whether or not guns should be allowed in D&D, but whether or not they fit your campaign and what you are trying to accomplish.
I would suggest giving them a try, they can add some fun options and role play opportunities!
Until next time,
May your game have advantage, my friends!
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