For this post, I owe a huge debt to the Muser at DungeonMusings for his initial work on firearms in the Iron Gods campaign. I stole a lot from him, and have made a whole lot of changes, here. What’s below represents how I think firearms should work in 5e’s medieval fantasy setting. I had planned to do both firearms and the Gunslinger prestige class in one post, but it got way, way too long. I’ll save the Gunslinger for next time. I had a lot of fun playing with the idea of “early” and “modern” firearms, and trying to represent the ways in which guns were possible for everyone to use, but very dangerous for the untrained.
Doc Necrotic over at Daemons and Deathrays also did some nice work with guns, and while I went a different direction, I want to shout out to his work.
A firearm is a simple ranged weapon with a number of special properties. Regardless of its other properties, a firearm can always be used as an improvised weapon that deals bludgeoning damage. A firearm with the heavy property deals 1d10 bludgeoning damage, and all other firearms deal 1d6 bludgeoning damage. Being used to deal damage in this way causes a firearm to jams, but never to explode. In most medieval fantasy settings, firearms are not available for purchase, and so they are listed by rarity, as magic items. Talk to your DM about the availability to firearms in your campaign.
Firearms use special ammunition, and some of them have the cannon, misfire, long loading, reload, or scatter properties.
Ammunition. The ammunition of a firearm is destroyed upon use. Most firearms use bullets.
Cannon. A weapon that has the cannon property is designed to be fired only when braced on a bipod, gun carriage, or a hard, stationary surface, such as a low wall. A character must use an action to brace the weapon until that character moves again. If the character fires a weapon with the cannon property that is not braced, he must make a DC 15 Strength saving throw or suffer disadvantage on the attack roll and be knocked prone. Weapons with the cannon property use cannon shots, instead of bullets.
Early: Early firearms require an action to load (unless they have the long-loading or repeating properties) and misfire on a roll of 1-10. On a roll of a 1 or 2, the firearm deals its weapon damage to you. On a roll of a 3-10, it fires in a random direction, using your attack roll to determine whether or not it hits any targets in that direction. When a firearm misfires, you (or an ally) may use a Gunsmith’s kit and spend an action to clear the misfire. The firearm can be used after a misfire, but if it misfires a second time, it explodes, destroying the weapon and dealing the weapon’s critical hit damage to the you.
Long-loading. Because of the complexity of their ammunition, long-loading firearms take 10 rounds to load. Two people working together can load a long-loading firearm in 5 rounds.
Modern: Modern firearms require a bonus action to load (unless they also have the reload property) and misfire on a roll of 1-5. On a 1, the firearm deals its weapon damage to you, otherwise it fires at one random character within 30 feet of you, using your roll to determine whether or not it hits the target. When a firearm misfires, you (or an ally) may use a Gunsmith’s kit and spend an action to clear the misfire. The firearm can be used after a misfire, but if it misfires a second time, it explodes, destroying the weapon and dealing the weapon’s critical hit damage to the you. On a critical hit, a modern firearm deals one additional die of damage.
Scatter. Scatter firearms target all creatures in a cone of the listed size. All creatures within the cone must succeed on a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw or take the weapon’s normal damage. Weapons with the scatter property can use normal ammunition, as opposed to scatter ammunition, in which case they are treated as a normal weapon attack against a single target.
Reload. Firearms with the reload property can make the listed number of shots before they are treated as having the loading property.
It is possible to use firearms more quickly and accurately, through careful training. There are two ways to gain firearm mastery: with a tool proficiency or a weapon proficiency.
Firearm tool proficiency
Choose one specific type of firearm. When you use this firearm, it misfires on a 1 or 2 but does not risk damage to you or nearby characters when it misfires in this way. If the misfire is not “cleared,” by you or another character, before the firearm misfires again, the weapon explodes, destroying the weapon and dealing the weapon’s critical hit damage to you.
Firearm weapon proficiency
If you gain firearm proficiency through a class feature or a feat (such as Weapon Mastery), then any firearm you use misfires on a 1 or 2, and does not risk damage to you or nearby characters when it misfires in this way. If you or an ally does not spend an action to clear the misfire before the firearm misfires again, it explodes, destroying the weapon and dealing the weapon’s normal damage to you.
|Firearms Ranged Weapons|
|Blunderbuss||Uncommon||2d8 piercing||6 lb.||Ammunition, early, heavy, long-loading, scatter 30 ft., two-handed|
|Cannon Shield||Rare||2d10 piercing||15 lb.||Ammunition (range 10/30), early, heavy, long-loading, special|
|Carbine||Very rare||2d6 piercing||6 lb.||Ammunition (range 40/120), loading, modern, versatile (2d8 piercing)|
|Coat Pistol||Uncommon||2d4 piercing||1 lb.||Ammunition (range 5/15), long-loading, modern, special|
|Double-barreled Pistol||Uncommon||2d6 piercing||5 lb.||Ammunition (range 30/90), early, reload (2 shots)|
|Double-barreled Musket||Rare||2d10 piercing||12 lb.||Ammunition (range 40/120), heavy, modern, reload (2 shots), two-handed|
|Hackbut||Rare||3d6 piercing||20 lb.||Ammunition (range 20/60), cannon, early, heavy, long-loading, two-handed|
|Dragon||Uncommon||2d6 piercing||4 lb.||Ammunition, early, long-loading, scatter 15 ft.|
|Hand Cannon||Rare||2d12 piercing||40 lb.||Ammunition (range 30/90), cannon, early, heavy, long-loading, scatter 30 ft., two-handed|
|Musket||Uncommon||2d10 piercing||10 lb.||Ammunition (range 20/60), early, heavy, loading, two-handed|
|Pepperbox||Uncommon||2d8 piercing||5 lb.||Ammunition (range 15/45), early, reload (4 shots)|
|Pistol||Uncommon||2d8 piercing||3 lb.||Ammunition (range 30/90), early|
|Repeating Carbine||Legendary||2d6 piercing||6 lb.||Ammunition (range 40/120), modern, reload (5 shots), versatile (2d8 piercing)|
|Repeating Pistol||Legendary||2d8 piercing||3 lb.||Ammunition (range 25/75), modern, reload (5 shots)|
|Repeating Rifle||Legendary||3d6 piercing||10 lb.||Ammunition (range 30/90), heavy, modern, reload (5 shots), two-handed|
|Rifle||Rare||2d10 piercing||10 lb.||Ammunition (range 40/120), heavy, loading, misfire, two-handed|
|Bullets (10)||3 gp||–||2 lb.||–|
|Cannon Shots (10)||100 gp||–||20 lb.||–|
|Dragon’s Breath Shots (10)||150 gp||–||2 lb.||–|
|Entangling Shots (10)||150 gp||–||2 lb.||–|
|Gunpowder, keg||250 gp||–||20 lb.||–|
|Gunpowder, powder horn||35 gp||–||2 lb.||–|
|Salt Shots (10)||6 gp||–||2 lb.||–|
|Scatter Rounds (10)||3 gp||–||2 lb.|
Cannon Shield. The cannon shield also grants +2 to Armor Class.
Coat Pistol. The coat pistol grants advantage on any Sleight of Hand or Stealth rolls made to conceal the weapon.
Dragon’s Breath Shots. These alchemical rounds can only be used in a weapon with the scatter property. They function as scatter rounds, affecting all creatures in a cone with a size equal to the weapon’s scatter, but instead of weapon damage, all creatures within the cone must succeed on a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw or take the 2d6 fire damage and half on a successful save.
Entangling Shots. These alchemical rounds can only be used in a weapon with the scatter property. They function as scatter rounds, affecting all creatures in a cone with a size equal to the weapon’s scatter, but instead of weapon damage, all creatures within the cone must succeed on a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw or be restrained and take half weapon damage.
Gunpowder, keg. Setting fire to a keg of gunpowder can cause it to explode, dealing 7d6 fire damage to creatures within 10 feet of it. A successful DC 12 Dexterity saving throw halves the damage. Setting fire to an ounce of gunpowder causes it to flare for 1 round, shedding bright light in a 30 foot radius and dim light for an additional 30 feet.
Gunpowder, horn. Setting fire to a horn of gunpowder can cause it to explode, dealing 3d6 fire damage to creatures within 10 feet of it. A successful DC 12 Dexterity saving throw halves the damage.
Salt Shots. These alchemical rounds can only be used in a weapon with the scatter property. This weapon does normal weapon damage, but, if you reduce a creature to 0 hit points, it is knocked out, rather than dying.
Scatter Rounds. These rounds are used in weapons with the scatter property.
Ammo Bandolier. This simple leather cross-belt features twelve leather loops suitable for holding bullets or cannon shots, enabling easy access to them. A character can wear up to two bandoliers or braces. Cost: 5 gp, Weight 1 lb.
Bipod: A bipod can be attached to any firearm with the two-handed or versatile property by using a Gunsmith’s Kit and making a DC 10 Intelligence ability check. As an action or a bonus action (the character’s choice), a character can set up the bipod so that the attached weapon counts as being braced until the weapon is moved. In addition, once a weapon is braced, a character can use a bonus action to gain advantage on their next attack roll with that weapon. Cost: 50 gp, Weight 5 lb.
Gun Brace. This is effectively a heavy leather bandolier for pistols. A gun brace has enough sleeves to hold up to four pistols (including repeating pistols) and a character can wear up to two bandoliers or braces. Cost: 5 gp, Weight: 1 lb.
Gun Carriage. This light, wheeled carriage uses a pair of struts to brace a weapon with the cannon property. As an action, a character can attach the gun carriage to a weapon with the cannon property. Until the gun carriage is detached as an action, the weapon counts as being braced. However, while the gun carriage is attached and the character is carrying the attached weapon, the character moves at half his normal speed and cannot move through difficult terrain. Cost: 100 gp, Weight: 40 lb.
Gunsmith’s Kit. A gunsmith’s kit contains all the tools needed to construct bullets, cannon shots, and firearms. Proficiency with this kit lets you add your proficiency bonus to any ability check you make to create or repair and such items (including clearing jams on firearms that have misfired). Cost: 50 gp, Weight: 6 lb.
Holster. This leather container is used to protect a firearm from the elements. It can be worn on the belt or across the back. Cost: 5 gp, Weight: 1 lb.
Wrist-Spring Holster. These holsters are leather bracers fitted with a spring-arm mechanism that holds a dagger or coat pistol in place and can project it immediately into the wearer’s hand when triggered. This allows the wearer to draw the weapon without spending any actions on their turn. The nature of this device enables it to be easily concealed beneath a loose, billowy sleeve, and grants advantage on Sleight of Hand and Stealth checks related to concealing the holstered weapons. Cost: 50 gp, Weight: 1 lb
DungeonMusings and the DMG provide some advice for using firearms, using the Pathfinder rules or 5e theories of appropriate damage, respectively. The problem is, I’ve never liked how the game approaches guns. For the most part, the game treats guns as exotic weapons (which they were, but not in the game-mechanic sense). Historically, though, guns were the great equalizer: an untrained peasant with a gun was more of a danger to a knight on horseback than a trained archer. It wasn’t that gun were hard to use, it’s that they were hard to use well. An untrained peasant with a gun was often as much of a danger to themselves than to the enemy. With the right training, though (and anybody could get the right training), the danger was significantly reduced.
With that in mind, I made some changes to the way firearms work. First, they always do two dice’ worth of damage, but smaller individual die. On average, this means that they to 3-2 points more, when they hit, than if they used one larger die, not a huge change. The real difference, though, is the crit. A critical hit with a firearm should be very bad. An early firearm will always do four dice’ worth of damage on a crit. A modern firearm will do five. Firearms, in the wrong hands, are extremely difficult to predict: they might blow an enemy’s head off, but a soldier runs the risk of killing their own general with friendly fire.
In order to keep from unbalancing the game, firearms should be extremely rare, in the late medieval period of this game. That makes sense: they did exist, but they weren’t common (because the knowledge required to make them was limited and books were almost nonexistent), they were difficult and dangerous to make, and their creation was a crime (because anything that makes a peasant dangerous to a knight is a bad idea). Obviously, historically, it wouldn’t stay this way. Within about 200 years, the knowledge would disseminate, some kings would arm their own people, and Europe had a major arms race. Medieval fantasy roleplaying takes place in the time before that, though, and those same kinds have murderhobos on their payroll who can cast fireball. The cost of a gun is one of the balancing factors, here. In 5e, adventurers get gold much more slowly, which ratchets back the whole economy of the game to mare reasonable levels. An average peasant will never see 1000gp, so the high cost of firearms represents their rarity, the difficulty to create them, and the challenges in procuring them. There are no gun stores, just as there are no magic item stores. In fact, I think a GM would be well within their rights to make guns, like magic items, unavailable for purchase. You might find one as part of ad adventure, or spend time getting the resources to build one yourself, but no one can sell one. That’s why I went with rarities, like magic items, instead of costs. Almost all of the modern weapons are legendary, since they require technology that won’t exist for a few hundred years after most fantasy medieval settings. The others were judgment calls, for me. I like where I put them, but I could see argument for making them more, or less, widely available, depending on the world (or the part of the world, if there are magic-dead places, or gnomes, or empires based on Qin-era China).
In case you’re interested in the real-world history of the guns, here’s a short-form version.
Blunderbus (1720). The blunderbuss is a scattershot rifle, intended for cavalry use. It was typically shot once as part of a charge, when discarded in favor of melee weapons.
Shield cannon: a pure fantasy weapon, the shield cannon was developed by dwarves to take advantage of their tower-shield formations. Typically, a dwarf shield defender will have two pages reloading his shield cannon after the initial discharge, while he holds his ground or fights with a reach weapon.
Carbine (1850). A revolution in weaponry, the carbine was the first long gun that took less than a minute to reload. If the carbine is braced, it is accurate enough to do more damage, which is why the versatile property matters, here. It was possible to fire a carbine one-handed, but much less accurate.
Coat pistol (1825). The derringer was a popular single-shot pistol, at 3 inches one of the smallest early guns. They were typically produced in matching pairs.
Hackbut (1500s). Also known as the arquebus, the hackbut was extremely difficult to use, requiring larger bullets, time to brace, and time to load. It was also extremely deadly in the hands of untrained peasants. A well-trained squadron of archers could still cut down a squadron of average hackbut users, but all things being equal, the gun wins. (Although Pathfinder has a “double hackbut,” there was, as far as I can tell, no such thing.)
Double-barreled pistol (1730). There were double-barreled pistols in use in America and Europe, including a six-barreled pocket pistol popular in France, but the image that most people have of the double-barreled pistol, with its barrels side-by-side, come from the garrucha of Agrentina (which was also one of the earliest successful double-barreled pistol). Most American-made pistols had vertical designs.
Double-barreled rifle (1863). There were “nock rifles” as early as the mid-1700s, essentially muskets with four barrels tied together, but they were unwieldy and everyone who used them hated them. The rifle represented here is the first modern version.
Dragon (1720). A pistol version of the blunderbuss, the dragon was used for close-quarters infantry combat, as well by cavalry.
Hand Cannon (1400s). In use in China in the 1300s, the hand cannon was about as dangerous to its user as to their enemies, but it was very, very dangerous.
Musket (1598 or earlier). The musket was larger than the arquebus, but was more accurate and had a longer range. An extremely well-trained infantryman could shoot four-five shots per minute, and I’m willing to call that about a shot a round. For our purposes, the rifles of the 1700s are basically the same as muskets, although their range was significantly longer.
Pepperbox (1790). The pepperbox was an attempt to double the double-barreled pistol. If two barrels are good, four must be great! It turned out that the gun was too unwieldy and lacked accuracy, and it was quickly replaced by the revolver.
Pistol (1420). Early pistols were single-shot, and while the design changed over time it would be four hundred years before they would become repeating weapons. Very early pistols were probably, technically, long-loading, but it’s interesting, I think, to note exactly how contemporaneous they were with knights on horseback. (Plate armor would be mid-1300s, and fantasy role-playing is usually placed in the mid-1400s.)
Repeating carbine (1880s). It’s like a carbine, but the chamber holds multiple bullets.
Repeating pistol and rifle (1850). The beginning of the modern era of firearms comes with the repeating weapons. There were hundreds of different kinds, but the ones here are about average.
I’m still off-schedule, so my next post will be next Monday. I hate delays, but I’d rather know about them, now.