For as long as I can remember, the discussion of including firearms in D&D has been a volatile issue at times. DMs fearing that it will imbalance the game or make it ‘less fantasy’ has kept a good many builds from seeing the light of day. And that’s fine if that’s your take, but, if you’re on the fence, D&D and Gunslingers have entered a new era.
First of all, if it’s about damage, just put the control on it. That’s what the Dungeon Master’s Guide did from the very beginning. It’s all there in black and white. Page 268 lays out the different damages of the pistol and the musket to keep it on the edge of high fantasy. If you want to go farther, there are numbers for modern and futuristic playing. But the damage of the Pistol (1D10) and the Musket (1D12) do not really exceed that of many of the Axes, Swords and Hammers used in high fantasy. And the classes already limit how many shots you get, so that really takes one excuse away.
If you’re afraid of ‘ruining’ the high fantasy aspect of the game, I’d say that’s fair. But many have proven that the addition of the American Revolution/Pirate types of guns really don’t take that much away and doesn’t take a great bit of adjustment to make them fit in with sword and sorcery.
The most blaring example came from the ambassadors of D&D to the modern world, Critical Role. Now, you may not like them…but you have to give them props for their bringing D&D into the 21st Century. And, in their first season, they were already all in with firearms with the addition of Percy de Rolo into the mythos that is Dungeons and Dragons.
Portrait of Percy de Rolo by Nikki Dawes
Now, Matt had to convert this from Pathfinder since D&D 5E did not have and still doesn’t have a gunslinger; although any character can carry a gun via DM’s Guide sited above. I am NOT going over the subclass completely. If you want all the details check out DM’s Guild for an unofficial lay out.
Mercer went about to make it as realistic as possible while holding on to the ‘high fantasy’. DM’s Guild lays out a good number of different firearms you can use, but still keeps the damage down for balanced play.
I began looking into this preparing for an upcoming Spelljammer game with Steps DMing me, Lexi and the grandkids! I decided to go martial with the Giff race. This was solidified after an altercation with an internet stooge who blabbed on about never allowing in ‘HIS GAME’ (First bad sign!). I don’t know, I just locked into the militaristic space hippos and didn’t let go. I wanted to go fighter, but found there were some great options out there as there always is. So I’m going to share a bit of what I found.
The strongest option as it always is for a martial build is fighter. Just the multitude of ability score improvements make this a great choice. But extra attacks, second winds and action surges make the Fighter a powerful class. But I wanted my Giff to use a gun. We were getting into a bit of D&D Scifi here and I wanted to branch out. So, it was obvious that I’d go Gunslinger as the Subclass.
It’s the easiest ways to get proficiency with firearms. You also gain Tinker’s Tools so you can work on those beautiful boomsticks. This might make for some cool downtime experimentation. And, THEN, you get all those cool trick shots. I’m thinking Violent Shot and Dazzing Shot to begin with (sorry, my Giff is an angry little hippo).
Art from Iron Kingdoms
As your fighting style, you should take ARCHERY. It’s handy that it gives bonus to attacks with RANGED WEAPONS! This leaves the door open for a bit of tinkering (sorry, not sorry) about to include firearms in this. And, for the first feat? Crossbow Expert.
Ok, this will take a bit of give and take with your DM. But, if you ask me, the Crossbow Expert can easily be tweaked to be Firearms Expert!
As quoted from the Player’s Handbook:
- You ignore the loading quality of crossbows with which you are proficient.
- Being within 5 feet of a hostile creature doesn’t impose disadvantage on your ranged attack rolls.
- When you use the Attack action and attack with a one handed weapon, you can use a bonus action to attack with a hand crossbow you are holding.
The part about ignoring the ‘loading quality’ is important as you are playing a character that gets multiple attacks a turn. If you have to use half of those to reload, it takes away your effectiveness. This way the loading is assumed in the flow of battle. You are, after all, an expert.
The second part really excites me. It basically takes away the problem of a ranged weapon at close range; removing the disadvantage and opening the flow of combat!
And, finally, a part that will take some thought. Thankfully, I had already decided to fight two handed and carry a Rapier (dex build with an Archery Fighting Style). So, that part about having to attack with a one handed weapon is on target.
GUN KATA MONK
Although the fighter is the strongest build, it wasn’t my first choice. Before I came to the guns, I wanted to make a Giff Monk. I thought it was both on point and iconoclastic at the same time. But their connection to the military and firearms makes them a bit of a problem or does it?
And that brings me back to one of the most popular, yet totally fictional fighting styles in all of nerdom: Gun Kata.
Gun Kata was first introduced in the Christian Bale movie EQUILIBRIUM. It was basically martial arts with guns. Since then, movies like THE MATRIX, Snake Eyes in the GI JOE movies, WANTED, ULTRAVIOLET and even CLOUD ATLAS have adopted this stylized fighting form for its ‘rule of cool’ flavor; a rule that has found its way onto the D&D table. The above video shows you some of the moves. Now, whether this could ever be real is not in question. Whether you can make this work in a fantasy setting is definitely the question here.
Short answer? Way of the Kensei.
Found in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, the Way of the Kensei is a Monk Subclass that allows the monk to use simple or martial weapons weapons; one ranged and one melee. Well, the pistol and the musket listed in the DM’s Guide is titles a ‘Martial Ranged Weapon’ so it can be allowed. Once again, if you have a DM that has issues with that, you wouldn’t be here or you’re about to find out. Sorry.
My character was going to pick up the pistol and rapier. You learn more along the way too. Your Agile Parry wouldn’t work with the gun but could be allowed by your DM. And, once again, I don’t see why not.
Most of the other abilities of this subclass is built to work with the chosen weapon. Flurry of Blows, if taken literally, may have to be with your feet as you swing the sword and shoot with the gun. It’s a stylized follow up shot and really works with the whole mystique of this fantasy fighting discipline. Stunning Strike also says ‘Melee’ which is no problem as long as you have one in hand or, once again, talk to your DM about expanding the definition of the rules.
DMs, remember the rule of cool. If it doesn’t break the game or become OP, try and be open.
WARLOCK: PACT OF THE GUN
One of the odd additions to Critical Role’s Percival de Rolo’s character was the pact he had with the shadow demon known as Orthax. It was through this demon that de Rolo learned to build his first firearm: THE LIST.
THE LIST was the conduit of his revenge against those who had massacred his family or otherwise wronged them. This is a perfect outline for what I call THE PACT OF THE GUN. It’s basically Pact of the Blade but, well, with a gun. It can appear in your hand, you are proficient with it and it is magical. Being the weapon it is, I think this works best with the FIEND, but there’s a lot of give and take here for every character.
It’s hard to beat the de Rolo revenge storyline, but, as with all D&D games, there’s room for improvisation and imagination. I think it would be flavorful to have your eldritch blasts come from the enchanted gun.
Art from Teppen
What’s more on target than a swashbuckler with a gun? With pirate style, this build has finesse and swagger. This subclass screams swinging from the mast, dueling to the death and adventure on the high seas. There’s nothing in it that contradicts the gunslinger as it should be. On top of that, the Rogue’s Sneak Attack can be done with ANY ranged weapon. Add the SHARPSHOOTER feat to tack on added fun!
TRAIL OF THE HUNTER
Just like with the Fighter, the Ranger has an Archery fighting style that adds to ANY ranged weapon. Chose the Hunter subclass for a wide range of fun techniques. The gunslinging hunter of both beasts and men is a trope that endures the ages. And there’s a lot of room for original storytelling here! Tracking your prey is only half the fun. Horde Breaker along with many others allow for multiple shots to take out a number of enemies.
What have we missed? What did YOU do with your character? We really want to know. Comment below or hit us up on social media!