White Knights and Black Powder

December 4th, 2008

There’s been some talk about fourth-edition stats for early firearms over at Dice Monkey(Edit:  Jonathan pointed out Stargazer’s post on the topic, which I’d read but overlooked when writing this.  Mea culpa.) I’ve been thinking it over myself, and I’ve come up with a set of stats I think will work well for my purposes:

Pistol: One-handed Superior Weapon; Proficency: +2; Damage: 1d6; Range: 10/20; Price: 50 gp; Weight: 2 lb.; Group: Firearms; Properties: Load minor, high crit, brutal 1, off-hand

Musket: Two-handed Superior Weapon; Proficiency: +2; Damage: 1d10; Range: 20/40; Price: 100 gp; Weight: 6 lb.; Group: Firearms; Properties: Load minor, high crit, brutal 1

“Brutal” is a keyword from Adventurer’s Vault which allows rerolling any damage die that comes up that number or below.  In other words, the pistol’s damage range is 2-6, while the musket is 2-10.

Since use of a pistol fits the swashbuckler archetype, I would allow a rogue who is proficient with the pistol to use it for powers and sneak attacks as though it were a hand crossbow.  In fact, I’ve based my pistol stats on a hand crossbow and the musket on the crossbow and longbow, upgrading each to “superior” status.

Muskets and pistols require black powder and shot.  A pouch of shot (20) is identical in cost and weight to a pouch of sling bullets.  A horn of powder costs 5 gp, weighs 3 lbs., and contains enough powder for 20 shots.

These weapons reflect early firearms — black-powder weapons with unrifled barrels.  As such, they are relatively rare and expensive, while also being relatively inaccurate, short-ranged, and low-powered compared to later guns.  There’s a long tradition of firearms in D&D, though, and these should fit the bill for the early weapons.

Sometimes, though, a more technologically-advanced weapon gets dropped into a campaign.  Maybe the characters visit a modern (or future!) time frame, or an alternate plane where technology is more advanced, or they dig up the lost artifacts of a previous civilization.  Maybe a UFO crashes in the mountains and becomes a dungeon, as in the classic module S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.  What then?

Well, the first thing to realize is that 4e isn’t really set up to handle advanced firearms.  This is no different than in previous editions, though.  You can fake it.

For the first few centuries after the Renaissance, you can still use the stats above — except that the weapons are no longer superior weapons that require a feat to take.  By the Golden Age of Piracy and the early Colonial Era, firearms have long since replaced bows and crossbows, becoming simple weapons.  (Cannon would also replace other siege weapons.)

Rifled barrels were produced as early as the mid-15th century, so such weapons might be found in Renaissance-era games — but they were very rare indeed.  It wasn’t until around the 19th century that they became common enough to begin to replace the smoothbore musket, because not until then could they be reliably manufactured with the required precision.  Rifled barrels increased range, accuracy, and to an extent power.  Stats for the rifled musket (as it was called at the time) would probably look more like this:

Rifled Musket: Two-handed Simple Weapon; Proficiency: +3; Damage: 1d10; Range: 30/60; Price: 100 gp; Weight: 6 lb.; Group: Firearms; Properties: Load minor, high crit, brutal 2

This is an increase by +1 in proficiency bonus, 50% in range (which is actually a little lower than is realistic — but for the sake of the game, it probably works out better this way), and a change from brutal 1 to brutal 2, increasing the minimum damage.  It’s also a simple weapon for those born in the era, although it would be a superior weapon to a standard-setting D&D character who obtained one.

If the characters were to obtain one of those earlier rifled weapons I mentioned, it would also be a superior weapon, but the price would be higher — similar to a magic item, in fact.

All of the above weapons are muzzle-loaders.  Breech-loading rifles, which allowed reloading while under cover, began to develop in the 18th century, but there were problems in creating a gas-tight seal, preventing them from becoming widespread at the time.  In the late 19th century, however, the development of the cartridge solved that problem.  At the same time, repeating rifles that used a lever or bolt action to reduce reloading became more common — rifles of this time would use similar stats to the above, but drop the “load minor” quality to “load free”.  A box of 20 cartridges for such a weapon would weigh 5 lbs.; cost might be around 5 gp, in a setting where the weapon was commonplace, although they wouldn’t be available at all in a standard setting.

The pistol, meanwhile, progressed from early matchlocks to wheellocks and then flintlocks, but in the late 19th century, the next large advancement came about:  the revolver.  While there was an example of a revolving arquebus (an early firearm) around 1600, the revolver became widespread in the early 19th century.  Its ability to deliver multiple shots before needing a reload made it a large advance in weapon technology.

Revolver: One-handed Simple Weapon; Proficency: +3; Damage: 1d8; Range: 15/30; Price: 100 gp; Weight: 3 lb.; Group: Firearms; Properties: Load free, high crit, brutal 1, off-hand

This is an advance of +1 proficiency bonus, one damage die size, and 50% range over the earlier pistol, while being ‘load free’.  (If you’d like, you can require a minor action reload after every 6 shots, but that’s too much bookkeeping for my tastes.)  It remains brutal 1; I thought a damage-die increase was more appropriate than bumping it to brutal 2.  As with the rifles, this would remain a superior weapon to the typical D&D character, but it’s a simple weapon to those born to the era.  Revolvers fire cartridge-type ammunition.

Later pistols and rifles improved further — semi-automatics and automatics increased the rate of fire.  Differing cartridge types were introduced, for specific purposes.  Targeting progressed from sights to scopes to lasers.  Range improved further.  These types of modern weapons are probably best handled, in Dungeons & Dragons, as “magic” items, rather than by simply increasing their stats further, but a stat-based approach might look something like this:

Semi-automatic Pistol: One-handed Simple Weapon; Proficency: +3; Damage: 1d8; Range: 20/40; Price: 50 gp; Weight: 2 lb.; Group: Firearms; Properties: Load free, high crit, brutal 2, off-hand, double tap

Double Tap:  When you use this weapon to make an attack, you may also make a ranged basic attack against one target within range as a free action.  This expends an extra round of ammunition.

Automatic Rifle: One-handed Simple Weapon; Proficency: +3; Damage: 1d12; Range: 40/80; Price: 100 gp; Weight: 6 lb.; Group: Firearms; Properties: Load free, high crit, brutal 3, burst fire

Burst Fire:  This weapon can fire a three-shot burst (treat as a Double Tap weapon).  Alternatively, it can fire a twelve-shot “full auto” burst.  On full auto, you may make a ranged basic attack against up to 12 creatures within a 2-square burst within weapon range as a standard action.  If there are more than 12 creatures within the burst area, you target the 12 who are closest to you.

Once again, these weapons would be superior weapons to the typical D&D character.  These use clips of ammunition; a pistol clip (15 shots) costs 5 gp where these weapons are common and weighs 1 lb., while a rifle clip (60 shots) costs 20 gp and weighs 4 lbs.  This ammunition would, naturally, be completely unavailable in standard D&D settings.

By this point, these weapons are also just plain better than any of the regular D&D weapons.  And these aren’t even the fully-modern versions.  I’ve tried to stat them out in non-game-breaking ways, but they’re not in the least balanced against the crossbow, nor intended to be.  Guns change everything.

Futuristic weapons, such as the laser pistols of Barrier Peaks, are also probably best handled as magical items.  In fact, they worked very well as “wands” in previous editions.  In 4e, where a wand’s stored spell can only be used once per day, this isn’t quite the case; it takes a bit of fiddling.  In the end, however, you can end up with something like this:

Laser Pistol (level 13 “magic” item)

This strange device fires a ray of searing light from its tip when a lever mechanism is depressed.

Wondrous Item

Power (At-Will * Fire, Weapon): Standard Action.  Ranged 50.  Attack: Dexterity + 3 vs. Reflex; Hit: 2d10 + 3 + Dexterity modifier fire damage and ongoing 5 fire damage (save ends).

When fully-charged, this device contains sufficient energy for 50 shots.  Once expended, its energy cell must be recharged or replaced before it will again function.  An energy cell weighs 1 lb. and is unavailable for purchase except in appropriately futuristic settings, where it can cost as little as 5 gp.  At the GM’s discretion, a magical energy cell may be crafted by a character with the appropriate feats and abilities.

The “+3″ on the attack and damage is derived from the magic items of equivalent levels.  The damage is based on the level 7 wizard power Spectral Ram; the magic item level is the same as for a wand of that spell.  The spell’s effects are changed from push 3 squares and prone to ongoing 5 damage, and damage type changed from force to fire.

This is a bit kludgey, but it allows for the use of advanced weapons — at high damage, and more often than once daily — without causing problems when [W] starts to represent things like “2d10″.  More powerful lasers are simply a higher-level item, causing more damage and possibly with other variant effects.  A similar approach can be used for weapons such as tasers (damage plus daze or stun — remember that damage in 4e can contribute to unconsciousness, not just to death) and needlers (damage plus poison).  The ability to “contain” a power allows for a wide range of effects.

Be careful, though — the ability to use powerful effects at-will is limited only by the number of charges in the energy cell.  While the above gun isn’t too dangerous to a game in which the party is finding level 13 magic items, some weapons might be.  A “stunner” that induces unconsciousness is a staple of some sci-fi novels, but this is a very powerful effect in 4e, even allowing for saving throws.  As with any powerful item, be sure to think through the ramifications on your campaign before handing it out — especially if you’re allowing crafted magical energy cells.

There’s much more to say about the interaction of fantasy and sci-fi tropes in a D&D campaign, of course, but this post is already getting pretty lengthy, so I’ll cut it off here.  Look for a bit more in the future as I tackle this month’s RPG Blog Carnival topic:  Transitions and Transformations.


Related posts:

  1. Renaissance Unfair
  2. PHB Chapters 7-8: Equipment and Adventuring
  3. Renaissance Mandate
  4. What Religion Means
  5. Myth Direction: Excalibur

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  1. jonathan, Dec. 4, 2008, 6:42 pm:

    AWESOME POST. adding to my list of firearms and range weapon variants for 4E.

    Let us not forget Stargazer’s 4E firearms as well. HERE.

    and – while not firearms – I released some new 4E ranged weapons as while back as well. HERE.

    jonathan´s last blog post: 135 NOMINATIONS, 14 REVIEWERS, and 1 WINNER!!!

  2. Scott, Dec. 4, 2008, 7:52 pm:

    Ah, I thought I’d remembered seeing another post on the topic somewhere, but I couldn’t find it. Thanks for pointing out Stargazer’s post.

  3. Bartoneus, Dec. 9, 2008, 7:52 am:

    I agree with Jonathan, a very good post. I’ve developed 4E black powder firearms rules for my game and they came out very similar to these, the combination of high crit and brutal 1 just seems to fit with them! I’ve actually dubbed them Exotic weapons for right now but may change them to Superior weapons once I actually want them in my game.

    One rule I did to differentiate them further was to make their range, such as for pistol, 5/20. So that they are very effective at short ranges but can fire further but with a loss of accuracy.

    Bartoneus´s last blog post: Inq. of the Week: Settings for Adventure

  4. Brett, Jun. 30, 2009, 1:57 pm:

    I wouldn’t go with Load Minor for early firearms. I got to be pretty fast reloading mine and could get off five shots a minute, loading was certainly not a minor action in D&D terms. I would require a standard action to load, that is still pretty fast, but it is clean. It would also encourage the piratey habit of carrying multiple pistols. I think you are right on in D&D terms for damage and proficiency.

  5. Scott, Jul. 1, 2009, 4:27 am:

    @Brett: You’re right, load minor isn’t realistic at all. I don’t intend it to be, though.

    Spending a standard action to load a weapon is pretty boring. Mostly, it leads to that weapon not being used (like crossbows in 3e — I never saw anyone use a heavy crossbow, ever).

    Reloading an early gun within 6 seconds (let alone aiming and firing it within that time, too) is probably bordering on impossible. But so is reloading a heavy crossbow, the kind with a crank, within 6 seconds. It’s a sacrifice made for the game.

    Even a move action starts cutting down on options, since combat in 4e is so mobile.

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