Tuesday, 23 April 2013

OSR D&D - Guns

So, guns have always had a weird place in D&D. Lots of the "Appendix N" inspirational materials had them, whether as one-off, almost magical items, or a regular feature of their setting (John Carter of Mars, frex, wouldn't be seen dead without his pistol). But, when looking for ways to implement them into D&D, options are limited.

And I can kinda see why - D&D has always ostensibly been more of a "Swords and Sorcery" kinda deal (until 3rd Ed pushed the whole thing into full-on High Fantasy), and a default part of that is, well, swords. Guns feel too modern, and for some people, seeing an Elf with a gun brngs back unfortunate Shadowrun flashbacks. But, due to D&D's tried-and-tested melting pot approach to its sources, the level of technology presented (like full plate armour) means that guns are pretty feasible. But you mention it in th wrong circles, and you'll be strung up by your dicebag before they have a two-hour long conversation about whether or not shuriken should exist in the Ancient Greek campaign setting, or whether Dwarves could build a spacerocket.

Gamers are like that.

There are plenty of D20 supplements with rules for guns (D20 Modern, for a start), but for genre imitation, guns feel like they should be a little more powerful than the "does 1d8 damage, is about as easy to dodge as a punch" model supported by these games.

As it's the most appropriate (and closest to D&D at its heart), let's take a gander at the Pathfinder SRD. It has rules for three levels of technology - emerging guns, advanced guns, and guns everywhere. I don't fancy changing up the entire face of the game, so we'll stick with Emerging - guns are rare, having just started moving out of the realm of cannon and arbuesque.  Maybe there's a secretive guild of alchemists and engineers who have fiddled up the first production line, or maybe they're a new Dwarven invention. Regardless, the first examples are starting to become publicly available, and are filtering down to the "adventuring" classes.

So, our basic, archaic guns are the pistol, blunderbuss, and musket. There are a few variations on these which I won't be including (the sword cane gun, for example), but these are your "standard" guns for this time period.

Your basic pistol stats for Pathfinder: costs 1000gp (!), 1d8 damage, x4 damage on a critical, 20 foot range increment (guns get 5 range increments, with a -2 penalty to the attack after the first), targets Touch AC in the first range increment and resolve normally after that, misfires (breaking the weapon) on a one.

Now, one of the things that a lot of people have commented on is that the misfire rate of even the earliest firearms wasn't as bad as rated here, and the guns would rarely explode on a bad shot. You ran the risk of powder burns, but that was about it - if your gun exploded, you were doing something terribly wrong. Pathfinder has a misfire rate for each weapon (normally 1 in 20), and on a misfire, a weapon gains the Broken Condition (which ups the misfire rate by 4, making it normally a roll of 1-5 on the D20). That seems a little harsh, cause once it's broken, another misfire means the gun goes boom, hitting you and anyone next to you for the damage value of the weapon.

That doesn't mix with the reality too well, but helps keep the guns "balanced" with bows and other ranged weapons. But it's such an artifact of these kind of games, I might need to include it. Well, in keeping with the idea that the OSR is less about balance and more about fun, I propose the following stats (for OSRIC, but pretty adaptable):

Weapon TypeDamage vs Small/Medium Damage vs LargeRate of Fire (Shots per Round)Range (-2 to hit per
Bullet + Powder----3 per dozen1gp

Here's some rulings (as I'll be using them) which might prove useful for guns:
  • The blunderbuss can be loaded with a bullet or shot, which fires as a 15ft cone, range increment 15ft - the user can make an attack roll against all targets within that range, at a -2 penalty. This can either be pre-made (same cost and encumbrance as bullets) or improvised, scraps of metal, nails, etc. which is free, if you can find it, but gives a -2 penalty to-hit and damage. Repeated use of such materials can cause damage to the weapon.
  • All firearms require a full round to reload, limiting them to one shot per round (regardless of any bonuses to Rate of Fire).
  • At point-blank range (i.e. melee combat range), a pistol may be used with a penalty of -1 to attack rolls, while the longer, less maneuverable blunderbuss and musket suffer a -4 penalty.
  • If the opponent is unaware, bound, or unconscious, (where "coup de grace" rules would be appropriate) they make a Save vs. Death Magic - should they fail, they are dying (should you use those rules) or dead. If they pass, they take double damage from the attack.
  • Misfires occur on a natural roll of 1 on an attack roll. Roll 1d10 on the Misfire chart below:
    • 1 - Backfire - you must have overpacked the gun, or just straight-up done goofed. The weapon explodes, dealing its damage to you, and one die-step less to those in melee range of you (so a pistol would damage you for 1d6 damage, and everyone else for 1d4).
    • 2-4 - Powder Burn - you weren't as careful as you should have been when loading the weapon - the shot goes off as normal, but you suffer 1d3 damage from the powder on your clothes and skin igniting.
    • 5-6 - Dud - the powder doesn't light. It will take a full-round action to clear the weapon, and another to reload it.
    • 7-8 - Jam - some delicate part of the weapon's mechanisms isn't working as intended. The weapon is unable to fire until someone with the skills to repair it can take a look and fix the problem.
    • 9 - Hang Fire - the powder doesn't catch as quickly as you thought - perhaps it's a little wet in parts, or there's a slow-burning clump in it. Nothing happens - DMs, describe it much like a jam or a dud shot. In the next round (in the Fast segment, or at the highest initiative, or whenever), or the end of the current round, whichever seems more fun, the gun goes off as normal. Pray you hadn't started clearing the "jam"...
    • 10 - Burnout - too much powder, methinks. The weapon lets out a massive gout of flame, burning out some delicate mechanism and making the weapon useless until repaired. However, anyone within melee range (including you) must make a Save vs Breath Weapon or catch fire.
I'll probably come back and review these rules soon - let me know what you think!

EDIT: First edit thanks to Butch, adding Hang Fire as a result... that's gonna fuck with my players something awful. I love it!


  1. Any of the old smoothbore guns could be loaded with shot or scrap and fired like a modern shotgun. They were all pretty large caliber weapons (around .50 cal).

    Pistols were (and still are) generally more expensive than rifles. This was especially true early on when the long guns used a simple matchlock mechanism whereas pistols generally had the much more complicated wheellocks.

    Generally, I would put the main cost in the gunpowder rather than the gun itself.

    Finally, the gunpowder would be rendered useless if wet and anyone carrying it around would be extra vulnerable against fire attacks (maybe a -4 to all saves vs fire attacks)

  2. I'd also suggest a hang fire as one of the misfires -- nothing happens for a round, then it goes off normally. Especially fun if the player assumes a result of 5-6 or 7-8...

  3. When I played The Fantasy Trip in the 80s, we dealt with guns a bit. We went up against some gun users a few times, and we had a way of dealing with them: flaming flasks of oil.

  4. You should up the reload time to firing around once every 5 rounds if not interrupted. Those old muzzle loaders took a good bit of time to prep if done correctly. Their main advantage over bows is the learning curve you can learn to fire a gun in less than an hour while it takes a long time to get to where you can hit a target with a bow.

  5. Once every five rounds seems a little... anti-fun to me. I think being able to fire, reload next round, and then fire the round after that is more than enough of a penalty, rather than 5 whole rounds. To me, that would just about make them useless.