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I am thinking about running a side campaign in which firearms play a major part in combat. I have read the advice in the Dungeon Masters Guide but that doesn't seem realistic and it seems to be geared towards not allowing them at all. So what is a realistic way to make firearms a major part of a campaign?


It occurred to me that I should have been specific about what I mean by firearms. In this case I mean modern day or even futuristic weapons. I do not mean Renaissance or Revolutionary War era weapons.

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Have you considered looking at some D20 Modern stuff first? –  p.marino Feb 20 '13 at 12:43
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Related: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/20175/… –  mxyzplk Feb 20 '13 at 12:45
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"I have read the advice in the Dungeon Masters Guide but that doesn't seem realistic and it seems to be geared towards not allowing them at all." We're talking about disintegration beams in a game where the normal firearm is a bow and arrow. An antimatter rifle deals 8d6 damage, whilst being completely immersed in acid deals 10d6 - up to you whether that seems realistic or not! It's not trying to gear them so you don't allow them, but if you feel cautioned against using them, then rightly so! –  Jonathan Hobbs Feb 20 '13 at 14:10

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Depending on what you mean by "realistic" it probably isn't possible.

I don't just mean the damage aspect (for that, see CatLord's answer), I mean that the existence of modern firearms changes society and also implies a lot of preconditions.

Where do they come from? / The Preconditions

Modern firearms require precision machining. If they are being manufactured locally, especially in large numbers, that implies that the manufacturing ability is far beyond what existed in the Late Middle Ages or even Rennaissance. That implies a lot about society. It practically implies that the industrial revolution has occurred (which in real history was both a precondition for modern firearms and was further spurred on by the process of developping them). That implies a lot of changes in society.

Of course, you could have them imported from somewhere else. DnD cannon, especially Planescape, discusses travel between different realms. That implies smaller changes to society, but then you have your DnD world interacting with a world that has undergone the industrial revolution. That has different, but interesting reprecussions (for ideas, look at many of the first contact stories where aliens come to Earth in an earlier age).

What they do / The Consequences

Mass produced fire arms are very democratizing in a way. They mean just about anyone can reasonably go into a fight with just about anyone else. This wasn't really true with the weapons of the middle ages historically or with DnD. A single peasant simply wasn't a threat to a well armed Fighter or a decent Mage. A single peasant with a gun is.

And a modern weapon of reasonable caliber will go straight through most middle ages armor. So unless magical armor (or modern kevlar) is really common you will have your footsoldiers running around unarmored and essentially developping modern infantry tactics.

Revolutions will be even more common because modern weapons make guerrilla warfare and revolutionary tactics much simpler. They also make it much simpler to recruit an effective army. It takes substantial time to train an archer or a decent swordsman, but I can show someone the basics of firearm use and maintenance in an afternoon (to be clear, I said the basics. Real mastery takes a long time and group tactics take a long time. But I could still get a group of effective riflemen much faster than a group of effective swordsmen)

If firearms are relatively common, then they will dominate and displace all non-magical and even most magical weapons because they are that effective. If they aren't relatively common, then they will be a near dominating force against a force weilding non-magical weapons and a big leveller against magical ones.

Conclusion

If you want to play something that is at least semi-realistic that uses both magic and firearms, you are better off introducing magic to a somewhat real world setting rather than trying to bring fire arms into a magical setting modeled loosely after the late middle ages. Take a look at Shadowrun or Rifts amoungst other possibilities.

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Pathfinder touches on the armor issue by making it a Touch attack. –  Simon Gill Feb 20 '13 at 17:37
    
I've never used pathfinder and I'm new to 3.5, but off hand that seems to make sense mechanically. But I think pathfinder assumes essentially early muskets. They would (and did) have an impact on society. But nothing close to the impact that came with revolvers much less access to modern assault rifles. –  TimothyAWiseman Feb 20 '13 at 18:09

I introduced WWI-era weaponry into a 3.5 game I ran once. The way I made them 'realistic' (to a degree) was to have them run off touch attacks to represent the way they cut through armour and the weapons did Constitution damage, not HP damage. This made them a lot more deadly. They also required the Exotic Weapon feat to use as well, meaning most characters couldn't just pick one up and use it.

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That sounds Interesting I'll look into this. –  Jonn_Underwood Feb 21 '13 at 22:24

My best advice is to look into the book "d20 Ultramodern Firearms", and go from there. Otherwise it's up to you to scale them to the power level you desire for your campaign setting.

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Unfortunately I do not have access to anything other then the core rules books and a few additional supplements. I am reliant on my own creativity much of the time which at times can be lacking which is I've come here. –  Jonn_Underwood Feb 20 '13 at 14:12
    
The average weapon was a 2d6/x2. Range and capacity varied but of course depending on your refinement of gunpowder there are things like reload time, inaccuracy, and blowback –  CatLord Feb 21 '13 at 18:27

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