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I've been looking over the recent Pathfinder 2E expansion Guns and Gears and it seems that firearms are generally weak compared to most other weapons. The Gunslinger class supposedly specializes at using firearms, but they don't seem to be much better than a Fighter using a bow.

For example, the flintlock pistol has a 1d4 damage die, and Fatal 1d8. On a normal hit, a 1d4 is weaker than a fist (1d4+STR) or a thrown rock (1d4+STR/2).

Unlike bow weapons, firearms don't add any ability scores to damage, and need reload actions before they can be fired again. This means a firearm can be fired once or twice per round, whereas a bow can be fired up to 3 times per round.

Also unlike bow weapons which have the Deadly trait (add extra dice on a crit, plus more with runes), Firearms have the Fatal trait (increase dice size on a crit). So firearms depend on critical hits for damage, but can't reach the same critical damage as a bow with the same runes.

Gunslingers do eventually get Weapon Specialization at the same rate as Fighters. But Fighters also get the same proficiency and benefits with martial firearms, so Gunslingers don't get anything unique in terms of gun damage or accuracy.

TL;DR: In terms of damage analysis and action economy, guns seem to be dominantly worse than other weapons. Gunslingers can only specialize in guns, but they aren't uniquely effective at using firearms compared to other martial classes.

Am I missing something, or are guns and gunslingers just bad overall?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Fatal add an extra die of damage just like Deadly, so it is usually better (unless the die increase is minor) \$\endgroup\$
    – András
    Jan 21 at 21:58

2 Answers 2

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To answer about damage

TL;DR: Apparently I'm writing my dissertation on this, so I get not wanting to go through it all. Takeaways:

  • Individual Strike Gunslinger (Fatal) average damage is slightly ahead of Fighter (Deadly) average damage at lower levels, but falls behind above level 10
  • This is mainly because Crit damage is higher for Fatal at most levels, and equal at the highest; anything that increases hit chance will give Gunslingers a bit more of an edge until Major Striking runes
  • Regardless, even at lower levels, Gunslingers will lose on attacks because of Reload
  • Iterative attack (average) damage is 40-75% reduced compared to first Strikes while Gunslinger damage advantage doesn't go above 20%, so they will never catch up in DPR
  • Barbarians/Rogues do more (reliable) damage at most levels anyway, and all damage is in a pretty close ballpark
  • (specifically addressing your final question "are guns and gunslingers just bad overall?") That's fine, because Gunslingers are about a lot more than raw weapon damage

Kits

  • Fighter w Comp. Longbow (d8/Deadly d10)
  • Gunslinger w Arquebus (d8/Fatal d12)⁴
  • Barbarian w Returning Mambele (d6/Deadly d8/Fury, for simplicity)
  • Rogue w Returning Filcher's Fork (d4/Deadly d6/Adding Sneak Attack despite not accounting for Flat-footed)

Chance to hit/crit

See Table 1. To get a good grasp on damage, I start by figuring out chance to hit/crit based on characters built to make ranged attacks with critical bonuses vs. suggested AC values from Building Creatures (High and Low; leaving out Extreme and middle range).

Fighters and Gunslingers have an exception ability to hit things of their level, meaning a significant chance to critically hit. Especially at early levels, Fatal does better with criticals, so fighting easy to hit or lower level enemies provides the Gunslingers' using it more benefits. Rogue/Barbarian/etc are keeping within eyesight of Fighter/Gunslinger hit chances (consistently -2/10% behind), but the difference is very noticeable by reducing their critical chance as well (which becomes a very important balancing factor below).

Note: I didn't include iterative attacks in Table 1; simply reduce chance to hit & crit by 25/50%, or 20/40% for Agile (here, only the Rogue).

Average Damage

See Table 2. Using the chances to hit, we can look at typical damage values (for a single Strike). For fun, I used Low AC.

Average damage on the second Strike for non-Agile attacks runs around 40% and third Strikes run around 25%. Agile provides significant benefit here, increasing the damage to about 65% and 40%.

Notably, non-Legendary Proficiency classes tend to get damage boosts instead; these provide higher base and critical damage while leaving average damage pretty similar. When just comparing the classes that get their damage from weapons, Weapon Traits become very important; Fatal provides significantly higher critical damage until around level 10, when Deadly nearly catches up and they essentially deal the same by level 20. Not adding any ability score to damage doesn't make a notable impact until mid-high levels as well, because they get +1 at level 1 and it takes some time for ability score bonuses to catch up with Propulsive weapons.

Regardless, the normal decrease in expected damage from one Strike to the next is about a 30% drop while the Gunslinger average damage advantage from better critical damage never goes above 20%. This means that any time another ally is able to perform a 3rd attack, they have no way of keeping up because some actions must be spent on Reload. Usually they have some method of mitigating this; depending on their Way, they can Reload and... do something else, but that something isn't a Firearm Strike.

Furthermore

I haven't even touched on the other ways that Fighters might deal more damage and improve their MAP average damage such as Double/Triple Shot and Multishot Stance. And even that pales when compared to the terror that a melee Fighter can accomplish with 2H melee damage and Feats like Power Attack, Exacting Strike and Brutal Finish.

But Honestly...

Up until now, I've been focusing primarily on weapon damage with fast Proficiency progression; a Fighter could just as well pick up a Firearm and have the exact same damage as a Gunslinger. You shouldn't be playing a Gunslinger to do the most damage. A lot of this damage analysis was pretty pointless other than providing a framework to look at damage because the bottom line is that if you're not using every action to do damage, you're going to do less damage.

However, the idea of a cost-benefit for your third action (40% of your Strike average damage because you will most likely miss) shows that, as has been addressed elsewhere, you're usually better off using one of your actions to get better positioning, roll to Intimidate, prepare to Aid an ally, or similar.

In this window of martial utility is where Gunslinger's shine, and why you would choose to play one over a Bow/Firearm wielding Fighter. (Note: a lot of these have similar options for melee Fighters, that Fighter ranged attacks don't qualify for; the Gunslinger benefit is doing a lot of it at range).

  • Ways
    • Way of the Pistolero: strong options for causing Frightened
    • Way of the Sniper: easy-access Bleed persistent damage
    • Way of the Spellshot (class archetype): easy access to energy Weaknesses
    • Way of the Vanguard: area damage synergy and position control
  • Features
    • Shootist's Edge: no penalty for 2nd-3rd range increment
    • Legendary Perception (allowing access to True Perception)
  • Feats (Focusing on higher level Feats you couldn't easily get with multiclassing)
    • Hit the Dirt!/Leap and Fire: ranged counter-attack
    • Smoke Curtain: easy access concealment
    • Munitions Crafter/Precious Munitions: easy access to metal Weaknesses
    • Called Shot: easy access Enfeebled, Stupified, and reduced Speed
    • Trick Shot: blow things up!
    • Deadeye: easy access See Invisibility
    • Blood in the Air: ignore Concealed, reduce Hidden
    • Ricochet Shot: ignore Cover, most of the time
    • Shooter's Camouflage: Legendary Sneak in one environment (at level 12)
    • Dance of Thunder: buy back your iterative attacks with a vengeance (once per fight)
    • Headshot: way of the sniper Gunslingers get an instant Death effect at level 14
    • ⁷Fatal Bullet: your Fatal Firearms keep surpassing Deadly weapons in Strike damage
    • Hair Trigger: Strike while rolling initiative, causing flat-footed
    • Ricochet Shot/Master/Legend: (capstone) ignore most Cover plus minor benefits
    • Piercing Critical: better chance for iterative criticals, helping out average damage a little
    • Black Powder Boost/Reach for the Stars: unparalleled Leaping ability
    • Unerring Shot: no range increment penalty, reduced Cover

Tables

Table 1:

Level Bonus¹ AC Low AC High Hit Crit
1 9 13 16 65-80% 15-30%
5 16 19 22 60-75% 10-25%
7 18 22 25 65-80% 15-30%
10 23 27 30 65-80% 15-30%
13 28 31 34 60-75% 10-25%
16 32 34 37 70-85% 20-35%
19 36 40 43 65-80% 15-30%
24² 37 48 51 35-50% 5%
  1. Assuming full Ability Scores in chance-to hit, attaining appropriate Item bonuses and Apex items at the levels of the item, and using a weapon of their highest proficiency
  2. The highest level of monster recommended for boss encounters; PC level is 20

Table 2:

Level Class Hit Dmg⁴⁵ Crit Dmg Avg⁶
1 Fighter 2-9 (5.5) 5-28 (16.5) 7.7
1 Gunslinger 3-10 (6) 6-40 (22) 9.55
1 Barbarian 5-10 (7.5) 11-28 (19.5) 7.65
1 Rogue 5-13 (9) 11-32 (21.5) 8.8
5 Fighter 3-17 (10) 7-44 (25.5) 11.375
5 Gunslinger 4-18 (10.5) 9-64 (35.5) 14.125
5 Barbarian 7-17 (12) 15-44 (29.5) 10.425
5 Rogue 8-24 (16) 17-54 (35.5) 13.325
7 Fighter 6-20 (13) 13-50 (31.5) 15.95
7 Gunslinger 6-20 (12.5) 13-68 (39.5) 18.05
7 Barbarian 13-23 (18) 27-54 (40.5) 17.1
7 Rogue 10-26 (18) 21-58 (39.5) 16.9
10 Fighter 7-21 (14) 15-52 (33.5) 17.05
10 Gunslinger 6-20 (12.5) 13-68 (39.5) 18.05
10 Barbarian 14-24 (19) 29-56 (42.5) 18
10 Rogue 11-27 (19) 23-60 (41.5) 17.8
13 Fighter 9-30 (19.5) 20-80 (50) 22.25
13 Gunslinger 7-29 (17) 17-94 (54.5) 22.375
13 Barbarian 16-31 (23.5) 34-78 (56) 20.15
13 Rogue 13-37 (25) 28-86 (57) 21.05
16 Fighter 13-34 (23.5) 28-88 (58) 32.05
16 Gunslinger 11-32 (21) 23-100 (60.5) 31.575
16 Gunslinger⁷ 11-32 (21) 24-112 (67) 33.85
16 Barbarian 25-40 (32.5) 52-96 (74) 34.75
16 Rogue 17-44 (30.5) 36-100 (68) 32.25
19 Fighter 14-42 (28) 31-114 (72.5) 35.75
19 Gunslinger 12-40 (25.5) 25-124 (73.5) 34.75
19 Gunslinger⁷ 12-40 (25.5) 26-136 (80) 36.7
19 Barbarian 26-46 (36) 55-116 (85.5) 35.1
19 Rogue 19-51 (35) 41-120 (80.5) 33.6
24 Fighter 14-42 (28) 31-114 (72.5) 17.625
24 Gunslinger 12-40 (25.5) 25-124 (73.5) 16.625
24 Gunslinger⁷ 12-40 (25.5) 26-136 (80) 16.95
24 Barbarian 27-47 (37) 57-118 (87.5) 19.175
24 Rogue 20-52 (36) 43-122 (82.5) 18.525
  1. Strength is assumed to be 14/16/18/20 at 1/5/10/20.
  2. Gunslinger's might get some bonuses by choosing Ways such as Sniper or Spellshot; I don't account for that because they tend to be temporary anyway.
  3. Targetting low AC by level; this is the best-case scenario for Gunslingers as their criticals are more impactful at essentially all levels
  4. Gunslinger with Fatal Bullet Feat
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  • \$\begingroup\$ It looks like all of the gunslinger damage values are off by at least 1, accounting for the arquebus's kickback trait and Singular Expertise (e.g. 3–10 Hit Dmg at level 1). At 18 Strength assumed you should probably also factor in large bore modifications to +2 damage by level 10 (or 5 if starting with 16 Strength) \$\endgroup\$
    – brandon
    Jan 18 at 2:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ I did miss kickback. I disagree about large bore largely because I'm not assuming 18 STR until level 10, at which point the .5-1 average damage starts to be essentially irrelevant, and I didn't give the other classes any specialized equipment such as special arrows, property runes, etc. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 18 at 4:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Added the Kickback damage since it's innate to the weapon I chose, though \$\endgroup\$ Jan 18 at 4:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ But it is an exclusive benefit of kickback firearms like the arquebus that stacks with everything mentioned. And +1 damage which crits is pretty impactful with the high accuracy of a gunslinger (with your averages here: 10th=23.95, 13th=28.625, 16th=41.35, 19th=44.55, 24th=17.325). \$\endgroup\$
    – brandon
    Jan 18 at 4:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ The averages are still too low, 1d8+2 at level 1 would be 3–10 (6.5). \$\endgroup\$
    – brandon
    Jan 18 at 4:48
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Some Misconceptions

Unlike bow weapons, firearms don't add any ability scores to damage

While composite bows do have the propulsive trait to add half Strength bonus to damage, many firearms have the kickback trait which functions similarly without strictly requiring the ability. To stay equal at +4 Strength the gun needs large bore modifications as a 5th-level item, though technically propulsive wins out for ranged attackers with a +6 Strength bonus (+1 damage at level ~17).

Also unlike bow weapons which have the Deadly trait (add extra dice on a crit, plus more with runes), Firearms have the Fatal trait (increase dice size on a crit). So firearms depend on critical hits for damage, but can't reach the same critical damage as a bow with the same runes.

Fatal is quite a bit better than deadly on a critical hit because each of the replaced damage dice are also doubled, where deadly's extra dice are not. Then fatal still gets one extra die as well.

Here's an example of crits between fighters with 14 Str, for propulsive and kickback.

  • Composite Longbow crit = (1d8 + 1) x 2 + 1d10 = 16.5
  • Arquebus crit = (1d12 + 1) x 2 + 1d12 = 21.5

So fatal ends up being better on a crit, with the difference being its widest when both would are using striking weapons and narrowing with greater or major striking weapons as the number of deadly dice increases.

Gunslingers do eventually get Weapon Specialization at the same rate as Fighters. But Fighters also get the same proficiency and benefits with martial firearms, so Gunslingers don't get anything unique in terms of gun damage or accuracy.

Gunslingers do have the 1st-level ability singular expertise, which gives a +1 circumstance bonus to damage with guns/crossbows. This doesn't seem like much, but ranged weapons in PF2 don't get many bonuses to damage—this is equivalent to having propulsive on every gun and having a Strength bonus 2 higher than your actual.

Guns vs Bows

One major advantage guns have over bows is that there are many more options, and even some simple options like the flintlock pistol compared to the exclusively martial or advanced bows.

So while a flintlock pistol isn't much compared to a thrown rock with Strength to damage, that's only if the character has Strength to begin with. As a simple weapon, even characters like wizards (thank the remaster) could pick one up and use it with their highest proficiency or keep it as a backup to trigger bludgeoning/piercing weaknesses at range with its concussive trait.

In the damage comparisons I made earlier I assumed the fighter would be using an arquebus, but really any martial firearm with kickback should have comparable damage or some other benefit to make up for it. Whether the benefit makes up for the drop in damage depends on what an individual character will value, like how a kickback rifle could be used with +0 Strength and a tripod to deal damage as if you had +2 or even +4 Strength.

There's also the advantage of having a much higher range, 150 feet with an arquebus compared to a composite longbow of 100 feet. An extra 50 feet could certainly matter, particularly if the target is at a very high distance some multiple of range increments away.

You are correct that guns require actions to reload, and from a damage perspective this means you can only make one or two attacks a turn. Even if you're not attacking 3 times, you have more options for a third non-attack action when using a bow compared to a gun.

Gunslingers vs Other Ranged Classes

Each gunslinger way has a special reload action to make this biggest problem in reloading more optimal, by allowing the character to couple something else with the reload. Assuming that these non-Strike actions have value and would be performed regardless of weapon type, this translates to much more damage when using a gun as a gunslinger than when another martial class uses a gun.

I'll leave detailed comparison of gunslingers vs other ranged classes with bows or thrown weapons to Ifusaso's answer, but assuming that the cost of reloading as a gunslinger is low then the comparable-to-higher damage per-hit can be extrapolated to roughly comparable damage per-class.

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