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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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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you considered looking at some D20 Modern stuff first? \$\endgroup\$ – p.marino Feb 20 '13 at 12:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/20175/… \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Feb 20 '13 at 12:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ "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! \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener 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 and look at d20 Ultramodern Firearms), 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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    \$\begingroup\$ Pathfinder touches on the armor issue by making it a Touch attack. \$\endgroup\$ – Simon Gill Feb 20 '13 at 17:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ 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. \$\endgroup\$ – TimothyAWiseman Feb 20 '13 at 18:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ Pathfinder models early, separate loading muskets to paper cartridge era firearms using percussion caps - the damage output between those isn't that different, but the accuracy increased tremendously. Revolvers (think Colt percussion cap ones) is the pinnacle of what firearms technology in pathfinder is capable of. \$\endgroup\$ – Trish Jun 1 at 16:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Trish Thanks. I still haven't played Pathfinder, but I don't think this changes my answer much. Colts aren't what people think of when talking about modern fire arms, and even early Colts were only possible due to the industrial revolution. The first Colt-style revolvers were available in the mid-1800s. The exact starting date of the industrial revolution is up for debate but it was in the mid-to-late 1700s. \$\endgroup\$ – TimothyAWiseman Jun 1 at 17:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TimothyAWiseman I know. I suggest looking for Ian McCollum's Forgotten Weapons to understand how machining and gun design interlock and what intricacies different styles of weapons bring with it. Especially the M1918 Hall Rifle is pretty much a pinnacle of what can be done without metal cartridges to get a fast reloading rifled longarm - and it also was a revolution in manufacturing technique as that was the very first gun where you could take several guns and mix an merge all the parts. \$\endgroup\$ – Trish Jun 1 at 18:32
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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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  • \$\begingroup\$ 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. \$\endgroup\$ – Antonio Feb 20 '13 at 14:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ 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 \$\endgroup\$ – CatLord Feb 21 '13 at 18:27
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The DMG and other sources implemented guns the way they did because if anyone had a realistic gun, they could instantly kill just-about anything with a well-aimed hit.

  1. The idea of "anyone" having a realistic gun is already discussed in other answers, but something that was missed was that not only do peasants gain the ability to be far more dangerous, PCs and by-extension enemies do as well (and ultimately that's what's far more important to a GM). In terms of "fairness" in-game, you as-GM have to decide whether it would in-fact be fun for PCs or enemies to have access to "insta-kill" weapons (or "near-insta-kill" weapons). Consider the impact of the gonne (a realistic self-loading wheel-lock rifle) in the Discworld book Men at Arms as an example of how such a weapon (as applied to a world of swords and magic) can be a grave danger to society.

  2. D&D 3.5 does not address the idea of "aiming" as-is (at least not very well), and the ability to aim is critical to the implementation of "realistic" firearms. After-all, if a gun isn't aimed, how could it be expected to have realistic damage? However, if aiming were to actually be implemented in a "realistic" way, you'd have to consider how that aiming mechanic would impact the use of other weapons (or of magic for that matter). It would make logical sense for an aimed arrow or disintegrate spell to be far more lethal than the standard "center-of-mass" implementation of these effects.

Ultimately, this is a situation where suspension of disbelief should likely walk hand-in-hand with fluff-based nerfing in-universe in order to be accepted as "fair" by your players. You can't actually create "realistic" firearms and keep the game fair without changing the most basic nature and flow of combat (in which case, you'd probably be better-off playing something other than D&D, such as Aces & Eights).

Personally, I've implemented guns and aiming in my own D&D game, but my focus was on arming the masses (albeit expensively) with effects that are relatively weak compared to realistic firearms but are akin to already-existing weaponry (wands and dorjes). These guns approach a facsimile to realistic firearms by having no skill requirements for their use (because it's relatively easy for someone to learn the basics of how to use a firearm). In addition to this, I also allow the firearms presented in Dragon Magazine Compendium and in Dragon Magazine #321 (page 30) as a "non-magical" option. Like the firearms described in the DMG, those firearms also are not "insta-kill".

I implemented aiming by first implementing a "called shots" system (which although not particularly realistic is flavorful) and then implementing new uses of the Concentration skill to reduce the penalties applied on called shots and range increments (which are deliberately tame ways to acknowledge what aiming realistically does).

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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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  • \$\begingroup\$ That sounds Interesting I'll look into this. \$\endgroup\$ – Antonio Feb 21 '13 at 22:24
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Pathfinder implemented both primitive guns and futuristic weapons in Ultimate Combat and Technology Guide, respectively, and is similar enough to 3.5e that they could be taken almost as is. The best part is that both books are free to use online.

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