D&D Ideas — Firearms

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Welcome once again to the weekly newsletter. This week’s topic is firearms, which we discussed in our live chat. We hangout every Monday evening at 8 p.m. EST on Nerdarchy Live to talk about D&D, RPGs, gaming, life and whatever nerdy stuff comes up. Speaking of firearms, in Fire for Effect fire arms are attached to fire giants who burst forth from underground tunnels with hobgoblin allies to launch an unexpected assault. This and 54 other dynamic encounters ready to drop right into your game come straight Out of the Box here. You can get the Nerdarchy Newsletter delivered to your inbox each week, along with updates, info on how to game with Nerdarchy and ways to save money on RPG stuff by signing up here.

5E D&D fire giant nerdarchy out of the box
In Fire for Effect a fiery assault challenges heroes to protect innocent lives and drive back invaders from beneath the earth. This and 54 other dynamic encounters are ready to drop right into your game within Out of the Box. [Art by Kim Van Deun]

Nerdy News

Peer into the past at the week that was with gnoll adventurers, action packed combat and different kinds of intelligence plus as always live chats with creative pros highlight this week’s Nerdy News. Check it out here.

Delving Dave’s Dungeon

Firearms in Dungeons & Dragons is something that took me a while to come around to. Like a lot of things in my life the change came from boredom. I was in a gaming rut and wanted to spice up our regular Saturday night game about 20 years ago or so. We were playing 3.5 D&D at the time. I decided to introduce steampunk elements into the game. This might have even been before Eberron. Fantasy Flight Games has put out a series called Legends and Lairs. It was one of the good third party D&D publishers back in the day. The book is called Sorcery & Steam and you can still get the PDF from Drivethru RPG here.

That book inspired me to create a gnome stronghold long ago been abandoned or overrun. There might have been some undead goblins riding around in gnomish steam powered battle armor.

Then are just other tropes that seem so much more fun with firearms. Like pirates and swashbucklers. Maybe not full on modern weapons but black powder is fun.

That gnomish dungeon was a part of my Shattered Realm campaign setting. It was full of sorcerer kings, psi-lords, ogre thanes, flying ships (sorta), floating islands, weredinosaurs and steampunk gnomes.

Looking at the last Unearthed Arcana about feats it would appear Wizards of the Coast is looking to put forth some official content involving firearms based on the Gunner feat we saw there. My guess they are looking to do a Player’s Handbook 2 style book with more rules for using firearms in 5E D&D. Including firearms in your D&D campaign does allow you to break away from the more generic D&D worlds.

We’ve seen some versions of firearms wielding D&D fighters from third party publishers like Matt Mercer and D&D Beyond. Both handled them differently. One treated them as class features essentially and the other as an equipment specialist of sorts. Perhaps Wizards of the Coast will give us a version that is a combination of the two. Both had merit. We did videos on each:

Maybe these two subclasses will give you some inspiration on how to incorporate firearms into your D&D game. A few approaches come to mind for using firearms in your game.

  • It’s already a part of the campaign.
  • It’s relatively new. People may even view it as a new form of magic. You introduce as part of the ongoing campaign. Do players meet allies wielding firearms?
  • Do enemies use firearms against them? Does an encroaching army deploy firearms and cannons on the battlefield to devastating effect? Warfare in your world will forever be changed.
  • Maybe you don’t want to go full bore into firearms. So introduce it as a type of hybrid between equipment and magic. You have technomancy in your world that can produce these types of creations, but they are rare and limited.

From Ted’s Head

When the concept of guns being added to Dungeons & Dragons arose, I have to say the inner grumpy old man deep inside me thought, “Get off My Lawn!” The typical fantasy setting has no room for nontraditional fantasy ideas. As we created Nerdarchy and then fifth edition D&D came into being I gained a better understanding of homebrew and adding things to make a setting unique.

The world, or setting, we homebrewed and played in was fun and our own but it lacked anything to really make it stand out and be diverse like a Dark Sun or Eberron. These are my big comparisons anytime I look at a setting as they are the most divorced from the typical Tolkeinesque fantasy. If you play these typical fantasy settings and love them, great! There is nothing wrong with this. But as we try to make things interesting to our viewers and potential customers, as we do make products, we want to have things stand out and get noticed.

Specifically looking at firearms, the 5E D&D Dungeon Master’s Guide offers a nice variety that can almost seem like magic items in and of themselves when compared to your regular weapons. Late to the Critical Role party, I binged all of Campaign 1, watching the antics of Percy who was the pioneer of black powder weapons in the world and had to hide his work lest it fall in the wrong hands. It was a serious eye opener for me. In a world where magic and engineering are possible why do guns not exist? In a setting with many diverse planes of existence, why do we not have travelers with advanced technology not visiting, leaving behind or trading some of their tech?

These kinds of questions make it easy to find what is lacking in campaign development. For all I know many people out there are doing these things in their games. And why not? It is exciting, it is unknown and it builds on discovery. This is a great thing D&D does well. And to be fair, what Dungeon Master does not grin when a player asks if their character knows about firearms and their origins, possibly even rolling really high on a check and you reply, “Nope, you have no idea what this is.”

Numenera is a Cypher System RPG set far in the future, and characters come across unusual pieces of technology. I have heard Game Masters who have given weird descriptions of current technology to us, but described in such a way that the players had no idea was being described. They wanted to smack themselves for not seeing it earlier. The same could be done when incorporating new technology like firearms into your 5E D&D game from alien cultures, if you were looking to do so.

With firearms you have so many eras to work with. A single load low power musket might be weaker than a cantrip and thus not  very useful. A six shooter has pizzazz and can be useful in combat as the battle might not last long enough to use all six shots. But if you had an epic battle at high level that went many rounds the action economy of having to reload all six shots would probably come up quite a bit. So as with everything when going away from the norm you must achieve balance. These days if a player wants to do a gunslinger in my game I would not bat an eye, I would just say sure.

Let me present you with two magic firearms. One pistol and one rifle incorporating the loud element I say goes with these weapons.


Weapon (pistol), rare (requires attunement)

This dark grey tube looks as if a face was stretched out into a metallic cylinder and a handle added. It is smooth and sleek. Identified as a firearm, it does not have a typical trigger but fires at the will of the one attuned to it. This +2 ranged weapon deals 1d6 force damage per attack with a range equal to a longbow. Every time you will the weapon to fire a projectile leaves the tube and all within 300 feet are able to hear a high pitch scream. It is how the pistol acquired its name.

Additionally as an action you will the weapon to emit a beam of force damage. Any creature or object in a line from the end of the tube to 120 feet must make a DC 12 Dexterity saving throw, taking 6d8 points of force damage on a failed save and half as much damage on a successful one. You must wait 1d4 rounds before Screamer can be used again for regular attacks. Once you use this feature, you cannot use it again until the following dawn.


Weapon (rifle), very rare (requires attunement)

This bizarre contraption barely looks functional as a crude melee weapon instead of the powerful rifle it is. The dark red cylinder four feet long has what appears to be a short sword or long spear blade attached to the end of it. This item was created in a different age, a different place. If someone does an object reading on it it will show combat against all sorts of undead and aberrations. You have a +2 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with this magic weapon. The weapon requires two hands and it can be wielded in melee as a longsword doing 1d10 slashing damage. It also functions as a rifle doing 2d6 bludgeoning damage and 1d6 fire damage per attack. It does not need ammunition as it creates its own.

Additionally at the start of your turn you can loudly proclaim, “This is my boomstick!” Until the start of your next turn, any attacks you make with Boomstick are made with advantage. Once you use this feature, you cannot use it again until the following dawn.

From the Nerditor’s desk

Unlike Dave and Ted I’ve never taken issue with firearms in Dungeons & Dragons. In the live chat I talked about this and how playing video games like Final Fantasy and Shining Force already planted the idea in my mind of high technology hidden in the ruins of a fantasy world.

But this week the titular Nerditor’s desk sits piled high with projects, tasks and work. And since the other guys shared such a wide variety of insights about firearms in 5E D&D I’m gonna invoke the tradition of getting a week off from these newsletter editorials once in a while.

However, there is one very unusual and fun aspect of firearms neither Dave nor Ted touched on and did not come up during the live chat. I don’t want to spoil it for you though, so I’ll say only this: it’s a video and you’ll never think of firearms the same again. Check it out here.

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