A multifaceted blog on RPGs

Black Powder Weapons in D&D 4E

In Black Powder Weapons, D&D 4E on January 29, 2009 at 6:12 pm

For those who end up on this page via a search engine, I’ve since added to the series:

Several posts on blogs or in forums detail different rules for black powder weapons in D&D, it seems like it’s a common addition to the core rules (Stargazer has a good take on them, as has Dicemonkey). Still, when I tried to find some good rules ahead of my New World D&D game with a pirate/carribean feel, I couldn’t find any that quite fitted my taste. In the end, I didn’t include any gunpowder weapons in the setting, but should I have done that, this is how I would have implemented them…

Basic Premises

First of all, D&D isn’t about realism. It is however about at least basic suspension of disbelief, so while black powder weapons need not be realistic, they should at least be plausibel and consistent. Secondly, while D&D isn’t too concerned with realism, it is downright religious when it comes to game balance. Black powder weapons must be balanced vis-Γ‘-vis already existing weapons. Thirdly, black powder rules should mesh well with the system, they are after all just another weapon type.

Also, I want the black powder weapons to be used, meaning there has to be some reason to use them, some kind of character build who will benefit from them. At the same time, they shouldn’t always be better than, e.g. a bow.Β To this end, I have added two weapon categories, Black Powder Pistol and Black Powder Rifle and I have added the weapon property Black Powder.

Black Powder

When firing a Black Powder weapon, a thick cloud of smoke fills the square where the weapon was fired, providing light obscuration until the end of the firers next turn.

Also, I suggest that dwarves receive weapon proficiency with simple and military blackpowder weapons and rogues receive proficiency with simple and military blackpowder pistols. In addition all powers requiring crossbow is also usable with black powder weapons. I like dwarves with guns and I like dual-wielding pistoleer rogues.

Weapons

With those additions, the rest is just a matter of weapon stats, mostly based on the stats of bows and crossbows, but still adding something unique to the mix.

Simple Black Powder Weapons

One-handed

Weapon Prof. Damage Range Price Weight Group Properties
Pistol +2 1d6 5/10 20 gp 1 lb Black Powder Pistol Black Powder, Off-Hand, Reload Minor

Military Black Powder Weapons

One-handed

Weapon Prof. Damage Range Price Weight Group Properties
Horse Pistol +2 1d8 5/10 30 gp 2 lb Black Powder Pistol Black Powder, Off-Hand, Reload Minor

Two-handed

Weapon Prof. Damage Range Price Weight Group Properties
Musket +2 1d10 10/20 30 gp 6 lb Black Powder Rifle Black Powder, Reload Minor

Superior Black Powder Weapons

One-handed

Weapon Prof. Damage Range Price Weight Group Properties
Hellfire Pistol +2 1d10 5/10 35 gp 2 lb Black Powder Pistol Black Powder, Reload Minor

Two-handed

Weapon Prof. Damage Range Price Weight Group Properties
Dwarven Blunderbuss +2 2d6 10/20 50 gp 10 lbs Black Powder Rifle Black Powder, Brutal 1, Reload Move
Eladrin Longarm +3 1d8 20/40 30 gp 6 lbs Black Powder Rifle Black Powder, Reload Minor

More…

These rules would probably suffice for a campaign where black powder weapons are rare and exotic. In campaign settings where they are commonplace, like the excellent Iron Kingdoms by Privateer Press for instance, some added spice might be needed. More different weapons could be added, like the Goblin Firestarter, the Dragonfire Musket wielded by dragonborn noblemen and the Black Powder Hydra made by the infamous gunsmith Byrek the Mad. Also special black powder enchantments would certainly add variety, Thundershell, Longfire or Blacksmoke are names that beg for a write-up. Finally, if no-one volunteer to do a Musketeer ranger build, I will πŸ˜‰

So, what do you think, overpowered, underpowered, clunky or just about right? Dish it out in the comments!

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  1. I have to agree I have some mixed feelings about you rules. I love that “Black powder” property. And the idea of having a special Eladrin firearm is nice.
    But I think the range is much too short. A firearm should at least have the range of a crossbow. More modern firearms should be able to shoot even farther. But these are just my two cents.

    • Yes, it seems we have somewhat different opinions on black powder weapons. The limited range is an attempt to capture a feel I have about old black powder weapons, that their range was severely limited. However, if that’s not the feel you have, you can, of course easily change them. It’s also a bit of a balance issue, as the Black Powder property is basically a +2 to AC, something had to give. To each his own, I like your take on the weapons as well!

  2. I believe my firearms were meant for a setting where they could easily replace crossbows entirely and your firearms are a bit more exotic. As you’ve said: to each his own! πŸ™‚

  3. Interesting, I’d suggest a few minor changes to the weapons, such as an increase in range to make them more in line with bows, or if you want to go more exotic then multibarreled or an over/under two barreled weapon might be in order.

    That said I think your rules capture the feel of pirate movie black powder weapons quite nicely.

  4. Yes, increased range might be in order. I have the feeling though that the Black Powder keyword (in effect +2 to AC) needs to be evened out, so I gave them a reload minor and a shorter range, as this reflects my “feeling” about 16th century firearms, lots of smoke, lousy range and accuracy, good damage.

    Multibarreled is coming in a follow-up article, thanks for the tip πŸ™‚

  5. One thing you’re really missing, however, is reload time. All black powder weapons take a really long time to load, because of all the fiddly-things you have to…well, fiddle with, as well as the fact that theyre all frontloaders. IMO, they should be slightly more damaging (one die step should be fine), but should be Load Move instead. Make them something you have to use tactically, just like real black powder firearms.

  6. I agree that longer reloading time would capture black powder weapons better, especially the frontloaders. To be accurate of course the loading time should be measured in rounds, increasing from a minor to a move would just increase it from one to three seconds or something like that) However, my feeling is that this doesn’t mix well with the 4th edition rules (the results of high damage and long reloads could be very unpredictable when combined with different weapon-based powers). I thought about reload move though and the reason I decided against it was mainly that 4E combat is so much about mobility and taking away people’s mobility would risk making it very static (I shoot, you shoot, I shoot…)

    One perfectly valid option would be to use black powder weapons more like magical items with encounter-based use (tactically as you say). I chose not to go down that path as it limits the usability of them in the rules, leaving them more as gimmicks than as central parts in a setting. That said, I could easily see doing the opposite and keep them as tactical devices rather than weapons, not integrated in the power system, more like the grenade in my follow-up post.

  7. Wow, great discussion. I really like Jens response to the minor/move load time- it is what bothered me as well but the point about keeping the game tactical is a brilliant one. I think for my game, since they are rare, I will keep them gimmicky. My changes will be as follows: Magic- i.e. additional damage dice on crits per plus. I am vacillating on requiring a Black Powder feat or Arcana Skill to use or avoid penalties? Any talk on Black Powder creation by the way?

    • I altered these slightly for my game. They have the exact same mechanics as crossbows, prof. bonus, range, damage, reload speed, etc, but the black powder rule I changed so that the smoke fills the space directly in front of the firer. It makes it a little more tactical than simply giving yourself a smoke cloud to hide in and can be used by the enemy. Additionally, I explain the quick reload speeds due to paper cartridges loaded with powder, wading, and ball as well as breach loaded weapons rather than muzzle loaders.

  8. I viewed this post and the one with the additional weaponry and I have a few ideas on the matter. Firstly I love the idea of the black powder property, but to make it more reasonable I would possibly make the obscuration 2-way unless the gun wielder gets a feat for it. As for the reloading time, it makes sense for a single shot weapon to be a minor action because that’s what crossbows are. For guns with more barrels or with a magazine give it the repeating crossbow treatment. It has no reload speed while it still has bullets left, but once they’re gone give it a static move action or standard action to unload and then reload. Move action would be sufficient for basic double or triple barreled weapons standard for revolvers or weapons with a magazine.

  9. Now this is, quite frankly, something I can use for my Eberron game. Thanks for making this.

    I’ve tried contacting you via email but… Yah, hasn’t worked out. Thanks for making this.

    Stay awesome

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