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The Gunmage I – Class Description And Features

In Black Powder Weapons, D&D 4E on March 24, 2009 at 11:46 am

I’ve had a fairly popular series on black powder weapons in D&D 4E going and though I’ve done two paragon paths, the musketeer and the pistoleer, based on the feedback in the comment, there seems to be a need for a full blown class á la the gunmage from the 3.5E setting Iron Kingdoms. Writing a class is quite some work though, so I’ll post things as I get along and use the feedback from the comments to change and update the class and power. Finally, I’ll put the class and the other Black Powder posts in a pdf compendium and post it here for those who are interested in using it. Read on for the first post on the Gunmage, the arcane black powder class.

Writing a class in 4E is quite an undertaking, but as with other preparations, though it’s a lot ow work, wizards have made some of it easier for you by standardizing lots of the framework. What used to be more or less free-form design in third edition has been turned into more of a painting-by-numbers exercise. This is, in my opinion, a step forward. I can focus on giving my classes distinctive features without worrying as much about how this balances with the other classes and powers out there. From what I’ve heard about PHB2, this framework also seems to have stemmed the power creep of previous editions somewhat. In this post, I’ll start with some basic design decisions regarding the gunmage as I’ve chosen to call it.

Role and power source seems to be the defining characteristics of classes in 4E, though I really can’t see why so much emphasis has been put on the power source in 4E, if you wanted a divine controller, you didn’t really have to go make a new class, just use the wizard class and change some power descriptions and keywords. Anyway, this means that the gunmage would most probably be an arcane striker, a slot already filled by the warlock (and to some degree, the ranged ranger). For inspiration, I looked at the Swordmage from the Forgotten Realms setting, as it seems built to be a built as a defender with controller trappings. Similarly, I want to make a ranged striker with controller trappings, and use keywords and fluff texts from an arcane power source and from black powder “mythology”.

Also, each of the strikers have some class feature that lets them deal extra damage, sneak attack, prime shot and so on. These class feature really define the class and so I want to have a variant on the prime shot class feature that defines my gunmage. The effect I’m looking for is an ability to single out a target at hit them until you take them down. I feel that this goes well with a gunmage pathos and makes for an interesting game mechanic.

Without further ado, onto the first installment of the gunmage, class description and class features (inspired, to a large degree by the IK gunmage mentioned above, the ranger and the swordmage):

The Gunmage

I am the link between ancient magic and modern power. My bullets strike with deadly precision, carrying their load of sorcerous energy into the heart of my enemies.

Class Traits

Role: Striker. You use spells to enhance the power of your ranged attacks with black powder weapons.
Power Source: Arcane. Your runefire bullets are loaded with arcane energy, augmenting your already deadly precision.
Key Abilities: Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom

Armor Proficiencies: Cloth, leather
Weapon Proficiencies: Simple melee, simple ranged, simple and military black powder weapons
Implements: Any black powder weapon. Your black powder weapon adds its enhancement bonus to attack rolls and damage rolls and any extra damage granted by a property (if applicable) when used as an implement. You do not gain your weapon proficiency bonus to the attack roll when using your black powder weapon as an implement.
Bonus to Defense: +2 Reflex

Hit Points as 1st Level: 12 + Constitution
Hit Points per Level gained: 5
Healing Surges per Day: 6 + Constitution modifier

Trained Skills: Arcana. From the class list below, choose three more trained skills at 1st level:
Class Skills: Acrobatics (Dex), Arcana (Int), Diplomacy (Cha), Insight (Wis), Perception (Wis), Stealth (Dex), Thievery (Dex)

Build Options: Elemental gunmage (one build option only at this time)
Class Features: Single Out, Elemental Bullets, Magelock Weapon

Gunmages represent the union between wizardry of generations past and the newfound power of black powder weapons. They are spellcasters using their magelock black powder weapon as their implement and channeling arcane powers through the bullets they fire. As a gunmage, you take cover behind your friends, singling out the enemy leaders and taking them down, one at a time. Your magelock weapon is part of your identity, a pistol or a musket bound to you through arcane rituals and acting as an extension of your will.

As a gunmage, you tap into the elements around you, instilling them into your elemental bullets, making them crackle with lightning, burn with green witchfire or strike with the cold grasp of frosty ice. You single out a target among your enemies and hunt it down until it lies bleeding at your feet.

Gunmage Class Features

All gunmages share these features:

Single Out

If you make a ranged attack and have no currently selected single out target, you may make one of the targets of that attack your single out target until the end of the encounter. Once per round, if you hit that target with a ranged attack, including the attack used to make it your single out target, you may choose to deal extra damage to that target. You may not deal extra damage with the single out class feature more than once per round. This damage is of the same type as the weapon damage of your weapon. If the target dies, the target ceases to be your single out target. You may also use a standard action to stop the target from being your single out target. The single out class feature deals damage per level according to the following list:

  • Level 1-10: +1d6
  • Level 11-20: +2d6
  • Level 21-30: +3d6

Elemental Bullets

By spending a minor action you can enchant your magelock weapon so that until the end of the encounter the damage it deals gains a damage type in addition to the damage types it already has. As a move action, you may switch bullet type, but the elemental bullets class feature may only add one damage type to the damage of your magelock weapon at a time.

  • Hoarfrost bullet: The weapon damage from the magelock weapon gains the Cold damage type.
  • Witchfire bullet: The weapon damage from the magelock weapon gains the Fire damage type.
  • Crackling lightning bullet: The weapon damage from the magelock weapon gains the Lightning damage type.
  • Thunderstrike bullet: The weapon damage from the magelock weapon gains the Thunder damage type.

Magelock Weapon

Through arcane rituals taking one hour, you create a bond to a black powder weapon that you are proficient with. The bound weapons becomes your magelock weapon. When using your magelock weapon, you gain an untyped +1 bonus to attack rolls. If you attack your single out target, you instead gain an untyped +2 bonus to attack rolls.

You can create a bond with a different black powder weapon that you are proficient with using the same ritual process (for instance, if you
acquire a new weapon that has magical abilities). If you create a bond with a different black powder weapon, the old bond dissipates. If your bonded weapon is broken or damaged, you can spend 1 hour of meditation to recreate the weapon from a fragment. (This process automatically destroys any other fragments of the weapon in exis- tence, so you can’t use it to create multiple copies of a broken weapon.)


That’s it for today’s post, in the next post, I’ll take a look at the powers, the real crunch of the class. Until then, feedback is more than welcome and I will gladly update this post with any appropriate suggestions!

  1. Interesting! A quick question: are you intending to make distinct paragon paths for the gunmage, or are you intending to make it compatible with the pistoleer and/or musketeer paragon paths you developed earlier in this series?

  2. Good question. So far, I’m working on the heroic tier only, but when I get to paragon, I’ll consider it. Right now, I’m leaning towards it having its own paragon paths, but at least the musketeer would be pretty easily adapted to the gunmage, perhaps via multiclassing if nothing else. Ranger would make a pretty good fit for a second class for a gunmage.

  3. It looks interesting. I’m trying to think of what a different build would/should look like and I’m coming up empty. i had thought of suggesting something like an alchemical bullets sort, that could fire cold-iron, silver and other special substance bullets to hunt supernatural creatures, but that may just be a series of items.

    I think your project also shows just how much work it is to build a new class in 4e.

    • I think you’re right about the other bullet types, better adding them as magical equipment. Different builds need some kind of different take on how to do things while still adhering to the theme, perhaps an idea would be some kind of cleric/warlord/bard trappings instead of the warlock ones. Instead of trying to make bad things happen to your singled out target, you make your singled out target more accessible for your allies (for instance, an attack that gives the next attacker against the target temporary hit points equal to half the damage he dealt in his attack or something to that effect).

      As to the workload, it’s much more than in 3.5. The thing is you have to A) make something that’s interesting and fits in with the existing ruleset, both from a flavor and game mechanics perspective and B) create 30 levels of it and support it with (preferably at least 3-4) paragon paths and epic destinies and feats and magic items. What would a gunmage class be without special bullets (like you mentioned) and enhanced magelock guns.

      That said, the framework for writing your classes is much improved, it’s not as much a free-for-all as in previous editions. If you make your homework, you will probably end up with a reasonably balanced and interesting class.

  4. After some sound advice, I changed the action required to switch bullet type to a move action instead of a minor action.

  5. Now that 4e has been out for a bit and we have proceeded up past a PHB3, is there anything you would alter for this class?

    I had sketched out a draft for my own homebrew version of a gunmage, when a friend pointed me this direction. Our concepts are fairly different, but this is a fairly cool take on things.

    For example, my striker feature pulled from the accuracy of the Avenger rather than the Warlock damage/boon.
    Arcane Sights: As a minor action, the Gunmage sets his sights on a target magically marking it. The gunmage may only have 1 target in his sights at any given time. When that target is defeated, a new target may be set in your sights.
    The gunmage gains a power bonus to hit against his arcane sights target equal to his Int modifier. If the arcane sights target is within your short range and not adjacent to another creature, you attacks have a critical hit range of 19-20. This does not stack with other abilities that increase your critical range.
    This expands to 18-20 at lvl 11 and 17-20 at lvl 21.

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