CRB is a repository of all the creative things that float through my mind about the RPG Pathfinder. Two major features are random character generation and building characters based on the god they worship. Anything that seems like it adds to the creative aspects of the game will pop up from time to time, including location descriptions, adventure ideas and even short stories. CRB won't just be my own creativity, it will open the floor to anyone who has an idea sparked by what I present to you.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Loaded for Bear - Firearms and You

Many GMs, players, or entire game groups are put off by guns in games like Pathfinder. There are a myriad of reasons, which I will touch on, but this article is going to be more about things you can add to a game with guns to give them more pop. Personally I’m a fan of early firearms in games, I’ve used them as a player and had players use them in games I’ve run as GM. I don’t think they should be a dime a dozen and purchasable at the corner weapons dealer, but I’m ok with them.

One of the biggest reasons people dislike guns, at least in pathfinder, is the firearms hit Touch AC. The thing is, they don’t just hit touch AC all day every day. It must be within the first range increment and most firearm ranges are pretty short: 20’ for pistols and 40’ for muskets. Later on they can get deeds which allow them to hit Touch AC farther out, but this is an expenditure of a resources, grit. Is it really such a big deal that firearms can hit Touch AC at further than one range increment when wizards can fling around ray spells that hit Touch AC, and often do more damage?

GMs who are closely familiar with the Pathfinder system may already be aware of some other mitigating factors that limit the impact of firearm use. One obscure and oft overlooked rule that directly affects firearms are those governing Soft Cover, and since gunslingers tend to be starved for feats, issues with Soft Cover and firing into melee (for a combined -8 to hit) may well plague them until mid to high level content.  A knowledgeable GM will also keep in mind that the feat Deflect Arrows and the spell Protections From Arrows both work against bullets and will occasionally equip their bad guys with these buffs, or with magic items that emulate them. Then there is the fact that even if you have the time to handcraft your own ammo, one shot of powder and a bullet costs 1.1 gold. Most low level gunslingers are only going to be able to afford a few rounds, meaning they aren’t always going to use their firearm in combat.

While the above tips may help to handle a perceived power imbalance created by the introduction of firearms into a campaign, there are still other issues often quoted by opponents of black powder weaponry.  Some take issue with what they see as the disruptive influence that firearms have in the atmosphere of a medieval magical campaign. This is different for each game world. Golarion is obviously not a full-on medieval world, although some areas of it emulate everything from the caveman stone age up to the industrial revolution era, with plenty of room for medieval feudalistic fun in between. 

In general, however, there are many indicators that put the overall time frame of Golarion well out of the medieval period. Among those are the size of many of the major cities, the prevalence of the written word and literacy, and the undeniably large number of sailing vessels, and wide ranging trade. This makes it feasible for a broad range of technological levels to exist concurrently in one adventure. Some gamers, however, play in a fully medieval setting and in this instance the reticence to allow firearms in your game is understandable. It is, however, worth noting that there were some basic firearms in Europe by the early 1400s and handheld firearms had become far more common by the late 1500s.

If we are going to be honest with ourselves, we have to realize that this is a fantasy game about killing dragons and such, and that it is inevitable that all games will contain some level of anachronism in play. Some of the same people who complain loudly about the inappropriateness of firearms in fantasy RPGs will include all sorts of other historical inaccuracies while omitting guns from their campaign. The rapier wasn’t invented until the early 1500s, and as a matter of fact it was almost a direct response to firearms becoming more common. Due to the ease of which heavy metal armor was pierced by a fired projectile, people took to wearing lighter armors that provided more maneuverability. With lighter armor coming into vogue the use of heavier swords diminished in favor of light quick weapons, therefore the rapier became a common weapon through the 16th and 17th centuries. So why include some anachronistic things and not firearms? The only real answer that I see is personal preference, which again is fine, but I believe should just be claimed as such and not lauded as “Historical Accuracy.”

Another large group of anti-firearms types would fall into the group I think of as “Fantasy Firsters”.  They believe that firearms destroy the atmosphere of a fantasy game and turn it into something else… something that is not fantasy. I’ll admit I am not honestly a fantasy writing historian, but it seems to me that the variety of works that fall under the fantasy genre are so great that firearms should not be excluded by default. I suspect that the gun, in the eyes of many, marked the end of the age of heroes.  Anyone could wield a firearm with minimal training and could use it to kill a knight in shining armor with little trouble. How amazing is a Wizard's Fireball when a grenade can do the same thing?  I would point out that if one wants to look to the true source of the end of such heroes, one should take a look at the crossbow, which was also able to pierce plate armor and could likewise be wielded by a commoner with little or no training. I would also point out that there is far more to the power of a Wizard than his ability to hurl orbs of fire. 

There ends up being many arguments over what constitutes “fantasy” and what does not. Some aficionados separate even the fantasy genre into many subgenres and I’ve seen it argued that the use of firearms in books of authors that I could consider fantasy are really not true fantasy but one bastard subgenre. So although I cannot claim a full understanding of the many rigid divisions that some place upon the fantasy genre, I can say that I think there should be a place for firearms within them, and I leave it to others with more knowledge (and time on their hands) to determine exactly how that place will be defined.

Does this mean you should allow guns in your game just because I do? Absolutely not. These are just my opinions on the subject and certainly not a hard and fast rule for every gaming group. I do think that if you consider R.A.W rulesets as your sole reason for allowing or disallowing them then you should at least be sure that you completely understand all the rules at play. With all of this considered, if you are still against them, then that is (as always) your right to play as you wish. If you’d like to see some interesting character ideas I had for gunslingers check out my Way of the Gun post about followers of Lorris.

For those of us who have accepted firearms into our games, I’d like to talk a little bit about some nifty things I’ve been reading up and a cool video on gunsmithing I found here. One of the things that amazed me is how difficult it is to make a gun. Even a specialized artisanal craftsman requires up to 300 hours to craft a weapon and was forced to import spring steel from a land that had access to high techfor the timesteel smelting capabilities. The craftsman was not only a blacksmith, but a carpenter, a brazier, an engraver, a tool smith, and several other things. On Golarion you have very few places that can make these kinds of guns, Alkenstar is one of the few that can produce them with any accuracy but even then mass production is out of the question and every one is a bespoke work of art.

The thing about making guns is that not only is every piece of every gun handcrafted, but every tool is handcrafted as well. If you managed to make it through the video you’ll see what I think is the most amazing early example of a drill press. One of the things they mention in the video is that a gunsmith will often add extra pieces with no mechanical use, but that are personalizations of his own pieces. This could be a very interesting addition to any game when players or NPCs recognize a gun by the personal additions added by the gunsmith.

The other thing about early firearms is that parts aren’t interchangeable. Nothing is mass produced, every screw is bespoke and will literally only work in the one screw hole on the gun because each thread is unique. A knowledgeable GM will use this information to color events like what happens during misfires, or how the gnomish experimental gunsmith or the gun scavenger archetypes make their weapons. Forcing things that shouldn’t fit together to fit together is not exactly an option when black powder is in the mix, and many hours of fine tool work may be needed for even the simplest repairs.

In my personal opinion firearms can add a lot to a fantasy game and I don’t think they should be ignored. My goal is not to force everyone to agree with me, but to at least have folks take a second look at firearms in their game if applicable. I’ll understand if you continue to not use them and wish you good gaming even if we disagree.

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