Opinions range widely on the topic of whether any sort of firearm belongs in a fantasy-based role-playing game. This article won’t weigh in on that topic, however. As with all things Dungeons & Dragons, it all comes down to whether the players and DM are happy with the story they’re telling at their individual table.
Personally, I’ve run plenty of successful D&D games where firearms of various sorts have been available, and have woven magic-fueled wheel-locks into the history of my current work-in-progress campaign setting. Before you jump in headfirst, however, let’s take a look at how they work in the game!
Firearms 5e Mechanics
If you’re considering the pros and cons of integrating firearms into your game, you need only look as far as the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Chapter 9: Dungeon Master’s Workshop contains optional rules for firearms, as well as some complete charts for firearms at different generalized technology levels; Renaissance, Modern, and Futuristic.
As I definitely feel that the Renaissance category is an easier fit for your average D&D game, I’ll be focusing my attention on those. However, should you opt for something a bit more powerful, just know that those options exist.
Before I get into an examination of the stats, it bears noting that the DMG’s treatment of firearms was retooled a bit by the unofficial Gunslinger martial archetype. We’ll dig into the Gunslinger in another article, but the firearm stats I’m presenting below, as well as the rest of this article, do not reflect the Gunslinger updates.
Now, from a purely statistical point of view, firearms are more dangerous than your average bow or crossbow, but they also have unique mechanics and drawbacks which, I believe, makes them balanced from a mechanical perspective.
D&D 5e Renaissance Firearms
|Musket||500 gp||1d12 piercing||10 lb.||(40/120)||Ammunition, Loading, Two-Handed|
|Pistol||250 gp||1d10 piercing||3 lb.||(30/90)||Ammunition, Loading|
|Bullets (10)||3gp||2 lb.|
D&D 5e Modern Firearms
|Pistol, automatic||–||2d6 piercing||3 lb.||50/150||Ammunition, reload (15 shots)|
|Revolver||–||2d8 piercing||3 lb.||40/120||Ammunition, reload (6 shots)|
|Rifle, hunting||–||2d10 piercing||8 lb.||80/240||Ammunition, reload (5 shots), two-handed|
|Rifle, automatic||–||2d8 piercing||8 lb.||80/240||Ammunition, burst fire, reload (30 shots), two-handed|
|Shotgun||–||2d8 piercing||7 lb.||30/90||Ammunition, reload (2 shots), two-handed|
D&D 5e Futuristic Firearms
|Laser Pistol||–||3d6 radiant||2 lb.||Ammunition (range 40/120), reload (50 shots)|
|Antimatter Rifle||–||6d8 necrotic||10 lb.||Ammunition (range 120/360), reload (2 shots), two-handed|
|Laser Rifle||–||3d8 radiant||7 lb.||Ammunition (range 100/300), reload (30 shots), two-handed|
Before we get into the specifics of these, let’s take a moment to discuss the properties. Two-handed, Ammunition and Reloading are standard weapon properties in D&D and are shared by a variety of other weapons. So, how do they work within the context of firearms?
There’s no getting around it; the musket is a big weapon, and it absolutely requires both hands to use it effectively. However, and I found this to be especially noteworthy, the musket does not also carry the Heavy property.
At 10 lbs, it’s on par with both the Maul and Greatclub and is outweighed only by the Pike and the Heavy Crossbow. But, since it isn’t burdened by the Heavy property, that means that it’s balanced enough to be used without disadvantage by Small and Tiny creatures.
So, if you really had your heart set on a Halfling Musketeer, you are absolutely golden!
Firearm ammo can be pricey. You need arrows for your longbow? No problem. 1 gp for 20 arrows. Oh, you say you need some bullets for your musket? That’ll be 3 gp for 10, please. Yup, triple the cost for half the ammunition.
Also, when dealing with slings, bows, and crossbows, the 5e DnD rules state that you can recover half your expended ammunition, after a battle, by taking a minute to search the battlefield. Sadly, when it comes to bullets for your pistol or musket, this rule simply does not apply. Ammunition is expended and considered to be destroyed, the moment you roll to hit.
To keep guns from having an unfair advantage in a mostly-medieval fantasy world, some limitations come with increased firepower. Both the musket and the pistol are one-shot weapons before they require reloading.
This means that, regardless of how many attacks a character might normally be able to make, this weapon can only fire once. This applies whether the attack utilized an action, bonus action, or reaction.
While this may seem somewhat harsh, it bears noting that firearms do share this property with blowguns and all versions of the crossbow.
Firearms of this sort are not exactly stealth-friendly weapons. While there is no in-game mechanical reflection of noise, smoke, flash, and smell of the firearms, they’re definitely aspects that the DM is likely to take into account.
While your Ranger might be quite capable of sneaking within range of that Gnoll encampment, he’s not going to be dropping them silently once the roar of his musket shakes the trees!
Conversely, combat, in general, is quite loud anyway. It’s not like the clang of weapons, shields, and cries of rage and pain are exactly whispers. The roar of gunfire shouldn’t be a regular setback, but it’s absolutely something to keep in mind.
As mentioned before, we’ll be taking a deep dive into the Gunslinger archetype in another article. But, what if you want to play another character type who uses firearms? Let’s take a look at a few suggestions.
- Gunner – What’s not to like about the Gunner feat? It’s almost a requirement to pick this one up. It boosts your Dexterity score by 1, gives you proficiency with firearms, you ignore the Loading property, and you don’t get saddled with disadvantage on your ranged attack rolls when you’re within 5 feet of a hostile creature. Mandatory!
- Sharpshooter – This is one heck of an advantageous add-on, particularly for a character that you’re envisioning as a sort of sniper. First, your attacks at long range don’t suffer from disadvantage.
Next, all your ranged weapon attacks completely ignore everything but Total Cover. Finally, any time you make a ranged attack with a weapon that you’re proficient with, you can voluntarily take a penalty on the roll of -5. If despite the -5, you hit the target, you add +10 to that attack’s damage.
- Piercer – To be clear, I’m talking about the Piercer feat, not the cave-clinging monstrosity that delights in dropping and impaling their prey. No, the Piercer feat allows you a number of great advantages. First, there’s the choice of a boost of 1 to either Strength or Dexterity (Dex being the obvious choice).
Also, once per turn after you’ve hit a foe with an attack that does piercing damage (as both the pistol and musket do), you can reroll one of the attack’s damage dice. Now, you must use the result of the new roll. But, imagine the utility of this feat when you get that amazing shot and roll a 1 on the damage die.
Nope. REROLL! Oh, and finally, whenever you score a critical hit that deals piercing damage, you get to roll one additional damage die and add that to the total damage delivered. That’s quite a bit from one feat!
So, you’ve decided to go all-in and introduce firearms into your D&D game. Fantastic! If you’re running a home-brewed campaign setting, you’ve got carte blanche on how they integrate with the history and culture of your world.
But, what if you’re using an established and published setting for your game? Well, certainly you always have the option of ignoring what has gone before and simply introducing firearms regardless. It’s your game, after all.
But, just in case you’re curious, I thought it’d be helpful to get just a quick summation of how firearms have been addressed in some of the published Dungeons and Dragons settings over the years.
Birthright – Firearms on the world of Aebrynis had a very limited presence. For the most part, their greatest use was in the form of great bombards (a form of primitive cannon) which were mounted on naval ships and fired with an alchemical substance locally called Hellpowder.
Dark Sun – To my knowledge, Athas has no analog to gunpowder or firearms. Personally, I don’t really see it fitting that well. Although, the image of a Mul wielding an alchemical cannon from a war howdah mounted atop a Mekillot is…epic.
Dragonlance – Krynnhad some firearms, which were the work of tinker gnomes. And because they were made by these mad gnomes, they had a tendency to be overly complicated as well as potentially dangerous to their wielders.
Eberron – By default, Eberron lacks firearms. This world’s reliance upon Artificers and Magewrights has instead resulted in exceptional advances in the use of magical wands, rods, and staves for very similar purposes.
Exandria – Black powder weapons, while still by no means common, have begun to work their way into the hands of tinkers, engineers, and specialist troops as well as naval ships.
Forgotten Realms – A substance similar to gunpowder, known on Toril as smokepowder, has seen some use over the centuries. While they’re still mostly associated with the faithful of Gond as well as the island nation of Lantan, firearms have begun to find favor with diverse individuals across the Realms.
Greyhawk – Oerthwas largely absent of firearms, due to local physics and magic rendering black powder inert. Firearms on this world were only found in use by the clerics of the Oerthian god of science, Murlynd, as their divine magic allowed them to make the weapons function.
Magic: The Gathering Planes – I’ve not seen anything that indicates the presence of firearms in any of the published Magic: The Gathering planar write-ups. However, if I were interested in using any of them, I’d be most likely to include them in a game set in Ravnica or Innistrad as both have a particular aesthetic that I feel works well with firearms.
The Known World – Mystarahad firearms in the Savage Coast, a region in the far western portion of the planet.
Nentir Vale – I don’t believe anything like firearms was mentioned anywhere during the 4th edition.
Planescape – This one is somewhat complicated. While I could find no explicit mention of firearms being tied to the Planescape setting itself, Sigil’s status as a literal hub of the planes means that anything’s possible. If guns exist in any world which is linked to Sigil, then it’s conceivable that someone could carry guns through one of its many doors. Now, whether they work in the city, or in any of the planes beyond, is another matter altogether.
Ravenloft – While the particulars might vary from Domain to Domain, firearms have definitely been seen and used in the Domains of Dread.
Spelljammer – Spelljammer is in a similar status as Planescape concerning its placement as a cross-campaign setting. However, one really needs to look no further than the 7-foot-tall, hippopotamus-headed, spacefaring mercenary Giff to see proof that firearms have a home in Wildspace.
Firearms 5e FAQs
Absolutely, though they’re considered to be 100% optional. The Dungeon Master’s Guide provides a short section in Chapter 9 that gives basic stats and explanations for including firearms of various sorts for your D&D game.
Firearms are considered to be Martial Ranged Weapons in 5th edition D&D.