Breaking the Black Powder Boycott

My Case for Firearms at Your Pathfinder Table

I’m going to start by saying something very unpopular. My favorite class in Pathfinder is the Gunslinger. I love the luck based bravado and the flair that comes with the class. While it does have problems with keeping you vested after the first five levels, Gunslinger is a class that after taking 5 levels in it, you’re forever a Gunslinger no matter what other class levels you take. If I had a dollar for every criticism of firearms in Pathfinder, I wouldn’t have to work a day job. In this article I’m going to tackle some of complaints and try to increase gunslinger acceptance at Pathfinder tables.


How could you ban someone this cool from your table?

But it hits touch, it’s so broken.

This is usually the big mechanical reason people dislike guns. They look at the stat block of a Tarrasque and see its 5 touch AC and wail “A first level Gunslinger can hit a Tarrasque no problem, so broken”. You’re right in that a first level Gunslinger could hit it easily, that’s the hallmark of a Gunslinger, you usually hit.

I feel this is balanced by the misfire mechanic, my old nemesis. Before enchantments, primitive firearms have a 5-15% chance of just not working on any given attack roll. Add alchemical cartridges to fire faster and your misfire chance can be as high as 20%! If you’re daring, you can try to keep fighting with your broken gun, increasing your misfire chance by as much as an additional 20% but watch out! If you misfire a second time your gun wrecks and explodes! Naturally that’s bad, and if you give your firearm a magical enhancement, the weapon “wrecks” becoming unusable until an hour of maintenance is done to it. Suddenly the Earthbreaker seems more reliable.

I do hear the person in the back there “but guns are like magic, hitting touch and all. Gun’s don’t have to contend with spell resistance and I dislike that.” You are right! Guns don’t have to contend with spell resistance, but that’s because guns don’t have the versatility of spells. You can’t fatigue, dominate, charm, frighten, heal, teleport, or buff a person with a firearm. Sometimes that lack of versatility hurts you. I’ll give a personal example. I was playing a scenario with my musket master where we got into a fight at a bar/temple of Cayden Caliean. The monk and other melee people were able to use non-lethal damage to subdue our attacks, I couldn’t do anything. We were being attacked by bouncers who didn’t deserve lethal force and outright killing them may have had negative repercussions for the rest of our mission. Really wished I had Hold Person then.

“But touch ac, TOUCH AC!” Right, right I hear you. It’s a mechanic unlike anything else in the game. It does allow you to consistently hit most opponents within the first range increment. There is a limited range to the Touch AC bit of firearms. There are deeds to increase it, but deeds are bought using a finite resource pool and with firearms like pistols, the first range increment is only 20ft. That’s close enough to have your attacker walk up to you after the shot and punch your face in. Right, remember to protect your face because reloading AND shooting firearms provokes attacks of opportunity, even if you’ve got reloading down to a free action. Also, at least in society play, Pathfinder has gotten away from just putting a flying wizard or huge brute as bosses. I’ve seen a lot of high agility final bosses like monks and rogues, classes whose touch AC is pretty good.

Before I move from the mechanical complaints I do want to acknowledge the person in the back there one more time. The weapon cord X double barreled pistol shenanigans was broken. It never should have been allowed, because that did more damage to Gunslingers then any of their mechanics read individually could. Those rules have since been errata’d and now the Gunslinger is in a much more stable place.


Your average pre-errata Gunslinger.

Guns, in my fantasy? No sir!

This is usually the part when you get relegated to Bolt Ace. If that’s the way you want to handle Gunslingers at your table, that’s fine and dandy. I think, especially if you’re using Golarion as your Pathfinder setting, you should let firearms exist. Like it or not, firearms exist in Golarion, they’re produced in Alkenstar and are spreading worldwide.

I think part of the reason people are thematically opposed to firearms in fantasy is fantasy is often portrayed in the Tolkien sense, hamlets and villages with wizards and heroes in an era technologically similar to the Middle Ages. That Middle Ages technology base tells us something is wrong. I think that’s silly, Golarion isn’t Earth. Golarion is a crazy place; the Realm of the Mammoth Lords is portrayed as a Stone Age society while places like Galt and Andoran are portrayed like countries in the 18th century. Tien Xia reminds me of China during the Warring States period, a conglomeration of independent kingdoms all trying to exert their influence. The time relative to ours changes depending on which country you’re in.  So, to help disperse this perception I want to talk about a period of Japanese history called “Sengoku Jidai” also known as “The Age of Civil War”.


They’re gonna feel so silly when they realize shields don’t count against Touch Attacks.

Sengoku Jidai?

Sengoku Jidai (1467-1603 A.D.) is probably Japans most famous historical depiction. The Shoguns, the Emperors, the Bushido Code and the Samurai we associate Japan with all gained their status as a result of this period of history. It was also during Sengoku Jidai that we hear about some of the most famous Japanese heroes of old; Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and Oda Nobunaga.

I’ll shatter the illusion here; the second half of the Sengoku Jidai was fought not only with katanas and nodachis, but with matchlock muskets. The Portuguese brought then from Gao, India in 1543 with much acclaim. In 1549, Oda Nobunaga ordered 500 for his forces during the Sengoku Jidai, in the battle of Nagashino in 1575 Oda Nobunaga won a resounding victory using 3,000 firearms, and in the 1592 invasion of Korea 40,000 out of Toyotomi Hideyoshis 160,000 strong invasion force was armed with firearms. The Sengoku Jidai period ended in 1615 after the defeat of Toyotomi clan in the Siege of Osaka. In fifty years, the Japanese went from the introduction of the firearm to equipping a quarter of their army with them.

Photograph by Rama, Wikimedia Commons, Cc-by-sa-2.0-fr

Photograph by Rama, Wikimedia Commons, Cc-by-sa-2.0-fr

1592, 40,000 of THESE failed to take Korea. Korean Touch AC is OP.

If you had to place Andoran or Galt in a year, what would it be? What about the city of Alkenstar or Taldor? I’d place these in the same contemporary period as the Sengoku Jidai, the 16th century. Is it so crazy for firearms to spread across the Inner Sea in much the same way they spread around Japan, and the world at large? While complicated, simple firearms aren’t as complicated summoning extra planar entities or perfecting mutagen recipes. Guns are just explosives in a tube that pushes a projectile towards something you want dead. Simple guns can be made with pipes, nails, and scrap metal. No seriously, prison is scary. I will concede, advanced firearms may be pushing your acceptance limit in the Golarion setting. They may fit right in Alkenstar or Numeria, but the precision and skill needed for those weapons would make them a rare sight at best.

So lighten up! Surrender to the setting. Guns exist and they have a legitimate origin in the world. We’ve seen in the real world how a technology like firearms can spread like wildfire, and in a world with teleportation magic, multiple planes, and Kaer Maga (shudder), are guns really that outlandish?

James Ballod

James blossomed into geekdom like a piranha plant in the crack of a sidewalk. Watered by the muscle-brained lore of Warhammer 40,000 and nurtured in the rough bosom of World of Warcraft, tabletop RPGs came late in life to James. The rich lore and real-world influences in games like Pathfinder inspire James to explore them from every angle. When not being an annoying anime-fanboy he can be found discussing the history of various cuisines and over-analyzing real world influences in works of fiction.

We Con When You Can't
We Con When You Can't


  1. Mythraine

    I enjoy firearms as well. I’m a bit more influenced by Warcraft than Tolkien though.

    Good article.

  2. Malovec

    My problem is my DM is just stuck on the ammo. Like how it can exist I guess. It’s so bad that I just dont bother. 🙁

    • That’s a shame. I have a GM in a game with a similar disposition of “you can play gunslinger, but good luck finding ammo”.

      In the American Revolution soldiers would make bullets by melting lead ad dropping it from 2nd and 3rd story buildings into pools of water to make balls.

      Gunpowder itself is just a mix of sulfur, saltpetre (KNO3), and carbon. Sulfur is pretty easily found in nature and is a material component for a handful of spells, so trivial its covered by a spell component pouch. Carbon is easy, you get it from charcoal. Saltpetre you can get from bat guano (also a material component for some spells and covered by a spell component pouch), but you can also make it from pee .

  3. CrusaderWarden


    While I allow firearms in my games, it is in a very limited fashion. And from a fantasy-flavor perspective, it isn’t Tolkein’s fault it’s because of my preferences for swords-and-sorcery. While science fantasy and even pulp fantasy can have firearms, they aren’t the primary or iconic examples of s&s fantasy.

    And highlighting where Golarion should be more Age of Sail (or more advanced) than “traditional” fantasy just reinforced the #1 reason I dumped it favor of other worlds.

  4. Sabastyn

    Sorry magic and Gun powder don’t mix. If there was gunpowder then mages would have invented spells to detonate it at range. So your army would march up and BOOM no army. Other guys win. You can say powder on your person would get a saving throw but any powder stores wouldn’t. Also every Fireball that hits you would blow up your powder as well.

    I just can’t see magic and powder mixing. With magic you don’t need it anyway, there are a hundred ways to make better weapons. Besides why on earth would you avoid all armor? magical armor should be able to shrug off bullets, so it should count anyway. I can only see downsides too it.

    • Magic is kinda your Deux Ex Machina really, why do anything if it can be done with magic?

      Why do we even walk, shouldn’t there be mages to create easy mass levitation spells? Why have farmers to grow crops, just get a bunch of mages to cast Heroes Feast and solve hunger. Why fight over natural resources like minerals and clean water when you can just have a mage make a portal to a plane made of that resource? Why even fight with swords? There are about a dozen spells in the game which allow magic to use swords to attack and defend for you.

      You’re not wrong magic is powerful, but magic is limiting in its ability to theoretically do everything.

      Your ideas aren’t wrong either, gunpowder can be volatile. I just want you to step back and adjust your post a bit. Change references to “powder” to food. You’d have the same problem, armies can’t fight without supplies, and digging in a little deeper into this idea, in a real war your mages probably aren’t doing a ton of fighting, its probably peasants. A big reason firearms have become the weapon of choice for war is for their ease of use. You don’t have to train a person to block, parry, or shoot an arrow, you just teach them to hold the tube straight.

      You have every right to keep firearms out of your games, I’m just providing an opposing viewpoint to rationalize it.

      **Sidenote: The explosive potential of black powder isn’t tremendous. It’s nothing like current gunpowder. If your powder-horn ignited you’d get a nasty burn and some smoke inhalation, but it wouldn’t be a hand-grenade.