Pathfinder is getting two new classes, and you can help shape the future of those classes with the new Guns & Gears Playtest! The details for these classes can be found right here, and I recommend you give that a skim or at least have it open while I give you my two cents on the Second Edition Gunslinger class! I’m going to save remarks regarding the perceived efficacy of the classes’ features until the end of the article, so feel free to skip that part if you don’t want my gut-feelings interfering with your opinion of the class. Note that I have yet to play the class myself, so my opinions could very well change from now until then.
Firearms are ranged weapons that do a fair amount of damage, especially with the potent fatal ability that changes their damage die on a critical hit. They have the potent critical specialization effect of giving the target stunned 1 unless they succeed on a Fortitude save. The arquebus deals an extra 1 or 2 points of damage against flat-footed targets, but requires you to set it up with a tripod, or taking an interact action to aim before firing it. The blunderbuss can attack a cone of creatures, dealing splash damage even if it misses. Firearms need to be cleaned every day during exploration mode or they will misfire 20% of the time (DC 5 flat-check), causing them to jam. Certain feats will also cause a misfire on a failure.
The Gunslinger has the Armor of a Rogue, Perception of a Ranger, and Weapon Proficiency of a Fighter (with Firearms/Crossbows). It has a low will save, but unlike Fighter who gets bonuses against Fear, the Gunslinger gets bonuses after the far less common Controlled Condition. This is made up for with the powerful Grit & Determination class feat.
The “big deal” here is Gunslinger is the only other class to get that awesome Legendary proficiency in any weapon that up until now many thought was the sole territory of the Fighter. This is extra important for the Gunslinger given Firearms all have the Fatal weapon trait. And, of course, using their firearm to strike is fundamentally the one thing the Gunslinger should be able to do better than anyone else, since almost every feature the class gets revolves around that action in one way or another.
Note that the class can use a crossbow instead of a firearm, to help those campaigns that don’t want black powder technology. During this article I’m going to use the word “firearm” for simplicity’s sake, but know that the crossbow works for most of the gunslinger’s feats and abilities.
These three class paths are going to define your particular style of gunslinger. Each gives you an additional skill you are trained in, acces to a unique 6th level class feat with the Flourish trait, and an ability at level 1, 9, and 15. The first level ability is a free action that triggers when you roll initiative, letting you draw one or more weapons and giving you a bonus to your first round of combat.
The ways can be best thought of in terms of your range in combat: Short Range, Long Range, or Mid-Range. The Drifter uses a melee weapon with their firearm and focuses on movement and making multiple attacks. The sniper stays as far away as possible from enemies and tries to do maximum damage without being engaged in melee. The pistolero can try to do a bit of both, focusing on consistent damage using two firearms or a firearm and a melee weapon.
Into the Fray gives you a free Stride toward an enemy during the first round of combat, but limits your free weapon draws to a firearm and a melee weapon. The 6th-level class feat Reloading Strike lets you attack and then reload your gun as a single action. It’ll be essential for the Drifter, since it also let’s you reload even when you have a melee weapon in your other hand. The 9th-level Rebounding Assault lets you effectively combine a melee and ranged attack into a single ranged attack to reduce multiple-attack penalty, combine the damage against monsters with resistance, and adding 1d6 precision damage if both attacks hit. The powerful 15th-level Drifter’s Wake lets you strike and make three attacks with no multiple attack penalty!
Ten Paces gives you +2 to initiative, let’s you draw a single weapon, and gives you a free action Step up 10 feet during your first round, getting some distance to or from enemies without provoking Attacks of Opportunity. The 6th-level class feat Pistolero’s Challenge let’s you challenge a target with Deception or Intimidation, giving you both a status bonus on damage rolls against one another. The 9th-level Pistolero’s Retort let’s you Strike a foe who critically failed an attack roll against you. And the 15th-level Finish the Job gives you a free Strike with your other hand if your last action was a failed Strike.
One Shot, One Kill lets you draw your firearm, and gives you some precision damage on your first attack (at a slower advancement than a rogue’s sneak attack). The 6th-level class feat Shattering Shot let’s you blast a bomb over your enemies, doing your One Shot, One Kill damage as splash damage in a 15-foot burst using the same type of damage as the bomb. This will do less damage than the target of an alchemical bomb, but way more splash damage at a wider area. The 9th-level Vital Shot gives you an extra die of weapon damage, and the target of your One Shot, One Kill takes persistent bleed damage. The 15th-level Ghost Shot makes it so you are not automatically observed after your first attack using One Shot, One Kill.
Cover Fire let’s you negate a cover bonus, unless the creature wants a greater cover bonus and a penalty to ranged attacks next turn. Hit the Dirt! Is nimble dodge with a free Leap action that improves at 8th level. Firearm Ace gives guns you reload +2 to damage on their next attack. It also increases the damage die of your simple firearms, making it great if your GM decides the tech level of the campaign is such that only simple firearms exist. Sword and Pistol enables the Drifter to consistently make target’s Flat-Footed (similar to Twin Feint), and prevent reactions from shooting while in melee.
Assisting Shot seems deceptively useful. Blast Lock seems odd for a Dexterity class, but you might not want to invest in Thievery. But I still can’t remember the last time I wished I could pick a lock as a single action. Pistol Twirl lets you ranged feint and makes the target flat-footed against all your attacks that round on a success! We all knew Quick Draw was going to be in the class, but it is a little unnecessary with the Gunslinger Way free-actions, unless you want to be Derringer Meryl. Many Gunslingers will pick up Risky Reload, only to retrain out of it when they get another reload option or Flourish feat. Warning Shot enables a nice fear build by opening up Intimidate to a range of 480 feet! Hilarious with Terrified Retreat.
Alchemical Shot lets you add more d6s to your attack as persistent damage, which is going to make snipers especially happy. It might be the strongest 4th-level feat! Black Powder Boost is as hilariously memorable as it is flavorful, making it want it despite my doubts as to its potency. Running Reload gives you your first opportunity to retrain Risky Reload, and pairs nicely with the flourish reload feats if you want to reload more than once per round since it doesn’t have the flourish trait.
Cauterize is amazing, as bleed damage is incredibly lethal. Pistolero’s Challenge is going to make some great campaign moments, and cause debates as to whether or not it can be used in Exploration mode, or if it is used as the first action in an encounter (which becomes more confusing when the Gunslinger Way gives you abilities to use when you roll initiative). I feel like many heavily armored classes want a feat like this to help them “generate threat”. Scatter Blast is pretty niche, but remember that creatures in PF2 have Weakness. Shattering Shot is way better for exploiting weakness and confirms the efficacy of an alchemist sniper I suspected reading Alchemical Shot.
Grit and Tenacity is a very good survival feat that I could see some higher-level characters taking using a multiclass dedication. Paired Shots let you ignore Multiple Attack Penalty and minimize Resistance, but the caveats about precision damage ensure it isn’t an auto-include. Return Fire actually makes Hit the Dirt! a darn good feat. Shooter’s Aim is a darn good feat that feels like an auto-include for snipers, despite the attractiveness of Smoke Curtain for giving you concealed after you take your long-range shot (which your party might hate if you are in close-range when you use it and suddenly there’s a visual obstruction in the battlefield). It also makes those “see-through smoke” abilities are looking that much spicier.
The 10th-level feats are largely support themed, leaving the players to decide what kind of support they want to offer. Debilitating Shot will cripple one enemy, and is especially useful in long-range battles and knocking down “indoor flyers”. Deflecting Shot and Redirecting Shot are two sides of the same coin: one lets you potentially save an ally from getting hit (in a way that fixes the nimble dodge problem), whereas the other gives an ally a reroll on a ranged attack using your bonus, which is probably higher since you have the highest weapon proficiency of any class in the game. Trick Shot is going to be one of the more controversial feats in the book, as many GMs will feel like it should be something that only comes up when they say it should come up and shouldn’t require a feat, but in terms of utility, it will both save the party from a potential failure and let the Gunslinger take center stage. I love seeing utility like this for martial characters.
Glancing Shot gives something for players who desperately want to make that third attack roll. Incredible Ricochet is probably a better option for those players, offsetting your Multiple Attack Penalty by removing bonuses due to concealment and cover. Penetrating Fire let’s you front-load your offset of MAP and shoot like a beam weapon from Starfinder. For Gunslingers who aren’t looking for more ways to offset MAP, Shooter’s Camouflage gives us a traditional Snipe ability, and True Grit enhances the efficacy of the already excellent Grit and Tenacity ability.
Dance of Thunder is the flashiest Gunslinger feat, letting you move, attack, and reload over and over until you miss an attack (up to three times). It’s not going to be very useful against solo boss monsters, but against large groups of mooks, it’s going to create some memorable moments (especially with blunderbuss cones). Remember there are plenty of single-round buffs out there your party can confer to help exploit this ability. I think my favorite use will be attacking tons of inanimate objects in a room as part of a skill challenge. Showstopper lets you Feint multiple people at once, which makes me want to find a feat that triggers when you Feint a creature. Two-Weapon Flurry lets you attack twice for a single action, but it is a press and flourish so the attack will have a multiple-attack penalty and can’t be used with another flourish.
Fatal Bullet adds extra deadly damage. Hair Trigger lets you attack as part of rolling initiative. I think it’s funny that the sniper doesn’t get their precision damage on that first attack (but it does flat-foot the enemy), and the drifter appears to be the only Gunslinger that can draw and fire using the special ability of this feat. Instant Return is one of the most campaign dependent feat in the book, letting you catch ammunition and fire it back if you have the same type of weapon ready.
I’m not sure how effective Piercing Critical is unless you’re frequently shooting with penalties, being you’re an 18th-level PC with a very high weapon proficiency. Unerring Shot will be a very popular choice, as ignoring range penalties and cover is fantastic.
Perfect Readiness gives you permanent quicken, which is great if the caster in the party is tired of spending their first spell each combat casting haste. If your spellcaster is still up to the task, Slinger’s Reflexes gives you an extra reaction each round, which makes Redirecting Shot, Deflecting Shot, and Grit and Tenacity even better.
My Two Tails Cents:
The Drifter has some amazing ways to minimize Multiple Attack Penalty, and being able to exploit the critical specialization and weaknesses of monsters by picking a complementary melee weapon is going to make it something of a blender.
The Sniper looks like it’ll be fantastic fun for anyone who likes rolling lots of damage dice. Fatal d12 plus precision damage on a character with as high a Weapon Proficiency as the Gunslinger is going to make the Sniper a critical hit machine! Imagine only being level 9 and rolling 2d12+6d6+6 with your fiery arquebus…and then throwing in 2d6+1d10 persistent damage!
I’m not as confident about Pistolero. Ten Paces gives you the additional survivability of not having to use your actions to run closer to the enemy, but retort only triggers on a critical failure and you don’t have high enough armor to see that very consistently. Furthermore, by that level you’ll qualify for Return Fire which gives you both the survivability of an AC boost and getting out of melee range, but lets you attack back even if your opponent hit you. Yes, it does take two precious class feats to get that ability, but a Drifter would rather pick that up than Paired Shots or Shooter’s Aim (which they don’t need given their 6th level ability), and you still only get three actions and one reaction per round. That being said, Finish the Job is deceptively cool once you look at all the nice 2-action Class Feats and realize it can be used after two other attacks and with an unarmed strike. So even if you are left holding two pistols, you can still go ahead and kick them in the teeth.
Overall, I’m very impressed with the class and can’t wait to play it. It can be best compared to a fighter, sacrificing some of its defense for the Gunslinger Way abilities, and that high Perception to help boost its initiative. It is a ranged striker class and it looks on paper like it will dish out plenty of damage.