Pathfinder - Practical Guide to Firearms
Last Updated: April 27th, 2017
I support a limited subset of Pathfinder's rules content. If you would like help with Pathfinder player options not covered here, please email me and I am happy to provide additional assistance.
I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks. Also note that many colored items are also links to the Paizo SRD.
- Red: Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
- Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances
- Green: Good options.
- Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.
Ultimate Combat introduced firearms alongside the Gunslinger class. The Ultimate Equipment Guide includes rules for new firearms. With the sizable list of weapons, feats, and class archetypes which support firearms, many classes and characters can make use of these potent weapons.
To make the best use of firearms, we must first understand how they work, and examine what options are available to us. Start by reading the Firearms section in the Ultimate Equipment guide. It is the most recently written and most complete.
Unlike most exotic weapons, firearms all use one feat for proficiency. This means that anyone can come along and learn to use every firearm with a single feat. Any class or archetype which depends on firearms will provide this feat for free. Rogues who want to dabble in firearms can take the Firearm Training talent.
Capacity is one of the early limitations on damage output for gun users. Additional barrels allows you make additional attacks before needing to reload, which can help give you an advantage early in a fight.
Range and Penetration
Penetration is what sets firearms apart from other ranged weapons. Though their damage isn't that much better than normal weapons, firearms can be used against touch AC, but without technically being touch attacks. This allows the application of Deadly Aim, thereby dramatically increasing your damage output while making attacks which are nearly guranteed to hit.
Early firearms can only penetrate within their first range increment, so pistol users will be within 20 feet and musket users within 40. This limitation has major tactical implications for gun users, and places a great deal of importance on good positioning and careful tactical movement.
Loading a Firearm
Loading your weapon is the hardest part of using a gun. One-handed weapons (pistols, etc.) take a Standard Action, and two-handed weapons (muskets, etc.) take a Full Round Action, and that's just for a single barrel. Either way, you're only going to be able to attack once ever other round unless your weapon has a capacity above 1 or you are carrying multiple guns.
Rapid Reload is basically required for gun users. Pistol users can load and make a single attack in a turn, and Musket users can reload and move in the same turn. In addition, you can use Alchemical Cartridges to reduce the reload time further. Combined with rapid reload, you can reload one-handed firearms as a free action, and you can reload two-handed firearms as a move action.
It is unclear if Metal Cartridges, which are used for Advaned Firearms, reduce the reload time. Advaned Firearms onle use metal cartridges, and the entry on advanced firearms states that they take a move action to fully load. The description for Metal Cartridges describes them as more advanced alchemical cartdidges, which could be interpreted to mean that they reduce the move action reload time to a free action. I would rule that Advanced Firearms take a move action to full load, but then expand Rapid Reload (which doesn't mention advanced firearms) to allow characters to reload their advanced firearms as a free action.
Misfires are a pain. The first will break your weapon, and the second will destroy it unless it is magical or advanced. This limitation can't really be overcome, but the Gunslinger gets some options to recover from misfires.
Major sticker shock here. The first thing you may notice is that ammunition is incredibly expensive. If you're firing alchemical cartridges (and you should be), each shot costs 12 gp. Using black powder and a seperate bullet is only slightly cheaper at 11 gp per shot, and takes longer to reload. Every time you fire, you're shooting a pile of money at people. At some point you might consider just paying enemies to go away to save money on ammunition.
Alchemical cartridges also include special ammunition. The Tangling Shot and Flare Shot provide interesting tactical options, but keep in mind that the DCs aren't spectacular, and they don't scale at all. Flare Shot is cheap enough that you can afford to retry it until it works, but you will have better results using Tanglefoot bags instead of Tangling Shot.
Scatter weapons offer an interesting tactical option. Instead of firing a single bullet, Scatter weapons can fire a cone, making an attak against each target in the cone. Assuming you have several targets grouped in such a way that you can hit several with a cone, this could allow you hit several additional targets with a single attack. Combined with multiple attacks from a full attack, you can do a lot of damage.
Firing cones from scatter weapons prevents you from using damage-increasing feats to increase the damage, which includes Point-Blank Shot and Deadly Aim. You will be dependant on Weapon Training, weapon enhancements, and normal damage dice. Because damage dice don't generally keep pace with damage from feats, and because the cone size for early firearms is very small, it can be difficult to use Scatter weapons effectively. However, the Shotgun's 30 foot cone is enormous, and can be used to great effect.
In general, scatter weapons deal less damage than their non-scatter equivalent, and have higher misfire chance (compare Pistol to Dragon Pistol, and Blunderbuss to Musket). If you do not plan to actively use the Scatter shot, use non-scatter weapons and forge that the option exists.
Double-barreled weapons are generally overlooked, but startlingly powerful. The second barrel allows you to make an additional attack (though both attacks are made at a steep -4 penalty) as part of the same action. Assuming I haven't horribly misread the rules, this means that each of your attacks can fire both barrels. As you gain levels, your attack bonuses will greatly outstrip touch AC. The -4 penalty will stop mattering, and doubling your damage is likely worth the penalty. Double-barreled weapons generally also have a higher misfire chance.
Picking a Firearm
Like any character dependant on weapons, your choice of weapon is a life-long decision which will define how you behave in combat. Rapid Reload only applies to one weapon, and the Gunslinger's Weapon Training ability only applies to one weapon. This limitation will generally restrict you to a single weapon unless you decide to invest enough feats to train in a second weapon type.
- Axe musket: You trade two dice sizes and 10 feet of range for an axe blade. The damage dice change isn't cripling, but the range loss hurts. If you plan to be in close combat with your gun, this could be a good choice.
- Blunderbuss: You give up many of the Musket's advantages for the ability to fire in a cone. The cone size isn't any bigger than the Dragon Pistol's, so the blunderbuss isn't very good.
- Buckler gun: A very fancy accessory for your buckler, the buckler gun can be a fine backup weapon, but should never serve as your primary weapon. You must remove the buckler to load the pistol, so if you plan to use Two-Weapon Fighting, you would do better with a normal pistol.
- Coat pistol: Half the range of a normal pistol, which already has poor range. You really only want to use a coat pistol as a backup weapon, so take advantage of the Sleight of Hand bonus to keep it hidden on your person for emergencies.
- Culverin: The culverin does a lot of damage, but unless you brace it, you will be knocked prone when you fire it and take a -4 penalty to your attack. If you plan to use Vital Strike, this is a solid option. You can use firearms while prone, and the -4 penalty won't matter much at high levels.
- Dagger pistol: Like a tiny Axe Musket. The damage is small, and the range is bad. Unless you have a very specific tactic in mind, this is bad. Characters who need to be in melee with a melee weapon should be using something bigger.
- Double-barreled musket: A musket with a second barrel. If you don't plan to fire the second barrel, save the money and get a musket.
- Double-barreled pistol: A pistol with a second barrel. If you don't plan to fire the second barrel, save the money and get a pistol.
- Double hackbut: A bigger, scarier version of the Culvering, the Double Hackbut has a two-shot capacity, huge damage, and requires you to drag around a weapon to use it effectively. If you can set up before combat, this is fantastic, but the annoyance of dragging a wagon around makes this weapon difficult to use
- Dragon pistol: Half the range of a pistol, but you can use it to fire a cone. If you don't have access to advanced firearms but still need to fire a cone, this is arguably a better option than the Blunderbuss.
- Fire Lance: I don't know why anyone would ever use this. It costs 21 gp to fire, and targets normal AC.
- Pepperbox: At low levels, this reduces the need for Rapid Reload or alchemical cartridges. However, once you fire all six shots you're right back to using a normal pistol. This can be a good choice for characters who won't use firearms exclusively, or as a backup weapon if you specialized in something two-handed.
- Pistol: Probably the most widely used firearm, the pistol can be reloaded as a free action with Rapid Reload and Alchemical Cartridges, which allows you to use it for full attacks. If you can find a way to reload them, you can also use Two-Weapon Fighting with a pair of pistols.
- Musket: The Musket Master makes the Musket a truly fantastic option. It has the highest damage of any non-cannon firearm, good range, and it's fairly reliable. Without the Musket Master archetype, you will spend a lot of time reloading, so a Pistol may be a better option.
- Sword Cane Pistol: Very cool, but not very good. The description also fails to list what stats to use for the sword portion of the weapon.
- Warhammer Musket: Identical to the axe musket, but with a different damage type on the melee attachment.
- Double-barreled shotgun: The shotgun's big appeal is the 30-foot cone, but the appeal doesn't stop there. Using it to fire bullets doubles the damage dice, making the shotgun more damaging than a rifle. The range is only 20 feet, but remember that advanced weapons penetrate out to 4 range increments. The addition of a second barrel allows you to fire twice before spending a move action to reload, or you can fire both shots at once with the normal double-barreled rules, and reload in the same turn. You may also be able to combine the double-barreled shot with Vital Strike for some very impressive damage. Check with your DM before making any assumptions.
- Pepperbox Rifle: Slightly less reliable than a rifle, but 4 times the capacity. Because your ammunition doesn't change the reload speed on advanced weapons, and because Rapid Reload doesn't reduce the reload speed of two-handed Advanced Firearms (their reload speed is already below a Standard Action), the Pepperbox Rifle is a much better option than the rifle.
- Revolver: You can't reduce the reload time past a move action, but a 6 round capacity means you shouldn't need to reload frequently, especially at low levels. This also means that the revolver can be used for Two-Weapon Fighting very easily because you don't need a free hand to spin the barrels like you do with a Pepperbox.
- Rifle: The rifle should be good, but its only real advantage over the musket is range. Granted, it has a huge range advantage, but you can never reduce the reload time below a move action, which limits you to a single shot per round.
- Shotgun: Double-barreled shotgun is strictly better.
Should I allow firearms in my games?
How many firearms you allow, and what technology level is up to you. Ultimate Combat includes a section on Firearms in Your Campaign. Firearms have wide-reaching implications for the power level of your game, and for the technology level of your setting.
Early vs. Advanced
The difference in technology level between early and advanced firearms is significant. The revolver have a 6 round capacity, allowing the user to make several attacks before needing to reload. The rifle, despite doing very slightly less damage than the musket, has double the range, allowing the user to make touch attacks at a stunning 80 foot range. The pepperbox rifle combines the improvements of the two, adding a 4 round capacity to the rifle. The double-barrelled shotgun adds a second barel to the shotgun, which is the functional replacement for the blunderbuss.
In addition to better capacity and range, advanced firearms penetrate within their first five range increments, dramatically expanding their effective range. You can reload advanced firearms as a move action, which lets you make full attacks much more frequently. Rapid Reload doesn't appear to affect avanced firearms as written, but that hardly makes them any less amazing.