DnD 5e - The Gunslinger Handbook
Last Updated: May 1st, 2019
I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.
- 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.
I will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, even if it is my own, because I can't assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. I also won't cover Unearthed Arcana content because it's not finalized, and I can't guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.
This handbook is for version 1.3 of Matt Mercer's Gunslinger (Affiliate Link). While there are numerous homebrew incarnations of a gunslinger class or archetype, Matt Mercers has gained a great deal of traction in the DnD community, and I have received numerous requests to cover it.
The Gunslinger is in many ways similar to the Battlemaster fighter. You choose a set of "Trick Shots" which let you expend a limited resource pool (grid points) to do some extra stuff on top of attacking and dealing damage. The Gunslinger was originally adapted from the Pathfinder RPG when the Critical Roll podcast migrated from Pathfinder to 5th Edition DnD, and there are still a handful of things which call back to the Pathfinder rules.
Because the Gunslinger is a fighter subclass, it may be helpful to check ma Fighter Handbook for additional advice.
Fighter Class Features
Fighting Style: One of the Fighter's iconic abilities, your choice of fighting style has a significant effect on which firearms are appealing for you.
- ArcheryPHB: The obvious choice for ranged builds. +2 to hit is a big deal in a game where a 20th-level character can expect a maximum of +11 to hit.
- DefensePHB: You're fighting at range, so AC isn't quite as important as it is for melee fighters.
- DuelingPHB: +2 damage while using a single pistol.
- Great Weapon FightingPHB: A possibility for muskets, but muskets aren't good enough to justify it.
- ProtectionPHB: You are not a tank.,
- Two-Weapon FightingPHB: Pistols can fire four shots before reloading, and with some simple management and Quickdraw you can easily avoid reloading in combat. That makes dual wielding pistols a possibility. However, two-weapon fighting still isn't a good proposition for fighters because the math simply doesn't work out. You can still do two-weapon fighting without the fighting style, and Archery will probably net better damage output.
Subclasses - Gunslinger
- Firearm Proficiency: Proficiency in firearms is obviously important for a character built around firearms. Of course, waiting for your subclass to get proficiency means that you spent two levels using some other weapon.
- Gunsmith: Tinker's Tools will prove to be an important part of your character. Tinker's Tools are used to repair your firearms, and the more you fight the more frequently you'll be repairing a broken firearm.
- Adept Marksman: Trick Shots are the most interesting part of the Gunslinger. You get two options at 3rd level, and pick up 6 more over the rest of your career, so you'll get most of the 8 available Trick Shot options.
Adept Marksman also gives you a pool of Grit Points which you'll use to fuel your abilities. You recharge grit points by shooting stuff rather than by resting, which helps when you're in a long series of fights. The most recent update to the Gunslinger makes it harder to recharge your grit points by shooting a barrel full of rats (which was a huge problem in Pathfinder), but given sufficient ammunition you could still shoot an inanimate target repeatedly until you roll enough natural 20's to recharge your grit pool between encounters.
- Quickdraw: Real-world flint-lock weapons take a lot time to load, but drawing them is quick, so when flint-lock weapons were the dominant form of weaponry it was common for people to carry several loaded pistols into battle and switch between loaded pistols rather than reload them in the middle of a fight. If you can afford multiple firearms (and by this level you can), it's often smarter to draw a spare weapon than to spend an attack or an action to reload. In Pathfinder this was less feasible because players sunk tens of thousands of gold into a single weapon, and putting down your +3 pistol to draw another pistol was an absurd prospect.
You also add your proficiency bonus to Initiative, which is really nice.
- Rapid Repair: You already have Quickdraw. If your gun jams, draw another one. Fix them between fights when someone can cast Guidance on you.
- Lightning Reload: Unless you're doing two-weapon fighting with pistols, you're not using your bonus action on most rounds. If you're using a weapon that's hard to carry multiples of (such as a magic weapon, an expensive weapon, or simply a weapon that's very heavy), reloading is a big problem. Moving the reload to a bonus action gives you back an attack every round.
- Vicious Intent: Doubling the critical range makes it much easier to regain grit points.
- Hemorrhaging Critical: More damage is always nice, and since you're scoring critical hits on a 19 or 20 you may get to enjoy this frequently.
- Trick Shots:
- Bullying Shot: A fighter is not a face.
- Dazing Shot: An excellent debuff.
- Deadeye Shot: Easy access to Advantage is really helpful against foes with high AC, and it makes it more likely that you will roll a critical hit and regain your spent Grit Point.
- Disarming Shot: Most monsters you face won't be using weapons.
- Forceful Shot: Situational. Pushing foes is only rarely useful.
- Piercing Shot: Even though the additional attacks are made at Disadvantage, the possibility of hitting one or more additional targets could be a significant amount of extra damage.
- Winging Shot: Knocking a foe prone is really nice for melee characters, but it doesn't help you at all.
- Violent Shot: I would only use this with a firearm with large damage dice like a musket, and even then only if I had Advantage. Raising the misfire chance becomes a problem quickly, so try to save this for when you have Advantage.
The Gunslinger runs on Dexterity, but you need some Wisdom for Grit Points.
Dex: Dexterity is everything to the Gunslinger. Get as much as you can as fast as you can
Con: Essential on any adventurer.
Wis: More Wisdom means more Grit Points.
|Point Buy||Standard Array|
| || |
Dexterity increases are an absolute must. A Wisdom increase is nice, but not strictly necessary. Since no firearms are "heavy", small size isn't an impediment.
AarakocraEEPC: Dexterity and Wisdom increases, and flight. You can't ask for a better option.
DragonbornPHB: No Dexterity increase.
Dwarf: No Dexterity increase.
- DuergarSCAG: No Dexterity increase.
- HillPHB: No Dexterity increase.
- MountainPHB: No Dexterity increase.
ElfPHB: A Dexterity increase and Perception proficiency to capitalize on your high Wisdom.
- Drow: Charisma isn't especially helpful, but the spells are nice.
- High Elf: A cantrip is neat, but not especially helpful. True Strike might be an option if you want to make use of a musket and Violent Strike, but even that isn't geat.
- Wood Elf: Dexterity and Wisdom increases, and a little extra movement speed to keep you out of reach of your enemies.
GenasiEEPC: A Constitution increase never hurts.
- Air: A small Dexterity increase, and you can cast Levitate once per day.
- Earth: No Dexterity increase.
- Fire: No Dexterity increase.
- Water: No Dexterity increase.
Gnome: A couple decent subraces, but the base race doesn't give us much..
- Deep (Svirfneblin)EEPC / SCAG: A small Dexterity increase and superior Darkvision
- ForestPHB: A small Dexterity increase, but that's all that we get which is useful for the Gunslinger.
- RockPHB: No Dexterity increase.
GoliathEEPC: No Dexterity increase.
Half-ElfPHB: Half-elf can be a great option, but there's nothing you get from the Half-elf as a Gunslinger which the Variant Human can't do better.
Half-OrcPHB: No Dexterity increase.
HalflingPHB: Dexterity increase, and Lucky makes you nearly immune to the misfire chance of weapons with Misfire 1.
- LightfootPHB Charisma isn't especially helpful, but it can be nice to hide behind a more durable ally.
- StoutPHB Constitution and poison resistance.
HumanPHB: Versatile and fantastic at everything.
- Vanilla: Bonuses to Dexterity, Constitution, and Wisdom are all great.
- Variant: +1 Dex, +1 Int, and a feat. Take Dual Wielding if you want to dual wield pistols or Sharpshooter if you aren't.
Tiefling: Several viable subraces.
- AsmodeusMToF: No Dexterity increase.
- BaalzebulMToF: No Dexterity increase.
- DispaterMToF: Small Dexterity increase, but the altered spells don't work as well for the Gunslinger as the Asmodeus Tiefling's.
- FiernaMToF: No Dexterity increase.
- GlasyaMToF: Small Dexterity increase, and some spells to help you ambush enemies.
- LevistusMToF: No Dexterity increase.
- MammonMToF: No Dexterity increase.
- MephistophelesMToF: No Dexterity increase.
- ZarielMToF: No Dexterity increase.
- Variant: FeralSCAG: A good Dexterity increase, and the Tiefling's other racial traits are good.
- Variant: Devil's TongueSCAG: No Dexterity increase.
- Variant: HellfireSCAG: No Dexterity increase.
- Variant: WingedSCAG: No Dexterity increase.
This section does not address every published feat, as doing so would result in an ever-growing list of options which don't cater to the class. Instead, this section will cover the backgrounds recommended in the "Quick Build" section of the class description, as well as other backgrounds which I think work especially well for the class, or which might be tempting but poor choices. The possibility of custom backgrounds also means that it is literally impossible for me to provide comprehensive analysis of every potential background in existence.
- Crossbow ExpertPHB: Don't plan to use crossbows, but the second benefit (no disadvantage for making ranged attacks while adjacent to an enemy) isn't limited to crossbows.
- Dual WielderPHB: Tragically, this only applies to melee weapons.
- Martial AdeptPHB: Many maneuvers function with ranged attacks, but only getting to use your maneuver once per short rest doesn't seem good enough for a feat.
- SharpshooterPHB: A significant boost to your damage output, especially if you take Fighting Style: Archery to offset the attack penalty.
5e's weapons generally don't have a lot to distinguish them. Most of the special properties that made weapons unique in previous editions were removed in favor of simplicity. Matt Mercer's firearms introduce several complicated new weapon properties which make your choice of firearm hugely important.
- Explosive: Only matters for hand mortars, and hand mortars are bad.
- Misfire: Pathfinder used misfire chance as a way to balance firearms because their ability to ignore armor and shields made them extremely powerful. Matt Mercer's firearms no longer ignore armor and shields, but he chose to retain the misfire mechanic. This is essentially a handicap for firearms to prevent them from making other weapons obsolete. However, the Gunslinger's subclass features make it easy to totally disregard misfires by switching weapons or by quickly repairing your firearms.
- Reload: Reload is the most important weapon property for a firearm. Skipping even one attack to reload means a significant loss of damage output. You want a weapon that can fire numerous shots without needing to stop to reload.
Choosing a Firearm
Your choice of firearm is probably the most important character decision you'll make, but fortunately it's also the easiest to change.
- Palm Pistol: Apparently intended for two-weapon fighting, the palm pistol's single shot means that you can't reload it while performing two-weapon fighting. It had literally one job and it can't even do that right.
- Pistol: The go-to gunslinger weapon. Reload 4 means that you can make several attacks without reloading or swapping pistols, and with a misfire chance of 1 it's as safe as you can get with a firearm.
- Musket: Reload 1 means that you need to reload after each shot. The musket's d12 damage die can't match the additional damage you could get from making extra attacks with a pistol, which makes it hard to justify a musket. However, the musket's range is excellent, and with such a high damage due you may be able to deal big spikes of damage with Violent Shot.
- Pepperbox: A pistol with a larger number of shots, better range, and higher misfire chance. The price can be problematically high, unfortunately, so switching between a set of pepperboxes can be prohibitively expensive.
- Blunderbuss: Previous incarnations of Matt Mercer's Gunslinger have had the Blunderbuss fire a cone effect (which is how the blunderbuss works in Pathfinder), but in the current incarnation it's a musket with terrible range and very slightly more damage.
- Bad News: If I remember correctly, "Bad News" is a unique weapon made by a character in the Critical Roll podcast. I'm not sure why it got an entry in the firearm table.
- Hand Mortar: The possibility of AOE damage is interesting, the range is bad, the misfire chance is high, and there's no listed price.
- Studded Leather: You're all about Dexterity, which means light armor.
- Shield: If you're using a single pistol, a shield is a great idea.
Example Build - Variant Human Fighter (Gunslinger)
NOTE: I made an error in this build; Dual Weilder doesn't apply to ranged weapons in the manner that I thought it did while I was writing (shame on my for not double-checking). Unfortunately, that invalidates much of the build. I'm working on corrections, but in the mean time talk to your DM and see if they might be willing to let you use Dual Weilder with tanged weapons. Offer to give up the +1 AC in exchange.
Do you want to shoot monsters? Do you want to shoot them with a gun? Here's how you do it.
This build is going to take advantage of every trick I can think of to deal as much damage as possible by shooting things with a gun. You'll notice that almost none of it involves reloading; instead, we'll assume that you have several loaded pistols at the beginning of each fight, and you're switching them out whenever you run out of ammunition. At low levels, that means stowing a pistol (you wouldn't want to drop it on the ground) at the end of a turn in which you run out of ammunition, but once you get Quickdraw you can switch pistols as one object interaction so you never finish a round without a gun in your hand.
The math between different fighting styles is fairly complicated here. Without running the numbers, I can't definitively say which fighting style will net the most damage per round. So I'll do the math comparing several build combinations of Fighting Style and our 1st-level feat.
|1||Two-Weapon Fighting||Dual Wielder||The obvious option for two-weapon fighting with guns, but until level three you'll be running around with rapiers.|
|2||Archery||Dual Wielder||Accuracy may prove more important than the bonus damage on the extra attack.|
|3||Archery||Sharpshooter||The best-equipped to use muskets, but we won't because muskets are too heavy and require reloading too frequently for us to carry enough to avoid reloading in combat. Using a single pistol lets us use a pistol and a shield at the same time.|
|4||Dueling||Sharpshooter||The possible "Dark Horse", Dueling lets us use a pistol and a shield, but we give up a great deal of offensive output for the shield's bonus to AC.|
After doing the math, we get some interesting insights. Ignoring levels 1 and 2 (before we get guns), builds 1 and 2 do the most damage until we get Extra Attack at 5th level. At this point, build 3 takes a small lead. When we take a feat at 8th level after maxing out Dexterity, builds 2 and 3 are identical, and they pull ahead of build 1. As we add more attacks, builds 2 and pull ahead of build 1 even further, illustrating just how ineffective Fighting Style: Two-Weapon Fighting is for the fighter.
Build 4 notably stays behind the other builds in terms of damage output, but the additional AC from a shield may be worth the loss in DPR. Consider your role in the party; if you have a reliable tank in front of you, you might not need the extra AC.
We will assume the point buy abilities suggested above. You could lower Wisdom by one point to put some more points elsewhere, but it's not super important.
Variant Human. We get the ability increase we care about, and we get a feat.
Skills and Tools
Take Insight and Perception to capitalize on your above-normal Wisdom.
Look for skills and tools which capitalize on Dexterity. Criminal is a good example.
We'll compare Sharpshooter and Dual Wielder, but at level 8 we'll combine the two. You might also explore other feats to boost your durability like Resilient and Tough.
|Level||Feat(s) and Features||Notes and Tactics|
|1|| || |
At this level, you're not using guns yet. Builds 1 and 2 can dual wield hand crossbows, provided you can afford two of them and don't mind only being able to attack in round 1. More likely build 1 will be using two rapiers and build 2 will be using a heavy crossbow. Build 3 will be using a heavy crossbow, and build 4 will be using a shield and rapier.
|2|| || |
Basically no changes at this level. Action Surge provides an occasional boost in damage output, but we'll disregard it for our DPR calculations.
|3|| || |
Annie get your gun. We're level three, we're proficient, and it's time to start shooting stuff. This is the first point where our fighting styles and feats all work as intended, so this is where we really want to start paying attention to DPR.
Builds 1 and 2 will be dual wielding pistols. This works fine for the most part, but if you don't plan ahead you'll empty both pistols in the same turn. Your best bet is so stow one pistol at the end of round 1, draw another at the beginning of turn 3, then begin the same process with your other pistol.
Build 3 can't use two pistols because they lack the Light property. Instead, builds 3 and 4 will both use one pistol and a shield. At the end of turn 4 you will stow your empty pistol, and you will draw a loaded one at the beginning of turn 5.
|4|| || |
Increased Dexterity raises our DPR and AC, but our tactics don't change.
|5|| || |
Extra Attack changes our tactics. Attacking twice in a turn means burning through your ammunition faster, and doing quite a bit more damage. Until now, builds 1 and 2 were in the lead, but now build 3 starts to take a very narrow lead.
|6|| || |
The Fighter gets more ability score increases than any other class, and getting one at 6th level puts us ahead of the attack vs. AC curve for two levels. This will give us a temporary boost to DPR, and when we hit level 8 we'll pick up a feat that will give us a DPR boost right as we fall back in line with the attack vs. AC progression.
|7|| || |
Quickdraw simplifies switching pistols when you run short on ammunition. You can do without it if you're careful with your free item interactions each turn, but it's nice peace of mind.
|8|| || |
At this level some of the builds will consolidate. Builds 1 and 2 will take Sharpshooter, while build 3 will take Dual Wielder. That makes builds 2 and 3 the same, and the only remaining distinction between builds 1 and 2/3 is the choice of fighting style. Build 4 can't use Dual Wielder without giving up its fighting style, but you might enjoy any number of other feats. Unfortunately, none of them will boost your DPR.
|9|| || |
With proficiency in three saving throws, Indomitable will be very effective.
|10|| || |
Hopefully you never need to repair a firearm in the middle of a fight, but should you run short on loaded guns you might not have a choice.
|11|| || |
Another attack means another big jump in DPR. However, it also means that you're going through ammunition that much faster. Be sure to expand your brace of pistols so that you can continue refusing to reload mid-combat.
|12|| || |
Resilient raises our Wisdom from 15 to 16, improving our Wisdom modifier by 1 just as well as a full Wisdom increase, but we also get proficiency in Wisdom saving throws. We're going to continue raising our Wisdom, so it's nice to get a little more out of it.
We're now getting a lot out of Wisdom. Two skills (or more if you picked up something like Survival), a good saving throw, and Grit Points.
|13|| || |
You're very durable at this point. Indomitable is really good.
|14|| || |
More Wisdom! Or something else! It's up to you, really. But Wisdom is pretty good for us right now.
|15|| || |
We solved the issue of reloading at level 3. I guess this is nice if you have a magic weapon, but otherwise I hardly see the point.
|16|| || |
A Constitution increase is appealing, but the biggest draw is hit points, and Tough gets you twice as many. At this level you get 32 hit points all at once. Feels nice, doesn't it?
|17|| || |
Technically not numerical increases, but a linear increase to your fight abilities nonetheless.
|18|| || |
Vicious Intent and Hemorhaging Critical give us a small DPR boost, and increase the rate at which we can regenerate Grit Points.
|19|| || |
Another ability score increase. By this point you probably have all of the feats you want, so a Constitution increase is a great option for the pile of extra hit points.
|20|| || |
20th level brings our final attack, and another big boost to our DPR.