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Pathfinder - Gunslinger Archetypes Breakdown

Disclaimer

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.

Archetypes

The Gunslinger is a ranged DPS Striker. Their job is to point at something, shout "BANG" and kill it. The Gunslinger gets 4+ skill points and has a few decent skills, but without investing in additional class skills it's difficult for the Gunslinger to fill other roles in the party.

Bolt Ace

The Bolt Ace must overcome the ever-present issue that crossbows are strictly worse than normal bows. They require more feats to be viable, and they don't do noticeably more damage. The Bolt Ace is, perhaps, the best attempt at making a viable crossbow build which has been published so far. However, even the Bolt Ace can't keep up with a vanilla Fight with a longbow. To make the Bolt Ace viable, you need to take just enough levels of Bolt Ace to get Crossbow Training, then dump Bolt Ace for a level of Alchemist to get an extra arm or Witch for Prehensile Hair, then pick up a pair of hand crossbows and start raining bolts. Beyond that, levels of Fighter will likely be your best bet.

Grit (Ex): Identical except for the Crossbow part.

Deeds: The new list of deed is lacklustre.

  • Sharp Shoot (Ex): A very dangerous and expensive way to burn through your Grit, but undeniably effective.
  • Vigilant Loading (Ex): A Bolt Ace will probably spend a lot of time reloading, but you generally shouldn't be doing it in melee.
  • Shooter's Resolve (Ex): Situational, and you need Improve Precise Shot, which will totally replace this.
  • Distracting Shot (Ex): You are not a Rogue.
  • Vigilant Shooter (Ex): You need to spend one Grit for every attack, but you just need to spend it; it doesn't have to be on this ability. So you can walk up into melee, use Sharp Shoot to execute some poor soul, and not take attacks of opportunity. This is very flashy, but probably a bad idea.
  • Inexplicable Reload (Ex): By now you have Rapid Reload (and Crossbow Mastery if you want to use a Heavy Crossbow), so this is almost totally useless. You might be tempted to consider using a Double Crossbow, but even with Inexplicable Reload it's still a Swift action to reload, so you can fire at most 4 bolts at a time, which you can already do at this level based on your BAB and Rapid Shot.
  • Pinning Shot (Ex): This is a reliable, though mediocre crowd control effect. Staggered prevents Full Attacks, and because the target needs to spend their single standard action to free themselves, you could rob the target of a turn if you time it well.

Crossbow Training (Ex): Your crossbows now have 19-20/x3 crits, and you get to add your Dexterity modifier to damage rolls. At this point you want to choose between two strategies: Two-Weapon Fighting with Hand Crossbows (requires and Alchemist/Witch dip; the pistol option), or using a light crossbow (the musket option).

Replaced Features: Grit, Deeds (Deadeye, Expert Loading, Lightning Reload, Menacing Shot, Quick Clear, Startling Shot, Utility Shot), Gun Training

Compatible Archetypes: Gun Tank

Gun Tank

If your party needs someone in heavy armor, but you still want to play a Gunslinger, the Gun Tank is your answer. The Gun Tank trades in the Gunslinger's bonus feats and some AC-boosting abilities for the ability to wear medium and heavy armor and use shields without hurting their ability to shoot stuff.

Armor Proficiency: A pistol in one hand, a tower shield in the other, and a suit of full plate to back it up.

Deeds: The Gun Tank doesn't give up anything that it can't replace, and gets a couple of very useful Deeds in exchange.

  • Gun Tank's Resolve (Ex): Gunslinger's Dodge isn't fantastic, and with the Gun Tank's AC, it's largely pointless. Critical hits are a rare occurance, but the ability to negate them could save your life.
  • Gun Tank's Resilience (Ex): Giving up Evasion hurts, but you can get a Ring of Evasion. The bonus to saves against mind-affecting abilities is great considering almost all Will saves are mind-affecting.

Bullet Defection (Ex): Numble provides a maximum +5 bonus, and a suit of full plate provides +9 (+4 for Bullet "Defection"), and can be enhanced for more. Even a +1 enhancement will make your Full Plate as effective as Nimble at 20th level.

Armor Training (Ex): Unlike the figher ability, this does not allow you to move at normal speed in armor. However, the improved maximum dexterity bonus is more useful for you than it is for most Fighters, and it allows you to continue to have ridiculous dexterity while wearing medium or heavy armor. Between your armor and your dexterity, your AC should be fantastic. Giving up the Gunsligner's bonus feats can seriously limit your offensive options, but firearms don't take a lot of investment to be effective.

Replaced Features: Armor Proficiency, Deeds (Gunslinger's Dodge, Evasive), Nimble, Bonus Feats

Compatible Archetypes: Pistolero

Musket Master

The biggest advantage of firearms is their ability to fire as a touch attack within their first range increment. Pistols, the most popular choice due to their quick reload time, are hampered by their tiny range increment. The Musket, usually limited by a slow reload time, has double the range and slightly more damage. The Musket Master fixes the Musket's reload time problem, allowing the Gunslinger to use their superior range without sacrifing damage output. The Musket Master gives up the ability to use other firearms effectively, but if you never planned to use anything but a musket, this archetype is an obvious choice.

Weapon Proficiency: Annoying if you want to carry a pistol as a side-arm, but the reality of Pathfinder is that you will likely use the same musket for most of your career.

Gunsmith: Obviously, you need a musket to be a Musket Master.

Deeds: Steady Aim isn't any worse than Gunsligner Dodge, and Fast Musket is absolutely essentialy.

  • Steady Aim (Ex): Gunslingers Dodge is hard to use, but Steam Aim just isn't very useful. In most cases if you need 10 feet more range you can spend the same Move Action ot walk 10 feet closer. This also prevents you from taking advantage of Fast Musket.
  • Fast Musket (Ex): Utility shot is cool, if only for Blast Lock, but Fast Musket is much more important for damage output.

Rapid Reloader: If you didn't get it for free, it would be your first level feat anyway.

Musket Training (Ex): Your dexterity should be good, and the growing bonus will become more useful as you gain the ability to make iterative attacks.

Replaced Features: Weapon Proficiency, Deeds (Gunslinger's Dodge, Utility Shot), Gun Training

Compatible Archetypes: None

Mysterious Stranger

Grit (Ex): The Gunslinger has two deeds which depend on Wisdom, and they need Wisdom for saving throws, but thay gain no other benefit for having high Wisdom. Having decent Charisma can allow the Gunslinger to serve as the Party's face, especially if you spen a trait to get Diplomacy as a class skill.

Deeds:

  • Focused Aim (Ex): This can be a great way to boost your damage for a round, but be sure to carry a backup weapon until you hit level 5 and get Stranger's Fortune.
  • Clipping Shot (Ex): Half damage is not enough to justify a point from your Grit pool unless your shot is doing a ridiculous amount of damage.

Lucky (Ex): While the weakened AC is a problem, this will help to compensate for the drop in Will save caused by no longer needing Wisdom for your Grit pool. It's also a Luck bonus, which is extremely rare.

Stranger's Fortune (Ex): Postponing Gun Training is a problem. Adding your Dexterity to your damage rolls is a huge boost in damagem, and postponing that boost will make you much less effective. The ability to ignore misfires is nice, but not strictly necessary. Plan to rely on Focused Aim when you really need to deal damage quickly.

Replaced Features: Grit, Deeds (Quick Clear, Bleeding Wound), Nimble, Gun Training 1

Compatible Archetypes: None

Pistolero

The Pistolero is disappointing compared to the Musket Master. Pistols are generally the better choice of weapon because they can be reloaded as free actions with Rapid Reload and alchemical cartridges, which makes them better for damage output. Their biggest drawback is their extremely limited range. The Pistolero doesn't addres the Pistol's limited range, and doesn't provide any interesting options unique to the use of a pistol. You may be better off with the vanilla Gunslinger.

Weapon Proficiency: Giving up the ability to use muskets or cannons for additional range is annoying, but not enough to waste a feat to fix it.

Gunsmith: The pistol is usually the best choice anyway, and it would be a bit silly to be a pistolero with a musket.

Deeds: None of the deeds you give up are very good, but none of the ones you get are much better.

  • Up Close and Deadly (Ex): This isn't enough damage to justify a Grit point until fairly high level, at which point you have other deeds which are more effective uses of your Grit.
  • Deadeye (Ex): Deadeye is a stop-gap measure until you can get Long Shot, so getting it this late isn't very helpful. Startling Shot is very situational, so giving it up doesn't really hurt.
  • Twin Shot Knockdown (Ex): Knocking a target prone is a great way to end a full attack, but remember that they are harder to hit while prone.

Pistol Training (Ex): Your dexterity should be good, and the growing bonus will become more useful as you gain the ability to make iterative attacks.

Replaced Features: Weapon Proficiency, Deeds (Deadeye, Startling Shot, Menacing Shot), Gunsmith, Gun Training

Compatible Archetypes: Gun Tank