The Gunslingers of Dungeons & Dragons: A Definitive Guide

gunslinger 5e
Table of Contents

The distant sound of galloping hooves echoes across the plains. A mysterious rider approaches, their face obscured beneath a wide-brimmed hat. As they draw closer, sunlight glints off the polished barrel of the rifle strapped to their back. With practiced ease, they draw the weapon, take aim, and fire. The deafening crack of gunfire rents the air as their bullet finds its mark.

In a realm of magic and medieval weaponry, the gunslinger brings the explosive power of firearms to the battlefield. Blending technology and martial prowess, their booming shots herald the coming of a new age.

The Evolution of the Gunslinger

To understand the gunslinger, one must first understand their literary origins. The archetype of the lone gunfighter permeates Western fiction, from the “Man with No Name” of Sergio Leone's films to Stephen King's epic Dark Tower saga. They are wandering warriors bound by honor, their revolvers serving as both sword and status symbol.

The gunslinger archetype entered tabletop gaming through the Deadlands RPG in 1996. In this alternate history weird West setting, characters could choose the Huckster class to harness magical abilities, or the Mad Scientist class to create Steampunk technological marvels.

When D&D publisher Wizards of the Coast released the 3rd Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, they also published D20 modern rules. These rules provided classes and equipment for games set in the modern era. This allowed players to create gunslinger-style characters wielding firearms.

However, it was not until the Pathfinder RPG that the gunslinger became its own class. This version focused on grit points and deeds, special shots the gunslinger could perform in battle. The class quickly became popular for those seeking non-magical ranged combat abilities.

Matthew Mercer's Gunslinger

In 2015, the acclaimed Dungeon Master Matthew Mercer was looking to bring a gunslinger character to life for his homebrew Western campaign setting. When his group transitioned from Pathfinder to 5th Edition D&D, Mercer converted the gunslinger into a fighter martial archetype. This brilliant adaptation blended the core gunslinger fantasy with 5E's combat mechanics.

Mercer's gunslinger uses grit points to perform trick shots, special maneuvers that alter their attacks. This echoes the Pathfinder gunslinger's grit and deeds mechanics. The trick shots range from damaging blasts like Violent Shot to tactical shots like Dazing Shot that debuffs enemies.

The Mercer gunslinger must maintain a close bond with their weapon. Just as a wizard has a spellbook or paladin a holy avenger, a gunslinger must intimately understand their firearm. Features like Gunsmith and Quickdraw play into this weapon affinity fantasy.

Overall, Matthew Mercer's Gunslinger adeptly captures the skill and flair of gunfighters in cinema and lore, while feeling uniquely at home in D&D's fantasy world. Though not an official class, the Gunslinger has become widely popular thanks to Critical Role.

Playing an Effective Gunslinger

Gunslingers thrive on a delicate balance of daring and expertise. Mastering your capabilities is crucial. Let us delve into optimal ability scores, race choices, tactics, and more.

Ability Scores – Your First Shots

The gunslinger's most important ability score is Dexterity. This governs your accuracy with firearms, helping your shots hit home. Your next priority is Wisdom, which determines your grit points and trick shot DCs. Constitution should come next for durability. Strength, Intelligence and Charisma can be treated as dump stats.

When selecting ability boosts and feats, max out your Dexterity first before anything else. 20 Dexterity allows you to dual wield pistols without the Dual Wielder feat. After Dexterity, increase your Wisdom. More grit equals more opportunities for trick shots.

Races – Choosing Your Origin

Numerous races boast traits that sync well with gunslingers:

  • Humans are a versatile choice, especially variant humans who get a 1st level feat. This allows early Sharpshooter or Crossbow Expert to enhance your damage.
  • Elves excel thanks to Dex/Wis boosts. Wood elves get extra speed to keep your distance, while high elves get a free Wizard cantrip for creative problem-solving.
  • Halflings are lucky, literally. Their Lucky trait turns potentially devastating misfires into second chances.
  • For exotic races, aarakocra and winged tieflings offer airborne gun platforms, and goblins get Fury of the Small for extra damage.

Backgrounds – Where You Came From

A gunslinger’s background reflects their origins and motivations. Soldiers or outlanders make suitable mercenary gun hands. An urchin could have built their first firearm scavenging parts. Guild artisans demonstrate your ingenuity and craft.

When selecting your background feature, look for bonuses to dexterity or wisdom skills. Insight, Stealth, Acrobatics and Sleight of Hand all enhance your combat capability.

Gear Up – Outfitting Your Arsenal

Though most weapons in D&D are medieval, Chapter 9 of the Dungeon Master's Guide provides futuristic firearms if allowed in your campaign. If not, reflavor crossbows as guns.

Prioritize Dexterity boosting light armor like studded leather. Shields are useful for pistol duelists, but two-handed heavy weapons prevent them. Some magic items like Brooms of Flying or Boots of Speed compensate for not having flight or high speeds.

As for firearms, your best bet is the pistol or pepperbox. Their high capacity before reloading provides great action economy. Carry several loaded pistols so you can Quickdraw a fresh gun rather than reload mid-fight.

Mastering Your Arsenal

Now that you have the raw materials, let's examine how you'll leverage your full arsenal of gunslinger features:

  • Firearm Proficiency – At 3rd level, you become proficient with firearms, opening up your deadliest weapon options.
  • Gunsmith – Repairing and crafting guns is crucial. Invest in a tinker's toolkit. Take the time to make ammo and spare parts during rests.
  • Grit Points – Your bread and butter. Spend grit on Dead Eye for reliable hits and Violent Shot for damage bursts. Watch your pool size.
  • Trick Shots – Analyze your available trick shots each turn, picking the optimal shot for the situation. Never shoot from the hip.
  • Quickdraw – Swap guns rather than reloading mid-fight. Carry several loaded pistols to enable this. Quickdraw also improves your initiative.
  • Lightning Reload – Reloading as a bonus action keeps your damage output high when extra guns aren't an option.

Putting Lead in the Air – Combat Tactics

Now that your gunslinger is locked and loaded, let's discuss combat tactics:

  • Positioning is key. Find high ground for long sight lines whenever possible. Stay far from melee attackers.
  • Use your free object interaction to Quickdraw a fresh gun, rather than reloading every turn.
  • Opening shots are crucial. Use high damage abilities like Violent Shot early before resources dwindle.
  • Deadeye Shot combines well with Sharpshooter's -5 to hit/+10 damage feature for devastating attacks.
  • Target the biggest threats first, whether that's enemy spellcasters or the orc eyeing you hungrily.
  • When low on grit, focus on landing hits and scoring criticals to replenish it.
  • Don't let your guns jam. Make Weapon Repair checks quickly and have backups ready.

Advanced Tactics

Once you have mastered the basics, employ these advanced techniques:

  • Choose trick shots strategically. Use Piercing Shot when lined up with groups or Dazing Shot to neutralize threats.
  • Multiclass 3 levels of Rogue for Cunning Action, enabling you to Hide, Disengage or Dash as a bonus action.
  • Take the Magic Initiate feat for utility spells and cantrips. Find Familiar is perfect for “riding shotgun” with your hawk-eyed lookout.
  • Ask your DM about special ammunition like dragon's breath rounds or enlarged shot for spreading your damage across multiple foes.
  • Work with your party. Use Winging Shot to knock enemies prone for a melee ally, or Forceful Shot to shove enemies into a wizard's Wall of Fire.

Gunslingers Beyond Combat

While most features focus on combat, creative gunslingers can find unique solutions to problems:

  • Use shots to trigger traps and objects from a safe distance.

Roleplaying the Gunslinger Fantasy

Gunslingers occupy a unique niche in most fantasy settings. Their unfamiliar weapons and “modern” capabilities contrast with the medieval world around them. This can lead to excellent roleplaying opportunities.

Most gunslingers adopt a signature style reflecting their ideology and approach to this technology. Some common gunslinger archetypes include:

  • The Noble Outlaw – Using your skills for good, fighting corrupt systems. Like Robin Hood with revolvers.
  • The Lone Wolf – Stoic and self-reliant, you travel alone with just skill and iron by your side.
  • The Vengeful – Driven by tragedy, you seek justice against those who wronged you. Your guns are instruments of that retribution.
  • The Thriller – Flair and danger are your calling cards. You’re in it for fortune and glory.

When roleplaying, remember that others will react to the strange sight of your firearms. Lean into being seen as an oddity or outsider if it fits your character concept. Use your unique mystique to your advantage when intimidating enemies or impressing locals.

Playing well with others is also crucial. Prove to suspicious allies that your skill benefits the group. Offer to use your gunsmithing to assist the party by repairing equipment and traps.

And never let your weapons define you entirely. The most compelling gunslingers have depth beyond being a great shot or tinkerer. Give your character motivations and flaws that create storytelling opportunities.

Where There's Smoke, There's Firearms

The gunslinger's journey is one of powder burns and daring deeds. Their booming shots herald great change in realms dominated by ancient traditions. This definitive guide prepares you to embark on that journey.

The path of the gun is one of individualism, improvisation and courage in the face of overwhelming odds. Take your first shot, stay true to your vision, and adventure will follow. The night sky awaits, hungry for lead and lightning. It’s high noon somewhere. Let’s ride!


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