Gun-geons and Dragons

Posted on July 18, 2012 by


I was told once by a DM that I truly respect, that guns had no place in the fantasy setting that is Dungeons and Dragons.  Since then I have added not one, but three different types of firearms to his custom campaign setting, a crime for which I am certain to be punished.  Eventually.

Of course, I don’t just do this out of a weird sense of rebellion, spite, or even to prove him wrong, I just think it’s something that has to happen sooner or later. I don’t mean that sooner or later guns need to be a part of every D&D game, but sooner or later, every campaign setting has to change, has to advance in order to remain believable.  Neither mages nor weapon-crafters are going to leave well enough alone.

At some point, a forward thinking individual decided to put a trigger on a bow, and the crossbow was born.  Now there was a weapon usable by almost anyone, regardless of skill or training, a simple point-and-click arrow distribution device.  Then a mage decided to start enchanting crossbows, and like a magical Santa Claus they gave happiness to all of the little rogues and rangers out there.    Even the Drow got some of this love, with hand crossbows ranging from a +1 to +6 bonus, all thanks to the magic of… well, magic.

This is where most campaign settings are at, and that’s fine, we can pretend that the repeating crossbow doesn’t exist.  But how long will it be before a string is enchanted to increase the crossbow’s range (a sniping crossbow)?  How long before a permanent light spell is employed so that the shooter can see where their bolt will land (laser sight)?  When will a mage hand be used for faster reloading, a quiver of endless bolts attached so that the weapon never needs to be reloaded?  Why not just use a spell to propel the bolts instead of all that troublesome string?  At what point have we invented the machine gun?

I think that this weapon would take an especially devious and careless wizard less than a week to invent.  After all, it took me about a minute, and most mages have a much higher intelligence score than I do, not to mention the cantrips necessary to make it all work.

Of course, magic could be put to much less sinister  purposes.  For 50 gold, a level 6 mage can cast a sending to anywhere within 500 miles.  They’ll have to take 20 to reach that distance, or take 10 to send a message to anyone within 100 miles, and I’m certain that they’ll adjust their prices accordingly, but the price of information cannot be underestimated.  We have just invented the telegraph, with far less work required.  A mage could make upwards of 400g in an 8eight hour workday if he was in a busy city, a respectable wage for a low level character.

And that’s the problem, magic makes everything easier, and it should be changing the world at an alarming rate, but most DM’s don’t want to see arcane sport’s bars where patrons watch the gladiatorial battles on crystal balls and magic mirrors while they drink ale from the ever-full Casks of Liquid Gold, a low level magic it.  It’s a good thing that most DM’s don’t encourage this, because it takes the game in a very weird direction at an alarming rate, but concessions must be made, at least in regards to the weaponry of a setting.

My first 4th edition character was a ranger named Sebastian Blake, and unaware of the setting’s established limits I created a special weapon for him.  Statistically he used a repeating heavy crossbow, but flavor-wise, he dual-wielded a pair of scatterguns.  These were basically wrist-mounted drums the size of Pringles cans that housed a pair of air elementals constantly spiraling in tornado form.  As he pulled the triggers, pencil-sized bolts were gravity-fed into the tornado, spraying forward at a dangerous rate.

In a world where elemental binding exists, it makes sense, although it did have a certain mage-punk flavor to it.

Then I decided that my High Seas game would be set right around the discovery of black powder.  I mean, come on, there are so many underdark races that could have found the combination of sulfur, coal, and saltpeter required to make gunpowder, and the dwarves have honeycombed enough of the planes with mines that they must have figured this out by now.  Blame the Alchemy feat.

Finally, I came up with the idea for my Dust game.  I don’t really have an excuse for that, although I have made every effort to keep it from destroying the campaign setting entirely.  I guess time will tell.

The times are changing though, and magic makes this possible.  Weapons like firearms directly show how a campaign setting ages and adapts, and the ways that we use magic also act as a yardstick for how far our settings have come.  It is up to the DM to figure out how to let some of these changes through the metaphorical dam, lest the entire thing burst open, taking things too far beyond their control.



Posted in: Game Talk