Planning Dust: Mage Guns (Part 1)

Posted on August 22, 2012 by

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When I started planning Dust, I knew that firearms would have to play into the game in a very serious way.  After all, a western without guns would be unthinkable, and a fantasy western is no different.  Handguns represent something new and dangerous, and truly act as a metaphor for the unexplored hazards of the west.  All of a sudden we have a device easy enough for a child to use that is capable of causing immense amounts of damage with almost no skill requirement.

How do I capture that in a pen and paper game though, and how do I do it without completely invalidating all other weapon choices?

First of all, let’s decide on some basics for the Mage Gun.  Because they are found in the vaults beneath the Rathan Wastes, they cannot be created, and even those who claim to have mastered their secrets can do little more than maintenance and repairs.  Therefore, the number of these weapons is theoretically finite, making them especially valuable.  Each gun carries a limited number of shots, and while they can be recharged by the wielder’s life force, they also charge naturally of their own accord.  Many scholars believe that this is because of an immense power supply of some sort located beneath the Rathan Wastes.

In game terms, a Mage Gun starts each day with a limited number of shots (usually six), but can be recharged as a standard action by spending a healing surge.
– At the beginning of each day, only one of a character’s Mage Guns is fully charged.
– Mage Guns removed from the mysterious energy source of the Rathan Wastes still function, but begin every day uncharged and require two healing surges to reload.

A Mage Gun is remarkably easy to use, all characters are considered to be proficient with them after little or no practice (with a +4 proficiency bonus) and get a stat bonus to attack rolls based on the higher of a character’s Dexterity or Intelligence.  While they do gain attack and damage bonuses from focus and expertise feats,  (or the tax-free alternatives provided by a DM), they do not initially allow any additional damage bonuses (like from stats or striker damage bonuses), nor can they be used to make anything other than basic attacks.

Of course, tune in for a later post, when I describe the alternate advancement that I have planned for this game, which changes everything (including the ability to make these weapons work for at-will/encounter/daily abilities, add striker damage bonuses, and use any stat for attack or to get a damage bonus, among other things).

So what is it that makes up a Mage Gun?  As one might suspect, whatever ancient people created them did so in all shapes and sizes.  By combining different components, the Vault People were able to create weapons ranging in quality from +0 to +6, with any number of qualities.  The price of a Mage Gun is equal to the price of a generic magic weapon five levels higher (a +2 Mage Gun would have the same cost as a +3 Magic Sword).

The first half of a Mage Gun is the Barrel.  Barrels largely determine how many shots a weapon holds when fully charged, how far it shoots, and how much damage those shots deal.  Here are some examples.

Standard Barrel – This compact weapon holds six shots when fully charged, each of which deals 3d6 damage at range 10.

Enduring Barrel – This barrel may be less powerful than most others, but it can fire more shots before needing to recharge.  The weapon holds ten shots when fully charged, each of which deals 2d6 damage at range 10.

Dense Barrel – This barrel is thicker, capable of firing more powerful shots.  The weapon holds four shots when fully charged, each of which deals 4d6 damage at range 12.

Powerful Barrel – This barrel is much larger than normal, and the energy bolts are built to match.  The weapon holds only two shots when fully charged, each of which deals 5d6 damage at range 8.  Holding it with both hands grants a +1 bonus to damage for each die rolled.

Lengthened Barrel – This barrel is extremely long, And fires devastating shots at long range.  The weapon holds only one shot when fully charged, which deals 5d6 damage at range 20.  Holding it with both hands grants a +2 bonus to hit.

Scattering Barrel – This barrel is bulky, charging up immense power which it expels violently.  The weapon holds two shots when fully charged, each of which deals 3d6 damage in a close blast 3.  Holding it with both hands grants a +1 bonus to damage for each die rolled.

Snapshot Barrel – This barrel is tiny, designed to be hidden and fired when unexpected.  The weapon holds three shots when fully charged, each of which deals 3d6 damage at range 6.  Once per encounter as a minor action or an immediate reaction to rolling initiative, this weapon may be used to make a basic attack.

The second half of a Mage Gun is the body.  The body of the weapon usually determines the type of blast fired, and regularly modifies the damage dealt by the weapon.  Keep in mind that no Mage Gun can ever deal less than a single die of damage, so some combinations of Barrel and Body may not be possible.  Here are some possible Body types.

Arcane – This type of body has no modifier to damage and no special abilities.

Fireshot – This type of body glows in fiery hues and is warm to the touch.  All attacks made with this weapon are fire damage and deal one less die of damage, but inflict ongoing 5 fire damage.  If the target is already suffering from ongoing fire damage, this increases that damage by 1.

Frostshot – This type of body is lit up with a frosty blue light and is cold to the touch.  All attacks made with this weapon are cold damage and deal one less die of damage, but slow the target until the end of your next turn.

Shockshot – This type of body glows with barely restrained power, and static electricity surges forth at the lightest touch.  All attacks made with this weapon are lightning damage and deal three less dice of damage, but daze targets hit until the end of your next turn.

Venomshot – This type of body exudes dangerous energy, and gives off an air of danger.  All attacks made with this weapon are poison damage and deal one less die of damage, but inflict ongoing 5 poison damage.  The target suffers a cumulative -1 penalty to all saving throws until they successfully make one, at which point the penalty resets.

Leeching – This type of body looks downright sinister at best and antagonistic at worst, and always features some sort of jagged cutting implement.  The weapon starts each day uncharged, but once per day the wielder can make an attack with this weapon unloaded at range 1.  If the attack hits, the target loses a healing surge worth of hit points and the weapon charges itself fully.

Explosive – This type of body glows excitedly with all the colors of an explosion.  All attacks made with this weapon deal one less die of damage, but deal 1d6 fire damage to all creatures adjacent to the target.

With all of these different parts we have the tools that we need to make all sorts of different weapons for any situation, from the Dense Fireshot Mage Gun +1 to the Scattering Explosive Mage Gun +6.

Of course, these weapons are so powerful that people have to develop their own methods of using them, learning all sorts of tricks and techniques to get the most out of their weapon, but that is a discussion for another post.

Happy shooting.

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Posted in: Dust, Gamecraft