"Well, ya gonna pull those pistols or whistle Dixie?"
- – The Outlaw Josey Wales
Oh God yes.
Historically, Gunslingers were the rough-and-tumble frontier men of the Old West, where, armed with the two most famous guns ever made, the Colt revolver and the Winchester rifle, they fought the natives, the animals, and one another in the name of Humanity Fuck Yeah.
Culturally, the gunslinger was the American equivalent of the European knight-errant, with many an old story of their wandering from place to place righting wrongs and shooting bandits. One famous aspect of these stories is the quick-draw duel, where two men stand in the street at high noon (when everyone knows to get out of the way and the sun is in neither of their eyes), and stare each other down, each waiting for the other to draw first so that he will have the benefit of arguing "self-defense" in court after the duel is over. In most, but not every case, the villain draws first, but the hero is faster than him and kills him.
Just like the medieval knight underwent a series of anti-heroic revisions recently, the cultural myths around the Gunslingers of the Old West have been reexamined in a number of realistic Westerns that paint them in a more morally-ambiguous light.
- Wyatt & Virgil Earp - Virgil Earp was a deputy US Marshal who formed a posse with his brother Wyatt (a gambler) and Doc Holiday (a dentist) to confront a group of cattle thieves in Tombstone. Although charged with murder they were ultimately exonerated.
- James "Wild Bill" Hickok - Wrestled a bear and won. Killed a guy over a debt then paid the widow in remorse. Killed a gambler in a duel, was charged with murder but became a deputy marshal in Kansas a couple weeks later. Served as a lawman in various capacities in Kansas, racking up kills for 4 years until he was fired. Pissed off a gambler in Deadwood who shot him the next day.
- Jesse James - Fought as a Confederate guerrilla in the war, then spent ten years robbing stagecoaches in the midwest. Recruited a new guy into his gang who shot him for the reward.
- Henry McCarty (Billy the Kid) - Cattle thief who participated in the Lincoln County War. Caught and sentenced to death, but escaped from jail killing two deputies in the process. The sheriff who caught him the first time tracked him down again and shot him.
- Robert Parker (Butch Cassidy) & Harry Longabaugh (The Sundance Kid) - The principle members of a group of train robbers who hit several payroll deliveries until Union Pacific hired the Pinkerton Agency to hunt them down. Escaped to South America where they tried to rob a payroll courier, which ended in a shootout with a Bolivian cavalry regiment.
- The Pinkerton Agency: A detective agency and private military contractor that was basically the 19th century version of the FBI and Secret Service except for-hire and with even more dubious ethics. If you piss off a bank or railroad or president badly enough, odds are good they'll hire the Pinkertons to find some way to shoot you in self defense.
Famous Guns of the Old West
Initially pistols were designed for ball & percussion cap, and while metal cartridges did exist prior to the Civil War, very few pistols used them. For logistical simplicity, cap & ball persisted through the war, but afterwards a lot of conversions were designed to retrofit the hundreds of thousands of service revolvers to shoot cartridges.
The vast majority of Old West revolvers are single-actions, meaning that the user had to load cartridges through a small hole one-at-a-time and had to pull the hammer down between each shot. For this reason, gunfighters would carry several loaded revolvers, and would “fan-fire” revolvers by rapidly swiping the hammer with their off-hand for rapid-fire shots.
- 1847 Colt Walker & 1848 Colt Dragoon - the original BIG IRONS. The Walker was the first commercially successful revolver ever made, which was lucky for Sam Colt since he was nearly bankrupt after failing to sell the fairly weak Colt Paterson. The Walker fired a .44 bullet and could kill horses in a single shot; it was the most powerful revolver to date. A couple thousand were procured for the Mexican-American War, where the high power and frequent use resulted in a number of failures. After the war an improved model called the Dragoon was introduced to address these problems, and would serve in the Indian Wars.
- 1851 Colt Navy - A lighter .36 version of the Walker/Dragoon. Nearly a quarter million of these were produced, but the sheer number of copies not made by Colt (many copies were made, some of which Colt managed to squeeze a licensing fee out of) push that number even higher. Despite the obsolescence of Cap and Ball revolvers, cartridge conversions of Navy revolvers was very common and several mod kits were offered commercially.
- Beaumont–Adams revolver - A British revolver, notable for being double action. Accounts of the Indian Mutiny say the British officers had rivalry if this or the Colt was better. The Beaumont–Adams was faster to fire and was made in a larger, more powerful caliber. The Colt was more accurate and held six shots instead of five †(see note). A very small minority preferred the instant stopping power of an even larger single shot pistol. In the Americas, it was noteworthy for being used by the Canadian mounties until the Enfield was introduced.
- Remington New Model 1858 - A revolver with an all steel frame that joins the front and back that made it far stronger than the Colt. Has a notable oddity that the cylinder is relatively quick to remove and replace, so it can theoretically be reloaded comparatively quick. In reality, black powder fowling, the hand-fitting required of original examples and a second gun being faster to bear still makes the actual use more of a novelty. The extra $.50 in cost made the Union balk about buying them until the Colt factory burned down. First produced in both Army (.44) and Navy (.36) sizes, the sheer number of surplus examples post US Civil War forced Remington to make miniature versions in .31 caliber to have a market. The durability means it is now considered the best single-action cap and ball revolver for those shooting modern reproductions with no particular need for any single model.
- 1860 Colt Army - A hastily redesigned 1851 Navy to shoot .44 to replace the aging Dragoons. The Union bought over a hundred thousand of these. Because the frame was originally designed for .36, they had a habit of going boom instead of bang. An 1861 Navy model was offered but not many were made as the 1851's were holding up fine. Conversions of the 1860 Army wasn't nearly as common as the 1851 Navy, as the frame's bad reputation was well known; it was just too much power and not enough gun to hold it.
- 1873 Colt Single Action Army, aka "Peacemaker" - Was designed for cartridges from the start, and came in a bunch of different calibers. Previous Colt designs has been open topped (lacking any frame over the cylinder), but Colt finally acknowledged that the Remington closed top design was stronger and started using it. First cartridge revolver adopted by the US and, thanks to General Patton's eccentricity, at least two were still in service during World War II.
- Smith & Wesson "Schofield .45" - Also know as the Model 3, this was a top break designed for the Russian Army. Major Schofield made a number of recommendations for improvements which appeared in the US model in 1875. The Schofield was best known for being the fastest revolver to reload due to its top-break design, though the .45 Schofield cartridge had a reputation for being underpowered compared to the more popular .45 Long Colt.
- 1877 Colt Double Action - Colt's first mass produced double action revolver, basically a double action version of the Peacemaker. Had some pretty serious reliability issues and is still today regarded as the worst double action design ever brought to production.
- 1892 Colt Army - One of the first swing out cylinder revolvers; used by Teddy Roosevelt's roughriders.
- Remington Model 95 Derringer - Popular with gamblers and as a garter-gun. This tiny two-shot pistol could easily be hidden in one’s person, making it a useful personal defense or assassination weapon; though the range was pitiful beyond a couple feet.
† (Note: 19th and early 20th century revolvers were not known for having safe hammer designs. Only the reckless or stupid would fill all chambers on an older revolver, you needed one empty to safely rest the hammer and firing pin, otherwise you were liable to shoot yourself while riding.)
Long guns were also common, but the sheer variety of functionally identical single shot percussion fired rifles and shotguns makes cataloging them daunting. Hell, lots of people were still using surplus flintlocks as they were dirt cheap. Besides... we're talking about gunslinging. That said, while gunslingers are most famous for the QuickDraw, there are still those like Billy the Kid with a reputation for being excellent marksmen.
A quick overview of the types of "long guns" cowboys would carry;
- Coach Gun: While double barreled shotguns were extremely commonplace, the "Coach Gun" configuration was an iconically Western one. This short-barreled shotgun was commonly used by stagecoach guards to defend against bandits, hence where the term "riding shotgun" comes from.
- Lever-Action Rifles: These existed as early as the Civil War, and became the go-to firearm for cavalry and other horse riders. Lever-actions were commonly shorter compared to infantry rifles and could be easily stowed on a saddle, and fired pistol cartridges (making it easy to carry ammo for both your revolver and long gun). Most importantly, it was an early and extremely popular repeating firearm, before bolt-action rifles became commonplace. Popular models included the Henry 1860, Winchester 1866 "Yellow Boy," Winchester 1873 & 1894, etc.
- Buffalo Rifles: These high-caliber rifles, as the name suggests, were powerful enough to bring down Buffalo in a single shot. Of course, they were also useful for other large game, making them popular with hunters. Famous models include the Sharps 1874, Remington No. 1 Rolling Block, and the Trapdoor Springfield. Peep sights were common; 19th century telescopic sights were rare, expensive, big, and finicky.
Because of their fame, many of the guns above are still produced today in limited quantities by companies that deal in replicas such as Uberti, or in the case of the Peacemaker, by their original manufacturer.
Because of the usual problem, for years the closest thing the D&D family had to a playable Gunslinger class were the gunfighting Paladins of Murlynd who resembled sheriffs from these Westerns, and whose holy text was basically a pulp novel of his exploits. In 3rd Edition, this amounted to a single feat buried in an issue of Dragon Magazine.
A gun-toting prestige class, the Pistoleer, appeared in the 3rd edition update of the Ravenloft setting, where it was one of several prestige classes in the splatbook Van Richten's Arsenal, Volume 1.
5th Edition first sought to resolve this lengthy injustice by introducing Gunslingers as a sub-class of the Artificer called the Gunsmith. This first version was a quarter-caster, like the Fighter and Rogue spellcasting archetypes, that got a semi-magical "thunder-cannon" that only they could use, and which took an action to fire and a bonus action to reload. While this obviously restricted them to one shot per round, the base shot had the damage-progression of the Rogue's sneak attack, and they learned to fire other shots with various effects (blast, cone, etc.) as they leveled up. They also had the tools needed to recreate their weapon if it was destroyed, and a wonky ammunition bag that didn't technically give them as many bullets as they wanted in theory, but definitely did in practice since they were almost certainly not going to fire more shots than they can produce in a given long rest.
Unfortunately, the Gunsmith and the thunder cannon were removed with the March 2019 Unearthed Arcana, but in its place a new Artificer sub-class (now renamed Artillerist) had the means to create a walking turret buddy by sacrificing spell slots (as well as one free one each day). This turret, while incapable of scaling in damage, could either be a flamethrower, a force-damage ballista, or a healing station. You could also create wands with this subclass, though it was only usable by you and it let you add your Intelligence Modifier to the damage of one cantrip.
The official published version of the Artificer in Eberron: Rising from the Last War kept most of the above Artillerist features, adding the option to make the turret legless, tiny and hand-held (i.e. a GUN). Combined with the ability to fashion arcane focii into firearms, dual-wielding gunslingers had finally arrived in D&D.
Iron Kingdoms ups the ante by having magic gunslingers, the iconic "Gun Mages". A gun mage is a magic wielder who, instead of casting spells at his target, shoots bullets at his target with spells cast on them. Instead of robes and wizard hats they wear dusters and tricorns.
The signature weapon of the gunmage is the magelock pistol, combined with rune etched ammunition. There is nothing inherently magical about a magelock, it is the runes on the bullet that allow the gunmage to empower it with spells. A magelock pistol is simply built to higher standards and of harder materials to withstand the power involved; fired through a regular pistol, empowered rune ammo will very quickly cause damage to the barrel.
Most gun mages are trained by their nation's military. In Cygnar, gun mages are typically members of the Order of the Arcane Tempest; in the former nation of Llael, gun mages were trained by the Order of the Amethyst Rose.
Pathfinder actually had the balls to add the Gunslinger as a character class in a world of knights and swords, because fuck medieval stasis; in canon, it's because there's an entire region that's just a massive anti-magic zone so they needed something to defend themselves. They're built on the "Fighter" template, so they get lots of hitpoints and lots of feats, and they enjoy a resource pool called grit that they can use for various effects. In addition to rest, grit is mainly regenerated by critting or killing actual threats. However, some DMs also allow doing badass deeds of derring-do to regain grit, so shooting out chandeliers, challenging villains to quick-draw duels, and leaping sideways through the air while firing are all heartily encouraged.
More than perhaps any other class, Gunslingers benefit from Pathfinder's "archetype" system. One Gunslinger class feature basically lets the character pick a gun off a rack to start the game with, since otherwise you'd have to spend more money than the entire party probably has at character creation to buy a single weapon, let alone ammunition; sticking with one type of gun and picking an archetype to go with it is very advantageous. Musket Masters get lots of free reloading powers, Pistoleros get sneak-attack-style extra precision damage, Siege Gunners get to be cannon fighters, etc. Note that there is only one "good" way to do a dual pistol build ("Gun Twirling," which is super feat-heavy), outside of weird stuff (being a member of the four-armed kasatha race, multi-classing to either witch or alchemist long enough to pick up an extra limb, picking the bard archetype for juggling weapons, etc.), so it's tricky to do.
Your firearm is your friend and your bosom buddy. You won't be starting out with a multi-shot firearm for balance, and getting one later is pretty iffy, so making reloading as quick and easy as possible is absolutely paramount. Take the Rapid Reload feat if your archetype doesn't already come with one, and take at least one rank in the Craft: Alchemy skill to make alchemical ammunition at half-cost with no crafting roll. Alchemical ammunition, even when it doesn't have any special powers, further reduces the time necessary to reload a weapon, which is a small price to pay for increased misfires. Getting it down to a free action by the time you can take multiple shots per round is important. Also, when you inevitably roll a critical fumble and your gun breaks, don't be stingy with your grit. Doing a quick clear may cost you time later, but it will save your goddamn life now, whereas having your weapon explode will basically kill you even if you survive it.
They also manage to sidestep most MAD problems, since, although they need more WIS than the average fighter-derivative for grit points, they need less STR if they aren't lugging around an artillery piece. And even then, there's a dirt cheap magic item called Muleback Cords that can easily get around that problem. Plus, one of their strongest powers kicks in at fifth level, where they start adding their Dex to damage with their guns, complete with their own version of Power Attack (Deadly Aim).
Gunslingers aren't really overpowered, since their abilities basically begin and end at pointing guns at bad things to make them dead; they have to stay uncomfortably close for their ranged features to actually matter, misfires are the bane of their existence for most of their careers, and their whole shtick can be shut down in a hurry if the enemy spellcaster summons cover or manages to get their gun wet. That said, they do need to be played against very differently from many other martial classes, so DEFINITELY clear this class with your GM/DM before you roll one. Misfiring is also a perpetual bane until you can afford a +2 equivalent weapon, and if you aren't always prepared for it, you will most likely die.
Most of the listed problems can be easily fixed with cheap wondrous items and weapon enchantments (distance on a musket will double the range to 80 feet), and combat feats like Cluster Shots and Improved Precise Shot remove the problem of DR and Cover. Also, Alchemical Cartridges can't get wet, and even if the GM is smart enough to cast water on your musket (and you lack any Dry Load cartridges), just ask a caster to cast Prestidigitation (lvl 0 spell) on your gun and it will be dry in a standard action. Or, if you're willing to get really pulpy "science-fantasy", try and score yourself some of the technological guns from Numeria; any gun works for a gunslinger, whether it's a blackpowder musket or an ancient alien laser pistol. And for those wanting to go ham on this angle, there's the Techslinger archetype from the Technology Guide.
The issue with this is, of course, that the availability of guns is dependent on setting and feats. In general, a lot of DMs just aren't happy with the changes having gunslingers around would necessitate in their settings, and it is their game, after all. Paizo has ported some of the 'slinger's class features into other class variants in some of their new material, and the "Bolt Ace" archetype basically ports most of their cool stuff into crossbows, so if the mechanics sound interesting to you but the DM is unwilling, take a look. And most people agree that revolvers, rifles, and other "early modern" firearms are a bit too strong, so don't expect to get them at all.
In the end, Gunslingers are tier 5 at lower levels or tier 4 at higher. They can throw out a lot of damage, but at lower levels they struggle to do it consistently. While good at this, base Gunslingers can't do anything else very well, although with some clever skill points, and use of their heavier CHA focus the Mysterious Stranger can take up the place of a Party Face, and the Blast Lock deed can be used to bypass locks (though the subtlety of such a tactic leaves a lot to be desired without oil of silence), so there are some ways to make an "infiltrator" Slinger. They also have a pretty good skill list and a decent number of skill points, so they edge out the fighter in that regard.
Come Heroes of Golarion, any ranged Gish that wants to be is a better Gunslinger than an actual gunslinger thanks to the feat Spell Cartridges. In exchange for a swift action each turn to use Arcane Strike and slightly less damage (1d4 per 5 caster levels) your firearm is semi-automatic, requires no ammo and deals force damage (which is almost never subject to Damage Reduction or Energy Resistance).
|The Classes of Pathfinder 1st Edition|
|Core Classes:||Barbarian - Bard - Cleric - Druid - Fighter - Monk |
Paladin - Ranger - Rogue - Sorcerer - Wizard
|Alchemist - Antipaladin - Cavalier |
Inquisitor - Oracle - Summoner - Witch
|Arcanist - Bloodrager - Brawler - Hunter - Investigator |
Shaman - Skald - Slayer - Swashbuckler - Warpriest
|Kineticist - Medium - Mesmerist |
Occultist - Psychic - Spiritualist
|Ultimate X:||Gunslinger - Magus - Ninja - Samurai - Shifter - Vigilante|
Gunslinger has been confirmed as part of the new book Guns and Gears, alongside a brand new class for second edition, the Inventor. Among the more obvious changes to the class are the baked-in proficiencies with crossbows (making the Bolt Ace archetype now integrated in any case) and a limited degree of melee capabilities. Though their armor proficiency is quite poor, the fact that stat progression isn't nearly as item-dependent lessens the blow. Misfires also no longer carry carry the risk of making the gun go kaboom on its wielder, though it can still break the gun in some circumstances. Among other feats available see certain panache tricks, turning Alchemist bombs into bullets and, as seen to the side, feats for really weird and wacky feats of gun-slinging taking advantage of enemy attacks or saving allies.
Currently the subclass options include the Drifter, the Pistolero, and the Sniper.
Way of the Drifter: This Gunslinger likes to mix their skills with a gun with a melee in the other hand. Perfect for people who want to play as a pirate but would like a ranged option as well as melee.
Way of the Pistolero: This Gunslinger is the classic Cowboy archetype. Quick to draw their weapon and gets in a lot of duels.
Way of the Sniper: This Gunslinger hides some distance away, hoping to get a good shot in with his rifle, while never being spotted by his prey.
|The Classes of Pathfinder 2nd Edition|
|Core Classes:||Alchemist - Barbarian - Bard - Champion - Cleric - Druid |
Fighter - Monk - Ranger - Rogue - Sorcerer - Wizard
|Advanced Player's Guide:||Investigator - Oracle - Swashbuckler - Witch|
|Secrets of Magic:||Magus - Summoner|