The next class I’m going to release here is my oldest, and the one that has easily had the most play hours in my games. That class would be the Gunsmith. Like I said this is the first brew I ever made and I think it still reflects that in places. I want to share my thoughts on the class itself and also some reflections on the core concept.
First up, here’s the file download:
So obviously the idea behind the Gunsmith thematically speaking is that it’s a dude with guns. It’s something I think just about everyone has tried their hand at. Guns are cool, and lots of us want them in our fantasy settings.
After the ‘Theme’ section I would usually talk about mechanics, but for this one I want to talk about some of the design philosophy here. I almost feel like I have to justify the existence of a gun-wielding class. In fact, since there are so many already out there I’d say that I do.
So I felt dissatisfied with most of the Gunslinger brews out there, especially Matt Mercer’s. Not because I think his (or many of the others out there) are inherently bad (let’s be honest some are though). It’s because I felt that a) they didn’t reflect a lot of the design philosophies of 5e and b) I felt that the idea of someone who uses guns and only guns makes little sense in a vacuum.
Now the first of those can be chalked up, especially in Matt Mercer’s case, to the fact that many were working off the template of Pathfinder’s Gunslinger class. The thing is Pathfinder has very different design philosophies around when classes get certain abilities in that they’re constantly getting new, play defining abilities across many of their level-ups. 5e on the other hand gives you all of your defining features by 3rd level. Everything beyond that is some augmentation or specialised direction provided by a subclass, and for the base class it tends to be ribbons, stat boosts and power ups of previous abilities. When you do get new things they’re nowhere near as fundamental as the things you get from levels 1-3. I wanted to design a gun-wielding class that follows more closely this piece of 5e’s design philosophy
The second of the issues I voiced above mainly stems from the fact that D&D settings seldom have guns. If you want to make a homebrew setting with guns then go ahead. If someone wants to play a Gunslinger then now you have to include guns, and if guns exist then why wouldn’t a Fighter or a Rogue also use them? Why is the Gunslinger specifically using guns all the time with these particular abilities? It runs in to the age-old trap of homebrew classes built around using a single weapon (‘Introducing my new class: The Knifer!’). I think a gun-wielding character needs to be more unique. It needs to be someone who builds guns. Hell, they might even be the first person ever to invent the firearm. This is something I have hard-baked into the flavour of the class.
The class gets a couple of core features. Obviously the biggest one is the Quickdraw Actions, which are a resource that can be expended to fuel your various abilities. To keep some elements of other Gunslinger brews I have them partially refresh when you land a critical hit.
The main pair of abilities across 1st and 2nd level are Fastshot and Take Aim. Fastshot is meant to be the ‘shoot more’ ability that expends resources, while Take Aim is meant to be the ‘slow and steady’ approach that is also a good option when you’re out of resources.
Take Aim had a serious issue though, in that it used to take up a bonus action and so many of the Gunsmith’s other cool stuff also used a bonus action (such as Honourable Duel). Take Aim was seldom getting used. Also, it used to be just adding the Intelligence modifier to damage. Having it be on the attack roll made it too good, but having it just be on the damage made it feel like a waste of a bonus action if you missed your attack. It was changed as a result to be half of your Intelligence modifier to both attack and damage. That made it worth the bonus action investment without being too good. I also added the ability to spend a Quickdraw Action to do it at no action cost, making it not compete with your other bonus action abilities if you had the Quickdraw Actions to spare.
2nd level also brings you Honourable Duel, which is meant to occupy the ‘this is a superior weapon’ thematic space. You square your weapon off against theirs, and yours comes out on top. Really it just pumps up your damage if you hit, making it a high risk high reward ability. You can make it land more consistently by burning Quickdraw Actions on Take Aim, but given that you have a limited number of both Quickdraw Actions and Honourable Duel uses this would burn through a lot of resources very quickly.
And that’s really what I wanted the gameplay experience of the class to be. I wanted it to be a class where you could burn through your stuff fast for a few big hits then run on fumes until you could long rest, or pace yourself across the entire adventuring day and do a consistent but not flashy amount of damage.
The last core feature to kick in comes at 3rd level, which is the Experimental Powders. I have always felt that this is thematically one of the class’ best features, as it ties thematically back to the premise of these characters being inventors and pioneers of science and technology. This always felt like a feature that could not exist on other Gunslinger brews, because why does some schmo with a gun suddenly have the alchemical know-how to make strange new gunpowders.
What I Would Change
There’s a lot I like about this class, and in a sense it has been my most successful in that it has been the one most played at my table (and a few folks in my extended friend circles have picked it up for their own games too).
There’s also a lot I don’t like about it. Like I said this was my first ever homebrew and I really do think that shows. It shows in a number of places, and the fixes are things that would require a massive overhaul.
Firstly I wish I’d never used the term ‘Quickdraw Actions’. The word ‘Actions’ doesn’t imply a resource being spent. I almost wish I’d just called them ‘Quickdraw Points’. The bolder approach, and the one I think I would take if I were to rebuild the class today, would be to make them an actual additional action that the Gunsmith had access to on top of their Action, Bonus Action, Movement and Reaction, and make it have limited access (i.e. every time you took a Quickdraw Action it drained a resource). I would make the Gunsmith’s abilities as a whole more evenly spread across these three actions, and have turns be about deciding how much you wanted to do and how to best spend your potential actions. It would also help tidy up things like the Pistoleer getting extra attacks when they spend Quickdraw Actions. I would instead give them something like a feature that lets them take the Attack Action as a Quickdraw Action (similar to how Rogues can Disengage as a Bonus Action instead of a regular Action).
I also kind of hate that each subclass is built around one kind of gun. I also think it’s one of the best things I did, because it completely does away with the clunky approach of crafting your guns and having some great big table of weapons you could make. It also allowed me to make abilities more tailored to the specific weapon of choice for each subclass. It also put me right into that trap earlier of having the single-weapon class (or at least subclass), which now made even less sense because in theory you’re a master craftsman that could easily design and manufacture a completely different gun. It requires a weird kind of suspension of disbelief, and not one I’m sure I’m happy with.
Ready, Aim, Fire
In the end though I’m happy with this class, because I think its biggest triumph is that it plays really well at the table. If that isn’t the measure of success for a homebrewed class then I don’t know what is. Like I said above, this is the class that my players have come back to the most of all of my homebrew, and that’s something I have to consider a win.
So if you want to do the whole ‘guy with the gun’ thing in D&D I’d really urge you to consider giving this one a go. It comes with a much more robust thematic package to allow for a gun-user in the average setting and takes big steps away from much of what has held Gunslinger homebrews back in the past.