What is the Gunslinger?
The Gunslinger is a homebrew subclass created by Matthew Mercer, famed Dungeon Master of the Critical Role actual play D&D show. The Gunslinger is a subclass for the Fighter class.
Perhaps owing to the fact that it was originally created for Pathfinder, the Gunslinger carries some vestiges that overlap with 5th Edition design. Instead of relying on the standard firearm mechanics presented in the Dungeon Master’s Guide (p. 268), the Gunslinger cooks up its own firearms table.
Note that the Gunslinger table includes a new property: Misfire.
Where does Gunslinger fumble?
The Gunslinger’s Misfire mechanic resembles “critical fumble” tables. By building on this cracked foundation, the frustrations become more prevalent as the Gunslinger levels up. Let’s walk through it.
A “critical fail” is when you roll a 1. Rules as written (RAW) state that the only bad thing that happens when you roll a 1 is that you miss your attack. But, some DMs like to add additional penalties when a player rolls a 1. These results are oftentimes inspired by “critical fumble” tables. The classic example is dropping your weapon.
This is a rookie mistake. Whether borne from a false notion that the DM-player relationship is supposed to be adversarial, or merely a cheap attempt to inject some humor, it’s a behavior to be unlearned.
Like all classes, the Fighter starts out with one attack. Like many martial classes, the Extra Attack feature also grants Fighters a second attack at level 5. Where the Fighter really shines is getting a third attack at level 11, and a fourth attack at level 20. When it comes down to it, the main thing the Fighter does better than every other class is attacking more. That’s their identity.
The Pox of Competency
When you put critical fumbles together with extra attacks, you get increased odds of mishaps. Attack more, fumble more. There’s no narrative reason that as a Fighter becomes more experienced, they should fail at a greater rate. But, that’s exactly what happens.
Since critical failures already happen at an increased rate, adding extra penalties on top of missing your attacks can make playing a Fighter feel really bad. A level 20 Fighter shouldn’t be dropping their weapon every 30 seconds.
With that base understanding, let’s move back to the Gunslinger. The Gunslinger builds its class identity around its own firearms table, which introduces the “Misfire” mechanic. When your attack roll is equal or less than the Misfire number, multiple bad things happen:
- The attack misses.
- You lose any remaining attacks.
- You must spend an action to repair (or spend “grit” at 10th level to repair as a bonus action).
- Your weapon might be disabled for the encounter and cost gold to fix.
But, that’s not all. There’s two other mechanics that compound these issues:
Expanded Fumble Ranges. The Misfire isn’t just rolling a 1. Stronger weapons have higher Misfire rates. Which means that your cooler toys are likely to frustrate you more often.
Non-Proficient Weapons. When using a weapon you’re not proficient with, not only do you get the penalty of not adding your proficiency bonus to your attack roll, but the Misfire range is expanded by 1. When there’s already a mechanic that addresses what happens when you’re not proficient, adding another penalty on top is cumbersome and unnecessary.
Adding multiple Extra Attacks to expanded Misfire ranges sends the chances of a critical fumble through the roof:
A level 20 fighter using anything other than a pistol is going to have their gun jam on over one-third of their turns, sometimes as much as half. That’s an unacceptable mechanic.
A lot of times, I’ll try to present a fix for a mechanical issue. Unfortunately, this is a foundational issue too rooted to patch. I would rework this class from the ground up, with the caution to avoid critical fumble mechanics in the future.
Imported Character Options
This serves as a cautionary tale for importing character options from other games. While Misfire may have been a fine mechanic in Pathfinder due to the different way that it handles action economy, the same mechanic suffers under 5th Edition D&D’s restricted action economy. The systems do not benefit from the same assumptions.
When converting a character option from another game, first examine the assumptions underlying the core of that game. Then, understand how the core mechanics of what you’re importing interact with the new system. If it’s going to make it less fun for the player, you need to find a way to rework it, or remove it entirely.
How to Play a Gunslinger
If you’re looking for a more satisfying Gunslinger experience in 5th Edition, other Fighter options are great! Depending on the prevalence of firearms in your campaign world, Fighters might know how to use guns because they’re proficient with all martial weapons.
Alternatively, every class is now in the market for a firearm with the Gunner feat from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. It’s even great for spellcasters!
I hope you enjoyed this design analysis! It’s all made possible by our supporters on the ThinkDM Patreon. You can watch Matthew Mercer and the Critical Role crew on Thursday nights on twitch.tv. Matt’s designs are best when he’s building from an original concept, so check out the Echo Knight Fighter, which can be found in Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount!