Today I want to start a new semi-recurring topic about ways to challenge players in a campaign you might be GM’ing. Some of these ideas certainly branch out into ideas players can use, but for the most part my goal is to focus on ways to challenge specific character types. First up, will be the Gunslinger, but in the future I’ll likely be using specific but popular archetypes (like Pit Summoners, or Stealth masters).
I want to note, however, that the goal is to challenge the character, not obliterate them. That’s what multiple castings of Phantasmal Killer are for, you don’t need a guide for that.
The Gunsgliner will start us off, however, as he is the genesis for this idea. A discussion came up today about whether or not it was ok to ban a class, and the Gunslinger was a good touchstone for both sides of the very nuanced debate. There were, in general, 3 reasons a GM bans any class; Tyranny, Power, World.
I think most people agree it’s ok to ban a class if it doesn’t fit your game world. I’ve seen campaigns with no healing, no wizards, and a variety of other things. That’s fine, it’s fun, and it isn’t a blanket judgment. Tyranny (a GM on a power trip) is the most problematic reason to ban anything, but we can’t fix that here.
What we can talk about is that middle reason. Some classes and builds approach the game differently (such as the Touch AC attacks of a Gunslinger), so they need to be challenged differently. If this isn’t done, then the character is more powerful within the system by comparison to other PCs. That’s certainly not fun, even for the Gunslinger player!
Oh, and we’ll be assuming that the GM isn’t allowing advanced firearms. They have their place, and I like them for certain campaigns, but the default for most GMs will be black powder. So we’re going to roll with that.
Understanding the Class
First, we have to understand the basics of how the build or class operates. For the Gunslinger, the primary things to understand are Touch AC, Dex to Damage, Feat choices, and Jamming.
The most important element is touch AC. Guns fired at targets within their first range increment (20 for pistols, 40 for muskets) hits against Touch AC. This is huge as the characters level, as the Gunslinger has a full BaB and a high dexterity. He’s probably going to hit very reliably.
Next, the character gains his dex to damage at level 5. This boosts damage up considerably, especially when you consider the Deadly Aim feat, which will boost damage even more.
Speaking of feats, here are the feats the GM is going to need to understand: Point-Blank Shot, Precise Shot, Rapid Shot, Deadly Aim, and Rapid Reload. Take some time to look those up so you know what your player is doing. If he has Multi-shot then tell him to change it. Many players don’t notice it only works with Bows (which is on purpose).
Next is misfire. Characters using paper cartridges (required to get the reload time down to a free action on many guns) will increase their chances to misfire. When a character rolls a natural result of the misfire chance or lower their gun breaks. The player likely has a way to fix that issue (usually requiring a Deed) but if he doesn’t choose to end his Full Attack action he runs the risk of his gun exploding in his hands.
It’s ok to pull this stuff on your player… that’s part of the fun of the Gunslinger experience. Just don’t make things malicious, keep them entertaining and story driven. So how do we challenge the Gunslinger in ways that promote teamwork without invalidating the player’s choices?
NOTE: A big problem I see sighted a lot is the double barrel guns. Luckily, those got a new errata. No more “full attack both barrels” any more. Instead it now takes a standard action to shoot both barrels. By the time a player can afford a double barreled weapon this isn’t much of an issue (2 shots on the move with a -4 isn’t a game breaker).
#1: Threaten The Man
It’s that easy. Firing and loading a gun both provoke attacks of opportunity. So if you have a solid melee combatant next to the Gunslinger he’s going to need a 5-foot step to get out of threat. This creates several opportunities.
An easy answer is to put the character up against multiple opponents. This has the added benefit of giving casters a chance to shine with a few well placed AoE’s. If those monsters are able to get the drop on the party, even better.
Summon Monster & Nature’s Ally both have options to summon 1d3 creatures from a lower list, and this works well against Gunslingers. If you get even 2 you can have them in flanking position very quickly. This will prevent the 5-foot step away from a threat. If you leave him nowhere to run he’ll have to stand and fight. It probably won’t kill him, but it will make life much more difficult.
There are some feats that play into this as well, allowing the GM to create monsters with variable power levels to this strategy. Step-Up is a great way to create a single melee combatant that can’t be backed away from, and it only requires a +1 BaB. Start giving this to your fighters (but not all the time). Additionally, Combat Reflexes allows for multiple Attacks of Opportunity. Every time the Gunslinger loads or shoots he provokes. These are separate provoke instances, so sometimes an NPC can get 4 or more AoO against a gunslinger.
#2: Remove or mitigate the Gun
This one should be simple, but I see GM’s forget about this option all the time. A gunslinger needs 2 hands to reload his gun. So he doesn’t have another weapon out most of the time… this means he doesn’t threaten with a big attack. He might have unarmed strike, or be wearing a cestus, but without Weapon Finesse and other melee feats those weapons aren’t going to be very potent.
This means you don’t need to fear his Attacks of Opportunity, even on weaker opponents. That frees up NPCs to simply disarm him. Sure they might take a punch, but if that gun goes to the ground he’s in trouble. How many movies have a fight scene around getting to the gun?
Alternatively, feats like Deflect Arrows work just fine on guns. This can help mitigate at least one attack per round, which is a nice reduction to the gun’s power.
Cover also mitigates guns quite a bit. A tower shield, for instance, can force a Gunslinger to spend rounds moving to get an angle. Flip a table over and hide behind it. Make him move!
It’s pretty easy to imagine a Rogue who can challenge a Gunslinger with just a few feats. By mixing up which feats they have (and not using all of these at once) you can add a variety of challenges to the game without invalidating the PC completely.
And of course spells. I saved this for last because there are a TON of spells that hurt a Gunslingers damage output. I’m going to choose my favorite option from each spell level in the Core Rulebook. This way the GM has fresh options as the pc’s level, and I’m sure he has the book needed to pull it off at the table.
For the most part, Gunslingers have decent saves because they have good Fort & Ref saves, and Wisdom is important for Grit. However, later on in life the low Will save isn’t bolstered as much by Wisdom, so it’s more likely to land, especially post level 9ish. Don’t be afraid to hit him with Hold Person or similar spells, it has a good chance of slowing him down for a few rounds (which is all we really need to do to challenge him).
There are a lot more options than these. Anything that creates a cloud or invisibility, for instance, will really hurt. These are just some examples, and higher or lower level spells of the same type can be used (especially to create variety).
- Obscuring Mist: At early levels it is impossible to hit what you can’t see, or at the very least extremely hard.
- Mirror Image: This is especially potent if the caster delays until right before the Gunslingers turn, making him “waste” shots clearing the Mirror Image so that other characters can bring it home by swinging for the fences. TEAMWORK!
- Displacement: 50% miss chance is great, and even at rounds per level, it is a lot of damage reduced.
- Wall of Ice: Just put a dome over the Gunslinger and it will take him a round or two to shoot his way out of a foot thick igloo (almost any wall can do this sort of thing).
- Dominate Person: Turn that gun on his companions, let them solve the problem for you.
- Flesh to Stone: A solid “save or suck” that is pretty easy to reverse if you have a prepared divine caster in the party. Try not to over-do this one if you’re party doesn’t have a way to reverse petrification.
- Banishment: By this time you’re probably going to other planes pretty frequently… which means their local denizens can dismissal or banish you.
- Telekenetic Sphere: It’s nearly impossible for a Gunslinger to get out of this spell without help. It has Hardness 30 and 20HP per caster level after all! Plus at this level you can move him around, using the sphere as mobile cover from the rest of the Gunslinger’s group.
- Time Stop: I know it goes without saying, but this is a brutal spell that, with even a little creativity, can shut almost any character down completely.
I’m near the end here, so I’ll just list 2d6 monsters from each book that really make life hard on a Gunslinger. Yes, I actually randomly rolled how many to list and got 12. Son of a…
I’m sure you can find other monsters like these at various levels, or you can beef one up if you like.
- Zombies (Bestiary 1): At low levels especially, even 5 points of DR/Slashing works wonders since guns deal Bludgeoning/Slashing damage.
- Purple Wurm (Bestiary 1): Gulp that gunslinger down! Cutting your way out requires a light slashing or piercing weapons. Guns are NOT light weapons (although a GM could be flexible here, allowing one shot per round).
- Burning Skeletons (Bestiary 1): Get them into melee range with either the Gunslinger or his friends. Either way it makes life tricky!
- Ochre Jelly (Bestiary 1): That gun will just keep them splitting!
- Hydra (Bestiary 1): A gun can’t sever a Hydra’s head. Instead the Gunslinger needs to find a way to deal a little fire damage, or likewise get creative.
- Invisible Stalker (Bestiary 1): Between Invisibility and Combat Reflexes, one of these can just sit on the Gunslinger all fight (especially if he doesn’t know what square it is in, just don’t cheat Mr. GM, that’s no fun).
- Gelatinous Cube (Bestiary 1): It has a super low AC… so everyone is hitting it on almost every swing, not just the Gunslinger. Combined with it’s paralysis effect, this fight becomes a lot of fun.
- Jellyfish Swarm (Bestiary 2): While any swarm is tricky on the Gunslinger (forcing him to bring out his Dragonbreath weapon), the Jellyfish Swarm has a poison that damages Dex… and it lasts for 6 rounds after they took damage!
- Worm that Walks (Bestiary 2): DR 15/- Is a great start, and the fact that this is a template allows you to make this type of creature a reoccurring villain type.
- Clockwork Soldier (Bestiary 3): These guys can disarm pretty regularly. As a CR 6, they can recur a few times, making them a great touchstone your players can gauge their power by (as they will see a hard enemy become a mook over the course of a few levels). Plus, lots of bad guys can use Clockwork Soldiers, so they fit into a lot of encounters thematically.
- Cannon Golem (Bestiary 3): Bonus points for making the Cannon Golem look like a giant statue of the Gunsligner PC. Sometimes it’s fun to give them a taste of their own medicine, especially at higher levels.
- Comozant Wizard (Bestiary 4): For a CR 4 these things really make life hard on a low level Gunslinger. It pulls double duty by forcing teamwork, especially since it’s big attack takes 2 rounds to pull off.
- Broken Soul (Bestiary 4): It adds 6 Con and Toughness (along with other toys) to whatever you apply the template. So find something dangerous and make it tougher!
So there you have it. This won’t negate a Gunslinger, but it will surely open up the fights a bit, adding a few crucial rounds for the entire team to enjoy. If you’re having problems with the Gunslinger, or just want some nasty surprises for your players, I hope this helps!