The Ultimate Guide to Gunslingers in D&D 5e

Posted by Andrew E. on

Gunslinger 5e DnD

What's the best build for a gunslinger in 5e? 

What are the best gunslinger feats?

Cowboys, gangsters, and practically every other cool trope since the invention of gunpowder use a firearm. D&D is a fantasy setting, but steampunk, dieselpunk and a whole range of other punks have a tendency of creeping in. There is a ton of homebrew content providing for firearms, but Matt Mercer of Critical Role fame has cemented his gunslinger archetype as the go-to gunfighter of choice. What is it exactly? How does it play? How should you build it? Put on your ammo belt and reach for the sky as we go through everything you need to know. 

It’s a Fighter Archetype

So, before we get too crazy, gunslinger isn’t its own class. Gunslinger is a martial archetype option for the fighter class. This means that most of the advice for playing a fighter holds true for playing a gunslinger. It also means you can’t really be a gunslinger at level 1 or 2. Fighters get their martial archetype at level 3, which means you’ll have to figure out how to function sans-gun in your early levels.

The World Needs Guns

Just because the archetype exists doesn’t mean you get guns. Many if not most fantasy settings don’t have their explosives figured out and your pleas for gunpowder at the local shop will go on deaf ears. Don’t try to force guns into a campaign when the DM doesn’t want them. Even if Matt Mercer wrote it, gunslingers are still homebrew content and not officially allowed. They’re not right for all settings and you should double-check with your DM before rolling a gunslinger up.

Gunslinger Ability Scores

Dexterity is your absolute most important score; it dictates how well you shoot and how well you dodge. Normally as a fighter, your next important ability score would be Constitution, but gunslingers need a high Wisdom score for their grit abilities. This means you should prioritize Dexterity as your highest score, make Wisdom your next best, put whatever you have left into Constitution, and the rest can really be dump stats. Try and get your Dexterity to a +4 as fast as possible and try to get your Wisdom to at least a +3.

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Best Races for a Gunslinger

You can honestly use any race for your new gunslinger, 5e is a pretty forgiving system and there aren’t any “wrong” answers. However, you’re going to get the most benefit out of races that provide a bonus to Dexterity, Wisdom, or both. The following races provide optimal benefits for your new gunslinger character.

Aarakocra

Aarakocra gain bonuses to both Dexterity and Wisdom, good so far. But the kicker is the flight. Combining flight with ranged attack options can legitimately win fights on their own if the DM is unprepared. You can play keep-away with even your short-range firearms while gliding just overhead. It’s simple, it’s easy, but sadly many DMs ban aarakocra as a race outright. Make sure your DM is cool with the bird folk before rolling one up.

Elf (Wood Elf)

Wood elves gain a bonus to both Dexterity and Wisdom, and alongside all the nice little elf perks (trance, free Perception proficiency) you also get a little boost to your movement speed. Having a 35-foot movement speed can let you outpace and keep some enemies out of striking distance while you unload with your guns. It also lets you play the sniper with their mask of the wild ability that lets them hide even when only lightly obscured by foliage. Grab a handy tree and snipe away.

Halfling (Ghostwise)

Halflings have a bonus to their Dexterity and picking the ghostwise subrace gets us the needed Wisdom boost. None of the firearms are labeled as heavy, so your little halfling doesn’t need to worry about any restrictions. The main reason halflings are great gunslingers though is their lucky ability. Fumbling an attack with a gun becomes a misfire, and misfires are terrible. Without a backup, a broken gun can leave you useless for the rest of a fight. Lucky halflings are practically immune to this though and can reroll their way out of a tight spot.

Human (Variant)

Take variant human and pick +1 Wisdom and +1 Dexterity for your ability score improvements. This also lets you grab the sharpshooter feat right off the bat (more on that later). Variant humans are always good, just be aware that they’re often banned.

How to use Gunslinger Class Features

Fighters are only as complicated as you make them, and you won’t have to do anything terribly complicated with your gunslinger build. We should go through a few important bits though, and explain your really relevant class features one at a time.

Fighting Style - For most fighters, this is an important decision that shapes how they’ll customize their character. For you there is no choice, gunslingers should always pick archery for their fighting style. I realize you aren’t an archer (it’s all worded to work in a pre-gun world remember), but +2 to all shots with ranged weapons is far better for you than any other option. +2 is a huge advantage in 5e, and you can’t pass this up. 

Extra Attack - Pretty self-explanatory, whenever you attack do it again. Many classes get these but only fighters get so many (you’ll end up with 4 attacks at level 20). As a gunslinger, keep in mind that you can reload your gun using an attack, so once you gain your extra attack at level 5 you’ll be able to fire and reload in the same turn. 

Ability Score Increase - Ability Score Increases or ASIs arrive for most classes every 4 levels (for the most part) at levels 4, 8, 12, 16 and 19. Fighters, however, get to go nuts with them and get ASIs at levels 4, 6, 8, 12, 14, 16, and 19. What this really means is that you can easily max out your relevant stats (so for a gunslinger, Dexterity, and Wisdom), and you can get way more feats than other characters. Consider taking the sharpshooter feat at level 4 or 6, but more on that later.

Firearm Proficiency - Basically, you get proficiency in firearms. However, this ability is pretty unique. Firearms are their own weird category separate from simple or martial weapons, and other characters would have to take a feat just to gain proficiency in a single type of firearm. Here you get proficiency in all of them for free.

Gunsmith - Unless your campaign setting is already set up for guns, this ability is going to be your primary source of ammo, repairs, and even entire guns. You gain proficiency in tinker’s tools, and you can use them to do all those things at half the normal cost (which is still high). By the way “crafting” new guns is left entirely up to DM discretion, and your most powerful firearm options are crafted only. You’re going to need to work out how your DM wants to handle this, since the “hand mortar” and “bad news” were specific items Matt Mercer allowed his player to make, and are sort of up in the air. 

Adept Marksman - Okay, now we finally get to the real meat of the archetype. Gunslinger works like a weird ranged battle master. You gain a number of grit points equal to your Wisdom modifier. You regain these points on short rests and you also regain them when you make a critical hit or finish off an enemy.

So, what does grit do? It’s the resource you spend to make trick shots.

When you first become a gunslinger at 3rd level, you get to choose two trick shots, and you learn an additional trick shot at 7th, 10th, 15th, and 18th.

You get 8 to choose from, some of which are great, and most of which are pretty meh.

Bullying Shot. Not bad exactly, but in order to work you’d need a high Charisma and the gunslinger should really be treating Charisma as a dump stat. 

Dazing Shot. I want to put a big old label on this saying TAKE THIS ONE. Imposing disadvantage like this for essentially free can make or break a combat. In situations where there’s one major target, you can potentially keep them dazed for the entire fight.

Deadeye Shot. So ALSO TAKE THIS ONE. Guaranteeing advantage when you need it is amazing, and it can help sneak in that sharpshooter damage, (more on that later).

Disarming Shot. It can be good in some situations, but most monsters won’t have weapons to disarm, worth taking maybe after you already have the really good ones.

Forceful Shot. Cooler than it is good, push effects have some great situational applications but without some form of stage hazard they don’t do much of anything.

Piercing Shot. This one should probably be your 4th pickup, it’s technically situational but it’s not that hard to line up a shot to hit multiple targets. This trick basically turns your bullets into mini lightning bolts and who wouldn’t want that?

Violent Shot. Basically, you get to roll another damage die on the hit in exchange for having a higher misfire chance. This is a GOOD one and should honestly be either one of your first trick shots or the first extra one you learn.

Winging Shot. Shoot a guy’s legs out and knock him prone. This one is good, kind of. You actually have disadvantage on attacks against prone targets with ranged attacks, so think of this as a “go get ‘em” charge to your allies to actually take down the target. Not bad, not as good as other picks though.

To sum all that up, your first two trick shots should be your choice of dazing shot, deadeye shot, or violent shot. At 7th level grab whichever of those 3 you missed earlier, these 3 are the really good ones. Then at 10th grab piercing shot, and past that fill up on your choice of winging shot, or disarming shot.

What Gun do I Use?

Pistol or pepperbox. It’s sad to say but statistically all the other base firearms are just BAD. All firearms have the reload quality, followed by a number which dictates how many shots they can fire before needing an attack use to reload. That means a reload 1 weapon can only fire once before needing a reload. Losing every other attack is awful. 

Now I know you’re thinking, “but what about bad news, isn’t that the best weapon?” Well sort of, it’s also completely up to DM discretion if you can even make the damn thing. It packs a punch though, so give it a whirl if your DM allows it. Just be aware that the weapon entry has a typo on dnd beyond and actually has the reload 1 weapon quality.

Best Gunslinger Feats

Sharpshooter - Sharpshooter has some bonus benefits to ignore cover and long-range penalties, but we want it for the juicy damage increase. By using your deadeye shot to gain advantage, you can offset the -5 penalty to hit and just lay on that lovely +10 damage bonus shot after shot. I’d almost claim this as an obligatory feat for gunslingers.

Lucky - Lucky is good, it’s never not good. It’s so good it’s usually banned. But especially for a gunslinger where fumbles hurt due to misfires, rerolling away those 1’s can make or break a combat.

Crossbow Expert - This one is iffy, but super helpful. You’re wasting ⅔ of the feat because you’re not using crossbows, but the bit we want doesn’t care what ranged weapon you use. This feat lets you ignore the disadvantage from firing ranged weapons in melee, which can be huge for your pistol-wielding gunslinger.

 

👉 SHOP GUNSLINGER MINIATURES HERE!

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