Guns and fantasy aren’t strangers. We frequently see guns used in modern fantasy and some of the time time they’re used effectively. Rarely are they written realistically, but many of the fantasy authors have probably never fired a gun. The issue of guns and realism was handled beautiful by the people over at Writing Excuses last week.

The thing that I wanted to address in this post was more about the stupidity that often times follows guns into fantasy. If you’ve ever seen the role playing rules in a game for guns then you know exactly what I’m talking about. They’re almost never desirable in any way, expensive, hard to use and too costly to make effective for the person using them unless they specialize in only that. In books and movies there is this problem of guns being so mundane. All of these magical artifacts and weapons will be running around and no one seems to think to combine magic and firearms. This same problem extends back to role playing games too.

The prime example from that area of interest is the gun rules in Pathfinder. A normal revolver pistol costs more than a minor magic item, does less damage than a long sword and decreases in damage after you’ve moved twenty feet from the target. Couple with that the fact that a character has to be specially trained to use them (even though the same thing isn’t the case with crossbows and longbows, which are much harder to use in real life than any gun—in the case of a crossbow you’ve got to be pretty strong just to load some of them). Then to top it all off the gun has a chance of misfire where it injures the user and anyone standing near them.

While guns are cool, who want’s do deal with all of that when in game you could just use a bow and do more damage? It’s purely a flavor thing.

Frequently we’ll see things in fantasy about people deflecting bullets with swords multiple times or someone with a sword being equal match for someone with a gun. Let me tell you right now, if you had some hardened, gun trained hero and a sword wielder fifty feet apart there’s no reason that sword user should ever get anywhere near the person with the gun unless they’re blind.

One of the stupidest arguments I think I ever got into with someone about writing came from a man named Jeremy. I don’t mind saying his name because he should be embarrassed. He whined about how my characters in a modern day fantasy story were using a gun to fight demons. What else would a regular person use against something faster and stronger than them? You mean you want me to Rule of Cool something that makes no logical sense? People aren’t going to let themselves get killed trying to fight something that has a strength advantage over them with a melee weapon because you think ‘guns are for pussies’ as he said.

What I don’t understand is where all of this comes from. The idea that one weapon that clearly replaced another is somehow not better than it is just stupid. I don’t think there’s any sense to it besides the silly idea of honor that people sometimes like to tote or in some cases they’re victims of too much anime. Whatever the issue, I’m not going to sacrifice logic for what other people think is cool.


7 thoughts on “The Problem with Guns

  1. Given that most firearm users in fantasy roleplaying games, like Pathfinder, aren’t going to have modern firearms, and the ones that they do have will probably have lower quality propellant & craftsmanship, it’s probably reasonable to make them a bit less damaging than a longsword. The existence of a high quality, modern personal firearm presumes the machining skills, precise equipment, and metallurgical knowledge that come with modernity.

    You could probably achieve these things in a fantasy style world, but not everyone’s going to be able to achieve them, and these prerequisites will be a rarity at best. A firearm in such a setting, would probably be accurately priced as a masterwork item.


    1. But with all of the magic running around and with races like Dwarves you would think there would be a slight improvement over the colonial guns we had. I mean Pathfinder has airships and all of this other stuff, a revolver isn’t going to break the world especially not when they cost 4,000 gp.


  2. It’s not the revolver that breaks the world, but the machining, and combat doctrine that the existence of the revolver implies.

    Real firearms didn’t develop in a vacuum, but rather progressed in response to needs. Anyhow your gunslinger isn’t walking around with colonial US era firearms. He’s walking around with a weapon that was first manufactured in 1818–well after the Colonials.

    Considering most D&D is understood to be late Middle Ages, that’s a huge technology advantage..


    1. I never actually mentioned the Colonial guns were revolvers. But the early firearms in these games are that type and they’re identical to a gun in this world, the gun doesn’t really have anything to make it work well in world and it doesn’t have any of the stupid broken powers that come with a lot of weapons. It just has an extra proficiency you need to take (for a weapon that’s easier to use), a high cost, a chance of exploding, and a reload time that takes most of your turn while doing very little damage.

      Then the range on even the revolver is stupidly unrealistic. Twenty foot range increment? The person throwing a dagger has ten. I understand early guns were inaccurate, but by the time or revolvers you could shoot further than 20 feet without worrying too much.

      And all of this still doesn’t defend the argument that guns are dishonorable or that people in modern times should be using swords to fight monsters in stories. If you’re a Vampire or other super strong human like creature…maybe. But if you’re just a guy, why put yourself at greater risk?


  3. I generally prefer to not have guns in the gaming campaigns I run or game in. Not sure why. If it were done well, I don’t think there’d be a problem, but the archetypical story is the knight charging the dragon with lance and sword. If he uses a cannon, it’s too easy. So, alas I’m going with Jeremy here. No guns in my fantasy worlds.


    1. My writing world takes place in modern times, it’s not fantasy in the sense that something like Lord of the Rings is fantasy. These characters live in real world, modern cities and have jobs that a real person could get. The difference is that there are also fantasy creatures. Having modern day humans choose to fight with a sword when something is physically stronger and faster than them is not smart on their part. It weakens the writing in my opinion.


  4. If I understand range increments in Pathfinder correctly (Not a regular player), maximum effective range for something like a bow, sling and presumably gun is 10X the base range increment. It sounds about right (or even generous) for a pistol to have a 20 foot base increment. Now I am not sure about the damage reduction after 20 feet, but in the heat of battle I can certainly see it becoming more difficult to hit at greater than 20 feet. Even in modern times — according to the NY city police — 90% of gun combat takes place at ranges of 15 feet or less.


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