Tuesday Potpourri (5e): The Age of Lead

It was the dwarves who mastered the amazing black powder. The gnomes reached some of the milestones first, of course, with their dangerous gung-ho experimentation, but where gnomish progress is always two leaps forward and one back, dwarves tend to march more carefully forward. Truly reliable barrels and firing mechanisms, cannons, and even, after a time, self-contained cartridges will be the legacy of the dwarves. For good and for ill.

The Age of Lead

Firearms were kept largely secret at their conception. For at least a few decades, there was only rumors and the occasional thundering victory on the part of the dwarves thanks to their secret weapons (gnomish guns were too finicky and rare to really be as rumor worthy). As with all secrets though, firearm manufacture eventually bled out into the world. Soon other states and peoples were copying firearm designs and principles until, not long after the secret broke out, they became commonplace on the open market.

The following weapons represent the firearms common among dwarves and gnomes at the specified dates. For simplicity’s sake, the “Designed Date” is based in real-world history so as to be more easily translated into a given campaign’s own dating system. Generally, a given gun will be legally obtainable by a foreigner approximately 10 years after it is designed, assuming the proper paperwork is filed (costing an additional 10 gp and usually taking about one week to go through). Illegal guns can actually be much easier to obtain but tend to cost 150% marked price or more.

(G) denotes a gnomish originating gun, (D) denotes a dwarven originating gun

Simple Weapons
Name Range Damage Designed Date Ammo Properties Price Weight
Fireshot (G) 10 / 100 1d10 P 1500 CE Powder & Shot two-handed, long loading (2), unreliable 500 gp 9 lbs.
A2 Pistol (D) 30 / 100 1d10 P 1650 CE Powder & Shot long loading (2), unreliable 300 gp 2 lbs.
B7 Pistol (D) 50 / 150 2d4 P 1730 CE Cartridge loading 500 gp 2.5 lbs.
Gnomish  Revolver (G) 50 / 150 2d4 P 1755 CE Cartridge revolver (6) 700 gp 3 lbs.
Martial Weapons
Name Range Damage Designed Date Ammo Properties Price Weight
Longshot (G) 30 / 200 2d6 P 1510 CE Powder & Shot two-handed, long loading (3), unreliable 900 gp 8 lbs.
C1 Smoothbore (D) 30 / 100 2d6 P 1650 CE Powder & Shot long loading (2), unreliable 650 gp 6.5 lbs.
C2 Rifle (D) 150 / 400 2d8 P 1725 CE R. Cartridge loading, restricted 800 gp 6.5 lbs.
C12 Rotary Rifle (D) 100 / 400 2d8 P 1760 CE R. Cartridge revolver (5), restricted 1000 gp 7 lbs.
Powry Air Rifle (G) 100 / 200 2d4 P 1800 CE Air Pellet long loading (2) 1400 gp 7.5 lbs.

Note: Ammunition has negligible weight for encumbrance purposes. Firearm ammunition is always destroyed upon firing, except for air pellets, which are small enough that, for the purposes of ammo recovery, should almost always be considered lost regardless.

Name Price
Powder & Shot (10 rounds) 20 gp
Cartridge (5 Rounds) 15 gp
R. Cartridge (5 Rounds) 25 gp
Air Pellet (100 Rounds) 5 gp
Firearm Properties

Long Loading (X): A weapon with long loading property takes X number of rounds to reload before it can be fired again. A character must use a number of Move actions equal to X before the weapon can be fired again. These actions do not need to be taken consecutively.

Restricted: For around the first 50 years of their existence, Restricted weapons are considered appropriate only for those with special permission to use them (a process that is lengthy and with a highly variable success rate depending on who is seeking such permission) or for the producing state’s military. Outsiders found with the weapons will be heavily fined, potentially imprisoned, and those selling such weapons may even be charged with treason.

Revolver (X): An action must be used to reload a revolver after firing the weapon X amount of times. One action reloads the weapon completely (unless the wielder chooses to load the weapon with fewer shots, in which case the weapon can obviously only be fired however many times it has cartridges, until requiring reloading again).

Unreliable: A weapon with the unreliable property fails to fire if wet or if a natural 1 is rolled on an attack roll with the weapon. actions are still consumed as normal if the weapon is used to attack but it fails to fire the shot and jams up (rendering the attack totally useless). The wielder must then use another Action to clean out the gun before it can be fired again.

Firearm Descriptions:

Fireshot: One of the earliest examples of a firearm, the Gnomish Fireshot makes for an impressive proof of concept whose actual combat viability proved highly limited. Expensive to produce, relatively poor range, and the long loading times that would plague black powder weapons until the development of cartridges all made for an interesting but mostly forgotten weapon. Like nearly all guns, it is incredibly loud.

A2 Pistol: One of the earliest examples of a commercially and militarily viable firearm, this flintlock pistol is a prime example of the efficient, no-nonsense design common among dwarven guns. Moderately affordable, relatively light, and a deadly way to enter the fray, it has proven popular since its conception. It is a design universally stolen and copied, but true dwarven flintlocks remain sought after pieces.

B7 Pistol: While its counterpart the C2 came first, the dwarves quickly realized the value of a cartridge based pistol. Much quicker to load than earlier powder & shot designs, it represented a paradigm shift in warcraft. Its range, damage, and rate of fire rendered many older weapons totally obsolete.

Gnomish Revolver: It was the gnomes who invented revolving cartridge based weapons, an innovation that even the dwarves were forced to accept as part of the new age of firearms.  Able to fire multiple shots before requiring reloading, revolvers allow even the common person to now achieve a level of lethality once reserved for the likes of true rangers and mages.

Longshot: A far better design in almost every way than the gnomish Fireshot, the Longshot design proved far more useful in the long term. The Longshot was more difficult to handle and required a slightly more complex loading process, but the damage its rounds could deal made even small groups of gnomes carrying such weapons a force to be reckoned with.

C1 Smoothbore: The earliest (successful) dwarven attempt at a long arm, the C1 Smoothbore was mildly successful, although magic and trained bowmen could certainly rival it. With the gnomish Longshot often prohibitively expensive, and fairly heavy, the dwarven C1 was considered by many (including the dwarves) an acceptable alternative.

C2 Rifle: With the introduction of barrel rifling to increase accuracy, and cartridges to increase load times, the dwarven C2 Rifle is viewed by many as the true start of the Age of Lead. The dwarves kept a mighty grip on their invention for quite some time, deploying it sparingly and ensuring no firearm was seized by an enemy force without a swift and violent retaliation.

C12 Rotary Rifle: Using gnomish innovations, the dwarves incorporated a cylinder into their C-line of rifle designs. This was the death rattle of the crossbow and, for all but masters, the longbow. The Rotary Rifle was comparable in nearly every field but damage and rate of fire, where it was almost always superior. While it certainly was louder and much more expensive, a single rifleman could now outclass three (or more) traditional bowmen.

Powry Air Rifle: An oddity, the Powry Air Rifle is far too expensive a design, with too little damage output and too low a rate of fire, to be militarily viable. However, it is quiet and, once the rifle is purchased, its ammunition is extremely easy and cheap to manufacture. Using a hand pump, the gun builds air pressure, allowing a user to shoot purely from the force releasing the pressure puts on a round. These weapons have proven popular among wealthy hunters, explorers who cannot easily resupply, and the occasional assassin.

About Quin Callahan

Quin Callahan is a freelance writer and college level English and economics tutor of over four years experience. He has written for a variety of gaming, technology, and economics publications. His favorite animal might be the squid but he is rarely certain.

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