This is the first of two articles about including firearms in a fantasy role-playing game. This article discusses including firearms in terms of game philosophy and game preferences. The next article covers a shop, which sells firearms and seven firearms using the 4E Dungeons and Dragons rule system. Neither article is intended to be definitive, but to provide tools for a better game.
Firearms in a Role-Playing Game
A reoccurring question in terms of fantasy gaming is whether to include firearms. Objections include: problems in terms of game mechanics, historical inaccuracy, thematic inaccuracy, dealing with general problems and matters of taste. The first three objections break down upon examination of the game, real world history and a determination to turn “problems” into advantages that permit greater game play. However, objections based upon issues of game taste are usually intractable. If then the objections, to permitting firearms as a part of game play, in a particular group arise from the first few issues, then it is something potentially negotiable. If the objection is one of aesthetics then it is in the best interests of the group to drop the issue1.
Objections to including firearms based on game mechanic concerns should be a non-issue. The mechanics of a game are not the laws of physics; they do not operate on their own, but only to the extent that the players and the game master2 employ them. The game mechanics are only as broken as they are allowed to be by the participants. Most editions of Dungeons and Dragons have provided rules for creating, developing and expanding weapons, and troubleshooting problems3. There should be nothing about firearms that make them incompatible with the properly adjudicated mechanics of a game4.
An objection to including firearms based on concerns of historical accuracy is nonsensical. There were no firearms in Europe in the 10th century and there was a paucity of elves or wizards5 as well. Firearms appeared in China at the end of the 13th century6 and in Europe during the 14th century7. The Mongol and Turkish invasions of Europe and Asia did much to disseminate the weapon. Firearms did signal a sea change, albeit a gradual one, to the world but they did not stop the period from being dark, dangerous and violent – nor an immediate end to sword fights and the use of bows and arrows.
The issue of historical accuracy is probably actually an issue of thematic accuracy. When someone objects to including firearms, they are not objecting to their appearance in Europe in the 10th century, but in world like 10th century Europe, only with fantastic elements. A world where magic (for whatever reason) prohibits technological advancement. However, if one is going to be strict about this rule, then the setting should not include: beer with hops8, liquor9, chess10, buttons11, trebuchets12, combined arms tactics13, steel crossbows14, full plate mail15 or the longsword16. This is to say nothing of including scimitars, cutlasses, rapiers and katanas17 in a game. There is no logical reason for magic to inhibit the development of firearms and not to inhibit other areas and to select firearms in particular is inconsistent and even hypocritical.
There is a business adage that states, “turn every disadvantage into an advantage.” None of the problems above are unsolvable… and drama comes from tension. A bold player will ask for firearms (and a bold GM will allow it) because it is a game changer, something which will make people uncomfortable and “change things.” This should be less problematic than introducing an artifact level item into a game, as firearms are not unique and do less damage to the world than any self-respecting artifact. Lastly, no weapon or item, no matter how powerful, is a replacement for being quick on one’s feet and personal integrity and only the weak act as though this is not true.
However, all these objections and dealing with them leads to the issue of aesthetics, which is an intractable issue in terms of firearms in role-playing games. A magic wand in a fantasy setting, a blaster in a science fiction setting and a pistol are all ranged weapons that are relatively simple to use, though for some the firearm is the deal breaker. It is not an issue of chocolate and peanut butter18, but chocolate and caviar19. Dealing with game preferences is dealing with someone’s personal tastes and thus dealing with someone’s personality rather than something as easily addressed as rules mechanics or historical trivia. If the objection to including firearms in the game is one of aesthetics, then drop the issue rather than allow it to disrupt the group.
Firearms are perfectly adaptable to game mechanics and suitable, in those terms, to a role-playing game. Given the presence of elves and dragons in a game, it is silly to protest firearms as historically wrong. Thematically firearms may be wrong, but to exclude firearms while permitting many other anachronistic elements is being consistent only in hypocrisy. Firearms are indeed a game changer because their purpose is to be a game changer – the bold will grab this and run with it. However, role-playing games are about a group having fun and if including firearms becomes disruptive, because firearms offend someone’s aesthetics sense of the game, then drop the subject. One more in-game knickknack is not worth damaging the group.
Next week there will be an article on seven firearms and an in-game place to buy them.
1. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss good game etiquette and group dynamics.
2. This includes things as simple as forgetting rules and misinterpreting, therefore incorrectly applying, the rules.
3. In the current edition of the Dungeons Master’s Guide, chapter two addresses trouble shooting, chapter three addresses tailoring combat encounters and chapter 10 provides a general toolkit.
4. The design and assignment of levels and damage capacity of the firearms in “Gunplay and Powder Weapons II” followed these rules.
5. Do I really need to offer proof for this statement?
6. The earliest verifiable firearm dates to approximately 1288 in the modern-day Acheng District of Heilongjiang, China.
7. The army of Edward III of England employed a ribauldequin, or a medieval volley gun with many small-caliber iron barrels set up parallel on a platform, in 1339 in France during the Hundred Years War. Muscovite forces used canon’s in defense of the city during battles in 1382 against the invading forces of the Golden Horde.
8. The earliest verifiable inclusion of hops in beers is in the 11th century.
9. The earliest verifiable liquor in Europe, which got the technique from the Islamic world, was in the 12th century. Drinks like vodka, gin and brandy developed in the 14th century.
10. The game dates to 6th century Indian but did not develop into its contemporary form until the 15th century.
11. Buttons developed in Germany no earlier than the 13th century.
12. These weapons appeared in the 12th century.
13. This, as a military tactic, appeared in the 14th century.
14. These weapons, and the crossbows described in most role-playing games are closer to this model than previous versions, appeared in the 15th century.
15. This type of armor appeared in the 15th century, partly as a response to the longbow.
16. Longswords, as they are described in most role-playing games, did not appear until the 12th and 13th centuries and partly as a response to the development of armor.
17. None of which can be placed in the Middle Ages of Europe, so arguably they have no place in a game which attempts to be thematically true to a Middle Ages of Europe setting.
18. Two great tastes that, reputedly, go great together.
19. Two great tastes that no one would plausibly combine.
Edited by Cassey Toi