Paizo has come out with the first playtest for the upcoming Ultimate Combat splatbook for Pathfinder. The pdf includes three new classes, the ninja, the samurai and the gunslinger, as well as new combat rules for firearms. I don't really have much to say about the ninja and the samurai. We've seen those classes done numerous times before and my only response to yet another incarnation is profound indifference. However, I'm very interested in incorporating blackpowder weapons into my games, so I was more than a little curious to see what Paizo had in store for us.
First off, I'll get it out front. I hate the name of the "gunslinger" class. I would have preferred something like "fusilier" or "arquebusier". For that matter, given the sort of swashbuckler character this class seems designed to create, the name "musketeer" might even be appropriate. The primary class feature of the gunslinger is Grit, a pool of points the character can draw from to execute various daring maneuvers or shooting tricks. It ends with the inevitable True Grit capstone ability which ties in with the name of the class. Still, the iconic image included in the pdf is far more reminiscent of Capt. Jack Sparrow than Rooster Cogburn, so there seems to be a bit of confusion as to what cultural icon (with an avian name) the designers were going for here. Yet, despite the aggravation caused by the Wild West terminology used, the class itself seems decent enough. I doubt most gunslingers in the game will concentrate solely on their guns, given the limitations of those weapons (which I will discuss below), but a gunslinger with a handy rapier at the ready would be a formidable combatant.
Even more than the gunslinger class, I was interested in reading the firearm combat rules. D&D has always had a problem with guns, because of the nature of the armour class rules. Guns are inevitably inferior to bows unless some way of incorporating armour penetration exists in the game system. Some d20 games have done a good job of dealing with this, most notably True20 by Green Ronin, by introducing a new saving throw, called Toughness, which represents a character's ability to avoid damage. The armour bonus adds directly to the Toughness save, rather than the Defensive Modifier (the character's ability to avoid being hit). Likewise, the attacker's weapon adds a modifier to the DC of the save, with firearms generally having higher modifers than more primitive weapons. This approach, however, requires wholesale changes to the game mechanics, since True20 uses a damage track, rather than hit points. The Paizo design team is using a simpler approach to model firearms. Attacks within the first range bracket are touch attacks. Why didn't I think of that? It's so obvious now. No fiddling with DR, just turn off armour altogether versus guns at close range. A few people might have a problem with it, because it means even adamantine armour won't stop a bullet, but that could be house-ruled easy enough. Just increase the cost of adamantine to reflect its added advantage and say that guns don't get touch attacks against adamantine armour. You could then add adamantine bullets to get the touch attack ability back.
Now guns do still have disadvantages, notably the rate of fire, though how much of a disadvantage that will ultimately be is a bit hard to tell right now since only the most basic firearms rules are included. It's possible that feats and magic options may appear in the final product which can mitigate the problem. Another problem I see is the cost of ammo. One shot of black powder costs 10gp and a single bullet costs 1gp, so it's going to cost 11gp per attack. Contrast that with 20 arrows or 10 heavy crossbow bolts for 1gp. Conserving ammo and using a backup weapon whenever possible is going to be the order of the day for gunslinger PCs. Nonetheless, I can't wait to try out my first gun-wielding character.
Update: One more comment about the Gunslinger. It has a class feature called Brave and Tough which provides bonuses to both Fortitude and Will saves. The Reflex save is the good save for the class, but with the bonuses provided, Fort and Will never fall less than one point below Ref, giving the gunslinger almost monk-like saving throws. This is quite a major advantage that might be easily overlooked.
Further Update: Upon further perusal, I notice it is possible for a gunslinger to use grit points and the Lightning Reload Deed feat to reload as a free action. This doesn't really mitigate the rate of fire problem though, since grit points are not typically abundant. Still, it's good to have when you really need it.
Another awesome Guardians poster design
4 days ago