In the Dungeontech article series, I offer advice on introducing fantastical technology into your Dungeons & Dragons game. In this article, I describe a second genre you might consider for a Dungeontech campaign: Coltian.
The formula for gunpowder had been known for a thousand years before Samuel Colt. On its own, it had utterly transformed warfare. However, in individual combat, gunpowder was, for the most part, a one-shot. Your musket unloaded and then you closed in quickly with sabers or fists. This all changed in the Victorian age with the development of two inventions that are the hallmark of any Coltian campaign: breech-loading rifles and repeating revolvers.
The Coltian and Wattian eras may have overlapped, but the technologies are easily separated. One can have a Coltian campaign without steam engines and one can have a Wattian campaign without revolvers. For this reason, the two genres are analyzed separately.
Samuel Colt, of course, is the father of the repeating revolver (although he may not have been the first to devise the idea, his design was by far the most efficient and quickly became the standard of the day). Other pioneers in sidearm technology included Benjamin Tyler Henry, Christian Sharp, and Paul Vielle.
While these inventions were developed separately, they shared a common trait: they made it easy to reload a weapon and fire before the opponent could close to melee. The effect of these weapons was to inhibit close combat. Previously, with muskets and hand cannon, one shot would be fired and opponents would rush the shooter with melee weapons. Now, with the advent of these two new types of weapons, a shooter could fire off multiple shots with deadly accuracy before an opponent could close the distance. The result was that when combat began, the goal was to find cover quickly, to return fire, and then to dodge from cover to cover, until either a bullet hits its mark, or someone could sneak up to the shooter unaware and subdue him in melee.
In Dungeons and Dragons, it would be difficult and unbalancing to approximate the deadliness of repeated gunfire. Even when the wound is no fatal, multiple bullet wounds will invariably take even the hardiest foes out of battle within seconds. Rather, the presumption, in a game with revolvers and breech-loaders, is that combatants will find cover, resulting in much more ranged combat.
These weapons will possess the “suppressing” quality in that they suppress movement amongst the enemies as long as somebody has a gun wielded and ready to fire.
A gunslinging Coltian style campaign might quickly resemble the Wild West, where the Colt revolver was king. Combat will require encounters where cover is plentiful. Gunfights were both sides were exposed and open were often brutal, bloody and short. Since melee combat is highly de-emphasized, few people carried large melee weapons. Sabers and batons might have been carried by some law enforcement or cavalry officers, but unarmed, nonlethal combat was the rule. If you wanted someone dead, you shot them. If you were in melee, then, it was assumed, you were merely seeking to subdue them.
Dungeon Masters and players running a Coltian campaign have to be mindful that some classes could be rendered less effective, particularly classes that rely primarily on melee combat, like most Defender builds.
Revolvers and breech-loading rifles were not the only developments in gunplay developed during this era. At the end of what might be considered the Coltian era, the development of smokeless gunpowder resulted in the development of the automatic weapon, a devastating machine that could cover an entire area in a deadly spray of bullets. Automatic weaponry is absolutely inappropriate for a fantasy role-playing game. If someone does not have cover, then they are most likely simply dead. If they have cover, then such weapons should be treated simply as suppressive weaponry.
The best way to introduce automatic and semiautomatic weaponry is as a skill challenge. Place a foe in a fortification with an automatic weapon. The challenge is to develop cover or stealth and approach the fortification without being spotted. Alternately, automatic weaponry might be incorporated into a deadly trap of some sort. However, once characters begin toting automatic and semi-automatic weapons, other forms of combat are rendered virtually obsolete.
In a Coltian campaign, villains are most often humanoids wielding their own suppressive weapons. Once one side has a revolver, it becomes essential that all the characters have a way to respond. Goblin gunslingers and gnoll riflemen can maraud the steppes of a Coltian world. For a change of pace, introduce large and gargantuan creatures, who are immune to suppressive effects due to their great hides. It is no coincidence that there are so many stories of gunfighters encountering dinosaurs – once you can kill most medium-sized opponents with a shot, you need to introduce something whose hide can absorb a bullet. Dinosaurs (and dragons) are not easily cowed by a few ounces of lead.
BREECH LOAD GUN TRAP
When triggered by a sticky wire, this complicated gun trap not only shoots a rifle in the direction of the trigger, it automatically reloads to blast the same interloper again on succeeding rounds. The trap has enough shells to reload throughout the entire encounter. Because the trigger is a single square, the trap is usually placed near a bottleneck.
Breech Load Gun Trap Level 4 Blaster
Trap XP 175
You hear a click, and then the sound of piece of metal sliding into space. Suddenly, a shot rings out from the darkness!
Trigger: Entering the target square.
Immediate Reaction Ranged 5
Targets: First creature to enter triggering square.
Attack: +9 vs. Reflex
Hit: 1d10+4 damage.
Special: The spring gun will continue to fire every round at the point in the initiative where the gun was first triggered.
• Acrobatics (DC 22): You manage to extricate yourself from the sticky trigger. The spring gun will now shoot at the square in which you extricated yourself, until deactivated.
• Perception (DC 26): You see the trigger before anybody activates it, allowing you to avoid it.
• Thievery (DC 18): You remove the trigger from the victim. The spring gun will now shoot at the square in which you extricated yourself, until deactivated.
• Thievery (DC 22): You deactivate the spring gun. It will no longer fire.
Proposed Level 4 Encounter (875 XP)
• Breech Loading spring gun trap (Level 4 blaster)
• 2 duergar scouts (Level 4 scouts)
• 2 duergar guards (Level 4 soldiers)
Elite (XP 350): The trap is magically enhanced. Increase range to 10, all DCs by 2 and increase the damage to 2d8+4.
Beneath the loosely packed gravel in the hallway are primitive pressure sensors attached to explosive charges that send shrapnel in all directions. The chamber is often populated by creatures that can climb along the walls to avoid the triggers (and who can throw bombards to activate triggers near where the player characters stand. Usually one in four squares in the hallway are trapped in this fashion.
Fougasse Hall Level 13 Lurker
Trap XP 800
The floor of this hallway is filled with loose gravel.
Trigger: Entering a triggering square
Immediate Reaction Blast 1
Targets: Each creature in blast
Attack: +16 vs. AC
Hit: 3d8+6 damage
Miss: Half damage
• Acrobatics (DC 23): Pass through a square with a trigger without setting off the charge.
• Perception (DC 31): Identify a square with a charge in it.
• Thievery (DC 27): Deactivate a trigger so that explosive in that square cannot be discharged
Proposed Level 13 Encounter (3,600 XP)
• Fougasse hall (Level 13 lurker)
• Balhannoth (Level 13 elite lurker)
• Destrachan far voice (Level 15 artillery)
Solo (XP 4,000): The charges will go off even if not triggered, thanks to a variety of proximity detectors placed throughout the room. The charges also magically replenish within three rounds. Deactivating a charge will prevent the charge from replenishing. Two charges will go off in the trap’s initiative. Add +2 to the trap’s attack and damage. In addition, on a DC 31 Thievery check you can foil the arcane sensors for yourself or an ally, or prevent one charge from replenishing that round.
AUTOMATIC GUN TURRET
Manned by a minion, the automatic gun turret is a fortified square that affords the minion superior cover, while allowing him to create a field of devastation.
Automatic Gun Turret Level 21 Obstacle
Trap XP 3,200
From a small slit in a stone pillar juts the barrel of an automatic gun. As it begins to fire, the noise threatens to deafen you.
Trigger: Entering or beginning turn in zone.
Immediate Reaction Close Burst 6
Targets: Any creature in zone.
Attack: +26 vs. AC
Hit: 3d8+7 damage
Miss: Half damage
• Combat. Imposing any damage on the minion will stop the gun turret. However, the minion has superior cover. Another minion can enter the turret with a move action.
• Thievery (DC 36): You block the grate, preventing the automatic gun from firing properly.
Proposed Level 21 Encounter (16,948 XP)
• Automatic gun turret (Level 21 obstacle)
• 4 grimlock followers (Level 22 minion)
• 3 wild hunt hounds (Level 21 skirmisher)
This trap is placed in the center of a long narrow hallway. When triggered, concealed cannons on either end blast down the hallway, the cannonballs barreling through anything in their way. Magic ensures the cannonballs always finds their way into the barrel of the other cannons, which then fire the cannonballs back. This volley continues as long as the heroes remain in the hallway. Incorporeal menaces hamper and hinder the heroes from reaching either end.
Cannonball Run Level 23 Warder
Trap XP 5,100
As you proceed down the long, dark corridor, you hear a deafening boom and you have only a moment to react as a fifteen-pound ball of iron rushes towards you from a cannon concealed in the darkness beyond!
Trigger: Proceeding to middle of hallway.
Immediate Reaction Line 30
Targets: Each creature in line.
Attack: +30 vs. AC
Hit: 4d12+8 damage plus prone
• Acrobatics (DC 36): You can climb the walls to avoid the cannonballs.
• Perception (DC 36): You detect the trap before getting to the center of the hall.
• Perception (DC 32): You see the trigger in the middle of the hall.
• Thievery (DC 36): If you are adjacent to a cannon, you can deactivate the trap.
• Thievery (DC 32): You can deactivate the trigger in the middle of the hall.
Proposed Level 23 Encounter (24,900 XP)
• Cannonball run (Level 23 warder)
• Dread wraith (Level 25 lurker)
• 4 tormenting ghosts (Level 21 controller)