Saturday, June 6, 2020

Laser Guns and Plasma Swords!?

In his Introduction to The Gygax 75 Challenge, Ray Otus very specifically warns me:
If you are an inveterate tinkerer and are trying to redesign your system as you create the setting, or if you create a setting that will force you to redesign some elements of the system, you are committing to a lot of extra work and you may have trouble finishing within the expected time frame of five weeks.
Given that I want lasers, plasma swords, and Halfling Cleric/Thieves in my campaign, I find myself in a predicament. To which Otus states:
If you find yourself in this predicament, I have a suggestion. Ignore the problem for now. Go ahead and build out your campaign setting and assume the things you need are in the system.
Well, I could do that…but, fortunately I have been trying to figure out ways of emulating firearms and the like in D&D for years. Rather than seeing these additions and house rules as extra work that may endanger my ability to finish this experiment in a timely fashion, I see this as an opportunity.

One of the things I actually like about 5e is a tactical choice it gives spell casters when it comes to damage spells:

  • Automatically do damage but risk missing a “to hit” roll.
  • Automatically hitting but risk the target making a Saving Throw to take no damage.

I see laser guns as a way to give every class an opportunity to make the second tactical choice. Unlike cantrips, however, guns can only be fired so many times before they run out of whatever you consider to be ammunition.

Again, 5e is a nice source of inspiration here. Take a look at the description for a Wand of Magic Missiles:
This wand has 7 charges. While holding it, you can use an action to expend 1 or more of its charges to cast the magic missile spell from it. For 1 charge, you cast the 1st-level version of the spell. You can increase the spell slot level by one for each additional charge you expend. The wand regains 1d6 + 1 expended charges daily at dawn. If you expend the wand’s last charge, roll a d20. On a 1, the wand crumbles into ashes and is destroyed.
The item has a certain number of charges that are required to be spent in order to use it. At the end of every day, a certain number of those charges are regained; however, if the number of charges are reduced to zero, there is a chance it is destroyed.

I think this is a good model for thinking about how a laser gun might work. Since a quiver can carry 20 arrows, I think that might be a good number for a rifle and we can half that for a pistol. At the end of the day, the laser gun recharges; however, the batteries are notoriously unstable when completely discharged and destroy the gun on a ‘1’ on a d6.

The damage a laser gun does, like every other weapon, is based on class:

  • Fighters 1d8
  • Clerics and Thieves 1d6
  • Magic-users 1d4

Things like cover would give a target a bonus on their Saving Throw:

  • Shield (when facing into the shot): +1
  • Partial Cover: +2
  • Half Cover: +4

When it comes to Plasma Swords, it is all about the cool factor. They function exactly like a normal sword except that only spell casters can get them to “unsheathe” themselves. I did say, however, that I wanted players to be able to deflect laser shots with a plasma sword. Simple: those wielding a plasma sword get a +2 on their Saving Throws when shot at with laser guns. This is in addition to any other cover they may have.

One other thought that might be interesting to play test: Armor can be allotted toward normal combat or as a bonus to a Saving Throw against a laser gun. Thus, the Imperial Riflemen could all wear Plate that give them a +6 on their Saving Throws against being shot with lasers, but gives them an AC 9 when in melee. That +6 (or +4 or +2) could be divvied up however the purchaser wants (+5/+1,+2/+4,+3/+3, etc). It adds another wrinkle to tactical choices at the table.


  1. Huh. I just thought blasters were "wands of lightning" that anyone could be taught to use.

    Interesting thought on plasma swords (only useable by spell-casters). That tickles my fancy something fierce, fo some reason.

    1. Well, in a way they are "wands of lightning" just to a smaller degree. Lightning Bolt auto hits everyone in the area of effect, Save for half or zero depending on various factors. This version auto hits one target, Save for zero. The biggest difference is damage. I have long been an advocate for universal damage dice because it not only gives players the freedom to choose concept over mechanics, but is the best way to abstract the idea that every weapon, if used correctly, will kill a normal human. If you want to play a fighter with a quarterstaff, go for it. With a universal damage die, you are not punished mechanically. I want to afford my players the same freedom with the introduction of lasers. Still want to use a bow? Go for it.

      That tickles my fancy something fierce, fo some reason.
      Me too ;)

  2. Guns in general are difficult to emulate, and I'd wager that if I were to include them, I would put both modes you speak about in it: single shot action (like cantrip, you roll to hit) or "spray and pray" (saving throw, group target, added effect*). What I mean by * is that weapons are rarely use just to hit and kill: a machine gun is used to pin, a grenade launcher is used to smoke areas or fire indirectly, a portable anti-tank weaponry to destroy a door or small wall or small vehicule, etc. I feel both can be used for the same weapon.

    1. That's actually an interesting idea: grenades-as-scrolls for general use. Obviously the spell list would be small: Light, Knock, Sleep, and Stinking Cloud come immediately to mind. They would cost the same to create as a scroll (I like Holmes for this) and would come with an automatic Wandering Monster Check due to noise. That would be worth play testing...

    2. Great idea ! There was a pdf of a game knock-off I saw on the web at one time, it was called "Flashbang" (you can find it online first link by typing in google "Flashbang pdf OSR"). It also proposed some interesting ideas for modern day simple D&D. Not everything is good, and it's not compatible enough for my taste with real product (although its difficult for modern day stuff!), but it's worth checking out.

      I really like your ideas about the noise aspect.