Did you know laser guns are actual, usable items in Dungeons and Dragons 5e?
To use laser guns in Dungeons and Dragons 5e, consider the following factors:
In fact, a party of swordsmen, archers and wizards could stumble into all kinds of futuristic technology. Of course, finding these things is a matter of story. The most basic explanation could be the “crashed UFO” method. What is this strange disk at the edge of the kingdom?
Figuring Out Alien Technology
You, as the player, might know what a piece of futuristic technology is (or at least get the gist), but your character likely wouldn’t know squat. Therefore, the Dungeon Master’s Guide suggests the characters roll a series of Intelligence checks to tinker with the object. Anyone who had seen the item operated previously would have advantage on these rolls (and possibly characters with tinkering abilities, in my opinion).
The number of checks would depend on the complexity of the item—2 checks for something like a calculator or lighter, 4 checks for a computer or hovercraft.
So, what happens on a failed Intelligence check?
The Figuring Out Alien Technology on page 268 of the DM Guide gives us a breakdown on what happens per difficulty range.
A 9 or lower is definitely a failure and results in 1 charge or use of the item wasted. If applicable, this could also result in disadvantage on the next check. We’re probably going to need to get creative in these investigations.
At 10 +, we enter the realm of the basic pass or fail. 10-14 equals a failure—full stop. No extra negative effect happens. 15-19 is a success. Congrats! If you roll a critical 20, you receive advantage on the next roll along with a successful attempt.
What Can Laser Guns Do?
The Dungeon Master’s Guide gives us 3 initial laser gun builds: the laser pistol, laser rifle and a bonus antimatter rifle.
Each of these weapons is armed through energy cells, which give them different amounts of shots between reloads. This depends on the gun and how much power it needs to fire.
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The laser pistol deals 3d6 radiant damage, which makes sense as a weapon of light. This pistol can shoot at 40 feet without taking a penalty (and up to 120 with a penalty). Other than the decent amount of damage output, the real benefit of this small arm is the 50 shot reload. Of course, these weapons are armed with energy cell ammunition.
A longer distance laser rifle gains the two-handed property but deals 3d8 radiant damage, and is accurate at 100 feet. That means a hundred feet of accurate firepower. The reload of this weapon is 30 shots, which means the energy cell only grants power for 30 shots.
I was excited to see the concept of the antimatter rifle among the original choices in 5e. Being a rifle, this weapon has the two-handed property. It deals 6d8 necrotic damage at 120 feet. Obviously, this is one of the fiercest alien weapons out there, both in damage and range. This weapon is heavy metal, generating a massive amount of power, so the reload is only 2 shots. We could call it the flipside of the laser rifle coin.
Implementing laser pistols into a Story
Now that we have the technical stuff out of the way, it’s time to flesh out a scenario.
The whole “sci fi twist in fantasy” trope is always fun. We follow a classic band of fantasy heroes, who follow rumors of a fallen star at the outskirts of the kingdom. For this scenario, we’ll cover the classic bases for our party—a warrior, a wizard, a ranger and a bard.
Maybe the typical creatures in the surrounding area are behaving in strange ways, either spooked or transformed. Local villages are telling the party bizarre stories (probably embellished to something imaginative). With something so striking as an alien spacecraft, I figure the buildup should have some kick to it.
We could get slightly Lovecraftian, too. Maybe there’s a mindflayer connection to why the spacecraft is here.
The adventurers enter this vehicle of the gods and explore the strange inner workings of technology they might not understand. Perhaps the bard and wizard make the Intelligence checks necessary to make sense of the craft. As the investigation continues, they find a dead pilot—a member of some strange race they’ve never seen.
The ranger senses danger with a heightened passive perception. Something dangerous is attracted to the alien presence, lurking inside the sector they just left. After a few Int checks from the wizard or bard—hopefully working together—they figure out how to fire the weapon. Really, it’s like a crossbow with a triggering mechanism, so I wouldn’t make that check too difficult. The party realizes it’s a ranged weapon, so the ranger wields the gun on the way outside.
Give it a try
These weapons are absolutely gnarly in combat, so don’t waste the build-up to laser guns on something like goblins. In my opinion, the best time to drop something like this in the game is when the party needs it most. Set up a villain who might be invulnerable to most forms of damage. The radiant laser damage could be used in many circumstances where radiant magic would be effective.
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