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A Guide to the Holy Gun Paladin (Pathfinder)

Kevin has been playing tabletop games for almost as long as he can remember and currently edits for Jon Brazer Enterprises.

Discover a better alternative to the holy gun archetype, including a sample build.

Discover a better alternative to the holy gun archetype, including a sample build.

The Overview

The holy gun paladin archetype (Ultimate Combat 63) is a wonderful example of how poor mechanical design can damage an otherwise wonderful concept. What’s not to love about a paladin with a gun? The archetype as a concept can work for any number of characters types, from a town sheriff with a western flair to Vash the Stampede from Trigun.

This is unfortunate because, as written, the archetype is an incredibly poor choice for such a character concept. In every circumstance, a character with a single level in gunslinger who then takes the rest of her levels in the standard paladin will have largely the same flavor and be much more effective at smiting evil with gunpowder than a holy gun could ever manage to be.

Where Does It Go Wrong?

How does the archetype go wrong? Sadly, even from level 1, the holy gun is at a disadvantage to a standard paladin. The holy gun gives up three feats of armor proficiency (medium armor, heavy armor, and shields) at level one and also gives up the ability to detect evil at will. The latter is especially important, as it prevents the holy gun from “searching for evil,” as indicated they’re wont to do in the archetype’s flavor description.

In return, the holy gun gains firearm proficiency, two bonus feats (Amateur Gunslinger and Gunsmith), and a battered gun as if she were a gunslinger. On the face of it, this might seem like a fair trade, but the battered gun she gains is essentially a non-ability completely necessary for the character to function as intended, and so the holy gun is inherently less able than a standard paladin to seek out evil and smite it.

The Smiting Shot Deed

But it actually gets worse. At 2nd level, the holy gun gains the smiting shot deed, which replaces the regular paladin’s smite evil ability. This is a bit odd, as the paladin normally gains smite evil at 1st level, which makes the holy gun worse than the paladin at smiting evil at 1st level than she was to begin with. Once again, though, it’s worse than that once you keep reading.

Normally, when a paladin smites evil, she gains the appropriate bonuses against her target for an entire combat, allowing her to really bring down some righteous pain on her evil foe numerous times and as part of a full attack (and when you’re adding your level to damage, that can add up very quickly!).


The smiting shot deed, however, is a standard action that allows a single shot. In the damage department, for that single shot, it’s actually a bit better than a standard smite evil, since it lets the paladin add both her Charisma and her level to damage (likely because guns are very likely to hit at close range).


However, when you factor in that she can’t ever full attack with that damage, that advantage is quickly lost over the long run. Unlike smite evil, the smiting shot deed doesn’t grant the paladin any deflection bonus to armor class, making it a more one-dimensional ability than its counterpart.

Unlike smite evil, which the paladin gains a number of uses per day based on her level, smiting shot requires the use of grit, of which the holy gun only has 1 point initially (though she can gain points up to her Wisdom modifier in any given day in the same manner as a gunslinger, her grit resets to 1 point at the beginning of each day). Theoretically, this allows the holy gun to smite her foes much more often than a standard paladin, though her limited grit reserve makes this difficult in practice.

It isn’t until 11th level that she gains additional grit (equal to her Charisma modifier) each day that she can regularly use smiting shot. But, by 11th level, if she’s using Deadly Aim (and she should be!), she’ll more than equal the bonus damage of her smiting shot with a standard full attack (three shots), and that’s not even counting any additional attacks she might gain from Rapid Shot or haste.

Thus, at best, smiting shot is situationally useful, in the event that the holy gun needs to move before getting into range to attack. Even that situational use is very situational, because the holy gun can’t detect evil as a normal paladin, so she could very well waste her grit targeting a foe that isn’t evil.

Just a Gun and Some Grit

What this all boils down to is that a single level of gunslinger (preferably with the mysterious stranger archetype to have a grit pool that relies on Charisma instead of Wisdom, for synergy) gives a paladin her gun and some grit. She still gains smite evil at 2nd level if gunslinger is her 1st level.

If she does take the mysterious stranger archetype, she gains the focused aim deed, which lets her add her Charisma modifier to her firearm damage rolls for one round, which, given that it doesn’t limit her to standard action attacks, is probably better than smiting shot could ever be, especially given that she can use it on a target she’s declared as her target for smite evil.

Gunslinger/Paladin vs. Holy Gun

All the gunslinger/paladin loses out on relative to the holy gun is a few gunslinger deeds later in levels. Though the admitted loss of the quick clear deed (the mysterious stranger archetype swaps it out) is difficult to deal with, by 11th level (when the holy gun could normally get the deed), a greater reliable firearm is almost within reach for the gunslinger/paladin, making misfires a worry of lower levels.

So, my advice, if you want to play a gun-toting paladin? Ignore the holy gun archetype. You’ll be more effective, and you won’t even be missing anything except for the paladin capstone ability (but so few games reach 20th level to begin with that this shouldn’t be a concern).

Hey, it's what came up on Google for "holy gun!" Don't look at me like that!

Hey, it's what came up on Google for "holy gun!" Don't look at me like that!

Sample Build: "Holy Gun"

So, how can you do put all that to use if you want to play a “holy gun?” Here’s an example of how I’d use the gunslinger and the paladin to create an effective character with the same flavor. This is only a level 5 build, but it is meant more as a foundation for your character, rather than a “how to” guide.

I recommend using two archetypes: for gunslinger, go for mysterious stranger (Ultimate Combat 51); for paladin, take divine hunter (Ultimate Combat 62). Mysterious stranger gives you a Charisma-based grit pool and the focused aim deed, which lets you add Charisma to your firearm damage for a round. These obviously have great synergy with paladin. Divine hunter gives you Precise Shot as a bonus feat, and also adds a few ranged special abilities to your divine bond. Neither of these is necessary, but both of them have nice benefits for you. (If you don’t take divine hunter, you’ll have to get Precise Shot some other way.)

Human Gunslinger 1/Paladin 4
Ability Scores (15 Point Buy): Str 10, Dex 17, Con 13, Int 8, Wis 12, Cha 14
Point Blank Shot, Rapid Reload (pistol)
2 Precise Shot (bonus)
Rapid Shot
Deadly Aim

You’re free, of course, to go with any race that fits your concept. After level 5, you’ve got the essential feats out of the way, allowing you to customize as you see fit beyond that. I’d recommend taking the rest of your levels in paladin to maximize your number of smites per day. Don't forget to use paper alchemical cartridges, as these, together with the Rapid Reload feat, let you reload your weapon as a free action, allowing you to take advantage of Rapid Shot and, later, your iterative attacks.

That's all for the holy gun. I can't recommend the archetype itself, but thankfully, the concept as a whole is definitely workable (and effective!) within the rules.


Kaedn on January 12, 2015:

Thanks for shrgani. Always good to find a real expert.

Phlinn on March 11, 2014:

Holy gun can start with Quick clear. Amateur gunslinger includes one deed.

I think they put smiting shot at 2nd to prevent a gunslinger 11 from taking one level of paladin to get the deed, then making it a free deed. They chose poorly.

Smiting shot is much better than smite evil against hordes of weak evil things. Especially with a blunderbuss. Very situational though. I used it against some low level wererats to good effect with a musket at level 3. Had a 20 chr, so 1d12+8 on every shot, bypassing dr.

Golleitrian on May 17, 2013:


You don't need Gun Tank.

Divine Hunters can use Heavy Shields and a character that uses a gun should never use a Tower Shield. The hand wielding a Tower Shield cannot be used for reloading your gun (or anything else for that matter) however the hand wielding a Heavy Shield can.

Unless the first levels abilities of the Gun Tank is what you want, you really don't need it.

A friend of mine plays a Divine Hunter/Mysterious Stranger wielding a Returning Heavy Throwing Shield and a one-hand gun (Yes, he did call that character Steve Roger). He used the same kind of path as shown here by Kcmorris until level 5 and then took TWF and other dual weapon fighting and shield related feats. The Returning shield gives one more attack and a huge bonus to AC

Christina A Morris (author) from SOUTH BEND on January 29, 2013:

You'll find yourself having less grit, but there's no reason Divine Hunter/Gun Tank couldn't work. Personally, I really like the Charisma synergy between Paladin/Mysterious Stranger, though.

Sianmink on January 29, 2013:

Thanks for the guide. I'm trying to make an armored gunslinging paladin at the moment, and though sorely tempted by paladin/mysterious stranger the divine hunter bonuses are too good to give up, and then in order to still use heavy armor and tower shield I have to go Guntank. (could I get away with spending feats for this? Also I rage at the lack of good shields for gunslingers, and good heavy or tower shields period)

I'm wondering if I'm making a good decision, Divine Hunter/Guntank vs Paladin/Mysterious Stranger. Have any suggestions?

Christina A Morris (author) from SOUTH BEND on May 30, 2012:

I'm glad you're finding the guides helpful. I'm hoping to get some more up in the near future, but I have to admit Diablo 3 has kept me pretty busy lately...

Miksalvarez on May 29, 2012:

Glad to hear that it works, though sometimes I think that even the number of free actions should be limited, like if you reload about two dozen times in one round... Nonetheless as long as DM is fine with that I care not! Anyways, thanks for the articles, I'm glad I found your site as it has given me good insight to classes I've never quite understood properly (mainly spellcasters). Keep up the good work!

Christina A Morris (author) from SOUTH BEND on May 29, 2012:

You're actually right.

I seem to be misremembering Two-Weapon Fighting rules (most likely do to an erroneous 3.0 FAQ entry or something) and was assuming always starting with he main hand.

If you alternate your starting hand, the weapon straps work like a charm. I wish I would have thought of that for my Pistolero before she died (though I can't remember if AA was legal for that game or not).

Miksalvarez on May 29, 2012:

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but in my opinion you can full TWF every round like following. Let's just say we have two attacks from BAB and two from TWF tree, no Haste or Rapid Shot etc. since they'll just add to the main hand shots and will work the same way. We can reload as a free action and carry two weapon strapped pistols. Starting the TWF we have only the main pistol in hand, the other one dangling. We shoot all the shots (two) with the main pistol, reloading with the off-hand. Then we drop the main pistol as a free action, pull the off one up as a swift action and shoot two times, reloading with the main hand. We end the turn with off-hand pistol in hand and the main one hanging. Next round we start the TWF with the off-hand weapon, shoot all the shots, drop the pistol, yank the main one up etc. A Pistolero Gunslinger does a ridiculous amount of damage that way each round.. provided he doesn't blow his face up first (that eases after she can't misfire anymore).

Christina A Morris (author) from SOUTH BEND on May 28, 2012:

Picking up the weapon from a weapon strap is a swift action, though, if I remember right, so you have to keep that in mind. You can only pull one up per turn, so you'll only be doing full TWF every other round.

Miksalvarez on May 28, 2012:

You can efficiently TWF with pistols (of any kind) if you can reload as a free action (alchemical cartridges and rapid reload) and strap your guns with Weapon Straps. That way you can have your one pistol hanging while you shoot all the shots with the other one, then you drop the still fizzling gun and pick up the waiting one and do the same thing. I'm playing a pistolero with two barreled pistols. Cheezed, yes, but I'm balancing it out with feats like ricochet shot and not going all the way. So if one wanted to TWF with any one handed firearms I'd recommend those straps. They're in adventurer's armory I think. Cheers to all gunslingers and thanks for the original post!

Christina A Morris (author) from SOUTH BEND on May 27, 2012:

The double-barreled guns are probably broken, all told. Gunslingers really don't have a hard time hitting, so that -4 is kind of trivial to them.

I tend to forget about them as I haven't seen a DM actually let them make it to the table yet.

Revolvers definitely won't be better than the double-barreled pistols, as what really racks up damage is more attacks per round.

Alex on May 27, 2012:

Thought I'd tell you guys how it worked.

So far my build picked up the double barrel handgun and is pretty powerful using bonuses on both bullets.. only problem is the -6 on each shot but touch attacks usually hit.

I don't think two revolver would amount to this much now.

Any new suggestions ?

Christina A Morris (author) from SOUTH BEND on April 07, 2012:

Revolvers are probably the best way for TWF to work (though you'd still have to carry multiple guns at higher levels, since six shots will only last you a couple rounds). If advanced firearms are available, they're the best route to go for Two-Weapon Fighting.

The pepperboxes actually don't work, though, as you need a free hand to spin the chamber to move to the next shot, if I recall correctly.

1233421 on April 07, 2012:

two weapon fighting is working if gun have more than 1 capacity (like pepperbox or revolver)

Christina A Morris (author) from SOUTH BEND on March 31, 2012:

You could probably just go Gunslinger for that, since it was so inspired by Dark Tower anyway.

Two-Weapon Fighting doesn't work well with guns, though, since you need a free hand to be able to reload. You can carry multiple pistols and quick draw them, but that's pretty awkard.

Alex on March 31, 2012:

I started a similar build with the Gunslinger from the Dark Tower books in mind.

Case being its a type of knight/gunslinger.. so I thought a couple of paladin levels (as holy gun) and then gunslinger. But your build makes much more sense!

Only thing though.. in keeping up with the character I needed him to be a two-weapon revolver using bad a$$.. So is that possible? what would you recommend (I like the 5 lvls so far)

Christina A Morris (author) from SOUTH BEND on March 10, 2012:

Firearm attacks are not touch attacks. They target touch AC to hit, but are not classified by the rules as touch attacks. It's a subtle distinction but an important one.

lol on March 09, 2012:

Deadly Aim: The bonus damage does not apply to touch

attacks or effects that do not deal hit point damage.