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Basic Information

What actually makes for a carbine is somewhat subjective - broadly a longarm that fires rifle ammunition (although that's not always the case) it's normally a shorter and lighter version of another musket or rifle, but that's relative to what the culture that creates it reckons to be a normal sized rifle. As an example, the Mauser 98K, which was the primary longarm of the German forces in both world wars is a substantial piece of ironmongery by modern standards, but was a shortened model of the carbine version of an even less handy weapon. It's full name is the Mauser Karbiner 98 Kurtz (i.e. "Short Carbine").

The first carbines were cut down muskets developed for cavalrymen; shorter, lighter and often with a reduced calibre of ball and/or powder charge. Although they began as unrifled weapons the rifled carbine followed in due course. As well as cavalry, carbines were issued to engineers, artillerymen and others who weren't thought to need a full size weapon - usually because they were not expected to form a bayonet line at any point - not that carbines were not designed to mount a bayonet, because until very recently pretty much every military longarm, including submachineguns were designed with at least an option for a bayonet. Carbines were also commonly issued to police and security units for much the same reasons. During the post-WW1 period the carbine was often found competing with the submachinegun for these niches, and on occasion the two species of weapon could be hard to tell apart1.

The reduced size and mass of a carbine are generally paid for by a loss of range, accuracy and muzzle velocity and frequently an increase in felt recoil and muzzle blast. Examples would be the Lee Enfield number 5 rifle (popular with its users despite a vicious recoil, wandering zero and huge muzzle blast) and the HK53 (described by some as an MP5 firing 5.56NATO, and by many as uncontrollable on automatic with a spectacular muzzle blast).

A carbine may have any kind of action - muzzle loading, single action, semi-automatic or fully automatic, depending on the era in which it was made and the cartridge that it fires.

These days a carbine is generally a chopped down assault rifle like the H&K G36K (and the even smaller G36C) developed from the G36, the L22 carbine developed from the L85 and the M4 carbine developed from the M16.
They still tend to be issued mainly to second line units or equipment crewmen but some armies also issue carbines to front line infantry. This is particularly amongst airmobile or IFV mounted units, which is arguably maintaining the tradition of the carbine as a cavalry weapon anyway.

In keeping with the tradition of firing a lower calibre round or smaller charge some carbines (e.g. the US M1 Carbine and its offspring) have been designed to fire intermediate rounds (part way between pistol and rifle) and the name has also been fairly allocated to what were, essentially, rifles firing pistol rounds, including both more accurate SMGs (to which it is probably misapplied2) and harder to classify pieces brought about by fitting stocks and longer barrels to pistols such as the Colt Revolver Carbine, for which is it probably as good a name as any. Several of the classic "saddle rifles" of the old West were actually carbines, specifically designed to fire the same heavy pistol rounds as some of the popular contemporary revolvers (famously 45-70 Colt).

Another interesting weapon designated as a carbine was the De Lisle - a Lee Enfield rifle rebuilt as a suppressed 45ACP carbine.

The "Beecher's Bible" of the period preceding the American Civil War was a Sharps carbine and the Buntline Special - if it existed - one of the "ascended pistol" types of carbine.

Carbines are also the normal place to find things like folding or telescoping stocks and other gadgets that wouldn't appear on a bog-standard rifle.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Unlikely to make much of an impact on your PCs … although of course if they are packing carbines to keep their encumbrance down, they may be upset to find the enemy mooks with full length rifles are able to outrange them…
  • In a group of soldiers, the guy carrying the carbine may be an officer or specialist of some kind … or he may just be the ammo carrier for one of the support weapons.
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