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Basic Information

The derringer is a type of single shot pistol designed for ease of concealment. These trace their ancestry to the pocket pistols designed by one Henry Deringer (with one "r") who eventually came to specialise in the type … the generic name comes from the many violations of his intellectual property during and after his lifetime as all sorts of other gunsmiths leapt onto the bandwagon.

Broadly, this is a short barrelled, (relatively) large calibre weapon with a simple trigger and an overall size as low as possible - caplock and cartridge versions are often break action, although the first generation were muzzle loading flintlocks and some designs need to be disassembled to be reloaded. Some designers produced multi-barrelled versions, other sold their pistols in sets of two or four … occasionally the two strategies coincided.

Such a pistol could be easily concealed within the pocket of a waistcoat or in the tails of a tailcoat, without being obtrusive or spoiling the line and yet could give the wielder a close range shot or two with a reasonable hope of inflicting an effective wound and/or a threat with which to deter an attacker. Obviously at any range or in an actual firefight these would have been of limited use at best and more likely just enough gun to get the user into trouble. They also had potential as a backup weapon for someone carrying a proper weapon as their main armament (or even the backup to a backup for the crazy prepared). Ladies could also conceal such a small pistol inside a muff or handwarmer, or tuck it into a stocking top, corset or brassiere without it spoiling the line of their dress. Even a modest hat can conceal a derringer quite well, as, potentially, could some more alarming hairstyles.

Derringers can also be built into various disguise housings, including belt buckles, fountain pens, pocket watches and cigars and do well mounted Travis Bickle style on arm-slides. Lipstick cases, powder puffs and the like do much the same for the ladies. These days you could probably disguise one as an applicator tampon as well.

Modern firearms laws tend to frown on derringer type weapons, but they might well still see employment in the right circumstances, especially amongst detectives, intelligence agents and the like.

A truly bizzare example of the class is the Soviet S4M - a two shot, break open weapon that fired the bullet from a 7.62mmWarPac round from a silent cartridge along a barrel designed to leave rifling marks identical to those of an AK47/AKM. This would leave anyone examining the body of someone shot with the weapon in question with the impression that the dead person had been hit from a long distance with an AK (due to the low impact velocity) rather than very short range with a pistol. This design is probably the only way you could realistically suppress a derringer.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • The PC that insists on being heavily armed may have these jammed into every nook and cranny.
    • Indeed a suitably obese character could even conceal one between rolls of fat.
    • Likewise these weapons are easily stashed as grab guns inside safes, under desks and the like.
  • Classic armament for the Western cardsharp and the pulp era femme-fatale.
    • A woman in a 19th century dress could be covered in these things tucked into various folds and ruffles of a formal gown - and would probably be much less likely to be searched than the gentlemen accompanying her.
  • A nasty surprise to find on a prisoner a few hours after you botched your search roll to pat him down.
  • Bear in mind that these still tend to be pitiful little bullets in the grand scheme of things - although designs up to .45 ACP have been made. Even then the short barrel will mean the user gets nothing like full power from the cartridge - and probably an impressive muzzle blast as well.
  • The S4M is worth noting in its own right, especially for a CSI style campaign … and the design philosophy could easily be resurrected by someone else with forensics experts to annoy.
    • Mossad would be obvious suspects, except they generally like their targets to know who has just attacked them.
  • One of these may allow you to accquire a more mainstream weapon from the enemy.
  • The disguised version may allow you to accquire a sneak attack bonus in a rules system which uses such things.
  • Generally, such a small weapon could well be palmed and handled or passed in plain sight of the enemy without detection with suitable legerdemain skills.
  • These would seem to be an obvious application for Metal Storm technology.
  • The original Deus Ex includes a species of plasma derringer - the PS20 - unfortunately it's not that good, but the idea is an interesting one.
    • Given the currently known properties of plasma, a weapon designed to be highly destructive at near point-blank range might be a useful application.
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