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My wish for something to serve my purpose is perfectly fulfilled … Wherefore I do honour to the machine and to its inventor."
D.H. Lawrence

“A gun is just a tool. No better and no worse than any other tool, a shovel or an axe or a saddle or a stove or anything. Think of it always that way. A gun is as good — and as bad — as the man who carries it.” Shane, by Jack Schaefer, 1949.

Basic Information

Technically, the term Gun refers to an artillery piece, but more often it's used to mean a man-portable firearm, so firearms are what this page is about.

Note also that to an infantryman (and to soldiers in general) your rifle is not a gun, and to refer to it as such will be about as well received as calling those big grey things the navy drive 'boats'. The gun, to a soldier, is the big heavy thing that takes a belt in the side of it.

Though the NRA says guns are just another tool, like a hammer or a toaster, it's hard to deny that the impact guns have on a role-playing game is rather more than the impact of your typical 10 foot pole.

For the unfamiliar user, the parts of a gun are as follows:

The hole at the front where the shots come out is known as the muzzle - this applies to both the hole itself and the part of the weapon that surrounds it. The muzzle may or may not have a muzzle break (which directs the force of the propellant gases) or a flash hider (designed to hide the flash from the user, not anyone else) built in and it may feature a mounting point for a rifle grenade launcher, a bayonet, a suppressor or various other accessories.

The tube down which the shots travel is known as the barrel and runs from the muzzle back to the breech - in a muzzle loading weapon this is a closed end with a small hole connected to the firing mechanism or lock. In a breech loading weapon the end of the barrel opens out into a flared portion known as the chamber into which the ammunition fits to be fired. The open end of the chamber is closed before firing by the bolt - a moving portion of the weapon that contains the firing pin which actually triggers the round and possibly the hammer which drives the pin into the back of the round. The way in which the bolt is opened, the round of ammunition inserted, the bolt closed, the hammer prepared to fire and the round fired is known as the action which is cycled - describing the whole process bringing the weapon back to its initial state.

The process of cycling the action is known as the cycling operation can be manual (either muzzle loading or single action breech loading), mechanically operated by the force of firing (either a semi-automatic or fully-automatic action, driven by one of then processes described in the cycling operation entry) or driven by an external motor as in the chaingun and Gatling gun.

Note that the process of preparing the hammer to fire is known as cocking. The portion of the overall weapon that contains the breech, bolt etc. is usually called the receiver. Behind the receiver may be the stock which is a structural element that fits against the user's shoulder. If the weapon posesses a magazine this will connect with or reside within the receiver and the trigger, with which the user fires the weapon is also connected to the receiver, together with most or all of the other controls. Where the receiver and stock are one and the same then the weapon is often described as "bullpup" formatted (assuming that it is a long arm).

The user holds the weapon by a grip right next to the trigger, and possible a foregrip under the barrel or some other grip elsewhere on the weapon. Not all weapons will posess all parts and the description given fits best to portable weapons - small arms. Heavy Weapons and ordnance will have many of the same parts but they will often be differently laid out.

Categories of Firearm

For other small arms see also Light Mortar, Grenade and Grenade Launcher - and, indeed wall piece for an older support weapon. Some of the above would actually qualify heavy weapons. For larger objects consider ordnance and artillery and, more generally, cannon.

Concepts and Mechanisms

Noteworthy and unusual guns

See Also


2. RPG Sourcebook: The Knuckleduster Firearms Shop by Forrest Harris. Features Guns from The Wild West, with stats for Fudge and Deadlands.
3. RPG Sourcebook: Compendium of Modern Firearms by Kevin Dockery. A little dated now (published in the 1990s), but it has very detailed range and accuracy data, and conversion notes to 6 different systems. And besides, the classic guns never go out of style.
4. RPG Sourcebook: d20 Modern Weapons Locker by Keith Potter. As the name implies, d20 stats for modern guns and rocket launchers.
5. WikiHow - has some interesting articles. The one linked to here is a 35-step process to prepare and load a flintlock muzzle-loader, but there's plenty of other gun-related articles on the site.
6. Pretty much anything ever written by Ian V. Hogg, up to and including his laundry lists.
7. When plagued by people who Did Not Do the Research, call upon The Box of Truth … who definitely have.
8. RPG Sourcebook: GURPS Modern Firepower by Hans-Christian Vortisch … now 'last edition' but not alarmingly out of date in the real world. Actually, anything by Mr Vortisch is usually worth reading and he does a lot of work for SJ Games (the guys who make GURPS).
8. You Tube videos of early firearms - matchlock and flintlock, musket and rifle with a brief cameo by a cannon lock weapon.

Game and Story Use

  • There is a certain type of player - called a "gunfondler" - who gets a tad obsessed about guns in modern-day setting. He will likely know far more about types and calibers of guns than the game master (unless the latter is one as well). Reading up on such topics and using them in a game will go a long way towards making him happy.
  • Historically, the invention of a new type of firearm or artillery piece tends to be the sort of thing that changes the outcome of battles and potentially even the way societies are structured.
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