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Basic Information

A Revolver is a type of gun - almost always a pistol with a revolving cylinder that has multiple chambers to hold the bullets. The revolution of the cylinder lines each chamber in turn up with the barrel of the weapon, the round inside is fired and the cylinder is advanced to bring the next chamber into position. Reloading is either accomplished by breaking open the weapon so that rear of the cylinder is accessible, swinging the cylinder out sideways from the frame or - in a few cases - reloading one chamber at a time through a gate on the side of the frame. Each design of reloading mechanism has its benefits and drawbacks, but almost all modern revolvers use the swing-out system. The very first revolver was a form of Arquebus designed in 1597 but the revolver as it is commonly understood only really became practicable with the invention of the percussion cap.

Because of their use by Gunslingers and Outlaws in the Old West, Revolvers have a reputation and mystique to them. See Revolvers Are Just Better.

Revolver Subtypes

When someone says "He's carrying a Revolver" they almost always mean a Pistol. The revolving cylinder design is also sometimes applied to Grenade Launchers, Shotguns, and even Rifles, but the Handgun version is what springs to mind when you hear Revolver. The main obstacle to revolver action long-arms is that the mechanism more or less demands a gap between the cylinder and the mouth of the barrel, through which exhaust gases leak during firing … most designs of long arm mean that when the stock is used, this exhaust is drawn uncomfortably close to the user's face. This lack of sealing is particularly noticeable with high pressure cartridges (like most rifle ammunition), which is why revolver action long-arms that do exist tend to be limited to low-pressure designs like pistol-carbines.

There are several types of revolver, and not all guns perform the same. Rather than going into all the details here, I'll provide links to pages on the different types, so you can read up on the parts that interest you, and not be bored to tears with the rest.

By Action

By Reload Method

Top Break and Swing Out Cylinder models may be loaded quickly with a speed loader or moon clip. The older Fixed Cylinder and Muzzle Loading varieties typically have to be loaded one round at a time, which can be a very slow process. That process is made even slower in the case of a Cap-And-Ball Revolver (see below), which most of the Fixed Cylinder and Muzzle Loading revolvers were.

By Cartridge Type

Revolvers in Westerns

Modern Revolvers use cartridges that house their own propellant, but prior to the release of the Smith & Wesson Model No. 1 in 1857, all revolvers used a Caplock Mechanism, and were terribly slow to reload. See Cap-And-Ball Revolver for details. Better to carry several spare revolvers than to try reloading during a fight. Due to the Smith & Wesson Patent, even Samuel Colt couldn't release a cartridge fire revolver till after the Civil War.

Things To Do With Your Revolver

You might also claim to be the Fastest Gun In The West, if you feel competitive.

By all accounts, the most important thing to do with your revolver in The Wild West, especially a cap and ball revolver, is to clean it. Most of your real-life gunslingers would disassemble and clean their weapon at least once a day, some of them twice. Trying to fire one after a couple days out on the dusty trail is just begging for a Misfire.

Noteworthy Revolvers of the Old West


Most revolvers are naturally a tiny bit quieter than most automatics, since the mechanism that advances ammunition is less complicated. However, the construction of a revolver means that they are not compatible with a Silencer or Suppressor, as the fired bullet actually jumps a gap between the chamber and the barrel.

There are at least three revolvers that are (or can be) silenced, but all are somewhat rare.

It should also be noted that the latter two are not so much suppressible, as designed to fire a silent cartridge, which is something of an end run around the problem. The Nagant instead solves the problem by using an (almost unique) design of cartridge which, in combination with the pistol's specialised action, closes and seals the cylinder gap during firing.

Revolver-Related Tropes

Cool Guns
Guns and Gunplay Tropes
Hand Cannon
The Gunslinger
Rare Guns
Revolvers Are Just Better


2. RPG Sourcebook: The Knuckleduster Firearms Shop by Forrest Harris and Knuckleduster Press

Game and Story Use

  • What gun you use says a lot about your character.
  • In a modern game - or even Sci-fi - a revolver may end up being the weapon of the guy who isn't particularly good with weapons since a well made one needs practically nothing in the way of maintenance, won't lose the temper of its magazine spring if left loaded and copes better with dust and grime than a self-loader. For the character who doesn't like field stripping and cleaning his weapon at least once a day.

*The most common gun in the Wild West is the Colt. They're used by Gunslingers as well as Mooks. It's probably easiest to assume every revolver is a Colt, unless the weapon choice is meaningfully unique.
* Prior to 1861 nearly every revolver is a cap and ball model.
* From the early 1860s to the early 1870s, the majority of revolvers sold are the Colt New Model Navy.
* After 1873 the Colt Peacemaker is the most popular gun.

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