Single Shot
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Basic Information

In this case, a single shot pistol, although the term can fairly be applied to any similar long arms. To qualify it should normally be muzzle loading and charged with Powder and Shot - breech loading cartridge firing pistols are rare1 although this action can be found more often in longarms2.

They were normally 'fire and forget' weapons - the short ranges at which pistols are useful would make it impractical to reload a muzzle loading weapon whilst combat continued, so the operator was largely obliged to fire it and then forget about it until the fight was over - although many weapons of this kind were sturdily built and designed to be turned around and used as a club in close combat if required.

The single shot pistol was the norm until the revolver appeared in the nineteenth century and was reincarnated in various shapes and sizes as the different actions came and went. Cannon lock pistols are virtually unknown but matchlock pistols were common in their time as were flintlock pistols. Wheellock pistols, whilst not all that common, were certainly well attested as well.

Pepperbox pistols - multiple single shot barrels on a single frame - bridge the gap between single shot pistols and the revolver but these tended to be bulky, heavy and unbalanced, not to mention prone to accidentally firing all of the barrels at once at great hazard to the user.

One further class of single shot pistol - and an exception to the general lack of break-action devices - is the Derringer.

Even into the revolver era, single shot designs were retained for a few applications - usually high calibre, high power work that early revolver frames couldn't handle. These, often know as "horse pistols" bore a significant resemblance to a one-handed sawn-off shotgun and were often loaded with multi-shot ammunition for a devastating close range shot. Early howdah pistols also fit into this category, although later examples were often break-action (thus increasing their resemblance to sawn-off shotguns).


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Until the 1830s pretty much any pistol that appears is going to be a single shot.
  • Once revolvers become commonplace, the single shot pistol - outside of a few niche applications - becomes more of a curio than a weapon.
  • Of course, a usable antique could be an interesting thing to crop up in a game for a PC with the skills to use it and the need for a weapon … although once out of the black powder era most shooters will be at a serious technological disadvantage
  • Potential as an outlying magical weapon, whether enchanted for more accuracy, more killing power or the ability to fire without ammunition.
  • The horse pistol comes across as a good weapon for monster hunters with a need to quickly destroy something that leaps out at them from ambush (very much in the howdah pistol tradition) - or just an extremely brutal way of flattening human attackers. Likely only useful to characters with a strong wrist though.
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