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Basic Information

A stoppage is any event that interferes with the operation of a firearm. It is not the same thing as a misfire - although a misfire will normally cause a stoppage - and does not necessarily mean that the weapon has malfunctioned.

The most common cause of stoppages is running out of ammunition - this is an entirely normal part of gunplay and is normally quickly resolved by reloading, however inexperienced or panicked users have been known to assume that something far more severe has occurred, particularly if the weapon in question doesn't make the problem obvious.

Misfires tend to be the next most common cause of stoppages - for one reason or another the chambered round failed to discharge when fired. This is particularly common with poor quality ammunition. This sort of stoppage is cured by re-priming and trying again (in older weapons) or cycling the action and trying again in most modern weapons. Of course, if a muzzle loader keeps failing to fire, you'll have a hell of a job getting the round out again…

After that, things become a bit woollier - the next most likely cause will probably be problems feeding or extracting the ammunition: the magazine may not be seated properly, or may be damaged so that it fails to feed, the weapon may have attempted to feed multiple rounds at once or may have a spent case jammed in the chamber or raceway. This may also include other mechanical failures of the action - normally because the user has failed to work it properly (in the case of a single-action piece or the cocking stroke of a repeating action) or because something has blocked it (those weapons with flailing external parts as part of a recoil action or suchlike are particularly prone to this, but this is also effectively what happens when a spent case jams in the raceway and blocks the bolt). What can happen and how hard it is to fix will depend on the weapon you're using. As noted under misfire, some weapons also have a distressing tendency to dismantle their ammunition (usually in an attempt to extract it) which can lead to pieces of cartridge being distributed around the inside of the receiver. This will stop the action sooner or later, and generally sooner.

Fouling may also be an issue - carbon deposits made up of partially burnt propellant build up in the working parts of firearms, impairing function, but environmental dust, water and congealed lubricants can also cause problems. Proper, regular cleaning can reduce or even prevent this problem.

Major mechanical faults are the last and nastiest category - all of them will need replacement parts and/or the attentions of an armourer/gunsmith before they are fit to use again. In some cases the user may carry key spares (new firing pins, bolts and springs are common). This category also contains horrors like breach explosions, which generally destroy the weapon and quite often take the operator with it.

For reference, the polar opposite of a stoppage is, arguably, "runaway gun" in which the chamber of a fully automatic action becomes hot enough to detonate a loaded round without the help of the firing pin. The action will then chamber a new round into the slightly hotter chamber … and so on until the gun either runs out of ammunition or fails in some other way. This can be very alarming for the operator and is best solved by pulling the magazine or belt off the weapon. Guns can run away for other reasons as well - the wearing-out of trigger sears is a (relatively) common one - but the result and cure are more or less the same.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Any RPG system should have a system for misfiring firearms (assuming that it has firearms in the first place) … this is just explanation and colour.
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