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Old West firearms – Weapons Locker

(Part #2)


Sequence

This is the second third of this big article. The full series goes :

  1. . Start there.
  2. Miscellaneous weapons part #1. This here article.
  3. .

For the disclaimers, the image credits notes, the goal of the article, etc. – see the first third.

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Core military weapons

Civil War Rifled Musket

Most soldiers fought in the Civil War with these somewhat obsolete muzzleloaders.

This generation of firearms is confusingly called “rifled musket” in that they are built like muskets but have a rifled barrel.

Minnie bullets

This was the result of a French invention, the balle Minié (often called the “Minnie bullet” in the US back then). It made rifled barrels much less of a pain to load and clean.

Rifles shooting Minié bullets thus had the advantages of both muskets and rifles.

Numerous older muskets had their barrels rifled to benefit from the advantages of “Minnie bullets”. Even weapons developed with rifled barrels were called “rifled muskets” for a while.

Civil War

The Civil War was generally expected to be a short and limited affair when it started. Through a mix of conservatism, logistical constraints, problems with retraining, difficulties in buying and shipping enough weapons, etc. the two sides mostly operated rifled muskets.

It was also commonly thought that a slower rate of fire put emphasis on proper aiming and marksmanship. It supposedly encouraged soldiers to be efficient.

Most grunts thus struggled to reload their Springfield .58 rifled musket (or Enfield .58 for the Confederacy) and some units even had old muskets. Yet rifles that could fire far more quickly were available. For instance the lever-action Spencer carbine in 1856, or the best-selling Henry .44 repeater of 1862.

Generally, the War saw a bewildering variety of weapons in use.

Stats

DCH Enfield/Springfield Rifled Musket [BODY 03, Projectile weapons: 05, Ammo: 01, R#04, Drawback: It takes five Dice Actions plus twelve Automatic Actions to reload for a trained soldier].

M&M Enfield/Springfield Rifled Musket [Ranged Ballistic Damage 4, Limitation 2 (muzzle-loader)].

Pictures

Illustrated below is a Springfield 1861 rifled musket. These rifles tend to all look very similar for people who aren’t muzzleloaders hobbyists and/or reenactors.

1861 Springfield musket

The same lad who shot one of the videos we used for the Colt made a video showing how a Civil War rifled musket is operated, how a Minié bullet looks, etc.. Which is exactly what we need for this article :


Springfield Trapdoor

Years after the war, the US Army rearmed with more modern rifles. But remained one technological wave behind and adopted black powder one-shot breech-loaders.

The Trapdoor is so named because the top of the breech block is hinged and can be opened like a, well, trap door to access the chamber.

Once the chamber is open you can put a metallic cartridge in it then slam the “trapdoor” shut. This is way faster than operating a rifled musket. And it is much easier to perform while sitting – for instance if you’re riding a horse.

Springfield Trapdoors arm infantrymen during much of the Old West era (historically, from 1873 onward). The Cavalry often upgraded its arms earlier, and in movies and comics are usually seen wielding Winchesters as they heroically save the day in their dashing uniforms and moustaches.

Stats

DCH Springfield Trapdoor Rifle [BODY 03, Projectile weapons: 05, Ammo: 01, R#03, Drawback: Long Reload Time].

M&M Springfield Trapdoor Rifle [Ranged Ballistic Damage 4, Quirk 2 (reloading takes two Move Actions].

Pictures

Springfield trapdoor rifle

A five-minute documentary clearly showing how it works and why :


Gatling Machinegun

Gatlings are machineguns with a rotating barrel assembly.

They are operated with a hand crank. Turning the crank :

  1. Aligns one of the barrels with a chamber.
  2. Detonates the ammunition in the chamber.
  3. Ejects the chamber.

Each round comes in its own lil‘ chamber. These are reloaded between engagements.

The whole contraption’s objective is to avoid the heat buildup, which XIXth metallurgy cannot deal with. A 1858 Gatling having 6 barrels, each only gets heated by one round out of 6. And has a brief time to cool down before it is aligned with a chamber again.

The chambers being used but once until manually reloaded, they don’t have a heat problem either.

These objectives are more or less reached, but in practice these weapons are less than reliable.

Operation

Despite its taste for jamming, the Gatling remains a machinegun.

  • It can spit a hail of .58 bullets much faster than individual riflemen can fire. Especially in the hands of an experienced operator.
  • It can keep firing without ever stopping (well, until it jams).
  • Its fire can rake a fairly large area.

The sight of a machine made to kill men through a mechanism, rather than shooting each other man-to-man, shocked many of those exposed to it for the first time.

With its wheeled carriage and ammunition, a Gatling gun weighs well past 400 pounds. Hence the wheeled carriage. They can be mounted on vehicles – or even on large steed such as a camel or an elephant.

Stats

DCH Gatling Machinegun [BODY 04, Projectile weapons (Area of Effect 0 AP): 07, Ammo: var., R#05, Drawback: Long Reload].

M&M Gatling Machinegun [Ranged Ballistic Damage 6 (Area of Effect 2 (Line)), Note – prone to jamming (a Complication)].

Pictures

Gatling gun machinegun woodprint

The following picture shows a number of Gatling machinegun mounts, including the infamous camelback hardpoint.

Mounted Gatling guns, including one on a camel

Here are the Forgotten Weapons guys showing how a replica works. At 10 minutes it’s a bit long for this article but look, these things are cumbersome.

 


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Non-core weapons

Sharps Big Fifty

A high-end single-shot breech-loading rifle firing the powerful .50-90 Sharps round.

The “Big Fifty” buffalo rifle was emblematic of the most successful bison hunters. Their activities resulted in the near-extinction of this important species in an amazingly short time, with genocidal consequences.

Though not a military weapon, this 1874 rifle was occasionally employed in battle. Because the .50-90 had significantly more power and range than most contemporary rifles.

Most buffalo rifles used a less massive round. But in game terms the difference is not significant.

One way to represent the mythology of the “Big Fifty” is to lower the reliability threshold in the DC Heroes. The rifle was sometimes called the “Old Reliable”.

For an even more cinematic version of the Sharps, see the next section.

Stats

DCH Sharps Big Fifty Buffalo Rifle [BODY 03, Projectile weapons: 06, Ammo: 01, Recommended STR: 02, R#02, Drawback: Long Reload].

M&M Sharps Big Fifty Buffalo Rifle [Ranged Ballistic Damage 5, Quirk (one-shot breech-loader)].

Pictures

Sharps buffalo rifle

The following brief video is grainy, but it shows the operation of a Big Fifty… and gives a sense of the recoil.


Dragoon Revolver

These are very long, very heavy revolvers used by cavalry (“dragoons”).

At more than 4 pounds apiece, with a total length of about 14” and shooting a round loaded with 50 or more grains, these are not meant to be carried by the shooter. They are stored within easy reach on their saddle.

These weapons are otherwise similar to the Colt. These are fictionalised Colt Dragoon revolvers with something of its less successful predecessor, the Colt Walker, thrown in.

However, the best example of an “Old West magnum” (so to speak) would be Colt Peacemakers with the 7½” (19 cm) barrel and chambered for the .44-40 rifle round.

In stories

This category is rarely seen in Wild West fiction, but it exists.

The Peacemakers used by Johnny Madrid in From Dusk ’till Dawn III are depicted as having this level of power.

This famously huge and powerful pistol was also used by Mattie Ross opposite John Wayne’s Rooster Cogburn in True Grit (1969).

And of course, in a RPG context, somebody is bound to want a bigger gun than the other boys.

Removable stock

A detachable wooden stock can be on for the Dragoon, basically turning it into a carbine.

This increases Range (1 more AP of Range in DC Heroes and 1 Rank of Increased Range in DC Adventures).

Stats

DCH Dragoon Revolver [BODY 03, Rec. STR 04 (03 if on a horse), Projectile weapon: 05, Ammo: 06, R#04, Drawback: Very Long Reload, Note: may require an Automatic Action to work the action unless this is waived by the GM for this campaign].

M&M Dragoon Revolver [Ranged Ballistic Damage 4, Quirk (requires a STR of 2 (1 on a horse) or becomes Inaccurate 1), Note: may require a Move Action to work the action unless this is waived by the GM for this campaign].

Pictures

Colt Dragoon


James Reid Knuckleduster

This derringer is a minuscule revolver with no barrel – it fires straight from the chambers. And whose grip can be used as small brass knuckles to reinforce punches.

It fires a .32 round, and the inscription above the cylinder reads “My Friend” followed by the patent date.

The Knuckleduster is a variant of a common design of concealed gun called a pepperbox. The pepperbox are the same thing in a variety of calibres, but without the punch-reinforcing functionality.

Pepperboxes are not generally reliable. And there’s always the possibility that a stray spark from the chamber being fired gets into another chamber. Likely setting off a chain reaction where the pepperbox is uncontrollably emptied.

Stats

DCH James Reid Knuckleduster [BODY 02, Projectile weapons (Diminishing): 02, Ammo: 06, Enhance (EV): 01 (cap is 03), Miniaturisation: 02, R#05, Drawback: Long Reload].

M&M James Reid Knuckleduster [Ranged Ballistic Damage 1, Diminished Range 3, Feature 1 (Tiny size), Close Strength-Based Blunt Damage 1].

Pictures

Knuckle Duster Derringer Pistol

Here’s a two-minutes video showing a James Reid Knuckleduster being loaded and fired.


LeMat Combination Revolver

This cavalry-sized revolver (about 14” (35 cm) and 3.5 pounds (1.6Kg)) holds nine rounds in a medium calibre (usually .42).

Then there’s an additional barrel under the main one – loaded with a 18-gauge shotgun round.

This sort of contraption was reportedly popular with Confederate officers. Perhaps due to the advantage that a buckshot round has in duels. And it is the sort of weapon that usually attracts role-players.

Stats

DCH LeMat Combination Revolver [BODY 03, Rec. STR 03, Projectile weapon: 03, Ammo: 09, R#04, Drawback: Very Long Reload, Note: may require an Automatic Action to work the action unless this is waived by the GM for this campaign] plus [Shotgun Blast: 05, Range: 02, Ammo: 01, Drawback: Long Reload].

M&M LeMat Combination Revolver [Array item 1 — Ranged Ballistic Damage 2, Note: may require a Move Action to work the action unless this is waived by the GM for this campaign ; Array item 2 — Shotgun Blast 4, Diminished Range 1, Quirk 2 (one-shot)].

Replica

LeMat revolver and shotgun

Modern Italian replica by Mr. Pietta, as you can see on the barrel.

This 8-minute video details a LeMat sort-of-replica (that is, it is not a completely faithful reproduction of the historical gun) and how to operate it.

 



Double-Action Revolver

Pressing the trigger of a double-action revolver means that :

  1. The cylinder rotates.
  2. The hammer strikes the chamber that just aligned itself with the barrel.
  3. The hammer cocks itself back. One could argue that it’s a triple action.

Pressing the trigger again thus results in another shot.

Curiously, these weapons are seldom seen in Old West stories, despite the fact that they were sold during the 1870s. One gets the feeling that on Earth-Westerns, the double-action revolvers appeared a dozen years later than in the real-world.

Admittedly, the early models had problems. The trigger was very stiff since it needed to transmit the full force necessary to cock the hammer back. This made accurate shooting difficult.

Nevertheless, these were historically used. For instance Billy the Kid carried one. Although one gets the impression that it was the backup for his Winchester.

Stats

In game terms, there isn’t much difference. Just like action heroes can work single-action revolvers with great alacrity and accuracy, they can shoot early double-action revolvers quickly and accurately.

They might favour rapid fire at close range rather than aimed shots at longer range, though.

DCH DA Revolver [BODY 03, Projectile weapon: 03, Ammo: 06, Rec. STR 02, R#03, Drawback: Long Reload].

M&M DA Revolver [Ranged Ballistic Damage 3].

Pictures

Here is a 1877 Colt Lightning in .41 Colt.

Colt Lightning

Here is a 3½ minute presentation of the Colt Lightning (this one in .38 Long Colt) by a firearms collector.


Henry Repeater

Basically a proto-Winchester, sold from 1860 onward. The Henry rifle was a high-capacity lever-action .44 rimfire affair.

Many Union soldiers bought one with their own money. Yes, it wasn’t practical for massed fire. But lighter units such as scouts and raiders found its rapid action and ammunition capacity far superior to the rifled muskets in common issues.

However, it was a early design. The rimfire round was much weaker than later centerfire rounds, and the action was rather fragile.

The design was considerably strengthened to become the 1866 “Yellowboy” Winchester. It fired a stronger round – making the Henry repeater rifle obsolete.

Stats

DCH Henry Repeater [BODY 01, Projectile weapon: 04, Ammo: 16, R#04, Drawback: Very Long Reload, Note: may require an Automatic Action to work the action unless this is waived by the GM for this campaign].

M&M Henry Repeater [Ranged Ballistic Damage 3, Quirk (easily damaged), Note: may require a Move Action to work the action unless this is waived by the GM for this campaign].

Pictures

Henry repeater rifle


Sawed-off shotgun

The sawed-off version of side-by-side shotguns is less common in Wild West stories than in modern ones. The main reason is that most Wild West characters can go around armed, removing the need to conceal their shotgun.

Furthermore, during the golden age of Westerns, the Hollywood Shotgun mythology (and the attendant notion that making it smaller makes it more dangerous) hadn’t developed yet.

For the classic feel, use the stats for the side-by-side above, with 1 less AP of Range in DC Heroes) — or 1 Rank of Limited Range (in DC Adventures).

More recent Westerns using more modern Hollywood aesthetics may picture sawed-offs with the stats in our Weapons locker – Small arms article.

Sawed-offs usually appear wielded by stagecoach drivers. One famous example of such a coach gun is used by Taw Jackson (played by John Wayne) in War Wagon.

The shotgun below is a 1878 Colt model, shortened using an unusual gunsmithing tool (namely Photoshop™).

Wild West sawed off shotgun


Repeater shotgun

Pump-action shotguns seem a bit incongruous in Wild West stories – since they seldom get featured in classic Western movies.

But historically there were widely-available models even during the 1880s, and such models can be seen in more recent films such as 3:10 to Yuma.

Lever-action shotguns, broadly similar to the Winchester lever-action carbine, were more common. This similarity isn’t amazing – the exemplar of this category was a Winchester, the 1887 model.

This very successful weapon was the first credible repeater shotgun. But oddly enough it is best remembered by action cinema fans as the weapon wielded by a T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator II). He used a much-enlarged handguard for cinematic reloading – see “Rapid-Fire Winchester” below.

Paul Newman was also portrayed with a latter model of this shotgun as Judge Roy Bean in the 1972 eponymous movie.

For both actions, use the standard repeater shotgun stats in our Weapons locker – Modern firearms v2 (part 2 – Small arms) article . In DC Heroes these weapons hold five rounds.

Pictures

Below is an early pump-action, the Spencer 1882, followed by the lever-action Winchester 1887.

Old Spencer shotgun
Winchester 87 lever-action shotgun

The following is a commercial for a guns shop, but :

  1. It’s short (1½ minute).
  2. It clearly shows the weapon and its action.
  3. The demonstrator knows how to speak to a camera, which was rare on YouTube back then.


Sharpshooter’s Revolving Rifle

Scoped rifles did exist during the war. They had a slim scope often running for the entire length of the barrel ; a magnification of x4 would be reasonable.

Since the scope makes the weapon look deadlier, use the game stats for a Sharps Big Fifty and add a scope.

If looking for a distinctive sniping weapon, one possibility was seen in recent Westerns 3:10 to Yuma (the remake), Hell on Wheels and Jonah Hex.

In this arrangement, a sharpshooting scope is mounted on an early sort of repeater rifle. Namely a Colt rifle from the 1850s which sports a revolver-like cylinder.

The 1855 Colt Revolving Rifle is usually chambered for a .44 round. So it’s less powerful than an infantry rifle, but able to quickly engage several targets.

The Will Smith Wild Wild West movie used a carbine version of the Remington 1858 in a similar configuration.

Stats

DCH Repeater Sharpshooter’s Rifle [BODY 03, Projectile weapons: 05, Ammo: 05, Telescopic Vision: 02, Drawback: Very Long Reload].

M&M Repeater Sharpshooter’s Rifle [Ranged Ballistic Damage 4, Senses 1 (Extended Vision), Enhanced Critical 1].

Pictures

Scoped 1855 Colt Revolving :

Old West sniper

Scoped Remington 1858 carbine :

Frederique van der Wal in Wild Wild West


Cinematic Marksman’s Rifle

This is the rifle used by Tom Selleck’s character in Quigley Down Under, a Western film set in Australia.

As it happens, this impossibly accurate and powerful breech-loading single-shot rifle is amply detailed and photographed on the IMFDB page about the movie  . So there’s little need for further exposition.

Despite Quigley’s astounding precision, this close relative of the Sharps Big Fifty doesn’t have a scope – though it has long-range sights.

Stats

DCH Cinematic Marksman’s Rifle [BODY 03, Projectile weapons: 06, Stagger: 06, Range: 08, Ammo: 01, Drawback: Long Reload, Limitation: Neither Projectile Weapons nor Stagger have a Range, both use the listed Ranged instead, Bonus: Projectile weapons and Stagger are Combined.]

M&M Cinematic Marksman’s Rifle [Ranged Ballistic Damage 6, Enhanced Critical 1, Extended Ranged 1]

Pictures

Tom Selleck aiming a Sharps rifle

Here is the scene where Quigley demonstrates his rifle.

 

Writeups.org writer avatar Sébastien Andrivet

By Sébastien Andrivet.

Helper(s): Darci, Roy Cowan, Pufnstuff, Adam Fuqua, Ethan Roe, Brent Walters. Old West Lingo addendum by Dr. Peter Piispanen, with Jobe and Adam Fuqua’s help.