This article covers some basics about modern submachineguns, rifles, shotguns and the like. Stuff available from the XXth Century onward, give or take.
There are more elements of context about realism, stats, etc. on our ever-so-handy guide to Weapons Locker articles. The main bit being that all our Weapons Locker article are about modelling stories, rather than real-world ordnance.
Table of content
Submachineguns – the basics
We’ll frequentely abbreviate submachineguns as SMGs.
Submachinegun – World War Two
Submachineguns started appearing at the tail end of World War One, with weapons such as the MP18.
But, with one exception (which we’ll discuss in the second part of the article), their glory days came during World War Two.
A submachinegun, generally :
- Is shorter than a carbine.
- Fires a handgun round.
- Is capable of burst and/or automatic fire.
It is thus optimised for close-range, high-intensity combat with little time to aim. Trench warfare was the SMG’s craddle, and the urban and jungle combat of WWII prompted wide adoption.
WWII-era submachineguns tended to be designed for cheap, simple mass production. Yet multiple designs were quite successful, and you could still see them in stories during the 1970s or even the 1980s.
DCH WW2 submachinegun [BODY 04, Projectile weapons: 05, Ammo: 06, R#04, Advantage : Autofire].
M&M WW2 submachinegun [Ranged Multiattack Ballistic Damage 4].
If you want a bit of texture in DC Heroes, the R# could be a 05. But it becomes a 03 if an experienced Sten operator gets to inspect and choose their magazines from the supply crate.
Submachinegun – Modern
These start appearing in comics and other stories during the late 1970s, and have become dominant during the 1980s. These aren’t too different from their predecessors, but :
- Usually have a higher quality in design and material.
- Often offer selective fire capabilities.
The latter comes from research showing that the three-round burst was the better compromise in terms of hitting the target and not going empty too quickly. Once the selector is in burst mode, each pull of the trigger will release a quick burst of three bullets.
Vehicular crews and shock infantry were a big customer for these. But much of the fictional footprint came with tactical police (such as SWAT units) getting equipped with those, usually to storm buildings.
Modern SMGs excel for close assault, burst fire partially compensates for poor visibility (say, from tear gas) and the lighter ammunition won’t penetrate walls and thus hit unintended targets.
Starting with the 2010s, the fictional footprint receded as tactical police (especially in the US) started being depicted as using assault carbines.
DCH Submachinegun [BODY 04, Projectile weapons: 05, Ammo: 07, R#03, Advantage : Autofire].
M&M Submachinegun [Ranged Multiattack Ballistic Damage 4].
While there are many designs, two models pretty much own the category in English-language fiction.
If an important Character has an IMI Uzi in DC Heroes story set during the 1980s, the R# will likely be reduced to 2. The “logic” being the aura of Israeli unsinkableness in US media of that time. In later decades, the portrayal of the Uzi becomes more of a goon weapon, so that vanishes.
The HK MP5 has an action-heroes-friendly feature. Once you have inserted a fresh magazine, the bolt has to return to its forward position to chamber a round. This is called the “HK slap”, since the correct method is actually to hit the cocking handle on the top with the fat of your hand to let it fly forward unassisted with a satisfying, macho metallic sound.
If an important Character has a MP5 in DC Heroes, the R# will likely be reduced to 2 – or even nil in some cases. The “logic” simply being that such is the power of German precision weaponsmithing.
The titles say “the basics” as a remnant of the time when all the small arms were presented in a single, enormous article. I’m sure you find this fact fascinating.
A pump-action and/or semi-automatic rifle-sized firearm, usually firing buckshot.
Shotguns see a lot of use in police work, particularly in the US.
In the real world their advantages are debatable. But in movies, video games, comics and the like shotguns are powerful weapons.
They’ll shred everything, and inexplicably send people flying. They are great for shooting monsters, zombies, etc..
This inflated image of power is probably tied to the pump action used in many models, giving the impression that each shot is so heavy and powerful that it needs a strong, loud, vigourous move to be readied. Ka-chink !
These guns nearly always fire 12-gauge, 00 buckshot. In fiction and games, such a load is usually powerful enough to defeat body armour. Yet it also spreads quickly enough after leaving the barrel to hit two persons standing close to each other. It has essentially no downsides.
Shotguns have access to numerous speciality ammunition types. These are usually depicted as being even more powerful than buckshot.
Just like action heroes might rake the slide of their semi-auto pistol before a fight, they pump a round into their shotgun (sometimes even if the weapon doesn’t have a pump !) before they go in. Because this looks even better.
DCH Repeater Shotgun [BODY 04, Shotgun Blast (Range 03): 06, Ammo: 07, R#03, Recommended STR: 02, Drawback: Very Long Reload].
M&M Repeater Shotgun [Shotgun Blast 5].
Older shotguns that only have a pump action require an Automatic Action (in DCH) or a Move Action (in DCA) to ready a new round before shooting.
This can be alleviated with removing a bit called the disconnector – when you do that you can just keep the trigger depressed and every round you pump into the chamber will immediately be fired. Some early pump-action shotguns never had a disconnector.
Modern shotguns often have a semi-automatic action, and can be fired without expending extra Actions.
Double-Barrelled Sawed-Off Shotgun
A break-open shotgun, usually with two side-by-side barrels. Said barrels have been sawed to shorten them. In most cases, the butt-stock has also been removed.
Such a weapon is wielded by disparate but influential types of characters.
It was at first strongly associated with Mafia assassins, who needed a weapon that could be hidden under a coat yet deliver a powerful one-shot attack at close range – it is sometimes called a lupara (“gun used against wolves”) since before that it was associated with shepherds.
No wonder that the 12-gauge sawed-off has developed an image of brutal power going even beyond that of the full-sized shotgun — basic ballistics be damned.
Stats and pictures
DCH Double-Barrelled Sawed Off [BODY 03, Shotgun Blast (Range 02): 07, Ammo: 02, R#04, Recommended STR: 03, Drawback: Long Reload. Note : EV can be raised to 08 Diminishing by shooting both barrels at once, expending two Ammo and increasing Recommended STR to 04].
M&M Double-Barrelled Sawed Off [Shotgun Blast 6 Wide Choke, Diminished Range 1, Limited 1 (One shot, then must be reloaded)].
The “super-shotgun” in the 1990s DooM video game is a special beast. For starters, it shoots more pellets than what you load in. See our DooM Weapons Locker article for more.
Other sorts of shortened shotguns
Enshortening scatterguns has long been an American preoccupation.
Several archetypes have emerged over time.
1930s- whippet gun
A typical 1930s approach is the “whippet gun” famously used by Ms. Bonnie Parker (of Bonnie & Clyde fame).
A “whippet gun” (so named because it can be kept hidden under a coat and whipped out for use) doesn’t look particularly short by modern standards. But keep in mind that back then shotguns were chiefly used for hunting, and thus had long barrels.
Bonnie’s whippet gun was also low-cap by modern standards (four rounds in the magazine, one in the chamber).
1950s – Stakeout shotgun and 1980s – Witness Protection shotgun
Essentially the same thing, especially for storytelling purposes. The stock has been removed, a new grip had been added, and the barrel has been shortened as compared to a combat shotgun.
This weapon can easily be carried in a car by an officer, and can be quickly produced for self-defense or close-quarter fighting purposes.
“Witness Protection” comes from noticing during the 1980s that some US Marshals used such shortened shotguns, particularly in the Witness Protection Program.
The sling is also an unusual arrangement, allowing the weapon to be carried upside-down around the shoulder and concealed under a jacket.
A variant seen in many 1990s stories (frex, in Marvel’s Johnny Blaze’s hands) was a Remington 870 with a pistol grip, a pump with a vertical grip underneath, and probably a saddle-type shell holder.
It’s the same gun, but the front grip helps working the pump and the holder allows for carrying more ammo in an easily accessible manner.
Shorter still !
See the second half of the article for even shorter stuff.
The standard weapons for most infantry soldiers and big game hunters.
Infantry Bolt-Action Rifle
The sort of rifle that was the standard weapon for soldiers during much of World War Two – and before.
This is chiefly of interest to campaigns set during the war. While the heroes will probably sport submachineguns, many of their opponents and allies will have bolt-action rifles. And of course, these weapons remained in use for decades in guard units, militias, poorer countries, etc.
“Bolt action” means that there’s a sort of knobbed lever above the trigger. You work it back and forth to eject the casing, then get a new round into the chamber so you can fire. As can be imagined, having a lot of practice considerably improves the rate of fire of such a rifle.
The ammunition is stored in a magazine, but not the kind you can eject. You reload it bullet by bullet then lock it back in position.
These weapons were replaced by semi-automatic rifles (such as the M1 Garand), then by battle rifles and then assault rifles. Bolt-action rifles endure today in some applications, such as sniper rifles and hunting rifles.
Stats and example
DCH IBA Rifle [BODY 04, Projectile weapon: 06, Ammo: 05, R#02, Drawback: Long Reload, Misc.: an Automatic Action is needed to ready the next round by working the bolt].
M&M IBA Rifle [Ranged Ballistic Damage 5, Quirk (a Move Action is necessary to ready the next round by working the bolt].
Some bolt-action rifles had more ammunition. For instance, the excellent Lee-Enfield SMLE had a magazine holding ten bullets.
The leading bolt-action rifles of the first half of the XXth century look very much like each other. So we’ll only illustrate one.
The standard infantry weapon worldwide.
Though previously a symbol of soldiers, the assault rifle started spreading to other users in the 1980s.
US fiction had the archetypal arm of the USSR, the AK-type assault rifle, as a symbol of social disorder arming revolutionaries, terrorists and gang members. Conversely the archetypal American gun, the M16 type assault rifle, came to arm law enforcement agents.
Beyond the symbolism, this reflects various real-world trends. There are literally millions of cheap, durable AK rifles worldwide since the 1960s. Conversely, by the 1990s SWAT teams in the US started favouring M4-type assault carbines instead of SMGs, while some police agencies started using semi-automatic M16-type rifles as their long arm of choice.
Assault rifles became the standard in the military since most infantry engagements now occurred at limited range. Powerful, long-range bullets weren’t a big advantage in those conditions.
Furthermore, short bursts of automatic fire are an efficient means to hit the enemy. Furtherfurthermore, the light rounds used by assault rifles are easier to carry in large quantities – yet remain deadly enough in most applications.
DCH Assault Rifle [BODY 04, Projectile weapons: 06, Ammo: 08, R#02, Advantage: Autofire].
M&M Assault Rifle [Ranged Multiattack Ballistic Damage 5].
Starting in the 1990s, there was a shift toward assault rifles toward shorter, lighter versions – assault carbines.
Reasons included :
- The continuing shift toward engagements in ever more cramped quarters.
- The continuing mechanisation of infantry. Which means more time spent in less-than-spacious vehicles.
- The emergence of a huge market with increasingly militarised police forces.
The main difference between an assault rifle and an assault carbine is that it’s shorter. So it’s fine to go with the exact same stats, for weapons shooting the same rounds and serving in the same tactical roles.
In DC Heroes you can emphasise the difference by going [BODY 04, Projectile weapons: 06, Range: 05, Ammo: 08, R#02, Advantage: Autofire, Limitation: Projectile weapons has no Range, use the listed Range instead].
However, the diffence in Range isn’t supported by ballistics tests. And carbines, being more modern, are more likely to have better optics railed on.
M1 .30 Carbine
This American M1 carbine from World War Two wasn’t the greatest. Its .30 round was nothing to text home about.
But it was convenient, it was easy to use, and it was ubiquitous.
You can find it in all sorts of stories from the later half of World War Two to the early 1980s (when they get replaced by submachineguns such as Uzis). And it’s used by everyone – soldiers, policemen, gangsters, thugs, mercenaries, militiamen, terrorists, ex-soldiers, agents, your mum… everyone !
Early on the M1 Carbine — like the Garand rifle — had the immense advantage of being a semi-automatic, clip-fed weapon in a world still mostly equipped with bolt-action rifles.
Furthermore, it was small and light compared to a ‘real’ infantry rifle. So you could take it with you in a vehicle, airdrop with it, or wield it even if small and underfed.
15 shots before a quick reload was an edge. And of course, having a long barrel and a stock, it was much more precise than any pistol (at least in the real world).
Whenever somebody in a campaign set in the 1940s to the 1970s needs something heavier than a pistol that is not a shotgun, assume a M1 Carbine. And for snipers who are just mooks and are not meant as a serious threat ? M1 Carbine with a scope.
Stats and pictures
DCH M1 Carbine [BODY 04, Projectile weapons: 05, Ammo: 15].
M&M M1 Carbine [Ranged Ballistic Damage 4, Extended Range 1].
A powerful, accurate, long-range rifle fitted with a precision scope.
Snipers appeared during WWI, and by WWII started being mythologised (particularly Red Army lone snipers). The Kennedy assassination, movie hitmen, elite infantrymen such as the USMC’s Scout-Snipers, and successful video games with potent sniper rifles (such as Counterstrike) continued this trend.
Sniping in a military context usually takes place in the 500-to-800 metres range.
It is an exacting technique. Howbeit fiction tends to either completely overlook the realities of sniping (align cross-hair with target, pull trigger) or be detailed about all the considerations it implies. Ammunition-specific ballistic tables to calculate bullet drop, precise ranging, wind speed and direction, humidity, controlled breathing, hand-loaded match-grade ammunition, etc.
Fiction seldom depicts the heroes being sniped out of the blue (unless they’re bulletproof). GMs should consider having the first shot from a sniper automatically miss, or kill somebody who’s not important to the plot.
The third cliché is the grazing hit. Usually it knocks out the heroes rather than kill them and is presented as an amazing stroke of luck. The last cliché is the “laser glint” (see the Accessories and Ammunition article).
Sniper rifles are fragile, and the realities of the field can easily throw something out of alignment. It’s not uncommon to operate with the rifle protected by a sort of special padded backpack to isolate it from random small impacts.
Stats and examples
DCH Sniper Rifle [BODY 01, Projectile weapon: 06, Range: 08, Telescopic vision: 04, Ammo: 06, R#02. Limitation: Projectile weapon has No Range – use the Range given next instead].
M&M Sniper Rifle [Ranged Ballistic Damage 5, Improved Range 1, Improved Critical 1, Senses 1 (Extended visual 1), Quirk 1 (Fragile)].
Certain bolt-action sniper rifles can have the drawback of requiring an Automatic action (DCH) or a Move Action (DCA) to chamber the next round, as with the infantry bolt-action rifles above.
Helper(s): Roy Cowan, Chris Cottingham, Eric Langendorff, Azraelfl, Max, Darci and (allegedly) Angelina Jolie.