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Weapons Locker - Angelina Jolie shooting a big shotgun

Weapons Locker – Modern Firearms – Chapter #2 – Small Arms, part 1

(Common types of small arms in stories)


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].


Thomson M1A1 submachinegun

The Thompson M1 is the most emblematic American SMG of this era, often associated with the USMC. It is a simplified version of the Thompson M1928 design (more about it later), and fires a .45 ACP round. The likes of Sergeant Rock, the Gravedigger or Sergeant Nick Fury often sported a M1.

MP40 submachinegun

The MP40, with its famous silhouette, was the usual gun of the Nazi stormtrooper. It was sometimes erroneously called the “Schmeisser” by Allied troops, and fires 9mm Parabellum. Note the folded stock along the side.

Sten submachinegun

The Sten was an iconic British design, wielded by mustachioed SAS commandos or doughty Allied partisans such as Mademoiselle Marie. The magazines could be of so-so quality, though. Said magazines go into the side of the weapon, rather than the bottom as with most designs, and are sometimes used as a forward handle. This here photo is of a MkII Sten, with a magazine in place.

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.

M3 "Grease Gun" submachinegun

The M3, nicknamed the “Grease Gun”, came after the Thompson M1. Like the Sten, it could be produced ever more quickly and cheaply to arm the huge armies of WWII. It was also common among NATO troops during the 1950s, and even later for rear-echelon troops. On this photo, the retractile wire stock has been pushed forward all the way.

Papasha submachinegun

The “Papasha” (officially, the PPSh-41) was a Soviet weapon, with less of a fictional footprint than the previous ones. It fires 7.62mm Tokarev rounds, and outwardly resembles early SMGs such as the aforementioned MP18. This one is equipped with the drum magazine, rather than the more common curved stick magazine, since it looks better and suggests automatic fire.

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 :

  1. Usually have a higher quality in design and material.
  2. 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].

Main examples

While there are many designs, two models pretty much own the category in English-language fiction.

Uzi submachinegun

The Uzi is a 9mm Israeli design from the 1950s. Aside from images of Israeli troops, it gained exposure from images of Ronald Reagan  ’s bodyguards and was used in 1984 by the Terminator. Uzis were everywhere in 1980s and 1990s stories, and had a reputation for being highly reliable. Plus, the Philadelphia-made-under-licence one in this photograph might hold the spirit of Gritty  .

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.

Mini-Uzi submachinegun

The Uzi was also often seen in its Mini-Uzi variant. There’s no difference between the two, story-wise. This one is a vintage one (though made by Vector, I think) with the stock folded along the side.

H&K MP5 submachinegun

The Heckler & Koch (H&K) MP5 is a 9mm European design from the 1960s. It was famously used by the SAS in counter-terror operations, and from there trickled down to become the de rigueur tactical police weapon. It is an expensive gun with German engineering, seen as accurate and reliable. John McClane (Bruce Willis in Die Hard) used one, which contributed to the weapon’s fictional footprint.
This photo is of a vintage German model with the SEF selector (safe, single shot and burst fire – but in German).

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.

H&K MP5K submachinegun compact

As with the Uzi, the MP5K (for “Kurtz”, meaning “short”) variant is often seen with little functional difference. This photo is of an airsoft replica.

Other examples

Kriss Vector submachinegun

In more recent decades, the Kriss Vector became quite common in movies (say, at least two John Wick movies) and video games. This is largely because of its futuristic looks, which also make it a good prop for a near-future firearm.

Scorpion Evo 3 submachinegun

Another off-the-top-of-my-head example of a SMG seen in many 2010s action movies and games would be the CZ Scorpion Evo 3, from Czechoslovakia. It’s what the Red Room operatives use in the Black Widow movie.

PP19 Bizon 2 submachinegun

The PP-19 Bizon (no relation) is a Russian 9x18mm Makarov SMG with a distinctive 64-round cylindrical magazine. In the real world it’s somewhat obscure, but for some reason it’s common in guns-rich video games of the 2000s and later. In DC Heroes terms it would have Ammo: 12 and the Long Reload Ammunition Drawback.

Shotguns – the basics

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.

Repeater Shotgun

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.


Remington 870 shotgun

The Remington 870 and its variants are the archetypal American shotgun. It is also the most common police shotgun in the US since forever. Characters who use it are innumerable, so let’s just mention Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor in Terminator II.

Benelli M4 super 90 shotgun with pistol grip

Benelli M3 and M4 Super 90 shotguns, preferably with a pistol grip and few tactical attachments, are another police shotgun example. Visually, this sort of weapon is more associated with SWAT units that with patrol officers or detectives. These series have a reputation for their quick action. Renee Montoya of the GCPD has occasionally used shotguns like those.

Franchi SPAS-12 shotgun with short barrel and folded stock

The Franchi SPAS-12 sports distinctive visuals, which earned it a role in innumerable movies and video games. It stock can fold up to rest atop of the gun. It makes for easier carrying, and helps with the mean and powerful looks. The photo below is for a short-barrelled model. Notable SPAS-12 users include the Terminator, Roberta the maid (Black Lagoon) and Hella.

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.

Later influential users were Mel Gibson in the Mad Max movies, the anonymous marine in the DooM video games and Ash in Evil Dead, with his “boom stick”.

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.

Sawed-off shotgun side-by-side

From the Minneapolis police museum  collections.

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).

Bonnie Parker with her whippet gun, and Clyde Barrow.

Ms. Parker’s whippet gun was a 20-gauge semi-auto Remington Model 11 with a cut down barrel. Here’s a famous photo, though her forearm obscures the stock.

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.

Ithaca model 37 Stakeout shotgun

“Stakeout” is the name of a specific release of the Ithaca Model 37, with a pistol grip. Corporal Hicks (Michael Biehn in Aliens 2) uses one. Capacity is also 4 + 1.

“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.

Witness Protection 870 shotgun

WP shotguns typically are converted Remington 870s, with a distinctive “dog bone” grip.

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.

Remington 870 shotgun with front pistol grip

Shorter still !

See the for even shorter stuff.

Rifles – the basics

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.

Mauser 98 Karabiner rifle

The most classic is probably the Mauser Karabiner 98 Kurtz (which is neither a carbine, nor short) that armed German soldiers. This exceptional design is one of the weapons that did wonders for the Mauser brand name and the image of German gunmakers in general. Its bolt action is still used by many modern precision rifles.

Assault Rifle

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].


M16A1 assault rifle

A typical M16 assault rifle. Looks like a M16A1, which is the 1970s and late 1960s military issue model. Previous versions had, in DC Heroes terms, a R# of 04.

Type 56 assault rifle Chinese AK47

A Type 56, which was the late 1950s Chinese version of the AK-47. This one even has a (folded back) bayonet.

Steyr AUG assault rifle older

The Steyr AUG was a late 1970s Austrian assault rifle. Its use of then-modern ergonomics and materials gave it distinctive visuals, which resulted in this weapon being featured in many movies, games, etc.. It often was used as a futuristic weapon in 1980s US sci-fi flicks, such as Robocop or The Running Man. It still was the case even in the 2014 Captain America movie, though using a more modern version of the Steyr and a holosight normally mounted on machineguns.

FAMAS G2 assault rifle

The FAMAS G2, a French assault rifle. Like the Steyr, it uses a “bullpup” architecture. The chamber and magazine are behind the pistol grip, to have a full rifle-length barrel within a more carbine-length weapon. FAMAS rifles have featured in some animés and “all the guns” video games (particularly Metal Gear). They may also have been an influence on the MA5 rifles in HALO.

Assault Carbine

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.

M4A1 SOCOM assault carbine

The M4 carbine is the leading example of this category. This one is specifically a M4A1 Special Operations carbine, which has improvements for storming actions. M4A1s started being issue in large quantities during the 2010s.

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].

M1 .30 carbine winchester

Standard M1 Winchester-made carbine.

M1 .30 carbine airborne paratrooper

The airborne version of the M1, with a distinctive folding stock and pistol grip. I’ve occasionally seen them nicknamed “the enforcer”.

Sniper Rifle

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.

Precision shooting

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.

Remington M700 rifle M24 sniper version

The Remington M700 series is the archetypal American sniper rifle. It is used by both the police and the military. Here is the military version – “M24 Sniper Weapon System Rifle” to its friends. If it had any.

AI Arctic warfare 7.62 308 sniper rifle

The Accuracy International Arctic Warfare 7.62mm, seen in many video games, has a visual design that even more strongly evokes the image of a sniper rifle.

SVD Dragunov Soviet marksman rifle

The SVD Dragunov is a Soviet rifle. While not intended to be used at the ranges a dedicated sniper rifle works at (it’s a squad’s marksman rifle, not a real sniper rifle) its ominous name and lines give it all the properties of a sniper rifle in fiction. There also where plenty of Cold War rumours about the Dragunov as a devilish killer’s weapon, with cyanide bullets and whatnot.

DSR-1 bullpup sniper rifle

Finally, the DSR-1 is included because of its unusual looks. It’s a bullpup rifle, with the magazine and chamber behind the pistol grip, making it more compact than older designs. The magazine in front of the trigger guard is a spare one, it doesn’t feed anything. The gun’s not a bad prop for a near-future precision rifle – and is used in this way in some games such as Battlefield 2042, The Division or Crysis.

Writeups.org writer avatar Sébastien Andrivet

By Sébastien Andrivet.

Helper(s): Roy Cowan, Chris Cottingham, Eric Langendorff, Azraelfl, Max, Darci and (allegedly) Angelina Jolie.