Sooner or later in your game, violence will ensue. Outside of the fantasy setting, it’s likely going to involve firearms. Having been a firearms enthusiast for three decades, long before I even owned my first weapon (Hey, Mum, guess that “no toy guns” crap didn’t work!), I found that knowing something about weapons lent a certain verisimilitude to our gaming. Here’s a few common mistakes:

Revolvers don’t have active safeties. Now, this is not always the truth, Manhurin in France did a few revolvers with safeties and the Webley-Fosbury “automatic” revolver from the early 20th Century also had one. Neither do Glocks, S&W M&P pistols, nor Kel-Tec’s wee .32 and .380 autos. This might seem a small thing, but it can play into the storyline — pistols with a safety on might buy a character a few seconds. But more to the point, when you’re running a game for someone who knows their guns, they’re going to notice stuff like this.

Semi-automatic and full automatic are not the same thing. The first means the weapon fires once per trigger squeeze — just like a revolver; the latter means the weapon will continue to fire until it is out of ammunition. Autofire burns round fast. You can empty a P90 with 50 rounds in the magazine in a matter of seconds. There is also a burst function on most military firearms to prevent soldiers from blasting through all the ammo needlessly.

Autofire is not magical. It’s not like a grenade going off, killing everything the bore crosses. It’s not particularly accurate, nor is it the opposite, like some games make it out, with the accuracy going to hell, but damage going stratospheric. You don’t hose down an area to hit something — you use it to keep people’s heads down and in one place until the other guys you’re working with can get into position to take them down.

That method of “spray and pray” looks great on movie screens. Here’s how you do it. Short controlled bursts — 3-6 usually — will provide the ability to cover an area with more chance of multiple hits. It’s most useful in close quarters and tight spaces (inside a building or ship.) Out in the wilderness, you’re better off taking a good well-aimed shot.

Called shots: most games make this incredibly hard, and when you’re jumping around looking for cover while your opponent is doing the same…well, it is. But when the shooter has a few seconds to aim and take their time — a hand shot out to 15 yards is a difficult, but not impossible shot. Hitting the head is usually not as difficult as game mechanics make it out to be at standard pistol ranges (under 15 yards.)

The character’s not strong enough for this gun nonsense: this is one of the most annoying tropes in RPGs — strength limits to use a weapon without penalty. I’ve shot stuff from .22 long rifle pistols to the .458 Grand Africa bolt action rifle (OUCH!) I wasn’t a big guy when I did the latter. It wasn’t fun, but I wasn’t hampered in my accuracy. I’ve trained small, non overly strong women to shoot. they can fire a .44 magnum revolver without a loss in accuracy due to the recoil. It’s just not the most fun you would have. Ignore these idiotic penalties, unless you want to throw it on them after the first shot.

Speaking of recoil…most handguns and rifles are perfectly manageable. The worst are usually the really small revolvers and autos chambered for something heavy and the big bore African hunting howitzers. The first hurts your hand and its unpleasant…you won’t notice in a gunfight. You won’t notice you peed yourself until after, also. The heavier the gun, the most likely the recoil won’t bother you. A 12 gauge shotgun can be fired one-handed with relative comfort, but if you don’t seat it against your shoulder properly, it hurts (no…you won’t break your shoulder.) A .458 Grand African, a .416 Rigby (I know a guy had his retina detached from the recoil), and the .500 Nitros are just plain unpleasant. And unless you’re hunting a rhino, Cape buffalo, or elephant, they’re probably overkill.

Keep that in mind when your bad ass elf assassin in Shadowrun picks out her ordinance…she’s probably not going to hang a six pound Desert Eagle with scope and laser sights, and other nonsense under her arm. People looking to conceal a weapon effectively, like spies and the like are going to carry something small like a Kel-Tec .380 or a Kahr 9mm. Professionals will stick to common calibers that can be readily found, like 9mm or .40 S&W or .45ACP (.32 ACP or .38 special in early 20th century.) Hunting rifles are usually in around the .30 caliber range — .30-30, .30-06, .303 British, 7mm somethingorother; combat arms were in the same calibers until post WWII when lighter calibers that you could carry more of for a fight became the rage in NATO (the 5.56mm cartridge.)

On that. No caliber is a “sure kill” or a “one shot stop.” Most people are killed with .22s. I’ve hear stories direct from other soldiers about people surviving a .50BMG hit. Even the famed double tap doesn’t necessarily do it, if the target is drugged up or simply motivated enough.

Some tidbits to help with realism: Autos usually throw their shells to the right, but occasionally they won’t, or teh shell will bounce off of something. Nothing is worse than hot brass down a girl’s low-cut shirt or caught under the bridge of your eyeglasses. Lugers throw their shells straight up and back…into you face. they were usually shot canted to 45 degrees.

Safety stuff — Browning Hi-Powers, most CZ-75s, the FN57 all have magazine safeties. If the mag isn’t seated (or seated properly) the gun will not fire. So if you’re changing magazines with one in the pipe, you can’t fire that single round. For critical fail/fumbles, you might consider the magazine got knocked loose (especially left handed folks can catch the magazine release button — if on the side of the handle — by accident and unseat the mag.) One interesting pistol in the H&K P7: it’s squeeze cocked by depressing the front strap. An NPC that got your P7 from you might not know this…and not be able to fire right away. I’ve used all of these things in a game.

Other tidbits: Desert Eagles tend, after firing a while, to have their safeties self-engage; the recoil makes the lever drop down and lock the gun. For the “I’ve gotta have a big gangsta gat” types, this is a great malfunction to pop on them. I’ve seen rifles and pistols where tight tolerances or over-oiling lock the spent casing in the breech due to heat expansion — in these cases, clearing the jam can take minutes. (I had a P9S that had to have the magazine removed and the butt of the pistol slammed on something to work the slide and clear the casing. Needless to say, I traded the thing, sharpish.) A revolver CAN jam, but it’s usually an ammo problem — the shell can have the primer expand and catch the firing pin, or the cylinder can move, if the weapon is old and loose, and prevent rotation. Submachine guns don’t make you walk backward while firing into the air; they don’t have powerful enough cartridges for that (although the Thompson with a drum round will make the weird wavy lines you would see in old ’30s movies as the weight changed on them. It’s cool.) About the only ting that might is the old African hunting magnums and nitros. Once again: unpleasant.

Most malfunctions in autos are due to 1) magazines — either the spring isn’t pushing the rounds properly and they need cleaned and maintained, or discarded; 2) the extractor spring is bad and the shell casing isn’t being throw clear; 3) ammunition — either “dirty” (smoky, oily, nasty smoke clouds) that bind up the action with carbon, underloaded (which might make the action not run or gets a bullet lodged in the barrel), or overloaded ammo (which generates too much pressure and might run the slide on an auto too fast to reliably pick up the next cartridge, or causes a primer blowout on a revolver.) Other malfunctions are usually more serious. Most revolver issues are either ammunition, or something to do with the cylinder timing or lockup — if the cylinder doesn’t rotate or lock properly, the bullet could hit the barrel and destroy the gun.

That’s just some spitballing on the subject. Take it as you will.