The Colonial Gothic Player’s Companion is due for release later this month. Among its pages you will find many new weapons and combat rules, but here’s something I decided to keep back for a more detailed treatment. The Puckle Gun was a revolutionary design, capable of three times the fire rate of a conventional musket. However, it was never adopted by the British Army and history regards it as a failure. This need not be the case in a Colonial Gothic campaign. This article covers the history and design of this unusual weapon, and presents expanded rules and game stats for four versions.
English inventor, lawyer, and writer James Puckle patented his “Defence Gun” in 1718. A tripod-mounted, heavy musket, its main purpose was to defend ships against boarders. The gun used a revolving magazine that made it capable of firing nine rounds per minute – more than three times the fire rate of a conventional musket in the hands of a trained and experienced soldier.
Another innovation was the weapon’s choice of barrels: one firing conventional round shot for use against Christians, and another firing square shot for infidel Turks (which, it was suggested, would convince the Turks of “the benefits of Christian civilization”). The Turks, or more accurately the Barbary Corsairs who owed nominal allegiance to the Ottoman Empire, were a constant threat to Christian shipping in the Mediterranean and Atlantic until their bases in present-day Libya and Tunisia were conquered by France in 1830: the United States Marine Corps famously went to “the shores of Tripoli” in the First Barbary War of 1810-1815.
The Puckle Gun was demonstrated successfully more than once. The London Journal of March 31st 1722 reported that “one man discharged it 63 times in seven minutes” in a rainstorm. Damp is one of the greatest problems facing black-powder weapons, and this sustained fire rate in the rain (which must have included time spent changing magazines) was impressive. Despite this, the Puckle Gun was not adopted by the British armed forces and Puckle had trouble finding investors. One newspaper of the time observed drily that the gun “only wounded those who hold shares therein.”
A major drawback was the complexity of some components. Although details are sketchy, consistently machining the breech and the cartridges to the tolerances needed for a good gas seal must have been a challenge.
Although the Puckle Gun never entered military service, Lord Montagu purchased at least two Puckle Guns in 1722 for an expedition to colonize the Caribbean islands of St. Lucia and St. Vincent. Threatened with French intervention from Martinique and unable to secure the backing of Royal Navy ships in the Caribbean, the expedition withdrew before accomplishing its goal. It is not known whether the Puckle Guns were ever fired.
The details of the Puckle Gun are hard to pin down. The few documentary sources report its bore as 1 inch, 1.25 inches, and 1.5 inches; its revolving magazine is said to hold either nine or eleven shots. Puckle’s drawing shows six and nine-chambered cylinders for round shot and a six-chambered cylinder for square shot.
The barrel of a Puckle Gun was 3 feet long and made of “brass,” which at that time meant cast bronze. The choice of metal may reflect the gun’s intended use as a shipboard weapon: an iron barrel would have been prone to rust.
The pre-loaded brass cartridges were mounted on a circular plate that screwed into place at the breech of the weapon. After firing, the screw was loosened, the plate was rotated to bring the next cartridge into position, and the screw was tightened again before firing.
The weapon was swivel-mounted on a tripod and had another screw mechanism (called a “crane” in Puckle’s drawing) to elevate and depress the barrel.
Blackmore and Willbanks (see Bibliography) both mention a Puckle Gun in the Tower of London Armoury, and imply that it is an original. There are references online to one at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, which was opened in 1996 to display more of the collection. At the time of writing it was not possible to confirm whether this is the one from London, but it seems likely.
Two Puckle Guns are on display at former Montagu homes in England: one at Boughton House in Northamptonshire and the other at the Palace of Beaulieu (pronounced Byoolee by the English) in Essex. It seems likely that these are from Lord Montagu’s ill-fated Caribbean expedition.
There is a replica Puckle Gun at the Buckler’s Hard Maritime Museum in Hampshire, England. The village of Buckler’s Hard was founded by Lord Montagu as a port for the Caribbean trade, and was originally called Montagu Town. However, Montagu’s trading enterprise fared little better than his expedition.
The Puckle Gun was a heavy weapon, designed to be fired from a tripod. The tripod weighs about 20 pounds, and takes a full round to set up. Characters with a high Might score (10+) may try firing the weapon without a tripod; this imposes a -4 penalty to hit and reduces the ROF to 1.
Historically, problems of engineering and cost doomed the Puckle Gun to failure. However, this need not be the case in a Colonial Gothic campaign. The following paragraphs present a selection of adventure seeds in various times and places.
New England, 1721-25
Known by various names (including Dummer’s War, Father Rale’s War, and the Fourth Indian War), fighting has broken out along the border between New England and New France (modern-day Maine, Vermont, Quebec, and New Brunswick). Backed by France, warriors of the Wabanaki Confederacy have attacked British settlements, sparking a series of reprisal raids by British forces. As matters escalate, three British forts at the mouth of the Kennebeck River are attacked.
The Puckle Gun was designed as a point defense weapon, and its presence at any of these forts will strengthen them considerably. PCs (who may have been accompanying Lord Montagu’s Caribbean expedition) find themselves sent to New England to strengthen the frontier forts, and must run a French gauntlet to reach their destination.
The Ohio Territory, 1754-63
The Puckle Gun was aging by the time of the French and Indian War, but it could still outperform a standard infantry musket. As France and Britain struggle for control of the Ohio Territory, both sides build forts along the Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela Rivers. Control of these forts is the key to winning the war, and any weapon that strengthens their defenses is valuable.
As a British expedition under Captain William Trent constructs a fort at the Forks of the Ohio, Major George Washington of the Virginia Militia returns from a diplomatic mission and reports to Governor Dinwiddie that the French will not withdraw. War seems inevitable. Washington, promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, is ordered to strengthen Trent’s forces at the new Fort Prince George.
The most pressing need is for artillery, but Dinwiddie’s arsenal at Williamsburg is small. Washington strips a handful of Puckle Guns from the city’s walls and orders the PCs to hurry ahead while he assembles more reinforcements. They must make their way to Fort Prince George through largely unknown territory, confronting natural hazards and hostile natives along the way. They may arrive too late and find the French have destroyed Fort Prince George and begun construction of their own Fort Duquesne – or they may be just in time to fight off a determined French attack and change the course of history.
As tensions escalate during the siege of the city, General Thomas Gage strengthens the fortifications on the Neck, which protect the British-held town from its Patriot-controlled surroundings.
Gage’s American counterpart, General Artemas Ward, learns that a shipment of Puckle Guns is coming from London aboard a Royal Navy frigate to help strengthen the defenses. These heavy weapons would be a valuable prize for the American cause – but can the Heroes intercept and board a fully-armed enemy warship to seize them?
This incident would make a challenging side-adventure at the start of the Flames of Freedom campaign. It would work very well immediately after A Surprise for General Gage (from The Gazetteer), in which the Heroes are introduced to Ward and prove their value as an irregular special-missions unit.
Philadelphia, Paris, and London, 1776
Benjamin Franklin has heard of the Puckle Gun, and longs to obtain a specimen which can be reverse-engineered to develop a rapid-firing heavy weapon for the Continental Army. He sends the Heroes to Paris, where confederates of his equip them with false identities that will enable them to operate freely in London.
One set of plans is in the Patent Office in London, and another is at the offices of the Master-General of the Ordnance, along with a working prototype. Both these locations are fairly secure. The two Montagu houses of Boughton House and Beaulieu are softer targets, but they are set in smaller communities where outsiders of any kind will draw attention. The Heroes will have to be stealthy and resourceful to spirit a Puckle Gun away from either place.
For an added complication, Franklin’s French allies may have an agenda of their own. They may be early Revolutionaries, inspired by America’s resistance against an oppressive monarchy and critical of the growing economic crisis which arose from the expense of the French and Indian War and which, in history, would carry on to become a major cause of the French Revolution of 1789-1799. They may be royal agents ordered to obtain the British weapon for France. They may even be secret agents of some shadowy organization like the Freemasons, or of a powerful individual like the immortal Comte de St. Germain. Whatever their loyalties, these supposed allies will turn on the Heroes and try to take the stolen gun for themselves.
The Caribbean, 1778
Montagu’s expedition to St. Lucia and St. Vincent was the only confirmed instance of Puckle Guns going into the field. Historically, the French fleet at Martinique did not attack Montagu’s seven ships, but in a Colonial Gothic campaign this need not be the case.
Montagu’s two guns may be in a French armory in Martinique, and the Heroes may find themselves sent by Washington or Franklin to recover them. How they do so is up to them; they may try diplomacy, bribery, or theft – but if they are caught, they risk jeopardizing the delicate but valuable alliance between France and the United States.
Blackmore, Howard, British Military Firearms 1650-1850. Herbert Jenkins, 1961.
Peterson, Harold L., The Treasury of the Gun. Golden Press, 1962.
Puckle, Owen Standidge, James Puckle, N.P.: His Books and His Gun. No publisher listed, 1974. This title is listed by the British Library, but seems impossible to obtain.
Willbanks, James H, Machine Guns: An Illustrated History of their Impact. ABC-CLIO, 2004.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puckle_gun gives basic information on the weapon; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Puckle, on Puckle himself, gives more.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8nTqV7o2jE8 shows a model Puckle Gun firing. A hot wire is used instead of a flintlock firing mechanism.
After my last post, Gideon on the Strike to Stun forums asked about another piece of Warhammer archaeology:
Perhaps I can challenge you on another piece of early Warhammer lore. What was the Tower of Screaming Death? I recall it was to have been a solo adventure in Hrothyogg’s Tower, but can find nothing about it now, apart from the Josh Kirby cover. Does it ring any bells?
Here’s the little I remember.
The Tower of Screaming Death was a Warhammer solo boardgame in which you played a band of Orcs exploring a wizard’s tower and coming across a lot of undead.
Bob Naismith was the driving force behind it. A Josh Kirby cover was commissioned but never used because the game was canceled. The artwork wound up being used for Warhammer Companion, and later for Hogshead’s Apocrypha Now. You can clearly see the Orcs and the spirit of the evil wizard dominating the tower.
I don’t remember a lot about the game itself. In fact I don’t think I ever got to play it because Bob was still working on the rules. I may be wrong about that, though – it’s been a very long time. From the bits and pieces that I do remember, it seems that the game petered out some time in the design stage and never got onto the development schedule.
Both WFRP and 40K were just out at that time, WFB3 was in the works, and Blood Bowl was in development, so it was hard to get a new game on the slate. It probably didn’t help that Bob wasn’t one of the regular game designers. He really needed to find a champion for the game within the design department, and all the designers (including me, I’ll admit) were a lot more interested in promoting their own ideas.
Bob fought to keep TSD alive, but it never happened. Just another of the lost designs from the 80s.
Gideon over at the Strike to Stun forum has trawled through a lot of early Citadel publications and traced the growth of the Warhammer mythos from 1983 to 1987. His work gives a perfect insight into the grimdark world’s light-hearted origins and early development, and it brought up a few memories that I had forgotten all about.
Strike to Stun is one of the first WFRP/Warhammer fan forum sites, and it’s still one of the very best. If you haven’t already checked it out, I’d recommend taking a look.
My posts reminiscing about my time at Games Workshop and my work on Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay always seem to be the most popular. It seems that a lot of people remember the gaming scene of the 80s with great fondness. I’ve mentioned the Oldhammer movement before, and it seems to be going from strength to strength.
Later this month, I’ll be attending my first Oldhammer event: Oldhammer USA at Dropzone Games in Glen Burnie, Maryland. The Oldhammer in the New World blog has the details, along with a short interview that covers a few things no one ever asked me about before. Keep an eye on that blog for more information as it becomes available.
If you’re interested in Oldhammer, here are a few links to get you started:
Realm of Chaos 80s – one of the best Oldhammer blogs, updated regularly and featuring lots of news and interviews with old GW types, including me.
Oldhammer in the New World – the organizers of Oldhammer USA.
The Oldhammer Community on Facebook – a good place to discuss vintage Citadel miniatures and see other fans’ work.
Oldhammer Community Plus – the Google+ Oldhammer group.
Gaming in the 80s – links to various interviews I’ve done.
Twenty-seven years after the fact, the Sidekickcast blog has published a review of my Fighting Fantasy book, Midnight Rogue. Reviewer PJ Montgomery seems to like it, although he raises a point that concerned me at the time.
Inspired by tabletop RPG supplements like Chaosium’s Thieves’ World and TSR’s Lankhmar: City of Adventure, I set out to write a city adventure for a thief character. The best-known city in the Fighting Fantasy world of Titan was Port Blacksand from Ian Livingstone’s earlier book City of Thieves, so I set my book in the same city and called it Prince of Thieves. Ian worried that this was too similar to the title of his book, so mine was changed to Midnight Rogue.
The essence of a thiefly adventure, as I saw it, was that it should involve a lot of sneaking and very little fighting. After all, the most successful thief is one who is never seen, let alone challenged. In the first draft, fighting was always the worst possible option. That didn’t go down too well with the editors at Puffin.
Their response to my first draft was an order to add a lot more combat, accompanied by a tart reminder that “it is Fighting Fantasy after all.” I thought they had missed the point, but I set about rewriting to give them what they wanted. I shortened the city part of the adventure, adding a few combats here and there, and I used the recovered space to put in a dungeon at the end, which I hoped would satisfy them.
Midnight Rogue did fairly well – as did anything that carried the Fighting Fantasy logo in those days – but it has never been regarded as one of the better FF books. Mr. Montgomery really puts his finger on the problem in his review:
“Midnight Rogue is very much a book of two halves. It’s just a shame that one of them really isn’t anywhere near as fun as the other.”
What makes me feel vindicated, after all these years, is that the part he likes is the city adventure.
“…the first half in Port Blacksand is great. Tracking down the clues that will eventually lead you to the Eye of the Basilisk is great fun, with Davis’s writing drawing real tension out of your mission. It’s great to have a proper run around in Blacksand again, as it’s a place with a lot of character. Unfortunately, once you leave Blacksand, the book becomes just another dungeon crawl, and honestly, it’s a pretty generic one at that. ”
Could I have written a better dungeon for the end of the book? Probably. As good as an Ian Livingstone masterpiece like Deathtrap Dungeon? Probably not. But even if I had, it would still have felt odd after all the sneaking about and city exploration. Looking back, I don’t think the book could ever have worked well as this odd hybrid.
Maybe it’s sour grapes. When I wrote Midnight Rogue I was also working on the early part of the Enemy Within campaign for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and I wasn’t in a dungeon-friendly headspace at all. Subconsciously, I was probably trying to turn Fighting Fantasy into WFRP, ignoring the fact that it was quite happy being Fighting Fantasy, thank you very much.
Still, I’m sure every writer loves to read a review that bears out everything they thought about one of their own books, both good and bad. How intelligent and insightful this reviewer is, one thinks, and fights the sudden urge to track down the editors in their comfortable retirement and wave the review in their faces, shouting “See? SEE?”
Not that it makes any difference at all after 27 years. But still.
If you are interested in finding out more about my career as a Fighting Fantasy writer, I did an extensive interview for Fighting Fantazine a few years ago. I can’t link directly to it, but issue #7 (and all the others) are free PDF downloads. If you’re a gamebook fan from the ’80s you’ll find a lot to like about this magazine, and I’m sure you’ll be happy to learn that the hobby is still going strong in various electronic formats.
I picked this little book up on a recent visit to Monticello because I’ve always been interested in the subject. Somewhere in the back of my mind I’m hoping to do a treatment of the Turtle for Colonial Gothic, although I have no idea when I’ll get the time. If someone else beats me to it, I’ll probably be relieved rather than disappointed.
The American Turtle Submarine: The Best-Kept Secret of the American Revolution by Arthur S. Lefkowitz
Pelican Publishing, Gretna, 2012. 144 pages.
First published as Bushnell’s Submarine by Scholastic (2006), this is a short and very readable book that is suitable for anyone 11 and up.
Despite its modest length and simple language, the book packs an impressive amount of information about the Turtle’s design, development, and combat operations, as well as a lot of useful background on Bushnell himself and his other inventions. There is an overview of submarine experiments before Bushnell’s time, sidebars on various background topics and personalities, and a number of very good drawings that give a clear view of the Turtle’s interior and workings.
I would recommend this to anyone who is interested in the Revolutionary War, the history of submarine warfare, or 18th-century Weird Science in general. It is particularly valuable to Colonial Gothic GMs who want to feature the Turtle or Bushnell’s other inventions in an adventure – I doubt there is a clearer, more complete, or more accessible source available anywhere.
I’ve just heard that Pelgrane Press’ Hillfolk and Blood on the Snow have been nominated for a bunch of ENnie awards. So have a lot of other cool games and supplements. If you’re interested in tabletop roleplaying, why not head over to the ENnies voting booth and have your say?
Like everything else I’ve seen from Robin Laws, Hillfolk and its underlying DramaSystem mechanics are intriguing and thought-provoking. Writing my contribution during the Kickstarter campaign, I found myself thinking about roleplaying, writing, and game design in ways I never had before. The campaign was such a success that a second volume, Blood on the Snow, was needed to accommodate all the stretch-goal contributors – and that list reads like a who’s-who of tabletop roleplaying, past, present, and future.
Robin is a Man Who Knows What He’s At, and I couldn’t be happier for him. And if my contribution had anything to do with Hillfolk’s success, I’ll be thrilled. But there’s a lot of cool stuff in there from a lot of other folks, too. Check out the Hillfolk and Blood on the Snow product pages and you’ll see what I mean. Pelgrane Press has even put together a free sampler from these and all their other nominated products, so you can see for yourself.