Designer’s Notes: The Witched Gun

When S. A. Fisher came to me with an idea for a Pyramid article I immediately offered to help him in whatever way I could. Shawn had assisted me previously with a few other projects in the past, played cheerleader when I needed it, and in general acted as the mentor I view him as. When he countered with “let’s just co-author the thing” I was beyond thrilled. Shawn knows an incredible amount of things about an even more incredible amount of things; knowledge he often shares for no other reason than because he wants to help someone increase their own knowledge base.

My work on this one was fairly simple: I’d take all the mysticism, superstition, and folk beliefs that Shawn would write about and then convert them into hard, gameable mechanics. At first, I was going to create spells, psychic powers, etc. to do this, but I got to thinking – folklore may be formulaic in its own way, but it shouldn’t be that contained. It’s not meant to be that contained, that’s why it’s hard to mechanize for an RPG that doesn’t use freeform mechanics. Then, inspiration hit – I would literally make each case it’s own generic rule. All in all, I think that turned out very well

All in all it took me about 50 hours to write, 30 hours to edit, 30 hours worth of research (lots of double-checking and reading to get the info I needed to properly mechanize things), and 25 hours of revision. I spent a further 10 hours looking over the preliminary PDF for any issues and revising. (Note: This doesn’t include S.A.’s efforts – I’m not sure he keeps track.)

From My Co-Author

“By the flash and combustion of fires and by the horror of the sounds, wonders can be wrought and at any distance that we wish – so that a man can hardly protect himself or endure it.”

Sir Roger Bacon, 1268

Guns are interesting because of the power they have always invoked in people. The lightning flash, the thunder, the smoke and stench. Gunpowder and its various means of control and delivery have truly been a magical and technological vessel for civilization, a delight to our eyes, while ringing our ears and scaring the devil out of us. We hardly know whether to laugh or cringe at the gun and its work.

Guns have been an undeniably powerful and dynamic engine for ingenuity – we get the assembly line and interchangeable parts from American gunmakers. The sustained industrial growth of the United States in the 19th century can be first attributed to the Americana system of manufacture, a system developed by US arsenals to produce Springfield rifles for the US Army. Socially, guns changed the odds between the common man and the nobility in the late medieval period, and took power from the nobles and gave it to the modern nation state in the century following. And in the US Constitution and the early Federalist era the hopes of a young republic hinged on the arming of every American voter with a gun, either a musket and bayonet or a sharpshooter’s rifle. A hoplite nation, armed with long rifles was the fear of tyrants and oppressors, the inspiration of the French Revolution and the expansion of democracy. Of course, in WWII, the SOE and OSS dumped a ton of energy, without much success, into the idea of a Liberator for occupied Europe – it was tiny sheet-stamped single shot .45 pistol. Then there’s Chairman Mao’s quip that “power comes from the barrel of a gun.” The point is, you’d struggle mighty hard to find any material culture which has been as important to modernity as the gun.


And for all that, guns have also been a symbol of death, murder, and destruction. Whether in the name of war or crime, they main and kill millions worldwide each year. As a morbid reminder of the gun’s beckoning call to our psychical desire for self-destruction, in the US shooting oneself with a gun is the number one way to commit suicide – a total of half of all suicides, actually. C.J. Chiver in his Pulitzer-prize winning book The Gun, goes so far to claim that the AK-47 was “the most lethal instrument of the Cold War.” Not nuclear bombers or ICBMs, or jet fighter-bombers dropping iron bombs on Vietnam, but the good old Kalashnikov, or “Kalash,” as the Russians called it. And consider that in parts of Africa, where the AK-47 is painted in garish colors, decorated with brass tacks and festooned with ribbons, and the wooden stock is hand-carved with slogans, Kalash is now, sadly, a common boy’s name. In the rather forgettable 2005 film Lord of War, Nicholas Cage deliver’s the ultimate sales pitch for the AK-47:

“Of all the weapons in the vast soviet arsenal, nothing was more profitable than Avtomat Kalashnikova model of 1947. More commonly known as the AK-47, or Kalashnikov. It’s the world’s most popular assault rifle. A weapon all fighters love. An elegantly simple 9 pound amalgamation of forged steel and plywood. It doesn’t break, jam, or overheat. It’ll shoot whether it’s covered in mud or filled with sand. It’s so easy, even a child can use it; and they do. The Soviets put the gun on a coin. Mozambique put it on their flag. Since the end of the Cold War, the Kalashnikov has become the Russian people’s greatest export. After that comes vodka, caviar, and suicidal novelists. One thing is for sure, no one was lining up to buy their cars.”

It’s for good reason that people fear and are fascinated by the gun.

I spent the better part of a decade researching what I called “gun magic,” that is, the idea that people had always treated guns as if they were invested with the same supernatural qualities as swords and armor in a Dungeons and Dragons game. Guns were never just the cold technological product of a factory, they were magical totems. I first encountered this phenomenon in the folklore of the American Ozark Mountains, but soon found it in folklore and popular culture everywhere I looked. I reached out to Christopher to see if we could combine my historical research with his GURPS Magic knowledge and bring something to Pyramid which would showcase how to use gun magic. I think it went very well! Of course, I’ve continued to research and collect the odds-and-ends of gun magic. Here’s some new tidbits:

While the 44-gun USS Constitution, “Old Ironsides,” is the most famous of the initial six American Navy frigates, it’s likely that each gun in all of those ships was named. The names appeared on small copper plates above each firing position, as can be seen by any visitor to the USS Constitution today: True Blue, Yankee Protection, Putnam, Raging Eagle, Viper, General Warren, Mad Anthony, America, Washington, Liberty Forever, Dreadnought, Defiance, Liberty or Death, Bull-dog, Spitfire, Revenge, Bunker’s Hill, Pocahontas, Willful Murder. The names beckon the power of the American Revolution, or at least the mythical power of American History, or perhaps they simply enhance the élan of the gun crew. The act of naming a gun (or for that matter a sword) was historically often seen as imbuing it with a personality or spirit of its own and thus expanding its scope, reach, and power. Interestingly enough, the sailors of these frigates did not stop with simply naming their guns. They also created religious talismans for them, too. When one group of American supporters gave bibles to the crew of the frigate USS President, the sailors wrapped them in duck cloth and attached them to each gun carriage. The intent seemed to be that each gun and/or gun crew would be protected, or perhaps empowered, by this act of literally lashing God’s word to the ship’s guns.

In more recent times the same sort of significance has been attached to guns in a religious ceremony. In March, 2018, the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania held a ceremony in which the cult claimed the gun represented the power to dominate God’s enemies. “Each of us is called to use the power of the ‘rod of iron’ not to harm or oppress as has been done in satanic kingdoms of this world, but to protect God’s children,” said leader Hyung Jin “Sean” Moon. In a bizarre cult ceremony some participants carried AR-15-style rifles, wore religious vestments, and some even bore crowns made from rifles cartridges at they prayed for power and protection. One news site reported that the cult claimed the “crowns and [rods of iron] . . . are signs of attendance, sovereignty and vigilance to protect God’s coming nation of Cheon Il Guk.” (Cheon Il Guk is the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary church’s name for the kingdom of God on Earth.) Clearly the guns, and the blessing ceremony, were meant to strengthen and protect the cult and its theology. From what, or for what, let’s hope we never know.

Then there is this 2015 headline, from the UK paper The Independent: “Number of US babies being named after guns on the increase: Pistol, Browning, Wesson, Kimber, Beretta – they’re all there.” The article claims names such as Gunner and Cannon are increasingly in popularity in the US. Why? Like many gun-naming conventions, the parents were “arming their newborn babies with intimidating names in a tough-guy take on giving them the best start in life.” Besides naming kids after gun companies or brands, other names on the rise apparently include gun associations such as Trigger, Shooter, Caliber, Magnum, and Pistol. For what it’s worth the data for this naming fixation is taken from a baby name site called Nameberry, so they have to be taken with a grain of salt. But to the article’s point, this is still gun magic, using the gun as a talisman for power or protection. Just like Kalash.

Hopefully, for those roleplaying in a game in which guns or gun magic are of some importance, The Witched Gun will be of some use. I enjoyed working with Christopher on the project and hope to work with him again. Tell us how you have used The Witched Gun in your games.

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