I've seen many of people on the forums using the words "rifle" and "musket" interchangeably when referring to firearms. I find this
irking, and have attempted to enlighten my peers in several different threads as to the difference between the two. I think that it is now time to get my
message out to a wider audience, since the differences between rifles and muskets could be crucial in E:TW. Here are the facts:
There is actually a difference between a rifle and a musket, surprisingly enough. The rifle has rifling, spiraled grooves cut into the inside of its barrel. When it is fired, a leather patch wrapped around a lead ball that has been forced down the barrel (thus expanding to fit the grooves) causes the ball to spin as it leaves the barrel, and be stabilized in flight, although the action of forcing the patch-wrapped ball into the grooves results in a significantly slower load time than a musket. The advantage of the rifle was that it was accurate at long range due to the stable flight of its bullets, as opposed to the wildly inaccurate musket. Rifling was actually invented in the fifteenth century, but rifles weren't used in armies because they were very hard to mass produce with low-tech techniques and, more importantly, they took eons to load compared to a smooth bore musket.
This was the case for rifles until the Minié ball, which loaded as quickly for a rifle as a conventional ball did for a musket, was invented. This was because it had a hollow base, was conical, and was actually of a smaller bore than the rifle it was fired from, causing the bullet to expand into the rifling grooves as soon as it was fired, but still be easy to load. As to E:TW, the Minié ball wasn't invented and put into wide use until the mid-1800's, which excludes it from use unless the flexible tech trees that CA's been talking about go that far into the future.
The musket, on the other hand, was about as accurate at range as an un-crumpled piece of paper. It was once said that the safest place to stand in front of a musketeer was directly in front of him, since musket balls actually flying straight was a calendar event. This inaccuracy was because of the fact that muskets had smooth bores, which didn't impart a spin to the ball, and because the caliber of the balls was almost never the same as those of the barrels, causing unpredictable trajectories whenever a musket was fired.
Why they didn't use rifles:
For the reason of speed over accuracy, and just plain old refusal to change old ideas about warfare, European generals rejected the use of rifles in battles, and only a few experimental units, such as the British green jackets, were ever used by major powers. Even then, their formation was on the edge of the envelope for the time period of E:TW, and they weren't exactly pivotal in any major battles.
How this is related to E:TW:
The question is whether or not we will be able to choose whether we want the rifle or the musket to be the primary weapon of our armies, trading speed for accuracy or the other way around. I, personally, would like to try out the merits of a rifle equipped army with decent artillery support vs. a regular musket army because I think that the effectiveness of each individual soldier would be multiplied tenfold if each was equipped with an accurate gun.
P.S. To all you moderators and administrators: I know this is borderline off-topic, but I feel that the differences between muskets and rifles should be stated, and that this is the best place to do it.
EDIT: Due to new information, I've significantly altered the second sentence of my second paragraph to reflect that it was leather patches wrapped around lead balls, not the lead balls themselves, which fit into the rifle grooves and increased reload time/accuracy. That sentence has been underlined to reflect the change as of June 9, 2008.