I was talking to someone the other day about ammunition. My opinion was that it was really a non-issue. Consider ammunition as being destroyed or lost on use and move on. He was surprised and thought it warranted some discussion.

Retrieve It or Carry More

On reflection I guess we've always had one rule or another for retrieving ammunition. It costs so little it doesn't really seem to be worth the effort. But as it was pointed out to me, if you can't retrieve it you will need to carry considerably more with you and that can be quite an issue.

A few years ago I may not have been so understanding but after playing a Hunter in WoW where I'd go through thousands of arrows in an evening, I guess I can relate a bit better now.

So We Retrieve It

Okay, so we need to retrieve ammunition. How do we handle it? The reason I initially wanted to consider it lost or destroyed on use is because it seems like one of those minor little details that could potentially waste a great deal of time. I've come around to the viewpoint that it isn't such a minor little detail after all. But how do we keep it from wasting a great deal of time?

Where Do The Arrows Go When You Miss

I've been out in a field with both a bow and a crossbow before shooting at targets. We're not talking a dense overgrown forest with falling trees and ferns growing up everywhere. This was an open empty field, mown short with no bushes or other objects obscuring the area. Still, every arrow that missed the target went considerably further than I would have imagined possible and was nearly invisible even when laying at your feet in less than an inch of grass.

Needles In a Haystack

Clearly, finding an arrow that was fired in a known direction is difficult. Attempting the same thing in a far less ideal environment where arrows were fired in all sorts of directions during combat would be a herculean effort.


In a dungeon environment where you are completely surrounded by rock and stone the chances of a stray arrow hitting a hard surface and breaking seem to me to approach 100%. The only way I can see for a missed arrow to avoid breaking in a dungeon is for it to travel a considerable distance down a straight corridor, losing velocity before it hits something and stops.

To a lesser extent, you have the same problem outdoors. With trees and rocks around there are plenty of hard objects for a stray arrow to hit and break upon.

What About Arrows That Hit?

Now for the arrows that hit the target, what are their chances for survival? Not all hits go directly into flesh. Many pass through tough leather, chain or plate on the way in. If it doesn't break on the way in, hitting a bone is still a possibility.

Say that doesn't break the arrow. Now you have a monster with an arrow (or a dozen) sticking out of it. While it thrashes about and you pummel it with weapons, there's a good chance these arrows will be sheared off. When the monster drops, any arrows on the side that hits the ground are bound to be broken.

Now What?

So where does that leave us? Of the arrows that hit, a good many will break on impact, either with armor or bone. Those that don't break will be sticking out and most likely sheared off by subsequent weapon blows. Went the monster dies, some of the remaining arrows will most likely be crushed when the monster falls to the ground. Those that miss will very likely hit a nearby hard object and break. Those that don't will probably travel a great distance and be extremely difficult to find.

One last concern… At the end of each battle, individuals will go off by themselves to retrieve ammunition. This will lead them quite a ways from the party and very possibly out of earshot. All the noise from the battle will have attracted everything in the immediate area who would then watch this lone character wander off by itself. May as well warm up those initiative dice right now. This is EXACTLY the kind of thing I would classify as "wasting a lot of time"!

We Need a Compromise

Realistically, I think I'm back to considering ammo lost or broken on use. However, I don't want the party to have to run back to town just because they ran out of arrows (or worse, to die because they didn't go back for more). And I don't want them to have to worry about carrying tons of arrows with them just in case either.

Since I can't see a logical rational, it's time to just make a workable rule and press the believe button. After all, it really is a minor issue. I like for things to make sense and be logical when they can but sometimes you just need to tweak reality a bit to make things run more smoothly.

Here's what I've come up with:

  • All misses are considered lost or destroyed.
  • One half of all hits are recovered (in perfect condition).

This has the benefit of rewarding hits so a larger percentage of arrows should be recoverable as a character advances in level. Also, It doesn't require characters to wander from the party in search of lost arrows and won't cause unnecessary extra encounters. It will recover a fair number of arrows without completely removing the need to bring extras.

All in all, I'm pretty happy with it. I'm sure there are probably some better solutions out there but I think this will work well enough to make everyone happy.