when to count ammo

Gamma World’s cool expendable ammo mechanic solves a lot of problems with expendable magic items. It doesn’t handle normal D&D ammunition (arrows, etc) very well though.

For the most part, I, and nearly every sane DM, handwave ammunition. Once PCs have looted hundreds and thousands of GP, no one wants to track the number of silver pieces expended on arrows.

There are a few times, though, where you might want to make the PCs count arrows.


In a siege, there is no way to replenish basic supplies. When everyone’s running low on arrows, you need to make interesting choices about when to take a shot and when to wait for a better opportunity. Also, you can make dramatic encounters out of raids made to replenish the ammunition stock:

gavroche getting shot


Especially at level 1, PCs may find themselves so strapped for cash that they have to struggle to afford basics like food and lodging. This works especially well in a “gritty” or “picaresque” game, where lack of money may force the PCs to take some dirty jobs. PCs may have to consider whether their target is worth the price of their arrows.

Remember the obvious point that arrow scarcity only hurts archers: you may or may not feel that it’s fair to impose a burden that only affects one or two PCs.

feeling lucky

4 Responses to “when to count ammo”

  1. Rory Rory says:

    That’s a good point about how getting really gritty with tracking ammo only hurts the archers! Scarcity mechanics are fun, but that’s generally only the case if everyone feels the pain. Now if suddenly every combat opens with both sides 40 or more squares apart, I think you could make a good case that suddenly arrows have become a lot more precious :).

    Also, just thought of an awesome ammo scarcity moment: In The Road, the man only has 2 bullets! Then he uses one and only has 1! That whole book is an essay on how to run a campaign where everything is precious, food most of all!

  2. paul says:

    Yeah, I wrote so much about this because I’m interested in scarcity as a mechanic. I’d love to run a campaign where people are desperately scrabbling for arrows, coppers, food. You just have to make sure that the PCs are excited, not annoyed, by the bookkeeping. It depends a lot on the situation, and also on the interests of the players.

  3. Philo Pharynx says:

    It’s something that should be figured out before the game before people choose ideas. An archer character would be far inferior to a mage in a scarcity game (unles magic requires expendable components).

    Rations are a nother consumable resource, but one that affects everybody. In most of the styles of game I play we handwave it because starving to death is not heroic.

  4. paul says:


    I still haven’t gotten around to looking at the Dark Sun rations rules! How are they?

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