Skip to main content

That's Ammo-ray(gun)!

Being a fan of obscure holidays, they tend to serve as inspiration for my games from time to time. This time around, it's National Archery Day which has been celebrated on the second Saturday of May since 2015. I wouldn’t want to shaft this particular holiday, so in this post we'll take aim at an aspect of gaming that can sometimes get ignored: ammo. If you’re going to be playing a tabletop game involving combat, there's a good chance it will feature some sort of ranged weaponry. In a fantasy setting, this will likely take the form of longbows, crossbows, and slings (and perhaps even the occasional flintlock), along with their respective ammunitions: arrows, bolts, and bullets (or "ball" if you're a Flintlock Aficionado). Of course, you might have thrown weapons such as spears, axes, and knives, as well. A more modern setting might use grenades and any number of guns with a variety of projectile types. Something in a sci-fi or futuristic genre will probably have some sort of blaster, phaser, or photon gun, all using their own power packs or clips. (Not to mention the trend of the past few decades to use modern guns tweaked to look more future...y.) The question remains, though: should you track ammo during a game, and, if so, how?

If you choose to track ammo in a tabletop game, there are a few things to keep in mind. Depending on how many ranged combat attacks you're projecting, it can look like a pretty cumbersome task. When you break down the numbers, though, it's not as scary as you might think. A typical combat session may last 3-5 rounds, but, for this example, let's go extreme and say it lasts 10 rounds. If your standard round is about six seconds, that works out to a full minute of “real time” combat. Even with characters that have multiple ranged attacks, it's about 20-30 ammo (of whatever kind) for an entire combat. If you break it down like this, ammo management doesn’t seem that unwieldy. Although, if your players like to stockpile, and your group keeps track of encumbrance, weight (or even, depending on the system, storage space) becomes a consideration. On the other extreme, parties that travel too light can find themselves with insufficient ammo when the need arises. Reuse, recharging, and restocking can help a bit here, but will only take things so far.

Another issue is who will be doing the tracking and how they're going to do it. If the players at the table aren't the kind to take extensive notes, getting them to track their own ammo on top of other game statistics such as hit points or abilities will be a chore... but having the GM handle it entirely on their own can be far too cumbersome. This may be a make-or-break decision on whether you'll be tracking ammo in your game. Generally, if a player is interested in ammo tracking, there's no reason not to let them. If everyone at the table is interested, it might be time to consider a "survival"approach where keeping track of a limited number of supplies becomes a factor. In any case, tracking is certainly easier in the digital realm. There's no need to count the shots left on your blaster's power pack or the number of crossbow bolts fired on a sheet of paper, slowly building up a smear of pencil lead and rubbing a hole through your character sheet. (Ranged weapons are all about leaving holes in other characters, not your own, after all!) For a game tool like D&D Beyond, you can do this simply by updating the ammo quantity in your inventory. Other games may not have that level of support, but a digital inventory in a spreadsheet is a great way to stay organized, and leaves things open to keep up on updated quantities of your ammo... without worrying too much about your quantities of paper.

Larger single use items are a different matter. Things like grenades will be easier to track, since they're going to be a bulky, single-use object. Still, one could homebrew a form of energy grenade with the potential to recharge, in which case there should be some limiting factor to keep an eye on, whether it's the available power source or simply recharge time. For thrown weapons of the less-explosive variety, knives, for example, the bookkeeping aspect will be similar to ammo-using weapons, but with pared-down numbers. While a character might keep multiple energy packs, arrows, or bolts on them, they probably only have a handful of knives, axes, or other large throwable items, given their bulky nature. Since these will be easier to recover after combat, it's unlikely there will be a need for much tracking... unless something catastrophically bad happens like weapon being thrown off a cliff or sucked out an airlock. (A GM might feel slight guilt doing this with a larger weapon, but probably none when it's just a single bolt or bullet.) Generally, though, you should have an easier time having players track these types of items in their inventories themselves.  

In a sense, the issue comes down to is how much "realism" you want versus active playtime. The higher precedence you put on realism, the more you track things like ammo, the less time you actually spend playing the game with the people at your table. (Your mileage may vary, of course, some groups find  supply tracking to be a very playful activity.) There are absolutely games (and players) that place a high value on that level of realism. One hopes that most of you will find games with an appropriate balance for everyone involved. After all, many of us use roleplaying as a bit of an escape from the pressures of real life and all the record keeping it requires. Whether you decide to track your ammo, or lie about it and say you're tracking it, take a moment to think about how, ultimately, you’re just trying to enjoy a story with friends. For all you GMs out there, have your players lose a weapon every now and again. It won’t kill the game, and I bet you’ll all find brilliantly memorable ways of doing it. Until next week, enjoy your tables, no matter what projectiles you're flinging across them.... imaginary or otherwise.

- A

Send comments and questions to or Tweet them @neversaydice2.


Popular posts from this blog

Whose Labyrinthine Maze is This, Anyway: Dungeon Design and Cultural History

Dungeon . The word with significant historical connotations and some modern ones we won’t get into here, but to enthusiasts of tabletop roleplaying, it means something very specific: it’s ⅓ of the name of the most successful and influential RPG of all time, after all. (We’ll discuss the significance of the “&” another time. (and maybe the other D too - A) ) Early D&D materials refer to “the underworld mazes” (note the preposition, dungeons are considered a default part of the setting), and offer some advice on making them (somewhat) plausible, but never directly consider the societies that built them. While many pre-published adventures do include some information describing long-gone inhabitants, incorporating this kind of detail into original worlds can help create a detailed, rich setting. This week, we thought we’d talk about how to make dungeons and other ruins feel like places that lost peoples made and lived in, and how to share these details in your play sessions. - B  

The Mission Will Be Very Safe and Fun for Everyone: Some Thoughtcrimes on Running Paranoia

  I'm sorry citizen, but the question "why hasn't there been a Paranoia post in over fifteen months" cannot be processed. Records indicate that the previous post, " [Backstory Redacted] - Getting Ready to Run Paranoia " was activated in the Year 214 of the Computer, and, as this is currently Year 214 of the Computer, your internal chronometer must be malfunctioning. Rumors that is has always been Year 214 of the Computer are treason. Please report to Internal Security for cerebral re-adjustment. Have a nice daycycle. So, why hasn't there been a post about Paranoia in fifteen months, anyway? The previous two have been quite popular , and, as I'm fond of saying, I've put more thought into this game than nearly anything else in my life, formal education included. As time went on, I found myself procrastinating on the follow-up. I didn't have enough time to work out everything I'd want to cover, I'd tell myself, or that some other top

Super Cereal

Hey, It’s-a me Never Say Dice! We’ve gathered here once again to celebrate the flimsy excuse of a corporate holiday: March 10, otherwise known as Mar10 (or Mario) Day. Last year, after making a few suggestions on how you might celebrate the holiday, we discussed how details can serve as the Power-Up Mushroom for Your Narrative . We talked about what a person’s intro to Mario might have been, the story behind the "original" Super Mario Bros. on the NES, and what it could mean to us in our tabletop stories and elsewhere. Certainly, your first experience with Mario may have been a media cash grab like the one linked above. You could also have come to meet Mario later in life as part of an Olympic, Kart racing game, party game, or any number of other titles Nintendo inserted the character into. ( Mario Tennis in 3D on the Virtual Boy , maybe? Anyone? Hopefully the first time you met Mario it was at least less headache inducing.) Perhaps your first introduction to the plumber in

Combat Culture

For the past two years, this weekend has seen “ Moments of Silence ” posts, the first in response to the murder of George Floyd, and the second to comment on what had taken place in the ensuing year. This year, the weeks leading up to the anniversary have seen a number of brutal, preventable, man-made tragedies, and, given their nature, the standard litany of finger-pointing -  particularly from those desperate to draw attention from the obvious connection between mass shootings and the ready availability of firearms. In addition to their current favorite targets, both human and conceptual (funny how the blame always falls on the people they were already mad at), and something that can only be described as “architectural victim blaming” (at least Ted Cruz’s comments about doors are being roundly mocked), the old classics were trotted out, including that aging recurring villain: video games. Both of us at NSD were in the same graduating class as the Columbine shooters, so, while we wer