A crossbowman fires three coloured bolts, then spends one minute searching the battlefield, which bolt(s) does he recover?

At the end of the battle, you can recover half your expended ammunition by taking a minute to search the battlefield. PHB.146

A ranger PC with a crossbow has three ordinary bolts. He's very creative and painted the bolts different colours, the primary colours. One bolt is red, one bolt is yellow, one bolt is blue.

The ranger fires the three bolts at an opponent. He then spends one minute searching the battlefield, what is the ranger able to recover?

Each coloured bolt has a different but equal sentimental value to the ranger PC.

• – nitsua60
Commented Feb 21, 2020 at 4:16

At the end of the battle, you can recover half your expended ammunition by taking a minute to search the battlefield. (PHB p.146)

plus

Whenever you divide a number in the game, round down if you end up with a fraction, even if the fraction is one-half or greater. (PHB p.7)

equals

one bolt.

Which bolt? There are no rules covering this. Absent rules covering this I lean toward the boson vs. fermion model; my players don't want to hear me go on half-hour modern physics tangents, so they don't try to get sentimental with individual pieces of ammunition.

In your case the GM and player will have to somehow have to come to accord on how the presence of distinguishable ammunition modifies your game system. Good luck.

• I think your answer is mostly correct, except “there are no rules covering this”. The ammunition weapon property rule states that the player is searching the battlefield, indicating they have at least some agency in determining what is recovered. This comment is a suggestion for improvement, also justification for why I may not be selecting this answer as the “accepted answer” in case you are interested in knowing why I may select a different answer. Commented Feb 21, 2020 at 19:45
• I've searched for arrows IRL when I've missed while target-shooting; I disagree that I have any agency as to which of those I've found. (Not much of a problem at 100yds while volleying, but at the ranges of D&D combat--those suckers are sooooo flat and wormed into the thatch....) So I won't be incorporating that into my answer, but thanks for the explanation as to why you won't accept. Happy gaming!
– nitsua60
Commented Feb 21, 2020 at 19:51
• The rules do generally cover this situation: "the DM narrates the result"
– GcL
Commented Feb 21, 2020 at 20:43
• @nitsua60 I actually remember specifically losing my favorite arrow once in a woodsy faux-hunting range. :'( Spent so long looking for it to no avail. Commented Feb 21, 2020 at 21:04

The crossbowman recovers one bolt, of whichever color the GM decides.

Page 7 of the PHB indicates that when you have to divide, you always round down. Half of 3 is 1.5, which rounds down to 1. Unless there’s a compelling reason for one particular color to remain (you shot it into a soft target that immediately died, for instance), it is equally likely to be any of the 3.

As for why the GM decides which arrow you save, it's because in D+D (Basic Rules, How to Play), the flow of the game's conversation is as follows:

1. The GM describes the scenario - "Everything's dead after the battle, what do you do"
2. The Player describes what they want to do. - "I want to recover my bolts."
3. The GM describes the result - "You get 1 red bolt back."
• Roll a d6. Red is 12 Yellow 34 Blue 56. Or get all three back but only the one the dice indicates is still in any semblance of working order Commented Feb 22, 2020 at 2:51

One bolt is recovered, the PC chooses which one.

At the end of the battle, you can recover half your expended ammunition by taking a minute to search the battlefield. PHB.146

The weapon properties section of the players handbook states that a character who takes a minute to search the battlefield will recover half their expended ammunition.

Whenever you divide a number in the game, round down if you end up with a fraction, even if the fraction is one-half or greater. (PHB p.7)

Reading the two rules in context reveals that the PC would find one bolt. Three bolts were expended and half of 3 is 1.5, this result is rounded down to 1.

To adjudicate which one coloured bolt is recovered (which half of the expended ammunition), the PC who expended the ammunition will choose (since their character is the one searching, actively attempting to locate the ammunition).

In this case the ranger would choose whether the bolt recovered is the red one, the yellow one, or the blue one.

After searching, the ranger could choose to recover the blue bolt.

The players handbook is a resource that often uses the word "you" to refer to the person who is playing D&D as a particular character.

Throughout this chapter, we use the term character sheet to mean whatever you use to track your character, whether it's a formal character sheet (like the one at the end of this book), some form of digital record, or a piece of notebook paper. PHB 11

The above passage denotes that a player is responsible for tracking and recording aspects of their character on a character sheet.

At the end of the battle, you can recover half your expended ammunition by taking a minute to search the battlefield. PHB.146

The players handbook again refers to "you" in reference to ammunition which the player will recover and record on their character sheet.

Together this denotes that the player will keep track of and record on their character sheet what ammunition is expended and what ammunition is recovered.

———————————

With regard to the normal flow of the game where a DM describes the environment, the players describes what they want to do, and the DM narrates the results of the adventurers actions.

An example of play that would adhere to the rules:

• DM “The Orc lies dead on the battlefield, murdered by your arrows, there are no other enemies”
• Player “Agar the ranger searches the battlefield for his arrows”
• DM “You recover one arrow”
• Player records the recovered ‘blue arrow’ on his character’s sheet

Since it is not possible to show every permutation of how recovering ammunition could be played out in a game, this example is provided to show one of many which are permitted by the rules and would result in the player choosing which half of their expended ammunition is recovered.

• Some rules are not for the DM, but for the game, for the player, in this case I think the rule is worded as it is, to afford the player discretion in this regard. Commented Feb 23, 2020 at 15:09
• I think this answer could be improved with commentary on what you think the reasoning behind the "recover half" rule is. You seem to be saying that all the arrows are available to recover, but for some unknown reason you can only recover half of the. My understanding was that arrows break and get lost, so the rule exists to simulate breakage and loss. Commented Jul 17, 2020 at 20:20