Suppose a ranged combat character in the Numenera setting, using a non-artifact ranged/thrown weapon. Say, a heavy crossbow.

There is limited ammunition that players usually have to buy. After a combat, presumably a player will try to recover some of it.

Try as I might, I can’t find any hint in the rules how to deal with it.

Is the amount of ammunition in Numenera more of a “how many shots can be fired in an encounter” limitation, or a constant resource burden on the ranged-combat player? Is it a default assumption that ammo is going to be mostly lost, or mostly recovered?

My expectation is that a certain amount of ammo should be recoverable, but not all - bolts can break, after all. I could potentially give the player super-durable synth bolts if I wanted to make them unbreakable, but logic suggests some will still be lost.

One can approach this creatively by describing reasons for each lost piece of ammunition (a foe breaks off the arrow sticking in it; a bolt misses, hits a stone and splits in half; a knife hits a bandit in the neck and he slumps into an abyss), but that would mean I take full control of how much ammo is recoverable. Is that fair?

Maybe it would be more fair to the players to have a player (not the GM, that's not the Numenera spirit) roll for ammo recovery after the encounter. But then it needs a rule on how it works.

Rolling on each shot is NOT an acceptable rule, as it goes against the Numenera streamlining and minimal amount of rolls by GM.

Interestingly, I thought at first that ammunition is far more expensive in Numenera.

D&D: A Heavy Crossbow costs 50gp, while 10 bolts cost 1gp. That's a 500:1 ratio of weapon to ammo.

Numenera: A Heavy Crossbow costs 7 shins, while 12 bolts cost 5 shins. That's a ~ 17:1 ratio of weapon to ammo.

However, if I compare the price of ammo to price of other adventuring gear, like rations or rope, it comes out roughly the same. So, in Numenera "regular" weapons are very cheap, but that creates as illusion of expensive ammo.


5 Answers 5


In every campaign I have played as a player we were allowed to recover some of the arrows after a fight. No rules or reason were explained.

As DM I would rule the following and adjust that according to the circumstances

  1. Some ammunition is simply lost. Bolts which missed and are burried in the ground of a grassy plain, arrows which landed in a river and got carried away.
  2. Some can be found but are damaged. E.g. arrows broken against armour or stone.
  3. Some can be recovered (say one in four).

Adjust according to terrain. Fewest might get lost inside a dungeon, but more might break against stone walls.

Note that broken ammunition might still be useful. A metal bolt which is blunt and bend after hitting a rock is still metal. It might be reforged, either in a town or by someone with the right skills. Ditto arrows. E.g. recovered metal arrows heads from an arrow with a broken shaft. If the player wishes to spent some time on this a few additional projectiles might be recovered.

Note that this is not limited to the ammunition fired by the party. A defeated goblin archer will also leave arrows on him/her, as well have a few on the battlefield to which the same rules can be applied.

Is the amount of ammunition more of a “how many shots can be fired in an encounter” limitation, or a constant resource burden on the ranged-combat player?

If I DM it is a resource burden. And carrying lots of spare arrows means carrying additional weight.

Is it a default assumption that ammo is single-use?


My expectation is that a certain amount of ammo should be recoverable, but not all

I agree.

  • bolts can break, after all. I could potentially give the player super-durable synth bolts if I wanted to go the almost-100% probability to recover.

They will still loose their bolts if they need to flee.

And even if they do not, I would shy away from 'near 100%'. Bolts are not all that large and even if none break then some will still get lost or will be embedded in walls or trees. If you spent a few days searching and cutting down a tree with a bolt in it then I wonder why your player is that resource starved. A trip to town, spare bolts or a small cache of hidden spare ammunition might serve better than using that much time.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't know about bolts, but making good arrows requires good material and decent skills, not to mention time. Arrows may be cheaper in games than reasonable; just google what arrows cost IRL! Therefore, spending half an hour to search or cut free your arrows is very reasonable. (Ingame consequences may loom, of course.) \$\endgroup\$
    – Raphael
    Commented Apr 16, 2016 at 14:23

In my last campaign, I played a ranger that was obsessed with not wasting arrows. My DM and I came to an agreement that was satisfactory for both of us. You are welcome to tailor it to your needs.

  • Any missed shot is a lost arrow. The chosen logic was, "either we are in an empty area, where the arrow could fly wide and never be found, or we are in a closed area, where the arrow is likely to be rendered useless by the sharp impact with the wall."
  • Any critical hits were lost. The logic to this was simply that it made the critical hit feel more epic if the damage was sufficient to annihilate the arrow.
  • All other arrows were recoverable at DM's discretion, as long as I (the ranger) kept track of how many there were. That way he didn't have to waste his mental faculties on a few silver worth of arrows. As a general rule, he let me keep all of theses non-critical hit arrows, with exceptions every now and then to remind me that it's a privilege to recover my arrows, not a right. For example, against those with particularly strong plate mail, he would often allow me to only recover half. Against a stone golem, he wouldn't let me recover any.

We found this to be an acceptable balance of power. The DM retained rights, at any time, to refuse to let me recover my arrows. I got to recover a reasonable number (especially if I aimed well), and there was some method to the madness for determining how many I actually got. And, because I had to track my own arrow count, I didn't put much load on the DM, besides a standard interaction at the end of each combat, "I got 9 hits, how many arrows do I get to recover?" "You recover 8 of them." Done. I, as the ranger, did not get to argue with whatever number the DM chose.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Numenera is all about giving players agency, including determining the outcome of random events. Of course it's okay to ballpark a number as GM, but I think it's more in the spirit of the game if you don't. \$\endgroup\$
    – Raphael
    Commented Apr 16, 2016 at 14:20

In general I do not permit ammunition recovery.

It's heading downrange at a great velocity. There are two basic fates: It's stopped by something or it continues until gravity brings it down.

Most things capable of stopping an arrow will cause a wooden shaft to shatter, they will blunt any tip even if the shaft survives. While a blunted tip might be used in desperation it's not something an adventurer would normally do. Likewise, their salvage value doesn't make sense for an adventurer to take it back to town for repair.

If it doesn't smack into something it's going to go quite a range before coming down. While in theory it could be recovered the search time would be considerable.

I will permit special cases, though--if you're firing into a backstop meant to safely absorb projectiles you get them all back. If you are not firing basically parallel to the ground (say, the target is standing at the base of a hill) the arrows will be quickly stopped and generally recoverable.

  • \$\begingroup\$ To clarify, is this a system-agnostic answer or specifically in Numenera? \$\endgroup\$
    – Xan
    Commented Feb 1, 2015 at 18:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Xan System-agnostic--the same logic applies to such things no matter what the system. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 1, 2015 at 18:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Most things capable of stopping an arrow will cause a wooden shaft to shatter, they will blunt any tip even if the shaft survives." -- like, I don't know, creature flesh? Assuming that 3D targets used IRL are somewhat similar in stopping characteristics, I think you'd be able to recover most arrows. \$\endgroup\$
    – Raphael
    Commented Apr 16, 2016 at 13:52
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Also, there is ammunition in Numenera that is impossible/hard to break, e.g. buzzer discs, arrows/bolts fashioned from synth material, or whatever crazy thing your characters carry. That is to say, this answer does not apply to the Numenera setting. \$\endgroup\$
    – Raphael
    Commented Apr 16, 2016 at 14:02

I house-ruled it like this before:

  • Some arrows are definitely lost (shot straight into a wall, sunk in the river, carried off by the wounded target, etc).
  • Those that can reasonably be retrieved have to be found. Make that an Intellect check with difficulty and duration according to circumstance (hit vs miss, lighting, flora, ...). If appropriate, randomize the number/ratio of found arrows (e.g. 5*d20 + X% or d6 + X piece) to avoid having too many checks.
  • Found arrows may be broken. If there is any chance for some to be whole, randomize the number/ratio of whole arrows appropriately.

This has been met with approval. It allows retrieval of ammunition -- which is only reasonable -- while keeping ammunition precious. Two rolls are not too much a burden during the aftermath of a battle.


What I would do: I've not played Numenera but I usually use house rules and GM discretion based on what happens to each shot. I and my players tend to find this somewhat interesting and it helps maintain the sense of overall realism/consistency/meaningfulness-of-choices to not handwave ammunition and other supplies. Note it can also take a significant amount of time to recover and maintain arrows, which can provide an interesting choice for characters in a tense situation. I always use combat systems with maps and detailed combat rules, so it's not my arbitrary call where each shot goes, and some systems have at least some rules or rough guidelines somewhere for recovery rates, based on type, what it hits (or general environment) and a die roll. If you don't care enough to roll that many dice, you can have a general system that applies to all spent rounds, so you only need to roll once per encounter. I have also played games where each archer has a specific skill level in fletchery and/or arrow-repair, and the time spent making or repairing arrows is also tracked. Also sometimes I or other GMs have had some degraded arrows tracked which can still be used but have penalties. Some magic systems include spells to help with some or all of these issues.

However I have also played and enjoyed games where we do assume there are always enough arrows. (In some situations this can break down or get silly, though, such as when an archer has some safe firing position and could theoretically fire all day at enemies who aren't firing arrows back.)

Some games/players also have arrows be single-use, or nearly so.

It's a good thing to decide before it becomes an issue in play, especially if the players expected to have infinite arrows and you tell them they only have two bent arrows left. ;-D

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    \$\begingroup\$ Numenera is a relatively streamlined system with strict minimum of rolls by the GM. So probably rolling on each shot is very much against that spirit. I'm leaning towards ruling arbitrarily on each shot (maybe depending on how high a roll is, too, but nothing formal) with expectation that some, but not all, shots are recoverable. \$\endgroup\$
    – Xan
    Commented Feb 1, 2015 at 17:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also a consideration: 12 bolts to a heavy crossbow cost almost as much as the crossbow itself, and 1:1 for normal crossbow. They are expensive, and making them single-use would be very punishing for a character that decided to be ranged-focused for flavor reasons. P.S. I'm not criticizing your answer - just thinking aloud how it applies to Numenera \$\endgroup\$
    – Xan
    Commented Feb 1, 2015 at 17:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ That (arbitrary GM ruling) sounds system-expectation-appropriate and workable, though keep in mind that in a tense situation where only a few bolts are left, your arbitrary decision may make a big difference. And that's also the point where tracking arrows can matter most. Having a rule in mind might be helpful there, whether it is a standard die roll, or a conscious decision to never have the players have less than 1 or 2 arrows left. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dronz
    Commented Feb 1, 2015 at 17:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ More thoughts: flavor or not, ranged weapons are a combat advantage and should, therefore, be balanced by eating up resources; also, the character has a backup weapon in case bolts run out. \$\endgroup\$
    – Xan
    Commented Feb 1, 2015 at 17:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Agreed on costs. If they are expensive and in limited supply, it makes ammo recovery even more interesting, and unless the scenario makes them very powerful so you want the number of shots highly limited, you probably want a high recovery rate. It's good to get up-front player understanding and acceptance of arrow rules. Some players may get into arrow conservation, and some will like there to be a clear cause-and-effect about when arrows will be lost or not. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dronz
    Commented Feb 1, 2015 at 18:01

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