In games I DM, it is common after combat for players to tell me that they go around and recover the items that expended as ranged attacks. While this certainly makes sense for a hand axe or thrown hammer, at some point bolts and arrows should not be reusable (through either loss or damage and deformation). Is there any guidance on how long an arrow/bolt/dart should last, and is this modified by hits/misses and the characteristics of the target?

In the absence of RAW guidance, can someone suggest a mechanism for ammunition recovery that does not burden combat with a significant increase in tracking/documenting shots?

There is a lot of non gaming source data (and some cool videos) here


6 Answers 6


You can recover half of the expended ammunition, rounded down.

Page 146 in the Players Handbook is the only source I can find that mentions anything regarding arrows being destroyed or used up, in general:

Weapon Properties.
Many weapons have special properties related to their use, as shown in the Weapons table. Ammunition. You can use a weapon that has the ammunition property to make a ranged attack only if you have ammunition to fire from the weapon. Each time you attack with the weapon, you expend one piece of ammunition. Drawing the ammunition from a quiver, case, or other container is part of the attack. At the end of the battle, you can recover half your expended ammunition by taking a minute to search the battlefield.

We combine this rule with the “Round down” rule from the introduction to the PHB:

There’s one more general rule you need to know at the outset. 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.

So we have the rule for ammunition recovery: at the end of battle, you may recover half of the expended ammunition, rounded down to a whole number.

For example, if we fire 7 arrows during the fight, we can recover half of 7, which is 3.5, rounded down, which is 3 arrow recovered. If we only fire a single arrow, we can recover half of 1, which 0.5, rounded down, which is 0 arrows recovered.

As for arrows disappearing and being used up because of wear and tear, I see no actual rules for this. You could assume that half the arrows you don't find were arrows that broke off during the fight, or were too damaged to reuse.

The answer to your questions, in order of your:

  1. "Is ammo reusable and recoverable" Yes
  2. "Is there any guidance on how long an arrow/bolt/dart should last, and..." No
  3. "In the absence of RAW guidance, can someone suggest a mechanism for ammunition recovery...." Other than using the RAW, as shown, it might be easier to talk to your players and see if they would like to do this as well.
  • 9
    \$\begingroup\$ Technically this is guidance on how long arrows last. Statistically they're going to break after 1-2 shots, after which they become unrecoverable either because they are lost or broken. Mending is something I would allow a player to use to recover a few extra arrows as well, but not all of them. \$\endgroup\$
    – Randomorph
    Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 15:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Randomorph, that is an excellent suggestion, and a great use of a simple cantrip. \$\endgroup\$
    – tillmas
    Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 15:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ A house rule I found very amusing and engaging was to have the archer keep track of his shots. Shots which went wide typically either hit rock or embed themselves permanently into something and are irrecoverable. Shots which hit, however, can be recovered. For flavor, critical hits shattered the arrow, making it irrecoverable. It worked out reasonably close to the official rule of 1/2 recovery, but was more engaging and made the critical hits feel all that more awesome! \$\endgroup\$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 21:40


As Jihelu mentioned, the PHB states:

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

This refers to mundane ammunition. It's important to note that for magical ammunition, the DMG states:

Once it hits a target, the ammunition is no longer magical.

This implies that if you miss, the ammunition is still magical. That means that the player (or you) needs to keep track of whether they hit or not whenever using magic ammunition.

Actual Play

The PHB's suggestion is probably the simplest reasonable method to keep track of ammunition, since you only have to keep track of how many shots you've fired. Any other system would require that too, in addition to some other variable.

Personally, though, I've never kept track of ammunition in games I've DM'ed or played in, unless it was magical. Mundane ammunition is so cheap (1gp for 20) and plentiful that I don't think the effort is worth it beyond specific difficult situations.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, it only makes sense to bother if they're cut off and aren't to the point of large magical storage. In that case I go with the 50% unless they want to be more detailed--at that point I figure if something soft was hit it's 90% recoverable, if something hard was hit it's 10% recoverable. A miss by less than their armor hit their armor (normally hard), a clean miss hits the terrain. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 20:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ Once it hits a target, not the intended target. If I miss and hit the wall, how does that count? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 21:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @FedericoPoloni, it'd be up to the DM. Magic items are magic, so an arrow of dragon slaying that hits a gnoll might waste its charge, or it might "know" that the target was a dragon and not "activate", or it might do something else entirely. As a DM, I'd personally be charitable and say that the charge doesn't go off unless it hits something it can affect. \$\endgroup\$
    – Icyfire
    Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 22:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Icyfire concerning arrow of slaying, you don't need to house rule to be charitable in this way. If you read the block for these arrows, it says that "Once an arrow of slaying deals its extra damage to a creature, it becomes a nonmagical arrow.". So hit any creature but the focused one will not dissipate the magic effect. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zoma
    Commented Jul 16, 2019 at 12:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Zoma: Though it's worth noting that this is seemingly only true of the arrow, +1/+2/+3 and the arrow of slaying. The unbreakable arrow and the walloping ammunition in Xanathar's Guide to Everything don't say they lose their magic after they hit - so they don't lose it. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented Feb 2, 2020 at 5:18

After a bit of a headache, I have an answer to a specific part of the question.

Since the other answers clearly define whether or not ammunition is reusable (yes) and recoverable (yes, you get half back), I'll leave those to this one sentence.

Is there any guidance on how long an arrow/bolt/dart should last, and is this modified by hits/misses and the characteristics of the target?

Ammunition has a "half-life" of 1 (but it's in shots, rather than time). From this, we can gather the average life span of a piece of ammunition, using the formula for mean lifespan (Thanks @GCL)

$$ \text{mean lifetime} = \frac{\text{half-life}}{\ln(2)} \text{} $$ (or just use a half life calculator)

and you get a very long decimal that tells us that

A piece of ammunition lasts about 2 discrete uses

(There's technically some rounding up from 1.44)

And since the limit of the infinite series \$0.5^n = 1\$; plus the first use of the arrows, you can expect to get about twice as many shots from a number of arrows (not counting rounding down for odd numbers).

So, if you start with 64 arrows, you'll get about 128 shots with them.

  • \$\begingroup\$ The average lifetime of a piece of ammunition is exactly 2, I don't think the math you're doing with half-lifes is relevant here. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 2, 2022 at 22:11

Sorry to resurrect an old thread, but since I found it - someone else may also. I have a simple method, which I find efficient for missile weapons (e.g. arrows/bolts) and easy to remember.

I use the PHB mechanic (1/2 are recoverable, upon a short search), combined with the ability to mend half the broken ammunition on a successful survival check during a short or long rest. This assumes the missile ammunition CAN be recovered, of course. Logic always applies (see below).

And, remember: ARD - always round down.

Logic: I rule that axes, knives, spears, etc. survive the throw except in cases of DM discretion or where circumstances dictate otherwise.
Example: If you throw a spear at a creature flying above a deep chasm/river of lava and miss the target - the spear/axe/knife will not magically appear at the precipice following combat.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour just to see how to post question&answers, and if you need further guidance visit the help center! Out of curiosity: why do you use Survival for mending ammo? \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Commented Feb 22, 2021 at 9:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Eddymage Why not? Being able to make and or fix arrows is certainly a survival skill (if one is going for any amount of verisimilitude) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 17:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast I wasn't saying that's wrong, I was wondering about the interpretation. Despite the name, Survival is a WIS check: I would rather employ it for searching lost ammo in the wilderness rather then for fixing them, but that's DM's call. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 18:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Outil_utile Welcome. Hi - I am pretty sure I have seen mending or making arrows mentioned in the books explicitly. Trying to think were though... \$\endgroup\$
    – Senmurv
    Commented Feb 24, 2021 at 0:05

I personally would make these arrows retain their magic and make them unbreakable for normal usage, provided that they don't have specific purposes such as slaying. (Those I would actually suggest will deteriorate with expending their magic.)

After all, why would a magical weapon like a dagger or sword or mace retain its magical quality if it hits a target, but an arrow wouldn't? Logically it makes zero sense, even for a fantasy game.

Characters may still have a chance of not finding less specific purpose magical arrows if they missed their targets (by, let's say, over 5 on their dice rolls) and wouldn't recover them at all on a critical fail. However, they may have to use detect magic to assist in recovering them (except for critical fail).


Ammunition is recoverable and usable.

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

A character who takes a minute to search the battlefield will recover half their expended ammunition.

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

A player should keep track of their ammunition unless it has been agreed upon before hand to use alternate rules for ammunition in a particular game.

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.

An easy way to keep track of ammunition is to enter it into the equipment section of your character sheet. For instance a quiver that has a capacity of 20 arrows, a player could write: Quiver; arrows 20/20

When they fire 6 arrows, it would be recorded as Quiver; arrows 14/20 If they take 1 minute to search the battlefield and recover 3 arrows, they would notate Quiver; arrows 17/20

Note there is no distinction between the original arrows and the recovered arrows, they are not damaged, they are functionally the same.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Does the character recover half of the ammo the enemies expended also? If not, why not? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 17:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ They could ask the DM in a fashion of general roleplay if they can find any enemy ammo but in this rule - the concept of ‘enemy ammo’ does not exist. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 17:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ I find that approach too restrictive, but I see that you are constraining the scope of the answer to RAW words only. Thanks. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 17:37

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