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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

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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."

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.

A game feature to consider for increasing spent arrow harvesting: the cantrip, Mending, used by Bards, Sorcerers, Wizards, Clerics, and Druids. (PHB p. 259)

Mending is something I would allow a player to use to recover a few extra arrows as well, but not all of them. Technically the RAW guidance on how long arrows last. Statistically (based on recovering arrows at 1/2 usage rate) they're going to break after 1-2 shots, after which they become unrecoverable either because they are lost or broken. Mending can repair a mundane item like an arrow. ~From a comment by @Randomorph

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    \$\begingroup\$ I would revise this to remove your suggestion and just keep the RAW citation. The OP requested a simple house rule and I think your suggestion is needlessly complicated as it involves tracking the durability of each individual arrow the player has. \$\endgroup\$ – Pyrotechnical Dec 24 '16 at 15:11
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    \$\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 Dec 24 '16 at 15:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Randomorph, that is an excellent suggestion, and a great use of a simple cantrip. \$\endgroup\$ – tillmas Dec 24 '16 at 15:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ I added Randmorph's comment about mending to go along with your point 3. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Dec 24 '16 at 16:52
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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 Dec 24 '16 at 21:40
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RAW

As Jihelo 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.

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  • \$\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\$ – Loren Pechtel Dec 24 '16 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\$ – Federico Poloni Dec 24 '16 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 Dec 24 '16 at 22:07
  • \$\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 Jul 16 at 12:29
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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).

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protected by Oblivious Sage Dec 11 '18 at 16:47

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