In the 3.5 SRD, it describes arrows thusly:

An arrow that hits its target is destroyed; one that misses has a 50% chance of being destroyed or lost.

Why is this the case?

Missed the target

I get that if you miss your target, there's a good chance of losing the arrow; especially if you are outdoors. But if you're indoors, why would you have a 50% chance of losing / destroying the arrow? I mean, it might be embedded in the wall. But 50% chance to not be reusable, regardless of terrain or situations?

Hit the target

And why is it automatically ruined if it does hit? I mean, I get that you won't be able to recover the arrow during the combat, but if you slay the beast, the arrow is still destroyed?


I know if you fire and miss outdoors, there's a high chance the arrow won't be easily found. Variables like terrain type should increase/decrease the odds of arrow recovery. But if you miss in the real world, and you have time to search for the arrow, the odds of permanently losing the arrow are fairly low unless you're in tall grass or undergrowth.

And if you hit a fleshy target, the arrow is almost never destroyed. You obviously wouldn't be able to recover it until the fight is over. But why do they destroy the arrow 100% of the time?

This means if you expect to be an archer, you have to pack 100s of arrows around, which is awkward and ungainly. Rather than a more realistic count of 40-60 arrows, with the idea that you'd hopefully recover most of them if you're diligent.

Anyone have insight as to why they do this? Arrows are not bullets; they are meant to be reusable.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I'm putting this on hold for a minute. Now, if you're looking for designer writings justifying why this is the case, ask that - but this is just asking for people's opinion on whether it should be this way and why they did it. This leads to all kind of interesting speculation, but it's still just interesting speculation. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Feb 13, 2017 at 17:16

4 Answers 4


I've been trained in medieval archery (longbow mostly) and I can say most rules in RPGs about arrows are just wrong (from a real world perspective, of course I think most games actually have balanced the Arrow costs for gameplay reasons).

Arrows In Reality Rarely Break

  • Arrows correctly assembled don't lose head or feathers when hitting a target.
  • Even when arrows hit something hard they usually don't break.

In my archery sessions I had a straw target in front of a concrete wall (actually the wall was 30 meters behind the target). Even when the Arrow hit the wall it is rare it breaks. I think the chance for an Arrow to break when hitting the wall was something like 1 out of 6.

Please note that some arrows do break even when hitting something soft because they were probably assembled incorrectly.

In my months of training against the straw target I broke fewer than a dozen arrows.

In-game Explanation

Note that this is not a explanation based on hard rules, however I think in reality an Arrow penetrates the target armor and thus it becomes impossible to take it out of the target without breaking it. You could salvage it, but I think for simplicity the game rules just say the Arrow is gone.

Also to avoid giving too much power to ranged players I think for balancing reasons arrows have to be destroyed in order to force players to re-buy them.

Actually I think that in D&D arrows should have different rules according to:

  • Place where you fight (chance to lose an Arrow when missing the shot)
  • Place where you fight (chance to hitting something hard)
  • Type of Arrow (an Arrow that breaks more easily may do more damage to unarmored targets)
  • Type of Arrow (chance of breaking when hitting something hard)
  • Type of target armor (chance of Arrow breaking when salvaging it or when target try to remove it or breaking inside body due to limbs movement)
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ What is the draw weight on your bow? Are you shooting broadheads? I find it very unlikely that your arrows are surviving hitting a concrete wall. \$\endgroup\$
    – DMfiend
    Feb 13, 2017 at 16:30
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Also, be aware that if you are using fiberglass arrows, they can become structurally unsound without being visibly broken, which is why it is important to flex arrows before using them (a solid arrow will not break when flexed, but a fractured one will). Better to break them by flexing them in hand rather than letting them break and hurt you when you shoot them. If you want evidence of how bad that can be, just google for "broken fiberglass arrow in hand" (warning, not safe for life, google that at your own risk). tl;dr: Don't shoot arrows that you shot into a concrete wall \$\endgroup\$
    – Kevin
    Feb 13, 2017 at 17:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @fiend 45 pounds target at 30 meters, wall at 60 meters. Kevin I'm not using fiberglass arrows. Just wood longbow with wood arrows. Usually the arrows are hitting the wall at a certain angle because I do not aim to wall but to target. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 14, 2017 at 6:28

As a bow hunter, I have some experience with this, let's see if we can shed some light on the situation.

So, modern day (ie. 2017) bow hunters are using some pretty advanced tech on their bows and arrows. Modern materials like aluminum, titanium and carbon fiber are what arrows are made from. If I'm hunting, I've got my bow set to about 50 - 70 lbs draw weight (depending on what I'm hunting). If I shoot an animal and hit/kill it, I'd say anecdotally, there's 50/50 chance of the arrow being recoverable or being destroyed (most arrows will be destroyed when the animal dies and falls on the arrow, bending or breaking it). If the arrowhead hits a large bone on the animal, it will also likely be destroyed (you'll probably have to destroy the arrow to get it out of the carcass).

If the arrow misses and hits anything else, like a tree or rock, the arrow will likely be destroyed. There's a reason that archery ranges use soft targets like hay bails or foam blocks, because they don't destroy arrow. Firing an arrow into wood or metal will definitely wreck the arrowhead, and probably shatter or bend the shaft, destroying the arrow.

Now factor in that in a medieval fantasy world like D&D, the arrow being used are probably made of wood, and the arrowheads are either just the sharpened end of the shaft, or made of bone or iron/steel/bronze. Firing such a crude arrow at a target wearing armour will likely destroy it. All of the other scenarios described above with modern bows and arrows are severely worsened when using less technologically advanced gear.

If you miss the target...well, let's be conservative and say that your bow has a maximum range of about 100 yards. You miss and your arrow goes flying off into the wood or the field. Good luck finding it, you need to search a football field size area to find a small 2 foot long stick.

So in summary: real-world your arrows are probably going to be destroyed if you hit anything with them. Fantasy world your arrows are going to be destroyed even more often if you hit anything with them.

  • \$\begingroup\$ uao, modern arrows are just too fragile. Old arrows are much more resistent. If you use arrows made explicitly for hunting then those are weak on purpose (because if the Arrow broke inside the animal it will cause much more damage). \$\endgroup\$ Feb 13, 2017 at 16:07
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @DarioOO Respectfully, no. Modern arrows are heads and above more strong and resilient than wood. Having shot both for over 30 years, both in hunting scenarios and archery range, wood arrows are a cute novelty, but they are highly prone to moisture, warping, inconsistent weights. The tensile strength of wood is way below that of any metal. The only wood that comes even close to being as strong at aluminum is bamboo. \$\endgroup\$
    – DMfiend
    Feb 13, 2017 at 16:27

On the real world side, an arrow shot from a heavy bow (and you'd generally use the heaviest bow you can, as it's arrows will penetrate better), striking even a wood wall, is very likely to splinter or embed the head so deeply as to prevent recovery without damage. Strike stone, and all you'll recover is a mangled head and toothpicks.

As for striking an opponent, hard armor will have much the same effect on an arrow as a wall -- even if it doesn't shatter, it's likely to crack the shaft, rendering it impossible (or very unsafe) to fire again. Further, for an opponent to take a hit and keep fighting, it's likely he'd break the shaft off on one or both sides -- ruining the arrow, of course.

All of this goes double for crossbows, of course -- much heavier bows cast the bolts at higher speed, doing more damage, both to the target and to the missile.

From the economic standpoing, recovering the metal heads might make some sense, but it wouldn't be for immediate reuse; rather, it would reduce the amount of metal the smith and fletcher would have to supply to make new arrows. Recycling, medieval style.

  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ "it's likely to crack the shaft, rendering it impossible to fire again" -- well, you could fire it again, but you're unlikely to enjoy the results of an arrow malfunction: it'll buckle, split and shatter into shards when you release the bowstring, and a goodly portion of those will be driven into your own forearm by the force of the bowstring you just released. Don't fire damage arrows, kids. 🙂 \$\endgroup\$ Feb 13, 2017 at 14:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan thanks for the keyword info, I'll remove all comments. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 13, 2017 at 14:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, @doppelgreener. Added "or very unsafe" to cover that. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Feb 13, 2017 at 14:56

This seems to be entirely a balance issue rather than anything else. You have raised a number of valid points, but the system you are asking about is one that was designed for creating thrilling stories rather than realistic ones. A major part of the game is devoted to increasing the quality of your party’s equipment as they level up, and ranged players are no exception. So when the Fighter gets an adamantine sword, the archer starts packing adamantine arrows. While this may seem balanced at first glance, it actually greatly favors the ranged fighter.

For example, consider if the GM announces that the random encounter includes werewolves who have a racial weakness to silver. The fighter cannot swap out the adamantine quality of his sword for the silvered quality, but the archer can use the silvered arrowheads she has in her quiver.

This is compounded by the fact that ammunition is a much cheaper, so while the archer and the Fighter are both going to be wielding equivalent weapons (on a +x bonus scale), the archer could easily spring a few hundred gp for some situationally useful arrows. If the GM allowed her to keep 5 adamantine arrows and reuse them between battles, then she would have a significant advantage over the fighter when it came to foes with Damage Resistance.

Consider that this game allows you to use many different kinds of ammunition: arrows, crossbow bolts, slingshot stones, and throwing weapons of all kinds. Yet all ammunition is just as fragile when thrown (even if you need 30+ STR to sunder it by hand). There is no realistic reason for the goblin’s sharpened, wooden arrows to have the same chance of breaking as the +x, razor sharp, splintering, bloodseeking, adamantine arrows that the PC archer is using. Adamantine is a made up metal that is known only for being ridiculously strong (it comes from the Greek word “adamastos” which means “untamable”). Yet adamantine arrows have the same chance to break as iron ones. Real-world influences are nice for games like this, but let’s face it, many of the ammunition options in this game should logically be game-breaking options.


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