Ranged weapons are a mainstay in many games. Most fantasy games come with arrows, bolts, and sling stones. Wild West comes with lead, powder, and percussion caps in the early times and metal cartridges in the later end of the timeframe. Modern games blow out ammunition in the dozens – even hundreds at times.
However, all those expendable items come at bookkeeping troubles: Is there still an arrow in the quiver, is the next chamber a bang or click, or can the MG put out another burst?
In computer games and playing traditional games online, this problem can be mitigated by having some kind of ammo counter on the screen for each weapon user. But table-play doesn’t offer that ease of use. Players have not unlimited floating numbers next to the head or self-updating character sheets.
At a table, the problem however is you need to update manually. In a fantasy game, my elven archer ended up needing a new sheet after the second or third session because I had erased a hole into the spot where ammo was counted. Putting the arrows on a separate sticky note made that page replaceable, but it was prone to be lost. Looking for the main copy of the inventory to make a new one was a noisy thing between the different pages of the sheet – amplified by the limited space on the table – barely more than the open pages of the core book was available to put down stuff for each player to handle the large map in the center.
But fantasy games like that usually don’t need to account for more than 20 or such arrows per player. So were absolutely needed, I had used an ammo-counter D20 for my quiver and used a holder-ring with some sticky in it to make sure it didn’t roll and wouldn’t be accidentally taken as a dice.
Tracking Ammo for the Bullet-Hell
The real problem however is when games combine many people shooting with shooting a lot and variable ammo usage. That is when shooting isn’t happening consistently. This gets us to Shadowrun: Firearms can let loose between one and 10 rounds per action of the runner, runners can have between one and four actions and could shoot akimbo. Oh, and each gun has different ammunition capacities…
In a scene that turned into a bullet hell, I was one of 5 runners. While we fought some rather resistant thing and I took a lot of drain, the other four spent several hundred bullets shooting full-auto. I am sure that at least two players lost count of what was left in their guns at some point: One recalculated twice if he had to reload using a calculator and slowing the game down, the other had a tiny post-it note upon which he just added strikes to see if he still owned any bullets and guesstimated if he had to reload or not.
How could players track the ammunition for their runners in a way that the amount of ammo left in the gun is easy to spot at a distance, fast to update, non-destructive to the character sheet, and not bound to a movable object (dice, marker) that might be accidentally shifted?