Today's post, while thankfully short, is also going to be a bit more specific than some other topics I've had here. Today I'm curious about the idea of tracking ammunition. The pros of it, the cons of it, and whether or not it may be worth doing for your game. So, without further ado, let's take a look.
Realism vs. Drama
Before we get into the debate in and of itself I want to address this. Most times I've discussed, or read thoughts on, things like this the argument has usually boiled down to realism versus drama. Realistically, and in realistic and gritty games, you should have to track all the minutiae that comes with an RPG character. It matters, and it matters really hard, how many rounds are still in your gun 3 combat rounds later. On the other hand though there is also the argument that RPGs aren't necessarily supposed to be realistic. The GM is perfectly capable of having a dramatically appropriate misfire or empty magazine happen when it is needed, and otherwise you are just bogging down the game with pointless book keeping.
To be honest, the drama side i pointed out above isn't one I agree with, as I can see a use for ammo counting in both a realistic and more cinematic game. I just wanted to point out the two extremes that I've seen first, and hopefully it'll give you an idea of how I ended up where I am.
So, what are the pros to tracking ammunition? They are there, and depending on the type of players you have you'll have more or less of them. One thing I like about tracking ammunition is that it can show a real difference between two characters. The guy who constantly reloads/tops off his ammunition at every opportunity versus the guy who waits for the magazine to run dry. This even became relevant in a game I was running when, at a vital moment, a player ran dry on ammunition. He had lost mental count of where he was in his magazine (I'd been keeping track in my notes) and the reaction was beautiful.
More to the point though, this random happening added drama to the game. The player was stunned, the characters were shocked, and the scene suddenly became more tense as one of the two guns available to the party suddenly had to be reloaded while they were in a dangerous situation. This didn't come down to realism, it was a random - and fair - turn of events that really added to the game play, and it is a major boon and good reason to track ammunition.
Ammo counting can add tension in other ways too. It can be re-assuring for a player to know that they have 24 rounds of firing in their gun before their next reload, but when that player starts to get down to only 5 rounds of shooting, or maybe even as high as 7, than each round becomes more tense. Will their gun hold out long enough? Will they have time to reload? If they're going through ammo that fast is it better to switch to a different weapon or to take the time to reload?
Which also brings up the last thing I want to mention. Tracking ammunition means that running out of ammunition is possible, which - in turn - means that the players may have to switch away from their favorite weapon at some point. That little shift out of a comfort zone is awesome btw. It can be a real blast to watch the guy who usually mows through people with his assault rifle suddenly have to start using his pistol, or for the elven archer to have to pull a short sword and get into melee, because they ran out of ammo.
The cons aren't even real take aways from the drama and tension as much as they are the problems with all bookkeeping. First of all, it has to be done. Second of all, it is easy to lose track of. All it takes is for one super awesome round to happen where the player - possibly in celebration - forgets to mark down the ammo they used. Now if the GM is also tracking ammo you have two different counts, and both could be equally valid. After all, the GM is just as likely to forget to mark down ammo use - especially considering how much they have to do.
The bookkeeping can also slow the game down as it has to be done, and it also brings up other issues such as reload rounds and times for those decisions to be made. Not to mention that the second you start tracking something, the players are going to look for every way they can to always have enough of it handy which can also lead to its own problems for things.
The biggest problem I ahve with it though, and this one is just a bit silly to be honest, is that it can be a real pain when - between sessions - you lose the notes. See, with all the erasing and redoing, people rarely do ammo counting on somewhere that they can't afford to be erasing all the time. Computers and tablets are fixing this, but for a lot of us the issue persists. The problem then comes in when these scraps of paper with vital information go missing in the 6-13 days in between sessions, and suddenly you don't know how much - or what kind - of ammo and stuff the players all have.
I'm curious to hear your thoughts on tracking ammo. Do you do it? Why? Why not? Do you find it adds or takes away from the game? Any particular situation where it adds? How about where it detracts?