Recursive Ammo

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Oh God. Even the bullets shoot bullets.

Zeon_1992 (A Kongregate commenter) on the Cute'Em Up Bullet Hell game Bullet Heaven.

There's Abnormal Ammo for those cases when your weapons fire something unusual. But what if your weapon fires stuff... that also shoots projectiles of its own? That would be cool, right? Not only that, if used properly it can quickly become Awesome Yet Practical.

Recursive Ammo is what happens when ammunition for a certain weapon uses another level of weapons to do the dirty work. In Real Life, the secondary ordnance is called "sub-munitions". This does not include things such as fragmentation grenades, Attack Drone, or missiles with multiple thrusters that break away. Various forms of Real Life versions of these weapons will show up anytime someone decides to look up modern weapons.

Can be one of the three different types of Spread Shot and frequently a way to instigate Splash Damage. Sub-Trope of Abnormal Ammo and Matryoshka Object.

Examples of Recursive Ammo include:

Anime and Manga

Comic Books

  • In the Transformers comic, Blustreak uses this style of missile as one of his signature weapons.


  • Iron Man The Jericho missile at the beginning splits up and proceeds to simply level a small mountain.
  • Star Trek The missiles of the Narada which break open and deploy warheads.
  • Spawn starts with Al performing an assassination with one of these.
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit? there was a cartoon gun that fired bullets modeled as western characters who then shot or otherwise killed their target with their own weaponry.
  • Night Watch the film Day Watch, there is an aluminum foil ball attached to a rubber band. If thrown, it unfolds in midair and splits into three identical, but faster and harder, balls, which also split, etc. It devastates Moscow in one strike.

Live-Action TV


Tabletop Games

  • Star Fleet Battles drones (missiles) include multi-warhead capacity, such as Starfish drones and swordfish drones which fire a phaser at the target.
  • GURPS: Ultra-Tech has Smart Explosively Forged Projectiles that fly over the target before using the explosive force of the warhead to create a flaming armor piercing spike.
  • Warhammer 40,000 The Manticore Multiple Rocket Launcher has, as its most common armament, a rack of 4 (and only 4) Storm Eagle rockets. A Manticore may only fire one Storm Eagle per turn, and each Storm Eagle breaks into a barrage of 1-3 mini-rockets once the main Storm Eagle reaches the apex of its trajectory. Due to their temperamental nature, Manticores are sometimes distrusted by commanders, but having that kind of potential in firepower makes up for it.
  • BattleTech Thunder LRMs are essentially missile-deployed minefields, which even come in a variety of distinct types. FASCAM (see the Real Life section below) and cluster rounds for proper artillery weapons also exist.

Video Games

  • Bullet Hell games in general tend to make use of this trope, as interesting patterns and changes of direction of bullets is their bread and butter.
  • Touhou: Fairly rare, but present. More common is mobile bullet spawn points.
  • Ketsui: Most of the final fight has bullets firing other bullets, or turning into other types.
  • Bullet Heaven: Bullets that shoot bullets appear (first?) in the boss battle of the 10th level. The developer's response to the page quote:

I even tried making bullets that shoot bullets that shoot bullets that shoot bullets that shoot bullets, but that turned into way too many bullets and went out of control.

  • Borderlands the best example are the MIRV mods for grenades, which are essentially cluster bombs. Anarchy-type submachineguns fire multiple bullets per bullet drawn from the magazine. Double Anarchy guns fire four bullets per bullet, albeit with poor accuracy. A rocket launcher called 'The Mongol' - It shoots rockets which shoot MORE ROCKETS.
    • Bouncing Betty grenades, which launch themselves to chest height and then fire a radial pattern of explosives. Honorable mention to the Rain grenades, which launch up to ceiling height and then rain explosives or fire/acid/lightning downward. Due to their large blast areas and high damage potential the Recursive Grenades are often the best grenades available.
    • S&S Orion: Aside from doing massive shock damage the bullets split into 3 smaller fragments upon hitting a wall.
  • Razing Storm The Giant Spider Tank fires missiles into the air as a Last Ditch Move. The missiles start homing in, then shoot out even more homing missiles. However, it's not aiming for you- it's aiming for the mid-air platform that you're on...
  • Command & Conquer makes really good use of this trope:
  • Worms has clusterbombs and bananabombs. The latter is more fun. And the Sally Army. A wandering Salvation Army Action Bomb which explodes into exploding tambourines. Yes.
  • Jet Force Gemini features clusterbombs that detonate on contact and scatter in 3 smaller bombs. The smaller bombs also explode on contact, but to prevent them from exploding almost instantly, they deploy umbrellas to float gently to the ground.
  • Iji has Tor's attack Fractal Rockets.
  • The Crusader series of games has an AR-7 rifle, which upon firing one shot fires five micro-rockets. It's like a shotgun that fires missiles.
  • Mega Man and Bass Spread Drill splits up into two smaller drills up to two times when you press the fire button after launching it.
  • Into The Void has missiles that fire lasers.
    • Twisted Metal 4 had the Rain Missile, Rain 2 Missile, MIRV and Auto Lob. In typical TM 4 fashion, they all did about the same thing, and one of them (or two?) fired lasers.
  • Descent has the smart missile, the earthshaker missile and the cyclone missile. The smart mine applies this trope to a stationary mine which releases Friendly Fireproof homing shots when triggered. From a gameplay physics perspective, some other Descent 3 weapons behave like this: the frag missile (which effectively releases Hyper-Destructive Bouncing Balls), the napalm rocket, and strangely enough the impact mortar (its explosion is actually caused by a second weapon spawned when the mortar's timer expires). Since Descent 3 weapons don't spawn submunitions when they impact something other than terrain, it means you can use the impact mortar on an enemy point blank without blowing yourself up.
  • Ace Combat 6's final superweapon Chandelier is a giant cannon with shells that break up into dozens of cruise missiles near the target.
    • In an example that the player can use, regular cluster bombs, the Self-Forging Fragment Sub-munitions bomb(SFFS) and the Stand-Off Dispenser(SOD), all based on real weapons.
  • Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare There's a cheat that when you throw a grenade (including those you picked up), it will explode into five other grenades. And if you happen to pick up that grenade and throw it...
    • The bombs used in airstrikes for Modern Warfare appear to be clusterbombs based on the way the missile casings fall and the dispersion pattern as well.
  • Call of Duty Black Ops has a secondary grenade in the form of a Matryoshka doll.
  • Armored Core has mutli missiles. Demonstrated by 4A's opening animation.
    • To be more precise: White Glint with a VOB fires off a big missile. The big missile's case breaks open and reveals and releases several smaller missiles.
  • Team Fortress Classic A grenade that explodes into even more grenades is part of the Heavy Weapons Guy's and Demoman's arsenals.
  • Sword of the Stars The Multi-Warhead Missile.
  • In the Hunt The green powerup gives your submarine these.
  • Custom Robo has a few guns which do this. One fires a missile which breaks into five homing missiles, and another fires a spike of energy upward that splits into more, pauses, then comes down. There's a few more along the same lines.
  • Free Space includes some bombs and missiles that'll spread either guided or unguided warheads when exploding - such as the Inferno or the Shivan Cluster Bomb. Free Space features Subspace Missiles too - but that's a bit different. You send a Tag'ing missile (or eventually paint the target with a laser) - which spawn plenty of missiles from subspace to crash on it.
  • Gunman Chronicles has grenade launcher, which, after some upgrades, may fire laser tripmines releasing a number of explosive balls on activation.
  • Homeworld 2 brings us the Higaaran Torpedo Frigate, whose torpedoes travel towards a target at a certain distance before splitting into four small, but quick and agile missiles that chase down said target. The Recursive Ammo serves as as a deterrent against targets that are smaller than the Frigate itself. If the target is destroyed before all four hit, any missiles which are left will try to find another target to kill.
  • Gunbound has this with the Kalsiddon. Shots are fired normally until they split apart into two or four missiles and a homing beacon. The SuperShot compounds this by having the shot split into 4 missiles and a beacon, and then each of those missiles split into two with their own beacons. All 8 shots hitting will cause extreme damage.
  • Project Sylpheed enables you to shoot missiles that shoot missiles. They each lock on to their own individual target.
  • Missile Command has MIRVs.
  • Fun Orb Arcanists have the Arcane Bomb, a grenade that releases three projectiles when it explodes.
  • The Rogue Squadron games have cluster missiles on certain ships, which split into multiple projectiles when fired. Not quite as useful as a single missile until you pick up the Homing upgrade, which then allows the missiles to wipe out entire squadrons of TIE Fighters in a single shot. Later games also give the Y-Wing's bombs a cluster effect, spreading the damage over a wider area.
  • Thugly from Donkey Kong Country Returns takes this Up to Eleven- he spits out a fireball, which explodes into a Spread Shot of three. One of the three then explodes into three again, then one of those explodes into another three!
  • One item in Kingdom of Loathing is the Gift-a-Pult, which can fire gifts. It, itself, is a gift item, and is the best item you can launch from it. (It's also no longer obtainable.)
  • Though not strictly ammunition, most of the Evil power enhancements in In Famous do this. Most notably the grenades, which split apart when they launch, and the Megawatt hammer, which has six smaller balls of electricity trailing off of it.
  • Half Life 2 has an Abnormal Ammo variant—big mortar shells delivering several headcrabs who do the whole target-hunting part.
  • X-COM Apocalypse has the Disruptor Multi-Bomb Launcher, which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin: it fires a single projectile that splits into four smaller bomblets. You can also Game Mod other weapons into having Recursive Ammo, in theory.
  • Wing Commander Prophecy and its sequel Secret Ops has the Tracker missile, which consists of four Friend or Foe missiles mounted to a common frame, that break off after running a certain distance to allow the individual missiles to track on whatever target meets their targeting parameters.
  • The Ratchet and Clank series often has such weapons in their games, which include large bouncing mines that explode into smaller ones, or guns that launch deadly discs that split into more discs upon contact.
  • Crimsonland. The Splitter Gun's bullets split whenever they hit, causing mayhem on a screen. However, it's the only weapon that can kill you.
  • Kommie Kong/Gorillazilla from Heavy Weapon has "Bursting Rockets", where he throws rockets that burst into six shots.
  • God Eater: The game allows you to take this to ridiculous levels with its bullet creation system. It is entirely possible to make bullets that shoot bombs that shoot more bullets that shoot lasers and lightning.
  • Star Trek: Shattered Universe, a space simulator game set in the Mirror Universe, has a Federation attack shuttle which fires torpedoes that split into six smaller torpedoes. One volley is usually enough to bring down another fighter. It is the most powerful player ship in the game.
  • Star Trek Online: Cluster torpedoes, which fire like normal torpedoes but split into a medium sized but extremely dense (normal mines deploy 4 in an area about as big as a ship this deploys 20+ in that same area) auto armed mine field (the mines the track in to the target).
  • Super Robot Wars Original Generation has the Split Missile, most famously used by Alteisen and Weissritter, which is a missile that breaks apart to reveal mini-missiles.
  • Tribes Ascend has the MIRV Launcher, a large handheld mortar which fires a small shell that explodes into multiple submunitions after about a second, covering a whole area in big blue explosions of doom.
  • In Escape Velocity Nova, the two most powerful Polaris capital ships mount a weapon known as the multi-torpedo. A decent salvo of these will reduce entire fleets to free hydrogen.
  • The X-Universe calls them swarm missiles. They run the gamut from worthless (Firefly missile) to Game Breakingly powerful (Shadow missile).
  • Fallout 3 has the Experimental MIRV, which acts a lot like a shotgun that fires mini-nukes. It's considered Awesome but Impractical mainly because mini-nukes are a rather rare ammo type.
    • StarTropics has the Four-star. A throwing star that goes forward and then splits into four stars that fire in all four directions.

Web Comics

Western Animation

  • Ricochet Rabbit had several trick bullets, one of which would stop in front of the bad guy, pop open, and pull out its own gun to shoot.
  • The Simpsons, in one episode, Nelson was drawing a robot with guns for arms fighting a plane made out of guns that shoots guns.

Real Life

  • The M65 280mm cannon fired a W9 shell whose explosive charge was ignited by a projectile within the shell, as seen here footage
  • MIRVs, a nuclear cluster bomb.
  • Cluster bombs.
  • Explosively formed projectiles when launched from a rocket.
  • Sensor fused weapon which is a smarter version of the cluster bomb.
  • FASCAM (Field Artillery SCAtterable Mines), AKA "instant minefield", similar to the Generals reference above.
  • The military once experimented with a bomb that opened up to reveal...a swarm of bats. Little kamikaze bats with little incendiary bombs strapped to them. The idea was to drop these over Japan—most Japanese buildings being mainly made of wood. By the morning bats roost on or near important buildings, then timed bombs go off. There was a little incident where the bats escaped and took refuge in buildings all across the military base where they were held, caused some hefty damage. The Atomic Bomb was more expensive, but it was finished first and didn't accidentally go off on a friendly base, so the batty project quickly fell into obscurity.
  • The Strategic Defence Initiative postulated a design for "Excalibur", a nuclear warhead powering a bunch of x-ray lasers, which inspired the Honor Harrington example above. It was never built as a finished weapon due to having a few problems on top of issues with SDI in general.
  • In their early experiments with gunpowder, the Chinese invented a rocket that shoots smaller rockets. The large rocket was shaped like a dragon, and the smaller missiles emerged from its mouth. It probably freaked the hell out of their enemies.
  • A modern example of the above is the Starstreak missile which launches three laser guided 'darts' to increase the chances of a hit.
  • The traditional cluster bomb, releasing dozens or hundreds of grenade-sized submunitions, has been the subject of a 2008 limitation treaty, mainly because the high percentage of submunitions that go dud on impact like to stay around to make life miserable for quite a while. Notably, the US, China, and Russia are not signatories, and careful Loophole Abuse—fully deliberate—reveals that modern "smart" submunitions are exempt as long as they meet a number of criteria: bigger than 4 kg, no more than 10 to a container, and have two self-disabling/self-destruct devices in case it doesn't hit anything. This makes sense, since the main purpose is to make sure they don't hang around like an unplanned minefield after the war's over.
  • Shotgun shells.
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