Fixing Inspiration (5e)

It’s right there, on the top of the character sheet. It must be important. You can’t miss it…though in my experience we miss it all the time. But it’s right there, how do we overlook it?

Inspiration. What’s it mean? What’s it for? How do I get it and how do I use it?

As a player, I never really know when the DM will give me inspiration. (I think I got it once for bringing good snacks – and I don’t think the DM was wrong!) And then, like the anxious player that I am sometimes, I hoard it and never use it. Because I’m waiting for the “right time”. It sits there, on my character sheet, staring at me – judging me. And then in the heat of the moment – I forget I have it.

I lose more inspiration than I gain. That can’t be good.

As a DM, I hate inspiration. It’s a lot of work to use correctly, as written in the book. There’s just a couple paragraphs on it in the Player’s Handbook (p. 125), and they basically boil down to “Your DM will award it based on cryptic, unknowable and arbitrary reasons that may or may not be linked to your character sheet, role playing ability, or luck”. The Dungeon Master’s Guide has two full pages on the topic (p. 240-241) – and the last two sections are to abdicate responsibility entirely – “Ignoring Inspiration” and “Variant: Only Players Award Inspiration”. What a broken rule – I can’t think of any other rules that the DMG suggests you offload or specifically ignore like this!

I’m not a fan of any of this as written. I don’t want to have to track this too – who deserves inspiration, based on how they play and who they are and what’s on their sheet. What is this seemingly important mechanic – actually FOR?

Inspiration is a powerful tool in the sense that you can reward players mechanically for playing D&D the way you want them to play. If you award if for role playing, you’ll get more role playing out of some players. If you award it for clever tactics, you’ll get lots of attempts at clever tactics. And that’s fine, for some tables.

But that’s not what I want to encourage at the table, for two reasons. First, for players that aren’t the type that want to be up front and center for role playing, or combat tactics, or any of the other arbitrary reasons for gaining inspiration – they may never get the reward. And that’s not a welcoming table. I want all kinds of players at the table – as long as we’re all having fun then they are welcome at my table.

I often have players that, while they know me, may not know each other very well. So what I want to encourage at my table is Teamwork. And to do that – I use a house rule for inspiration.

The Rule

Every player gains Inspiration at the start of the session. It cannot be carried over to the next session. Inspiration can only be used to add advantage on another player’s d20 roll. At my tables this has become known as the “Pep Talk” rule. It’s meant to encourage teamwork and intra-party cooperation and role playing.

And it’s been the most successful house rule I’ve ever implemented! Some players role play out the entire pep talk, others just say, “I give them a pep talk” – and everyone gets involved, team bonds form, and more people are invested in the roll and outcome.

I suppose, in a way – I’ve rolled the abdication paragraphs in the DMG into one rule – but I have no shame in that. It’s been fantastic.

If you’re struggling to remember to grant Inspiration at the table, or you want to encourage certain types of play – Fix Inspiration to fit your table.

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