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5E The Case for Inspiration

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I hated Inspiration in the early days of D&D 5e. You could probably dig up some tweets of mine that show that. It was 16 to 20 characteristics for me to track as DM and I already had enough to do like manage villains and monsters, drink Irish whiskey, and smack talk the players. I also wasn't a fan of the impetus for players to fish for Inspiration by playing to the DM who, if they were anything like me, didn't notice because again 16 to 20 characteristics is a bit much even when you're not on your fourth Jameson. As well, it felt too much like a gift a magnanimous DM would hand out whenever he or she took pity on the players who were singing so loyally for their supper. It felt gross and generally wasn't something the players could count on as a consistent resource.

I've noticed in a lot of games I've joined over the last couple years (and in a lot of forum posts and tweets) that Inspiration under-utilized or not used at all. As noted above, I can certainly understand why. Others use bonus XP or other rewards when players play to established characterization. But of all the methods I've seen, the one that works best in my experience and addresses my own concerns about Inspiration is one I've posted here on the forums: Players claim Inspiration.

In an in-person game, have the players write down their characters' personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws on separate index cards. Whenever a player feels he or she has adequately portrayed his or her character's personality trait, ideal, bond, or flaw during play, the player holds up the index card for all to see. (Some sort of theatrical flourish is optional.) The player has now claimed Inspiration and marks it on his or her character sheet. The index card is set aside - it can't be used again this session, but the other personal characteristics can be claimed for Inspiration, once each, for a total of 4 Inspiration per session. If you're in Roll20, it's similarly easy as you can just output your personal characteristic to chat, mark your Inspiration, and move on.

Now, this method assumes the players are operating in good faith and making a real effort to claim Inspiration only when it's appropriate. They're also not asking the DM for permission - that just slows things down and gets in the way. Everyone at the table will know if the player did a good job and will no doubt recognize it with an "Ooh," "Ahh," or "Nice..." Sometimes it'll be a bit of a stretch or cheesy. That's okay, too, if it's funny and it just serves to underscore the really good ones the players claim. In my experience that just encourages the players to try harder.

So that method takes care of the DM tracking anything. It takes the DM out of playing the role of the benevolent deity handing out boons. It can be counted on by players as a fairly consistent resource to the extent they can find a way to play to their characteristics during the session. And by limiting it to one Inspiration per characteristic, it incentivizes the players to portray the character's trait, ideal, bond, and flaw instead of just one or two of them (or none) which makes for more well-rounded and varied portrayals.

Why bother with Inspiration at all? People tend to do what they're incentivized to do. If you've always wanted your players to really get into it a bit more in portraying their characters, you can certainly do worse than use Inspiration in your games. Rolling two dice and taking the better result when you really need it is also a pretty clutch resource which should be attractive to those players at your table that really care about success. Even players who are already good about portraying their characters anyway would surely appreciate some recognition for it. There's also something magical about a player chiming in with a few great lines then throwing down the character's trait or flaw to claim Inspiration for being awesome in that moment. There's never a session of my game that doesn't have a good number of these instances peppered throughout. I highly encourage you to start using this mechanic and see how it impacts the quality of your game.

How do you use Inspiration in your games? Do you use a method similar to mine? What do your players have to do to earn it? What's the coolest example of what a player did to earn it in your game? If you don't use Inspiration, why don't you?
 

hbarsquared

Quantum Chronomancer
Can't... Decide... Whether... To give... Laugh... Or XP...

Went with XP.

Definitely an underused mechanic, one that incentivizes fun play. Love your idea of "player claimed" inspiration, treating it almost like a resource unto itself.
 

TallIan

Explorer
I really like this idea. When I get round to DMing IRL again I might steel this.

A couple of other idea I’ve tried or seen.

One player has the inspiration die and when they use it they pass it to the next player. No player can get the die until everyone has had it. There is no real incentive here as you WILL get your turn with inspiration no matter how badly you RP.

Another method was to allow the players to vote at the end of the session/rest on who deserves the inspiration. This makes inspiration a much more limited resource though.
 
If you don't use Inspiration, why don't you?
I don't use inspiration anymore for a number of reasons. Roughly ordering them in descending influence over my decision to not use inspiration going forward:
  1. The group tried - really tried - to remember to use it, but still rarely ever used inspiration once they had it.
  2. The group didn't feel comfortable with helping me remember what their character's relevant traits were or asking "was that worth inspiration?" because of how doing those things felt to them.
  3. I had a very hard time remembering the relevant traits for them to gain inspiration by playing up.
  4. We've gotten rid of the personality trait aspect of backgrounds and use the "this is your life" stuff from Xanathar's Guide instead.
  5. The benefit of inspiration use didn't mesh with other bonuses the characters often have, further rarefying the actual use of inspiration.
  6. We use the optional hero point rules in the DMG, which the players actually remember to use, don't feel like they are begging me for them, and get more of a benefit out of in practical application.
 
I try to award Inspiration at least once per session. It's not really something players strive to get, though. It's a nice incentive but players aren't putting extra effort into playing the characters to get it.

On the topic, this week when I started the game I challenged my players to answer rules question from 1e AD&D for Inspiration. Things like, "How long was a Turn in 1e?" and "What did the notation 1" mean in AD&D?" It wasn't until one of my old-school players showed up that anyone came even close... :)
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
Slighly broader topic...

Disclaimer - obviously each table and group and campaign is its own animal and has its own preferences and needs. The tools, sticks, carrots, fun point, frustration point etc for an open FLGS table and a table with for t0+yo in an ongoing campaign are not gonna be identical, maybe not close.

In system after system over the years with my guys use of meta-points (hero points, plot points, inspiration, momentum etc) has not ever hit a good in-play balance point (not power balance.)

When using systems where it is limited in volume, it pretty much got ignored. In games where it was expected as a session resource, it tended to take over - not from power but take over focus.

A few key factors for our group...

We dont need "pressure" to roleplay. Roleplying flaws, drives, quirks etc is a lot of the fun we seek. So, it adds no carrot, no stick there.

We really focus on the character and scene and the whole "player resource" of meta-points thing is more out of sight, out of mind when play is underway. Stepping back from "my character can" to "do we have momentum chips" is a (only way to say this i think even tho i hate it) "kick in our form of IMMERSION" in the character (and that immersion does include character stats, not just the acting.)

So that leads to rare meta points being not in use enough to get thought about and flow-like-rain meta points kind of taking over and being almost a side discussion that intertupts flow. Its the in-play equivalent of two folks at a big meeting having side bar discussion... nor derailing but not helpful.

One of the slight exceptions has come when meta-points were spent on others... sometimes... where it was not and did not become a factor in front of the player during his turn.

So, i am pondering a non-carrot indirect variation.

1 If you do not have a meta point and you role a natural 1 on d20, you get one.


2 You can spend a meta point during someone else's turn right before they roll to give advantage or counter disadvantage (without discussion.)

I think this can provide a slight fun-bump to the 1 and serve to allow involvement and engagement in a non-distracting way.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I don't use inspiration anymore for a number of reasons. Roughly ordering them in descending influence over my decision to not use inspiration going forward:
  1. The group tried - really tried - to remember to use it, but still rarely ever used inspiration once they had it.
  2. The group didn't feel comfortable with helping me remember what their character's relevant traits were or asking "was that worth inspiration?" because of how doing those things felt to them.
  3. I had a very hard time remembering the relevant traits for them to gain inspiration by playing up.
  4. We've gotten rid of the personality trait aspect of backgrounds and use the "this is your life" stuff from Xanathar's Guide instead.
  5. The benefit of inspiration use didn't mesh with other bonuses the characters often have, further rarefying the actual use of inspiration.
  6. We use the optional hero point rules in the DMG, which the players actually remember to use, don't feel like they are begging me for them, and get more of a benefit out of in practical application.
I too probably wouldn't use Inspiration if I already used Hero Points. It would be a bit much. Some of your concerns would be addressed by the method I propose. Some physical items like tokens might be good reminders that Inspiration is available. I haven't looked at the "This is Your Life" stuff, but in certain campaigns I will either add to or swap out the characteristics normally used for Inspiration with other things. In my Planescape campaign, for example, all characters get an Alignment characteristic to add to their Ideal which gives them 5 ways to get 4 Inspiration per session. If they join a faction, they get an additional Bond related to faction membership which brings them up to 6 ways to get 4 Inspiration. (Notably, I only request they choose one personality trait usually. The Basic Rules says there should be two.)
 

DM Dave1

Adventurer
I award inspiration sparingly to players who have done something particularly creative or role-played a scene in a fun way. I don't bother with remembering all the traits to do this.

I also allow the players to vote on a "Players' Choice Award" at the end of each session. They submit a secret ballot with a character name and the reason they feel that character deserved inspiration for the session. I then announce the award along with XP for the session the next day or so. It's somewhat entertaining for me to read the votes, helps me remember to spotlight certain things in my recaps, and the award has been reasonably well distributed among the 7 players from week to week.

I've house-ruled that PCs can stack up to three Inspiration points.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
I've tried and in my first campaign, it basically went unused for many of the reasons other have posted. It just wasn't very inspiring or fun, it felt like I was put into a position to have to reward players for playing their characters how I thought they should play them, and--mostly--I just never remembered to give it.

In my current Curse of Strahd game, I use a version of inspiration inspired by the Angry GM.

INSPIRATION = INSPIRED ACTION(inspired by the Angry GM)

Each session, each player will start with one inspiration token.

The token can be 'spent' to take an "inspired action."

When you take an Inspired Action, you can either gain advantage on an ability check, attack roll, or saving throw OR you can give advantage to someone else’s ability check, attack roll, or saving throw provided you are in a position to assist them directly in some way OR impose disadvantage on someone else’s ability check, attack roll, or saving throw provided you are in a position to hinder their action directly in some way. Whatever it is, the Inspired Action MUST somehow connect to one of your Personal Characteristics (traits, ideal, bond, or flaw).

After spending your inspiration token, you can get it back in the same session by Claiming a Setback. To Claim a Setback you must either impose disadvantage on one of your own ability checks, saving throws, or attack rolls based on one of your Personal Characteristics OR make a decision that creates a significant story setback, obstacle, or hindrance.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I like the OP's idea. I don't think I will use it though. Inspiration is a bad fit for my group.
Out of curiosity, why is it a bad fit for your group?

I've found in my regular games and one-shots, it's probably one of the most popular additions to the game.
 

CapnZapp

Adventurer
Our group doesn't like or use it. The consensus is, it trivializes the mini-game that is "maximizing advantage".

Why spend time creating a character able to achieve advantage? Why hone combos that enable advantage?

When inspiration simply allows you to have it whenever you feel like it?
 

Wiseblood

Adventurer
Out of curiosity, why is it a bad fit for your group?

I've found in my regular games and one-shots, it's probably one of the most popular additions to the game.

For me, I feel like I don't deserve it. It breaks the fantasy setting for me. It is like a degree of agency that conflicts with my role as a player.

But ...
In my group of players there is a tendency to forget things like potions excepting healing potions. Inspiration is kind of like that.

I have tried awarding it for rp, the portayal of flaws and such. I have also given one to each player at the beginning of session and still it is so frequently overlooked it becomes bookeeping.

My players also tend to get into tight situations that don't hinge on one diceroll and success is better than 50 percent of the time. Lastly class abilities like bardic inspiration and a warpriest's +10 get the jobe done.


That about sums it up. I don't know if my players have the same personal feelings as I do about it. I have tried to use it. It is just diconnected a bit. Which is why I checked the thread hoping to find an answer.
 
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It seems inspiration was included to provide players with a semblance of influence over a system that, despite clever planning and wise choice making, can kick a character in the dangly parts, all thanks to unlucky roll.

Which is fine. Sure, why not.

But Inspiration is something we forget to give/use and really hasn't connected with us. I think we're just used to having schnizzle happen and dealing with it. Its certainly not required for our table to enjoy roleplaying their characters or as an incentive to make character-based, rather than player-based decisions.

Nor do I, as the often DM, feel the need to award players for playing in a way that pleases me - and honestly, I find such a setup just a little patronizing. But I can get behind the idea of rewards and appreciate that they can be enjoyed.

Eh. Maybe we'll give it another another another go next session. :hmm::)
 
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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I have a game coming up on Saturday. I may give it a shot since things are going to get brutal.
I think we're just used to having schnizzle happen and dealing with it.
A few weeks back, a lurker in one of my games online said that she thinks Inspiration is so useful in my games because every time the PCs rolled it was basically a life-or-death situation (metaphorically, if not actually). The stakes were high enough that the players felt like they had to fish for Inspiration and have it banked (and in some cases give up their Inspiration to another character) in order to hedge their bets. Now, this game was particularly intense, but this is generally true of the games I run because the need to roll, say, an ability check at all is tantamount to failure since you essentially failed to get an auto-success. The perception may thus be that Inspiration is much more valuable resource than in other games under different DMs.

I imagine in lower-stakes games or games in which there is often little consequence for failure on a roll, there's less impetus for wanting to have insurance against botched rolls.
 

Rhenny

Adventurer
I always found it difficult to award Inspiration as a DM. I like the idea you present, iserith.

I've started to grant inspiration when any player rolls a natural "20" for an attack, check or save. This has made rolling a "20" even more exciting and it has eliminated the burden of who awards inspiration and when.

I'm definitely a fan of inspiration on the whole because it gives players another chance to create heroic moments. Cool stuff.
 

Yaarel

Explorer
The Cortex system normally rewards personality. It determines success by rolling multiple dice. Each trait can be undeveloped d4, apprentice d6, professional d8, or master d10. You add whichever traits are pertinent to a specific check. So, a significant personality trait d8 that is expressed by a particular action can also be added to the pool.

This is super cool.



It is difficult to do this in D&D 5e because there is only a single d20 and bounded accuracy strongly discourages bonuses to success.

But it would be nice to somehow boost or augment a particular effort on the fly if it is pertinent to a particular personality trait.
 

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