Featured D&D 5e Inspiration image credit to Wizards of the Coast’s D&D 5e Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything.
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Awarding Inspiration to your players is a great way to reward them. However, it comes with several drawbacks that you might not foresee. Let’s discuss the open-ended Inspiration mechanic to make the most of it and enrich your gaming group’s enjoyment of D&D 5e.
D&D 5e Inspiration
Here is the text from PHB page 123 that explains Inspiration (bolded text added by me for emphasis):
“Inspiration is a rule the game master can use to reward you for playing your character in a way that’s true to their personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws. By using Inspiration, you can draw on your personality trait of compassion for the downtrodden to give you an edge in negotiating with the Beggar Prince. Or Inspiration can let you call on your bond to the defense of your home village to push past the effect of a spell that has been laid on you.”
“Your GM can choose to give you Inspiration for a variety of reasons. Typically, GMs award it when you play out your personality traits, give in to the drawbacks presented by a flaw or bond, and otherwise portray your character in a compelling way. Your GM will tell you how you can earn Inspiration in the game.“
“You either have inspiration or you don’t—you can’t stockpile multiple ‘inspirations’ for later use.”
“If you have Inspiration, you can expend it when you make an attack roll, saving throw, or ability check. Spending your Inspiration gives you advantage on that roll.”
“Additionally, if you have Inspiration, you can reward another player for good roleplaying, clever thinking, or simply doing something exciting in the game. When another player character does something that contributes to the story in a fun and interesting way, you can give up your Inspiration to give that character inspiration.”
Frequently Asked Questions about D&D 5e Inspiration
Before I get to the meat of the content, I’ll cover FAQs regarding Inspiration. It’s essential to make sure we all understand how Inspiration typically works. Then we can explore its nuances and meta-effects within diverse D&D 5e groups.
I researched and found that these are some of the most common questions about 5e Inspiration:
How Does 5e Distribute Inspiration?
Based on the text, Inspiration rewards a player who roleplays character bonds, flaws, ideals, and personality traits. However, Inspiration is commonly awarded anytime something “cool” or “funny” occurs. It’s also used typically when a player is roleplaying well during combat and needs a bit of luck to succeed. I’ll offer more ideas later for how a DM can award Inspiration.
What Is Inspiration for in D&D 5e?
At its core, Inspiration is a rerolling game mechanic that rewards good player habits and accentuates epic moments. This is often expanded depending on the gaming group.
Can You Transfer Inspiration in 5e?
According to the rules, a player may spend their Inspiration point to give another player Inspiration on a roll. In other words, you could grant advantage to another player before they roll a d20. You could also interpret this as giving your inventory of Inspiration to another player so they can use it later. It’s unclear.
Can You Use Inspiration after You Roll?
In my experience, Inspiration is often invoked after a roll is made and the number is low. Additionally, I often see Inspiration used in a chain. All players take turns offering a reroll to another player in a critical moment. This technically shouldn’t work by RAW. Inspiration only grants advantage, and you can’t use multiple instances of advantage to roll more than two dice. Like I said, each group does Inspiration differently, so ask your DM how it will work in the game.
It’s better to use Inspiration retroactively when a roll is terrible instead of deciding before the roll. This makes sense if the DM doesn’t dish out Inspiration frequently. Still, if Inspiration is plentiful, a DM may require players to decide to use Inspiration to gain advantage before rolling.
When Should You Award Inspiration?
Awarding Inspiration is likely the most variable 5e rule. You could probably ask one hundred DMs how they handle Inspiration and get ninety unique ways of handling it. There’s nothing wrong with DMs
While it may seem like a fun, harmless mechanic of D&D 5e, Inspiration can become a point of contention for group members. Players may feel like Inspiration is an indicator of the DM favoring certain players. Inspiration can be disproportionally awarded to naturally witty or outgoing players, while quiet players go without Inspiration.
What can prevent issues potentially arising from awarding Inspiration to your players?
Players are happy when they trust their DM to be fair. You can assure your players that your rulings are fair by consistently adhering to your group’s agreed-upon rules. The same goes for awarding Inspiration. Consistency is key!
Seldomly receiving Inspiration is unlikely to weigh on a player if they understand what will or will not result in awarding Inspiration. A problem arises when a player believes they’re being funny or witty more often than other players who are commonly receiving Inspiration, for example. When players feel slighted or disproportionally rewarded for their gaming efforts, they may overanalyze other group interactions. Overanalysis of this sort can cause friendships to become strained, and most of the group may not realize why.
How can you make sure you’re consistent with awarding Inspiration?
Codifying for Consistency
You can avoid unfairness by communicating to your players precisely how they can receive Inspiration. Some methods for awarding Inspiration will remain ambiguous and open to interpretation, and that’s fine. Selecting several sure-fire ways to gain Inspiration can put players at ease.
Here are several reliable methods for awarding Inspiration that you can consider!
Inspiration Method #1: Providing Session Recaps, Notes, or Anything Helpful
Players who volunteer to help with out-of-game responsibilities can earn Inspiration. Several “jobs” exist within a gaming group that can enhance everyone’s enjoyment of a campaign, so here are some of those jobs I’ve seen work in my games:
Beginning a session with a brief recap of the previous session can be helpful, like a television show beginning with a quick refresher before an episode begins. You can award the recapper with Inspiration each week.
This job is perfect for groups who don’t fight over loot! Assigning one player each week (or for the whole campaign) to track inventory can be extremely useful. I’m not talking about granular details like arrow supplies or anything that individual characters should track. The group’s inventory tracker will know to write down any loot that the DM describes so they can divvy it out later. Important items will remain tracked by the inventory tracker so the inventory tracker can remind players that they have certain items. It’s surprisingly useful to have one person in charge of noting inventory. Inventory trackers can receive Inspiration at the start of each session.
Taking short-hand notes is nearly impossible for DMs during a session, but a designated player could do it. Your group might have a single player who always takes notes and shares them with the group, but other groups might need to take turns. Notetaking isn’t a popular responsibility. I recommend creating a Google Doc for the group so everyone can contribute their notes and fill in gaps that other players may have forgotten. Awarding Inspiration to notetakers will show appreciation to those players.
Anyone who contributes to snacks and other expenses is a hero. While some players will barely invest $30 for a PHB, others will drop that cash to feed the group without a second thought. Reward these stallions with Inspiration to show your appreciation.
Inspiration Method #2: Landing Significant Killing Blows
Slaying a BBEG or other prominent enemy can result in awarding Inspiration. Players will remember this when the DM forgets, reminding the DM when a player should receive Inspiration. It’s a simple idea that makes epic victories sweeter.
Be prepared for players to ask, “Do I get Inspiration for that kill?”
Inspiration Method #3: Rolling Crits on Non-Attacks
Rolling a natural twenty feels fantastic, but it feels like a waste to many players when they’re rolling for day-to-day frivolities through skill checks. By the rules, you can’t crit on a skill check or saving throw, and that’s a disappointing realization for players.
If you’re not the type of DM to spam skill check rolls, consider allowing skill check crits to result in Inspiration. I clarify that spamming skill checks could be bad because the more rolls the players get, the more chances they have to crit. This isn’t bad, but it can become problematic if players fish for crits through forced skill checks in hopes of gaining Inspiration before a battle.
Inspiration Method #4: Distributing Secret Missions
One of the coolest tricks I’ve used as a DM is giving my players notecards that contain their characters’ secret missions. A mission could include something frivolous like using three specified words in a persuasive conversation with an NPC. It could be something serious like achieving a character goal, and it could be sporty, like slaying three enemies with a single Fireball casting.
Be careful with being fair with the secret missions you invent. Giving players impossible tasks while others receive easy ones would ruin the experience. I also don’t recommend using these all the time, so use secret missions sparingly. Consider whether your missions are causing conflicts of interest between player characters, too. You don’t want to cause group infighting accidentally.
Inspiration Award #5: Signaling an Opportunity
You can tell players when Inspiration is up for grabs. Tell them that they can gain Inspiration through roleplaying something specific: “Gain inspiration by talking to this NPC about your flaws, ideals, and bonds.” “Anyone who makes their flaws evident during this interaction will receive Inspiration.” This encourages players to feel successful when they make suboptimal choices for the sake of roleplaying. You can prompt players to roleplay fear in this way by promising Inspiration if they act convincingly when their characters should be afraid of a given monster or situation.
Inspiration Award #6: MVP Popular Vote
I learned this method when I played in RPG Storycraft’s game. At the end of the session, each player voted for another player they believed was MVP (“most valuable player” for you non-sports fans). Inspiration was awarded to that person.
RPG Storycraft also opted to only allow Inspiration to last a session, so it had a “use it or lose it” sense of urgency. The person who received Inspiration was also in charge of the recap for the next session.
Alternative Inspiration Benefits
Inspiration is typically a way to reroll or gain advantage on a skill check, a saving throw, or an attack roll. Still, you might homebrew Inspiration to function differently if your group has fun with it. Here are several suggestions for how you can change Inspiration for your style:
Some players don’t use their Inspiration because they hoard it for the perfect moment that never comes. One way to encourage players to use their Inspiration is to allow them to stockpile three points of Inspiration (or whatever amount sounds right to you). Allowing Inspiration caching can allow player characters to become supernaturally fortunate when needed, such as a boss fight. Be careful using this method if you want a gritty, dangerous game. Stockpiling Inspiration will make the game easier for players to get through.
Instead of rolls, you can allow a player before they roll to declare if they want to automatically succeed on their saving throw, skill check, or attack roll. This functions similarly to Legendary Resistances, except it must be called before rolling. I have not playtested this method, but I believe it can find a home in some groups. A potential downside would be to have players pausing before every important roll to consider using their Inspiration or beg to use Inspiration from other players.
Hindsight and Chain Rolling
I mentioned earlier how many gaming groups would allow players to decide to use Inspiration after making a roll instead of requiring players to declare if they’re using Inspiration before rolling. They also allow multiple players to contribute their Inspiration until a player in need succeeds. Using Inspiration after a roll (hindsight rolling) or rolling more than two dice from advantage as players pool their Inspiration (chain rolling) can be a lot of fun. Consider if these standard practices will be enjoyable to your group, primarily since these methods are commonly used by D&D 5e groups.
Instead of gaining advantage or otherwise allowing rerolling when Inspiration is used, you might give the player the option to spend Inspiration for +5 to their roll. I recommend doing this before they roll for something important to them. This allows Inspiration to be used even when a character already has advantage on a roll. Besides, advantage mathematically equates to an average of +5 to a roll!
This idea was shared by Ian Grimm in the comments section! I’ll paraphrase his explanation.
It was up to the players to award inspiration instead of the DM. Each individual player was allowed to award one point of inspiration per session. It couldn’t be awarded retroactively in a moment of need like a failed saving throw. It had to be previously awarded to a player. As the DM, I could veto if I felt like it was being abused, but that situation never arose. I still handed inspiration myself occasionally. Putting players in charge of it really changed the roleplaying paradigm, moving past the “lone wolf” mindset to be team-oriented.
One of my favorite games is Octopath Traveler. In that game, you can save up points to spend all at once or in portions to perform extra attacks, augment your spells, heal additional hit points, and more. You can get creative, too! You can allow players to make additional attacks with their Inspiration or add additional damage dice to their spells. Maybe spell save DCs increase.
Players who forget they have Inspiration still may need a reminder. Consider giving them coins, tokens, dice, or anything else that they can place in front of them to feel special. This may help them more than the checkbox on their character sheets.
Cast Message to share your best ideas in the comments below!
Inspiration is an open-ended game mechanic that is well-liked by many players. DMs should consider how they can apply Inspiration to maximize the fun for players. Methods for awarding Inspiration would make an excellent topic for session zeroes.
How do you handle Inspiration at your table? Did you know Inspiration was handled so differently between diverse D&D 5e groups? Let me know in the comments.
Before you go, consider rating whether or not this article was helpful for you! You may also enjoy checking out other articles designed to help players or inspire DMs. We have plenty of content from different authors, so check them out to help you with your D&D games. Read the Cleric Corner’s ideas for Inspiration while you’re at it.
Have a great adventure this weekend!