Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition offers a new twist on old rules and has brought into play a totally new rule (for D&D, anyway) of Inspiration. Now, Inspiration seems like a pretty neat idea at first glance. The more I look at it, however, the more I want to fiddle with it.
For those familiar with playing Fate, and spending Fate points around a table, Inspiration might seem somewhat familiar. Inspiration is gaining a bonus for playing your character according to their story. However, whereas in Fate, you can have pretty much unlimited Fate points—saving them up and spending them at once—you can only have what boils down to one point of Inspiration. This is the same with Bennies in Savage Worlds—you can save them and spend them as you want. But, Wizards of the Coast decided to go with the same basic concept and limit it. I am not sure I agree with this idea.
I think of the action hero who gets beaten again and again in battle and then comes back to save the day in the end. How did he do that? Well, it’s obvious! It was an expenditure of Inspiration, right? Well, if you try and look at source material and blend the two it makes sense. In Fate and Savage Worlds, you get bonuses and have a few different ways you can use the equivalent of Inspiration from D&D 5e. And, you aren’t really limited to how many you can have because why would you want to limit the levels of awesome your character could achieve—especially when they really need it?
In turn, what does Inspiration do? Inspiration allows you to gain Advantage on a roll. We’ll talk about which rolls in a minute, but let’s look at the basic mechanic of it first. If you think about it, it’s really not that powerful. It essentially gives you an automatic re-roll. However, it’s not a re-roll, because you’re spending it before you know what the outcome would be. You spend it and roll two dice at once. So, you’re spending it before you know you need to. It isn’t giving you any sort of bonus. Yes, it is doubling your chance for success, but it is also doubling your chance for failure. But, it is a neat bit that maybe we could do something with.
The Confusion of Inspiration in D&D Next
Before we get into the different ways we could potentially use or modify Inspiration for our D&D 5th Edition games, let’s look more at how it works. The Players Handbook isn’t out yet, but we do have a copy of the basic rules, available for free from Wizards of the Coast.
From Page 35 of the D&D Next Basic Rules, we find out that
Inspiration is a rule the Dungeon Master can use to reward you for playing your character in a way that’s true to his or her personality traits, ideal, bond, and flaw.
The examples that immediately follow indicate gaining a bonus in specific dealings because of your traits or bonds. For example, you may have a bond with the downtrodden that gives you an edge in negotiating with the Beggar Prince. Your trait to defend your home village may allow you to push past a spell that has been cast against you while you are, in fact, defending the home village. Now, both of these indicate gaining it and spending it essentially in the same action, although not necessarily. It could be, but does it need to be?
We are then told that the GM will determine how and when to award Inspiration in the games they run, but that it’s usually done when roleplaying your characters traits, bonds, etc. Players also have the ability to pass their Inspiration to another character for any myriad of reasons, but suggested to be an award for cool roleplaying. Now, on Page 57 of the Basic Rules, it states that characters can use Inspiration to gain Advantage on rolls related to their traits, bonds, or ideals. So, in one place it specifies any attack, saving, or ability check. In another, it limits it to relating to the personality traits, ideals, and bonds. Frankly, relating to those things makes perfect sense, as shouldn’t part of why your character is more awesome be related to what makes your character unique in the first place?
How Would I Change D&D Next’s Inspiration Rules
I think I would look at doing a few things. I would keep the reward and justification of use of Inspiration related to the characters background and personality. That part makes a lot of sense. However, I would look at lifting the limitation of having Inspiration only once. Would I limit it to a larger number, even three or four? Maybe, I’m not sure. I would have to test it out, but I kind of like the idea of being able to spend it again and again in rapid succession to help make those climactic battle scenes just a bit more awesome.
As I mentioned earlier, I really don’t buy into the idea of Advantage being that powerful. It’s just a second die added, but there’s no actual bonus. You haven’t increased your odds of succeeding and more than you have increased your odds at failing. As such, I’d consider using it as a re-roll option or perhaps spending it as a +2. I want something that is going to make it seem more like a bonus. If you look at how to determine Advantage or Disadvantage, the idea of using up points to justify your character being better at someone because of their background kind of falls flat. I can call out Advantage on an elf ranger rolling a tracking roll, because—hey, that’s what they do just as quickly and easily as I could call Disadvantage for the burly barbarian trying to sweet talk a noble.
The other change I’d definitely make, if you consider it a change, is allow Inspiration to be spent on skill checks. As written, the skill check is sort of an ability check, but not quite. As such, to make sure there is no confusion, I’ll make sure my players know that right up front. Use Inspiration on skill checks; I’m fine with it.
What are your thoughts on Inspiration in D&D 5e? Will you be using it as written or will you be modifying the rule for your own games? If you’re going to change it up some, how?