Inspiration in D&D 5e

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?


  1. Actually, take the better of two rolls on a d20 is way better than a +2, most of the time it’s closer to +5… and it doesn’t double your chance of failure because if the “extra” die fails you’re no worse off.

    Here’s a nice plot of the difference between rolling with Advantage and a straight +3:

    As you can see, in the big fat middle where you’re about 50-50 to succeed, it’s like having a +5, tailing off at either end.

    Also, and this is a quibble, Skill checks are a subset of Ability checks (see p. 58) so you’re definitely allowed to use Inspiration on them.


  2. It’s just a second die added, but there’s no actual bonus.

    Umm. This is the actual change in the probability of rolling greater than or equal to a required number due to having advantage or disadvantage:

    As you can see, in the middle of the range having an Advantage is the equivalent of a +4 bonus dropping down to a +1 bonus when the target is 20. The average roll being 13.82 rather than 10.5. Having Advantage or Disadvantage does seriously affect your chance of success.

    The nice thing about this system is that it manages to take into account difficulty and benefits without making a roll impossible. For example, in a system where you add a -2 penalty (to represent disadvantage) a DC of 20 is now impossible unless you use automatic success or exploding dice. On the other hand here you still have a 1% chance of success (one/fifth of the unmodified roll).

    Lots of games used this sort of system well before D&D5, which is why I know it works well.


    1. You’re both right on the theoretical math behind it. And, maybe if you roll 10k or more times, you see it work out that way. Physically, rolling as many as 100 dice, I’m not seeing it. And, contrarily, my wife rolls, 20 times and wins each time. So, while the math can support it, it’s simply not tangible enough to me. But, the bonus is actually quite large when you lay it out on paper. Even understanding the math behind it better now, I’m not feeling it and I’m not seeing it take form on the table. I’ve always hated statistics, because I always seem to run across outliers and there is always an explanation for it. Perhaps as simple as allowing it simply to be a reroll at the table, which would keep the math the same between the two rolls (or two dice being rolled anyhow), but not having to spend that point until you need it is what will work to keep everything intact.


  3. I have to say that I love the idea of this Inspiration rule as it is written and I will tell you why using a comparison to FATE.

    In FATE it seems there is little risk to a player in many adventures because a) a player can spend as many FATE points as they have as long as they can tie it to an aspect; b) GM’s of the game have a tendency to let even the most tenuous connection to an aspect through; and c) You can spend the FATE points before or after the role. I mean, where is the drama in that?

    The advantage and disadvantage rules provide real bonuses and penalties due to the statistics involved. It is hard to go into a hard number for that bonus and penalty without looking at the science(?) of statistics but the benefit is huge. I also love that this benefit has to be applied prior to the role because that is where the tension is with using dice. I am always reminded by my GM’s of FATE that I don’t have to spend them up front and I can spend them after the roll but I do not like playing like that. If I am going to roll I want all that I can offer in order and then roll those dice with my heart in my mouth.

    I do love that this is limited to one Inspiration at a time. The reason being that it encourages the player to continually play the focused areas of their character. Not just so we can get off one point, so the player gets inspiration, spends it. Not the end of the game for inspiration because if I continue to play my character according to the triggers of the inspiration, I can get it back again 🙂

    So after that novel, I would say that I will be playing Inspiration straight down the line in my games!


    1. And that showcases my point: different requirements for different styles of play(posting remote)


  4. I am using it as written for now. My guess is that they wanted it to be simple for the basic rule set, and they will include additional resources and optional rules in the DMG. To me that approach seems good as far as tiered complexity. For me I will likely add features like the old force points in the old D6 Star Wars rules, Simmilar to the points in fate or bennies etc.


  5. Its an easy to manage system that doesn’t requite to remember an additional +x, which makes it elegant and preferable, imo. As long as you are not constantly throwing the same number on both dice, the system is working. The first two commenters explained well, and in the realms of the measurable, it matters not if you “feel”. And to be clear, a reroll chance and chose higher is the same as throwing 2 and picking higher.

    The rules at some points mentions adding +5 instead of advantage to make things quicker. A couple of trials on Excel showed for me it was closer to being ~6.5 of an average difference between the two d20 throws.


  6. How is it doubling your chance of failure? With advantage, you always take the higher die. This reduces the chance of failure, thats the entire point. It halves your chance of failure, because you’d have to fail twice in order to actually fail.


    1. A bit late to the game, but I had a loooooong chat with both Mark and Josh earlier about math and statistics, specifically stats which they are both immensely capable at for differing reasons. Statistically, no, it doesn’t double the chance of failing. Having played for years now, I will say this: Mmy deep dive into stats says this is a good thing. And, in play, it always adds some tension and fun. I have, however, seen it not benefit players just as often as it has benefited them. I’ve been trying to lecture these damned dice on the rules of probability but I am nowhere near as good a teacher as my friends. On the other hand, nothing short of ludicrously stupid bonuses provides the (almost) guaranteed bonus I was *thinking* it should and we found that just isn’t fun, so we use it as written.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.