I love the Inspiration mechanic in 5e. It’s a simple way to reward roleplaying and behaving in certain ways. I think we can combine aspects of this system with a few features from the renown system to enhance the storytelling and ground our players in the world.
This concept isn’t entirely absent from the game as is. In Descent into Avernus on p.9 ‘If a character commits a selfish act, you can reward that selfishness by granting the character inspiration.’ to help reward players for buying into the corrupting nature of the Nine Hells. This however, only advises when to award the points and not interesting ways for it to be spent.
We can fiddle with the inspiration system at two points to enrich our games; the rewarding of the point and how it can be spent.
It is fairly straightforward rewarding inspiration to players when they play out their character’s virtues and vices, but those metrics are personal to the character and which don’t necessarily correlate to the flavor of the story you are trying to tell.
As shown in Descent into Avernus, you can reward inspiration for playing out psychological effects of a plane, but why stop there? You can reward inspiration when their actions are in line with the genre of story you are trying to tell, or to show the mystical favor of some god or spirit, or simply by being active members in the city you spent too long writing backstories around.
Once, you know who your heroes are working for and why it is easy to build a short list of ways for them to gain inspiration. Here is a quick list I can use for my current campaign;
- Spread civilization through the drakes, by blood. (diplomacy is nice, but governess Nala cares little for the natives of the islands.)
- Offer the two native gods a notable sacrifice (one of them likes heads, the other eats souls)
- Suppress Insurrection (Governess Nala rules with an Iron Fist)
- If they attempt to protect the land or stop poachers the Chwinga bless them
I find it is a good idea to brainstorm a few ways they can earn inspiration for each distinct location. Nothing crazy, but its a good idea to think of what actions to want to reward when they are interacting with NPCS.
How to Spend Inspiration
‘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.’ PHB p.124. (YAWN!)
First of all, my players have never remembered to use inspiration before their initial roll. So I’ve always allowed them to use their inspiration after making their first roll. Secondly, the base reward of a preroll is very dull. In addition to a simple reroll, you can let your players spend their inspiration in countless other ways.
- Adding a d8 to a damage roll.
- If an attack would drop your character to 0 hp it takes you to 1 instead.
- If your character would die they are instead maimed in some way instead and are at 0 hp but stabilized (I actually have used this one and love it! My goblin player now has a peg-leg).
- Get an extra action or bonus action (that allows you to actually use two spell slots on one turn.)
- Get a hint on a riddle or get some exoteric world knowledge
- You ‘know a guy’ who can help you with a specific issue.
You can present these options as a standard part of your game that they can use whenever they have inspiration, or you can offer the exceptional use of their hoarded inspiration to gain the effect.
The versatility of Inspiration is amazing and really hasn’t been explored too deeply, but I hope I inspired a few of you to review how you were handling inspiration at least. Thank you for reading.