Whether you’re adventuring in the Forgotten Realms, Wildemount, or another setting entirely, Dungeons & Dragons is a roleplaying game at its core.
Many players love the freedom that roleplaying gives them. They get to be someone else and explore an entirely different way of looking at the world. The only limit is their imagination!
But some players get understandably nervous about roleplaying. New players, in particular, may find this somewhat intimidating.
I mean, you watch streams like Critical Role or Dimenson20 and think “I can do that!” but then you get to the table yourself and start to choke.
It’s ok! I totally get it!
The voices and quirky mannerisms will come with time.
But what if I told you that there’s a nifty mechanic in the game that will help you start to roleplay without having to dive into the deep end?
To you, dear reader, I present this guide to Inspiration in D&D 5e!
What Is Inspiration?
Inspiration in D&D 5e takes the form of tokens that are given to players as rewards for good roleplaying. There’s not really a standard token that’s used, but it can be particularly fun to use some type of symbol that matches the theme of the game.
In one of my games, players receive a token with the group’s symbol on it. In another game in which we are running Curse of Strahd, we use these fantastic little skulls.
If you have an Inspiration token, you can use it to gain advantage on an attack roll, saving throw, or ability check.
Additionally, you can choose to give another player your Inspiration token if you think that they have roleplayed well.
Personally, I think that Inspiration as it’s used in the rules is a little underwhelming. My group has a slightly different way of using Inspiration that we’ll cover in just a bit. (Not going to lie, I refuse to run Inspiration any other way now…)
What Does Good Roleplaying Mean?
Now, good roleplaying doesn’t necessarily mean that you are doing voices or showing up dressed as your character. As objectively cool as those things are, roleplaying goes a bit deeper.
Generally, Inspiration is awarded when a player really embodies their character. This means that they are playing that character’s personality for better or worse. If they are acting in such a way that makes sense for the character and adds to the overall feel of the story, they may get Inspiration.
So, even if you’re shy and are worried about seeming goofy by doing voices and what not, you can still gain Inspiration. Ask yourself what your character would do and what would make the particular scene interesting.
Play to Your Strengths
A huge draw of playing D&D is doing epic things.
You know what makes those epic things even more epic? When you get Inspiration for doing them!
Your DM may reward you inspiration for pulling off some crazy thing that is in line with what your character would do.
For example, let’s say you’re a wizard who is incredibly tactic-minded when it comes to problem solving. You come up with a strategy that your party is able to execute. Upon pulling this off, your strategy has just made a massive encounter into something easily overcome. How inspirational!
What about a monk who finds themselves surrounded by four enemies. They make four attacks and successfully drop all four enemies ending with a stylistic Bruce Lee yell. Have some Inspiration!
Play to Your Flaws
Inspiration isn’t limited exclusively to characters playing to their flaws, but it does incentivize it!
It’s a universal truth that we all have flaws. These manifest in our day-to-day lives and, like it or not, are a clear part of who we are.
Jenny doesn’t return her shopping carts to the designated cart drop off.
Phil is a bad tipper at bars and restaurants.
Bobby is a friendly guy, but he smells awful and doesn’t practice hygiene like he should.
These aren’t necessarily bad people. (Well except Phil… seriously Phil? You think 5% is a good tip?!)
So what flaws does your character have?
The game that spawned Joab saw him having a gambling problem. We found a giant demonic slot machine and he blew most of his money on it before the party found out.
I played a monk, Marceau, who loved rushing into dangerous situations to try and be a hero. He nearly got himself (and his brother, another party member) killed by trying to take on a storm giant. He was trying to save a prisoner he met while scouting.
Gimble, a gnome artificer who basically built a Death Star, was annoyingly excitable. To him, every invention had to be better (and louder) than the last. Meanwhile, he was hopelessly incapable of determining if someone was lying to him. He nearly let a tied up bandit go free because the bandit promised to “stop bandit-ing forever.”
In every situation, I knew that the character was making the “wrong” decision as a player. But it was keeping with who the character was and added to the story. In all three situations, the character received Inspiration.
If you are more of a mechanically-minded player or optimizer, that may bug you. Instead, view it as taking the bad option now so that you can take the best option later when you need it most.
Overcoming a Flaw
I like to make some extra consideration for characters who are able to overcome their flaws.
This can’t happen so much that it defeats the point of having a flaw, but it can really reinforce the drama of a given moment.
Let’s say the Rogue is badly wounded and is holding the party’s last healing potion. They look over and see that the rest of the party is trying to hold off the monster, but the Sorcerer is unconscious on the ground.
The Rogue’s flaw is that they tend to be very selfish, particularly when the chips are down. Their gut is telling them to take the potion and escape with their life.
But… for some reason they can’t…
It takes them a moment of consideration, but they rush over to the Sorcerer. It takes all of their turn, but they uncork the potion and pour it into the Sorcerer’s unconscious mouth.
The Sorcerer coughs a bit as they regain consciousness.
“Th-thank you…” the Sorcerer says.
It took everything within the Rogue to not bail. They had to make the tough choice to stay and possibly die for the sake of attempting to save their ally’s life.
Honestly, I would have even left that situation to a roll. Evens, the Rogue helps the Sorcerer. Odds, they cut and run.
But because the Rogue has made a personal sacrifice to help someone else, they receive Inspiration.
How I Run Inspiration in My Campaigns – 5 Homebrew Rules
As I mentioned earlier, I run Inspiration slightly different in my games.
Inspiration is still awarded by the Dungeon Master for roleplaying that adds to the story. Similarly, it’s awarded when that roleplaying reinforces the character or develops them in some way.
It still grants advantage on attack rolls, ability checks, and saving throws.
But that’s where I prefer to change things up.
Joab’s Inspiration Homebrew 1
I also like to allow Inspiration to be used to give another creature disadvantage on a roll.
This is particularly useful in those moments where you really want them to fail their saving throw.
It’s also useful if you have just found out that the enemy hits like a truck and you, as a squishy wizard, are dangerously close to them.
Joab’s Inspiration Homebrew 2
You can use your Inspiration for someone else.
Let’s say that your Fighter just found themselves making eye contact with a Medusa. They don’t have Inspiration and unsurprisingly don’t want to be turned to stone.
You hand the DM your Inspiration token to give the Fighter advantage on their saving throw to resist the Medusa’s gaze.
While this is somewhat similar to the written rules, I feel that it’s more “in the moment.” Rather than giving up your Inspiration for the other player to use at their discretion, you are able to determine what it’s used for.
Joab’s Inspiration Homebrew 3
Inspiration can be used on death saving throws.
I wouldn’t see why not. There are few situations in which you need Inspiration more than when you’re literally trying to cling onto life.
If you have Inspiration, use it.
Joab’s Inspiration Homebrew 4
Players can call for Inspiration.
Now, this is not meant to be exploited and Inspiration is still at the DMs discretion.
However, I find that it greatly helps the players feel like they’re on the same team when they can suggest that another player get Inspiration for something they’ve done.
Let’s face it, compliments just feel good. If you’ve done something awesome and the table starts cheering, you’re going to feel really good about yourself. It’s those moments where your fellow players can call for the DM to give you Inspiration.
In my experience on either side of the DM screen, the DM will typically give Inspiration by popular demand.
Plus (and I know that this is a hot take) no Dungeon Master is perfect. We forget about Inspiration… a lot… and this helps remind us that “oh yeah, that’s a thing!”
Joab’s Inspiration Homebrew 5
I’ve had good results with one of my groups when using Inspiration at the start of the game.
Before we get going, I like to do a quick recap of what happened in the previous game. The goal is to get the players’ minds focused on the story and to talk about their character’s interpretation of whatever happened.
This quickly gets them to the table, into their characters’ mindsets, and ready to progress the story.
If someone is missing from the table once we’re done with the recap, they don’t start the session with Inspiration. Of course, they can still get it while playing, but nobody wants to miss the free Inspiration.
Conclusion – How Inspiration Works in D&D 5e
The ultimate goal of the Inspiration mechanic is to create an engaging story.
Characters are real people with real flaws, personalities, and motivations. Even if the character is making the “wrong” choice, it can still be interesting and true to the character’s personality.
Inspiration is such a unique mechanic, but I feel that D&D is better for having it. I’ve seen many purely mechanical players make great strides in contributing to the story for not wanting to miss out on Inspiration.
So, no, you don’t need to be a professional voice actor to gain Inspiration. Just do what your character would do, add to the story, and have fun!
In the meantime, I recommend checking out our other article on 10 Optional Homebrew Rules for your D&D game. One of them is yet another way that you can remix the Inspiration mechanic to suit your group’s playstyle!
Subscribe To Tabletop Joab's Newsletter!
Subscribers get updates on all of the latest news, posts, and offerings from Tabletop Joab!