Beg, Borrow, and Steal, Part 2 — Inspiration

In the first post in this series, I wrote about creating unique player roles consisting of activities that are already performed by players and the Dungeon Master in a more informal manner. In this second post, I take a look at a method of awarding inspiration that encourages group reflection and can lead to greater rewards for players.

In Torchbearer and other Burning Wheel System games, players go around the table at the end of a session and read aloud their Beliefs, Goals, and Instincts. They then receive rewards based on the way in which they played their character in the session.

I have a similar idea for D&D 5e that involves awarding inspiration at the end of a session for the way in which players bring their characters’ Personal Characteristics (Personality Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws ) to life at the table. A single player can also be awarded inspiration for being the Most Valuable Player Character of the session.

As mentioned in part 1 of this series, I’m not a big fan of house rules. What I like about this approach is that it leverages aspects of the rules as written that seem to be often overlooked in D&D 5e games. The 5e Player’s Handbook has this to say about awarding inspiration :

Your DM can choose to give you inspiration for a variety of reasons. Typically, DMs 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 DM will tell you how you can earn inspiration in the game.

However, Dungeon Masters, myself included, seem to more often award inspiration for good roleplaying not necessarily tied to mechanical aspects of character or for coming up with clever solutions to problems and situations.

So how would my recommended approach work? At the end of the session, players would go around the table and read their Personality Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws out loud. Inspiration would be awarded based on group consensus to players whose characters best embodied each Personal Characteristic. More than one player would be eligible to receive Inspiration for each, but no player would be eligible to receive Inspiration more than once. The players would then determine which player had the Most Valuable Player Character of the session with the DM resolving any ties. This player would be eligible to receive Inspiration a second time

I’ve broken all this down into a list below. You’ll notice a color next to each item. I’ll expand on that afterward.

  • Personal Characteristics — Multiple players can receive Inspiration for each. No player can receive Inspiration more than once.
    • Personality Traits (Black) — Players awarded Inspiration for Personality Traits should bring a trait to life through compelling roleplaying.
    • Ideals (Blue) — Players awarded Inspiration for Ideals should make decisions for themselves and the party based on their Ideals.
    • Bonds (Green) — Players awarded Inspiration for Bonds should work to achieve their Bond. This reads weird, I know, but the pregenerated Bonds in the Player’s Handbook read more like goals.
    • Flaws (Red) — Players awarded Inspiration for Flaws should hinder themselves or the party with a flaw.
  • Most Valuable Player Character (White) — Only one player can receive this award. Only this award allows a player receive Inspiration. The players should work together to determine who was the most valuable player for the session. The criteria will change from session to session. It could involve landing the killing blow in dire combat with a perilous foe, finding an elusive secret door, or talking the way out of certain doom.

So, what’s up with the colors? Once a player receives Inspiration for each Personal Characteristic and Most Valuable Character, he or she receives an additional reward. The colors are just a way to keep track. I will more than likely buy d20s of each color to pass out to my players. In terms of rewards, I could imagine a few different options. A single point of ability score increase, a magic item of some sort worked into play, or a feat are the first things that come to mind. With the frequency that our group plays, this wouldn’t feel too overpowered. If you play more frequently, you might want to choose more modest rewards.

As always, I’ll follow up here on Little Wars, and let you know how it goes.

DMs, how do you award Inspiration? Players, do you think about your Personal Characteristics when playing? I’d love to hear from you. Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.