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One Better: Inspiration Aspirations

One Better: Inspiration Aspirations

In current 5E rules, inspiration is a great concept, implemented poorly. In theory, it provides the GM with a tool to reward good roleplaying. It also provides players with a resource to improve their odds.

However, the original implementation of inspiration was flawed. The GM must remember to award inspiration, which is easy to forget while they’re running the whole darn world.

Because GMs hand it out so infrequently, players are reluctant to use inspiration except in the direst of straits. Then, on the rare occasion the GM does remember, the players are sitting on it already, and can’t have another one.

Despite eight years of getting it wrong, recent playtest rules take only baby steps to make inspiration more useful. “Heroic Inspiration” expands the mechanic minimally, providing inspiration when a player rolls a natural 1 on a d20 Test.


Instead of a half-baked solution, let’s concoct a rule worth using at the table.

Getting Inspiration

As a player, you should gain inspiration easily and often. You should also feel empowered to ask for inspiration when appropriate. To that end, inspiration arrives:

  • automatically, based on defined circumstances or,
  • at the GM’s discretion, based on player request.


After a Long Rest. You automatically gain inspiration after your character completes a long rest.

Rolling a Natural 1. After rolling a natural 1 on a consequential D20 Test, you automatically gain inspiration.

At Encounter’s End. After completing a consequential exploration, social, or combat encounter, you and your fellow players decide among yourselves who had a cool or memorable moment during that encounter.

  • For combat encounters, you could reward a player’s excellent tactics or willingness to take risk to defend a helpless ally.
  • For social encounters, you could reward the player who made a cutting remark or proposed a clever diplomatic solution.
  • For exploration encounters, you could reward the player who forged your path through the mountains, built a defensible camp, or cooked a tasty campfire stew.

Players discuss and agree to award inspiration to one character. The GM can award inspiration to additional characters.

At GM Discretion

Failure by 10 or More. After you fail a consequential D20 Test by 10 or more, your GM can choose to award you inspiration. After the GM announces the result, you or your fellow players can ask your GM whether you failed enough to gain inspiration.

Doing Something Cool. The GM can always award inspiration for good roleplaying. You are explicitly encouraged to ask your GM when you feel that a fellow player deserves inspiration for roleplaying.

Using Inspiration

You can never have more than one inspiration point. You can spend it to gain any of the following benefits:

Reroll a d20 Test. You may reroll a d20 Test and use whichever result is better. You must spend inspiration in this way before your GM announces the result of the d20 Test.

Reroll Damage. You can reroll a number of your damage dice, up to your character’s proficiency bonus. You must use the second result, even if it’s worse.

Grant Proficiency. You spend 1 minute in quiet contemplation, then gain proficiency in one skill or tool of your choice. This proficiency lasts for 1 hour, or until you spend inspiration to grant another proficiency by spending inspiration in this way again.

Matters of Consequence

These rules refer to “consequential” encounters and d20 Tests. This term means you need skin in the game to earn inspiration.

Consequential encounters involve risking death or the loss of something significant. This could be combat with a foe of an appropriate challenge rating, debating a noble whether to go to war, or trekking over perilous tundra to the next dungeon.

Don’t expect inspiration for fighting harmless woodland creatures or arguing with louts in a tavern—those are not consequential encounters. (And if you do get inspiration for these, the GM is telling you something.)  

Consequential d20 Tests are d20 Tests where you lose something on a failure, such as taking damage, suffering a condition, or other immediate negative repercussions.

When using knowledge skills (Arcana, History, Nature, and Religion) or investigative skills (Insight, Investigation, or Perception), you must act upon what you learned to gain inspiration. This may mean that your GM gives you false information, a half-truth, or accurate information.

Inspiration does not come from failing at nearly impossible Tests, like knowing where the closest book of ebon tides is located.

Try this along with any other playtesting you might do, and tell us how they work in the comments!

Want more great options for your game? Tome of Heroes delivers! Get over 70 new subclasses, a dozen new backgrounds, unusual new equipment, and downtime activites for your characters when they’re not delving. Get it at the Kobold Press store or your local game shop! It makes a great last-minute gift!

About Benjamin Eastman

Benjamin L. Eastman was introduced to D&D by his four closest friends—who immediately betrayed his trust by sacrificing his first character to a demonic artifact. Undeterred, he’s played all manner of RPGs in the intervening years. In addition to writing Warlock Lairs and monsters for Kobold Press, he’s contributed to the Stargate RPG and Americana, and co-authored DMs Guild adventures including Baby Tarrasque. He is perhaps proudest of the bar brawl—his first published monster in the Creature Codex

5 thoughts on “One Better: Inspiration Aspirations”

  1. How I use inspiration.
    Inspiration is a party resource. Each group gains 1 inspiration at start of a session. It can be used in all the same ways as RAW 5e. Additionally, you can burn one inspiration to add a d12 to a roll, instead of rerolling. Finally, you can burn an inspiration to turn a nat 1 into a success.

    Earning inspiration is always a choice. When a player rolls a nat 20, they have a choice: they can crit, or they can add an inspiration for the party. The other way it can be earned is when players use hit dice during a short rest – but they must rp a scene to gain the inspiration. The scene should involve shining the spotlight on one or more PCs in some way. The party can also earn one or more inspiration for finishing an important quest of for service to a powerful patron.

    I’ve toyed around with capping total inspiration and making it reset after each long rest for groups that try to hoard inspiration.

    Unbridled thoughts on the Kobold Press article.
    Automatic after a long rest.
    This is not something I’d ever use. Thematically and mechanically, it’s just not a fun option.

    Automatic after rolling a nat 1.
    This is basically what’s in the playtest, and it does work. But the theme I’m sticking with here is that automatic inspiration is not a great addition to the game.

    Automatic after an encounter.
    Let’s lean into this one. Especially the part where the players decide who gets that prized resource. But we might not want to say it’s automatic – it’s interactive. That’s just semantics of course, but words do matter in this hobby.

    Failure by 10 or more.
    Another serious no go over here. Just thinking about all the extra math that would need to go on in the back of my mind brings a single tear to my eye.

    Doing something cool.
    Right, this is what most of us have been doing and it works ok. Biggest problem here is that it’s a strange feeling as a player when do/say/rp something you think was pretty darn cool, and never get inspiration. Then, a fellow players says something not so impressive really, and gets inspiration twice, or even more, in a session. As a DM, it adds social pressure to make sure you’re not accidentally falling into the previous scenario.

    Reroll as a reaction.
    This is basically how it works now? Except it dips into action economy for no real reason. Furthermore, rerolls that require no knowledge of the result slows down the game because, as a DM, you have to pause after nearly every roll to allow players to use these types of mechanics. Then, after an unnecessary pause, you can announce the result. Worse still, these mechanics utterly fall apart in many modern VTTs.

    Reroll damage.
    No thank you. A fun option for some, undoubtedly. For me, rerolling damage is mind numbingly boring, especially when someone else is doing it. Rolling for damage is already a long enough process – and PCs already seal enough damage – so I have zero interest in using inspiration to reroll damage … as a player or a DM.

    Grant proficiency.
    A neat concept. Tools are under utilized in many games. But this idea steps on too many toes. I’d rather just use the “take 10” method found in Pathfinder and other games.

    Consequential rolls.
    I really like this. Especially when tied directly to the playtest version of inspiration.

    1. As noted below, the inspiration as a reaction was included erroneously.

      As originally, there were two options—give yourself advantage before the roll, or give yourself a re-roll as a reaction. This was intended to create some meaningful choice by adding cost to waiting for the re-roll.

      Then, the Cleric playtest packet dropped, and WOTC added the re-roll option as part of their inspiration rules. I struck the distinction, but the reference to the reaction wasn’t removed.

  2. Editor’s Note: There was previous reference to use of inspiration as a reaction. This was removed after publication at the author’s request.

  3. Cassiopeia Nebula

    After doing quite a bit of research (watching a million videos to improve my gm’ing), i p much hand out inspiration at the beginning of most sessions, after the players do something buckwild, and so on. i never really liked the “declare you use inspiration before you roll”, bc it always seemed wasteful to me. i house-ruled it to “you can declare inspiration before or after making an ability roll” which helped my players feel more at ease about using them c:

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