The last part of this pair of posts spoke about changing advantage, disadvantage, and inspiration for D&D. It suggested changing advantage to smaller add-on dice (d3s, d4s, d6s) that can stack. Using that alternative also allows for inspiration to accumulate rather than stagnate. An accumulation of inspiration dice allows for another mechanic to find its way into D&D and other d20 games that incorporate this set of house rules. (And these advantage/disadvantage rules can be used to replace numeric modifiers in most d20 games.)
Inspiration dice can be used as influence in the game. DMs and players can use this influence. This idea comes from FATE, which calls the process compelling. I prefer influence. Even in FATE, the process is a negotiation about a narrative outcomes.
As a DM, you can use inspiration dice not only to reward roleplaying but to request it. If you’d like a player to act on a character’s personality trait or alignment, you offer a bribe of one inspiration die. If the player agrees, they receive the inspiration die but must act as you requested. For example, you might ask a player with a greed flaw to risk going for the jewel on a pedestal despite the player’s misgivings.
Players can exert influence on other players in a similar way. This technique helps if your group has issues with allowing player characters to use skill checks against other player characters. Instead, inspiration acts as influence. A player who wants another player’s character to behave in a certain way offers the other player an inspiration die. If the targeted player agrees, the outcome is as the paying player wanted. This method can work for issues from deceiving a fellow player’s character to pickpocketing them. If the targeted player refuses, the offering player can withdraw the attempt. An important aspect of this negotiation is respect, which the next section is about.
But before that, DMs and players might also be allowed to influence the “reality” of the game by granting (the DM) or spending (players) inspiration dice. The DM could suggest an unexpected complication for a situation by giving the affected players inspiration. Players who take the inspiration must deal with the problem. The problem could rise to the level of imposing disadvantage, provided the targeted players agree. Players can suggest unexpected benefits in the game world by expending inspiration. If the DM agrees, the situation changes to match the player’s proposal. That alteration could result in advantage on related die rolls if the DM agrees it should. Making the game more awesome is the goal. An added benefit is granting players more control of the shared narrative.
Inspiration and Respect
Inspiration can be used to influence players and situations, but the point is to increase the fun, and to head off disagreements and hard feelings. The DM and other players should use this option in a way that respects choices and agency. Always honor refusal. Players shouldn’t be compelled to buy into what others want to happen using this voluntary rule. If a player tries to pull one over on another player using inspiration, the target should be able to refuse the action altogether. Consent should be given before the game goes in that direction, even if one character could succeed on a check and should be able to fool another (or pick their pocket, or whatever).
This house rule helps for navigating situations that can be difficult at the table in the absence of a framework for negotiation. If you don’t use it, consider setting up an alternative. Allowing one player to dupe another with an ability check or other mechanic without negotiation can be a recipe for a poor play experience for someone. No one wants that.
Other options exist for using inspiration liberally.
Part 1 mentions the most common house rule I’ve seen for inspiration’s current version. That’s the reroll. An alternative to the reroll is allowing post-failure inspiration use. Instead of a reroll, the player rolls inspiration dice and adds the highest result to the original roll. If doing so wouldn’t allow the player to succeed, don’t allow the player to waste dice. (This usage resembles hero points mentioned in the 5e Dungeon Master’s Guide, but it lacks the roughness and narrowness of those optional rules.)
You can also allow inspiration to augment non-d20 rolls. You might say inspiration can add to damage, including doubling on critical hits, or healing. In these cases, you can keep the rule that only the highest die applies, or you can allow all the dice to apply. With the latter method, you might want to limit the number spent to, say, three. But remember, a player cashing in lots of inspiration for damage is telegraphing the player’s desire—to wallop the enemy, hopefully killing it.
Other house rules might be based on inspiration. A player might be able to “parry” using inspiration to add to Armor Class. The bonus granted should apply to all of one enemy’s attacks, but it could work until the end of the character’s next turn. That allows a player to change tactics, perhaps taking more risk with bold movement.
My friend Teos Abadia (Alphastream) pointed out in comments to part 1 that d20 Spycraft allowed the GM to gain a die whenever the players received one. (In that game, these dice were called action dice.) You might use this option. Alternatively, whenever a player spends an inspiration die, the referee could gain one. You use these dice to grant dangerous foes or important NPCs advantages in significant conflicts or other meaningful interactions. As Teos said, you use these dice to add tension.
Quinn Murphy, another friend, mentioned he uses different types of inspiration to affect and emphasize the narrative of the game in different ways. You might add a trait to characters in the D&D game that says, “I become inspired when” taking a particular action. Riffing on that fine usage, I see notes of situational inspiration that must be spent within a certain timeframe. For example, a Favored Enemy mechanic could be “I become inspired when I face gnolls.” If you fail to use that inspiration during a conflict or interaction with gnolls, you lose it. Quinn also mentioned that having a type of inspiration when a similar event happened in the game might have consequences for the character. Quinn allows a character to gain each type of inspiration once per session, but the types might synergize. He also grants ongoing benefits for having a type of inspiration, along with a bigger payoff for spending it. That’s a cool idea.
As all these creative house rulings show, when you have more of these dice in your game, you have the flexibility to use them in interesting ways. That creativity is limited only by what you and your players imagination and what you want for your play experience. How your ideas work depends on how you set up inspiration exchange.
When you use inspiration in these ways, it becomes a narrative currency in the game. Since it’s a currency, it needs to be available to have a substantive effect. That means you, as referee, need to make sure players have enough inspiration to spend it in the various ways your game allows. Most inspiration is going to come from you, so give it out liberally as a reward and use it regularly to influence the emergent narrative of the game. Unlike what I suggested in part 1 about resetting players to 1 inspiration at the start of each game session, you might want to give players more than 1. See what works for you.
Since inspiration offers advantage—a key to more success—your players are going to use it for that option most often. If you want all the options mentioned in this pair of posts in the game, that means a rich exchange needs to take place. It might also mean you want to favor a smaller die for inspiration. Larger or fewer dice might indicate a slower exchange is better. It’s up to you. The point is that you need to make sure the economy works for your game.
Unlike those in the previous post (part 1), the suggestions here have a chance of changing the game in larger ways. Get other players to buy in before using them. Like the options in part 1, these mechanics can make the game a lot more enjoyable and collaborative. And sharing a fun experience is why we play roleplaying games in the first place.
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