I was listening to a podcast on D&D 5 discussing its design. They mentioned the mechanic of Inspiration (points awarded (5e DMG Inspiration) by the DM for a roll boost due to good role play) as being one of the coolest aspects of the game. I was wondering: Is this innovation created by the D&D 5 designers, or did this pre-exist in prior role playing games in a recognizable form? If D&D 5 was not the original innovator, which published RPG first presented this idea of Inspiration?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Giving somebody extra "points" (Karma, Edge, Force, Fate, Luck, you name it) for good roleplaying has been a rule in almost every other game I played. I would consider it a well known mechanic, where Inspiration is only D&Ds take on it. It's a first in D&D but far from an innovation for roleplaying games. \$\endgroup\$
    – nvoigt
    Jul 17 '15 at 6:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ What sets it apart in my mind is that you're able to use it to affect a role, and you may even transfer it to someone else. \$\endgroup\$
    – user15299
    Jul 17 '15 at 12:59

Inspiration: DM awards Good Play

Points awarded (5e DMG Inspiration) by the DM for a roll boost due to good role play appears to go as far back as the Strategic Review (the last issue) in an article by Gary Gygax, April 1976. This addressed subjective/judgment based decisions by the DM in favor of a player. The result is that a poor result (typically a die roll) was mitigated due to how the player played the character, not the mechanics of the game, based on the judgment of the GM.

Paraphrase: "If this is a very good player, it is OK for the DM to now and again fudge the poor dice roll in his favor."

The 5e Inspiration (a die roll bonus for good role play) does something similar: an option to improve a roll is awarded based upon the DM's judgment of player performance.

From page 22 of the SR:

Second, absolute disinterest must be exercised by the Dungeonmaster, and if a favorite player stupidly puts himself into a situation where he is about to be killed, let the dice tell the story and KILL him. This is not to say that you should never temper chance with a bit of “Divine Intervention,” but helping players should be a rare act on the referee’s part, and the action should only be taken when fate seems to have unjustly condemned an otherwise good player, and then not in every circumstance should the referee intervene.

More Recent RPG Influence

From input by @GMNoob @Isaac: the Bennie (Savage World's) and Fate Points (RPG Fate, 2003) are ancestors to DM Inspiration in 5e.


We've got a lot of very early games where good roleplaying gives you experience points, or in the case of Whitewolf games, things like minor Willpower recharges. I think there's a big jump between those types of mechanics and the direct "good roleplaying now = immediate mechanical bonus" so I'll focus on those games in particular.

James West's The Pool has bonus dice, however the advice on when/how to give bonus dice is pretty much left open, so it's not specifically directed at roleplaying and so it's a bit of a reach. Ron Edward's Sorcerer, however, has bonus dice for excellent characterization and embellishment in the moment, and is specifically directed at that and would be the first game I'd consider to definitely be doing this particular design trick.

Riddle of Steel is probably a more direct ancestor, since the Spiritual Attribute rules had players describe specific goals/ideals which motivated the characters, and when acting on those specific themes, you got bonus dice right in the moment. Burning Wheel also landed around the same time, however, the game is supposed to be played where awards are given at the end of a session to be spent later.

There's also Primetime Adventures, where players award each other Fanmail points for good roleplaying, which can then be spent for extra cards in a conflict, including right away.. Similar and around the same time, The Shadow of Yesterday had gift dice that players awarded each other for good roleplaying directly in a conflict. In parallel development over in Japan, Tenra Bansho Zero's Aiki system also involved player driven awards for following defined Fates (ideals, etc.)

There's probably about a dozen more indie games that came out from Forge Forums folks around the 2002-2005 range that do variations of these kinds of mechanics. Around this time, Mike Mearls, one of the head D&D guys now, did spend a bit of time connecting with Forge folks online and at cons, so it's hard to say if one particular game was responsible for the current D&D Inspiration mechanics as much as the whole design idea in general.

  • \$\begingroup\$ What do Willpower recharges do? Do those correspond to Inspiration? Also, it may be worth putting that last paragraph further up front as it's important: D&D 5e didn't pluck the basis for Inspiration out of history, it was following trends set by other modern games. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 16 '15 at 23:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Willpower points can be spent to improve your chances, but are limited. Certain things replenish your willpower pool. \$\endgroup\$
    – Smithers
    Jul 17 '15 at 0:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ Minor point: the original Burning Wheel rules allow Artha to be distributed at any point (there's a short essay in the Adventure Burner about it: easier for new players but de-emphases the long-term effects). It's a post-Burning Empires change to do it at the end. (The Gold edition of BW now does it at the end too.) burningwheel.com/forum/… \$\endgroup\$
    – Isaac
    Jul 17 '15 at 9:27

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