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I have been reading the D&D 5th edition players handbook and the inspiration section drew my attention. I have never played a game where the DM employed the inspiration mechanic and I was wondering how it would practically work. Let me clarify by giving an example:

My character recognizes a patron at an inn that he has a bad history with. His flaw is that he has a bad temper and tends to get in fights easily. But my party needs information from the innkeeper.

Thus starting a fight with the patron would likely get us kicked out of the inn and make us unable to access the information from the innkeeper.

Starting a fight with the patron could be worthy of inspiration but I see three possibilities of how the inspiration would be awarded:

  1. I say to the DM: "I will start this fight, if you reward me with inspiration".
  2. The DM tells me: "If you start this fight, I will reward you with inspiration"
  3. There is no negotiation about inspiration & the DM awards it after I take the action.

I have read some questions on this subject but most talk about when to award inspiration, I am asking about how to award inspiration.

As far as I know (my knowledge is limited I admit) there are no explicit rules about this but I am interested to hear different opinions and interpretations of the rules.

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    \$\begingroup\$ As a DM who just wrapped up a year long campaign of 5th, I can say that this, Keeping up with life, learning a new system and trying to run a fun game story wise, a few things slip through the cracks some times. Maybe its just me, but i constantly forget about inspiration as a mechanic. \$\endgroup\$ – MC_Hambone Aug 16 '15 at 2:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ Maybe I'm nitpicking here but... isn't what you're asking still about when (after the event or before), at least for 1+2 vs. 3? I have no idea which questons you looked at but by a wild guess I'd use "how often" and "when/how" as your bolded words. Would that be right? \$\endgroup\$ – Zachiel Aug 16 '15 at 8:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Zachiel yes that's a good point. The essence of the question is wether a DM and a player can negotiate about inspiration before the player takes the action and if this would be a good thing to allow as a DM \$\endgroup\$ – Fester Aug 16 '15 at 11:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ As a DM, I loathe any time my players phrase their actions as hypotheticals. "If I were to <do action>, would you <ensure my success>?" Kind of takes the thrill out of the game in my opinion. \$\endgroup\$ – WannabeCoder Aug 17 '15 at 13:01
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Inspiration = Positive Reinforcement

Think of Inspiration as classic positive reinforcement. Your case number 3 is closest to the best way. It might be in the DM's interest to nip the "vending machine" point of view in the bud: "I put in this much X, you owe me Y inspiration" ... is where you don't want it to go.

Can you negotiate for it? Sure, discuss this with your DM before playing. It's a bit "meta game" to do that, but there's some meta in each game.

The DMG pages 240-241 introduces the concept:

Awarding Inspiration is an effective way to encourage roleplaying and risk taking ... the character can have no more than one Inspiration at a time.

You could infer from the PHB entry that players are entitled to it. The DMG entry seems opposed to that interpretation.1

Aside: A campaign can be run without it. (Sad but true. IMO, it's a great tool for the DM to use).

(p.240) Some DMs forgo using inspiration, while others embrace it as a key part of the game.

What general categories of play lead to awarding inspiration? (DMG p. 241)

  • Roleplaying
  • Heroism
  • Reward for Victory
  • Genre Emulation

The DMG article is worth reading on its own, but also as a contrast to the PHB treatment.

How to do it? Your case 3 seems the best and least 'metagaming' in character.

After an event which meets whatever threshold you have set or that inspires you to feel

"Yes, this is what we need more of!"

  1. Note the event/success/failure/attempt
  2. Award the Inspiration.
  3. Make sure the other players see this and note the linkage to good role play, heroism, trying imaginative stuff, etc.

Your award (positive reinforcement) will hopefully encourage their future efforts to emulate that level of role play / heroism / etc. in your game sessions.


1 This GMing advice page advocates DM being in control of Inspiration awards.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It hardly encourages anything if players can't either rely on getting it or find out in advance whether or not they'll get it - if the DM arbitrarily refuses it they've just taken a risk for no reward and will be discouraged from doing so next time. \$\endgroup\$ – Random832 Aug 16 '15 at 6:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @random832 you just perfectly framed what the vending machine PoV is. Play in a heroic style, role play as best you can, and trust your DM. It seems that the DMG encourages the awarding of Inspiration, but does not require it ... so none of us players is entitled to it. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Aug 16 '15 at 13:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ Here's a bit of psychology 101 about positive reinforcement: Random, as opposed to consistent, is the most behavior reinforcing form of positive reinforcement. As a trip to any Las Vegas casino will prove. It's also why dice will always be part of this game. \$\endgroup\$ – candied_orange Aug 17 '15 at 6:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ I dunno; I think all you're going to do via this method is teach people not to take big risks in the hopes of getting inspiration. \$\endgroup\$ – Airk Sep 6 '18 at 18:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Airk I addressed that in the opening paragraph. "It might be in the DM's interest to nip the "vending machine" point of view in the bud: "I put in this much X, you owe me Y inspiration" ... is where you don't want it to go" Even the PHB text on inspiration points to it as something a DM can award. Please see my comment here \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 6 '18 at 18:56
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Our DM frequently forgets to award Inspiration. I think quite a few DMs do. So I think it's ok to ask about inspiration where you think it's deserved. Usually in our game it's another player saying "I think Joe should get inspiration for that" as opposed to a player saying "I think I should get inspiration for that" -- although if the action was truly Inspiration-worthy, I don't think our DM would mind if the player nominated himself.

That said, doing what "your character would do" when it's to the detriment of the party is not necessarily something your DM will want to reward. You may be bordering on "my guy" territory (see: What is "my guy syndrome" and how do I handle it?). The point of Inspiration is certainly not to create division within the party by encouraging people to do things to the detriment of the party just because it's "in character". If you're thinking of doing something against the interests of the party, make sure everyone at the table thinks it will still be fun.

I also do think it's a little weird to say that you'll only take a certain in-character action if you will get rewarded for it with Inspiration. I think the point of Inspiration is that it encourages you do things that will make the game fun, and you get awarded for making the game fun. And if you don't get awarded, it's ok, because it still made the game fun!

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for letting the players nominate each other for inspiration. I let my players do this because I'd forget about it if they didn't. \$\endgroup\$ – Sumyrda - Reinstate Monica Aug 16 '15 at 20:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that there is a well defined variant rule in the DMG on page 241 that enables the players to award Inspiration to each other in order to relieve the DM of the burden of remembering to do so. My groups use this rule. \$\endgroup\$ – Dyndrilliac Aug 16 '15 at 22:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ This makes it a bit like the Fate system, where the compel mechanic allows fate points to be awarded by the DM or handed over by other players. \$\endgroup\$ – timje Aug 17 '15 at 8:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ Angry DM has some interesting points on the Inspiration system, and addresses the "forget to award" point pretty well. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 22 '15 at 15:19
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There are no rules forbidding talking to your DM during the session about situations that could earn Inspiration. So, yes, go ahead and talk about it.

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The glorious and sometimes coveted 'Inspiration' Fifth Edition Mechanic is intentionally left vague and majorly up to the DM's discretion (Much like most of 5E) so that she or he may award Inspiration however they wish. I use a Paladin in a D&D game with another player who has a rogue (I won't go into the ramifications of having a Lawful Paladin in a group of people who horribly lack morals) who is constantly asking his DM about Inspiration, if he earned it, how can he earn some; etc etc.

To him it's just something he wants, because it's there to want. The first bit of Inspiration was just awarded to our Wizard for talking the groups way out of a situation we had gotten ourselves into that could have ended our adventure there and then. He not only, single handed, talked our way out of the situation; but smoothed things over so thoroughly that there's no longer a risk to our lives. He did this through exceptional role playing and staying true to his character. Note that when I say true to his character, I do NOT mean his alignment; I simply mean true to his characterization, his background, his bonds and flaws and etc.

So you aren't asking for WHEN Inspiration can be awarded, but HOW? That's how. Do something exceptional; above and beyond; magnificent. My Paladin bashes in heads and slay the dead in his sleep....probably has the highest body count of the group. That's not inspiration worthy, however.

You are correct, there are no precise rules about how to gain/award Inspiration or when to award/gain Inspiration. Purposely. Could I (as well as yourself) negotiate with the DM about a potential Inspiration worthy moment or event? SURE! Why not? It's the DM's prerogative to award it at their discretion however, not upon request.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ in the first paragraph is seems like you are playing both a rogue and a paladin in a game where you are also the DM. I am confused. \$\endgroup\$ – MC_Hambone Aug 16 '15 at 1:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ we are meshing together too much of the sentence. I run a Paladin. (period) Then the rest follows. I have rephrased however to try and prevent confusion :) \$\endgroup\$ – Airatome Aug 16 '15 at 2:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ You say that there are no precise rules for when to award inspiration, but the inspiration rule does actually say: "Inspiration is a rule the Dungeon Master can use to reward you for playing your character in a way that’s true to his or her personality traits, ideal, bond, and flaw." \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Aug 16 '15 at 23:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman "the inspiration rule" is what's wrong with that sentence. Calling it a rule when it's an option ... per the DMG ... does not seem to fit that game feature. (To be clear, I am a huge fan of inspiration, from both sides of the table). I would encourage an DM to apply it liberally and encourage just what you refer to in citing that text from the PHB. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 5 '18 at 21:10
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Any RPG is about player agency. My definition of this is:

Players making informed decisions that have reasonable consequences

It is important to remember that there is an inherent information imbalance in RPG: the GM has it, the player's don't. It is the GM's job to give them information that is relevant, reasonable and accessible so that they are informed.

For example, player asks "I'm thinking of using a vine to swing across the bottomless chasm of Insta-death. Will it hold my weight, will it reach and what are my chances?" GM replies "You test the vine and it seems strong enough, there are several that will easily serve, you will need a DC15 Strength (Athletics) check and a DC10 Intelligence (Investigation) check to time it to miss the demon hell-fire that shoots up periodically." The player now has the information to decide if they want to try.

Similarly, with you example, it is perfectly reasonable for the player to ask, "If I attack my nemesis, will I get inspiration and based on what I know, how will the barman react?"

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  • \$\begingroup\$ your point on information is agreed, but the in game question of attack/get thrown out has been juxtaposed with the meta "do you give me a bonus" and seem to me out of context ... though as noted, one can't totally un meta it all. For a total immersion scenario, the above doesn't fit, but for something less, it does depending upon the table. +1 (and upvote) for the core point about informed decisions to improve play. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Aug 16 '15 at 17:54
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Inspiration is designed to get people to stop thinking about mechanics and start thinking about roleplaying,

"I will start this fight, if you reward me with inspiration".

This line is so incompatible with the idea of inspiration:

You are telling your DM that you will focus on roleplay instead of mechanics, but only if you have a guaranteed mechanical advantage for forgetting about mechanics?

Do not overthink inspiration.

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As a DM, I did once tell a player "I'll grant you Inspiration if you <do x>," where x was something that I felt fit with one of his character's traits or flaws, but he didn't take me up on the offer on that occasion.

Had a player ever said to me "I'll <do x> if you grant me Inspiration for it," I would have taken the opportunity to educate the player on the power dynamic of the table - attempting to bargain with the DM in this manner will have similar odds of success as it would with a dragon.

But if a player asks "Will I get Inspiration if I <do x>?" I would definitely give them an answer... Maybe "yes" or "no", but more likely "Why don't you try it, and find out?"

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