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In the 5e game I am playing in, we tend to ignore inspiration (we simply don't use it, it is never awarded). While inspiration is not an optional rule, the phb states the following (emphasis mine):

Inspiration is a rule the Dungeon Master can use to reward you for...

How much harder do we make our game for not using Inspiration? Is the game balance designed with Inspiration in mind? I know the last part of the question might be a bit hard to answer, but maybe there is a statement from someone who worked on 5e available or something like this?

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The DMG says the following (p. 241)

IGNORING INSPIRATION

Inspiration might not work for your campaign. Some DMs feel it adds a layer of metagame thinking, and others feel that heroism, roleplaying, and other parts of the game are their own rewards that don't need incentives like inspiration. If you choose to ignore inspiration, you're telling the players that your campaign is one where you let the dice fall where they may. It's a good option for gritty campaigns or ones where the DM focuses on playing an impartial role as a rules arbiter.

Also, as you already mentioned, the PHB sees Inspiration as something that can be used. The DMG also uses these words

Think of inspiration as a spice that you can use to enhance your campaign

While Inspiration is not described as an optional or variant rule, it is completely valid for your DM to ignore it.


Regarding the question how much harder you make your game, I would recommend you to see Inspiration from a different perspective:

Inspiration is a Reward. Something you get for taking a risk or doing something great.

So to get inspiration you are expected to do something. You do not get it for free. Your DM could encourage risky play with it to balance out the risks you take for gaining Inspiration. If he doesn't, just don't take the risks, so they don't need to be balanced out by Inspiration.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure whether there's any meaningful difference between an "optional rule" and a rule that can never be applied unless the DM opts to do so. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Henderson Jul 23 '16 at 20:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ Echoing Dan here. Technically every rule in the book is "optional" from class/race availability to spells to how initiative works and the list goes on, there is no such thing as a D&D game that doesn't have a house ruling on something. As Barbosa says, "they are more like guidelines." \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Jul 25 '16 at 14:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ I am primarily addressing OPs statement, that Inspiration is not explicitly highlighted as optional, as some other rules are. \$\endgroup\$ – Thyzer Jul 25 '16 at 23:22
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As per Inspiration on p240-241 of the DMG:

Awarding inspiration is an effective way to encourage roleplaying and risk-taking... think of inspiration as a spice that you can use to enhance your campaign. Some DMs forgo using inspiration, while others use it as a key part of the game.

All text relating to Inspiration in the rulebooks indicates that it is a tool at the DM's discretion for encouraging certain behaviors and playstyles, not a mechanic to balance the game.
The game is not unbalanced without inspiration.

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