Dice and miniatures sit on top of a digital map

I tend to be a very generous Game Master. I give players a lot of options, and I pick generously from the monster manual when challenges need to rear their ugly heads (all of them… Hydras are fun… Sorry Nym, Jarrah, Zinnia, and Emil… you’ll survive… probably… enjoy the next session).

I tend to give big challenges, but I tend to give lots of options to make it easier to navigate those challenges. One of the biggest tools in my Game Masters toolkit (since 5e and really action points in 3.5 Eberron) is Inspiration points. Really, any kind of fate-like plot points could work, but Inspiration in 5e has a lot of options so I’m going to go with that. Without further ado, here are…

My Homebrew Options For Inspiration

  • X-Card – Free (We stop and take a 5 minute break, deal with the situation.)
  • Move Along – Free (We move past whatever is going on and will deal with it later.)
  • Advantage/Disadvantage – 1 Point – Re-roll your d20 (I allow this after the roll results are known) or force disadvantage on someone else.
  • Push Through – 1 Point – Add 1d6 to any roll.
  • Second Wind – 1 Point – As a reaction you can roll 1d10 and add that to your temporary hit points.
  • Brilliant Recovery – 2 Points – Stabilize.
  • Double Tap – 1 Point – Add 1d20 to a damage roll.
  • The Flash – 1 Point – Take a second Action (Attack, Move, or Bonus).
  • Bribe the GM – ?? Points – Hey GM, I’ll give you ___ Inspiration points if X happens. (Very much like plot points in multiple systems, pure Meta manipulation.)

Be Generous And Give A Cornucopia of Inspiration

For a setup with as many options as above, the magic number tends to be 5 Inspiration per session.
So, the options above are a lot and with stock D&D RAW players probably don’t get a lot of Inspiration unless they’re playing to their character traits and the GM is keeping track of it all. While I like this idea in concept, it’s often a lot to keep track of as a Game Master and I find players play to their traits anyways. So, for my games I tend to give a chunk of Inspiration every session and it refreshes next session to full. If you don’t use it you lose it. For a setup with as many options as above, the magic number tends to be 5 Inspiration per session. This lets players use the expanded options, feels like there is a lot of opportunity for them to control or get second chances, and it is really fun to bleed out their Inspiration reserves early on non-combat options. I find my players often work towards risk avoidance and use their Inspiration in more social or insight / perception rolls so they don’t miss anything, even then the extra options let me throw bigger and badder enemies at the group. The “Double Tap” option lets players do a chunk of damage to big enemies (the adult dragon with 5 lizardfolk attendants) and I get to throw more “fun things” at the players. With a cornucopia of Inspiration, I can also dip into it to charge a Meta Tax if need be.

Free Options

You’ll notice my options for Inspiration include the X-card and Move Along options. There’s an added benefit to adding these to my Inspiration rules. I get to add these concepts subtly without making a big deal of their inclusion. Players who know about these options know how they work, players who are new to them get to acknowledge them, learn about them alongside other mechanics, and potentially not dismiss them as unnecessary meta tools.

The End Game

If you’re looking for a more dangerous and struggle oriented game, expanding Inspiration points like this is obviously not going to be for you. For a lot of games that don’t follow the more grim and gritty model, being generous with Inspiration points and providing a lot of options in how to use them provides players a large sense of control and confidence to try dumb fun ideas out. It makes players bolder, they feel more capable of trying out more daring plans, and if they really really want something to work they tell me by spending all their Inspiration on it. If it fails (because of bad die rolls) it isn’t seen as the GM being too tough, just bad luck. If they try to talk their way past a guard and I set a moderately high DC that they fail on the first roll, they either spend their points and revel in their victory, or curse the luck of their next 3 bad rolls.

At the end of the day, it gives players more of a sense of control, despite how the math of probability may actually work out, and that is an incredibly important element in most games. Players don’t like to feel like there is no chance for them to succeed, they want to be the Big Damn Heroes and work to avoid failure at all costs, even if that failure moves the story along. With a system like expanded and generous Inspiration points, they get to push for their version of the narrative to take over while engaging more with the story. Sure, this won’t work for every style of game, but where it fits it works wonderfully. Players know they can negotiate (“Sure, for 13 total Inspiration points you can find a pet chimera cub”), prevent disaster (“I spend my last two to stabilize so I don’t die from the breath weapon!”), or make that one really great attack mean even more, maybe (“I Double Tap… Crap, got a 3 on the d20…”).

So, what do you think of expanding Inspiration options? Does it give you extra space in your game? Do you have similar homebrew systems you use?