In D&D what is inspiration? Inspiration is a great mechanic, but it can be hard to use.
Too often inspiration comes at the wrong time or doesn’t come at all. You could spend an entire session with your players not getting any cool ideas for how to solve problems.
We’ve compiled 11 ways you can help inspire your players and make using this awesome game feature much easier! These tips are easy to implement and will keep everyone’s creativity flowing during every D&D session!
In D&D What Is Inspiration? “Inspiration is a rule the Dungeon Master can use to reward you for playing your character in a certain way. Your DM might give you inspiration for acting out your character’s personality traits, showing off what makes your character unique, top showboating and demonstrating key features of your D&D race and class.”
The rules say an awful lot about inspiration, but nothing about what it means in general or how to use it. Here’s my working definition: Inspiration is a small, one-time bonus that alters the way you approach a given roll made by your character due to personality traits, background, etc., and can be gained or lost by your character’s actions.
Once you have this definition, the next step is to figure out how to use it most effectively. That’s what I’m going to do here – show eleven different ways inspiration can be used in game.
Before we start exploring these ideas, though, let me first discuss some general notes about using inspiration in your game.
First, inspiration is a bonus that you can’t really plan for or depend on having in your pocket when the time comes. It’s not quite as unpredictable as a true random roll, but it’s close enough to make planning difficult.
As written, there’s no guarantee you’ll have inspiration when you need it, nor any way to bank it when you finally do get it. The best you can do is take advantage of inspiration-granting actions, which may or may not come into play in the game.
Second, bonus die are weird. They’re a mechanic that’s easy enough to understand, but tends to create weird unintended consequences at the table because they’re so easy to forget.
Your DM will thank you if you keep your use of inspiration simple and straight-forward – just tell them “I want to use my inspiration die on this roll.”
Third, there’s no limit to how many times a character can take the Aid Another action, but only one character gets the inspiration die. This means that, by using Aid Another on the first Inspiration giver, you can get a pretty nice bonus no matter what.
Finally, inspiration is typically used as a free d6 or d8 bonus to any roll you choose – but not always. If an action would be extremely difficult for your character to perform, such as intervening in a fight with a dangerous foe, that’s a good candidate for an inspired action.
If your character’s personality tends to lead them into conflict or push them towards outrageous acts of heroism, every roll might be an opportunity for inspiration.
There are times when inspiration is more effective than a simple bonus die – namely, when inspiration can be used to replace or augment a roll entirely.
Imagine that you’re the party’s wizard, and you’ve gone down in a fight against orcs. Your player describes how your character is desperately fumbling around for something useful to do, tripping over fallen orc bodies, dodging clubs, darting amidst scattered fire puddles, and crying out, “Forget this! I’m outta here!” and runs off.
Your DM decides to make your character roll a Constitution saving throw (roll for initiative, everyone!), which you fail. This is probably the end of your adventuring career – but if you could make an inspiration roll instead…
After some discussion at the table, the DM decides this roll does have a good chance of succeeding (it’s not like you’d be rolling against your character’s AC or attack modifier). You make the inspiration roll and succeed.
It’s up to you if you want to reveal that your character is actually still alive – maybe you’ll grow out a bushy beard and join another adventuring party – or if you want to play this failure as a moment of nobility and sacrifice. Either way, the DM decides whether or not your character is slain by orcs according to how well you succeed on the inspiration die roll.
There are some moments in the game when there’s no good reason for your character to be inspired. For example, you’ve just had a long rest and recuperated fully. There’s no great need for your character to be at their very best, so it doesn’t make sense that they would have an inspiration die on hand.
The same can be true when you haven’t accrued any experience to spend on inspiration. Maybe your last level is so fresh in your memory that you’ve left the zone of inspired play – or maybe you just don’t have any inspiration yet, and are caught unawares.
Mostly though, the system falls apart around the edges for corner cases like this. You could argue that the inspiration die is only useful when it’s used for good, but there are times when you might want to use it for evil.
Maybe your DM has given you three inspiration dice – one more than usual – and you don’t see any particularly great uses for them?
All of that said, these “problems” are really more opportunities in disguise. When you find yourself stuck in a corner with inspiration, look for ways to make it work – talk to your DM and see if there’s anything you can do with the system that’s unexpected.
Inspiration is easy to mishandle or misuse in any given situation. To help keep things running smoothly, it’s useful to keep these two commandments in mind:
Inspiration is meant to be used for good – it doesn’t exist just so that you can spend an inspiration die on something mundane or unheroic. This means there isn’t any real penalty for not using your inspiration die – just like you don’t lose any health if you don’t use up all of your hit dice.
You get to roll twice when it comes to inspiration, and choose which one of those results is applied to your action. This can be a play on the “higher ground” rule, the “no bad choice” rule, and similar rules.
For example, you could roll a d20 against your Strength (Athletics) modifier to see if you manage to climb out of a pit or swing across a chasm. You should be able to reasonably succeed at this sort of thing with either a very good roll or a very bad one. But there’s no reason you shouldn’t succeed at all if you roll well.
There are more and less useful ways to use inspiration, and the best inspirations usually involve more than just using up an inspiration die. You can get a little extra mileage out of your inspiration die by making sure that you follow these rules:
If it’s not something that’s likely to make your character look good, it’s not something you should do with inspiration. You might save a wounded guard while on patrol, or uncover the identity of an assassin before they can strike again.
but you probably shouldn’t spend inspiration on blowing up the catapult that’s launching burning rocks at the elemental galleon your party is riding in (even if your DM says that you’re the only one capable of it) or on pointing out an obscure book in a wizard’s library.
This means things like provoking an attack of opportunity, accepting partial cover against a dragon’s breath weapon, and other things that are going to directly affect the outcome of a fight. However, it also means that your inspiration isn’t just for you – you can use it to boost another player’s rolls as well.
You can spend inspiration on an attack roll, but not on a damage roll. In the same vein, the bonus from a magic weapon doesn’t count as an inspiration. Inspiration is not a replacement for a magic item – but if you haven’t found a +2 sword that you like yet, then by all means, go ahead and spend your inspiration on it!
In whatever situation you’re dealing with where you might use inspiration, cooperate with the other PCs. This can mean anything from explaining what’s going on to them to simply telling them how it affects them before they roll their own dice for things.
Changing the rules. If you’ve ever heard of “The Golden Rule,” this is it in action – you can spend inspiration to add or remove a rule from play (and undoing something with an inspiration die works just like adding a new rule).
This doesn’t mean that you should do this all willy-nilly, but if the rules are getting in the way of fun, it means that you can change them to suit your game. This also includes changing how inspiration works – if the game isn’t working for you, then find a new way to do things!
The backstory is yours to change, and you can take inspiration for details that make the game better. The plants in the sewers are all poisonous? You can use your inspiration die to learn what kind of poison it is.
The lich ruler of the city has an army of golems instead of zombies? Your inspiration says they’re made out of mithral. This is probably the most creative of all uses for inspiration, and there’s no limit to what you can do with it!
You can spend your own inspiration to grant it to another player (and they can use it right away). There are two reasons why this is useful – firstly, it means that you can make sure the other player has inspiration when they need it.
Secondly, this inspires players to take risks and put themselves in danger for the sake of others – which is what D&D should always be about!
This can be as simple as picking a different half-orc background for your character, or as complicated as changing the way that magic works in the world.
If inspiration makes you think of something that’s going to make your character stronger or better, then go ahead and change it! And if the DM isn’t comfortable with what you’re doing, then you can still take inspiration for things that are true to your character.
Changing your character. This rule is the one that will probably get some people upset – but sometimes, running a new character is better than continuing with the old one.
Maybe you were playing a thief and now you’re fighting dragons – that doesn’t mean that you should just go ahead and play a wizard, but it does mean that your rogue should be able to change enough so that he can keep going as an adventurer.
Changing your player style. This is sort of a subset of changing your character, but it also means changing how you play the game.
This doesn’t mean that you should start blowing your inspiration on attacks or anything like that – instead, this might mean learning new rules, learning how to DM , or otherwise broadening your horizons.
Growth and loss. In D&D What Is Inspiration? Inspiration can be used as XP, if that’s what your group wants to do – or it might be used as a one-time “do over” for a character (or even the whole party). This is pretty simple: on level up, on an anniversary of your first session, at the end of a campaign, or whatever.
The “tabula rasa” game. This is another massive rule change, but rather than changing how inspiration works or what characteristics are, this rule changes the very ruleset of the game itself.
The only thing that stays the same are HP and AC – everything else can be up for debate! If your players want to make a fighting character, but you’re sick of rolling attack rolls, then change it up!
Maybe everyone gets two attacks per turn, or maybe only rogues do – or maybe everyone can attack once but doubles their damage. Just because imagination is the limit doesn’t mean that you have to stay with the standard rule set.
The “didactic self” game. This is very similar to the tabula rasa game, but it only applies to your character instead of everyone in the party or the world itself. Maybe you’re sick of being a fighter with an AC of 19 – change it up!
Just because that’s what your character sheet says doesn’t mean that you have to act like it.
In D&D What Is Inspiration? Inspiration as a weapon. This is probably the most dangerous of all uses for inspiration – but it’s also one that can have massive effects on your players, so it might be worth trying at least once. Essentially, you spend inspiration to give yourself an attack bonus or deal extra damage with an attack – it might be a little risky, but hey, that’s why it’s worth doing once in a while!
Banishing players. This is similar to the inspiration as a weapon idea, but it’s something that your whole group can do together to keep one player (or all of them) out of the game for a while. Maybe they’re sulking or distracting, and keeping them from playing might solve the problem.
Going insane. When you’re going to die, sometimes it’s hard to keep your cool – at least if you want to come up with a good death scene! Maybe declaring yourself insane would help make that easier – or maybe you can use it as a tiebreaker for an argument between party members.
As far as inspiration dice go, the best use of an inspiration die is to pass it on! This means that you’re not just using your own inspiration die – you’re granting other people inspiration as well. In almost all cases, an inspiration roll should be a cooperative decision between everyone currently at the table.
In D&D What Is Inspiration? The most useful inspirations are usually those that involve taking some kind of risk – but the great thing about Inspiration is that you don’t have to worry about failing.
It’s not like a skill check where you might roll poorly and fail the check, or an attack where you might miss your target. This means it’s always worth taking a risk every once in awhile, even if it seems silly. The more risky the risk, the bigger the reward should be.