Inspiration has always been a pain point in my 5e games. It’s hard to gauge if I’m handing it out too often or not enough. Plus, my players often forget to use it anyway.
In an attempt to alleviate this issue I established The MVP Award homebrew rule to ensure that at least one PC per session got Inspiration in an attempt to encourage its use. It kind of worked, but it still felt clunky.
Then, after that, I played an FFG Star Wars RPG campaign and realized that my problem wasn’t my usage of Inspiration. I just don’t like its implementation in 5e. Destiny Tokens weren’t a 1-to-1 comparison to Inspiration, but they fulfill a similar role, albeit much more effectively.
This brings me to where we are now. Having been exposed to Mutants & Masterminds’ Hero Points mechanic, I’ve seen what a D20 system can do with an Inspiration-like mechanic, and damn is it cool. I finally have a more direct comparison to Inspiration to shed some light on my issues with it.
So, let’s get to work.
How Do Hero Points Work?
Hero Points have a similar niche as Inspiration, but a few key differences make it a much more refined and rewarding mechanic. The first and most impactful difference is how Hero Points are obtained.
At the start of each session, every PC is given 1 Hero Point that they can use at any time. During the session, the GM may offer the heroes difficult decisions or role-playing opportunities, resulting in the hero being rewarded with additional hero points.
However, Hero Points may only be used during the session they’re earned. They’re a “use it or lose it resource” which entices the players to be creative and think up ways they can use their Hero Points to push themselves to the limit as a superhero would.
Hero Points simply require a Reaction to use, so they don’t have a heavy lift on a PC’s action economy. This helps further push players towards that “use it or lose it” mentality. There’s very little reason to not use one during a session. Plus, you can even use multiple Hero Points at once (with your GM’s discretion).
What Can Hero Points Do?
Hero Points are not only easy-to-use, but they’re also super flexible with what they can accomplish. They have a wide variety of uses which gives the players ample opportunities to use them during any given session.
They have as much value during a role-play-heavy session as they do in the middle of combat. This flexibility is important for these types of mechanics, which is why 5e’s Inspiration does have this base-level flexibility as well.
Here’s a list of what using a Hero Point can accomplish:
- Edit Scene – You can add or change a detail during a scene. This could mean adding or removing an item or obstacle. It’s often a small, creative change that benefits the PC in the present situation
- There are a few concessions to this. Edit Scene can’t edit events that have already happened and the GM has full veto power to vote-down an edit that will ruin the adventure or make it too easy
- Improve Roll – You can re-roll any die roll (everything is a d20) and take the better of the two roll. However, if your re-roll lands on 1-10, you add 10 to the resulting roll. It’s a fantastic bit of bad luck protection
- You must use this effect before the GM announces the result of your initial roll
- Inspiration – The GM gives you a hint or a clue about the current situation. Perfect for getting out of a tricky bind or piecing together the last piece of a convoluted plot puzzle
- Instant Counter – You can counter effect used against you
- For example, if a villian blasts you with a ball of fire, you can instantly shoot an ice attack to attempt to nullify it
- Recover – You can remove a dazed, fatigued, or stunned condition or you can covert an exhausted condition into a fatigued
- It’s a great way to nullify the debuff that comes from using Extra Effort on the previous turn
I wasn’t exaggerating when I said that Hero Points have a use in every scene. Their adaptability is what makes them such a fantastic mechanic to use as a player. It gives you a bit of control in any scenario which is important for these types of “game-breaking” mechanics.
How Does D&D 5e’s Inspiration Work?
5e’s Inspiration mechanic is a more simplistic take on exerting extra effort/momentarily taking control away from the GM.
Using Inspiration gives you Advantage on a roll, allowing you to roll 2d20s and take the highest roll instead of a single 1d20 roll.
Much like in Mutants & Masterminds, D&D 5e’s Inspiration is awarded to players who role-play in a way that’s true to their character’s personality traits, often to their own detriment. The DM can award them for any reason though, for instance, if you have a cool idea the DM can toss some inspiration your way to push the rolls in the favor of your role-play.
Handing out Inspiration rests (almost) entirely on the DM’s shoulders.
Now before we get into comparing and contrasting these two mechanics, let’s do a quick recap on how Inspiration works:
- Your PC either has Inspiration or they don’t. You cannot stockpile Inspiration
- Inspiration doesn’t expire and you can hold it indefinitely
- You can expend Inspiration on the following:
- An Attack Roll
- A Saving Throw
- An Ability Check
- You may also give your Inspiration to another player that you feel has earned it
- You must declare that you are using Inspiration before you make your roll
Why Are Hero Points Better?
Hot Take: Because I said so. (Did I do that right?)
This is my major gripe with 5e’s Inspiration. Its availability is entirely reliant on the DM. Dishing them out is entirely subjective from table to table. Some DMs may hand them out like candy, whereas others will hold them until you do something truly epic or role-play really well.
There’s little guidance for DMs as to what is an acceptable scenario to award a player with Inspiration.
While the same can be said for Hero Points there are two key differences here that make Hero Points feel way better from a player’s perspective.
- You ALWAYS have at least 1 hero point each session. The GM is merely awarding you with extra Hero Points when they give them out
- You can stockpile them during a session. If you do two really cool things in succession you still earn a Hero Point, it’s not just tossed into the void because you already have one.
This availability and short-term stockpiling give a Mutants & Masterminds player way more control over their Hero Points than a D&D 5e player has over their single point of Inspiration. These are small differences, but impactful ones.
Use It or Lose It
Hero Points are limited resources. Once the session is over, you throw all your Hero Points in the trash and start the following session with your 1 Hero Point. Unlike D&D where Inspiration carries over indefinitely.
This expiration date makes Hero Points both more valuable and urgent to find a use for. You are constantly thinking of ways that you can benefit from your Hero Point(s). Whereas oftentimes Inspiration is forgotten about because there’s no sense of urgency in using them.
Inspiration is like those powerful potions or consumables in single-player RPGs that you never wind up using because it’s never the “right time”.
However, the cool thing about Hero Points is that they have just as many uses for small moments as they do big ones. If you can’t find a scene to edit or a reason to get some GM intervention, you can use one to improve a bad roll or remove a condition. There’s always a way to use them.
Baked-In Bad Luck Protection
Mathematically, Advantage is a powerful boon in 5e. However, depending on the DC of the save/check or the AC of the target, both of your rolls can come up short.
If you use a Hero Point for Improved Roll you are doing the equivalent of using a point of Inspiration in 5e. Except in Mutants & Masterminds, the base roll of your second D20 is a bare minimum of 11 + stats. Sure, it can still miss, but it’s not like D&D where there’s always a chance of having two single-digit rolls.
There’s nothing worse than expending your one use of Inspiration and failing the roll. Especially since Hero Points are a more plentiful resource than Inspiration.
While I’m not sure that this is something that would directly translate well into 5e concerning bounded accuracy. I do love the intent behind the mechanic to help push RNG in the favor of the PC during a big moment/roll.
They Give the Players Direct Control Over a Scene
Edit Scene is a mechanic I’ve seen in a few TTRPGs, and it’s one I really enjoy. It allows the players to have a direct impact on the situation or setting by changing a (or a few) minor details that work in their favor.
While I dislike the “GM vs. the party” mentality, there is a crumb of truth to that idea. The GM tells the players what the current situation is, what their surroundings look like, and what NPCs and enemies are present. The GM sets up the sandbox, then the players get to play in it and do whatever they wish.
These types of mechanics flip this relationship for just a moment. The player(s) get to add something reasonable to the sandbox, and now the GM needs to deal with this new toy.
I think this shake-up gives the players a lot of potential control over the adventure and adds a fun narrative and/or combat challenge for the GM to deal with. It’s a lot of fun for both sides of the table in my experience.
While Inspiration does give a bit of control over a situation, it generally has a lesser impact than straight-up adding elements to the scene. Turning a would-be miss into a hit isn’t as directly impactful as adding cover or including a tool on a nearby workbench that’ll help you escape a dire situation.
After playing Mutants & Masterminds I’m finally able to articulate what it is about 5e’s Inspiration that makes me dislike it. My issues are two-fold:
Inspiration relies too much on the DM’s discretion
While rewarding Inspiration and Hero Points are subjective decisions made by the DM or GM, Mutants & Masterminds alleviates this by guaranteeing that each PC has 1 use of it per session. Plus, it has concrete examples to help the GM understand what could warrant handing out a Hero Point.
Inspiration should be more impactful
While Advantage is an impactful mechanic, Inspiration feels really tacked on. There are many ways a player can think up to gain Advantage on a roll already, and that creativity is often rewarded “in the moment” by the DM. Having Inspiration only give the PC Advantage on a single roll feels lazy for something you can only do maybe once a session or once every few sessions depending on how often your players spend their Inspiration.
If anything, this exercise has made me realize that if I could have one thing in a D&D 5.5e or 6e it’s a reworked and fleshed-out Inspiration mechanic. Mutants & Masterminds has totally spoiled me with Hero Points.