I've been playing / running a fair amount of D&D 5e oneshots at the local games cafe recently (the owner says they often get RPG curious people asking about D&D and has persuaded some of the regular RPG evening attendees to run it more often). As a result of this I have been thinking about the inspiration mechanic.
Briefly inspiration works like this –
The Dungeon Master can reward you for playing your character in a way that’s true to his or her personality traits. Typically, DMs award inspiration when you play out your personality traits, give in to the drawbacks presented by a flaw or bond, and otherwise portray your character in a compelling way. You either have inspiration or you don’t. If you have inspiration, you can expend it when you make a roll to get advantage – you roll two d20's and take the higher result. Or you can give it to another player to use if their character does something cool and interesting. The DMs guide recommends awarding it once per player, per session, but that isn't a rule.
A fair chunk of character creation involves selecting or creating or randomly rolling for the ideals, flaws, and bonds, based on your character's background.
I wasn't paying a lot of attention when 5e, D&D NExt as it was, first emerged but I seem to recall a certain amount of triamphalism from some quarters – personality mechanics in D&D! The indie gamers have won! etc.
Aaaaaand I've never seen any DM actually use it or award inspiration in any of the one-shot games I've played in. Perhaps this is just local play culture, or different in ongoing games, who knows. Anyway, when I took a turn running I figured I would see how it actually worked in play. I made sure to point it out to the players, took note of their ideals and flaws etc. and actually awarded inspiration. A lot, becasue hitting the triggers seemed pretty easy, although this might vary from adventure to adventure, I had some village based oneshots with lots of opportunity for interacting in the group and with villagers. In a "you start at the entrance to a dungeon" sort of session this might be a bit more difficult.
So I found the rule pretty un-inspiring (sorry). It was easy to hit the triggers, without the players particularly trying as far as I could tell, so I had often awarded it to pretty much the whole group in the first half hour of play. Keeping track of each characters personality traits was fiddly and the actions that gained inspiration rarely had a big impact on the direction of play, although it was sometimes fun to shine a spotlight on an aspect of their character. I could have done without the character whose personality seemed to be "I'm really irritating", but I can't say the player, who clearly had a bit more D&D experience than most of the others, was going against the spirit of the rules and clearly didn't need inspiration to encourage them (sign, gamers – what can you do?).
And having Inspiration also didn't make much difference to play. Players did use it, when they remembered / were prodded by each other, but rarely did this seem particularly tied back to the source of inspiration or to be saved for climatic moments. I probably made a mistake in letting it get used retrospectively, i.e. to reroll a failed roll, although the rules seem to be silent as to whether that's wrong or not. The players therefore probably succeeded a little more than they otherwie would have but this seemed to have little impact on the game in the context of the scenarios I was using, with balanced encounters as per the rules. There never seemed to be situations where a character might have died but for their inspiration, for example.
What are other peoples experience of this in play?