How to reward character drawbacks in 5th edition Dungeons&Dragons, part 2

In my last post, I discussed the idea of flawed characters and what they might bring to D&D before ending on a cliffhanger–what can  we do to actually incorporate flawed characters into 5th edition D&D?

In this post, I’ll resolve that cliffhanger with a simple game mechanic that is already part of the 5th edition rules:

Inspiration.

In 5e, players gain an inspiration point for superior role-playing. They can then use this to gain advantage on a roll. I think it’s meant to get players into their characters. But it’s a little vague, and hasn’t been utilized much in sessions I’ve been part of. It also doesn’t necessarily promote three-dimensional characters, as one could create a perfect min-maxed tank and be given inspiration for good tanking.

But a few parameters could allow it to encourage three-dimensional characters with flaws.

First, give inspiration when characters act according to their backstory and personality, and when doing so complicates gameplay. A noble who refuses to try and persuade a servant to help the group due to his snobbery, causing them to be blocked from sneaking into a castle—inspiration. A sage wizard who stays behind in an evildoer’s library to search for rare books as the rest of the group flees a pursuing monster—inspiration.

Second, inspiration can be a static feature of character creation, kind of like obligation in EOTE. A character that is designed to intentionally have flaws—either the race/background/class combinations I mentioned above or some extra personality trait, like insanity—gets a point of inspiration at creation or even once a session (this would need to be tested for balance). So that Halfling paladin may end up being incredibly useful. And one can come up with in-game justifications for this, so it doesn’t feel like an arbitrary mechanic—maybe the tiefling cleric of Lathander has to try harder to be accepted, giving occasional bursts of brilliance.

The only downside I can think of is the potential to break the game by overdoing it with advantage or promoting annoying behavior from characters (like the pacifist monk who refuses to fight). This could easily be solved by DM rulings (“pacifists wouldn’t be adventuring in the first place”) or a limit per game. But it would require a good amount of extra effort for players to abuse this mechanic, so it is more likely it’ll end up being used sparingly for those who like three-dimensional characters.

The beauty of this is that it doesn’t require any home-brew rules–just broadly interpreting the existing inspiration rules–and adds very little complication to the game.

What do you think? Would this actually work?

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One thought on “How to reward character drawbacks in 5th edition Dungeons&Dragons, part 2

  1. Pingback: Are the Volo’s Guide Character Races Overpowered? – The Owlbear Sleeps Tonight

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