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Nerdarchy > Dungeons & Dragons  > Mashing Up Milestone XP and Inspiration in 5E D&D

Mashing Up Milestone XP and Inspiration in 5E D&D

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It’s a fact of life — there isn’t an tabletop roleplaying game out there someone, somewhere hasn’t tweaked in one way or another. Opinions and perspectives are multitude. The value of these outlooks varies, and their worth only truly judged in a public forum through playtesting. To this end, I would like to offer a few fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons house rules regarding milestone XP and inspiration that have existed at my table for a few years now, with the same expectation other Dungeon Masters further tinker with them to suit their own needs. This is only logical; not every rule fits ever table.

5E D&D milestone inspiration

How do characters level up in your 5E D&D games? Traditional experience points, milestones, something else entirely? It’s worth pointing out, creature experience points are gained by defeating them or neutralizing the threat they present. Keep that in mind — it doesn’t explicitly say only by slaying creatures can a character earn experience!

Tweaking 5E D&D milestone XP with inspiration

The first method I would like to approach is the experience and progression discussion. This discussion is ongoing with strong opinions on both sides. Both milestone and experience point systems have merit. The problem is they also have issues. I find XP to be tedious and rewarding to murder hobo-ism. If players are only rewarded for defeating or killing monsters, less experienced (and some more experienced) players seek to kill everything that moves to win experience points. The same sort of behavior occurred in older systems where treasure gold value earned XP. Characters would steal anything not tied or bolted down. These are both more extreme views, granted, but certainly not unheard ones.

Those who struggle with time constraints or mathematics can also struggle with XP. A DM is expected to know how much XP a negotiation, puzzle, trap or good idea are worth. Veteran DMs typically have an easier time with this, but it can daunting for a newer DM if social media is to be believed.

Milestone progression has it’s own issues. This method groups the entire table into one category. It ignores specific actions or choices over group actions taken as a whole. Therefore, milestones fall short when you want to reward individual effort. When five of six characters follow the plot, and one character takes time to investigate a hunch that breaks the plot wide open, there’s no extra reward because milestones have one reward — gain a level.

This leaves a DM with an alternative route: Inspiration. But Inspiration falls short as a reward too, because according to the rules a character cannot have more than one Inspiration award, and the award expires at the end of the current session. It has two uses. First it gives a character a one-time advantage on a roll, and second the awarded player can gift their character’s Inspiration to another character. That’s it.

I created a token system using Inspiration as the basis. I tend to run a challenging table, so tokens are more likely spent than saved. This is important , as rewards should match the challenge. If there’s an imbalance in this regard, then one risks either an adversarial relationship or a Monte Haul game. Tokens become a treasured resource, either for important moments or further progression if enough can be saved.

In general, characters level when a set series of goals are achieved, as per milestones. However, to recognize individual efforts like excellence in heroism, roleplay or great ideas characters may be awarded up to one token for each session for efforts in these regards. These tokens are awarded by the DM. Characters will also be eligible for another single token. Players vote at the end of a session for whom they feel is the MVP.  A player may not vote for themselves. I personally do this by secret ballot, with each player designating the character they feel did best, then signing their actual player name below.

Spending inspiration tokens

Awarded tokens may be spent in the following ways:

  • Spend 1 to give yourself advantage on an attack, ability check or saving throw
  • Spend 1 to give another character advantage on an attack, ability check or saving throw
  • Spend 1 to succeed at cost* when a die roll fails
  • Spend 1 in an appropriate roleplaying or story moment to know a creature or NPC with helpful information
  • Spend 2 to succeed on all death saving throws and awaken from unconsciousness with 1 hit point
  • Spend 10 to gain a level. (In three years I have had only one player try this, and they had to save for a long time)
  • Give the DM 1 token at no cost to a player’s tokens to succeed on an ability check, attack or saving throw, but at the cost of something bad happening in the future. This token must be at the consent of the majority of the table. The DM can also bank these to give monsters and NPCs the same abilities a player might have with these tokens.

*Succeed at cost examples: An attack succeeds, but you trip and fall prone. You succeed in jumping across the chasm but only barely and you hang by one hand. You succeed on the Dexterity saving throw against the fireball, but your treasured cloak is burned away. You succeed in the end, but it must cost you something appropriate.

My table has used this system for a few years now with some great success. The term token comes up in the vernacular of the table now like anything else D&D related (hit points, levels, spells, etc). This system may not be for everybody. It is reasonable to expect strong opinions on both sides of the argument. Those discussions are important and valid. They add to the collective cauldron we all use to brew away the dross in favor of the real treasures. For now, I offer this method for consideration and discussion, in the hope it results in more new and fresh ideas.

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Mike Gould

I fell into gaming in the oddest of ways. Coming out of a bad divorce, my mom tried a lot of different things to keep my brother and I busy and out of trouble. It didn't always work. One thing that I didn't really want to do, but did because my mom asked, was enroll in Venturers. As an older Scout-type movement, I wasn't really really for the whole camping-out thing. Canoe trips and clean language were not my forte. Drag racing, BMX and foul language were. What surprised me though was one change of pace our Scout leader tried. He DMed a game of the original D&D that came out after Chainmail (and even preceedd the Red Box). All the weapons just did 1d6 damage, and the three main demi-humans (Elf, Dwarf and Halfling) were not only races, but classes. There were three alignments (Lawful, Neutral and Chaotic). It was very basic. I played all the way through high school and met a lot of new people through gaming. My expected awkwardness around the opposite sex disappeared when I had one game that was seven girls playing. They, too, never thought that they would do this, and it was a great experiement. But it got me hooked. I loved gaming, and my passion for it became infectious. Despite hanging with a very rough crowd who typically spent Fridays scoring drugs, getting into fights, and whatnot, I got them all equally hooked on my polyhedral addiction. I DMed guys around my table that had been involved in the fast-living/die young street culture of the 80s, yet they took to D&D like it was second nature. They still talk to me about those days, even when one wore a rival patch on his back to the one I was wearing. We just talked D&D. It was our language. Dungeons and Dragons opened up a whole new world too. I met lots off oddballs along with some great people. I played games like Star Frontiers, Gamma World, Car Wars, Battletech, lots of GURPS products, Cyberpunk, Shadowrun, Twilight 2000, Rolemaster, Champions, Marvel Superheroes, Earth Dawn...the list goes on. There was even a time while I was risiding with a patch on my back and I would show up for Mechwarrior (the clix kind) tournaments. I was the odd man out there. Gaming lead to me attending a D&D tournament at a local convention, which lead to being introduced to my paintball team, called Black Company (named after the book), which lead to meeting my wife. She was the sister of my 2iC (Second in Command), and I fell in love at first sight. Gaming lead to me meeting my best friend, who was my best man at my wedding and is the godfather of my youngest daughter. Life being what it is, there was some drama with my paintball team/D&D group, and we parted ways for a number of years. In that time I tried out two LARP systems, which taught me a lot about public speaking, improvisation, and confidence. There was a silver lining. I didn't play D&D again for a very long time, though. Then 5E came out. I discovered the Adventurer's League, and made a whole new group of friends. I discovered Acquisitions Incorporated, Dwarven Tavern, and Nerdarchy. I was hooked again. And now my daughter is playing. I introduced her to 5E and my style of DMing, and we talk in "gamer speak" a lot to each other (much to the shagrin of my wife/her mother...who still doesn't "get it"). It's my hope that one day she'll be behind the screen DMing her kids through an amazing adventure. Time will tell.

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