D&D Flanking and Inspiration Variants
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Variant rules for Dungeons & Dragons! You love ’em. I love ’em. Let’s talk about two I am thinking of implementing at my table.
The Dungeon Master’s Guide already has optional rules for flanking in chapter 8. This version of flanking is very powerful in play and sometimes results in a bunch of miniatures doing a line dance as they all line up to battle each other. If characters can use flanking to gain advantage on every attack, it negates some of their other class features that allow them to gain advantage. Why use your bonus action to use Insightful Fighting as a inquisitive rogue (or take the Help action as anyone) when flanking can get there as part of your move action?
In third and fourth edition, flanking gave a numerical bonus to attack rolls. This made it typically less powerful than the power curve of fifth edition’s advantage mechanic and useful to use with other class features, since it often stacked with other bonuses, but it was also part of the never-ending bonus problem that slowed the game way down. Fifth edition improved combat speed and simplicity with advantage and disadvantage taking the place of most circumstantial bonuses and penalties from older editions.
Also, the flanking variant as written in the Dungeon Master’s Guide is hard to parse without a grid.
I want to use flanking in my games because it gives adds a fun layer of tactical teamwork for my players. While I often have combat on a grid, I don’t always, so I would like flanking to work with theater of the mind encounters. Also, I don’t want flanking to become the main game during combat because it is so powerful. With that in mind, here’s my variant rule for flanking.
When two allied creatures are within 5 feet of an enemy creature and one of the allied creatures makes a melee attack against that enemy, the other allied creature can use its reaction to grant advantage on the attack roll (before the roll is made).
This limits the amount of advantage being thrown around since a creature must use its reaction to grant it and because the advantage applies only to the one attack roll and not to all the attacks a creature makes against the target that turn. It adds a good gambling element. (Will you use your reaction to help your friend or save it for something else like a possible opportunity attack or casting counterspell?) The fact that there are no flanking positions in the rule also helps mitigate the line dance effect and makes the rule easier to use for theater of the mind combats.
Best of all this adds a neat roleplaying element to combat for those who prefer it. Players can describe their characters distracting enemies with feints, growls, wet-willies, and more as they use their reactions to help their friends (which is less likely to happen when flanking grants a static bonus).
What do you think? Sound off in the comments below!
I really like the concept of inspiration in D&D, but I in practice many groups forget to use it. In theory it should work best when people use it all the time to gain the benefit as written.
If you have inspiration, you can expend it when you make an attack roll, saving throw, or ability check. Spending your inspiration gives you advantage on that roll.
However, many people use inspiration to reroll a failed attack, check, or save. With a reroll you only use inspiration when you fail. When it grants advantage, you use it before the roll and might be more likely to use it since you spend it before you know the result of a failure, but in order for this idea to take hold, you have to get it frequently, which is the other problem the inspiration. DMs often forget to give inspiration, so when they do have it, players either forget to use it (because it isn’t being mentioned often) or hoard it because it is rare, which creates a cycle of no one using inspiration. (Also inspiration and the bard class feature Bardic Inspiration have similar names and are slightly, but different, mechanics, which often confuses even veteran players when a bard is in the party, but that can’t be solved without renaming one of the mechanics, which would further confuse things at this point.)
Chapter 8 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide has great advice and variants for inspiration and even touches on the one I am about to suggest. Like most inspiration rules the one I am proposing works best if you award inspiration as some sort of token the players can see and hand back to you when they spend it (e.g. poker chips, twenty-sided dice of a specific color, coins, stones, etc.).
Inspiration is a group resource. When a player earns inspiration as described in chapter 4 of the Player’s Handbook (or using the variant rules in chapter 8 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide), an inspiration point goes into an inspiration pot. (If using tokens to represent inspiration, keep this pile near the center of the table so all players take notice.) The inspiration pot can hold a maximum number of points equal to the number of player characters in the party, and cannot exceed this maximum. Any player character can expend a point of inspiration from the pot when they make an attack roll, saving throw, or ability check. Spending an inspiration point gives advantage on that roll.
Players are encouraged to ask the DM to award inspiration for another player’s character’s actions or roleplaying and should encourage other players to spend inspiration points on their turn.
By making inspiration a group resource (and putting a pile of tokens in front of their faces instead of awarding them individually) it increases the chance that at least one person at the table is thinking about gaining or using inspiration at any given time. The more reserved roleplayers, who maybe do not earn inspiration as often as others, can still benefit and participate in this part of the game, and those actor types who you always want to give more than a single shot of inspiration can now earn more for the group. Increasing the teamwork value of inspiration makes it more visible, more valuable, and more likely to be used at the table.
What do you think of this variant? Sound off in the comments!
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September 12, 2019 @ 5:29 pm
Interesting ideas. I love the inspiration variant idea of a community pool in the center of the table. What if the pool is maxed out and the players use it ALL to do or achieve something truly epic? I bet there are a lot of ways a full pool could be used to great effect. I love the way you write!
Daniel L Armstrong
September 12, 2019 @ 9:38 pm
I like the flanking variant and is simplification. I think the inspiration variant is incredible and should be adopted by all. Pardon the pun “it was an inspirational variant.”
I’m really sorry.
September 12, 2019 @ 10:11 pm
I have been using the “flanking grants advantage” rule at my table for a while. I haven’t really noticed it getting in the way of any class features, but moving into flank is definitely the best move a player can make with their movement. I really like the solution you propose, as I think it may also have the added benefit of keeping other players engaged when it’s not their turn (do you grant your buddy advantage or are you saving your reaction on a Warding Flare to save yourself?).
Inspiration is another tricky one. I let my players use it to reroll WITH advantage and my players still either forget to use it or horde it. Never tried having it in a pool though and I like the idea of players being able to advocate for each other to get them.
Great article and I’m really looking forward to trying both of these out!
September 13, 2019 @ 7:18 am
Nice article James! I think it’s worth calling out that your treatment for flanking is essentially granting the ability to take the Help action as a reaction. While I’d say that’s still a pretty powerful gift, it does address all of the issues you set out to cover with the DMG optional flanking rule.
Group inspiration sounds fun and is something I would be interested in trying with my games. See you in Hell sir!
September 13, 2019 @ 8:12 am
Thank you all SO MUCH for these comments. There are a lot of awesome ideas and points (and puns) in here. Definitely going to be workshopping this!
George T. Parker
September 13, 2019 @ 1:19 pm
I really like the flanking variant. Being an old board wargaming grognard, flanking bonuses have always been assumed, and it seemed like a no-brainer to use it when I picked D&D back up in 5e. However, I did see that the way it worked tended to nerf other abilites that also grant flanking, to the point that the other abilities were really diminished. I stopped using flanking at out table. One of my players sent me a link to this blog post this morning, and I am going to give your variant a shot. As Pete says, it basically lets players use Help as a reaction. I’ll let you know how it goes.
September 20, 2019 @ 5:34 pm
I have sent the group inspiration pot in other systems and in them, the pot has a max of 6 and the DM removes one token at the end of each round so it becomes a ‘use it or lose it’ mechanic which definitely encourages players to use the resource and as quickly as possible. That might be a good twist on the inspiration pool.
January 14, 2020 @ 2:44 pm
I really liked flanking treated like a way of using the help action as a reaction. Though on a battle grid I’d only allow that with players on opposite sides of the enemy, since using help while surrounding the enemy in other ways is already possible by RAW but by using an action. On theater of the mind that can get a bit unbalanced by allowing help reaction anyway, I think.
What are your opinions on using bonus action instead of reaction? What do you consider more balanced? More elegant?