“Don’t you leave him, Samwise Gamgee”: Inspiration as Camaraderie in D&D

“Camaraderie” by Magic the Gathering artist Sidharth Chaturvedhi

Camaraderie, friendship, and love are quintessential themes of the fantasy adventure genre. This goes back at least to The Iliad: Achilles is content to sit out the fight against the Trojans until his dear companion Patroclus is slain by Prince Hector of Troy. Achilles’ world-shaking rage is awakened, and Hector’s fate is sealed.

In the grandfather of D&D, The Lord of the Rings, the fellowship of the Ring quickly grow to be a tight-knit group (Boromir excepted). Merry and Pippin begin as close friends, and that bond strengthens them in their many hardships. Conversely, Legolas and Gimli don’t see eye to eye (ba-dum-tiss!), but their common travails nevertheless forge a trust that transcends their familial feud. And then, of course, there’s Frodo and Sam. From their earliest steps, where the quote in the title symbolizes this relationship, their love and devotion to each other seem to be the only things carrying their small Hobbit forms through the oppression of Mordor.

In D&D literature, the Heroes of the Lance on Krynn, the Companions of the Hall in the Forgotten Realms, and nowadays Vox Machina and the Mighty Nein of Exandria are replete with siblings, comrades, and lovers that inspire equal parts heroism and foolishness. Whether its the Majere twins in Dragonlance or the half-elven twins of Vox Machina, or the found family of misfits that is the Mighty Nein, the line between family and adventuring companions is often blurry, a dynamic that breeds the kind of trust you need to risk life and limb next to someone in a dungeon day in and day out.

“The new Rogue’s got our back, right? Right?”

It’s a core part of so many fantasy adventure stories, and a lot of fantasy TTRPGs include something that reflects that bond: you’re not just 3-6 strangers who happen to be fighting monsters in the same room, the trust you’ve built helps you focus – you’re not worried about being stabbed in the back – and to push yourself – you are all that stands between your companions and death! My favorite implementation was in The One Ring by Cubicle 7.

In The One Ring, every character has a small pool of meta-currency called Hope that you can spend to add extra bonuses to rolls. In addition, there is a shared “Fellowship pool” equal in size to the number of companions in your fellowship which can replenish 1 spent Hope per Fellowship, if at least half the group agrees (if half the group does not agree, you can still take the point, but you also gain 1 Shadow). Finally, one of your adventuring companions is your “Fellowship Focus,” and any Hope you spend to directly help or rescue them is restored to you, if the attempt succeeds, but if they are wounded or slain, you take 1 or 3 Shadow, respectfully.

So, when Anthony Joyce (@Thrawn589) and M.T. Black (@mtblack2567) called for ideas on incorporating love of all kinds into D&D, I half-remembered The One Ring mechanic and described it (wrongly) on their posts. I said Fellowship points were the meta-currency, and spending them to help your Fellowship Focus gave you it back, but if your FF was slain, you took Despair and couldn’t use Fellowship points. Black, in particular, was a big fan and took that and ran with it:

M.T. Black’s Camaraderie rule, from his Twitter post

This is a great optional rule that instantly inspired a lot of ideas for me. It’s also a much better implementation of Inspiration than the forgettable default Inspiration rules.

First, I think there needs to be some limit on uses of the inspiring comrade bit. I first thought of limiting it to 1/SR, but I think the limiter from TOR is better: the camaraderie point is replenished only if the action succeeds, as your spirits are lifted as you see your inspiring comrade escape a terrible fate or succeed at their endeavor. If it fails, the point is not replenished, as your effort did not change your comrade’s fortunes at all. If you and your inspiring comrade are fighting a monster together and using camaraderie on every attack roll, the pool will be depleted before too long. But then, using it up when you’re fighting the big boss is exactly the point: when we face extreme challenges, that’s when those bonds must flex the most to share the great burden.

Next, while reading a related thread I noticed someone posted a similar ability to inspiring comrade called Bond from the Quest TTRPG:

In particular, the second and third bullets are extremely flavorful and part and parcel of the trope we are aiming for. I’d say the third one is partially covered by the base inspiring comrade mechanic, so out of a desire to keep moving parts to a minimum, I would just add the second: When you are separated from your inspiring comrade and they face grave danger, you sense that they are in peril, no matter where you are.

Finally, I would re-introduce some consequences when your inspiring comrade falls, but not just negative consequences. The death (or otherwise permanent loss, like being plane-shifted with no means of return, etc.) of your inspiring comrade should be a big gut punch; there’s a raw wound in your soul that shuts down all other social bonds, and the possibility of warping your focus to exclude all else and consider only your loss. Rules-wise, you are Isolated and must make a DC 10 Wisdom saving throw or become Anguished, which you can choose to fail if desired. Both end when you complete a long rest.

What’re Isolated and Anguished? New conditions that interact with camaraderie rules, because I like to make things complicated:

Isolated: An isolated character cannot use camaraderie.

(Having the isolated condition separate also allows other triggering events that might make someone isolated. That gets into inter-party conflict, which is kind of verboten in 5e, but hey, optional rules are optional rules. I’m willing to put it out there and see how it goes.)

Anguished: An anguished character has advantage on all attack rolls and saving throws against the enemy or enemies that led to their inspiring comrade’s death. They have disadvantage on all other attack rolls, saving throws, and ability checks.

Grieving for a fallen comrade

What does this look like? It means the Barbarian Achilles can use camaraderie to gain advantage on an attack against the Dark Prince Hector who is attacking the Fighter Patroclus, his inspiring comrade. If that attack succeeds, the camaraderie point comes right back. When Patroclus dies or is teleported to a torture chamber in Carceri, never to return, Achilles can’t use camaraderie anymore, but he can choose to fail the save against his grief (or just fail it) and get advantage on all attacks and saves against Hector and his minions. He slays Hector, but when the party go to negotiate with Hector’s surviving brother Prince Paris, Achilles is still anguished and has disadvantage on his Persuasion checks. The negotiations devolve into more bloodshed. Paris fires the fateful arrow that crits on Achilles’ heel.

Another example: Frodo and Sam have maximized their use of camaraderie; they fight Gollum, hide from Nazgul, and persuade Faramir, together. When Shelob the Spider stabs Frodo and prepares him for eating, Sam fails a Wisdom (Perception) check and believes he is dead. Sam chooses to fail the Wisdom save and becomes anguished, giving him advantage on his attack rolls and saving throws against Shelob. With that, he is able to wound her with a critical hit in the abdomen. As she slinks back, he runs up to Frodo again, and the DM tells him to make another Wisdom (Perception) check. Being anguished, he rolls with disadvantage and fails. The DM tells him he hears no heartbeat. Frodo truly seems dead. Their players are chuckling, because they know Frodo is just unconscious.

OK, that last example was a bit of a stretch, but I think the concept here is solid.

I put together all the above, renamed some things to my liking, and put it on Homebrewery. I think just having the rules out there would point many tables in the direction of thinking about building the team and inter-party relationships. But tell me what you think: is this too heavy-handed? Too abusable? Too foreign of a design, a bad port of material that’s clearly from another game?