2013-08-19 Skills Inspired By Apocalypse World

Recently I was writing about The Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions and forgot to mention the house rules appendix at the very end. On those two pages, Vincent Baker introduces his favorite form of perception test—essentially a skill system.


When you size a situation up, roll 2d6 and add your Wisdom modifier. On a 10+, ask me three questions. On a 7–9, ask two. On a 3–6, ask one:

  • Who’s in control here?
  • What’s my best approach?
  • What’s my best exit?
  • How could I assert my own dominance?
  • How could I disarm the situation?
  • If the situation proceeds unaltered, what will happen?

On a 2 or less, you stand gawping.

You can ask more, or questions of your own devising, if you’re willing and able to stand musing while the situation unfolds. If you have a positive Wisdom modifier, you can also ask one question without rolling, and roll only if you decide to ask further.

This write-up follows the famous Apocalypse World approach that has been used for a gazillion indie games. They all offer a number of “basic moves” (skills) which anybody may use and a number of moves from “your playbook” (your class-specific skill list). You roll 2d6 and add a modifier. 10+ is a success, 7–9 is a lesser success, everything else is a failure. The ones I am concerned with come with a list of possible results and players pick one or more from the list depending on their degree of success.

Here’s an example basic move from Apocalypse World. As you can see, the list of possible results only comes into effect on a lesser success. It’s a way to suggest possible partial successes—a list of possible compromises, if you will:

When you go aggro on someone, roll+hard. On a 10+, they have to choose: force your hand and suck it up, or cave and do what you want. On a 7–9, they can instead choose 1:

  • get the hell out of your way
  • barricade themselves securely in
  • give you something they think you want
  • back off calmly, hands where you can see
  • tell you what you want to know (or what you want to hear)

I like it very much! I like how we can agree on a list of possible results and depending on how successful we are, one or more of these results can be picked by the player. It takes automatically forces people to compromise and if the moves are well written, they will often involve difficult choices.

Unfortunately I still don’t like skill systems.

However, there still is a decent amount of rolling the six sided die in my game in order to find traps and secret doors or to attempt funky things I personally find implausible. Perhaps it would be cool to have a number of these lists of possible results and giving players the option to choose?

If you want to disarm a known trap, roll 2d6+Dex bonus. Pick three results on a 10+, pick one result on a 7–9. Unless you choose to avoid it, the trap will be triggered and the referee will check for wandering monsters.

  • you are quick and avoid the wandering monster (if any)
  • you disarm it (allowing anybody to bypass the trap)
  • you arm it (useful after having disarmed and bypassed the trap)
  • you extract the poison needle or gas-filled glass bottle (if available)
  • you know who built this (kobolds, dwarves, elves, humans)
  • you know how old this is (when it was built, when it was armed)

Perhaps I’m reinventing Dungeon World? Apparently that’s a D&D variant built using the Apocalypse World “engine”. In fact, the InDesign source files are on GitHub and look like readable HTML. For those that already own Apocalypse World, check out the Dungeon World Hack.

The trap disabling equivalent in Dungeon World is this:

When you pick locks or pockets or disable traps, roll+DEX. • On a 10+, you do it, no problem. • On a 7–9, you still do it, but the GM will offer you two options between suspicion, danger, or cost.

The above example seems less specific than what I would like. Perhaps I just started out with the wrong example?

The skill system introduced in the house rule appendix from The Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions is the most interesting skill system I have found because of the compromises it suggests for lesser successes. I’m not sure that’s enough to make me add it to my own game. It’s enough to make me consider playing a game of Apocalypse World or one of its variants (”hacks”).



In a recent session, I used a free form alternative of the system:

When wondering about something, roll 2d6 and add and appropriate modifier. On a 10+, ask me three questions. On a 7–9, ask two. On a 3–6, ask one. On a 2, you don’t get to ask any questions.

It was used to figure out whether there was a drug trade in this town, where it was being shipped to, and to figure out who was involved in it, for example. When I asked my wife after the session, she said she liked it.

AlexSchroeder 2013-08-22 10:45 UTC

One of my main problems with Dungeon World is that it tries to be both D&D and some other game that is more concerned with the characters’ personalities and their evolving; it becomes a true heartbreaker... However, the idea of using the Apocalypse World engine for a non-story game is neat for, as you said, it involves compromises and difficult choices, keeps (and enhances) player agency, and even avoids DM fiat to a degree (by not letting him arbitrarily choose the result, I mean).

Your version of disarming traps looks great, actually better than the one in DW.

Ynas Midgard 2013-08-26 15:12 UTC

The Fighter’s “use pure strength to destroy an inanimate obstacle” can be re-written for D&D-compatibility. I thought it would be too short for a blog post, so here it goes:

When you force a door open, roll +Strength; on 10+ choose three, on a 7-9 choose one. Note, that forcing a door open normally necessitates a wandering monster check.

Hah, exactly!

Perhaps I’ll make a collection of these and give it a try in my game.

Here’s another example.

When you steal something that is guarded, roll +Dex; on a 10+ choose three, on a 7–9 choose one. Unless you choose to avoid it, your attempt at thievery will be noticed immediately and an alarm will be raised.

I guess I’d have to change how thieves advance. Instead of getting better at it, they get to add more “moves”.

AlexSchroeder 2013-08-27 14:21 UTC

That’s a good move, perhaps you could change the first two options on the move to:

  1. you get just the thing you’re looking for
  2. you get something valuable (choose this and the one above if you’re looking for something valuable, unless you’ll settle for a damaged or cheap version)

and add note to the end (if it’s been already established that there’s nothing valuable there and nothing your looking for, you can’t pick the first two options, in fact why are you even stealing anything?)

– Josh W 2013-09-12 20:01 UTC

That looks like a definite improvement!

AlexSchroeder 2013-09-12 21:20 UTC

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