Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) games are known for their narrative-first mechanics and flexible, fiction-driven rules. Most fantasy PbtA games like Dungeon World don’t have a traditional skill system, instead relying on players describing their actions in the game world. While this works great for most groups, some players—especially those coming from D&D 5e—enjoy having a more concrete skill system to leverage during play. A skill system may also be appreciated by players who haven’t adjusted to how failures can compound in a PbtA game, believing their characters should be successful more often at a few core activities.

Thanks to the D&D Systems Reference Document 5.1 now being licensed under the Creative Commons, joining the rich PbtA Commons, it’s easy to fuse a skill system onto your favorite fantasy PbtA game. In fact, how World of Dungeons uses skills provides our blueprint:

If you have an applicable skill, you can’t miss. A roll of 6 or less counts as a partial success, but with a bigger compromise or complication than a 7-9 result. Don’t mark XP.

(The only edit I added is to note that you don’t mark XP when using a skill. In World of Dungeons, XP is earned primarily from treasure, as valued in silver pieces.)

Prior to rolling, players should describe how they are using their skill in the action they are taking.


Here’s an example for Defy Danger, from Dungeon World, not using skills—

GM: Emory, as you climb up the side of the ravine you spy a cultist on a ledge nearby who evokes a frost spell and covers the side of the cliff with ice! If you want to keep climbing, you need to defy danger or you’ll fall.

Emory: No way, I am too tough. I grit my teeth and dig my nails into the wall, climbing one hand at a time. I’m using Con, okay? I got an 8, though…

GM: Hmm, well, I think the only way you can gain any traction, tough guy, is if you use your dagger to pull yourself up the last few feet. It’s going to be lodged in there until you have some time to pull it loose and there’s an angry spellcaster nearby.

Emory: I can always get a new dagger when I get home. Time to finish this climb and that cultist.

Now here’s that example, updated with skills—

GM: Emory, as you climb up the side of the ravine you spy a cultist on a ledge nearby who evokes a frost spell and covers the side of the cliff with ice! If you want to keep climbing, you need to defy danger or you’ll fall.

Emory: No way, I’ve trained for this. I grit my teeth and dig my nails into the wall, climbing one hand at a time. I’m using Con plus my Athletics skill, okay? I got a 6, though…

GM: Remember that despite your 6 you can’t mark XP, since you used your skill. Hmm, well, I think the only way you can make it the rest of the way, star athlete, is if you lighten your load by at least 2 weight before continuing climbing. And remember there’s an angry spellcaster nearby!

Emory: Ugh, I drop my Adventuring Gear and my dagger. That’s 2 weight. Time to finish this climb and that cultist. 

Skills by Playbook

Suggestions for skills by playbook:

  • Barbarians get Intimidation.
  • Bards get Performance.
  • Clerics get Religion and Medicine.
  • Druids get Nature.
  • Fighters get Athletics.
  • Immolators get Insight.
  • Paladins get Religion and Persuasion.
  • Rangers get Survival.
  • Thieves get Stealth.
  • Wizards get Arcana.

Choose one skill in addition to any granted by your playbook. If your playbook isn’t listed above, choose two skills.

List of Skills

Acrobatics. Covers your attempt to stay on your feet in a tricky situation, such as when you’re trying to run across a sheet of ice, balance on a tightrope, or stay upright on a rocking ship’s deck. This skill can be used to perform acrobatic stunts, including dives, rolls, somersaults, and flips.

Animal Handling. When there is any question whether you can calm down a domesticated animal, keep a mount from getting spooked, or intuit an animal’s intentions. When trying to control your mount when you attempt a risky maneuver.

Arcana. Recall lore about spells, magic items, eldritch symbols, magical traditions, the planes of existence, and the inhabitants of those planes.

Athletics. Covers difficult situations you encounter while climbing, jumping, or swimming. Examples include the following activities:

  • You attempt to climb a sheer or slippery cliff, avoid hazards while scaling a wall, or cling to a surface while something is trying to knock you off.
  • You try to jump an unusually long distance or pull off a stunt midjump.
  • You struggle to swim or stay afloat in treacherous currents, storm-tossed waves, or areas of thick seaweed. Or another creature tries to push or pull you underwater or otherwise interfere with your swimming.

Deception. Whether you can convincingly hide the truth, either verbally or through your actions. This deception can encompass everything from misleading others through ambiguity to telling outright lies. Typical situations include trying to fasttalk a guard, con a merchant, earn money through gambling, pass yourself off in a disguise, dull someone’s suspicions with false assurances, or maintain a straight face while telling a blatant lie.

History. Recall lore about historical events, legendary people, ancient kingdoms, past disputes, recent wars, and lost civilizations. Investigation. When you look around for clues and make deductions based on those clues: you might deduce the location of a hidden object, discern from the appearance of a wound what kind of weapon dealt it, or determine the weakest point in a tunnel that could cause it to collapse. Another example would be poring through ancient scrolls in search of a hidden fragment of knowledge.

Insight. Whether you can determine the true intentions of a creature, such as when searching out a lie or predicting someone’s next move. Doing so involves gleaning clues from body language, speech habits, and changes in mannerisms.

Intimidation. When you attempt to influence someone through overt threats, hostile actions, and physical violence. Examples include trying to pry information out of a prisoner, convincing street thugs to back down from a confrontation, or using the edge of a broken bottle to convince a sneering vizier to reconsider a decision.

Medicine. Lets you try to stabilize a dying companion or diagnose an illness.

Nature. Recall lore about terrain, plants and animals, the weather, and natural cycles.

Perception. Lets you spot, hear, or otherwise detect the presence of something. It measures your general awareness of your surroundings and the keenness of your senses. For example, you might try to hear a conversation through a closed door, eavesdrop under an open window, or hear monsters moving stealthily in the forest. Or you might try to spot things that are obscured or easy to miss, whether they are orcs lying in ambush on a road, thugs hiding in the shadows of an alley, or candlelight under a closed secret door.

Performance. Determines how well you can delight an audience with music, dance, acting, storytelling, or some other form of entertainment.

Persuasion. When you attempt to influence someone or a group of people with tact, social graces, or good nature. Typically, you use persuasion when acting in good faith, to foster friendships, make cordial requests, or exhibit proper etiquette. Examples of persuading others include convincing a chamberlain to let your party see the king, negotiating peace between warring tribes, or inspiring a crowd of townsfolk.

Religion. Recall lore about deities, rites and prayers, religious hierarchies, holy symbols, and the practices of secret cults.

Sleight of Hand. Whenever you attempt an act of legerdemain or manual trickery, such as planting something on someone else or concealing an object on your person. When you lift a coin purse off another person or slip something out of another person’s pocket.

Stealth. When you attempt to conceal yourself from enemies, slink past guards, slip away without being noticed, or sneak up on someone without being seen or heard.

Survival. Check to follow tracks, hunt wild game, guide your group through frozen wastelands, identify signs that owlbears live nearby, predict the weather, or avoid quicksand and other natural hazards.


The skill system in World of Dungeons, which pretends to be the 1979 version of Dungeon World, is almost an anachronism. Skills in a generic format across classes didn’t come to Dungeons & Dragons until 1989 in AD&D 2e, where they were optional rules. However, Traveller pioneered generic skills in 1977, including the following skills used by World of Dungeons: Athletics, Deception, Leadership, Stealth, and Survival (but not Awareness, Decipher, Heal, Lore).


This work includes material taken from the System Reference Document 5.1 (“SRD 5.1”) by Wizards of the Coast LLC and available at https://dnd.wizards.com/resources/systems-reference-document. The SRD 5.1 is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License available at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/legalcode.

This work also includes material taken from World of Dungeons by John Harper and available at https://johnharper.itch.io/world-of-dungeons. World of Dungeons is licensed under the CC BY 3.0 license.

This work also includes material taken from Dungeon World  by Sage Kobold and available at https://dungeon-world.com/. Dungeon World is licensed under the CC BY 3.0 license.

This document is curated and edited by J. Alan Henning, Troy Press. All edits by J. Alan Henning are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International, 2023. Edits to individual items are governed by their license. All edits contributed from others are also so licensed.

Photo by Jonathan Kemper on Unsplash.