Welcome to the GM's Note page about skills.
Much like other GM's Notes pages and sections, this page is devoted to assisting a GM, providing deeper information, suggestions, and options.
In this case, we are going to cover a couple topics - Skill Checks vs similar skills, Professions, and alternate/special/specialization nodes
First of all lets look at the "Running" group of skill nodes:
Clearly, all three skill nodes are about covering ground quickly. The major difference is a concern for duration - short, medium, and long runs, respectively. If you allow all three as unique skills...well, better to say, how do you go about making them independently viable? What's the reward for taking one over the other? There are two simple answers you can use in your game - variable checks, and variable bonuses. With the variable checks, while all three run durations require checks, Sprint and Marathon suffer a hefty increase in the Challenge Rating for the other's specialty (a +3 to the rating for a Marathoner to Sprint, or vice versa) and Running suffers a lesser increase (+2) when doing either. In this way, you can offer rewards without entirely shutting down a particular player's will.
The second option is to use the skill ratings in another way besides making the respective checks. For example, the Sprint node might gain (skill bonus * 2) in extra meters of movement when using the Sprint Maneuver, while a Marathoner gets 5*skill extra beats before they lose a point of Stamina when going the distance, in addition to what is provided by the check. (Run, may provide a base bonus to all movement (say, half it's skill bonus), or negates agility penalties for trying to use another (or several) skill while running, or any number of other options).
Of course, you can choose to mix and match these ideas, and adjust them as you like, but it ought to give you some ideas for how to create rewards, interest, and balance without doing anything particularly odd (like saying a sprinter can't run).
There are many skills that could have similar variations. For example, look at the relationship between Marathon, Hiking, and Survival. Hiking is an interesting amalgam of the other two skill nodes, letting you travel far and avoid most of the dangers in the wild. In order to keep the other two skills viable, we recommend that you let a Hiker do both of what it's parent nodes do, but make the challenge rating for every check at +2 compared to the others.
Which brings us to Professions. At a GMs discretion, Professions become a combination of skill nodes representing the skills that a character commonly use in their career. These collections can be fairly straight forward, but they can also be very complicated, and balancing them might seem to be very difficult indeed. The first thing you should consider is the usual number of nodes that you'd like to see a Profession combine - most pick 4 or 5. That doesn't mean every profession gets that number, but they should all be pretty close together. If it makes sense, consider pushing certain skills a little more or less so that everyone has plenty to do - if you have an archeologist character, include their area of specialty regularly, for example, if it makes sense. A little creativity can also do some interesting things - Janitor might seem like a boring profession, but give them Basic Chemistry (cleaning supplies), Basic Engineering (repair), Endurance, Spot, and Lockpick (because the dang office workers always lock their doors), and suddenly the character starts to look a lot more interesting, doesn't it?
- In this case, Basic is code for +1 to the check rating, and an extra +1 outside the area of competence, but the character is still considered "trained" and capable - something that is very valuable in the long run on many adventures.
Similarly, handing out First Aid, Sport's Medicine, Basic Pharmacology and Massage work as Basic Medicine - not anyone's first choice for handling a scapel in surgery, but trained enough to at least be allowed to roll Medicine checks if the main medic is out or busy dealing with more serious injuries.
With a little care for how you, the GM, set them up, balance shouldn't be to difficult as long as everyone takes one.
If Professions are used in this way, we suggest the character's skills are treated as if they had the actual nodes.
In reference to Weapon Skill Nodes and Professions. Our biggest reason for separating them is that most Weapon skills are Force/Finesse based, not Intelligence/Wisdom - if allowed, this leads to confusion, and a slight increase in power over the standard curve. This issue is less worrisome if there are many weapon skills, though the confusion is still likely, and if you want to do weapon-master type Professions, we recommend you do split the three presented combat skill options into at least 4 melee and 3 ranged, if not more.
Lastly, I'd like to discuss specialties and unusual skills. Many players might like to use a "signature" weapon, with various expectations about how this will relate to the game. One option is to separate weapon skills down to the level of the chosen weapon type. This is a larger task of bookkeeping, but does enhance many aspects of play. The second option, if the character has a specific signature weapon, as opposed to weapon type - a family heirloom, the revolver of the friend they are trying to avenge...not the rifle they just picked up yesterday - feel free to give them a +1 to either Hit or Penetrate to represent their extreme familiarity with the weapon. If the signature weapon is a ranged one, you might also consider giving a minor bonus to doing things like reloading and maintaining it. The last option involves non-tree nodes. As the name implies, these are "nodes" are their own "groups," and are grown at the normal group rate. While this option is a little cumbersome, it does create an immense advantage for those that choose to pursue them, especially in a game like this one, when an extra +4 is the difference from near impossible to easiest thing in the world.
Non-tree nodes are also a suggested way to handle certain unusual skills. For example, Vidian 5-sword Style was concieved as a skill that adds +1 to hit, up to it's skill bonus at the time, for each additional levitating hand used. Since each "hand" divides the to hit value involved, Vidians with 5 telekinetic hands (their functional maximum) would normally have only a +1 to hit on each of their attacks. This skill let's them have up to an extra +4 in total for the same circumstances, making it a viable combat option (please read that description carefully - if a Vidian is only using 3 "hands" the bonus tops at +3, not +4, assuming they are at least an expert). If placed on it's natural tree, this would result in a significant increase in power for as little as 100 SP - very unbalanced. Similarly, we created "Duelist" to allow a meleeist with a single 1-handed weapon to use it in a follow-on attack, once for each rank, and allows them act as if they had a copy of their main weapon in their other hand for the sake of using certain maneuvers. The last non-tree example is the creation of true psychic barriers. These passive barriers greatly enhance a person's capacity to keep information from a telepathic probe. It's a non-tree node not only because of it's relatively high power and cognitive difficulty, but because which tree to place it on is sort of awkward - it's a Resist skill, effectively (resist (telepathic probe)), but it is also is clearly in the I/W's sphere of influence. Rather than fight, it got set out in this fashion - unless you decide to assign it elsewhere.