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I've been told that in Shadowrun 2e, there was a tree of skills that connected to every other skill (with varying degrees of distance), and in order to default you would take a die penalty to move from one skill to its sibling on the tree.

Because all of the skills are connected to each other, it would be possible to use Swimming to do anything if you had a large enough dice pool, such as firing a gun.

This Review on rpg.net says that the web does exist and gives an example of its mechanic:

A skill web provides a series of defaults with each point of distance adding +2 to the target number. So, if a character has no skill levels in Firearms they can default from Quickness at +4, or Gunnery at +2. Some of the defaults can get quite elaborate, especially from Intelligence which can default to Physical Sciences at +6 then to Biotechnology at an additional +8. Or you can simply follow the path directly from Intelligence at +10.

I'm really curious about this mechanic, but the internet sources seem a bit lacking, and hunting down the book seems difficult (the copies appear to be either mint which costs over $100, and not-even-close-to-mint for cheaper).

Is it really possible to default to Swimming from any other skill? If so, how would your reconcile the game mechanic with reality? (I'm a really good swimmer so I'm going shoot you okay with this AK-47).

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Here is a skill web image: i.stack.imgur.com/Q5YQ4.jpg Doesn't look like swimming is on there, but it definitely looks like if it were it wouldn't let you go up, 'through' a stat. –  Pureferret Jan 4 '12 at 16:30
    
I think Swimming is an Athletics roll on that chart, but swimming sounds more hilarious, so I'll stick with it. :) –  Cthos Jan 4 '12 at 17:02
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It may be that you haven't fully grasped what default means in the Shadowrun rules. It is possible to default to one skill from any of a large number of related skills; but that probably won't be the best choice. Taking your example, it is possible to work out a path from Athletics to Firearms, and to justify it by saying that the physical control an athlete learns improves co-ordination. But the important thing for either is your physical ability: Quickness is the base stat for both and passes through fewer circles, so almost any character** would be better off taking the default from that instead. Swimming, IMHO, would be a specialization of Athletics, lowering the 'normal' Athletics skill and strenghening my point.

** There is no theoretical maximum skill, but the cost rises rapidly as level increases. So yes, you could design an Olympic swimmer and find that the training has also improved his shooting and running ability; whether or not you find this unrealistic, a PC would be better off putting a few points into each skill.

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I actually have no idea what it means in 2e rules, I've only ever played 4e which ditched the web (actually in 3e, I think). –  Cthos Jan 4 '12 at 19:07
    
4e and 2-3e have radically different systems of interaction between skills and attributes. Attributes have diminished cost and importance in earlier editions of the game; they don't get added to the skill total. It's worth nothing also that 4e has a different dice system than earlier editions. See: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/694/… –  RMorrisey Jan 7 '12 at 8:37
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That's not true. Not all the skills are connected to each other, and the farthest you can go back is its associated attribute. In your example, you could go from Firearms to Quickness. You could go to Athletics instead, which is what Swimming would be based on. In that case, the explanation might be that your muscle control and your strong legs mean that you're not a terrible shot, even without practice.

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So, do you have to go backwards on the Skill web from your skill to default? –  Cthos Jan 4 '12 at 16:52
    
Not always; sometimes there are lateral paths. –  Jadasc Jan 4 '12 at 17:00
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