YAOSC (Yet Another Old School Clone)
Wide-scale movement, including overland travel, sea travel, wilderness exploration, and “urban crawling,” does not need for every few step of the way to be narrated or role-played. It can be described in general terms, using downtime until something of interest happens. This type of travel or exploration is often measured spatially in leagues (and hexes, although attention must be paid to the scale the hexes are drawn on), and temporally in days or watches.
In contrast, dungeons are usually relatively dense with points of interest — rooms, traps, treasures, encounters, and so on. As a result, dungeon exploration is usually more granular, measured in lengths (or tens of lengths, etc.) and segments.
Some parties, when on the move, may choose a “marching order” and tramp along in unison like proper soldiers. But it is often more natural for each member to take a role. As they walk, the group jostles and shifts, sometimes stretching into single file to navigate a narrow trail, other times bunching together for a rest or consultation. When they hit a point of interest or encounter, though, what each character does depends on the role(s) they are currently filling.
There is no requirement that any given role be filled at any given time (with obvious exceptions) or that all characters must be filling a role, and there are no strictures against multiple characters filling the same role simultaneously or switching off; this is up to the players’ preferences and the team’s needs. The roles that can be filled are:
- Scouts travel a little distance in front of the party. They make Wariness and other checks to determine surprise in a potential encounter; the rest of the party rolls only if bad rolls lead the scouts to bypass the encounter entirely. Also, they may use stealth if the party is traveling at search speed.
- Trailblazers similarly go in front of the party, and function in general as scouts do, but without sneaking. Instead, as long as they have an appropriate Survival skill for the terrain, they may reduce terrain penalties to speed by one step. If the party is traveling at search speed, they may make Survival checks to forage at a -1 penalty.
- The vanguard walks in front, or moves to the front line at the start of a potential encounter. Characters filling this role will automatically form the front line in combat (even when foes are coming from the side or rear) unless the party is taken by surprise — in which case the party is assumed to be scattered in a semi-random fashion. Alternately, characters may specify that they walk behind the rest of the party as a rear guard, in which case they check first surprise when potential encounters overtake the party from that direction, as scouts in the front.
- The second rank is filled by anyone who doesn’t take any of the other positions. In combat, unless surprised, they fall behind the vanguard (or bunch up between the van and rear) and perhaps perform some support function such as fighting with reach or ranged weapons, magic use, etc.
The following roles are not positional, but may be important to note. Generally light-bearers, mappers, and pack-bearers will fall into the second rank at any sign of trouble, while shield-bearers will advance to the front line.
- Light-bearers do exactly that: carry torches, lanterns, magical lights, or some other source of illumination for a party traveling in the dark. Scouts and trailblazers may need to stay near the light radius in order to find their way, although this naturally limits stealth. A light-bearer will usually need to use a free hand to carry the light source.
- Mappers always need both hands free and appropriate supplies: pen and parchment, charcoal-stick and paper, tablet and stylus, or whatever else the party is using. If the players are drawing a map, at least one member of the party must be filling the mapper role — that character’s player need not be the one physically drawing a real-world map, but it is important to remember which character is holding the map itself if combat or some other difficulty arises!
- Pack-bearers carry an expedition’s supplies so that the warriors can remain fresh and unencumbered and be ready to quickly intercept any threats the party encounters. Sufficiently wealthy parties will probably want to supplant paid pack-bearers with pack animals, in which case the equivalent role is that of animal handler.
- Shield-bearers carry shields, especially in cultures where warriors use large, heavy metal shields. While a wise commander will ensure that shield-bearers carry weapons such as swords, spears, slings, or firearms, their primary function is to protect the main fighting force from missile fire at range. While traveling, shields will generally be slung across backs or otherwise stowed to avoid tiring out the bearer’s arms, but should be accessible in case of emergency.
Transitioning out of Exploration
In both long-distance and dungeon exploration, travel may be interrupted in a variety of ways.
In the most mundane of these, the party may come to some feature — a terrain feature, a fork in the road, a corpse — that demands or at least offers some kind of choice or interactivity. These need not be significant (in fact, some portion of them should exist to convey “flavor,” lest the YAM teach the players that every narrated scene should be poked and prodded until treasure comes out), but they should always offer something for the players to do, if they choose, and some bit of information or point of interest.
Similarly, the party may simply reach some destination and transition into recovery or social activities, or encounter a potentially hostile force. There are separate rule sets for all of these activities, but transitions should be narrated naturalistically.