Main Logo

Are We Ramblers Or Orienteerers?



Why The Hell I'm Writing This Article (a.k.a. The "Background")

A few months back, there was a hell of a debate on the newsgroup, which started with the subject of a new roleplaying society that was being formed, but soon switched onto the issue of scoring in roleplaying. This happened because the new society was planning to support and promote competitive (i.e. scored) roleplaying, and an awful lot of people were vehemently against this idea.

For those of you who fancy picking through the rubble and debris that was left when the battle finally ground to a halt, you can find it here:

The first row (on Google Groups)

And also in another discussion, which started on the subject of paying to play at conventions, but also moved onto the issue of scoring:

The second row (on Google Groups)

Anyone who frequents any kind of Internet "chat" forum will be aware that asbestos underpants are often a vital piece of equipment, and this discussion was no exception. It all got a little bit heated.

Which got me to thinking why.

The problem seemed to be that each side had very different views on what roleplaying was, and because of that, something which seemed perfectly reasonable to one side was totally unacceptable to the other. I thought that if each side could see where the other was coming from, they might be more able to at least agree to differ.

And then a neat little analogy occurred to me. (At least, I think it's a neat little analogy).

Ramblers And Orienteerers

Note to non-English people: Rambling is the term used in this country to describe the hobby of going for walks in the countryside. Orienteering is a sport where you have to get from one point to another as fast as you can, using a map and compass to work out the best route.

Okay, consider the two hobbies of Rambling and Orienteering:

Rambling is a pastime where you move, by foot, from one point to another in the countryside, possibly using a map to help you do this without getting lost.

Orienteering is a pastime where you move, by foot, from one point to another in the countryside, using a map to help you find the fastest route.

Now at very first glance, they might seem similar. You might think that it would be reasonable to form one society to cover both hobbies. But look deeper and you'll see that it wouldn't work.

Let's imagine two hypothetical societies (although there are real-world equivalents) to represent the hobbies, the Rambling Society, and the Orienteering Society.

What Would The Rambling Society Do?

Well the Rambling Society would probably see its primary objectives as:

a) Enabling ramblers to pursue their hobby, by lobbying for improved access to the countryside, and preventing landowners from illegally blocking rights of way.

b) Encouraging people to join the hobby by attempting to project a favourable image.

c) Helping ramblers come together socially to meet other ramblers.

As part of the last objective, they might organise regular events, where everyone could turn up for an afternoon and walk a particular section of footpath.

What Would The Orienteering Society Do?

The Orienteering Society would do all of the things that the Rambling Society did, but with two main additions.

a) When it organised events, it would make them competitive, by timing contestants, awarding prizes and keeping records.

b) It would see part of its duties to be the training of Orienteerers to make them better Orienteerers.

How Would Ramblers React To What The Orienteering Society Does?

Well let's get back to the concept of a joint society. You might ask why there couldn't be a single society, with the Ramblers just ignoring the scoring. But the problem is the differences of approach that scoring causes.

Imagine that you are an Orienteerer. You don't belong to the Orienteering Society, but you go along to one of their events - since they are open to non-members. At the start they ask you for your name, and at the end they give you a computer printout with your name and your time on it, and some points that you have scored. They then tell you that they will keep your details in their computer database, as a non-paying member, so that if you go to another of their events you can get an aggregate score.

You probably wouldn't be that bothered. Of course they keep records. It's a sport. It would be cool to see if your scores improved, and possibly even get a prize.

But imagine that you are a rambler, and although you are not a member, you go along to a Rambling Society "mass walk". At the start they ask you to sign in. Fair enough you think, it's probably just in case someone gets lost or something. And when, at the end, they ask you to sign in, you again think nothing of it.

Now imagine that you then find that they've entered your name into their computer database, together with the time you took to make the walk, and they intend to keep those details *forever*, so that they can see if you are faster next time you come on a walk.

You'd probably be quite angry. You just went for a social walk in the countryside, and now you've ended up in a bloody computer database. This is just way too big brother. You'd might even start muttering things about the Data Protection Act.

Now let's consider the other issue of training. Imagine you were an orienteerer, and a senior member of the Orienteering Society took you aside and said: "Hey we're doing a training course this weekend to help people get their times up, it's map reading and route strategy and stuff like that... you fancy it?"

You'd probably be quite up for that.

But imagine you were a rambler and a member of the Rambling Society suggested that you should go on a training course to be a better rambler?

I suspect your reaction would be along the lines of: "Fuck off, you patronising bastard! I like going for a nice walk in the countryside... I don't need you to tell me how to do that!"


Rambling and orienteering are different enough that it would be impossible to have one society covering both of them. The ramblers would think that the Orienteerers were fascist control freaks, whilst the Orienteerers would be unable to see why the ramblers were getting upset.

What does this mean for roleplaying?

Well, whilst competitive (i.e. scored) roleplaying and non-competitive roleplaying might seem similar, they have completely incompatible needs when it comes to a society to represent them.

If people want to score their roleplaying games, that's fine. But it's not the hobby I do, and it's not something I want to get involved with.

I'm a rambler, not an orienteerer.

What do you think of this article?

It ascended to heaven and walked with the gods.
It was very good.
It was pretty good.
It was okay.
It was a bit bad.
It was very bad.
It sucked, really, really badly.