I've been in the military, and even when running in formation, there is pretty substantial give and take in just a two mile run. By 'pretty substantial give and take' I mean at no time was I consistently within 5' of the person who was supposed to be right next to me. On average I could have been anywhere between 5'-15' from them, and there were several points during the runs where it could have been even further than that - and this is not to begin to address the random variances in the distances of the people ahead or behind me which were much greater. People get spread out and separated, and this is with a group of people who's job it is to specifically travel in a group, and live, eat, shower, and drill together to work as a unit.
The most recent time I (and other people at my table) traveled in the wilderness went on an 8 hour float and we often weren't in sight of each other then. And let me tell you, there was no small amount of risk on that float. It's just the nature of outdoor travel.
When this suggestion was brought up at the table, everyone was amiable to giving it a try. When they saw the effects of the result, an uproar was raised! This is unpossible! they said. I respectfully disagree, and this is why.
If you have a group of people who's individuality is literally drilled out of them so they can respond to orders without thinking and engage in all activities as a unit, march less than an hour and have distances between any one person and the group be over 100' at times, why is it realistic to assume in a game which models fantasy heroes (Elric, Fahard and the Grey Mouser, Cudgel, Conan, Gandalf) that they would stay in some formation when traversing the wilderness? Especially at a distance that's already incredibly close when standing still?
Now there were several arguments made:
One was "There is some chance that I would still be in 'formation'." I explained my multi-part response to this at the table. First, if you stay in formation and everyone else moves, what advantage is there to having stayed in formation? A chance of being on the square you started on in no way alters the final result. Now, I agree that having the random fluctuation without the starting square being a landing point is valid. It's a byproduct of using the grenade scatter rules without a to hit roll. (This actually gives me an idea.)
Second, this method (roll grenade scatter dice) of scattering the party does not objectively model your formation! It isn't at all related to any specific action you take to stay 'in formation' any more then a roll to hit in 1st edition D&D models any individual sword thrust, or hit points model physical health, or saving throws model how you avoid the damage. It is random, and the explanations for why things were that way come after the result is discovered. (Discussed . . . uh, apparently I only wrote that post in my head. Expect it to actually be written soon.)
Another argument that was presented is "It reduces the effectiveness of the player characters!"
Ok, first - well duh, that's the point! Second, if you take a gnome, put him in heavy armor, and then complain that it takes him forever to get into combat if he's not standing right next to the people he's supposed to heal, the solution to that is to accept the consequence of gnome+heavy armor, not say it's unfair when you are unable to engineer the situation 100% of the time so that it doesn't become a factor.
Another argument was "But the wilderness is filled with dangerous creatures! We'd never let our guard down." Again, this is provable false, as evidenced by the behavior of men in war zones. When the threat of death is constant, it's only a matter of time till it becomes normalized or you crack. When the first shot is fired, there isn't a fire team alive that's in perfect position, and they are just going on patrol, not marching 20+ miles a day.
Now, clearly when exploring a dungeon, or other small, confined, indoor, or exceptionally dangerous place I'm not interesting in screwing around with their formation much - the time and space scale are both smaller. But this is days of travel outside! The vast majority of encounters are with animals or other tribes. All of the bad things to date that have happened in the wilderness have occurred when we A) weren't using this system, and B) when the players were specifically aggressive against neutral forest animals (who happened to be able to spit acid, but what can you do? Neutral not in regards to alignment, but reaction.) It certainly isn't like they are constantly being attacked by dragons - it's more like they spent 10 hours walking and only saw one or two animal groups interesting or hostile enough to be of note.
One thing that I could have done, is make it more clear that yes, they could indeed cut their daily travel down to 1/5 of what it was and have a greater chance of traveling in "formation". I'm not entirely sure that this improves the situation however. The way we play, this would give them 5 wandering monster checks per 2 miles of travel (three of which are at night), instead of 13 checks for 10 miles of travel (three of which are at night). Making them cover 10 miles in five days with 25 checks instead of in one day with 13. (These numbers are a little off of the average D&D travel numbers, but they are internally consistent for our game).
This comes down to the fact that it authentically makes wilderness travel dangerous in a creative way. It makes sense why they would protest - it's dangerous! So is life and travel. From the original post - with which I agree 100%.
Whatever the reason, and whatever the argument, it is patently ridiculous for the party to think it can remain in the pictured formation above every minute of the day. The chance of them all being within 5' of each other at any given moment is pretty nigh zero.I'm not sure that the language is strong enough there. Absurd perhaps.
The reason that the suggestion resonates most strongly for me is that it improves play in every way. It forces the players to be more creative, it increases the risk in encounters making them more exciting, and it's more interesting then the same unrealistic formation the party is in when they travel.