Sometimes people on this site say that they want a game with good exploration. Some games do let you wander around some and see what there is to see, albeit while constantly bombarding you with messages to the effect that you should be grinding level in something or other and aren't, and that makes you a failure.
But what if a game made exploration into a major game mechanic, to the effect that you were supposed to go exploring and the game rewarded you for it? What if a large fraction of the game's gear--including many of the best items--were only available from exploration? Koei did exactly that. And it turns out that it really confuses people, as they've never seen anything like it before. My hope with this thread is to explain what you're supposed to do in order to make the system work for you.
Making a discovery
Let's start by explaining the basic mechanics of actually making a discovery. Every discovery corresponds to either a quest or an archive map.
Let's suppose that you get a quest to go make some discovery. If you check the "progress" tab of your quest, it will show several boxes, with one significantly off to the right of the others. The last box fills in when you have everything you need to go make the discovery and complete the quest. The other boxes fill in one at a time as you find the right person to talk to in order to advance the quest.
When you start the quest, it tells you roughly where to go in order to talk to the right people in the quest information. Each person gives you some information about where to go next. Sometimes you have to talk to the same person multiple times consecutively. You should suspect this if one NPC message seems to end in the middle of a thought; even if he does seem to be sending you elsewhere, it doesn't hurt to talk again just to make sure. Sometimes it only says to go to some particular town and ask around. Sometimes the information seems off topic and you simply have to talk to someone else in the same town.
If you find the right town, you can go talk to the barkeep and order a meal and he'll tell you who you need to talk to. If he just gives some generic information that isn't about your quest, then you're in the wrong city. The exception is if you need to do something beyond just talking in order to allow a quest to progress, such as buying a drink for a particular character. A handful of higher level quests do something like this.
A relative handful of higher level quests also require you to "talk" to an object in some landing point. Most landing point maps have four objects that you can click on, or sometimes a fifth to connect to a second map at the same landing point. In such quests, clicking on the object fills in another quest text box. If this is necessary in a quest, it's generally the last box (or two or three).
Once you fill in all of the boxes, the game adds one last box off to the right on your progress tab. This gives information about where the discovery is made in addition to the dialogue that the NPCs gave you.
After this, you need to find the right map for a discovery. If you use the "observe" skill and it says you don't see anything out of the ordinary, it means you're on the wrong map. If it says that the discovery seems to be either "near here" or further in some particular direction, then you're on the right map.
Some discoveries take place in a city, and often inside a building, especially a church (or mosque or temple, depending on where in the world you are). If you get onto the right map, then using observe will give a message saying so, but won't say the direction more precisely. Using observe will make a yellow marker appear briefly. Go stand at the yellow marker and use search (or some other discovery skill, as appropriate; for simplicity, I'll call it "search" throughout this section) to make the discovery.
You may need to use observe a couple more times even after you've seen the marker once, in order to get in exactly the right spot. If you're in the right spot and use the appropriate search skill, sometimes you'll make the discovery and complete the quest. Sometimes it won't, but will only give a message saying that there seems to be something around here. If the latter, then just keep using search until you get credit for the discovery.
Many discoveries take place at landing points. Some landing points are connected to cities. Such cities have a gatekeeper (or occasionally two gatekeepers) and he'll let you into a landing point connected to the city. Other landing points are not connected to any city. Rather, there are some trees or something else notable on the shore, and you can land there if you get close. The red dots on this map show where the landing points outside of towns are:
For a discovery in a landing point, if you're on the right map, then using observe will usually tell you that you need to go north, south, east, or west. It rounds this some, so if you need to go northeast, it will say either north or east. Using observe will make a yellow marker appear at the spot of the discovery, but it is often far away, and often not visible because of walls in the way. Move a ways in the right general direction, then use observe again. Repeat until you find it. At a landing point, you don't need to be in exactly the right spot to make a discovery. If you're close enough that it says that it seems to be somewhere around here, rather than saying to go north or west or whatever, then using search in that spot will work. All landing points have a square map, and you start in the middle of one side of the map. Knowing this can help you keep your bearings.
Some discoveries take place at sea. Here, if you use observe in the right sea zone, it will say which way you need to go, just like at a landing point. As before, if it says that nothing seems to be out of the ordinary, then you're in the wrong zone. Unlike discoveries at landing points, the game won't give you a yellow marker to show you the exact spot of the discovery. If it says that the right spot seems to be somewhere around here, then using search (actually it's recognition or ecological research when at sea) will have a chance to make the discovery.
Discoveries that don't come from quests come from archive maps instead. For these, you get a map at the archives of a major city, and it tells you roughly the right place to go to make the discovery. Using the map (it's a usable item that doesn't get consumed until you actually make the discovery) fills exactly the same role as using observe for quests. Archive map discoveries let you skip the step of going around and talking to people. You can also carry many archive maps simultaneously, as opposed to only one quest.
A handful of discoveries also come from imperial quests. These are harder discoveries to make, as they are higher level and tend to make you click objects for the last quest text box or two.
If you're really stuck on a quest, you can also check a wiki. There isn't much on the English-language wiki, but some of the foreign ones have a lot of information. Here's the link to the Japanese wiki:
Unless you read Japanese, you'll need the information translated for you. Google Chrome has built in translation capabilities, and even if it comes out as broken English with different quest names, that's usually good enough. You can figure out which quest you're looking for from the required skills and starting city, even if the name translates differently.
All major cities have quest mediators. If there are guild offices in the city, then there will be an adventuring mediator in the guild office, and also another one elsewhere in the city. If you're not sure a city has quest mediators, then go to the tavern. If there's a named waitress there (Angela, Elaine, Julia, etc.), then the city does offer quests, and you just have to find the mediators.
An adventuring mediator will offer several adventuring quests for you to choose from. Not all adventuring quests ask you to make a discovery, but most do. If a quest corresponds to a discovery that you've already made, then there will be an icon toward the top right of the quest window to indicate this. Most quests are repeatable, but you might prefer a quest that you haven't already done, as you get much smaller experience rewards for repeating a quest.
Every city that offers quests will have many quests that correspond to that city, but only offer a handful of them any particular time that you check. As your skills reach higher ranks, the mediators will start to offer you quests that require higher rank skills. Some quests are offered in multiple cities. As your adventuring fame gets higher, the mediator will start offering you more quest at a time to choose from, too.
A quest will list the cash reward for completing the quest, but not other rewards. Nearly all adventuring quests in which you make a discovery give a "quest mediation permit" (commonly known as a QMP) as a reward, in addition to the ducats. Some also give an item. Items that you get as a reward for a quest are not told to you ahead of time.
Quests will list the skills and their ranks that you must possess in order to complete the quest. Often, if you can't do a quest because it requires skills that you don't have, the game won't even offer it. But sometimes it will, especially if it's a follow-up to another quest that you've already done.
The game's list of language skill requirements are erratic and sometimes wrong, however. Sometimes it will list a language skill for the language of an NPC that you must talk to, but you can get around that with body language. Sometimes it will list a language skill to mean that you need that particular language to read archives. You cannot use body language for that, but you can buy a language note from the interpreter in the city instead. Sometimes a language could have been listed for either of the previous reasons, but the game simply doesn't list it.
You can only choose a quest from among the ones that the quest mediator offers. If you leave a city, dock in a different city, and return to the first city, it will reroll the list of quests available to you. You don't have to actually enter the other city, but only dock there and set sail again. You can also use a QMP to immediately reroll the list of quests available, without having to leave and come back.
Once you complete an adventuring quest, you can turn it in at any adventuring mediator in the city in which you acquired the quest. You cannot turn it in to a mediator in any other city. However, if you visit a different major city and talk to the waitress at the tavern there, she will sometimes let you turn in the quest to her and give you the reward immediately. This lets you take another quest immediately, and also saves you from having to return to the city where you started the quest.
Acquiring archive maps
Many major cities have an archive in them, which is a building that has a scholar inside. This includes all of the major cities in Europe except for Stockholm. Calicut also has an archive. Ambon also has a scholar, but he doesn't get his own building. The wiki says that Lima should, too, but on the American server, it doesn't, so it might just need more development. The six cities in the Caribbean area that are listed as territories rather than allied ports all also have a scholar, and you can get exactly the same maps in all six of those cities.
If you talk to the scholar, he'll give you the option to read his archives looking for maps in any of the six types of adventuring discoveries. You can only reach an archive if you speak the right language. For cities that speak multiple languages (e.g., Naples has both Italian and Arabic), speaking either one of the two languages is good enough. If your aide speaks the right language, that also works. Body language does not work, however. Translation notes from an interpreter will work, but you'll need two of them to read as much as you can in one stop.
The scholar will give you the option to either browse once or to browse consecutively. If you're looking for maps, you want to browse consecutively. It costs 500 ducats to browse each time, and you can browse about 40 times before the game says that you have a headache and cannot continue. Once you have a headache, you cannot browse the archives any more in that city until you leave, dock in another city, and come back. If you have headache medication, that can cure your headache and let you browse again immediately.
Each time you browse an archive, you have a chance of getting an archive map. There is a list of maps available at each archive, and each archive map has a rank. Some maps can appear in multiple archives. You cannot get a map unless your rank in the associated skill is high enough. You also cannot get a second copy of a map already in your possession. If a map corresponds to a discovery that you have made, then you cannot acquire that map again until you report the discovery to a noble.
If you browse an archive and do not get a map, then instead, it will give you 0-3 skill experience in the skill corresponding to the type of map you were searching for. If 0 points, it will say nothing learned. If 3 points, it will add a flavor text blurb. Each integer value from 0 to 3 seems to be about equally likely. If you have at least rank 12 in the relevant skill, then sometimes it will give you 4 experience.
If you go to your inventory and click "store", there is a document folder there. You can have up to 16 documents in the folder, and those documents do not count toward your main 50 item inventory. Archive maps, crafting recipe books, and job cards are the things that can go in the document folder. You have to put documents there manually, but may wish to use it extensively for archive maps so that you can carry more maps at a time.
Unlike quests, there is no limit on how many archive maps you can have at a time, other than limits on how much you can carry. You can acquire 20 or 30 archive maps at once, and then go around and make all of the discoveries in one long circuit.
When you actually make the discovery that an archive map corresponds to, the archive map is removed from your inventory. You can go acquire the same map again from the same archive to make the same discovery repeatedly.
Once you have made a discovery from an archive map, you can go report it to a noble. If you report it to a noble who wants the corresponding type of discovery, he will give you a QMP, some ducats, and some adventuring fame. You can wait as long as you like before reporting a discovery, and it does not take space in your inventory. Remember that you cannot reacquire an archive map that corresponds to a discovery that you have made but not yet reported; you can also use this as a way to ensure that you don't repeatedly pull an unwanted map. The list of which nobles want which types of discoveries is here:
Note that "historical legacy" and "historical relic" are the same thing. What should have come out as "legacy" is worded "relic" for some nobles, but that is the right type of discovery to report to them.
Not all archive maps correspond to a discovery that can be reported to a noble. Some will give you some ducats, equipment, consumables, and/or a ship figurehead.
Acquiring imperial quests
After you have the Caribbean port permits, you can acquire imperial quests. Imperial quests are used to unlock port permits in subsequent areas. They basically give you access to the ports that were added in later expansions and not available at launch.
The first imperial quests come from your nation's capital (from one of the nobles in the palace), and take you to the north coast of South America. After you have done one such quest, you can acquire imperial quests in Calicut, which generally take you to Sumatra or Java. After you have done one of these, you can acquire imperial quests in Rio de Janiero, which generally take you to a landing point south of Valparaiso. Next, you can acquire imperial quests in Santiago that take you to Portobelo. Finally, you can acquire more imperial quests in your nation's capital (from the same noble as before) that take you to Cairo. Eventually you will be able to acquire imperial quests in Manila that take you to somewhere in eastern Asia, but that expansion hasn't reached the American server yet.
After you do one imperial quest to unlock an area, you can repeat the same imperial quests or take others and do them, too. There are imperial quests corresponding to adventuring, trade, and battle, and they all come from the same NPC. Imperial quests other than at your nation's capital must be taken from your nation's consul in the appropriate city.
Imperial quests give patriot awards as quest rewards, rather than QMPs. They give multiple patriot awards, and the exact number varies by quest.
Imperial quests cannot be turned in at any waitress. Rather, they must be turned in at the NPC that gave you the quest. For the first imperial quest at a location, in order to unlock a new area, you must then go back to your nation's capital to get the port permits before you can acquire imperial quests in the next area.
Unlike normal quests, you can reroll the available imperial quests by talking to the NPC who offers the quest repeatedly. You do not have to leave town and return.
There are a number of skills needed for adventuring. The observe skill is essentially needed to do adventuring quests as explained above, though it is not used for archive maps. The observe skill does not advance past rank 1, so there is no harm in dropping it and reacquiring it later if you aren't going to do any adventuring quests for a while.
You can use a perception of something or other consumable item in place of observe. (Perception of explorer, perception of artisan, and perception of scholar are all functionally equivalent.) These are given as quest rewards for a handful of adventuring quests. They are also for sale at the item shop in Venice. They're mainly of use for someone who only wants to do one particular quest every now and then. For a serious adventurer, I'd advise getting the observe skill.
There are six adventuring skills needed to identify discoveries: geography, archaeology, theology, biology, appraisal, and art. You can gain rank in these skills by making a discovery, or by reading archives. Every discovery from quests or archive maps corresponds to one of these six skills. If you want archive maps corresponding to some particular skill, then you can browse that particular second of the scholar's archives. Your rank in these six discoveries also limits which maps you can pull from the archives.
There are three adventuring skills needed to actually make a discovery: search, recognition, and ecological research. These are the skills that you use to try to make a discovery when you think you've found the right spot. Which skill to use depends on what you are trying to discover, and is listed as the quest's required skill or on the archive map. These skills are leveled only by making discoveries using the corresponding skill.
Some adventuring discoveries require unlock, in addition to two of the above skills. Unlock is leveled only by making discoveries that require unlock.
Note that if a discovery requires a given rank in geography or archaeology or whatever, it will require a rank 2 less than that (minimum of 1) in the other skill(s) that it requires. For example, if a discovery requires geography and recognition, then if it requires rank 4 in geography, it will require rank 2 in recognition. On an archive map, this will merely say, geography, recognition rank 4. It means rank 4 geography and rank 2 recognition.
This is true even if the map doesn't require one of the six types of skills. For example, if a map says recognition, unlock rank 4, then it means you need at least rank 2 in both recognition and unlock. Neither skill has to be rank 4. The map is rank 4 because it required geography rank 4 to acquire it from the archive.
Archive maps that don't list one of the six types of discoveries won't give a discovery that you can turn in to a noble. Rather, it will give you some ducats and some items. Such maps often also require unlock.
Types of discoveries
There are sixteen types of discoveries that the game will show in the list of discoveries that you've done. This does not include archive maps that do not lead to a reportable discovery. The simplest is port/settlement, which you acquire by entering a city. You must actually enter the city, not just land in the docks, so you need port permits to make these discoveries. The other discoveries each correspond to one of the six main types of skills, so I'll break them down that way.
All reportable discoveries that use the geography skill are classified as geography discoveries. These require the geography and recognition skills, but never unlock. Nearly all of these discoveries are made at sea, though a handful are done on land.
There are also some shipwreck route maps available from archives. These don't give reportable discoveries, but instead, ducats and items. These require recognition and usually unlock.
All reportable discoveries that use the archaeology skill are classified as historical legacies. These require the archaeology and search skills, and sometimes unlock. Archaeology discoveries are always done on land, and almost invariably at some landing point.
Some archeology maps from archives do not give a reportable discovery. These can be hard to guess from the map title. Once you have the map, you can figure it out from whether it requires the archaeology skill or not to actually make the discovery. If it does not, then it will require search and probably unlock to use the map.
There are also archaeology discoveries that are classified as historical sites. These invariably require archaeology and recognition, but not search or unlock. These are only available from quests, and never from archives.
Historical site discoveries are also notable in that they often unlock new areas, and these quests are not repeatable. Rather, they are prerequisites for other quests or archive maps in the new area. Many landing points have two maps, not just one. You need to do a quest to unlock the second map. You can reach the second map by going through the first one. If you start on one side of the first map, then the path to the second is in the middle of another side, and usually the side opposite where you start. The second map will also have some distinctive architecture, rather than looking fairly generic like the first one does. Note that if you use observe at the first map for a historical site quest, it will report that you're on the wrong map; you have to get to the second map before it will work.
All reportable discoveries that use the theology skill are classified as religious legacies. These require the theology and search skills, and sometimes unlock. Theology discoveries are always done on land. Sometimes they are done in a landing point, and sometimes in a city, most commonly a church.
Some theology maps from archives do not give a reportable discovery. These tend to be called "holy mans notes". Rather, they give ducats and items. These require search and typically unlock, but not theology.
There are also archaeology discoveries that are classified as religious architecture. These require theology and recognition, but not search or unlock. Like historical sites, they are available only from quests, andoften unlock deeper maps at landing points.
There are eight types of biology discoveries, and all are reportable. Most biology archive maps give a reportable discovery, rather than ducats and items. Many biology maps and quests will send you to Africa.
Plant, insect or worm, bird, small creature, medium-sized creature, and large creature all require biology and ecological research. These discoveries are all done on land. The differences between them are flavor text and which nobles you report the discoveries to.
Another type of biology discovery is marine creatures. These usually require biology and ecological research, but are done at sea rather than on land. Some marine creature discoveries are done by fishing rather than archive maps or quests. You go fish in various areas, catch something, and get credit for a discovery that you can go report.
The final type of biology discovery is fossils. These require biology and search, but not ecological research. These discoveries are done on land.
All reportable discoveries that use the appraisal skill are classified as treasures. These require the appraisal and search skills, and sometimes unlock. Appraisal discoveries are always done on land, and usually in landing points. Appraisal discoveries sometimes give nice equipment, too. Or perhaps rather, a number of discovery types can give equipment, but gear that you'd want to actually use in combat tends to come from appraisal discoveries rather than other types.
Some appraisal maps do not give a reportable discovery. These are typically labeled "treasure map". Rather, they give ducats and items. These require search and usually unlock, but not appraisal.
All reportable discoveries that use the art skill are classified as works of art. These are always done on land and in cities, most commonly in churches. I have yet to pull an art archive map that sent me outside of Europe. Works of art invariably require search and art, and sometimes require unlock.
Some art archive maps do not give a reportable discovery. Rather, they give ducats and items. These require search and typically unlock, but not art. If labeled an "art delivery record", then it is done in a city, and likely in a church. If labeled a "caravan record", then it is done in a landing point.
Leveling adventuring skills
One should note that five types of adventuring skills commonly use unlock. If you try to do only one of them, then your unlock skill will trail behind the others, so that you will be unable to do many discoveries. If you do all five, then your unlock skill will keep up.
Note also that biology is the only type of discovery that uses ecological research. If you don't do any other discovery types, then you may be unable to do fossils for lack of search level, but will be able to do the rest of biology.
Thus, you can take biology and ecological research alone. You can also take geography and recognition alone. If you want to do any of the other types of discoveries, then you should probably do all of them, in order to keep your search and unlock skills up.
You'll also need recognition to unlock deeper areas in landing points, and that means you'll want to do geography in order to get your recognition skill up.
Ideally, you want to make discoveries while having all of the skills that you use as a favored skill. This effectively means you level the skill twice as fast. Thus, it is good to take a job that has the relevant skills for one adventuring type as favored skills, and then do a bunch of discoveries of that one type consecutively. Then you can switch to a different job to do another type of discoveries.
There are some adventuring-type jobs that aren't mentioned below. Some are simply bad jobs, such as naturalist or explorer. Others merely have other focuses besides adventuring discoveries, such as fisher (for fishing), salvager (for shipwrecks), or guerilla (for combat as an adventuring-type job).
What you really want is geography, recognition, and unlock as favored skills, though unlock isn't very important. The folklorist job offers all three, but is very expensive to switch to. There are several jobs that offer both geography and recognition.
There are two beginner jobs that give both geography and recognition: surveyor and helmsperson. You can pick either one to start on geography, depending on which other favored skills you want. I'd recommend helmsperson, to start leveling sail handling. Being able to level steering and repair faster is also nice.
Eventually you can get the cartographer and ocean explorer jobs. The former offers geography as an expert skill, while the latter offers recognition as an expert skill. Which you prefer is really a matter of which you want the expert skill in. You need sail handling 6 in order to pull the quest for ocean explorer. It takes geography 11 and recognition 9 in order to pull the quest for cartographer. The former is probably easier to do than the latter, as you can get a "sail handling techniques" accessory and "mittens", both of which give +1 to sail handling, so you only need a real rank of 4. Mittens are cheap, as they can be crafted by many players.
What you really want is archaeology, search, and unlock as favored skills, as those are the three that you use a lot. It would also be nice to have recognition as a favored skill, to help level that when you do historical site quests.
The excavator beginner job gives you archaeology, search, and unlock, which makes it a viable way to get started on archaeology.
You can get the historian intermediate job fairly early on, and it gives those three skills plus also recognition, all as favored skills. The quest for historian only takes archaeology 3, search 1, and unlock 1. The quest is "Treasure of Ilkhanate", and can be acquired in either Tunis or Istanbul. It takes you to the landing point at the east end of the Black Sea.
Eventually you can get the archaeologist job, which as you might guess, is useful for archaeology discoveries. It offers archaeology as an expert skill, as well as search, unlock, and recognition as favored skills. It requires archaeology 10, search 8, and theology 4 to acquire, so it will take a while to get. It also has a prerequisite quest that requires archaeology 10 and recognition 8.
You'd like to have theology, search, and unlock as favored skills. It would also be nice to have recognition as a favored skill, for the occasional religious architecture quest. No beginner quests offer theology as a favored skill at all. Thus, you should wait a while before starting theology quests, until you can get the historian job.
The historian and archaeologist jobs discussed in the archaeology section both also offer theology. These are the best jobs for theology discoveries. You might expect missionary or priest to be good jobs for theology, especially since priest offers theology as an expert skill. However, neither of those jobs has unlock as a favored skill, making them far less useful.
You'd like to have biology, ecological research, and search as favored skills. No job has both ecological research and search as favored skills, however. Ecological research is far more important for biology than search, as you can level search with other discovery types. Ecological research is only leveled from biology discoveries, so you really want to have it as a favored skill if you're going to do biology.
The biologist beginner job offers both biology and ecological research as favored skills, making it a viable job for biology discoveries early on. You'll need to use it for a long time to get biology and ecological research ranks up.
The hunter and ranger jobs are the only other ones in the game that offer ecological research, and both also offer biology. Hunter has ecological research as an expert skill, while ranger has biology as an expert skill. Hunter requires biology 11 and ecological research 9 to acquire the job quest, so you'll be stuck with biologist only for a long time. Ranger requires biology 15, ecological research 13, and swordplay 7 (seriously!), so it won't be accessible for a long time.
You'd really like appraisal, search, and unlock as favored skills. No beginner job offers appraisal, so you should hold off on appraisal discoveries for a while.
The treasure hunter job offers appraisal as an expert skill and unlock as favored, but not search. That makes it a viable way to get started on appraisal. The job quest for treasure hunter is the same "Treasure of Ilkhanate" quest discussed above, and still requires archaeology 3, search 1, and unlock 1.
The thief job is far better. It offers unlock as an expert skill, which is important, as unlock bonuses are hard to come by. It also has appraisal and search as favored skills. The quest to get the thief job requires archaeology 9 and search 9, so it will be a while before you can get it. Still, get it when you can. The thief job quest requires you to get a "Knight's Crest", which comes from an archive map that requires unlock 7, among other things. You can buy the crest in company shops.
You'd like to have art, search, and unlock as favored skills. No beginner job has art as a favored skill, so you should hold off for a while on doing art discoveries.
The treasure hunter job mentioned above has both art and unlock as favored skills, but not search. This makes it a viable but less than ideal way to get started on art discoveries. You may still want to delay doing art, however.
The archaeologist job mentioned above has art, search, and unlock as favored skills, making it better for art discoveries. The thief job has unlock as an expert skill, and art and search as favored skills, making it the best job for art discoveries in the game.
You're probably used to getting equipment for better armor, more damage, more health, more mana, higher crit chance, and stuff like that. Considerations like that are important for combat in UWO (though here it's only attack, defense, and bonuses to skills), but not for adventuring.
Rather, good gear for adventuring is gear that gives you bonuses to the adventuring skills you need. For example, right now, I've got an "Old Testament" accessory in my bank vault that gives +2 theology. When I need another rank or two in theology, I can pull it out and equip it.
There are ten adventuring skills listed above that you need high ranks in if you want to make high rank discoveries. You'd like to have gear that gives bonuses to all ten of those skills. Higher rank in the six main adventuring categories lets you pull higher rank maps from archives. Often when you want to go make a particular discovery, you'll see that you need another rank or two in some particular skill. It's nice to have gear that gives whatever you need available so that you can make the discovery.
Note that you don't need all of your bonuses at once. You'll never need +2 biology and +2 theology at the same time. If you have an accessory that gives +2 biology and a different accessory that gives +2 theology, then you can get whichever bonus you need when you need it.
Sometimes you do need a bonus to multiple skills at the same time, however, as you need two or three skills to make a discovery. The six discovery types and the three active skills to make a discovery don't conflict with others in their category. But if you need both +2 biology and +2 ecological research to make a discovery, then having +2 biology on one accessory and +2 ecological research on another doesn't you any good. A large fraction of the gear that gives adventuring bonuses goes in the accessory slot, so bonuses in other slots are especially valuable.
Another concern that you have to worry about is that gear wears out. Most gear slowly loses durability as you sail around. Once it runs out of durability, the gear is destroyed. The exception is gear that has a skill attached, which only loses durability when you use the skill. For example, there are a lot of items that give +2 art with some junk skill attached. The point of such gear is the +2 art bonus. You're not really meant to use the skill; the skill only makes it so that the gear lasts forever.
There are ways to extend the lifetime of gear that will wear out, however. If you have gear stashed in your apartment, then it doesn't lose durability, but it costs quite a bit to pull it out unless you're in your capital city. If it is in your bank vault, then it also doesn't lose durability, but bank vault space is limited. Thus, you can leave an item stashed in the bank, pull it out when you need it, and then put it back once you no longer need the bonus.
Your bank vault gains more capacity as you play longer. You get one capacity for each court rank. You also gain 5 capacity at each of (at least) three particular thresholds. I don't recall exactly what they are. I'm pretty sure that reaching India is one. I think that circumnavigation and some imperial quest are the others. But it really helps to have a lot of bank capacity, so that you can store gear without it wearing out.
It isn't too hard to get a +2 bonus to most of the main adventuring skills. Unlock is the big exception, however, as unlock bonuses are very rare, making even +1 unlock gear quite valuable.
Other recommended skills for adventuring
Above, I've talked about the 11 skills that you directly need for adventuring discoveries. There are a lot of other skills that are nice to have. Some such as accounts, spice trading, or gunnery are nice for reasons that have nothing to do with adventuring, so I'll ignore them in this section. This section is only about skills that will help you indirectly with making discoveries.
Fishing lets you catch fish while at sea. Higher ranks let you catch more types of fish, and multiple fish at once. You can convert the fish into food supplies while at sea, and then your sailors can eat them. Fishing does cost a bit of vigor, but can make it so that you basically never have to land specifically to restock food. Some areas get you better fish than others, so you'll be able to keep a lot more sailors fed while sailing around in the Caribbean than in the southeastern Atlantic Ocean. Still, fishing does help everywhere.
Procurement lets you collect water when it rains, to provide water to your sailors. This is less reliable than fishing, because sometimes it goes a long time without raining. It rains a lot more frequently in some zones than others. Still, when it does rain, you can get a lot of water in a hurry. In certain sea zones in the far north, it can sometimes snow, which does let you use procurement, but snow only gives you half as much water as rain.
Sail handling lets you go at full speed without constantly having to micromanage your sails. This is mainly a convenience, but it's still very nice to have. You also need sail handling 6 to pull the quest for the ocean explorer job, as mentioned above.
Caution makes it so that you will never be ambushed. Enemy ships that you can see sailing around can still attack you, even with caution up. Caution can go through vigor quickly, so it probably won't be your highest priority when you're low level, but it is nice to get eventually.
Persuasion lets you turn in quests at the waitress in any major town, rather than having to sail back to where you acquired the quest. You'll have to drink with the waitress and/or give her gifts to make her like you. But if you do that to refill your vigor rather than going straight to the barkeep in major cities, you should always be able to turn in your quests to the waitresses.
Steering lets you make sharper turns as you sail around, which lets you control your ship better. You can get the same effect from increased turning speed ship upgrades, but those are limited and very expensive.
Body language lets you communicate in ports where you don't speak the local language. It won't let you read archives, but when all you need to do is to get some information to continue a quest or to restock at a port, it's very useful to have.
Repair will fix your hull when you take damage. This can be from storms, fires, or being attacked by enemy ships. Keeping your ship afloat rather than sinking is helpful.
Marching reduces your rate of fatigue gain in landing points, and also makes mobs less likely to attack you. It's hardly critical, but it is mildly nice to have.
Language skills let you read archives without having to hope there is a translation note in stock at the interpreter. These are convenience skills that don't advance past rank 1, so you may wish to only have one or two at a time (besides your native language, which you cannot drop) and swap them out (i.e., drop one to acquire another) as needed. Note that not all languages are equally valuable. Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and Arabic are widely used in important areas. English, French, Italian, Turkish, and Indian Languages are nice to have at times, too. But some languages such as Celtic or Mon-Khmer are nearly useless.
Ideally, you want a fast ship. This lets you get from where you are to where you need to go quickly. Vertical sails are more useful than horizontal sails, because even if you go the same distance with and against the wind, you it takes longer going into the wind. The high vertical sails ships such as dhows, sloops, cutters, schooners, sambuks, and xebecs are ideal for adventuring until you get to higher levels.
Note also that ship sails can be modified at any port (talk to the shipwright) to increase horizontal sails at the expense of vertical sails, but not the other way around. Furthermore, this adds more horizontal sails than it subtracts in vertical sails. High vertical sails ships are thus more versatile, as you can go for extremely high vertical sails when you have to go into the wind, and moderately high sails of both types otherwise.
It is also useful to have a lower required crew size. Needing fewer sailors to operate your ship means that the same supplies last longer. You'll also want substantial wave resistance. Ships that have wave resistance of 7 or 8 or so are viable on the high seas, but galleys with a wave resistance of 2 tend not to fare so well in some places. If you have at least 11 wave resistance, then you can sail right through storms without having to stop. Higher turning speed is also nice, as I'll come back to later.
Having more armor and more durability are all mildly nice for adventuring, but not that important. More cannons really doesn't matter for adventuring.
A larger cargo hold reduces your ship's acceleration, so it's sometimes better to go with a smaller hold rather than a larger one. This is why shipbuilders are given an option on hold size, rather than automatically going with maximum capacity.
You can easily find a shipbuilder to build you a sambuk or xebec at Calicut, as shipbuilders commonly go there to level shipbuilding. There are usually some of them sitting outside of Calicut building ships and then vendoring them. If you'll pay what it costs them to build a ship, you can probably get them to build one for you, ideally in teak. This benefits the shipbuilder, too, as selling a ship to you at cost beats spending 600k to build a sambuk and then vendoring it for only 500k.
You want to equip as many studding sails as you can. Note that it's not just horizontal and vertical sails that matter, but also turn speed. -1 turn speed on each studding sail isn't much of a problem for most ships, but -2 on each can be for some ships. If you get your turn speed down to 2, it's very awkward to maneuver. Turn speed of 3 is more livable, but higher is better.
You can buy mizzen top royal sails cheaply (45k) in many shipyards, which will get you started at low levels. Eventually you'll want to get full rigged sails, which are only crafted by players. When players try to sew high end sails, sometimes it comes out as a mizzen full rigged sail (+18 vert, +23 horz, -2 turn), sometimes as fore full rigged sail (+17 vert, +24 horz, -2 turn), and sometimes as mail full rigged sail (+21 vert, +24 horz, -1 turn). Main full rigged is what everyone wants, but others are produced in the process of trying to make main full rigged sails, so crafters need to get rid of them. You can commonly buy fore or mizzen full rigged sails for about 250k, while main full rigged typically costs about 3 million ducats each.
Depending on your ship, loading up entirely with fore or mizzen full rigged sails at -2 turn speed each may make your turn speed slow enough to be awkward. You can avoid this by either paying the premium to get main full rigged sails, or by getting cheaper, slower sails that don't have as strong of a turn penalty.
For special equipment, you want extra spankers (+7 vertical sails, 55k at shipyards) early on. Eventually you'll want to get large extra spankers (+11 vertical sails, about 1m from crafters). Note that special equipment loses durability very slowly, so what you get in those slots will last nearly forever.
For a figurehead, crisis protection is the most useful for adventurers. A sea monster (62k at some NPC sculptors) can get you started at low levels. Eventually you'll want something higher level. Poseidon seems to be popular, and available for around 1m from some crafters.
Cannons aren't relevant to adventuring. Crests are purely decorative, so it's probably best not to have one, in order to free up inventory.
Extra armoring is great for combat, at least when you're going to get in cannon fights. But it does slow you down, which isn't so great for adventuring. When doing adventuring quests, you usually want to run away and not get hit, rather than getting hit and taking less damage than you would have without the armor.
Once you get higher level, you may also want to do special shipbuilding upgrades. This costs real money, but it's only a few dollars to fully upgrade a ship, or less if you want to selectively grab some upgrades that you want while skipping stuff that you don't care about. Upgrades made to a ship are permanent.
Upgrading vertical sails and horizontal sails can improve your ship's speed quite a bit. If you can get your wave resistance to 11, then storms may still cost you ship durability and sailors, but won't throw you off course, so you can keep sailing around during a storm. Increased turning speed can also be useful if your studding sails bring your turning speed low enough to be awkward. The other statistical upgrades available aren't important for adventuring. If you have an original ship, then some optional ship skills may be of use to you.
I'd recommend having a ship that is designed for adventuring. If you want to do ship combat as well, then have a separate ship for that. If you try to have a single ship that does everything for you, then it won't do anything well.
Aides can give a +1 skill rank bonus to various skills. An adventurer would like to have +1 to the adventuring skills that he needs, when he needs them. You can find a list of all of the aides, and the skills they can eventually help you with, here:
They are split into categories of aides that mostly help with adventuring, mostly with trade, or mostly with battle, though many aides have skills from multiple categories. Adventuring aides are the ones most likely to be of use in adventuring. Some aides are only available if you buy stuff in the item mall that is only sporadically available even there. All of the adventuring aides are available for free, however.
You can get one aide at level 20 (meaning, 20 in any one of the three main levels), and then a second at level 40 if your first aide has reached level 20. You can get a third aide once you have rank 2 quarters and a fourth aide once you have rank 3 quarters. You'll likely get rank three quarters before reaching level 40, and then get access to your second, third, and fourth aides all at once.
Even once you have four aides, you can only have two active at a time, while the other two stay in your quarters. You can swap which aides are active at any port. At some ports, this is free, while at others, there is a fee that can run into the hundreds of thousands of ducats. The ports where you can swap for free change with time, but tend to be the most popular ones. The "free" ports end to include most of the game's major cities, but typically not Portobelo, Aden, Zanzibar, Genoa, Naples, Tunis, Stockholm, or sometimes Istanbul or Alexandria. It does tend to be free to swap aides at Beirut and Pisa, however.
Aides should complement each other somewhat. You'd like to have all of the adventuring skills that you want a bonus to covered by at least one aide. But you don't need four aides that give +1 to the same skill. You may want multiple aides with the same skill, in order to have multiple skills available at the same time, however.
Each aide support skill is classified as one of six possible aide jobs. For the adventuring skills, geography is the navigator job; ecological research, recognition, search, and unlock are the lookout job; and biology, archaeology, theology, appraisal, and art are the store keeper job. Thus, even if an aide gives you bonuses to both search and theology, for example, you can't make use of both of those bonuses simultaneously. You can get +1 search if the aide is in the lookout job, or +1 theology if the aide is in the store keeper job, but not both at once. If you want +1 search and +1 theology from aides at the same time, you'll need them from different aides.
You'll probably want bonuses to some other skills covered by at least one aide as well. In particular, if you're a crafter, you'll definitely want an aide that boosts your crafting skill. Which aides you should get thus depends not just on your being an adventurer, but also on what else you do.
Aides also give language skills, which can be a great convenience. You can read archives in a language you don't understand so long as your aide is fluent in it.
Aides don't get access to all of their skills immediately, however. Rather, there are level and job proficiency requirements to get access to each skill. Picking aides is a long term investment, as it may take months for an aide to get access to the skills you want. Plan ahead when choosing your aides, and don't just look for something that will be a quick fix in the short term.
Note that unlock is a difficult skill to level, and also difficult to get bonuses for. Only two aides in the entire game get unlock below adventuring level 35, and those are Rashid (28) and Cornelia (32), so they don't get unlock quickly, either.