Gameplay Works In Progress

Rethinking Random Encounters

I’ve been thinking lately about random encounters.  I might be dating myself here, but I remember when they used to be a pretty common “feature” of RPGs.  In case you’re not familiar with the concept, the way random encounters worked was that whenever you were walking around outside of town, every time you took a step there was a chance that enemies would attack, initiating a battle scene.  These battles would just be a collection of random enemies, often completely irrelevant to the context of the story.  It was just as annoying as it sounds.

In general, these encounters interrupt the flow of exploration and story to provide players with the “opportunity” to earn some gold, items, and experience by winning a battle.  Most recent RPGs no longer include random encounters, in favor of clearly visible enemies that can be avoided.  For Nia’s Journey, I’ve been thinking it would be great to bring back random encounters.  Why would I do that?  Well, there are several reasons:

First, random encounters are in many ways more intuitive.  Visible/non-random encounters motivate players to deliberately start fights so they can get loot and experience.  From a roleplaying perspective this doesn’t really make any sense; in real life, if you were walking through the woods and saw a bear, you would probably try to stay away from it.  It makes more sense that you’d only fight a bear or any other wild animal if you were caught by surprise.

Second, random encounters make the game easier to balance for difficulty.  With visible encounters, people who roleplay “correctly” and try to avoid enemies can make the game impossible for themselves to finish because they haven’t earned enough experience.

Lastly, I have some great ideas about how to make random encounters genuinely fun to play.  In the past, random encounters have almost always  just been random battles.  However, if you look back to pen & paper RPGs, random encounters weren’t always battles; they could sometimes be truly unexpected encounters.  For Nia’s Journey I’ll use RPG Maker’s eventing system to add at least a little bit of dialogue and character development to every unique encounter.  Maybe some “big” stuff too.  Random encounters won’t just be battles, but opportunities to learn more about the characters and world.  I want players to get excited about what could happen every time they see that swirl.  I’ll also keep the encounter rate relatively low to help balance out the additional time it will take to resolve encounters, and to reduce the number of unique encounters needed to keep things fresh.

Let me know what you think of this idea in the comments section below!