Random Encounters

Random encounters in RPGs have always been a double-edged sword: If they are well designed they bring an element of uncertainty, break up routines and add some tension for the player, who doesn’t know exactly when they might occur. On the other hand, when implemented poorly, they can provoke feelings of desperation, frustration and even boredom as the payer is given a feeling of déjà vu  when he says to himself, is this the same battle that I just fought 20 seconds ago!?

Random encounters are also a way to auto-balance the difficulty of the adventure. They can allow the player to grind for experience and treasure as much as they want in a nearly unlimited fashion (well, limited only by the player’s patience). In RPGs without random encounters the total experience that a player can earn is often set at a fixed number. In some of those cases, if a player has not made a group that the game designer has deemed ideal for the adventure, then the player has less opportunity to take time to level their characters up to be more useful in the game. Sometimes this is solved for by the game providing many more optional areas, re-spawning areas with enemies like in Might & Magic VI,  or more directly, by addressing balancing with other artificial methods like scaling enemies to the player’s level.

The Nature of Encounters

The vast majority of random encounters are with enemies where a battle is automatically triggered, but this does not always need to be the case. The encounter can be with an NPC, like in the villages of Wizardry VII, a messenger, a merchant or any other type of event such as a revealing dream.

Even if the encounters are with enemies, many RPGs give the player options to avoid combat or to use other abilities of the characters in the group. The most common method of avoiding combat is, of course, to flee, but depending on the game players can also try conversation (which rarely works), bribery, or threatening the enemies to scare them away.

Where do they Happen?

Sometimes random encounters only occur in some parts of the game, like during travel between regions as in FalloutBaldur’s Gate or Dragon Age. In other cases, they are limited to dangerous areas set outside of towns and villages, like in Oblivion, or the majority of JRPGs.  In contrast, in other classics like Might & Magic, Ishar, Bard’s Tale, and Wizardythe player can die in an ambush from enemies inside of towns while looking for a temple to cure themselves.

And in Lords of Xulima?

Lords of Xulima Random Battle

Enemy Areas

Random encounters will be limited to Enemy Areas. These zones always have signs indicating when you are entering. Also, the interface lets you know in a space next to the map if there are enemies in the nearby or not. This way the player knows when an ambush is a possibility and can plan their strategy accordingly.

Finite and Unique Encounters

Different than the majority of RPGs, in Lords of Xulima random encounters are  finite and unique.

Traditionally, random encounters are infinite. Even if you stayed in an area of no more than 50 square yards, you could encounter and kill thousands of enemies.

In Lords of Xulima, every encounter has its own identity and the game keeps track of your successes and failures. No two encounters are the exactly the same, with the same types and numbers of enemies.

Once you have finished all of the enemies in an area, both those that are fixed on the map and those that are randomly generated, the area then stays clear of enemies. Also, the player gains a bonus in experience and is free to explore the area free from enemy impediments.

Player Options Before the Encounter

The player has different options available to avoid combat should he wish to do so. For one, he can try to flee, the chances of successfully running away are calculated by comparing the party’s speed to that of the enemy.

He can also attempt to hide to avoid the enemy. The Explorer has a Camouflage skill that allows him to use his knowledge of nature to hide the group instead of fighting in the encounter, but he will have to use some of his ability points to do so. The number of points that he will need to spend will depend on the level of the encounter. The player can develop this skill to lessen the cost and thus gain the ability to use the skill more frequently. The party even gains a small amount of experience for successfully evading the enemy.

Weak Enemies Will Try to Flee

If the group is much stronger than the enemies they encounter, then it may be the enemies that will attempt to flee. In these instances, the player will have the option to pursue and cut down the lowly creatures, or let them scamper off into the wild.

The World is 100% Affected by the Player’s Actions 

The Player knows that every enemy defeated will not return to trouble the world again. The more enemies you defeat the more time you will have between encounters, largely because there will be fewer enemies left in the area. Additionally, every encounter has its own probability to occur and some will only occur when certain conditions are met. Some encounters only take place at night, others only on or off the main path through the area, some will be with groups that will seek vengeance only after you have defeated a different group, others may try to rob you and then flee. Many of these encounters will only happen because of the actions the player has taken to get to where he is.

As mentioned above, there are a finite number of encounters, but there are enough so that any player who wants to earn extra experience and levels will be able to do so. Clearing all the areas in all the regions across the entire continent will be a real odyssey, but as always, the player is free to play Lords of Xulima in any way he chooses.

The next article with touch on balancing in non-linear RPGs and the aberration of auto-scaling of enemies and treasures to the player’s level… 

  • Posted by Menorbriam [Numantian Games]
  • On April 15, 2013


If the player flees from an encounter, will the encounter be considered "finished"? I would hope that the encounter would be put back into the pile to select from again, until the player is able to conquer it...
    Hi Thak, Enemies remain alive when you flee from them, the encounter would not be considered "finished" in that case. There will definitely be times that you will need to flee from an enemy and return to an area when you have leveled up. The enemy will still be there to be found again. Numantian Games
I have nothing against random encounters, so long as they aren't a substitute for a story or stroy based encounters.
I agree with forgottenlor. That said, I much prefer encounters that have some relationship to the plot, either the main story line or a side quest. It would be nice to have some areas crawling with monsters and others that are relatively quiet. There was one early Apple game (might have been Pool of Radiance) where the party walks into a room and is suddenly ambushed by about fifty low-level enemies. Exciting!
    Frank Flury
    Your right Jim. I played Pool of Radiance back in the 80's on my old Tandy and the game was notorious at surprising you with 50 kobolds. lol That said, I love well managed random encounters, it does add a little spice, and some extra xp does help.
i love to "clear" areas... and I love the idea of a world that responds to the things you have done in it... I'd enjoy it if, in this game, NPC's/monsters gradually started to "know" you by reputation, good or bad... like if you completely cleared the area around a town, the npc's would consider you to be the town's savior or protector, opening new interactions, etc... or if you actually went on a "world cleansing odyssey", people would start to respond to that, coming to you for help (and incidentally allowing you to know where you haven't gotten every enemy yet... going for a "rid the world of all evil" achievement would be hard if you never found out, for example, that there were groups of enemies in "x" area that only came out at night, or that only appeared after a certain event... some kind of in-game system for revealing as-yet-undefeated enemies is important for people like me who want to get them ALL. ;)
It will be very interesting to see monster groups avenge their comrades by ambushing the protagonist party ;)
In a time where most developers think random encounters are bad by default, it's good to see someone who actually thinks furthers than that. I personally like random encounters myself and think that not the random encounter design itself is at fault for them being bad but rather that there weren't well implemented. There are two main points that make random encounter bad in most games: - There are too many in row (if you get one every few steps, it's really annoying) - There isn't a high enough variety of different formation sets (like a region with only 5 different formations or even less, that's really bad; most developers don't seem to realize that even just 3 different monsters in 5 spawn slots allow for hundreds of different formations, or they are just lazy) Both of these points can be avoided while still having random encounters. You did that as well, so I'm happy about that. Never really thought about the idea of actually having the total number limited forever (my ideas were more around "more time between encounters and all formations are randomly put together to allow for a huge variety"), but I think that sounds like I would still enjoy it. Honestly most RPG these days use this "Monsters are visible on map and you need to touch them from behind to strike first" and I think the use is completely inflated and I'm fairly tired of this system. Seeing random encounters is actually rare these days!

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