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 Fallout, Baldur’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 Wizardy, the player can die in an ambush from enemies inside of towns while looking for a temple to cure themselves.
And in Lords of Xulima?
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…