Rampant Games - On Wandering Monsters and Unplanned Encounters
Jay Barnson returns to the topic of random encounters in RPG design:
Engaging the enemy on your own terms, in your own time, is always easier. That’s the advantage of offense.
Unplanned combat encounters force the player(s) to play defense. And not usually with a nice fortified defensive advantage, either. The player may be caught unprepared. It may disrupt the best-laid plans.
Having played a lot of 3.x edition Dungeons & Dragons, I became fascinated by how the game mechanics made such such a difference between the players attacking a dragon and the players being attacked by a dragon. Given the opportunity for adequate preparation – particularly attacking a dragon in an underground area that inhibited its mobility, and preparing magical defenses against the dragon’s breath weapon attack – a combat with a dragon of the appropriate challenge rating was a difficult venture but not exceptionally dangerous. But the same dragon attacking the party out in the open when they haven’t had time to prepare? Whole ‘nother story, and often one that resulted in one or more characters dead or unconscious by the end.