Types of Encounters in Fantasy RPGs
Encounters in RPGs

Types of Encounters in Fantasy RPGs

Duncan Thomson

Encounters are something I've published lots of. Encounters tables and titles for D&D and I'm exploring more into system-neutral fantasy.

Building on an article on using encounters in D&D, let's taking a look at the elements of fantasy encounters.

Types of Encounter

I'm splitting them into Distractions, Hazards, Noncombat Encounters and Combat Encounters.

Many will combine 2 or more of these items... Or blur them


Distractions are anything that doesn't really hinder or harm the characters. It might involve weather, animals, clues, illusions, sounds, scents or bodies. Things that are far off or curious part of the terrain.

They can...

  • help set a mood or reinforce a theme
  • show off some of the world
  • give the characters something fun or interesting to interact with
  • foreshadow something to come
  • give a clue


Something to hinder, harm or inconvenience.  Hazards could be a set of magical wards, a diseased body or a snow storm

They can...

  • give the characters something to overcome
  • give a tactical advantage to the characters or other creatures
  • allow a character to shine
  • force a decision on characters
  • provide a danger that might harm or kill a character
  • cost the characters time when this is something that matters

Noncombat Encounters

Here I'm referring to encounters involving creatures. Noncombat Encounters can also be a broader category, including distractions and hazards.

Noncombat encounters could be a beggar offering services as a guide, an ogre with a wager, a group of farmers searching for a child or a pair of lovers having a loud public argument. It might involve sneaking past someone, a contest or negotiations.

Noncombat encounters can be useful for

  • introducing an NPC or organisation
  • moving a plot thread along
  • giving help to the characters
  • providing opportunities for characters to interact with the world or show off their character
  • providing clues or lore important to the characters
  • challenging the players without involving combat

Combat Encounters

The baseline of some rpgs, combat encounters involve creatures who seek to inflict harm on the characters or stand in their way. Although combat isn't always the outcome, it is the most likely outcome for these types of encounter.

Different types of encounter might include

  • An ambush
  • An unexpected confrontation
  • One side guarding something or stopping the other from achieving something
  • An organised fight such as a duel or contest
  • A chase scene (or is this noncombat!?)
  • Entering a lair or home
  • Hostile confrontation escalating to combat

Finishing Up

That's a basic look at fantasy encounters. A baseline for futher articles and thoughts.