Random encounters have been a prominent feature of roleplaying adventures for a very long time and, through random encounter tables, have provided referees with a quick and simple way of adding fun and interest to their stories.
Do they add fun and interest though? And even if they do, are there any other benefits to random encounters? They can certainly provide a less than prepared referee with a way out of a tricky situation, but what else can be garnered from their use?
I don’t use random encounters or random encounter tables in my games. I want every encounter to add something to the story. That’s not to say that every person in the game world is somehow directly relevant to the adventure being played, or that they’re fully-fleshed out individuals just waiting for one of the PCs to talk to them, but they can still impart rumours and information about the particular location the intrepid adventurers find themselves in. They can also be a way for the players themselves to add to or alter the story, by taking up a cause that isn’t necessarily part of the adventure that a referee has prepared for them or doing something to – or for – an NPC that changes their interactions with other NPCs.
Do you use random encounters in your games? What’s your feeling about them? Are you in favour of them, against them, or ambivalent about their use?