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Article - 'Random Battles' by SMOPHWoD.Y

An item about Game Design posted on Sep 20, 2004


A short article by Mr. Y about watching out for trends as you make choices about your random battles,


I wanted to write something a bit different today. So rather than go with another Basics of Stories article, I want to tell you about random battles and dungeon romping. Well, not really tell you, but discuss 'em. I'm gonna give my thoughts on all sorts of random battles, and I'll certainly welcome your opinions in the Comments boxes.

A lot of guys I've been working with recently detest the idea of random battles. When we talk about combat in their RPG, they always go right to touch-encounter battles rather than random, based-on-tile-movement battles. But why? I sometimes get so tired of folks who jump to systems like touch-encounter battles, ABS combat, no world map, etc., without putting some real thought into all their options. To me, it's kinda like the gothic kid who doesn't like something just because the other gothic kids don't like it, or because the non-gothic kids like it (Nothing against the Goths out there). I think people often close their minds to all the options because other gamemakers don't like them, or because it seems like it's too popular. Here's the interesting thing- if you can make a cliched game idea good, you've done the most uncliche thing possible. If you take a cliche idea and then do the opposite of it, you may be making a bad mistake!

But anyways! Random battles vs. touch encounter. To be honest, I prefer to use random battles in the majority of my games, because it keeps the game difficulty relatively high and ensures the player's party levels up rather normally. I like touch encounters in easier games whose focus is much less on the combat, because then I'll often dodge battles unless I need to level up. But for most RPGs, they don't work for me personally. I know the argument- gamemakers should allow the players to level up on their own if they like, and its the players' faults if they're too weak. Well, I think the gamemaker should also assume some of the responsibility too. It's his game and its his game's difficulty, isn't it? Besides, what if I want to create a surprise situation for the hero where they must fight a boss enemy, and have no chance of leveling up? In that case, touch-encounters look obviously flawed to me.

Going back to what I said, you can't pick an idea just because it's trendy. When random battles get too old, everybody congregated at touch-encounter battles as the better idea. If and when touch-encounter battles get too old, everybody will go back to random battles or to another idea. I think it's pointless to shift your ideas based on what players claim they're sick of, seeing as the players can be fickle sometimes. Instead, concentrate on making your not-so-trendy idea work. What's the biggest problem with random battles, besides the fact that it's so OOOOLLLD? For an example, if you say that the player has no control over what battles are fought, well... I don't think players should enjoy that much freedom, at least not until you're nearing the end of the game. But what you could do is make a magical spell or item which reduces or eliminates random encounters. Really simple, eh?

So anywho, what should your characters be a-battling in their battles? I've broken this up into two categories: Humans and Monsters.

Monsters don't have to be big ugly trolls or spear-throwing imps. I just use Monsters as a broad term to describe every non-intelligent creature that you can't converse with normally like an NPC. The biggest way to distinguish a Monster from a Human is its purpose. What's the purpose of most Monsters? All they do is attack you for silly reasons- maybe they want to eat you, maybe they find your gold bracelet attractive, or maybe some dark and sinister power has somehow convinced them to battle you. The point is, its their nature to attack you! They are the ENEMY, and you must KILL! Well, unless you have some silly Bribe technique, but that's another story. Should you have Monsters in your game? I give a bit of a confused answer, but I definitely lean towards No. I really don't think there's been any trend towards non-Monster RPGs, only non-Enemy RPGs. Therefore, I consider it a neat, original idea to try to make a game with only Humans and no Monsters who purposely attack you so you can gather up useful GP and EXP. In fact, I'd encourage it. The problem is that it's a real problem to tackle, since the generic RPG formula relies so much on the Monsters. I mean, does the Evil Empire have that many Soldiers out to kill you? And can those Soldiers spit acid and stab you with spike claws? Well, go for it if you can, I think it'd be a winning idea.

Humans are the opposite of Monsters, being all the intelligent baddies you'd fight who you could actually hold a conversation with. Or, rather, they are bad guys with real purpose- they are fighting in a war against your country, they are seeking a bounty on your head, or they are just doing what their boss told them to do. I call them Humans, but hey, maybe they are Dark Elves or Stalwart Dwarves. The point is, they're clever. One thing I like about Humans is their technology. Human baddies deserve to have complex-looking war mechs and weapons, especially since swords and bows are getting so old. I would definitely recommend Humans in your games for your random battles, they are a sign of originality. And off coarse, make sure the Human baddies make sense!

I've really run out of things to talk about. I'm sorry about that! This isn't a terribly long article, but then again, I really didn't plan for it to be. To summarize up what I've talked about, I'm pro-random battles, pro-Humans. And I'll warn you again, keep an eye out for following trends while trying to break the old habits of RPGs. The surest method of avoiding some game trend is to take an old idea and improve it to the point of unrecognization, where it's really good! Good luck with your game, I hope you make the right choices reguarding your random battles.