A staple of many games is the existence of random encounters - while traveling from point A to point B, the heroes are attack by bandits/wild animals/monsters/whatever. When defeated, the enemies will often have some kind of loot that the heroes can take with them. How would random encounters affect the socioeconomic development of society?

For the purposes of this question, assume the following:

  • Fantasy world with monsters and magic
  • Creatures pop into existence due to some sort of background magical field
    • Once they've popped into existence, they stay until they die
    • People can't pop into existence in this way
  • At death, the magic that created the creature will sometimes coalesce into a different persistent physical form (loot!)
    • Loot may or may not make sense but is consistent. For example, a wolf corpse might rarely become a pair of bronze gauntlets, but most of the time you'd just be able to get a pelt and meat from it.
  • The strength of the background magical field varies from place to place and is fairly stable. Changes can happen, but only gradually - it takes centuries for a significant change to happen.
  • Where the field is stronger, encounters will be more common and the creatures will be more magical
    • More magical often means stronger and more dangerous, but also better loot
  • Creatures are subject to normal things like hunger, aging and disease
  • Normal animals that pop into existence like this would behave normally, i.e a magically spawned wolf might find a pack of natural wolves and live a normal wolf life.
    • If they interbreed, the offspring would be slightly magical normal animals.
  • The magical field somehow resonates with sentience, so random encounters are very unlikely except for humans
    • Rabbits aren't going to go extinct because of wolves popping into existence around them
    • Traveling as a group doesn't make encounters more common, and the rate is pretty much the same for each individual.
  • Encounters are fairly uncommon - a couple times a day is typical in areas where the field is weak, with 4-5 times that being typical in areas where it is very strong
  • Villages and cities aren't plagued by random encounters - whether it is due to the nature of the magical field or some handwavium monolith in the town square, encounters don't happen inside them
  • People present when a magical creature is killed will absorb some of the magic, allowing them to grow stronger over time
    • We'll rule out getting ridiculously strong, such as wizards who casually throw around nuke-strength fireballs.
  • Dungeons, with more creatures and more loot, exist
  • All of this has been the case for quite a while, so we're not talking about what would happen if this suddenly became the case today

As an example of how this could be interesting, consider the stereotypical bandit of games with random encounters - why would they exist at all, to say nothing of how ubiquitous tend to be? I imagine that few people get into banditry just for the fun of it, and being able to go out and kill some monsters for loot would mean people likely wouldn't have to resort to it. Additionally, the safety of a town would be a strong incentive to not do stuff that gets you kicked out of it.

To restate the question, How would society develop in this world? What would be the biggest ways in which it is different from how it has developed in our world?

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    $\begingroup$ "Encounters are fairly uncommon - a couple times a day", you mean I have to fight monsters on the way to work and on the way home everyday? What's the density here? A couple times a day per what? $\endgroup$
    – Samuel
    Commented Apr 3, 2015 at 22:16
  • $\begingroup$ usually the encounters are only in the wilderness between major settlements. So the per day is per day of travel in the wilds. In a settled area, you don't have random encounters the same way. $\endgroup$
    – Oldcat
    Commented Apr 3, 2015 at 22:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Oldcat "Per day of travel" is not a density, that's just an activity occurring during a day. What I want to know is if this occurs a couple of times a day per person, per group, per square mile (since area is mentioned in the bullet point of question), or per whatever. $\endgroup$
    – Samuel
    Commented Apr 3, 2015 at 22:24
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ "Encounters are fairly uncommon - a couple times a day", let's go with the "low" 1 attack for a day of travel. Assuming a wagon/cart without paved roads on foot, you might get 20 km of travel in a day. On average the daily encounter would occur on the 10th kilometer. Then battle ensues, while that in itself might not take a long time, taking care of the wounded will take from a few hours to days and even without wounds battle is very exhausting so rest is needed. At best this halves their average speed and in turn increases the amount of provisions and thus reduces spare capacity for trade. $\endgroup$
    – Selenog
    Commented Jan 4, 2016 at 13:01
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ PC heroes are the only ones that suffer from random encounters. Anyone being identified as a PC hero will be pelted with rotten vegetables and animal dropping until they leave. It would be taboo to speak to them no matter how much you felt compelled to spout out personal trivia or potential quest hooks. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 15, 2016 at 18:50

5 Answers 5


This turned out to be a lot longer than I had first set out for it to be. Still, it was a fun question to answer.

I see two scenarios that fit here.

  • The Conjuring Field (CF from now on) existed effectively since the dawn of time. Settlements would be built in areas that have never shown the capacity to create an encounter, thus not requiring any special structure to be built.
  • It came about after towns and cities had been established, so the nature of the CF would play a large role in how it was accepted.

(Note: If there is a critical resource or location, it would be settled in either situation and, if that location happened to be in a CF-strong area, arrangements would be made.)

A few options about a post-settlement CF: 1) it was a creation of man-/elf-/dwarf-/whatever-kind; 2) it was a chance happening of nature; 3) some cosmological event has caused one plane of existence to overlap this one.

Artificial Creation

Whoever created the CF is going to hold the majority of the power and influence in the world. Wizards could have built grand towers to create a protective dome within the radius of the tower's height, allowing a settlement to grow. Wizard towers would be the key part of any settlement, virtually a necessity. If a deity created the CF, that deity is going to get a lot of worshippers, since anyone who displeased it could have an unfortunate encounter. In this case, churches, cathedrals, and other holy structures to the deity would be prominent in settlements.

Chance Happening

Nature hiccupped. Now we have all these beasties randomly spawning anywhere and everywhere. You might see a prominence of druids and druidic culture. Settlements might decorate their walls with the symbols and remains of those beasts that spawn in the area. Stronger species might be heralded as champions of the people or terrible predators, depending on the beast's attitude toward the settlement.

Cosmological Event

Traditionally, wizards study the planes more than anyone else, so they would hold the power in this case as well. If the planes are divine in nature, or home to divine beings, then holy individuals who studied the movements of the initiating plane would hold the power. For a cosmological event, the people with the most power will be those who know most about the portion of the cosmos that created the CF.


So, on to how society might look. There's going to be a lot of chaos in the beginning, when people are first settling in. There will be a huge emphasis on defenses. Walls, pits, and spikes will be the first things created anytime a new settlement is built. Architects will be busy all the time and may not always be available or cheap, so most settlements will be haphazard constructs. Larger settlements that grew over time consist of a confusing series of defenses, with the oldest ones at the center.

Of course, you're not going to want to build anything where the CF is unduly strong. Since we're invoking magic for this whole thing, and some people are innately better at some things than others, I would propose there would be Sensitives, people with the ability to detect the strength or weakness of the CF in their vicinity. Stronger Sensitives would have greater range, but they would all be in high demand and have a significant amount of influence. This might be a trade-off for aggressive magical power, however, so they might lack the proficiency of non-Sensitive mages.

Now, on to bandits. There are a lot of reasons people turn to banditry, and this scenario makes some of them likely. Suppose a settlement, or several, were built in an area that was so CF-weak that no encounters had ever been seen. Then, one day, an encounter occurred that spawned some big, powerful, and having lots of teeth. This Mega Beastie then laid waste to all the settlements. You now have a bunch of refugees who are going to need to survive. At first they'll try to find a nearby settlement to take them in, but there aren't any, because of Mega Beastie. They begin to scavenge from the land. After a time, Mega Beastie finds a quiet lair and settles down. Trading caravans resume passing through the region. The refugees who have settled into their new life could look at these caravans as a means of acquiring the artifacts of their past lives and attack them in an attempt to rebuild what they once had.

If the CF can spawn shapeshifters or doppelgangers, society would be tight-knit and suspicious of outsiders. Trade would be left to a special class of individuals who were certified honest. Tokens of authenticity would be a necessary item for anyone travelling on the road or trying to do business, so there would have to be a guild or agency responsible for doing the certifications, updating them, and checking out cases of forged certificates and people acting without a certificate.

If the CF is limited to animals, Mega Beasties, and similar creatures, then society would be more open and willing to help each other. People would be more helpful to others and life would center around the nation, rather than the community. It'd be interesting to see the difference of opinions and attitudes between one group of people that experienced shapeshifter encounters and another group that never did.

Speaking of the nation... There would have to be a powerful central government, but it would probably cede jurisdiction to smaller, local authorities that were better informed and able to compete with the average beasts spawned by the CF. The central government would maintain a standing army to handle Mega Beasties; it would also be responsible for declaring war, creating treaties, and other global concerns. (Why does the government have to be powerful? To keep the different local powers in check, so they don't raise an army of adventurers and conquer each other.)

Anyone who spent their life in the wilderness would have tremendous respect (i.e., adventurers). Being able to overcome a variety of threats with no warning would encourage utility over specialization. Specialists would be in high demand for specific, unexpected encounters, or in areas where the CF spawns only a handful of similar beasts, but wouldn't see much use at other times.

Villains might also appear. Suppose some mage discovers a way to control the CF and/or the beasts it spawned. He could call down dragons on his enemies, laying waste to entire armies at a time. There might even be a kingdom conquered such that now threatens the viability of the surrounding nations. This will, of course, require heroes to appear among the common adventurers should this evil mage attempt to extend his reach.


Who ever makes the handwavium monoliths would be in charge!

More seriously, your world is in many ways similar to early colonial America. The towns/forts are safe but people venture out into the wilds in pursuit of profit/loot.

Or like gold miners during the gold rush with people living out in the wilderness, searching for a big score, returning to town only for needed supplies and a little R&R.


I would say that people would generally tend to be home bodies a lot more, more like medieval villages. The world outside is a scary and dangerous place.

The people that do go out and wander around will be woodsmen, hunters and the military minded. Those that have weapons and can take care of themselves. Merchants would be very militaristic and quite likely be willing to waylay other weaker foes if they appear to have goods worth acquiring. Say some of that same loot that comes for 'free' (ie surviving killing of a magical creature).

If clumping people together in towns and village 'naturally' forces the magical encounters out then these will tend to grow and likely be more normal. However, if it is only possible by something that is created then you will have people who will become very powerful with this ability. Unless of course it is a common thing and say requires participation many in the town.

It also means any party traveling through these areas are pretty much going to be a military party always on alert, like in war. 2-5 times a day can be a lot of battling, and the randomness of it can be like always worrying about an ambush, you never know what you might meet or have to fight or if it will run away.


In my opinion, the biggest threat to economic balance is the dropping of non-resource items by mobs. Any low-level item is going to eventually saturate the market and become worthless unless there is a recycling system to break them back into resources.

One solution to this is to have all mobs drop "realistic" loot. (i.e. meat, fur, bones etc. from animals, and corpses, money, and gear[that they actually have equipped] from bandits) On top of this, the magic, that creates the mobs and collapses upon the death of the mob, could collapse into physical droplets of magical essence. These droplets could be used by magic-users, or in the manufactur of magical items.


This world has an ecological problem. Since 'creatures' doesn't include (I assume) plants, and probably not even vegetarian animals, they will undoubtedly disrupt the food chain, perhaps disastrously. For every wolf, for example, we lose a bunch of animals it eats and gain, what, a piece of meat and a pelt? I imagine this will cause a great famine in the world, for both people and animals, and this could create a cascading affect that affects the entire ecosystem.

on the plus side, the more people die of this disaster, the last creatures appear. So perhaps the world will not be ruined but it will have to remain marginally uninhabitable to be sustainable.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ A wolf weighs less than 100 kg. The Earth weighs around 6*10^24 kg. There are less than 10^10 people. That means about 10 billion wolves would need to be produced ex nihilo for each person to increase the mass of the Earth by around 0.15%. $\endgroup$
    – Rob Watts
    Commented Jan 28, 2017 at 17:30
  • $\begingroup$ @RobWatts yeah you're right $\endgroup$
    – Dotan
    Commented Jan 28, 2017 at 19:09

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