When characters are traveling through the wasteland, they can randomly encounter Critters or other players traveling nearby. When you find an encounter, you might be forced into it, hence the expression "forced encounter". Other times you will get a prompt message, giving you the option to enter it in Turn based or Real time mode,or skip the whole encounter. That option is more likely to happen with higher Outdoorsman skill.
Finding an encounter will stop your movement on the map and flash a red lightning bolt for a few seconds, giving you a moment to prepare for oncoming combat. When the encounter starts you will be placed close to others (NPC's or other players), unless your perception is high. If you got really bad perception like 1, be ready for bad spawns!
Random encounters mode depends on your setting either its being run in Turn-Based or Real-Time mode, while already existing random encounter with other players is set by leader of first group which opened it. If two or more characters are traveling together in a group, only the leader's choice matters.
When a forced encounter starts, your text box will list what/who else is there. If you find other players already there, their names show in red. If the encounter runs in Turn-Based mode, your character's Sequence will determine how soon he gets his turn.
A "vs enc" is a versus encounter, which means it has more than one NPC group and they fight each other. These are popular to hunt when leveling as most of the combat risks are directed between opposing NPC groups, and thus not entirely on you. You can sometimes just stand and watch safely from a short distance as two NPC groups fight, but the best option is to simply take them one by one to get most XP.
It is possible to be placed in a random encounter in the middle of enemies spawning zone. It is possible to die quickly in random encounters and have no chance to even react before certain NPCs kill you with explosives. (If your encounter is starting at the same time as a server lag, this can also end in disaster). Be alert when traveling in the wasteland! If your best option is to flee, you usually have a moment to make that decision and start running for the exit grid before combat begins.
Most of encounters that you can hit are filled with aggressive npcs. Some (like Farmers or Vault City Guard Patrol) are only aggressive if you have negative karma or if you provoked (by trying to steal, planting explosives near them or by simple accidentally bursting one of them) them.
Do note that in case of starting combat with neutral encounter and playing in real time all npcs instantly retaliate which may be very deadly (prepare for example for 10 npcs shooting at once assuming you enter encounter with 11 enemies and burst one of them).
It is possible to steal from passive encounters although chance of success is small.
Number of enemies in single encounter vary from 1 to 12, this number can be increased by traveling in bigger groups or by traveling with a caravan. Also in case of VS encounters both sides of such will spawn in random numbers from 1 to 12. The numbers of enemies is also dependent of kind of critters you will meet.
There is always something to loot in every encounter, whether you perform scavenging junk leftovers, mining ores or collecting flowers. On even rarer occasions you will find Special Encounters which are unique in some way.
Here's the list of some enemies that you might encounter:
Pages in category "Random Encounters"
The following 70 pages are in this category, out of 70 total.