When characters are traveling throughout 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 giving you the option to enter it or skip it. The higher your Outdoorsman skill, the fewer random encounters will be forced, and you'll get the option to avoid them more often.
Finding an encounter will stop your movement on the map, cue you with an audible chime, and flash a red lightning bolt for a few seconds, giving you a moment to prepare for probable combat. If you get the prompt, it will list what/who is there. Any player character there will be shown in red. When the encounter starts, your character's placement relevant to others there is based on a Perception check. So the lower your PE, the closer you'll likely be to critters when the encounter begins. 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. When one side is about to win, get the kill shots on their enemies to get some easy xp. Wait for friendly or neutral winners to loot their enemies first, even if you got the kill shots, and then you can loot afterwards to get whatever they missed. If you loot too soon, expect to be attacked.
On some occasions you will find a searchable Car wreck in city ruins. Always check these if you can, because they sometimes have a working Fuel Cell Controller, which can be used to buy certain Vehicles. Most times they are empty, or contain Junk and/or Electronic Parts.
When traveling in a group of 3 or more, under certain conditions you can also find Caravan Encounters which are tougher than most other encounters. Get the Scout perk to see what can be encountered where.
On very rare occasions, you will find Special Encounters which are unique in some way. Special Encounters are always forced, can happen when you're driving a vehicle, and reportedly do not have an associated audible chime like other encounters. It is also reported that radio distress signals do not work from within a SE location.
You will also find Flare Traps on the map, which appear as red dots where players are inviting others to join for PvP. You can start your own Flare Trap encounter by dropping a lit Flare on the ground in a random encounter. This will show a red map marker location on the worldmap for everyone to see. Beware entering enemy Flare Traps! These are called traps for a reason, and can be in Turn-Based mode, occupied by characters with TB-optimized fighter builds. They might park cars there to use as cover or have sneaks and snipers already set up in strategic locations.
Footlockers can be found in populated random encounters in zones with city ruins, and the lockers always have loot. They are always locked though, so you'll need to use Lockpick skill to open them. Some are easier to unlock, but others are very difficult. Even with the best Lockpick skill, a character can fail multiple times, so bring Advanced Lockpicks for best results. The loot in random footlockers varies widely from caps and ammo to weapons and armor, and can also be valuable Skill Books, and many other items. For best results, get the Treasure Hunter perk.
Beware of bear traps that often surround footlockers, and be ready to use Doctor skill to correct broken limbs. Light Step helps a lot here, even if you lack sufficient Traps skill to disarm the traps. It is possible to be placed in a random encounter on top of bear traps or some other particularly difficult situation. 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.
NOTE: Whenever you enter a random encounter, your location becomes discoverable by other players nearby. They might get a prompt with your name in red. If you do not want any PvP confrontations, it's best not to delay long in random encounters.
Walking is usually the slowest way to travel on the map, but the Explorer and Pathfinder perks can help you travel faster. The higher your Outdoorsman, the less encounters will be forced. For the smoothest travels though, get one of the Vehicles. Vehicle Outdoorsman is always maximum, regardless of the Outdoorsman skill of the character driving it.
If a player character stays in a random encounter for too long, waves of NPC predators will appear and attack. You'll get a message that "You hear" something, often clicking, just before they attack. At first, this might be a mantis or ant. The waves get larger and more formidable over time. Watch for these warnings:
- You hear shouting = Humans
- You hear thumping = Super mutants
- You hear gurgling = Ghouls
- You hear mooing = Brahmins
- You hear rattling = Radscorpions
- You hear squeaking = Rats
- You hear squealing = Pigrats
- You hear snorting = Molerats
- You hear slurping = Floaters
- You hear moaning = Centaurs
- You hear beeping = Robots
- You hear howling = Dogs
- You hear rustling = Mantis
- You hear growling = Deathclaws
- You hear crunching = Desert Stalkers
- You hear hissing = Geckos
- You hear shrieking = Aliens
- You hear clicking = Ants
You hear something # Other