Unlikely Encounters

There are a lot of tropes in RPGs that go largely unexamined, but I experienced one in Dragon Age 2 recently that seemed especially egregious: the impossibly unlikely encounter.

Now, you know how it is, you are walking around town and just so happen to stumble across a conversation between a woman looking for her son and guards clearly not interested in searching for him. What were the odds you would be walking by that one-minute exchange in the middle of a sprawling city? It’s a trope, but I can forgive that out of necessity; how else could you really set up such a quest organically, right? I’m not talking about those sort of encounters.

No, I’m talking about the part in Dragon Age 2 when I run across a band of Elvish assassins confronting a human along a desolate path on the Wounded Coast. The human is apparently a former werewolf who inadvertently killed the mother of the main Elf assassin, but the Warden from the first game has cured his lycanthropy. You get the choice here between letting the assassin finish the job, defending the man, or trying to shame the Elves into leaving. I did the latter, got paid 50 silver by the grateful man, and both parties left.

Err… what?

This wasn’t even a quest. It was just a goddamn throwaway encounter miles from any sort of civilization and/or rational explanation for how the two people could have met one another just in time for me to waltz by. It wasn’t like this dude was trying to assuage his guilt by watching the beach. As far as I can possibly determine, there was no reason for him to be there at all; he was not a trader, nor hermit, nor on the run. I would have been infinitely more sympathetic with my suspension of disbelief if this occurred in the city. Or in a cave he was hiding in. Or as part of a plot-line or rumor which suggested someone was looking for a former werewolf.  Instead, this scenario gets more and more ludicrous the longer I think about it.

I mean, sure, most of the quests that I have seen in Dragon Age 2 so far seem rather unlikely. Who exactly is going to trust a complete stranger who was conveniently eavesdropping on your conversation in the first place? Actually, it might be fun for there to be an RPG in which all of these sort of tropes are subverted; some sort of deranged, manic dude cavorting into the middle of groups of people and “completing their quests” based on random snippets of dialog. But, man, that Wounded Coast encounter is on an impossibly absurd level of its own.

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Posted on September 26, 2014, in Philosophy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. The ‘right place, right time’ trope is unavoidable, yeah. It is even unavoidable in human roleplaying, and there is a fluid and oft-debated boundary (in MMO RP circles, anyway) between innocuous corner-cutting to get things to actually happen and bad form metagaming, using too much out-of-character info to set up these serendipities.

    I wonder, though, whether you’re more annoyed at this because of its offence against realism or because you now have to allow the possibility of other events like this being scattered about in unlikely places, which must be factored into your relentless optimising.

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    • Ha, no, it’s annoying because they did not even pretend to paper it over with something approaching reasonable. It’s like they presented the scenario with a shrug instead of a wink. It might all be the same in the abstract, but the winks are important!

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  2. About 200 pages of The Deathly Hallows is Harry Potter meandering around waiting for his Impossibly Unlikely Encounter. Would have almost paid more to make it as unreal as the example you gave.

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