The DMG mentions combat and non-combat encounters. By their names, these imply that they cover all forms of encounter: either it is or isn't a combat encounter. Is this true? Is everything in the game an encounter, from one of these types?
closed as not a real question by Iszi, Oblivious Sage, edgerunner, Simon Withers, DuckTapeal Dec 8 '12 at 19:10
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Since the two terms are a boolean logical pair of X and !X (Not X), anything which is an encounter is, ipso facto, one or the other.
The term "Encounter" in D&D 4E has a specific meaning of a situation where some conflict to be resolved mechanically is present. Not all play of the game will be encounters - some is description, some is narrative, some is travel - but all "encounters" are either combats or not-combats.
Combat is the main focus of D&D 4th edition. Everything that needs mechanics and isn't combat comes under the non-combat encounter rules.
Remember that not everything that happens has to be an encounter.
Relaxing in the tavern talking about your latest adventures isn't an encounter because there is nothing in conflict. It can turn into an non-combat encounter when Mr. Smith turns up to offer the party a job and the party negotiates payment. It will turn into a new combat encounter if they decide that Mr. Smith is an assassin who has poisoned their drinks during the discussion.
In the example of talking to a man on the street. Whether you make it an encounter or not depends on a few things.
If you can answer all 4 as yes, you can use an encounter. If not, just narrate the results to the players. You can also let your players narrate things, especially if they are just setting up details about their character and aren't really trying to achieve anything concrete.