There are a variety of different encounters that the rule book expands upon: Routine, Random, Rumor, Legal, Patron, Adventure, and Animal. Of these, there seems to be an inordinate amount of time devoted to animal encounters, which is odd for a sci-fi game. Granted, there is a lot that you can do with animal encounters, and a wide variety of animal types to play with, but was it worth 2 pages in the charts book, and 4.5 pages in the rule book? I’m not sure. The animal encounter section does also cover plants, and natural events, so perhaps this section would be better described as Nature Encounters.
Routine encounters are the characters interactions with shop keepers, starport dock masters, etc. They fill in the worlds with the normal people that you bump into and deal with for a minute or two.
Random encounters are just that, random. Your players may run into anything from dirt farming peasants, to nobles and their retinues, to pilgrims, to brigands, to other Travellers.
Rumors can come from anywhere – the two people talking across from you on the tram, a news report, a public speech, or even bits of this and that the players manage to put together. What do you get if you tell the players that religious pilgrims are flocking to planet A, weapons are selling like hot cakes on planet B, and planet C just purchased a whole new planetary computer system from planet D? I don’t know either, but I’m sure the players will come up with some story tying it all together!
There are reasons to avoid high law worlds. Every day you make a throw, and you have to roll higher than the local law level or you have a legal encounter. On a high law level world, the local law enforcement community is likely to harass strangers, and we all know what happens when players get harassed by the local Barney Fife! Fun times, that’s what!
Patron encounters are where it’s at, and what your players will be drooling over. A patron is basically anyone who is willing to hire your players to do just about anything. There are two lists of random patrons, but the DM is left to decide what the job is that the patron is offering. There is no particular way to determine which of the two charts are to be rolled on, but a sample roll provided either a Reporter or a Crew Member. The Reporter works for GNN and needs to get to a neighboring star system pronto. She’s willing to pay to rent your entire ship to get her, her equipment, and cameraman there if you leave right now. As it is your cargo hold is only half empty, and it’s due to be picked up tomorrow.