Hard Science Fiction or Space Opera, Cyberpunk or post-nuclear, this is the realm of Science Fiction.
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The PCs are walking along the road, when suddenly a bunch of bandits attacks. The player's dismiss it has just a random encounter, when they find an ornate ring on the leader, obviously out of place with the seemingly poor bandits, who could only afford cheap leather and weapons. This ring has a symbol on it, which, if researched, sets the PCs on a quest. And from then on, the players don't look at random encounters the same way...