First, I realize this is the 2nd of 3 Wednesday ‘7 tip’ posts. Didn’t realize that was going on until I looked at my dwindling topic schedule. Anyway, this stems from the challenge of deciding on how big a fantasy adventuring party should be. Many will say that it isn’t important, but others may think it will impact the entire story. Both sides make good cases, but saying it doesn’t matter means I have no reason for this post. Let’s get to the list.
- Consider the length of the adventure and series. If you want a short one then a large group might make things too cluttered or rushed. If you have a small group and a long adventure then readers might get bored with the same faces. Leave this flexible too because the quest and the characters will evolve each other. You never know if a trilogy will lengthen because the party grew or a secondary proved to have more than you originally expected.
- The smaller the group, the fewer the subplots. While you can pile a bunch of secondary quests and issues on 1-3 characters, it eventually drags them down. They will have so many problems that they’re perceived as a disaster. It can also drag them away from the main quest, which can be dwarfed by a vast collection of personal issues that need attending to. If you want a lot of subplots then you need a group big enough to spread the challenges around.
- If you have a single protagonist then you probably don’t need a large group. The attention will be primarily on them, so all of the secondary characters will be there for support. Having many adventuring companions can bog down scenes and turn the non-central heroes into silhouettes. You can’t have them overshadow your hero, so you end up having most of them sitting around or getting only one line per scene. Imagine having 12 people in a room for a discussion, but only 1-2 are talking. What’s the point of the others even being there?
- If the quest is going to involve a lot of traps, spells, and battles then it would be a good idea to create a group with variety. Think about what you want them to face and craft the party in a way that checks off needed skills and abilities. Characters can double-up on things since you don’t want clichés, which helps to prevent a group from getting too large. Leave room for weakness too, so try not to cover every base perfectly. It can be fun to figure out unique ways out of problems as well.
- Don’t be afraid to add or subtract characters from a group. Maybe one wasn’t working out like you’d planned. A problem could be impossible for them to solve without recruiting someone. Adventuring parties don’t have to be written in stone, so it’s fine if the roster changes.
- Sometimes the party has to split into smaller groups to continue the plot. It can be by their choice or caused by an accident. They’re still a ‘party’ in terms of being the main heroes of the adventure. It’s simply that they have to be apart for a while in order to grow and move events along. It can create some new dynamics when they reunite as well because they’ll be returning changed. At least, they should be different on some level.
- Follow your gut. Not a great piece of advice, but it has to be in there somewhere. After all, you know your story and world better than anyone.