7 Tips to Deciding on Adventuring Party Size

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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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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25 Responses to 7 Tips to Deciding on Adventuring Party Size

  1. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
    Great tips for fantasy writers 👍😃

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You’ve given me food for thought here. I think there may be too many characters in my WIP!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. L. Marie says:

    Great tips! For tip # 5 are you thinking of “Red shirts” who wind up getting killed off or secondary characters who appear in the series every once in a while and who might be called away during an adventure for some reason?

    Liked by 1 person

    • #5 refers to characters that an author thought would be essential, but turn out to have limited usage. They weren’t intended to be fodder or supporting cast, but they can’t function in the top tier for one reason or another. Best example I can think of is Gohan from ‘DBZ’. I read he was supposed to take over as the main character, but he didn’t connect to fans as well as Goku. So, his father returned and he became secondary for the most part.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I think any ensemble story could benefit from your advice. Thanks, Charles.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I think this is all sound advice. I try to think about fairy tale structure where numbers are important. Three and seven are the big ones. That seems to work with your advice. Small group and larger group. Choosing their skills and faults is still important.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Enjoyed this, Charles! You made a lot of great points. I’ve met these challenges in some of my stories so it’s nice to see that others discovered the same.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I think it would be really hard to focus on just one character for an extended series of short stories, or the length of a novel. You can end up with one guy/gal talking to themself through internal dialogue and it gets really tedious. There’s a reason Sherlock Holmes had John Watson around to talk to.

    For me the optimum shakes out at 2 to 3 characters as the core of the group, and then several others who drop in and out depending on the adventure. So as an author you can decide what core skills your party needs, like one warrior and one mage, or a warrior/rogue/mage trio, and you will always have those skills covered. But say the group were bounty hunters who have different clients and work on the client’s problem, but then that client’s issue gets solved and they drop out. The next story would be with a different client.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There usually has to be a supporting cast. That’s why I always gave Ichabod Brooks a partner. This is more about the traditional adventuring party, which seem to get pretty big. I assume that’s due to the Fellowship, which might be why large groups spilt up so often too.

      Characters can pull double duty more in books than games too. For example, thief skills and knowledge can be spread about instead of held by one person.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Some of the great series had really small parties, though. Conan usually worked alone or with a select group. Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser were always a team of two.

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      • I was thinking of Conan. Been a while since I read those. That could be due to the author’s time too. I can’t think of any stories from my youth that were solos. He-Man, Thundercats, Superman, Batman, and so many had at least one support person. Maybe this shows a deeper societal change. I could also be thinking too hard on an empty stomach here.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. raynayday says:

    I think that this is all good advice but suspect that it depends on the length and style of the fantasy. I personally like to write with a small cast, all fully involved but enjoy reading multi character tales such as “Game of Thrones” and LOTR. I also really enjoyed “The Girl who loved Tom Gordon” where there is only one character and so I suspect that there is not truly an answer to this other question other than. The number of characters depends on the tale you wish to tell.

    Liked by 1 person

    • True. The adventure will determine the number of characters. Though, I think a single or small group can handle any length and size of a story. It’s the bigger ones that can pose problems if they don’t have enough space.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Jaq says:

    Like in the Lord of the Rings trilogy where the original 9 split into smaller groups…

    My current Fantasy WiP has two main adventurers, but the cast of temporary characters is evolving so those subplots have a chance to develop without having anyone sitting around doing nothing.

    Liked by 1 person

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