How do you rationalize a limited party in battle?

Jellicoe

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Say you have 10 playable characters. However in battles you can only have a party of four. How do you rationalize that in your game? I know typical RPGs have parties of 3 or 4. It always bothered me though because there was no reason for it. Like, why can’t all 10 of you fight the boss?
 

bgillisp

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Most games it is implied the others might be fighting other battles than what you are showing. So if your battle party is wiped out, then that group breaks through and decimates the others, which is why it is a Game Over.

Of course that works well if those not in the party get EXP too. If they don't then it's harder to explain.
 

JMsoup

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iirc, in Final Fantasy VII at the final dungeon you pick a few party members and the rest got 'blown away' by a tornado or something.
Games like Etrian Odessey calls the non-fighting members 'reserves' so maybe they could be taking turns fighting so not all of them get tired?

Or just let all 10 fight might be fun haha.
 

Doktor_Q

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Most of the time, it's just accepted as a mechanical limitation, along with the whole system of turn-based combat, and conveniences like having a shared item bag. The least complicated explanation I've seen is calling your reserves the "back line" or "back row."

On the other hand, it's a lot less conspicuous if you let the player swap out active party members mid-battle, either manually or when someone dies, or else grant some kind of 'support' effect from the reserve members
 

Soryuju

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Frankly, it’s not something I’ve regularly worried about in any RPG I’ve played. However, if I had to come up with an answer, I’d rationalize it by saying that the events playing out on the screen just represent a part of the full action, rather than correlating 1:1 with what’s going on in the underlying narrative. So all of the other characters are actually fighting too, but the “camera” just isn’t turned toward them when I don’t have them in my active party.

I guess it’s never bothered me because so many classic RPG tropes are inherently illogical and unrealistic, and it all falls under the same willing suspension of disbelief.

For example, chugging potions or eating food in battle to heal? Yeah, let me just pull that old turkey leg out of my pocket and have my wounds instantly close themselves while my friends are still locked in life-or-death battle with monsters. Good thing I carried last night’s leftovers into battle with me.

Or are you going back to rest at an inn before taking on the final boss in the heart of a volcano? Sure, let’s just backtrack out through the maze of molten rock and get a good night’s sleep. Then we’ll fight our way back down into the searing heart to take on the villain when we’re feeling refreshed! No worries, he’ll wait to execute his doomsday plot until we’re ready. This all makes sense.

It’s way more practical to just consider all of the mechanics of RPGs as abstractions of what’s really happening. I think it just wastes time to worry about justifying all the quirks of your systems in ways which are narratively satisfying.
 

VeryXInh

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More members you have in Battle, harder it is to balance the game.
You can have 10 actors to join battles at once, but, are you sure you can
balance it well? (it's even very hard to balance a game with 3-4 Battle members already)
And another problem is, if you can't make those 10 actors unique.
It will be a painful task for player to go through a battle with that much
of actors to control.
(Seriously, if you have experience with develop game, 10 unique actors is not easy as it sound)
 

xdan

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In my game, you are completely alone and your partners are summons. Summoning requires a lot of energy, so summoning more than three creatures at the same time would probably kill you.
 
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NinjaKittyProductions

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Say with a party of 10... I see it that you have a few people (3-4) that can fight while the others are resting. I see it as a D&D campaign. While the party is sleeping, each party member takes turns staying up and on alert and after a couple hours they switch off.

When compared to anime, you could see it as the whole "it will only take 4 of use to beat you up". While there might be 20 people standing around in your team, only 4 go into battle due to overconfidence. This could also be applied to certain rpgs that let you change party members in battle.
 

Tai_MT

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Ah! A topic where I actually have an in-game explanation provided to my players!

4 is the limit in my combat system because "any more than that, and we'll get in each other's way". While everyone does travel in a large group together (swapping party members in and out, regardless of where you are), the reasoning behind the 4 people fighting at once is just a "to keep out of each other's way" thing.

Though... explaining why it's game over if those 4 fall in battle... When the others are still alive? Well... That's some uh... spoiler territory. But, yeah, even that has an "in game" explanation.

I had to come up with these things since the concept behind my game is rather strange to begin with and the player is meant to be asking all sorts of questions.

In other RPG's, I just assume it's the same reason. Nobody is really a "general" and commanding a large group of people would be difficult. Not just that, but you might start to look like a pretty huge army if everyone is walking around with you. Lots of games simply imply that you're sending one party member back to "home base" and waiting for the other to "get there" for the explanation. But, I mean... you ever tried to coordinate activities with THREE of your friends?

Yeah, you aren't coordinating anything with 3 of your friends except maybe where you're going to meet up and the broad generalization of what you're going to do.

Coordinating in combat, even in a military combat, basically requires years of knowing each other and knowing what each other are going to do before they even do it. Otherwise... lots of friendly fire incidents. Or... you lose combat scenarios pretty easily against those who are more coordinated.

4, I think, is just about the limit of any kind of "control" a random group of people fighting for the same cause can have. When you start having more... it uh... gets very messy.
 

gstv87

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Like, why can’t all 10 of you fight the boss?
they can, but in a turn-based game where all characters have a minimum of 3 actions, and a palette of at least 12 skills to choose from, intercut with their respective animations for each movement's flourishing, and the processing required by the AI,..... you see how it can get lengthy in no time.
 

Lornsteyn

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You dont need to explain everything actually, even magic, unless it is important for the story.
If it bothers you this much you could add a party switching plugin, I think thats the best solution and you could explain it with exhaustion, so the next member jumps in for the tired one.
Or like already mentioned, add all 10 to the battle, but this could be annoying to balance.
 

Animebryan

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If there's one thing I've learned from all of the old-school RPGs I've played like Dragon Quest & Final Fantasy, its that the more people you have in battle at once, the bigger advantage you have in battle. I've seen way too many 1-sided fights because of how overpowered my party can be & entire groups of enemies are mowed down by the 2nd round. Even with single bosses this is more relevant. They're usually outnumbered 3 or 4 to 1 & their skill set is limited & rarely do you see story bosses even heal themselves.

But I can understand having a large number of different characters in a game for 2 reasons. 1 - Classes & play style. Having a variety of different characters with different abilities gives the player a choice about which types of characters they feel the most comfortable using, but they often neglect the ones they don't like in the process. 2 - Story & relationships. The more characters there are in the game the more story you can fill it with, and having a number of these characters having some type of relation to one another (family, friends, rivals, sworn enemies, etc.) would inflate that number.
 

xdan

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Guys. Literally everyone knows what purpose this serves mechanics and programming wise. That's not the question. OP is asking how you would explain it story wise.
 

Wavelength

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So I do have a few ways that I rationalize the inability to use all of your party members in a battle, but first of all I think it's worth mentioning that this is an "Acceptable Break from Reality" for most players. Even without a good explanation (and sometimes no explanation is better than a bad "handwave" explanation), RPG players usually appreciate what a limited number of party members brings to battle mechanically. As a player, I'd rather have a good battle system with 3 party members out of 8 than a cluttered battle system with all 8 at a time.

Now as far as how I've justified limited party sizes in my games I've either released, designed, or have in mind:
  • In one game, losing in battle does not cause a Game Over but simply causes you to lose one in-game day. You start the game with all 6 potential party members, and the active party max is 3, so I explain it by having the characters decide that only half of them should fight at any given time, with the rest there to rescue their unconscious friends and run away from the monsters if things go wrong.
  • In one game, you have one main character the whole game, and can choose two support characters (out of many) to assist you on missions. The justification for allowing only 2 characters to come with you is that you are members of a town in a destroyed, dangerous world with a very real potential of encountering something that could wipe you out as you explore - the town can't afford to send too many people out on what could be a suicide mission.
  • In one game, your party are literally contestants on a game show, with the rules of the game show dictating that two people compete as a team. Pretty cut and dry one there.
  • In a somewhat similar fashion, in an isekai-style game I've made I use the "rules of the game" to justify why sympathetic NPCs can't directly help you fight. This game emphasizes its artificiality and "gameyness" in both its plot and its visual themes, so it doesn't feel like a total cop-out to have the NPCs straight-up tell the player that they can't fight alongside you.
 

M.I.A.

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"How do you rationalize a limited party in battle?"

I don't. NEXT! :)

Just kidding. I don't really rationalize or explain this though. It's a widely accepted format for the genre. Not every aspect or mechanic needs a rationale to exist. :)

-MIA
 

Milennin

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I don't think I'd rationalise it, because it's an accepted and established game system in RPG's, but apart from my very first game (which was an absolute failure), I never had more characters than my party could put into battle at the time.
My first game handled the limit with summoning stones, that you used to swap out party members with other characters you had unlocked, but this could only be done at designated spots. Still, it never went over the physical limit of party members of what could be brought into combat at once.
 

Darth Equus

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I make it so all four characters can cover all bases, and add guest fights for others who have one-time battles. Like someone mentioned before, more characters are harder to manage.

Story-wise, I made it so in my game that a disease that causes deep sleep, fever, delirium and nightmares is running rampant all through the land, and only four characters could be immunized against it by receiving part of the magic the queen of such land wields. (1/5th each, including the queen)
 

Diretooth

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In one game that I've been working on, the reason is actually relatively simple. You can potentially have many party members, and adding them on increases the damage you can do. However, most of the people you can have with you are mercenaries, and it is a game mechanic that the earnings for the job are divided evenly amongst the party. Since a mercenary doesn't want to go on a job where their pay will be significantly less than it is really worth, some mercenaries will outright refuse to join your party.
There are a lot of factors that can lead to a mercenary joining or refusing to join. Your friendship level, whether or not the total payment equals their minimum cost to go on the mission with you, personal investment, and so on. Theoretically, if you maxed your relationship values, did some personal quests, etc, you could have every mercenary join your party.

TL;DR Everyone outside of the main characters is a mercenary and money/personal affiliation limits how many party members you have.
 

Eurgh

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If you were desperate to explain it,

you could simply say that 20 people trying to fall over each other trying to attack a slime would be more detrimental to your overall combat effectiveness
 

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