When/How Do You Gain Your 1st/2nd Party Member?

Frostorm

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Curious to hear people's approach on how the protagonist meets their 1st/2nd party member(s) story-wise. What circumstances are your heroes in? What common goal do these individuals have for them to band together? How early in the game are party members introduced? Or do you start the game already with a party member?
 

TheoAllen

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Because the battle would be more interesting with full party members, I either make them join as soon as possible or start at full party members right away. The story would have to follow this gameplay requirement rather than making the gameplay follows the story.
 

overlordmikey

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Depends on the game. My Game Jam game starts you with the three characters you'll start with.

I usually like starting with more than one character because I like character driven stories/games and it's good to have someone to interact with for the lead.
 

kirbwarrior

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How early in the game are party members introduced? Or do you start the game already with a party member?
From a mechanics standpoint, it's generally bad design to have a single person in a party in a game designed around having a party. Having only one action per round is usually more boring than any other problem due to how few choices you have, especially early in the game where you're basically just Attacking as the game eases you into things.

Because of this, I work to make sure that the player has at least two actions per round as early as actual battles are happening. This generally has them starting with another character or getting one effectively right away. However, I do enjoy the single person start up before other members show, so the other option is to do something like give the MC an extra turn.

From a story standpoint, it usually makes sense for someone to be with the MC for a variety of reasons;
  • People have friends. People who want to travel have friends who worry about their safety. In the 'fantasy medieval' that many rpgs take place in, walking from the town to the castle on the horizon isn't always a safe bet. If the MC has no friends and no one in their life to rely on, then either they are the badass (and the starting capabilities will show this, such as dealing with random encounters in one turn) or it's an unusual story that likely requires a different approach to your game design.
  • Unpleasant things happen. Couple of people wake up in a prison? They work together to get out. Fall in a hole with someone? Even a rival or actual enemy might still want to work together because both of you alive is better than both of you dead.
  • Legendary people have unusual friends. Faeries, imps, demons, devils, angels, spirits, all sorts of closely bound friends can easily avoid showing up in town and yet be there for fighting. It might even be a pet or other silent buddy; bear, wolf, dog, bird, living backpack, chocobo, airship...
Mind, some solutions can be temporary members before the actual party, which often amounts to a powerful ally there to help teach you the battle system.

Last few games I've made ended up having other party members instantly; One game there was a bodyguard, another had two spirits that have been with the MC for most of their life, a third had a daughter that was travelling with them, a fourth was a girl and her dog (and that one was the entire party).

The last one I can remember that didn't have one right off the bat was giving you all of walking to a new area to meet a witch who was having problems on some mountain. The enemies on the way weren't strong enough for the mercenary MC and a few were literally basic wildlife that got spooked and would run off. The mountain had actual enemies who could threaten you. You didn't even have to recruit the witch right away, but you wanted to (she would join automatically when you came back down with her goal).
 

Corygon

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Well, the first teammate the hero would gain in my project would actually be the princess that was held hostage by some monsters.

Sorry if I sound vague here.
 

Finnuval

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That's very depending on the game. What does happen a lot in older rpgs where you start with a single character tho is guest members joining you for sections of game then leave again. (usually much later they join permanently).

But its very depending on story so cant really give a real answer xD
 

Kes

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For all my 5 games, the 2nd party member joins very early, usually within 5-10 minutes.

In 4 cases they joined before any battles. In the 5th case it was after a few more minutes and there had been some easy battles. In one of the 4 cases, they were joined by another 2 (one permanent, one temporary) after exploring the town etc., but again before any battles.
 

The Stranger

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Whenever the story dictates you should gain a new party member. That, or very early on if only having a single party member sucks because they have no interesting abilities or need another party member to synergise with. Nothing's worse in an RPG than hitting the "Attack" command over and over again, or watching your only party member get stun locked by trash mobs.
 

Milennin

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For my current project, the party is an already established group of friends going on an adventure, so they're basically together from the very start. But they will rarely get all 4 into battle together at once, as they often split up, or get separated for various story reasons and you'll be able to select which characters to play and pair up with each other (not romantically, lol). And also because my combat system requires some thinking to play effectively, so playing with a smaller team, especially early on, will keep things easier for players to grasp. A large part of the early game is done in a 2-man party, while the 2nd half will be mostly played with a 3-man party. Only near the very end of the game, they'll stick closely together and fight as a party of 4. Or that's the plan for now, at least.
 

bgillisp

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I always start with 2 members minimum. In my last game you met party members 3 and 4 very quickly and had a full party of 4 once you cleared the tutorial dungeon and the starting town.

My current project you have a party of 3 before you even do a single battle. The 4th joins about 15 steps away, and you have all 8 after you clear that first map.
 

gstv87

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if the story is about the main character, the first companion has to be either a bonus, or a prize.
I mean, if you start alone, you either win your companion (through a quest, effectively proving you've understood the mechanic) or you acquire your companion (via narrative, following the backstory)
for that to happen, you have to introduce all the mechanics necessary to achieving that.

if the story is about all the characters, introduce the group as a thing, right from the start.
then take it away and see if the player can manage, and then bring it back.

I start with 3 characters (6 to *play with* , but 3 to directly control), since the opening scene is a battle.
then, as the party arrives at the main location for that part of the game, I take the party away and let the player explore on their own.
I can't remember any games that start with the party right away.... most of the games I remember, they make the other characters join in (right away, right from the start, but the action of *joining* does happen, even if it is scripted)
some others I played, you're supposed to recruit your companions at your leisure: they're scattered around, and you talk to them to join.
I might change the intro, now that I think of it, to start from a prelude where you gather your party..... that should establish that mechanic for later: you're here, your companions are here, and you're all safe. If you want to go out there, gather your party.
 

AssumedPseudonym

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My current project has separate intros for the characters. They arrive at a port city at about the same time, but don’t actually meet until one of the Bad Guys™ bullies them. The party effectively forms at that point and things go from there.

(Granted, there’s no actual main protagonist, here; they all share the spotlight at various points. Also, this is also my first actual RPG Maker project outside of testing and learning a few basics, and I’m still in the late stages of outlining/flowcharting my way through placeholder maps and dialogue. Here, have a salt shaker; you may want more than just a grain. <.< >.> <.<; )
 

nankada

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I start off with minimum 2 party members as well, mostly to create tension/conflict/exposition and develop the narrative at a quicker pace.

I like how monster-collecting games often start with 1 party member (e.g. Pokemon, Digimon, SMT). Then once the capturing system is introduced, you can add as much party members until the team/bench/box limit.
 

kirbwarrior

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I like how monster-collecting games often start with 1 party member (e.g. Pokemon, Digimon, SMT).
On the note of specifically Pokemon, battles (usually) are only a single party member at a time, so the lack of a party takes away fewer options and isn't as detrimental. That also reminds me of the first Paper Mario, where the party is basically Mario with multiple actions (one hp bar, shared MP, once you have partners past the first one they are basically just different skills, etc).
 

Punamaagi

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My current main project has four playable characters, and all of them group up at the very start of the game. While I like the kind of narrative where party members are introduced before they get added to the party, in this project, the idea is to have four strangers kind of get thrown together and go "well, we're in this mess together, so we might as well travel together". The characters will then learn more about each other as the story progresses.

It also makes it easier for me to balance combat because the characters specialize in different things. I've been toying with a scenario where one or two of them get on a small separate adventure, but it'd require a lot of trial and error to make things work for all possible combinations.
 

Tai_MT

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My current project introduces Party Members alongside the mechanics those Party Members would introduce. At current, the second party member can be obtained as soon as the player reaches Level 2. While it takes about 45 battles to reach Level 2 (at least if you're not actively exploring and seeking out bigger challenges), this period is meant to force the player to learn some of the most basic mechanics of the game.

The second Party Member is then gained through the first story quest and which one it is depends on the choice of the player. The mechanics this character brings to the table are then taught alongside finding combat much easier with them in the party.

As for circumstances of their coming into the party... You're stuck with them. They join as essentially an enemy. The mystery of how and why they are there is the only common thing the main character shares with them. Otherwise, they need to work out their differences amongst each other in order to get along. They join as an enemy because you basically did something terrible to them in the past and you both need to find a way to get over that event.
 

Trihan

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Tundra's protagonist Giya starts solo and goes through a small area to the next town over, where you get your first party member Guile. How he joins the party depends on what you do there: you can go and talk to him directly and Giya ends up showing him the medallion he has (which Guile also has, and they don't know why because it's meant to be unique) and he joins up to find out why Giya has something he shouldn't. If you go exploring the town first, you get ambushed by some brigands and Guile helps fight them off, and accompanies Giya for a bit to make sure he doesn't get hurt. If you don't do that and stay overnight, the next morning a minor villain steals Guile's ship and he asks Giya to help him figure out a way to secure alternate transport since they're going the same way.
 

AbstractMan

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I like a sense of progression and starting from nothing in games, so I generally shy away from starting a player with a party. I find it's a great way to ease someone into learning when there are fewer buttons to memorize right away. That said I don’t leave the player hanging for very long!

Because my game is very, very choice heavy, the when or even if a player ever gets a first, much less a second party member is up to them. The earliest I offer a party member is about 45 min- 1 hour into the game. The player has the option to listen to a creepy computer advising them to open one of the cryo pods in the room and gives cryptic hints as to what type of people they are. (Hint, one is crazy, and one is not a nice person). You can choose to open one or ignore what the dumb computer tells you to do and go about your merry way. Want to be an anti-social loner? Who am I to judge, it’s your character not mine!


Whichever character you choose can join you out of necessity as you are both recently released from cryostasis and trapped in some sort of strange techno nightmare filled with faceless cultists. Now I use the word “can” very specifically, as you can annoy them and they can refuse, leave you, try to kill you or you can kill them if you don’t like the cut of their jib. Again, no judgment, I did not force you to create a murderous psychopath or anything… <.<

...But bottom line, it's really kinda dependent on the story you want to tell.
 

TheGentlemanLoser

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I have a very strongly engrained habit of designing games where you only have one or two party members (usually just the player plus a guest, the player plus a summon, or the player plus a guest and a summon). When I depart from this odd inclination (balancing JRPG type battles around having just one party member is in many ways, hard mode for game design, which might be why I enjoy it) I almost always add the full member of party members (3-4) immediately or almost immediately.

ALEX starts you with a four-man party of RTP kids, then when they

get slaughtered, mostly

very quickly builds you up from two party members, to three, to a different four, in the course of maybe 45 minutes tops (It takes me much less time than that, but I dev'd the game so I kind of breeze through the dungeons/battles and also skip most of the text most of the time, so that's just a random guesstimate as I don't really have any beta testing at this point).

I have never made a traditional JRPG experience where you gradually accumulate your first 3 party members over several hours, and more importantly (more interestingly?) I don't think I've ever actually made a game where you have access to more party members at one time than you can have in battle. Then there was that game I made back around...'09?... where you have 15 members in party IN BATTLE all at once...

In Reclaimer, which is kinda sorta a Souls-like, at least a little bit, instead of recruiting party members you recruit NPCs that then live in your base (a four dimensional train) and provide services for you, like the people you find and invite back to the main bonfire area in the Souls games.
 

Ninjakillzu

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In Collector, you gain your first party member almost immediately. I'm not at the point where you gain a second one, so I won't be able to go into detail about that.
 

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