When you're a callow youth charged with halting some Evil Overlord's rise to power, life ain't easy. Your home village probably won't support you, and may actively oppose you (assuming it's still there); your parents are most likely dead and/or gone and/or evil; and the one thing you need to vanquish the evil—the MacGuffin or Spirit Advisor or whatever—is an Epic Quest away. And again, you're but a callow youth, without the skills needed to pull off this most solemn of tasks. At least, not alone.
So what's a callow youth to do? Why, go on the Epic Quest anyway, and just recruit whomever you meet along the way, of course.
Hitchhiker Heroes describes a band of warriors or (more commonly) would-be warriors who join up with The Hero over the course of his journey to defeat the Evil Overlord. The trope encompasses several specific characteristics:
- The Hero must go on the Quest; he cannot simply sit around and wait for events to come knocking (although that can be the impetus).
- The Hero should begin the journey alone, or at least with minimal companions. Perhaps a love interest, if that one is not currently a hostage.
- Each member or sub-group shall be encountered sequentially—and, ideally, quite by "coincidence"—during the course of the Quest, and will join in the Quest separately.
- Typically, each member or sub-group will come from cultures or societies that have, up until now, had little or nothing to do with one another. Bonus points if they are ignorant of, or indifferent to, the rise of the Evil Overlord prior to meeting The Hero.
- Usually (but not always), each member or sub-group shall possess a singular talent or skill, unique unto them, which will inevitably prove vital at some key moment down the road, likely during the final climactic battle.
This collection is a common feature of fairy tales.
In computer role-playing games with a party of playable characters, most are typically encountered this way. An aggravating variation occurs in many western-style CRPGs in which you can only have so many party members at once. While you can still only recruit certain characters, you have to dump current party members temporarily in order to change around your party. Since there's no console-style portable hyper-dustbin to leave spare companions, you actually have to track them down again if you want them back. In some games, they may be so insulted by being discarded that they're Permanently Missable.
This often results in the formation of a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits. This trope can delve into Because Destiny Says So or even Contrived Coincidence, as the average viewer might find it very improbable that so many people with just the needed talents can be encountered along the path of the Epic Quest. See Also Plot Tailored to the Party, Character-Magnetic Team, Debut Queue, Magnetic Hero. Expect at least one episode to be devoted to a member facing the "Leave Your Quest" Test.
- The main cast of Inuyasha assembles in this manner. It starts out with just Kagome, then she meets Inuyasha. Then they encounter Shippo, Miroku, and Sango after they embark on their quest to collect the jewel shards.
- Fist of the North Star starts off and often falls back into this. The only times Kenshiro ever asks for anybody to tag along are when the person in question is actually competent enough to defend themselves, but that doesn't stop people from following him anyway. Not to mention every single character in the story that knows how to fight AND is a hero, except for Mamiya and Bat all end up dying against some evil villain when Ken isn't around.
- One Piece is particularly notorious for this, as Luffy is willing to take in just about anyone as part of his crew at the drop of a hat. And each member of his crew has a special power. And he never expects to meet them at all. It gets to the point of being Played for Laughs, as Luffy offers membership onto the crew to some very ridiculous characters, including a tree.
- Toward the end of Fishman Island saga, Luffy asks Jimbei to join his crew. While Jimbei declined at the time, he promised to join the next time he meets the Straw Hats, and at the Whole Cake Island arc, he did.
- In Pokémon: The Series, most Pokémon trainers start off on their journey alone. Although some stay alone, Ash has a strong tendency to pick up companions on the way, typically forming a team of three: him, a girl trainer, and a guy trainer (usually Brock). This is also Ash's MO for getting his Pokémon, though he rarely has to out-Pokémon his potential recruits.
- Rave Master begins with Haru and Plue. Then they're joined by Elie, Musica, a non-combatant, Let...
- The first arc or so of Dragon Ball starts out like this with a colorful cast of characters joining Goku and Bulma on their quest to collect the titular Dragon Balls. However, as the series progresses, they gravitate more towards Defeat Equals Friendship most of the time.
- The titular main character of Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo roams the planet on a quest to take down the worldwide regime of the Hair Hunters. Though he starts off alone, various allies sequentially join him on his journey, usually due to personal reasons, loneliness, or just for the sake of having a crazy, good time.
- In The Heroic Legend of Arslan, originally each member joined Arslan for their own reasons. Darun was only following his uncle's orders. Narsus found Arslan interesting. Elam would follow Narsus wherever he went. Farangis hated Lustianian religious fanaticism. Gieve joined because he was chasing after Farangis and because he hated oppression of any kind. But eventually Arslan's kind and charismatic personality won them over and they would go to great lengths for him.
- In "The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship", it's understood, if unspoken, that Fate or some Higher Power is directing the encounters, given that the Fool is told he must give a ride to anyone who asks him; and of course each person he encounters does ask him. He picks up, in short order and completely unconnected: a man who runs extremely fast; a man who can hear things miles away; a man who can see things miles away; a man who can keep eating and never be full; a man of extraordinary strength who generally seems to be a weakling; and a man with a bundle of sticks which he can turn into soldiers. Various versions add to or subtract from the lineup, but the Plot Tailored to the Party at the end always requires each of their strengths, in some combination.
- The Roger Corman/John Saxon/Richard Thomas B-Movie Battle Beyond the Stars: although the whole point of The Quest was to assemble such a group, each new member was encountered quite by chance. ...just like its predecessors, The Magnificent Seven and The Seven Samurai
- Krull. The Mentor heads down to bind the wounds of The Hero, an Inept Mage teleports near them (lampshading it by noting he came quite a distance from where he intended), a gang of robbers decide to join them, an actual mage and his apprentice comes along to lead them, a cyclops has seen the future to know he'll join them...
- To an extent, Star Wars:
- The Wizard of Oz - Dorothy lands in Oz with no company but her pet dog, and picks up her companions as she goes.
- The Outlaw Josey Wales is a good example of the Anti-Hero version.
- Willow. Willow actually first meets Madmartigan imprisoned in a cage by the road.
- The Muppet Movie.
- Robin Hood: Men in Tights is a silly version. Robin saves Atchoo from some guards, then they run into Blinkin, Will Scarlet O'Hara, and Little John, then later Rabbi Tuckman.
- Of course, the Rock and roll fairy tale A Knight's Tale is this, picking up a poet, a blacksmith, and a Queen on the way, as well as being a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits.
- Journey to the West.
- Maybe not a perfect example, since the various companions of the monk had already been recruited long before the journey actually started.
- Pretty much every variation on Robin Hood.
- Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn features The Hero, Simon, escaping from the castle that has been his home, on the heels of his mentor's death, with nothing but the clothes on his back. On his journey north to find Prince Josua, he encounters and befriends: a troll and his pet wolf, a Sitha prince, and a Rebellious Princess, all of whom join his party and become crucial to the plot.
- The Redemption of Althalus is pretty much based on this trope as not only does the hero have to find his allies in order one by one but also encounter his enemy's allies in order as well all according to the future as predicted by the Knife.
- Caravan of Courage, a Star Wars Made-for-TV Movie. (This trope's working title was "Caravan Cavalry")
- Doctor Who, to an extent. The Doctor is on an endless thrill-seeking journey in time and space, and tends to pick up similarly adventurous people they meet along the way. When the current companion leaves - usually after a particularly big adventure, at least in the revival - the process starts all over again.
- It's a running joke among Fire Emblem fans that none of the series' many heroes could've won their respective conflicts if they didn't take every chance to steal troops from the enemy.
- Every Suikoden game ever encourages the player to gather up at least some of 108 possible party members, with all of the important ones (read: those with some importance to the plot somewhere) encountering the player as opposed to the player hunting them down. This is of course destiny, no matter how hard/annoying/pointless the quests seem, and you get the 'good' ending for collecting all of them.
- Justified and deconstructed in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, where the Exile gathers allies by subconsciously creating Force bonds.
- Planescape: Torment is slightly similar, in that there turns out to be a reason why all the seemingly random companions end up joining the Nameless One—even for those who aren't his companions from a former incarnation.
- Justified in Golden Sun, as an Adept of each element (Earth, Fire, Wind, Water) is required to enter the Elemental Lighthouses.
- Much more blatant in Dark Dawn, and lampshaded at least twice.
- Mass Effect:
- This is the way recruitment works in Mass Effect—save for starting squad member Kaidan Alenko, each is recruited sequentially during the main quest and joins the team as soon as you meet them. The alien members served as mouthpieces on their species' history and culture, and all six combat classes were represented by the six squad members.
- Mass Effect 2 is this minus the "coincidence": recruiting and gaining the loyalty of Shepard's squad members forms the majority of the game's storyline. They talk mostly about themselves and the mission, and there are no new classes, so there is overlap in powers and abilities.
- It also converses the previous game's use of this. Ask Archangel how he put together a team to take on the underworld of Omega and he'll reply he followed Shepard's example; he started doing something about the criminals and people got inspired and joined up.
- Mass Effect: Andromeda has Ryder's party form like this. Initial squadmates Liam and Cora are there from the start. Then Vetra just sort of attaches herself when Ryder gets the Tempest. Peebee and Drack are met on the first planet Ryder goes to and decide to join them (Peebee because Ryder's investigating the same alien technology she is, and Drack because he's looking for a good fight). Finally, Jaal joins up on behalf of the local resistance to see if the Initiative is on the level.
- Dragon Age:
- In Dragon Age: Origins, the Warden and Alistair pick people up this way while journeying through Ferelden to stop the Blight. This potentially includes one who first tries to kill you for money or, as you later learn, in an attempt at suicide. Some are forced onto you (Morrigan), some feel they owe you a debt (Wynne, Oghren), and some have nothing better to do (Shale, Sten).
- During the Awakening expansion, you start out with Mhairi (who doesn't survive the Joining) and bump into Oghren and Anders almost immediately. Other potential companions show up as you complete the main plot quests.
- Star Wars: The Old Republic continues the BioWare pattern, with each class collecting a diverse set of companions as they go about their story, including a potential Love Interest, an alien or droid, and a token evil/good teammate for those who want to play against their faction's typical morality. The first one usually joins right around the time you finish the starter planet, and others join in every couple of planets after that. Reasons vary; they may be assigned to you by your superiors, they might follow you in gratitude for helping them out of a jam, you might recruit them from the enemy forces, etc. The expansions add in many, many more companions, some of which are dumped on you by the plot, while others are optionally recruited through side-quests.
- In MARDEK RPG, the only person actually recruited is the mercenary Zach (and, kinda, the Clock Punk robot Legion, whom you help construct).
- In Exit Fate you can gather a full 75 party members, including the main character. Some join by plot, others have to be sought out and hired/aided/persuaded/tricked to join you. This actually makes sense since you have a unique commission and is asked by your commander to seek out talented people who might not want to join under normal circumstances. Oh, and you also have regular soldiers.
- Chrono Trigger: You begin as Crono; he meets Marle, who promptly disappears. Here the quest starts; you and Lucca save her, but the three become outlaws upon their return (Crono and Lucca for "kidnapping the princess", Marle for defying her father). Then the three find out about Lavos. From this point, they recruit several unconnected people from different time periods (who know nothing of Lavos), as they try to find Lavos' source and destroy it to save the future. You collect a Failure Knight transformation victim, a Tin-Can Robot with a big heart, and a Nubile Savage. (Optionally, they can also get Anti-Villain Magus.)
- Once you get control of The Hero Kyrie in Sands of Destruction, he meets his Love Interest, Morte. As she hopes to use his status as a Person of Mass Destruction to cause The End of the World as We Know It and he's just fallen in Love at First Sight, the two agree to become a team and journey across the world—she to convince him to want to use his powers (as he's not keen on the idea of world destruction), and him because...hey, the pretty girl asked. They soon meet Taupy, a bounty hunter who is first paid to keep tabs on them for Felis Rex, but eventually decides to join the group because Kyrie is a Nice Guy and that's a very strange thing (especially if he's capable of ending the world as Morte thinks he is). Morte suggests they seek out her old friend Agan to use his ship (since hers got wrecked somehow), but it turns into a Recruitment by Rescue when they discover he's been captured and is undergoing some Cold-Blooded Torture due to the Fantastic Racism that humans and beastmen have against each other. He's reluctant to get involved in any of Morte's craziness but eventually decides it's better to keep an eye on them—and because Kyrie's nice to the point of insanity. Later, Rhi'a—the dragonkin who's been hanging around with Felis Rex—decides to join because she, too, is curious about Kyrie (especially since she's aware of his destiny and didn't expect the Destruct to have emotions at all, much less to be kind and polite), and because she thinks it's the thing to do, even if dragons are supposed to be strictly observers of the fate of the world, not participants in it. This seems to make a full roster, but The Sixth Ranger Naja, the guy you controlled briefly in the beginning, decides to join the team just after the mid-point of the game, once again because Kyrie is so strangely nice to everyone and he can't believe he asked him to kill him in order to prevent himself from losing control of his powers and ending the world. Furthermore, he has a hard time accepting that someone could be resurrected after he stabbed them in the chest, but if anyone deserves a second chance, it's Kyrie. It's not a Debut Queue because there's plenty of other plot going on between character collections.
- A Plague Tale: Innocence starts out with Amicia and her little brother Hugo as the protagonists. While they remain the only player characters throughout the game, they gather a bunch of allies who help them during the game: first Lucas, the alchemist's apprentice, then the thief siblings Melie and Arthur, and finally the blacksmith Rodric.
- No Rest for the Wicked: November has picked up three companions. Thus far.
- In the fantasy webcomic Cwen's Quest, Cwen and her stuffed weasel companion Wendy have thus far collected a life slave named Riddly Lancer, a geriatric dragon, a younger half-sister with hat phobias and has called the favor of a friend of the family, a demon named Essex. The first three were collected in the same place and same day, while Essex was actually summoned later by Wendy.
- This may become a subversion after the current story arc. Essex was hired in a "You help me now I help you later" deal. Thus he might leave after the battle he was hired for. Trel is holding information vital to the titular quest over Cwen's head and might stay behind when Cwen, Wendy, and Riddly leave.
- Roza acquires at first a goat, then a man under a Curse.
- Collar 6: Michael Kappel starts on a life of adventure with just a Sympathetic Sentient Weapon whom he rescued. Over time he gathers a wife and two more sidekicks (these five meld together into a family) plus a large group of other followers that includes a former Torture Technician and an embittered government secret agent.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender - They began with three and ended with at least six. It manages to escape most questions about it being 'unlikely' with the heavy implication of destiny; Aang had visions of Toph before he met her, and Zuko was always meant to reconcile the two parts of his ancestry.
- Magic Adventures of Mumfie's movie Mumfie's Quest was set up this way.