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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 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, with not the mad skillz 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 whomsoever 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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Typically, each member or sub-group will come from cultures or societies which 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.
  5. 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.

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.

Examples of Hitchhiker Heroes include:


Anime & Manga

  • Hokuto No Ken (or Fist of the North Star as it is known in the US) 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. Maybe even Subverted, as Luffy offers membership onto the crew to some very ridiculous characters.
    • Definitely subverted, or maybe just deconstructed as a joke. Remember when he asked a *tree* to join his crew? Methinks he just wanted to piss Sanji off. Later on in the arc, Chopper mentions Luffy's diverse crew in a Shut UP, Hannibal statement after Hogback calls him a monster, saying Luffy can recruit many different kinds of people instead of having to force the animated dead to obey like Hogback and Moria do
    • Hell, he asked Brook to join his crew after having known him for 10 seconds. Brook agreed just as fast, becoming the nineth Strawhat before they knew each other's names!
    • Luffy wanted Chopper to join his crew because he was a cool transforming reindeer. He didn't even realize Chopper was a doctor until they were well underway and Nami told him.
    • Toward the end of Fishman Island saga, Luffy asks Jimbei to join his crew. Jimbei politely declines, but might reconsider when the Straw Hats return.
  • In Pokémon, most Pokemon 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).
  • The Inuyasha gang met up this way, starting out with Kagome and InuYasha, and picking up Shippo, then Miroku, and finally Sango.
  • 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.


Film

  • 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.
  • 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: Starting with the droids, who "happen" upon Luke Skywalker, who knows Ben Kenobi, who takes them to Mos Eisley whey they meet Han Solo, ad so on.
    • Wouldn't this imply that the hero of the story is actually R2-D2 and Luke is merely one of the hitchhikers? Actually, considering he's the only character with full continuity across all 6 movies, there's a serious case to be made here.
    • Which is the entire point of the essay "A New Sith, Or Revenge of the Hope", which places R2-D2 and Chewbacca as major operatives for the Rebellion, with Luke and Han along as unknowing fronts for the real mission.
    • The Phantom Menace follows a similar motif, from the Jedi to (brrr) Jar Jar to the Queen to Anakin.
  • The Wizard of Oz
  • 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.


Literature

  • The Lord of the Rings is another borderline example. Subverted in that none of the eventual Fellowship of the Ring (with the exception of Merry and Pippin) are encountered by random chance, but rather by design. Further subverted when the Fellowship is sundered long before The Quest is completed.
    • At least, that's how it's presented in the film. In the book, Merry and Pippin realized that Frodo was going to leave the Shire, and recruited Sam to help them come along, as they wouldn't dream of leaving Frodo with his burden alone.
  • In The Fool of the World And His 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.
  • 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.


Live Action TV


Videogames

  • Many RPG video games recruit NPCs into the player character's entourage, one or two at a time, as the player progresses through the game.
    • 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.
  • An aggravating variation on this 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 Lost Forever.
  • Justified and deconstructed in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2, 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.
  • 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 subverts the trope: 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 lampshades 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.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins you manage to recruit several people with no very good reason to come with you, who you meet on your way. Including one who first tries to kill you for money. Some are forced on to you (Morrigan), some feel they owe you a debt (Wynne, Oghren), and some have nothing better to do (Shale, Sten).
    • During Awakening, you start out with a few people and get more as you complete main plot 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.


Webcomics

  • 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.


Western Animation

  • 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.
  • The Magic Adventures of Mumfie
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