An Adventuring Party (or The Party) refers to a group of Player Characters and/or NPCs, working together for some purpose. The term can refer to a couple slightly different things, but it's not usually worth distinguishing between them. The most common meaning is just the group of player characters, and any allied NPCs (henchmen, hirelings, sidekicks, GMPCs, etc) that accompany them. Adventuring Parties engage in heroic acts, raid dungeons, and pursue plot coupons.
Other times, it refers specifically to the informal social structures that build up around such groups - in this way an adventuring party may be different from a corporation, military unit, or entourage in that the PCs frequently share and split treasure, loot, and resources roughly evenly - though some parties draw up more formal contracts that assign profit or materials more like one of the previously mentioned organizations. In such a definition, adventuring parties aren't strictly restricted to being formed around PCs. Whatever in-character need lead to the PCs grouping together may logically result in bands of NPCs forming as well. If adventurers are supposed to be common in the setting, then NPC adventuring parties are almost guaranteed. In this usage, an adventuring party is just a group of characters out to get rich via nontraditional risky means. They could invest, they could run a farm or business, but instead they attack castles, kill monsters, or go bounty-hunting.
Lastly, in a few rare cases "The Party" refers to all the PCs, despite no real connection or comraderie between them. This is a fairly rare usage, but comes up in conversation sometimes when talking about LARPs and competitive games or semi-competitive games like the Amber DRPG. Often this is used to single out a particular character whose currently acting differently than the others - such as "meanwhile, the rest of the party leaning towards a overthrowing the king" - as if that players odd behavior makes the others into a Adventuring Party by default.
Game and Story Use
- If the PCs aren't the only Adventuring Party in the setting, you have some interesting options.
- Another party of named NPCs could serve as Foil, Rival, or Nemesis to the PCs.
- Adventurers in general may have a bad reputation because of the sort of things they do. Some communities might outlaw or banish them, while others may accept them as a form of social bandit.
- The remains of a dead adventuring party on the road or in the dungeon can serve several purposes for the GM.
- Their remains may serve as a hint to a trap, hazard or monster that the players are about to face. This ranges from scenery to foreshadowing to overt clues.
- If your adventure has featured mostly unintelligent monsters that don't intentionally gather treasure, the corpses of a previous party may be the justification for putting treasure where the PCs can get at it. Of course, there's always the "danger" that the players will get clever and figure out a way to make off with the treasure without fighting the monsters.
- As the Kyrgyzstan example illustrates, Adventuring parties certainly aren't restricted to the fantasy genre.