I’ve started many campaigns with players bumping into each other over a tankard of ale at the local tavern. Almost too many I think. It became a long standing joke back in my old AD&D days with my players. It is not a horrible way to start a campaign, but it takes a bit of time getting everyone introduced and willing to work with each other.
I find players are usually a forgiving lot on this point. They may all have their individual desires and motivations, but at the same time they all metagame. They all know they are sitting around a table and wanting to play D&D. So already they know they have to at least try to work together, especially for that first session.
Return to Northmoor is a great D&D podcast I listen to. It handled the initial session in an interesting way. Their 1st session the players sketched out their relations with key NPCs, each other, and their own reasons for why they were there. In effect they all were associated with each other, and all had a similar impetus to strike out on an adventure if the opportunity arises. It’s a great idea. Plus for a DM they can spend more time planning an adventure, rather than wracking their brains trying to come up with a plausible reason why a rag tag group of heroes would want to group in the first place.
Establishing a campaign where the players already have a relationship with each other is a great way to start. You don’t need to spend an excessive amount of time and planning to get a group formed up. They are set from the start, and can head off to explore. I’ve been trying a few things with new campaigns and it has made those initial sessions a bit more focused on adventure, rather than a meet-and-greet at the local tavern.
You all know each other – It can be a precursory meeting in the past, or a long standing friendship. This point is solid though, all the players have had some interaction with each other in the past. This helps bury group distrust among characters from the start. Why would a fighter trudge along after some unknown wizard and rogue, to investigate an old crypt in the first place? If they’ve initially known each other, this becomes an easier scenario to imagine.
Your secret impression of 2 other players – Each player has some secret thoughts on other players. Maybe they think the paladin is a blowhard, pompous do-gooder. Maybe they have a crush on the Deva. This is material the DM can use to push and pull the players in certain directions as the game unfolds. The usefulness of this can vary (especially if all the players secretly respect each other), but sometimes as a DM players will surprise how far they take this.
2 secrets about yourself that you want no one to know – Again, more fodder for future story arcs and adventure. This can have a very dynamic effect combined with the previous situation. Maybe that holier-than-thou paladin had a hedonistic past? Maybe the Deva, subject to a player’s crush, in turn loved their grandmother (/insert soap opera music here). This is an excellent source for molding the dynamics of the group after a few sessions.
The DM assigns 1 of these secrets to be known by another player – This is optional, but can be a real doozy for a group. Take one of those 2 deep, dark, hidden secrets that each player has opened up to the DM, and quietly pass that information on to another in the group. Now you have a party that really knows a lot more about each other. Where they take it depends a little on the DM, and a lot on each other.
I like using these tools. From the start you have a group of people that have quickly established relationships with each other. More importantly the DM has a good sketch of the personal dynamics of the party. They can find material there to have plenty of hooks for other adventures. Also they have some tools to predict how players will react in certain situations.
That is it for about now, what do other folks use to get their group together?