I’m a big fan of having all the PCs know each other before starting a campaign. It helps get over the typical meet and greet that takes up most of the first session as everyone gets acquainted. But even with that, I still think there are a few kinks to work out.
Players have new characters and need to get a feel for their powers and abilities. Also I think folks need to get into the mindset of their character and how they all interact with each other. Pretty tall order to jump into at first, if they are supposedly a group of adventurers that have been together for a while.
So I’m a big fan of the one shot adventure for that first session. Just something simple and quick. An easy quest that doesn’t have much impact over the entire campaign. A few forgettable NPCs and a relatively easy quest to get done in a night. I like to give the chance for players to get a feel for their characters and establish their relationships with each other before jumping too deep into a campaign story.
I also make sure there is one combat encounter that first session. I think 4E combat definitely is a team game with a lot subtle tactics with characters working together. While things might look good on paper, you need a combat or two to get a feel for how they actually work.
If your group has a background that they’ve been together for a while, a decent way to work this in is through a flashback adventure. The group is playing out a past adventure or quest well before actual campaign events. This is also a good way to start a group out at a higher level. Play the first session with them at level one, an initial session being in their ‘past’, and have the remainder be at a later point in their adventuring careers. It’s a decent way to give players a way to learn about their characters, and then be able to skip a few levels jumping into the main campaign.
That’s my little trick. So do folks jump into the main story usually with their first session? How do other folks like running that first game of the campaign?