A few weeks back, in my itinerant internet wanderings, I came across an interesting video where a steampunk tavern is attacked by some undead cowboys and then saved by a few of the customers and a native american warrior. The violent, cgi driven, epic, and gratuitous music video gave rise to an interesting twist on getting a party together.
Instead of having the group meet in a tavern, or bringing them together in some forced way, why not have them be present at the site of an attack for a location that could become their homebase? If the attack is somehow relevant to the main plot line, then the players will have an instant hook into the story and your campaign will get started with action and a reason for the players to meet each other.
There are a few particulars that make this sort of approach work.
The area the characters help defend is something of use that gives them a reason to continue going there. I.e. it is a local bar, the weapons shop they were at, the ship repair shop on the space station, etc.
With some kind of benefit and a continued reason for them to visit, the place they save becomes a strong anchor point. Ideally, it could serve as a homebase.
The individual members of the group should be at the place mostly of their own devices with little interconnectedness. They can have reasons to come together aside of the battle, but the initial combat will help build the unity best if it is the primary agent in bringing the characters together.
The characters are integral to the fight and are rewarded for saving the place. Something as minimal as free drinks for life or constant maintenance and refueling of their ships gives them a story reward and provides a continual backbone for the group. They build their party out of being the regulars, their heroics being the thing that defined them, and their group picture hanging on the wall as a constant reminder. This connection acts as a solid base for them to build their unity on.
The initial fight should be epic and rewarding for the players. The music video that inspired this idea is over the top, but awesome. That was not just a fight with street thugs. Frigging undead cowboys who could pull weapons out of the depths of the fiery abyss were defeated. That’s the way a campaign should start. A big, tone setting scene that makes the players thirst for more. They get to say they were the winners in that battle, and that is an intangible reward that trumps many more tangible ones.
No player should individually “lose” in the fight. It seems like a small point if the group wins, but in reality this is a fight before they are working as a group. It is the characters on their own fighting alongside each other. The purpose is to showcase and build unity, so the combat should be considered on an individual basis instead of how the group as a whole fare.
Done right, this sort of introduction grabs the players and builds unity above and beyond any character goals. Their group identity is forged before their individual character personas are fully developed, and that makes for a strong group. Many group introduction schemes involve throwing the party together in an action scene, but this idea rewards the group in a different way and gives them a shared sense of unity. Do you think this has merit over an initial fight? What would this look like as the intro to your current game?