If you've been playing D&D for any length of time, then you're probably familiar with the tavern trope of starting a campaign: the Player Characters (PCs) start in a tavern, do a little bit of Roleplaying (RP), and then they learn of an adventure...
It's a cliché within Tabletop Roleplaying Games (TTRPGs) but there's nothing wrong with starting a campaign that way. However, if you're interested in some more unique ways to start a campaign, here are five options.
In Media Res
A common, if pretentious, writing term, in media res simply translates to "in the middle of things." This is the way I most frequently start my campaigns. What this looks like is the adventurers are already together in a party and they are already on an adventure. I like this technique because, especially for new players, trying our RP with no guidance in a tavern can be scary if not intimidating. Especially at the beginning of a campaign where even seasoned players may not have a strong feel for how they want to run their characters, starting on an adventures puts all of the adventurers together on the same team with a clear objective to focus on. With a clear goal, it's a lot easier for players to settle into their characters and get into the story. This is how the Lost Mines of Phandelver game starts, an adventure for which I have a lot of respect. The downside is that this is a fairly unimaginative way to start the game.
It Ain't Much, But It's Honest Work
Another option is that the players are already on the same team or organization, though maybe not a cohesive party. This might look like the players all being members of a guild in your world. Perhaps they are in a mercantile guild, an adventuring guild, or something else. Either way, the players already have a clear purpose and at least a tentative amount of cohesion. The campaign could begin in the guildhall with the players learning about a quest from a patron or they could already be on a quest. Whether or not the players stay in the guild is up to them, but it can be a useful strategy for bringing them together.
The PCs don't know each other yet, but they are all in the same location such as a marketplace, a tavern, or a town green, when all of a sudden, they're attacked! This can be a super fun way to start a campaign. It provides the opportunity for RP to the players who want that early on and, if and when there's a lull or sense of awkwardness, someone attacks. This could be a group of bandits attacking a tavern or a gnoll raiding party striking the town green. If you're looking for an adventure for this, I would highly recommend Kobold Press' Prepared 2 which features an adventure where goblins attack a town square with a war machine. After the initial attack is repelled, a patron approaches the PCs, all of whom proved themselves in the skirmish, and offers them a reward to strike back.
Nothing brings people together like a disaster, right? This could take many forms, such as the players are all survivors of a shipwreck, they all end up in a strange place with no memory of how they got there, or they are the sole survivors of an enemy raid that wiped out their village. This method is a great way to raise the stakes immediately while putting the party together and forcing them to rely on each other. This method can work especially well if your campaign will have a strong exploration theme.
The Enemy of My Enemy
The party might not know each other yet, but they've all been screwed over by the same person. Perhaps they were all swindled by the same charlatan, robbed by the same bandit gang, or their farms were all razed by kobold raiders. The source of their ire is irrelevant - the important thing is that they all have a common enemy and a vested interest in retribution or justice. Afterword, they might discover that they actually work pretty well together. If they could take out the highwaymen that the town guards couldn't even deal with, what else could they do together?
Do you have a unique idea or strategy for bringing the PCs together? Let us know in the comments below!