Everyone who has ever played an RPG will know the generic opening for campaigns, a tavern, a bar, or an inn. But there are other ways of introducing your players to the epic quest they are about to begin. Starting a campaign is not always the easiest but can be the difference between narcoleptic viewers and engaged players. The first key to starting a campaign is avoid the cliché. I cannot even count the number of campaigns I have played that started in a Tavern. The reason people use taverns is because it is an easy way to get all the players with characters from diverse walks of life together. It also allows for a quick start into the important parts of the campaign. Yet DMs do not give the opening of a campaign enough attention. Jumping right into it is tempting, but how many books have you read that go right into the plot? Exposition is essential for the players and for you.
Now the opening is important, but it is not always easy. As mentioned earlier players often make characters from diverse backgrounds and races that might not make sense coming together. Each opening of a campaign should be individualized for a campaign. A good way to begin is by letting each player interact with the DM individually so that they each get a hand catered unique introduction to the campaign. I once ran a campaign where each player encountered the same noble lady who hired them on as a bodyguard but the way in which this happened was different for each player. One protected the rich lady from thugs in the market, another impressed her at a jousting competition, and yet another was a noble who was introduced to the lady at a party. This all led them to the same quest but each beginning fit the individual player’s back-story.
Another way of starting a campaign is what I call a pre-campaign. This could be a short one time session that is a small campaign within itself. Before the campaign started I told all the characters they would be starting on a boat in chains. I let them decide the story behind this. Then the first session involved them finding out they were captured by slave traders and were forced to go to the slave auctions. Mattering on how they started this opening scenario it would affect the campaign they would have later. If they escaped, one course of action would happen; if they ended up at the slave auction another future was in store. This is a great idea for when you have multiple ideas for the same campaign and cannot decided which to run.
The easiest method to start a campaign is a force start. This is kind of like the situation with the slave campaign I ran where I told all the players they would be starting on a boat in chains and I let them decided the events leading up to it. It skips the beginning part of a campaign and lets you jump right into action. My only suggestion is if you do it this way, you let everyone share their story of how they got to be there.
Starting a campaign is not always easy but there are many more creative ways to do it then to start with everyone sitting around in a tavern. Get creative, and make the opening as unique and in-depth as the campaign you are running. It will invest the players sooner in what you are doing and create a more memorable experience.