What are the odds that a Drow Elf fighter, a gnome magic user, a ranger from the outskirts of a haunted forest and a thief born of nobility will be in the same tavern at the same time all wanting to take on the same adventure?
Most DMs will agree that getting player characters together for the first time is not exactly an easy task. Sure, you can always throw them together and ignore their history and past, but where is the dynamic connection in that?
Many adventures start out as a notice tacked to the message wall in the local tavern, which is great for those few PCs born in that town, but what of the other PCs? One wants to be an elf from some forgotten era, one wants to be a barbarian from the mountains 200 miles to the north, while the last guy wants to be a nomadic ranger born in a major city on the opposite side of the realm!
Okay, it can be accepted that the party is by chance in the same tavern at the same time and they are each interested in the same adventure. It could be accepted, but it does not make for a very interesting game.
What if, instead, the ranger is tracking a band of thieves that took his daughter’s life? What if that barbarian from way up North had to go on a journey to prove himself to his peers? What of the elf rogue, perhaps she is undercover in the same band of thieves that the ranger is tracking (for they also stole her father’s prized dagger)?
That stands to hold more of a reason for the party of five adventurers to come together rather than ‘poof we just popped into existence knowing each other’.
“Yeah but who cares, we just want to play the game.”
Well, there is nothing wrong with simply rolling the dice scribbling down the numbers and jumping into the game. But keep this in mind: what if the scenario described up above happened three years ago? The elf need not play out her discovery of tracking down the rogues who stole her father’s dagger, the barbarian does not have to play out his 200 mile journey around the country side, he may have even returned home and proved himself but decided he enjoyed traveling the countryside than milling around the mountains all day. Then there is the ranger, he is a bit tough. The very nature of him dictates that he would not stay in one place for very long, but regardless, what if he falls in love, or someone has hired him to guard something?
The point is, regardless of the reasons, these backgrounds do not need to be played out. They are simply backgrounds and give the PCs more of a reason for being in the same place at the same time.
In the process of their background, each PC is able to meet each other PC. They spend time together and they all have likes and dislikes. Each one is able to flesh out the party and because of the background the PC itself is better fleshed out.
Three years, two years, even one year is long enough for a group of Five adventurers to get to know each other, but again, that history does not exactly have to be played out.
Of course, it stands to reason that as far as adventurers go, there is a much more diverse combination of PCs. Likewise, there are also many diverse backgrounds to come up with.
As far as all wanting to go on the same adventure?
The same guy that tacked that note to the tavern wall is the same guy that took the life of the ranger’s daughter, is also the one that stole the dagger from the rogue’s dad, and also is the same enemy of the barbarian’s clan of whom he must seek out to kill.
And what of the other two faithful PCs that grew up together in the same town? Not much was mentioned about them. Why? Well, we already know how they are acquainted, but of course that does not mean they cannot have backgrounds of their own.
The key element here is to keep in mind that assembling the PCs in the same place does not have to be a horrible thing. No Nightmare has to take place. It simply makes the idea of the adventure flow a bit smoother.
Think about it this way: the group that will play next week, how did they come to know each other? Not their Player Characters, but the Players themselves? Surely they did not all spontaneously ‘pop’ into existence sitting at the table, dice in hand, ready to play. Did one guy work at the pizza joint and saw your D&D hat and ask a question? Did the guy that sits at the far end of the table grow up three blocks away?
The point is your players have history that brought them all together to play. What history will their characters have that brings them together to adventure?
As a Dungeon Master, encourage them to develop that background and history and your nightmares will stop.
Then exploit that background and incorporate that into your meta-storyline. Three months from now they track down the guy that stole her father’s dagger and kill him… Two years from now that guy’s daughter tracks the party down and she is a very powerful mage…