The main problem at the very beginning of the game is players will be very alien to the world and events around them.
They are like humans taken from earth and teleported to a bar on mars. They do not know the inhabitants, their ethics and their attitudes against foreigners. They do not know what to do at all.
Second problem is; just skip the rest of the party, they even do not know themselves. What kind of a charater is he/she plays? This problem is more on morale and behaviour than statistics of their character.
There are some good examples and solutios above, I just skip them an tell one of my ways to band the party togehter; The DM Itervention
I used to play the very beginning of the game as half game/half cinematic. At some parts of the firtst game, as a DM, I just intervene the game and roleplay some critical parts of that session as players characters.
The players knows this is like a cinematic. Things happened to characters when I intervene are things that should be happen for the story to start. They will not be responsible for the acts of their characters when DM intervenes. This way they got a glimpse of how the story should start and what their characters expected to do (doing the expected left to the players though). Also they had some idea about the other PCs and the surrounding world.
Also the player interaction with thier surrounding is limited and they may not achieve success in some actions which they will handle so easily.
One of my game start of a few year ago campaign is like:
The players wake up in a prison cell. There are 5 PCs + 2 NPCs in their cell. A heavy smell of incense covered the whole area making them dizzy and weak. PCs came from different towns and places and they do not know each other.
Players try to bend bars or cast spells but soon understands the incense make them dizzy and cause failure in their attempts. One of the NPCs may give idea of ther weakness if required
The guards come to take them and walked them through the corridorrs to the outside
If any of PCs may try to fight gurads or try to take their weapons, one of the NPCs will act with them too, who is then be killed by the guards. The players realize that the gurads are not easy bite and they are so dizzy beacuse of the incense. some PCs may have some minor injuries but that will not cost them more than a few HP. It as impossible to do anything against the guards for now.
They are taken to a garden like open space. There is a big fire pit at the centre and they see some dead bodies around the fire! The incense is also rising from this fire pit. There is a group of clerics chanting, dressed in dark colors, wearing a symbol they do not know. Then they recognize there are 6 more prisoners on thier knees, hold by clerics. A new chant started and blades appear at the hands of the clerics, slashing the throats of the victims. A taller cleric at the centre raise his vioce and pray for his god. The PCs had the feeling the last part of the chant is beginning.
The players are still dizzy and unable to think or focus. If any player wants to do something, then the DM tells he knows he should do something but he neither have the strength nor the consciousness to do so.
The clerics move the PCs and NPCs (ones who came with them). The remianing NPCs try to struggle or run and the clerics kill them too. There are now only the clerics + PCs + 1 NPC (they do not know). The clerics move them to the pit and raise their blades.
The PCs are still dizzy and do not have the full control of their characters.
They see the last NPC raise her voice and chant to her (good aligned) god. A strong wind blows and the incence smoke is dispersed while the PCs feel their heads got clear and they regain their full strength. The fighter/warrior/barbarian (or one suitable PC) of the group takes the knife from his capturer and frees himself. Knocking his guard and run to help other PCs. They struggle with guards and all PCs got free. Then they realize the evil clerics are fighting with the NPC cleric. The NPC cleric shouts to the PCs that the ritual is broken and it should start from the beginning. The Evil Cleric leader kills the NPC cleric but also got wounded and escapes from the ritual area using his spells.
At this point, the players gain the full control of their characters! Now they shoud find a way to escapse from this wicked place, finds out who the cleric is and what he tries to do and what to do to stop him.
Some key points about the game start is:
- There is no NPC alive around so they may use teleport to escape.
- They have not see any other person alive in the corridors, so they do not have to enter the prison to check if is there anybody alive. But they can check the place if they want. (Good aligned characters like Paladin may want to check)
- They are sure the evil Cleric leader escapes somehere else because he is wounded and will not risk his life by hiding in the prison.
- They are now in full strength. But for escaping the place and finding out what is happening and stopping the evil cleric, they need different abilities. Making the players feel this during the cinematic session will help the party bond easier.
- Deciding to escape or search for other prisoners, or how to escape this place will help each player learn more about the other PCs. This way the players will have an idea about the behaviour and ethics of other PCs.
The Player Reactions: Phe players know this part is just the prologue of the game. There is no harsh action done by PCs while they are under the control of the DM. (Like paladin acts against his beliefs etc). This was a good way to start the game and bond the party for them too.
On the other hand, this is a good way to introduce the players to the game. The “party meets at the tavern and (somehow) be freinds and aggrees to travel together” part is handled automatically. Also the players did not have any problem in taking the quest in the right way and act as expected. This is important, because the quest should start somehow and incidents that would fail to start the quest should be discarded. What happens if Frodo denies to carry the ring to Mordor? The party should accept the quest. Then the way how they will act is up to them.
Also being in a such situation motives palayers to act together with other PCs they do not know because they are all in the same boat!