It's always seemed to me that the hardest part about any campaign is the introduction.
Once the game is started and the party is in the groove, everything runs smoothly, or at least it's EASIER for it to run smooth. The difficult part for any DM is introducing a group of new characters to one another. Sure, there's the ol' "You all meet in a tavern" sorta thing, but how often can you pull that one off? This is obviously not a "realistic" game we play, but the quickest way to take players out of a game is to blow off the very first thing you show them. You need a realistic intro to any new campaign so the players feel there is some previous attachment to the other character's. Otherwise, it can quickly break down into selfish, individualistic agendas.
To help avoid this, I try to spend as much time on writing character introductions as I do to the campaign itself. I've done the "tavern meeting" to death and I'm as tired of it as my players are so I started trying to take advantage of this thing called "technology" to try and tie the character's together in someway before the group ever gets together.
The first thing you need to create a good background is information about the character's themselves. You need to interface with each of the players that will be in your campaign on an individual basis. I prefer to do it through email as it allows the player time to think and come up with some background information for you without being put on the spot. I find that, unless you're really creative, it's hard to think of good background stories while someone is staring at you. Too much pressure. If a player is good at writing or into his character enough to think beyond just the game at hand, you can ask him to write a paragraph or two about his character to give you some idea of his history and motivations. This will be instrumental in tying his to all the other characters before the game starts.
However, if you have players that just aren't as creative, and I'm sure I can be counted amongst that group, I came up with a little survey that can be sent to each of the players. They can just read and answer the questions to fill in a bit of history to help you with your job as DM. Its not a terribly long survey, just a few questions, but it should help.
- Where did you come from?
- Why did you leave/ why aren't you there anymore?
- Where is your family and what has become of them?
- What has been your adventuring career up to this point?
- Why are you here now?
- What do you do in your free time?
- How do you support yourself?
- Who are your friends/ What sort of people to you associate with?
- Why do you adventure?
- What do you hope to accomplish?
- What are 2 minor short term goals? (get to a certain town, escape the law, get better gear etc)
- What is your ultimate goal? (become king, revenge for family murder, own a pirate ship etc)
Once you have a bit of a background info from each of the players, you can work on weaving a storyline around all of them as a group. You can have two or more of the characters know each other or associate with one another before the campaign starts so they have a connection other than "Hello, I am Galstaff, sorcerer of light". You can also set us small rivalries or secret connections that the rest of the party isn't aware of. Anything that can get the players more involved with their characters as people rather than just a sheet of paper with numbers on it will make for a better campaign.
Once the background stories are established and everyone is familiar with who the other characters in the party are, the campaign can really get moving. This can eliminate an awkward first game session of players making in-game small talk to simulate introductions or a makeshift and cliche' "You're all in a tavern" introduction.