I'm working on a new campaign, in case you couldn't tell by the villain question from earlier. Anyway, I been trying to determine the best way to help my players make a connection with their characters and that means that I've been looking over the last ten years worth of notes that I've been keeping to see what worked and what was crap. To that end I've found three things that really worked in my previous campaigns and I'm going to be using all three in this one.
The Three Things that Worked
1.) How do you know everyone else you're adventuring with? While many groups that I've played with over the years tend to never ask this question I've found that finding an answer that matters to your players - he's my brother, or we trained under the same master, or we were childhood friends - tends to have a major impact on them and gets the party gelling fast than almost anything else I've ever done.
2.) What are your three goals? I picked this one up from the Sons of Kryos podcast years ago, but it was a hell of a great idea. Each player has to come up with three goals for their character; one that can be accomplished in a short amount of time, one that will take some protracted effort, and one that may only be accomplished over the lifetime of the character. Now these can totally change as you play the character but by establishing a goal for your character from the get go you really find its personality developing earlier rather than eight or ten sessions down the line.
3.) What's your secret reason for adventuring? I absolutely love this one. When my players first start adventuring I have them choose between either a random reason for adventuring or to provide me with a reason. In either case they can choose to keep it a secret or to share it with the group. But suffice it to say we've had blood feuds, space cops, and time travelers crop up over the years. It's always a fun addition to the campaign and it usually gives them something extra to adventure for (and before you ask, no, I never make anyone play anything they don't like).
So what works for your campaigns?