Here is the original “you all meet in a tavern” trope and five variations to get a fantasy adventure started with new (or not-so-new) players. Each set-up is designed for a group of well-known adventurers who use a medieval city as a home base between quests.
Another Night at the Tavern: Having just returned to the city after plundering a recently uncovered tomb of traps and monsters, your group has gone to a favorite place for drink, eat and rest. This particular tavern serves as an sort of guildhall for brave and dangerous adventurers such as yourselves. As a bawdy serving wench brings trays of meats, breads and ales to your table, a lone figure dressed in a dark cloak interrupts the meal and introduces himself as a representative of the local reigning noble. Promising gold now, and later the favor of an ambitious ruler, this courier’s master urgently needs help on a secret mission that must not gain official attention.
A Rough Morning After: After an exceptionally wild night of drinking and revelry in the city’s dwarven quarter, you all awake sore and confused in the holding jail of the local constable. It seems one of the friendly maidens you entertained during your merrymaking was in fact the daughter of someone powerful and widely feared by the local community. Stripped of your usual weapons and magic gear, you listen humbly as a messenger offers you freedom and amnesty only in exchange for vowing to perform a rather dangerous deed on behalf of the insulted father. Accept and you will be enchanted to fulfill your half of the bargain; refuse and the rats will welcome you as their new constant companion.
Bitter Homecoming: Having been away from home for roughly a fortnight, you are shocked to discover upon return your house has burned to the ground. Hurriedly asking about the neighborhood, you discovered the building was stormed by mysterious cloaked men armed with torches three nights ago. The city watch rushed to the scene too late to halt the blaze or capture the attackers. Sifting through the charred rumble by daylight found no bodies, suggesting those inside escaped by magical means. Those loved ones you left behind seem to now be prisoners of a strange, arcane cult possibly based nearby.
Trouble Under the Farm: Following a particularly painful adventure, your group has gone to the temple district to petition the clerics to heal your wounded and raise your dead. As the last of your group tithes in exchange for services, a group of peasants rushes into the chamber carrying a horribly wounded man. The newcomers explain this farmer was tilling his field not far from the city when a sinkhole opened beneath him and a monster savaged his legs. Onlookers beat down the beast, but now a gapping hole sits open to a hidden underworld. Many in the community offer coin for someone to explore and put down any threats.
Murder at Court: In thanks for heroic deeds on behalf of the realm, your group of adventurers are invited to the local noble’s seasonal celebration at his castle. During the feast, one of the noble’s family gasps and collapses. Attendants rush to aid and give cry that the victim was poisoned. Suddenly a trio of guards rush to a window, transform into winged beasts and escape into the sky. In the chaos that follows, an advisor openly blames a neighboring noble, a bloodthirsty rival of your lordly host. Still others whisper about an almost forgotten wizard who threatened revenge against the crown. A superstitious few simply cower in the corner chanting pagan wards. The advisor calls for an immediate retaliation for this attack by setting fire to the neighboring crops, stealing livestock and other mischief – and he seems to be preaching in your direction.
The Caravan: A rash of banditry along the busiest trade route to the sylvan kingdoms is causing friction between men and elves. Each side claims the other should be responsible for stepping up patrols, but so far neither side has acted. While nobles bicker, the merchant guildmaster has decided to hire adventurers directly to join the next caravan, draw out the thieves, and chase them to their lair. The pay will be good, but the caravan team leaves the city soon to begin their fortnight-long trek.