Having really cut my teeth as a GM with the James Bond: 007 RPG in the 1980s, one of the techniques I used to introduce characters and/or stories was inspired by the Bond movies (and many other television series and action movies) is the teaser.
The teaser allows you to give a player(s) the chance to intro his or their characters in a simple action sequence. You begin in media res — the action is already underway. The teaser can have a connection to the rest of the story or not; you can make this the tail end of another unrelated mission, or you can connect it to the upcoming plotline through either a recurring villain or NPC, or some aspect of the teaser that eventually ties to the rest of the adventure upcoming.
The teaser should place the character firmly in their element of expertise, and play to the characters’ strengths and weaknesses. Let’s use Skyfall as an example. In this, we’ll stick with three “new” characters — Bond, Eve, and Tanner. (Why Tanner? We’re using him as the “eye in the sky” or hacker/backup for purposes of example.) You’re looking for a missing hard drive. We think we know who the guy is that has it. (Bad guy NPC Patrice.) One of our agents has tracked him down and is now not responding. Bond is our brick/fighting guy — the experienced, jaded one; Eve is our wheelman with some combat skills — she’s new and a bit unsure of herself; Tanner is their “hacker” — he’s the guy with the satellite feeds, the maps for them to use to try and get ahead of people, the guy that can get medical to you. He can coordinate the action between the characters when they are separated, effectively keeping everyone together, even if the characters are in different locations. He is, in essence, the glue between what could be completely separate scenes, and hence keep all the players involved.
Bond should have a moment to play to his jaded nature (he finds the injured agent — stabilize him or get after the bad guy?), he should have a combat sequence — fistfight or gun fight (or both) to show his combat prowess. Eve should have a chance to use her driving skills in a chase. (He’s in the black Audi!) She should have the chance to get into combat, but try to keep Bond in the spotlight for this. Tanner should be the guy directing them in the case (He’s turned left! If you go through the market you should be able to get ahead of them! [Give the Eve or Bond character some kind of bonus if Tanner gets a good roll on an appropriate skill to help manage the operation.])
Teasers should be short — around 30 minutes or so for a three hour session, but sometimes, they can be intensely fun on their own. I’ve had teasers run most of a game session (2 hours) for particularly complex action sequences. Example (let’s use Bond movies again, this time Goldeneye): The beginning of Goldeneye has a fairly complex action sequence involving Bond sneaking into a secret Soviet weapons plant and linking up with 003. The new characters might be just Bond, or Bond and Alec (003). They have to slip into the main portion of the factor to blow it up. They get cornered and have to escape while still destroying the place. A teaser like this, I can tell you from experience, is probably a one to 1.5 hour affair, minimum. There’s a lot of moving parts, but they do the same thing — Bond does action stuff like base jumping, shooting, and some stealth. Alec, if played by a player, would have to either be doing the same, or come in from a different direction. They would have some moment to play up their friendship or animosity, depending on the weaknesses with which they were designed. (Imagine the base jump’s the only way in and one of the characters is acrophobic — golden!)
The teaser is a great method for introducing the characters: get them into their element, give them a few challenges that play to their strengths and weaknesses, then move onto the main story or campaign. But it’s also good for reintroducing the characters after a break, or introducing the next plotline.
The Living Daylights begins, as many Bond movies do, with a short mission that seems unrelated to the main story. Bond is training in Gibraltar with other 00s when one is killed by SMERSH. But SMERSH was deactivated! He chases down the assassin but the man is killed in typical spectacular fashion. It seems completely disconnected from the “main mission” — evacuate a Soviet general from Czechoslovakia who is under sniper protection…until the general is spirited out of the Blaydon safe house by SMERSH. Eventually, the plot would reveal the recaptured general is actually behind the SMERSH attack at Gibraltar in an attempt to get rid of a rival in the Soviet intelligence community who is closing in on his dirty opium for diamonds for guns operation.
You might have a character who encountered serious issues in a previous adventure. You might introduce the character in a teaser where an old bad guy turns up to have them murdered, and this drags them back into a life of action. Or that thief who was retired but has burned through his money, or is presented with a challenge just too juicy to ignore — reintroduce them living happily, then hit them with some minor action piece that plays to their diminishing money or requires them to use their mad thieving skills…boy, don’t you miss the rush…?
Hopefully, these few suggestions can give you a new tool in your GM kit to help the players connect with their characters and with the world/adventures you are presenting. While I’ve used primarily modern day examples, you can easily adapt the teaser to any genre you might be playing.