We spent most of the first gaming session creating characters. During the last two hours we kicked off the game with a horde of Goblins invading the town of Loudwater.
A few of the players had already started putting their characters together, but most were starting from scratch. All of the players expressed some level of displeasure with the constant cross-referencing required to generate a character. I don't remember it being that much of a chore with 3.5, but I may just be remembering the experience through rose-colored memories. It certainly would have been helpful for a few more people to have access to the Players Handbook, but it worked out. By the time I got around to helping the third or forth person, I had the process down pretty well.
The RPG blogger 4e standard complaint "What does [W] mean?" came up a number of times, actually. I'm really surprised this is such a big deal. I was able to figure that out the first time I looked at the powers in the book. I agree that is should be defined in more than one place in the book, but I guess I'm surprised so many people are getting tripped up by it.
Most of the players selected a build from the PHB to generate their characters. I think this is a good move, and I encouraged it for the players. I think 4e will have plenty of room for more unique builds, but given the resources listed in the PHB, an optimized build will probably be best for a "first character".
Amduscias Dantalian: Teifling Warlock
[Currently unnamed] : Genasi Fighter
[Currently unnamed] : Halfling Rogue
Shatmo: Human Warlord
Modryth: Tiefling Ranger
Zath Syngenor: Human Wizard
I decided that I wanted to kick off the game with the PCs being strangers. They all just happened to be in the right [wrong] part of town at the wrong [right] time. The players started by placing their miniatures near the southern wall of the town of Loudwater. After a having a few moments to interact with townspeople/other PCs, they see/hear a large explosion.
A handful of goblins charge through the door, lead by a goblin caster. The caster pointed to the local curiosity shop and shouted, "The horn totem must be reclaimed!" and casts a cloud that conceals him and his followers. The goblins were not expecting battle worthy adventurers to be waiting for them in town. They are no match for the party.
The party moves quickly and makes short work of the Goblins. They retrieve the horn totem and a letter in Goblin from the dead caster. One of the characters who speaks Goblin reads the letter:
I learned through divinations that the totem is in a shop called Garwan’s Curiosities in Loudwater. Go and retrieve it. Use the old barrel of alchemist’s fire. You know how important this is. Without the totem, it will be harder to perform the magic. We must get the object back if we are to revive the Ogre King! Do not fail. I will continue forward with the magic even if every one of you must be sacrificed. We must get back the totem!
High Shaman Sancossug
When the scuffle has subsided, the proprietor of the the curiosity shop, Garwan, joins the party in the street. He thanks the party for stopping the theft and rewards them with the horn totem (Weapon: Dagger; Enhancement: +1 Attack rolls and damage rolls; Critical: +1d6 damage; Property: Your attacks with this weapon against a creature larger than you have an additional +1 bonus to damage rolls). He also informs them that Curuvar the Brazen, a local wizard, had retrieved the the Horn Totem from the Barrow of Ogre King. Curuvar can often be found in the Green Tankard Tavern. Moments later a couple members of the Loudwater City Guard arrived and thanked the party for dispatching the goblin threat. One of the officers takes the characters names, at the request of Lady Moonfire. The party decides to seek out the eccentric wizard to see if they can get more information on why the Goblins were so intent on getting the horn totem.
Treasure: Horn Totem, message scroll