I think it’s always a challenge when first sitting down and thinking about that first session to kick off your campaign. I usually have a ton of ideas going through my head, and trying to get something cohesive out of that jumble can be a challenge. For a new DM, I think the task can be a little overwhelming. Sure that first small adventure is easy enough to run, but what then? Here are a few bits of advice I hope new DMs find helpful:
Talk to your players – Bounce a few ideas off them. If you want a convoluted campaign of political intrigue against the backdrop of high fantasy. Yet, your players want a gritty, sword and sorcery game. You have problems. Be flexible. Work out a campaign environment and theme that most of your group will be happy with.
Steal stuff – For your first few campaigns, don’t bother drawing out that huge world map, filling in every detail. A unique homebrew campaign does not necessarily equate to a fun campaign for your players. There are tons of existing campaign worlds and maps. Take from those works. You’d be surprised how much material is available that can add some sparkle to simple campaign beginnings. Take Winterhaven as an example. A pretty generic place, but some renderings really give it some life, like those at D&D Doodle.
Make it your own – Don’t feel hampered by adhering strictly to a published setting. Modify the stuff you pilfer to make it fit your game. This is where you can let your creativity go. Take that published setting and mix it up.
How about making the use of undead servants (zombies and skeletons) commonplace? Select a few PC races and state they are commonly used as slaves. Take that neighboring city and make it an evil necropolis. As long as these changes are consistent throughout your world, making changes to existing works is an easy way to make your campaign unique.
Start small – There is a temptation to get players into a grand epic adventure right from the start. Slow down the pace. You’re working with an imaginary world, most players need a little time to get a feel for it. Once players become familiar with their surroundings (recognizing an NPC innkeeper and such), then consider moving on.
Starting small keeps things flexible and allows your campaign to grow. You might find your players bored with a main villain, but really interested in tracking down that kobold gang. If you have too much planned out, you risk pushing your characters along the storyline rail. Keeping things small with a few open plot lines, gives the players a chance to slightly direct their future paths to adventure.
That’s it for now. And while you are sketching out your next big campaign, don’t forget FreeMind. It’s a great tool to keep your grand plans for future sessions organized.