Seeing as how I'm relatively new to tabletop gaming in general (just over 2 years experience), I often converse with several other, far more experienced Hosts. During my last encounter with said counselors, I received a few notable tips on setting up a campaign, so I thought I'd quote some of their invaluable advice and share them with you all.
"Ask everyone a simple one sentence backstory that involves a profession. Tell everyone where they are in the town or city due to their profession."
"Randomly generate dungeon layout, throw monsters in strategic places, throw other stuff in strategic places. Recurring villain. Fun characters. Takes place outside the city where they all live together in a "Drawn Together" type house. It's entertaining. People enjoy it."
"I have a giant chart of universal plots that I am constantly adding to because I am a giant spaz. Generally when I find a new system, or feel like running an old system, or am bored, I spin the wheel 'o plot. Then I write a brief synopsis of the story thus far, and make a very very very loose plan for where I want the game to go - because no plan EVER survives contact with the players. Background for a world is important, and if you have a well-thought-out background when the players /do/ invariably go off the rails, there is grass for them to land on, so to speak."
"The two great rules of DMing:
- Your plans will ALWAYS breakdown on contact with players. Expect it, be prepared for it, and run with it.
- The point of the game is for EVERYONE to have fun. That means the players AND the DM. If someone isn't having fun, figure out why and whether there is something that can be done about it because if one player isn't having fun, it'll poison the game."
"I think up a list of supporting characters first, without any player backstory as input. Then I gather my players, ask them for some limited backstory (rather than require they make up everything before we start playing). I figure out if the support characters I made up fit the backgrounds they provided, and put those NPCs in as old friends or antagonists or relatives or whatever (after discussing this with the players).
Then I give the NPCs related to the players some conflicts that they need external help with to solve, and the campaign starts with those NPCs somehow coming into contact with the characters and giving them a quest.
Setting is largely irrelevant, so I tend to use pre-existing settings which modifications that fit my campaign."
"Here's a few thoughts.
1. Pick a kind of event that can change the world. Create Monstrous or Magical reason for why this happened or for a resulting problem.
2. Pick a random Monster you like and just have it guarding a treasure at the end of a dungeon. Build the dungeon around things relative to the monster.
3. Dangle the idea of something the characters want right in front of them, then cleverly drop occasional clues and send them all over the place trying to get it.
Really though, have more than one plan for things they can do that effect the plot, and learn your players and their characters. They get less bored when they have more options, and they are more willing to go along with things when life is good."
Hopefully, some of their fragmented wisdom will aid in the daunting task of starting a fresh campaign. I know it'll assist me, when the time comes.