The most daunting part of being a newbie Game Master is the question "where do I start?"
Dungeons and Dragons is a collaborative story-telling game. So start with what makes up a story, namely: Setting, Plot, and Characters.
Characters: Your players might have their characters in mind already - if that's the case, you might find it easier to start with that. What story will work best with the characters they want to play?
Or you might have a really cool "Big Bad" character that you want to employ in your game. Start fleshing out the characters around that Big Bad. Who has faced this evil before? Who have suffered because of this Big Bad? What do these people plan to do now?
Setting: Maybe you've got a really cool location in mind. Start building up that location - look for interesting stories within. The best stories come from the folks that want something to change. Often these folks are suffering or otherwise in a bad situation. If your players haven't got any character ideas, this might be a good place to start them off. After all, it's important for your player characters to be invested in the narrative!
Plot: Every adventure will be different but it can be useful to have some kind of idea for a plot. Are you running a murder mystery? Or is some Big Bad trying to end the world? Remember: your players will create the details of the plot themselves, all you need is broadstrokes. Don't get into the nitty-gritty.
Choose one of these three elements to focus on first. And start to brainstorm the rest from there.
Of course, you're probably wondering "how do I do that?"
If your feeling intimidated by the Setting, I recommend starting very small. Situate your story in a single village or region. And really, really, delve into that single place. Questions to ask yourself:
- What are the people like here? Are they friendly?
- What are the principal industries? Examples: farming, mining, metalwork. How does that inform their culture?
- Think about the religion. Which gods to they worship and how do? Do they have a big temple or do people have small altars in their home? Or maybe they worship out in the forest or through divine symbols on their clothes.
- How common is magic here and what is it used for?
These kinds of questions - and their answers - can help make your setting feel alive. It can also help make your NPCs more vibrant and easier to make up on the fly.
- What are three issues that the commonfolk are flacing? Is there fear of a pestilence? Are they worried about the in-coming winter?
- What's the local gossip? These can be wild rumours or something more mundane.
If you are struggling to get a sense of a Plot, I recommend checking out my Campaign Planner worksheet.
As for creating characters, both for your players, your NPCs, and your bad guys, check out my Worldbuilding Pack which includes a worksheet for creating NPCs.
Roleplaying Game Campaign Planning
This blog should hopefully have helped get you started with planning your campaign.
For more helpful tips and worksheets, check out my RPG Campaign Planning Bundle.