The soup du jour, over at +Gnome Stew , got me to thinking.
How does one go about serving the first helping of a campaign?
My buddy Joe does so thusly. (In the form of another stew-related metaphor, gods help us!)
I like start with a location. I've got a visual mind. (Though not so much as this guy. [I additionally lack his skill in putting my mind to paper]). I craft the location and what's going on there, first. Then I let the magic of character creation (o! sweet collaboration) happen. I really love the challenge of adapting my location/events to the characters at hand. (Sometimes I'll make some thematic demands, but these tend to be light: Please make characters that would be willing/useful to work as town guards.)
But, (as I mentioned already on the stew) I've got one more trick up my sleeve. I tend to start the characters out in a pretty desperate situation. I want them PCs broke, lost, beaten-up, in debt, on the lam, and generally in dire straights (probably not all at once). It may seem like a dick move, but I don't think so.
Desperation breeds adventure.
It makes sense that people take more risks when they're between a rock and some lava and a hard place. It creates an opportunity for even the most milquetoast type of characters to reasonably take up a life of adventure/crime/magical-seeking/jumping-down-rabbit-holes. It generates opportunity for excitement at every turn (more or less). It really ups the stakes. [generic exclamatory statement]!
Plus, in my experience, players enjoy it. Crawling up from (or chopping right through!) the bottom of the barrel is a satisfying experience.
Just some food for thought and hopefully something useful.