NOTE: The first three posts will be mainly brainstorming or "fluffing". The crunch will begin around post 4 or so.
Step 1 - The endgame scenario - Simple question, what is the party trying to accomplish when all is said and done? Let's stick to cliche for simplicity sake. The end of the world is nigh! So how will it go down? That is a choice unique to the DM and his group. When designing a campaign, I try and solicit a little bit of info from the group (they ARE after all, the audience) mine tend towards epic adventure, so we'll just have to satisfy them won't we?
Let's start with some of the better tropes in that vein:a.)World altering catastrophic event
b.)death of a god
c.)rebirth/awakening of a terrible evil
Sweet stuff there, truly the stuff of legends! One of my favorite endgame scenarios involves a often seen, but seldom fleshed out bit of Core game legend. Tharzidun. Yes, Tharzidun. The destroyer himself, the mad god, he who will devour all. THAT Tharzidun. IIRC, He was imprisoned "somewhere" by the other gods for the good of all. Obviously, any deranged worshippers of his would be seeking his release right? There we are! the beginnings of an epic adventure!
So how is it going to happen? A ritual sounds right...an epic ritual of some kind. Mining the EXEMPLARS OF EVIL & ELDER EVILS (in all their flawed glory) lessee...epic ritual, epic spells...ah yes, EPIC INGREDIENTS! We'll get back to that later though.
Step 2 - The BBEG - In true Top down style, lets decide on a BBEG, a nemesis behind all of the travails that the party will suffer through. It is important to remember that in true fantasy gaming style, they will not confront him directly for quite some time. Instead of the cumbersome create, then constantly level up vein, we will simply make him epic to begin with. 25th level would be perfect. As his god is imprisoned and very weak, we'll say that true clerics (cultists) of Tharzidun are limited to 3rd level spells or lower until the seals of power on his prison begin to weaken. To compensate for this, we'll use the Ur-priest (Book of Vile Darkness) to fill it out. Unfortunately, it is just a PrC, but it has enough flavor to fit the bill nicely. So, we have in essence, a witch-king. We'll use Wizard to pick up the base requirements, lessee...10 levels of Wizard (necromancer) and 10 levels of Ur-Priest, and 5 levels of...hmmmm....have to think about that a bit.Step 3 - BBEG Henchman - Moving on, the party cannot reasonably expect to go up against this guy in actual combat for quite some time, as such, we need lieutenants to carry out his will. We'll stick to generics for now, and start with a martial bad guy. Big, ugly, and feared throughout the land. I'm thinking about 15th level or so. Multiclassed Barbarian/Fighter/Warrior of Darkness (BoVD). His "apprentice" and leader of the cult's day to day operations will be a Mystic Theurge of eqivalent level. They, in turn, will each have a sub-lieutenant. THESE "subs" will be the initial BBEG's the party chips away at. They will be somewhere around 7-10th level, and be pretty nasty pieces of work by themselves.
This concludes the first part of this article. I will be revisiting this in the near future, and continuing on until we meet the party for the first time as a bunch of ignorant bumpkins hanging out in a tavern.