Monday, January 25, 2016

Ecology of the Grick

Coiled beneath the stones and brush, it waits. It hears voices approaching - high-pitched, playful voices. Voices it recognizes as younglings from the community down the river. It opens its beak, pointed tongue running along the edge of its sharp lips. It knows it is in a bad position to strike, but cannot risk moving now, as the voices are close now, and would hear the stones above it shifting. It feels excitement welling - it hasn't eaten in a week, since eating the meat off the bones of a deer, and fresh man-meat is always preferable to deer. The voices are only a few feet away now, voices filled with joy and glee, unaware of what lies beneath the stones they play atop...


Gricks are large, serpentine monsters that prey on animals and humanoids that are weaker than they. Most grow so large that they become the dominant predator in their small range, easily attacking, killing, and consuming the smaller animals around. Though they mostly live underground, a few live and prey in areas of dense foliage or other areas that provide adequate cover for their preferred hunting method, which is hiding in wait until the perfect moment to strike.


"There's slime everywhere," came Dane's squeaky voice. Sal entered the small cave - barely more than a depression in the hillside. It was dark inside, but he wasn't scared. He'd been in darker places. He worked his way down the slight descent, kicking some loose pebbles ahead of him. The ceiling was very low, so low he had to crouch.

After about ten feet, it opened up into a larger space, and Sal ran into Dane. His friend was crouched over a pile of animal bones on the ground, which had a slick, slightly gooey look to them. He looked around - the cave was not very large. Just a pile of rocks within arms' reach to his left, and a depression to his right with a bunch of leaves - almost like a nest.

What kind of animal do you think this was?" Dane asked, dragging a stick through the clutter of bones, scattering them slightly. The light from the opening showed Sal that some of the goo was now on Dane's stick. "Think it was a deer?" Dane asked.

"I don't know," Sal responded, then turned to his left. He thought he had heard the stones shift, just a low clicking sound, like a rock bounding off another. He peered at the pile of stone, looking concernedly at the dark spaces between the larger rocks. Was something moving there?

"I don't know," he repeated. "Let's just get out of here." He turned to climb back up the path. He heard Dane shift behind him. Then he heard rocks begin to fall...

It's not hard to figure out why people think that gricks are some sort of snake or worm. Their serpentine bodies, seen from either afar, very much resemble a thick, coiled constrictor or large worm. However, as it turns out, and you will see, they are actually much more related to mollusks - in particular, cephalopods - than either reptiles or anything we understand as a "worm."

The general (visible) shape of a grick is known for three distinct features - the tentacles, the beak, and the "tail." Let's start at the top.

A grick has four tentacles, spaced evenly around its beak. The tentacles have sharp, serrated hooks at the tip, and are covered on the underside by two rows of sucker. While in a state of rest, the four tentacles fold together neatly, completely hiding the beak within. In this position, the grick looks like one, long form, thus giving way to people believing they are worms.

In the center of the tentacles is a sharp, powerful beak. Similar to a squid, the beak is hooked and downward-pointing, and can make gaping wounds in flesh.

Though the beak and tentacles area are often pointed forward, and are used in the grick's consumption of food, the creature does not have a head - there is no skull and there are no eyes. Instead, we have the "tail." However, what most people refer to as a tail, is actually nothing more than an over-developed fifth tentacle, which houses the grick's digestive and reproductive system.

This tail is much thicker than the other four tentacles, and instead of being covered on the bottom side by suckers, instead is covered by a fine, almost invisible lair of cilia. These cilia both aid the grick in movement (allowing it to climb walls and ceilings), and are also the primary sensory organs for the creature. The grick uses these cilia to smell the air around it, informing it of prey or predators in the immediate area. They also sense temperature, allowing the grick to move safely through its environment. The cilia have tiny pores on them that secrete a benign slime to aid in the grick's movement along the ground.

The base of the tail has two important features. The first is a clump of very small, serrated blades, which the grick may use as a weapon (though it is typically much too slow to be very effective). The second is a small slit, running parallel with the length of its body, which houses the grick's waste excretion parts, as well as its reproductive organs. Grick males and females have distinctive reproductive differences, but to the outside observer, it is impossible to tell them apart.

Overall, gricks tend toward earth tones in colorization - browns, grays, and greens being the most common. This helps them blend in to their favored hiding spots for ambush. The underside of all five tentacles tends to be a paler shade of whatever color the grick's body is. The beak is typically brighter, sometimes orange or red, or at least a reddish-brown.

At birth, from the egg, gricklings are very small. Coiled within the egg and for the first several days of the grick's life, it is only three to five inches long. At early stages, all five of the tentacles are an equal size and length, though the fifth "tail" outgrows the other four very quickly. Within a year, the grick is two feet long, and within three years, is fully grown at five to seven feet long.

Behavior and Social Interactions

It heard the obvious sounds of animals and man-creatures retreating. It knew it was time to strike, or it would miss its opportunity. It shifted its massive bulk, uncoiling, flexing its powerful muscles. Stones rolled off the top of it, clattering to the hard ground, and it lifted its front end, spreading its tentacles wide, revealing its sharp beak.

One of the man-things was very close, stupidly frozen in fear. It lifted itself up to be level with the head of the child, feeling the warm temperature, sensing the stinky, fearful sweat that it craved. It opened its mouth, stretching wide, and surged forward - not swiftly, but fast enough. The child was just starting to scream when it felt its sharp tentacles sink into tender flesh...

Gricks are solitary creatures for most of their life. After birth, the brood will be fed by the mother grick a diet of worms, bugs, small rodents and birds. These animals will already be dead, as the grick is too small at first to kill its own prey. Out of the four to six gricklings born usually only two at most will survive. These two will eventually feed on the rest of the gricklings that did not make it.

At around six months, gricks will leave their mother and find their own territory. Usually, for the first year or so on their own, they are no more than a few miles from the mother grick. In fact, they will often scavenge the mother's prey if they are having a hard time finding their own. However, by the time they are full-grown, they are often the apex predator in their region, and have to find larger hunting grounds away from other gricks.

Most of a grick's life is spent coiled beneath branches or rocks, awaiting prey. They are ambush predators most of the time, but will willingly scavenge for food if hunting is not going well. For example, some gricks have been known to set up their lairs close to quicker predators, but those which do not consume flesh. For instance, it would not be uncommon at all for a grick to set up a site beneath a siphoning of stirges, knowing the stirges will simply drain the blood from their victims, but will leave the flesh intact for the grick to consume.

To capture their prey, gricks will rise up like a cobra, distinctly "S"-shaped, and lurch forward. They will first strike with their tentacles, using the sharp ends to flay and pierce the skin. If close enough, it will attempt to wrap the tentacles around the prey and draw it within range of its powerful beak.

Gricks are not particularly fast though, so this is usually just how it attacks if it must be seen. They much prefer to hide beneath rocks, or on ceilings, and grab, stab, slice, and bite their potential prey from concealment.

The grick's tail blade may be used as a weapon in certain circumstances, but it is slow and sluggish, and mostly used only as a last resort.


Sal led the five town guardsmen and his father back to the cave. The guardsmen went in first, brandishing torches and swords. His dad put his hand on Sal's shoulder and squeezed. After a few minutes, Rane, the leader of the guards, came back up, casting his eyes downward. He took a deep breath then looked up at Sal's dad, and gave a slight nod. Sal felt his lip trembling, and his father held him as he sobbed.

Their procession back into town was solem - five guardsmen on horses, Sal riding with his father, and a seventh horse laden with a covered shape. There had been no sign of the monster. It must have moved on.

In very rare instances, gricks will have more than the four front-facing tentacles. Some adventurers have reported up to ten tentacles, though this is likely an exaggeration. The highest number of tentacles documented by scientists and specialists is six.

Less rare, but much more terrifying, are the monstrous grick alphas, which can easily grow to fifteen feet long. These monsters are almost always the apex predator in their area, destroying any competition with ease. Many a campaigner has has met his match fending off a grick alpha's five-foot long tentacles.

DM's Toolkit

Gricks make great low-level encounters, and can fit into just about any type of wilderness or dungeon setting. Because they will often form symbiotic relationships with other, speedier (and/or more intelligent) creatures, they are suitable to be used for several types of encounters. Here are a few examples:

  • A grick lays low in a small hillside cave, beneath a copse of trees where a half dozen stirges live. The grick eats the remains after the stirges drain the blood of victims.
  • A small tribe of grimlocks, knowing the existence of a local grick, have set up several traps to lure adventurers away from their lair and to the grick.
  • An ogre mage keeps a grick in a pit inside his lair - he feeds disobedient minions, as well as prisoners, to the grick to show who's boss.

Make use of the gricks' ability to hang off walls and ceilings. There is little more terrifying to a group of already-frightened adventurers, deep in a dark cave, than something attacking them unseen from above.

This post is also posted to the "Ecology Project!" on the DnDBehindTheScreen subreddit.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Wasting Wael

An area in my campaign setting.  My own derivation of Lovecraft's 'Blasted Heath.'

In the middle of a field of stone and dirt, on the outskirts of a once-green forest, is a decaying cavity in the earth. Shaped like a bowl, with a rim slightly taller than the surrounding flat land, it is over three hundred feet deep in the center and over a thousand feet wide at the edges.

The ground and dirt in the bowl, and spreading up to half a mile away in all directions, is sickly gray. No vegetation grows in this radius, and outside of the radius for up to three miles, all plants take on unnatural hues. The forest slightly to the north decays - the leaves on the trees die as they sprout, covered in red and yellow pulsing veins. The trunks bubble a viscous brownish-orange fluid from rotting hollows, vomiting their putrid filth from within.

No animals live within five miles of the crater, and no humanoid settlements have been attempted for centuries, despite the close proximity to caverns with skarns of magi-precious gems such as malachite and andradite.

None know when the hole in the earth was formed, or from where it came. Its origin is a mystery to all who are alive today, perhaps save the eldest Aedryn or Urshael. It has existed since Vaarol, the Orchid Realm, was nothing more than a fishing village along the edge of the Tare, back when the Tare flowed mighty from the jagged peaks of the Kholdera Mountains, instead of in the muddy trickle it is known for today. It has been known of since before the Aedryn and the Urshael retreated beyond the Kholdera Mountains, so though many a crooked-toothed old man will say the hole was left by those mythic creatures as a penance or weapon against the humans, those who have ever bothered reading a book know it not to be so.

Some sages who have studied the hole (which is known in the scholarly world as the Wasting Wael) have found evidence that the walls of the depression were blown outwards, as though a magical explosion beneath the surface of the ground caused the crater. Others say there is clear sign that this is nothing more than the location of a fallen star, and that there is plenty of evidence that meteors and their like have many times landed across the planet in much the same way.

Other more fantastical explanations describe the hole as having been scooped out by the giant hands of some ancient, primordial titan, who even now slumbers beneath the land. Still others believe there is proof that the hole is getting deeper (this is not the case), and that the very earth itself is melting in this poisonous recess.

Whatever the reason for its existence, there is very little to explain the deadly effects of the toxic soil all around. Soil so toxic that travelers have said their very boots have deteriorated on their feet, and horses have fallen lame while traversing the land around it. Birds go out of their way to fly circles around the Wael, and no animal familiar with the area walks across the gray, rotten loam.

Effects, Gaming

Any living creature that spends more than four hours on the dirt of the contaminated area (basically anything within a five mile radius of the hole) must roll a save vs poison/fortitude (Very Hard DC if applicable). Anyone who fails immediately begins to waste. The first signs of this are their extremities begin to ache, followed by turning gray within 1d4+4 hours. Saves are made every 2 hours after the initial, with the DC increasing by 2 every time. After the 1d4+4 hours, the wasting is at a point of no return, which may only be cured by a high level priest casting Remove Curse, Remove Disease, both at Extremely Difficult DCs (30 for 5E). During this time, the being loses 1 point of Constitution and 1d4hp every hour, until either Con is 0 (in which case, the being dies and decomposes into a mess of gray goo), or hp is 0 (in which case, the being dies and becomes a Waelwraith).

All DCs are increased by 5 if for some reason, the unlucky creature was within a mile of the center.


Several days after dying of the wasting sickness, the creature may return as a Waelwraith, a special undead. These undead will haunt the place where they died, attacking violently anyone who comes within a dozen paces of their death spot.


ooks like a shriveled, gray version of the creature who died. Hair falls out soon after rising, and the extremities of the skin rot off soon after.

HD 5 (hp 20 - 25), Defense - as leather, choking 1d6/round, Special: centered on Waelwraith, 5' radius, aura of wasting. Save poison/fort DC 15 or take 1d4hp & 1d4-2 Con damage/round until successful Remove Curse at DC 20. 0 Con or hp is just death, no rising as another Waelwraith.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Review - Deep Carbon Observatory, by Patrick Stuart

I am a little late to the party on this one. I purchased this module based on Bryce Lynch's review. I’ve read straight through it multiple times now, like a favorite novel. I ordered the physical copy as well as the digital - while awaiting the physical copy, I read the pdf on my phone, on my kindle, on my Nexus, and on my laptop. Then when the book arrived, I took it on vacation and read it multiple times. I just can’t stop reading it. It’s like traditional fantasy D&D meets Lovecraft meets Lewis and Clark meets the most epicly-worded-yet-simply-spun beautiful prose I’ve ever read in my life.

This module was written by one Patrick Stuart, an RPG blogger who is part of the OSR movement, and also has some fascinating analysis and breakdowns of Malory's "Le Morte d'Arthur." Stuart has a way with words that I find captivating, engrossing, possibly even spellbinding. Seriously, when I said before that I can't stop reading the book, I meant that.

Just as important to Stuart's writing, is the art. Scrap Princess is an artist like no other, whose chicken-scratching-angry-minimalistic style is the perfect fit for the book.

So first things first, this adventure is HUGE. I don't mean long, and I don't mean it's a megadungeon (though it is a very big dungeon) - I mean that the adventure states and implies an entire world, even universe, to set your setting in. This is not so much necessarily an adventure, as it is a campaign starter. It is a way to set the mood and tone of everything that will come. There is so much insinuated backstory in the People of the Reeds and their dead kings. There is an entire ecology never before explored, that of the newly-drowned-and-recently-drained lands, filled with cuttlefish, eels, giant crabs, and their predators and prey. There is a history and story of the underworld unlike anything I've ever read.

And then even when you're done with just the material, just the text of the adventure, Stuart supplies a timeline that hints at a future, both dark and magnificent, and filled with adventure possibilities. This basic timeline that ends the book (in a chapter titled, "In Case of Speak With Dead," which by itself has so many hints and suggestions as to the mood and timbre of the adventure - Stuart is saying, "We're not supplying the PCs with ANYTHING, but if they're smart enough to try to talk to the dead drow on the pedestal, they may learn something useful.") provides immediate followup story ideas, as well as a drawn-out diagram of Things To Come. And these things will happen if the PCs don't follow up on them, or if someone doesn't rise to stop them. Or maybe they'll happen anyway. Either way, there's a lot to do after this adventure.

The story does not present itself in the traditional way of adventures. Most adventures have PCs going from point A to point B, rounding up clues, and those clues will lead them to point C, and so on and so forth. In most published adventures, the stories are second to the action, and usually wouldn't even exist without combat in between the scenes. NPCs exist for the purpose of aiding the PCs, and story elements are introduced just to move the PCs along. This is not the way of Deep Carbon Observatory.

Instead, we (the players AND the GM) are fed the story one little piece at a time. All we (the players AND the GM) know at the start is that there is smoke to the north, and the town of Carrowmere has been recently and drastically flooded. How did it happen? Who or what is responsible? And what does it mean? These things we slowly piece together over the 90-ish pages of the adventure, and even in the end, a lot is left to the imagination.

The way that NPCs are presented in the beginning is more like a dozen little scenelets, than just a list of people to interact with. They are set up is in horizontal rows, each row with three scenes, which then lead to new scenes. Stuart recommends giving each row only d4 minutes before moving one. This means The PCs cannot save or even talk to everyone. The world keeps moving. Each scene happens whether or not the PCs interact with it, and most of what's happening is dark, sad, and leaves little hope for the people of Carrowmere. For example, this is one of the first opportunities PCs have to interact with the people of Carrowmere:

A petty cleric clutching a floating log shouts ‘all is lost’. Selminimum Tem is the only survivor of his village. He has the key to the church. He will drown soon.

This says all the PCs need to know on whether or not they will act on the scene. Maybe they don't care about one drowning man (especially when there are multiple drowning children nearby?), or maybe they just cannot get to him in time. Either way, he will drown soon. Beautiful.

This brings me to my favorite part of the entire adventure, which I briefly mentioned in my introduction - the prose. Stuart's writing is lovely. It is filled with a dark, morbid simplicity, with little embellishment. Not that he needs it. His descriptions say not only everything that needs to be said about a scene, without cluttering the book with superfluous text, but also approach a sort of literary beauty in their directness. Take this, from a possible encounter about halfway through the adventure:

The Roc Bridge The Roc’s bowed wings make a beautiful but alien bridge across the churning water. The body of the bird twitches slightly, devoured by whatever lies beneath. Looking down, you see leeches, sized like men, feeding on the bird. Not yet fully dead its head lolls half sunken and gasps. The ‘bridge’ will be consumed in d4 hours. It may be possible to save the Roc. It will not be grateful if you do.

"It will not be grateful if you do." Will the bird attack, in death-approaching delirium? Will it scream in pain, cursing the PCs for "helping" it? Will it die in agonized silence, its large eyes fading, yet staring balefully at its would-be saviors? We don't know. It's an option the PCs have, they can attempt to save, or they can simply use the roc as a bridge, quickly thereafter forgetting about the life of a creature they used as nothing but utility.

In fact, the entire adventure has that same mournful quality to it, which is fitting both due to the disaster that has recently rocked the region, as well as Stuart's typical writing style.

The module is great. I have only one real criticism, and I'm not bringing anything new to the table here, but the maps leave a lot to be desired. The final dungeon has a relatively complicated layout, and while stylistically, the drawing of the observatory is a perfect fit, practically, it makes it very hard to tell where to go and what leads where. The same can be said for the region maps as well. The two outdoor maps work well enough (though a slight bit more detail would be nice), but the map of the dam is pretty hard to follow, and some of the descriptions in the text don't quite seem to match up.

Either way, this is a module everyone should at least read, and many people should play. It is well worth your time to do both. And in doing so, you'll contribute back to the community and people like Patrick and Scrap to continue doing what not only they love, but what the RPG community needs.

Purchase it here

Friday, January 1, 2016

Let's Talk About Your Favorite BBEG

As a GM, what/who is your favorite BBEG you've ever created? That did the BBEG do that made it so interesting? And how did the players feel/react? Here's mine.

This post was originally posted to the DnDBehindTheScreen subreddit, which, if you are interested in gaming and/or are a GM, of any edition, you should check out.

Let me tell you a little story about Hogarth

Such an unassuming name - Hogarth. Hogarth was a druid who joined a group I was GMing. The player had an awesomely simple and hilarious backstory for Hogarth.

Hogarth's Backstory

Hogarth had been raised by his wealthy aristocratic parents to only cherish money and material gains. When he was a young man however, he met a druid who showed him how to become one with nature. This led to Hogarth pursuing druidism. As he grew older and more powerful, he was always looking for a way to contribute back to society. After his parents died, he spent his entire inheritance building a weather station atop a local mountain, hoping to learn more about the storms that supernaturally plagued the region. Unfortunately, the day after he was done building, lightning struck his station and burned it to the ground. Without a penny to his name, and being laughed out of his town for pursuing such foolishness to begin with, he traveled around for awhile, offering his services to mercenaries in exchange for enough money to buy him food and booze. Eventually, he met up with the other PCs' characters and somewhat befriended them and rolled with them for awhile.

However, around level eight after many adventures, the player began to have doubts that Hogarth would stick with these other characters. After all, they were traveling deep into forests to seek out fortunes in ruins, killing monsters along the way. While they were mostly good, they were definitely reckless.

Hogarth's Retirement

The player decided that Hogarth would retire, and with my permission (and with his agreement that I could use Hogarth as an NPC to my own ends) he rolled up a new character. We role-played everyone parting ways, with a particularly emotional goodbye between Hogarth and the party's gnomish rogue, Fizly, who had developed a friendship.

For many adventures afterward, anytime they came back to that town, they would find Hogarth in the bar, drinking. He always seemed more depressed, and the gnome's player even spent an entire session one night trying to find a way to help Hogarth, to no avail.

Then, one day while visiting the town, they couldn't find Hogarth. No one in town knew where he'd gone, and quite frankly, no one even missed him, making the gnome even sadder. However, after a few more sessions, they eventually stopped looking for him, assuming he'd found another town in which to drown his sorrows. Occasionally Fizly, upon entering a new town, would ask around, hoping to stumble across Hogarth, but he never did.

Rumors, Reports, and Rumblings of Hogarth

Over the course of several months (and several levels), the PCs' characters began to hear rumors about odd occurrences, mostly in places they had been before. It started as an odd message they received - a caravan runner the characters had helped before had recently perished when several of his wagons sank into an unusually deep mud hole on the main path between two cities. Another rumor involved a small village the characters had once saved from Kuo-Toa - the river next to the village had overflowed, killing dozens of people in the village. Then a monastery on the side of a mountain, which the characters had frequented many times in the past for healing and advice, was buried in an avalanche.

After that third occurrence, the characters finally decided they needed to check on things. At the site of the monastery, they spoke with several of the monk survivors, and learned that the day before the avalanche, a mysterious man visited. The description of the man sounded a lot like Hogarth, but the monks said he was dark and grim, and nothing like what the characters remembered.

The party spent a few weeks and sessions trying to find Hogarth. Finally, they tracked him to some old ruins in an ancient forest. They confronted him and tried to appeal to his better side, and attempted to learn why he was doing this. Hogarth revealed that after witnessing the utter lack of balance in all the characters' actions, he must rectify their inequities. Their pleas to Hogarth fell on deaf ears, and after tensions rose, the characters felt they had no better options other than to bring Hogarth down through combat, and hopefully imprison him until he came to his senses.

Hogarth was able to escape however, leaving behind no clues about his plans.

Hogarth disappeared for awhile, leaving the characters in darkness. They continued their adventures, always keeping an ear to the ground for the druid's next move.

After awhile they finally found a clue to Hogarth's final plans. They discovered Hogarth's hovel, where he had lived in the intervening time between his retirement and his latest actions. Inside, the walls were covered in ancient proverbs about a Chosen One becoming One with Nature and turning the world back into a pristine land such as the lands upon which the Goddess once walked. One word was written over and over again: "Fahr'Koher."

The characters spoke with some of the wisest people they knew, and found out that the "Fahr'Koher" was an ancient, celestial word for "Primaeval," and was a ritual, performed by the Goddess only once in the history of the planet. It was used when the people of the world had begun to sin so much, and spread so far, and destroy so much, that the only way for the planet to survive was to wipe off the existence of all civilizations and start over. The Goddess had used the ritual to create massive floods, volcanic eruptions, and other natural disasters that had destroyed all of mankind, and over the course of a year, had regrown all the forests of the land, leaving no trace of the people who had once lived in the world. The only reason the ritual is even known is because the Goddess had passed down the word through a select few, those she determined were Chosen, so that they could protect the world and keep such a thing from needing to happen again.

Now the group knew what Hogarth's plan was. He was going to attempt to perform the Primaeval, and reset the lands back to the way they had been before humanity had settled. Millions would die. They knew what they had to do.

Hogarth's Reckoning

About this time, they heard the dire news that their hometown and home base was being attacked by an army of trolls. They rushed back to defend, fighting trolls and even giants, and discovered that the army had been brainwashed and sent there by Hogarth as a distraction. Meanwhile, Hogarth was beginning the ritual. At the apex of the full moon, the very next night, the ritual would be complete.

They were able to determine Hogarth was casting the ritual on top of a small mountain surrounded by forest. They prepared and rushed to save the day. The very trees of the forest were against them, blocking their path, with treants guarding every possible path. At the top of the mountain, Hogarth performed his ritual, surrounded by dire bears and vine dragons. The party went to work, trying to get close to Hogarth, but his guards were too powerful to just ignore. Finally, after half a night of combat, with Hogarth only minutes away from completing the ritual, the last of the guardians was slain and the group confronted Hogarth.

Hogarth was prepared, however, and created a tempest around himself, flinging fire, lightning, and wind. The group attacked, seeing no other way, using their most powerful magics. The battle was fierce, leveling much of the forest around them. Hogarth showed no sign of slowing down, and the group was running out of resources.

Finally, when it seemed as though Hogarth was just about to gain the upper hand, Fizly the gnome, who had been a friend to Hogarth, was able to use stealth and backstab Hogarth, bringing the druid to his knees, and ending the ritual. The moon passed its zenith, and below, Hogarth died in Fizly's arms, with the rest of the party looking on.

We completed the campaign shortly thereafter, and all of us still play together, but to this day, we still reminiscence about that last confrontation, and the epicness of the battle, and the awesomeness of the role playing from all the group as they defeated their old friend.

That's it. That's my favorite. The BBEG had everything that was needed to make the campaign one of the best our group has ever played - he had a goal, agenda, and reason for doing what he was doing. He had the power and the motivations to accomplish his ends. And most of all, he had an emotional resonance with the party that I've never been able to match with any other BBEG's I've created.