What are the necessary attributes of the Nentir Vale Setting

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What are the necessary attributes of the Nentir Vale Setting

Post by DMSamuel » Mon Jan 28, 2019 4:53 am

So I was reading the thread about the Heroes of the Vale actual play series and this particular comment caught my eye:
Tim Baker wrote:
Sun Jan 27, 2019 7:49 am
Now that the campaign is moving to its next phase, I'm interested to see if the setting feels more like the Nentir Vale, rather than a more generic D&D setting. Other than dropping a few Nentir Vale location and deity names, the series hasn't taken advantage of its setting. Still, these are still early episodes, so I hope to see that change given a bit more time.
In particular - "the series hasn't taken advantage of its setting" - has me interested. So I thought I would start a new thread to see what sort of answers I would get to this question:

What elements are integral to the Nentir Vale? In other words - what parts/aspects/pieces/attributes of the setting are necessary in a game to make it to feel like it is taking place in the Nentir Vale as opposed to just some generic/random fantasy setting?




**Full disclosure: I am working on a !!secret project!! and your answers will help me make some important choices.
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Re: What are the necessary attributes of the Nentir Vale Setting

Post by Big Mac » Mon Jan 28, 2019 8:39 am

DMSamuel wrote:
Mon Jan 28, 2019 4:53 am
What elements are integral to the Nentir Vale? In other words - what parts/aspects/pieces/attributes of the setting are necessary in a game to make it to feel like it is taking place in the Nentir Vale as opposed to just some generic/random fantasy setting?
That's an interesting question, that is slightly complicated by a few things:
  • An area on the same world as Nentir Vale was designed during the 3rd Edition Era. (I hear it was originally supposed to be part of Forgotten Realms.) See the Red Hand of Doom in DMs Guild's Nentir Vale category. So Nentir Vale's roots are in the 3rd Edition Era.
  • 4th Edition was originally designed to have a built in campaign setting. Then Richard Baker got asked to remove the setting. Then he got asked to put it back. It ended up being referred to as "Points of Light" and WotC never designed a Nentir Vale logo to put on products based in Nentir Vale. So that might have diluted some of the original themes that Richard Baker wanted to add to the campaign setting. (There are probably even some Points of Light fans who never bought into Nentir Vale and who created their own worlds - worlds that would share some of Nentir Vale's unique selling points.)
  • Wizards of the Coast brought back some of the most popular pre-4th Edition adventures and rebooted the locations in those adventures as part of their "core" 4th Edition products. See my is there a list of raided elements? topic for my early attempts to work out what was raided from where.
  • WotC announced a series of gazetteers to flesh out Nentir Vale and the rest of Nerath...but then pulled the plug on Nentir Vale.
So there is a lot of behind the scenes stuff going on that got in the way of Nentir Vale getting as much detail as it could have.

But, despite it having roots in the 3rd Edition Era, I think some of the most important unique selling points of Nentir Vale are the ability to have a context for the Points of Light themes of 4th Edition. While some folks complained about changes to the 4th Edition Realms, Nentir Vale presents those 4e themes in a new light.

EDIT: (I had to get off the bus. ;) ) Zeromaru X is your best hope for finding the properties unique to Nentir Vale. He has spent a long time trawling through 4th Edition books and identifying references to Nentir Vale that are scattered around.

If you want to look at some of the borrowed locations, to see how they differ from how they were used in Mystara or Greyhawk (or any other source that was raided from), you might want to start individual topics for the specific locations. I think these borrowed locations are probably the places that are most likely to make Nentir Vale feel similar to earlier D&D settings. So the exact differences between the Nentir Vale version and the previous version might be something that helps you to work out how to give those locations a Nentir Vale vibe.
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Re: What are the necessary attributes of the Nentir Vale Setting

Post by DMSamuel » Mon Jan 28, 2019 1:59 pm

Thanks for your answer! However, I think you have misunderstood my question. I am already well versed in the history and themes in the Nentir Vale setting - it's one of my favorite settings! I also know about the Elsir Vale and the map and connections in The Conquest of Nerath.

My question is: What elements/aspects of the setting are necessary in a game to make it to make YOU feel like it is taking place in the Nentir Vale as opposed to just some generic/random fantasy setting?

That is, what is important enough that it MUST be in the game for YOU to recognize that it is the Nentir Vale? I mean the general you and am hoping for a variety of answers from different people.

I mean this in a similar manner to someone saying: THIS must be there for a game to feel like D&D, or THIS must be there for me to know it is taking place in Athas, or THIS must be there for me to know that I am playing GAME X, or THIS is necessary for this movie to be a SUPERHERO show. I know it is subjective, and that is what I want to know. I want to know how people conceive of the Nentir Vale and what about it makes it THE Nentir Vale?
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Re: What are the necessary attributes of the Nentir Vale Setting

Post by Tim Baker » Mon Jan 28, 2019 9:55 pm

DMSamuel wrote:
Mon Jan 28, 2019 1:59 pm
My question is: What elements/aspects of the setting are necessary in a game to make it to make YOU feel like it is taking place in the Nentir Vale as opposed to just some generic/random fantasy setting?

That is, what is important enough that it MUST be in the game for YOU to recognize that it is the Nentir Vale? I mean the general you and am hoping for a variety of answers from different people.

I mean this in a similar manner to someone saying: THIS must be there for a game to feel like D&D, or THIS must be there for me to know it is taking place in Athas, or THIS must be there for me to know that I am playing GAME X, or THIS is necessary for this movie to be a SUPERHERO show. I know it is subjective, and that is what I want to know. I want to know how people conceive of the Nentir Vale and what about it makes it THE Nentir Vale?
To quickly establish that a campaign is taking place in the Nentir Vale, as opposed to the Realms or Greyhawk or another D&D setting, I would start with the history of the dragonborn and tieflings in the setting. Giving these races ancient empires that warred with one another is an interesting twist, and makes the races immediately feel like part of the world, as opposed to running the risk of making them appear bolted on later.

The nature of the planes (or at least the way the planes are thought about and categorized by the locals) is different from the Great Wheel cosmology. Things like the elemental chaos gives the setting a different feel.

The nature of psionics being a way of the material plane protecting the multiverse from the Far Realm and its aberrations is also a cool explanation, and influences the presence of the Shardmind race.

Speaking of races, Nentir Vale includes several unusual/rare races. Tying this back to the Heroes of the Vale actual play, the choice to include an aarakocra PC when there are races like wilden or fairies in the Nentir Vale was a missed opportunity.

The Feywild and Shadowfell, while they have their roots in previous settings and editions, were clarified in a way that was unique to Nentir Vale (at least at the time of 4e's launch). The Raven Queen in particular stands out as a memorable deity due to her ties to the Shadowfell.

The eladrin were presented as essentially high elves cranked up to 11 in 4e. The eladrin PC in Heroes of the Vale is presented in a different way than the way they're depicted in materials like the Nentir Vale comic book series, and thus doesn't really feel like he's representing this particular setting.

Those are some initial thoughts. I'd love to hear what others chime in and share. Thanks for starting the topic. I'm in interested to hear your own view, too.

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Re: What are the necessary attributes of the Nentir Vale Setting

Post by DMSamuel » Tue Jan 29, 2019 10:08 pm

Tim Baker wrote:
Mon Jan 28, 2019 9:55 pm
Those are some initial thoughts. I'd love to hear what others chime in and share. Thanks for starting the topic. I'm in interested to hear your own view, too.
Thanks! Well, I think there are lots of interesting elements to the Nentir Vale! Here is a short list...

1) Empire Lore: I agree that the Dragonborn / Tiefling lore is very rich and can make for an extremely interesting backdrop to a campaign. Dythan's Legion is a great NPC group to foil or help the party and the lore around Arkhosia is discoverable during play. Even the ancient lore of the Minotaurs can be exploited for a great addition to a campaign - Saruun Khel is a very cool place that can be easily expanded. Even the undead have temples and 'kingdoms' - Andok Sur being a necropolis, and the White Kingdom of the Ghouls are easily integrated into a campaign because they are an explicit part of the setting.

2) Planes: Another thing you also mentioned... The Shadowfell and Feywild - love these, and a Nentir campaign would not feel like a Vale game without them. But it would have to be the 4e version of the Shadowfell, with the Raven Queen in Letherna, presiding over the souls of the deceased... not the 5e version of the Raven Queen who is a memory stealer (or whatever). Also, the shadowfell is a very dangerous place and is a place to be feared and protected against, and so is the Feywild - they are both encroaching on or leaking into the mortal plane always, and that is very rich for exploration even if you don't play a published adventure.

3) Treant Conflict: Another lore piece I love concerns the treants of the Winterbole and Harken forests - they are at war, each group has its own desires and attitudes, and they make their own alliances. It is delicious how much cool stuff can be done with this lore.

4) Deities: The Raven Queen & Torog were both new for 4e and created with the Nentir Vale in mind, so they are really enmeshed in the setting. I mentioned the Raven Queen above... Torog is integral to how the Underdark works in the Vale and also provides an alternate lore to the Drow and Lolth. I think it quite fits the dark elves and their queen in the setting, and makes it different from the other D&D settings that contain a Drow race and an Underdark.

5) The Dawn War Lore: The Primordials vs the Gods and the way that played out and how it affects the gods' abilities to influence mortal actions on the material plane is different from other settings. Angels acted as soldiers in the Dawn War and have no alignment restriction, and so are not necessarily the benevolent miracle granting angels that people usually associate with the word angel since they can be neutral or evil. Also, they are formed of the astral sea, so a huge number of connections can be made between them and pretty much anything else that is associated with the astral plane.

6) Psionic Lore: I like the history and backstory of the Living Gate keeping out creatures from the Far realm, until it is broken... and the idea of Psionic powers originating to be protective of the material plane, whether psionic power is actually from the Far Realm or not doesn't really matter - right now it keeps the Far Realm at bay, and that is what is important. I like the idea that Psionic powers and abilities have a different type of origin than divine and arcane.

7) Interesting Races: you brought up the Eladrin, which I think didn't get a great a reception as the designers expected, so they didn't provide much support for the race, which is a missed opportunity. These aren't new to 4e D&D or the Nentir Vale, but I think they could have been really integral to the setting if they had been used more. I wanted a whole series of small paperback race books like the Dragonborn and Tiefling ones they created. Of course - I can't leave out the Shardmind and the Wilden when talking about new races in the Vale. These two completely alien, bizarre races have cool motivations and backstory lore that sets the Nentir Vale apart from other generic fantasy settings. I also really dig the way they introduced the Shifters, even though I know that race was originally from 3rd edition Eberron, they are different in the Vale and they make sense in the setting.

8) Demonic Origins: I like that the demons in the Nentir Vale are actually elemntal in nature due to the Elemental Chaos and the way the planes work. I suppose that should go in #2, but eh, I think it deserves it's own entry.

9) Degree of Open-ness: The Points of Light idea of the entire area is also ripe for exploration - there are no kings and queens, there are just smaller ruling families and some merchants vying to gain or re-gain power. It makes the Vale open for many different types of campaigns: Do you want to have your party establish a kingdom? Do you want to have your party loot ancient temples and castles? Do you want your party to be local heroes and save the peasant class from an upcoming tyrant? Establish a different system of government than the typical feudal one we normally associate with fantasy? All of those are easy to do in the Vale.

---

Now the question I have to ask is... how much of what I just listed is NECESSARY to feel like a game in Nentir Vale? I'll have to ruminate on it for a while and then come back and write a short list.
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Re: What are the necessary attributes of the Nentir Vale Setting

Post by Zeromaru X » Tue Jan 29, 2019 11:35 pm

Big Mac wrote:
Mon Jan 28, 2019 8:39 am
  • An area on the same world as Nentir Vale was designed during the 3rd Edition Era. (I hear it was originally supposed to be part of Forgotten Realms.) See the Red Hand of Doom in DMs Guild's Nentir Vale category. So Nentir Vale's roots are in the 3rd Edition Era.
Curiously enough, Nentir Vale was originally conceived to be part of the Forgotten Realms before it became its own thing, according to Chris Perkins.

So, on topic. Adding to what Tim and DM Samuel have said (that I wholeheartedly support), these are my opinions. I’m going to apologize beforehand; this will be a large post.

What are the integral elements of a Nentir Vale campaign? Or, in other words, what makes the Nentir Vale’s World unique when compared with the other D&D worlds?

The first thing to take into a account is that the current year of a Nentir Vale campaign starts 100 years after the fall of Nerath, in a point of time between the last great war of the age, that destroyed an empire that controlled all of the known world, and the rise of the next world-spanning power, which might be centuries away. And that means that in some sense, the Nentir Vale’s World is a world in decline. I’m not going to say that is on the same level of “dark” as Dark Sun is, but is a dark world. And a DM who really wants to express the essence of the Nentir Vale in his or her campaign needs to emphasize on that.

In the Nentir Vale’s World there is no such thing as “The Kingdom”, unlike in the classical D&D worlds. There is no Waterdeep and its Lords’ Alliance, or any other forces with enough power to enforce their laws in the land and that would save the world when the next orc horde attacks or that will maintain in check The Evil Kingdom™, thus allowing for a life of peace and prosperity in the smaller settlements. And if some kind of evil befalls the world, then the people of the Nentir Vale are on their own and usually on the loser’s end. I guess, Raiders of Harkenwold is a good example of this. If not for the player’s characters, Harkenwold would have been unable to deal with the Iron Circle, and possibly the entire Nentir Vale would have been conquered rather easily.

And this means that the world of the Nentir Vale is a really dangerous place. Many small settlements and strongholds are founded, flourish for a time, and then fall into darkness. The wild lands are filled with abandoned towns and outposts. The common folk look upon the wild lands with dread, and few people are widely traveled. Yeah, sure, there is a small amount of trade and travel. A civilization would fall without it. But it is limited to a few plucky merchants and some ambitious, desperate individuals in search of easy riches. And these individuals are careful to stick to the better-known roads, because the lands between settlements are wide and empty. If you stray from those roads, you’ll quickly find yourself in monster-infested wilderness.

When traveling from one place to another, the DM should emphasize in how dangerous the journey is, how things can go from hard to deadly if the party took the wrong turn in a road or went out of the way for some reason, or even if they don’t. Anything could be waiting down that old road: the old watch tower can be the lair of a monster, that lonely village along the way is under the sway of a demonic cult, or the forest near it is full of ghosts who thirst for the blood of the living. In a world without an authority to enforce the law, there is also the possibility that roads are often closed by bandits or monsters. The simple mission of driving off whomever or whatever is preying on unfortunate travelers in the roads can be an adventure on its own.

Another implication of this is that, in a world with no overarching authority and little travel (which means news travel really slow), settlements afflicted by troubles can only hope for a band of heroes to luckily arrive and set things right or they are doomed. If there is a kingdom beyond the town’s walls, it’s still largely covered by unexplored wilds full of danger. The king’s soldiers might do a passable job of keeping the lands within a few miles of his castle free of monsters and bandits, but most of the realm’s outlying towns and villages are on their own.

So, in other words, the world of the Nentir Vale is a world of “points of light in the widespread darkness”.

And these points of light, these minor kingdoms and small towns, are the last vestiges of old, mighty Nerath. In these places, people still live as they did when Nerath was whole and strong. The roads that still wind through the wilderness are Nerath roads. The outposts that protect farms and towns are Nerath outposts. The difference is that the glory and grandeur are gone. This means that the DM must create a feeling of loss and nostalgia. A lot of NPCs (specially, those of the long living races, who may have experienced Nerath in her full glory) should be talking about how things used to be better and brighter in the good old days that will not return.

And even Nerath was built on the foundations of ancient civilizations long gone, such as legendary Arkhosia and Bael Turath, among others. Those ancient empires left tell-tale signs of their majesty: scattered bits of crumbling structures dot the world, hidden by the ever-encroaching wilderness, sheltering unnamed horrors. Half-collapsed complexes, buried cities, and mysterious temples are features that can be near to the common settlements. Or those settlements maybe where built among some of those ruins. I remember a wonderfull piece of art from Worlds & Monsters were there is a common village built in Arkhosian ruins.

In the unreclaimed ruins, lost knowledge lingers and ancient magic set in motion by forgotten hands still flows in them. Ordinary folk shun these locations, fearing what might lie within. For good reason.

Another thing to take into account, and one that I feel is really important and sets the Nentir Vale apart from the other D&D settings, is that there is no such thing as 5e’s “common and uncommon races”. Yeah, perhaps the dragonborn are less numerous in the Nentir Vale region, but go down south to the Dragondown Coast and you’ll find that they outnumber elves and dwarves there. So they are by no means “rare” or “exotic” unlike in the 5e paradigm, and common folk would react to one of them as they would to an elf or a halfling.

During the time of Nerath, people learned to accept and even become fond of those different from themselves (originally this was enforced by law, according to some sources). This enlightened ideal is still widely maintained in the former lands of the Empire, even in areas where members of one race outnumber others. This means that most settlements are multi-racial, with settlements inhabited by only members of just one race being a rare exception. And also means that the 5e paradigm of "people will fear the tiefling and not talk to her because she looks like a devil" is not true in a Nentir Vale campaign. Heck, in Fallcrest tieflings are trusted shopkeepers and land owners...
Last edited by Zeromaru X on Wed Jan 30, 2019 11:46 am, edited 4 times in total.


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Re: What are the necessary attributes of the Nentir Vale Setting

Post by Tim Baker » Wed Jan 30, 2019 8:51 am

DMSamuel wrote:
Tue Jan 29, 2019 10:08 pm
Well, I think there are lots of interesting elements to the Nentir Vale! Here is a short list...
<snip>
Those are great. Glad to see our lists have so much in common. The only element I hadn't heard of is the treant war. Or maybe I just didn't remember it. What book(s) is it in?
DMSamuel wrote:
Tue Jan 29, 2019 10:08 pm
Now the question I have to ask is... how much of what I just listed is NECESSARY to feel like a game in Nentir Vale? I'll have to ruminate on it for a while and then come back and write a short list.
I think it comes down to some minimum number of the elements you mentioned, rather than a priority list. It would be overwhelming to try to include all of them in a single campaign. You could have a campaign focus on 1/3 of your list would probably be sufficient to really establish that this is the Nentir Vale and not just a generic D&D setting.

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Re: What are the necessary attributes of the Nentir Vale Setting

Post by Tim Baker » Wed Jan 30, 2019 8:52 am

Zeromaru X wrote:
Tue Jan 29, 2019 11:35 pm
Adding to what Tim and DM Samuel have said (that I wholeheartedly support), these are my opinions. I’m going to apologize beforehand; this will be a large post.
<snip>
Great list! I agree with your points.

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Re: What are the necessary attributes of the Nentir Vale Setting

Post by Zeromaru X » Wed Jan 30, 2019 11:40 am

Tim Baker wrote:
Wed Jan 30, 2019 8:51 am
Those are great. Glad to see our lists have so much in common. The only element I hadn't heard of is the treant war. Or maybe I just didn't remember it. What book(s) is it in?
Is in Threats to the Nentir Vale, described in the treant section. Is one of the most curious details of the setting, because is basically the most important war within the Vale proper and is a tree war. This war is maybe also the cause of the Harken's Heart curse, as the elves became allies of the Harken treants and went radical, forcing the master druid to stop them.

It's also related to the rest of the setting, as well. For instance, it seems the rise of Arkhosia was the cause of this war, because before there was a treant civil war, there was a dragon-treant war.

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Re: What are the necessary attributes of the Nentir Vale Setting

Post by DMSamuel » Wed Jan 30, 2019 4:09 pm

Zeromaru X wrote:
Wed Jan 30, 2019 11:40 am
Tim Baker wrote:
Wed Jan 30, 2019 8:51 am
Those are great. Glad to see our lists have so much in common. The only element I hadn't heard of is the treant war. Or maybe I just didn't remember it. What book(s) is it in?
Is in Threats to the Nentir Vale, described in the treant section. Is one of the most curious details of the setting, because is basically the most important war within the Vale proper and is a tree war. This war is maybe also the cause of the Harken's Heart curse, as the elves became allies of the Harken treants and went radical, forcing the master druid to stop them.

It's also related to the rest of the setting, as well. For instance, it seems the rise of Arkhosia was the cause of this war, because before there was a treant civil war, there was a dragon-treant war.
And also, one of the treants is the OLDEST living creature in the Vale - so this is some deep, deep history.
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Re: What are the necessary attributes of the Nentir Vale Setting

Post by Tim Baker » Thu Jan 31, 2019 8:03 am

I'm going to have to re-read that section. Thanks for pointing it out!

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Re: What are the necessary attributes of the Nentir Vale Setting

Post by willpell » Thu Jan 31, 2019 6:33 pm

I don't know anything specific to Nerath proper, but what knowledge I do have of the 4E edition revolves heavily around the unique races (Deva, Dvati, Shardmind) and classes (Warlord, Avenger, Warden) that existed primarily if not exclusively in that era. So I'd say your project should at least pay lip service to those elements, things that would require a conversion guide to play in any other edition (or you could just write said guide yourself).

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