Nentir Vale – Wouldn’t Want to Live There

The Points of Light campaign setting for D&D 4th Edition seems on its surface very generic.  I guess that was the point, as it was meant to replace Greyhawk as a setting that anyone could drop their game into without having to worry about massive backstories and over 30 years of history cluttering everything up.  They’ve also only detailed a few very small areas of the game world, so you can drop whatever you like into the world as everything outside those two or three sections are sparsely detailed at best.  There are, though, many details about the game world that make it a fun place to adventure but not somewhere I’d ever want to live.  Points of Light means exactly that.  The entire world is darkness with only a few bits of civilization.  Let’s work our way up the tiers exploring some of those features.

Outside cities and towns, it’s wilderness.  You want to go from Hammerfast to Winterhaven, even though they’re only about a week’s travel apart (give or take a couple of days depending on your method of travel), most of that is wilderness.  Sure, you can stop at Fallcrest and the Five League House for the night, but that’s only two stops out of six you’ll have to make on your trip.  There’s bandits, wandering creatures, and mobs of goblins and orcs who will waylay travelers.  So any traveler will have to have some sort of protection just to go from city to city.  Empires spread through the lands in ages past, building outposts and temples left and right.  After these empires fell, their towers and keeps fell to ruins and were taken over by the creatures that took over the wildlands between cities.  So all the things they steal from travelers are deposited there while the leaders sit in luxury with all their treasures.

Since the cities and towns are so far separated and the roads are so dangerous, they’re rarely in contact with one another and the only news from different towns comes from the rare travelers and adventurers that pass through.  News outside the local area?  Even more rare.  Towns can be overrun and cities wiped off the map by arcane misfires and no one would know for months if not years.  Your players want info on the town they’re about to go to, so they ask around.  Maybe they metagame and pick up that Hammerfast book.  Oops, that info was in a library in Fallcrest written five years before.  Since then, the dwarves and orcs had a massive war that destroyed the living city and it’s now a haven for the undead.  Or maybe a gnoll cult took over.  Oops.

So you go into one of those temples or keeps that were abandoned and kill the goblin hordes that took it over.  However, most of these buildings also had basements and dungeons built under them.  Inside those dungeons are creatures that the things that stalk the travelers don’t want anything to do with.  Slimes and molds are the least of your concerns when you have beholders, dragons, and demon cults taking up residence.  And of course, it’s exactly where adventurers want to go because that’s where the mages and clerics of empires past hid their powerful magic items and artifacts before they abandoned the outposts…or worse.

Then there’s the planes.  Sure, your character may be from the Faewild.  You might even have bloodlines from the Shadowfell.  But that’s a completely different story from actually visiting and exploring these other planes.  Rules on the Shadowfell are due out this year.  But from the looks of things, the longer you stay in the Shadowfell, the more the darkness there seeps into your soul.  And all those evil beasties you were worried about before when you went underground?  Where do you think they came from?

Oh, and it gets worse.  Sure, there’s evil demons and gods spreading their influence throughout the lands.  By the time you start getting to Epic tier, you’re going to actually start dealing directly with those evil beings.

Yeah, that’s nice and all.  But let’s go aaaaaaall the way back to Heroic tier and one of the creepiest things about the Points of Light campaign world in my opinion.  You’re a Warlock?  You’ve made a deal with the devil for your powers.  One of your fellow PCs is a Warlock?  They’ve already sold their soul, what makes you think they won’t sell yours?  And sure, that phrase is literal with Infernal and Dark Pacts and slightly more (but not quite) metaphorical with Fae pact.  But what about Star Pact?  Surely that’s got to be just kinda cool, to channel the power of the stars.  No no no no no.  That’s still a pact.  How do you make a deal with a star?  You don’t.  Look up at the sky on one of those nights you’re having to camp out.  It’s lovely, all those twinkling stars.

Except those aren’t stars, at least not the balls of plasma we think of in our world as stars.  No.  Each one of those pinpoints of light are actually Lovecraftian cosmic horrors of unfathomable hunger that watch.  Everything.  Yeah, that’s right.  Every night you camp out under the stars, you’re being watched by literally thousands of ancient horrors who want to devour you.  And that Star Pact Warlock sleeping across from you?  Made a deal with one of those creatures for his/her power.  So that means you’re sharing your adventures with a Cthulhuian cultist.

Oh, that not horrible enough for you?  Like I said, only two areas of the world have really been mapped: Nentir Vale and Elsir Vale (from the Red Hand of Doom campaign).  There’s a human empire somewhere south of Nentir Vale that may or may not have any real power and there are goblin hordes to the north.  That’s about all that’s described of the rest of the world.  You want to have a massive desert and pull creatures from Dark Sun?  Have at.  Maybe this world has an exact clone of Waterdeep or Castle Ravenloft.  Perfectly reasonable.  Because of the aforementioned lack of information about the outside world, it’s very possible that the entire world has gone to crap and only Nentir Vale exists as an oasis of life.

Points of Light is hands down the most plug-and-play game world that D&D has ever had.  It’s a new DM’s dream.  I can make the world whatever I want and no one can argue.  Forgotten Realms, I have to deal with over a hundred novels and short stories, almost all of which have been read by my roommate while less than five of them have been read by me.  Dragonlance has been rebooted so many times with things working differently in each iteration that tiny things can break reality for your players if they’ve been following, like a continuity error in a movie.  It’s enough to drive you insane.  But Points of Light can be whatever you want it to be…as long as it’s deadly and dangerous.

Full Disclosure Note: Due to me only skimming Dungeon for ideas I can steal for my campaign, I confused the Red Hand of Doom campaign with the Scales of War campaign.  I’ve edited the document to repair this error, but I also wanted to acknowledge my dumbassery rather than try to hide it.

Published in: on March 3, 2011 at 4:48 PM  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. No you were correct the Elsir Vale has its roots in the Red Hand of Doom. The first Dungeon Adventure Path for 4E, Scales of War, does start off in the same location, reusing the maps from Red Hand of Doom, but quickly diverges into a history and geography of its own. So the best information on the Elsir region is still in the original adventure.

    P1 King of the Trollhaunt Warrens [pg 4] is located to the southwest of the Nentir Vale. This map has a smaller scale then the DMG map, but as it is located on a trade road running north-south it presumably connects to the road running west from Winterhaven

    H2 Thunderspire Labyrinth There is also the trading enclave at the Seven-Pillared Hall located between Fallcrest and the Five League House.

  2. I’m running the Nentir Vale in my upcoming campaign. I’m really looking forward to seeing where it goes.

  3. I’ve just begun a Nentir Vale campaign. Finished up “Slaying Stone”. Added a bit more content from “Dungeon Delves” to the follow-up adventure to Slaying Stone that was in Dragon. Keep on the Shadowfell” is next. Although that adventure seems a bit underwhelming to me unfortunately.

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