Run a Nentir Vale Campaign for D&D 5th Edition

Earlier this week, I was surprised to see the Nentir Vale on the list of settings in the latest D&D poll alongside Greyhawk, Eberron and other big settings. Seeing Nentir Vale on the poll gave me hope D&D’s 4th default setting may get official support in the future (but I wouldn’t bet on it). One of the biggest strengths of the Nentir Vale as a setting is the fact that there’s less material written about it than other settings such as Forgotten Realms, Eberron, Greyhawk, Dragonlance, Dark Sun and Golarion. This can be a major benefit, since a DM can learn all they need to know about the Vale setting quickly, without having to handle the baggage of countless campaign books, novels, comics and video games. Many of the details of the Nentir Vale are intentionally mysterious and vague, leaving tons of room for the DM to world build, filling in the blanks with their own ideas.

Fairy Tale | Nentir Vale | Prehistoric/Lost World | Steampunk | The Planes | Wild West

The Nentir Vale is a setting where you’ll find small, isolated “points of light” surrounded by the darkness of the untamed wild. Travel between communities is dangerous with bandits, vicious humanoids, and monsters of all kinds in control of the darkness between settled areas. The Vale was once a frontier area on the edge of empires, but the empires of Humans (Nerath), Dragonborn (Arkhosian) and Tieflings (Bael Turath) all fell long ago.

You should give the Nentir Vale a hard look if you’re:

  • a DM who wants to run a campaign in a setting their players are less likely to know every detail about
  • a DM looking to run one of the 5th edition adventures such as the Starter Set or Princes of the Apocalypse outside of the Forgotten Realms
  • a newer DM who wants the freedom to do some world building with the safety net provided by having fully detailed communities, locations, NPCs and maps
  • a busy DM who is looking for the time savings provided by having ready to drop-in setting content for their own homegame

hammerfast

Hammerfast Cover

Books & Other Materials

Until new supporting materials for the Nentir Vale are published, let’s look at what is available to run a D&D 5th edition campaign in this excellent setting.

  • Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide (4th Edition) provides a chapter with tons of details about the town of Fallcrest and outlining the Nentir Vale setting. You get stats of the town of 1350 people (plus 900 or so in the surrounding countryside) and 29 locations with key NPCs for most. Fallcrest was designed to be dropped in as a starting town for any campaign. A starter adventure called Kobold Hall is provided too.
  • Monster Vault: Threats to the Nentir Vale provides 128 pages of places, NPCs and monsters for your Nentir Vale set campaign or to easily drop into any setting. Many of the monsters can be simply updated by finding the closest match in the D&D 5th edition monster manual. This is a really, really great book and provides nearly everything you’d need to run a Nentir Vale campaign.
  • Conquest of Nerath is a Risk like conquest game set in the wider world outside of the Nentir Vale, with the Vale being just a small place on the world map. The game provides great ideas for places to go if/when your players outgrow the Vale.
  • Novels that are set in the Nentir Vale include The Mark of Nerath and Abyssal Plague series. I’ve read The Mark of Nerath and the Abyssal Plague books set in the Vale. I enjoyed them for what they are. They also provided me with lots of NPCs and location details to add to my version of the Nentir Vale.
  • Comics: Fell’s Five is a comic set in the Nentir Vale and it’s really good.
  • D&D Gazetteer: The Nentir Vale was scheduled, but never came out
  • Adventures
    • Dungeon Master’s Guide – Kobold Hall is a 5 room dungeon where players explore a beginner dungeon conveniently located between Fallcrest and Winterhaven
    • Starter Set (Red Box) – Twisting Halls is a really basic wilderness exploration and dungeon delve that is set in the area around Fallcrest
    • Dungeon Master’s Kit – Reavers of Harkenwold is hard to find, but if you can get a hold of this you can start your campaign down in the southeast’s Harkenwold.
    • Monster Vault – Cairn of the Winter King (Level 4) starts in Fallcrest and brings the PCs to a dungeon via a magical talking airship.
    • Keep on the Shadowfell (Levels 1-3) begins with kobold raiders menacing the village of Winterhaven, providing full town details for Winterhaven if you want to visit that location.
    • Thunderspire Labyrinth (Levels 4-6) provides details for abandoned subterranean minotaur city of Saruun Khel. I’ve heard good things about this adventure, but my players did not enjoy the demonic gnoll stuff as much as our Fallcrest and Hammerfast adventures.
    • Pyramid of Shadows (Levels 7-10) is essentially a megadungeon delve and the loose third part of the trio that includes Keep on the Shadowfell and Thunderspire.
    • Orcs of Stonefang Pass (Level 5) another adventure based out of Winterhaven, this adventure looks west to the Stonemarch Mountains, home of a brutal tribe of orcs
    • Madness at Gardmore Abbey (Levels 6-10) is a popular and well liked adventure set in the Winterhaven area.
    • Hammerfast: A Dwarven Outpost Adventure Site is a campaign setting, providing full city details for the dwarven city and surrounding area and a campaign outline for levels 1-10 (versus providing a detailed adventure)
    • Vor Rukoth: An Ancient Ruins Adventure Site for D&D is an adventure location that is to the south of the Nentir Vale

There are also lots of adventures that have a generic setting that are ready to be dropped into your own map of the Nentir Vale

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Map of the Nentir Vale

Locations

One of my favorite things about the Nentir Vale is that you have lots of details for places, but the flexibility to add your own without having to worry about your players complaining that you are contradicting canon from zillions of books, comics and video games. The area hints at a long history (sometimes even providing details), but there is no reason you need to be bogged down by it.

The Nentir Vale is a rough place and the wilderness between the points of light can be deadly.

Here are some of the key points of light that you could use as a jumping off point for your players before they head into the dangerous forests, hills and dungeons of the wilderness. Outside of the borders of the Nentir Vale can be whatever you want or you can look to Conquest of Nerath for ideas (see map below).

  • Hammerfast
    To the east lies Hammerfast, the largest and wealthiest town in the region. The Trade Road runs through the gates of Hammerfast and continues east to the Dawnforge Mountains. Hammerfast is a fortress and a necropolis, so there’s lots fun to be had here if you like ghosts or orc invasions. This location is detailed in Hammerfast: A Dwarven Outpost Adventure Site.
  • Harken Forest
    This large forest is full of wood elves, drow, treants, spiders, goblins and other business. If you want to start in an elven village this is the best place and a good bet is with the Woodsinger clan from the Harkenwold Forest. Visit the elven druid community of Harken’s Heart too. This location is detailed in the adventure Reavers of the Harkenwold.
  • Harkenwold
    The isolated Harkenwold is well off the King’s Road and its people are farmers, woodcutters, and woodworkers versus being traders. This collection of half a dozen small villages makes up the Barony of Harkenwold. It’s a great setting if you want to run adventures in small villages and Princes of the Apocalypse‘s Red Larch area could be swapped with the Harkenwold. This location is detailed in the adventure Reavers of the Harkenwold.
  • Fallcrest
    This large town acts as a hub in the center of the Nentir Vale and is an excellent starting point for your PCs. In Fallcrest, travelers and traders meet at the intersection of the old King’s Road and the dwarven Trade Road. Fallcrest is surrounded by farmland and adventure sites. It can act as a base of operations to return to or can be the adventure site for a small scale urban campaign. There are plenty of NPCs and adventure hooks provided in the Dungeon Master’s Guide (and other adventures set here) to support an entire campaign here. Fallcrest has graveyards, gangsters, cults and more in the town itself. Close to the town are kobolds, goblins, witches, dragons and more.
  • Winterhaven
    The remote town of Winterhaven lies to the northwest. Like Fallcrest, this Point of Light is a small town surrounded by a few miles of farmland and pastures, but it is smaller and does not work as well for urban adventures. The orcs to the northwest could invade again at any time and this village acts looks more like a stronghold. This location is detailed in Keep on the Shadowfell.
  • Nenlast
    This fishing community to the northeast is small and remote but is a point of light that can be explored at the start or anytime during the campaign. It’s a great entry point to face off against the Tigerclaw Barbarians, Dythan’s Legoion (a band of Dragonborn) and Frost Witches of the northern area of the Vale.

Nerath_Map_HighRes

Nentir Vale is located in Nerath to the northwest in this map from the Conquest of Nerath board game.

Visit http://www.wizards.com/dnd/files/Nerath_Map_HighRes.jpg to get a huge high resolution version of the map above.

Player Options

The Nentir Vale is the default setting of D&D 4th edition and they made sure to allow for a ton of character races and monsters. For 5th edition, you could provide your players with these details to figure out where their PC might be from (or mix it up however you like).

  • Dragonborn are rare sights in the Vale. A few can be found in the towns of the Nentir Vale acting as bodyguards or caravan escorts. There is also a large group of Dragonborn called Dythan’s Legion who search for past relics from their old Arkhosian empire.
  • Gnomes are almost non existent in the Vale (they didn’t appear in 4e until the PHB 2). I’d place tinker gnomes in the towns and forest gnomes living in communities under the trees of the Harken Forest. If you want to create a community of Tinker Gnomes, go for it, but a more likely story is that the gnome traveled to the region.
  • Dwarves can be found in the towns. For 5th edition, I’d put a small number of hill dwarves in Fallcrest and the mountain dwarves to the east in the city of Hammerfast.
  • Wood Elves are rarely seen in human dominated communities. Most likely a wood elf would be from a small village in the Harken Forest.
  • High Elves are rarely seen in the Vale at all. In 4th edition, Eladrin were rare in the Vale, so we had our Eladrin come from the Feywild. For 5th edition, I would have a High Elf come from outside the area or the Feywild, but a better option might be to swap High Elves for the Eladrin build used as an example in the 5th Edition DMG.
  • Half-Elves can be found in small numbers, but due to the scarcity of elves in the Vale the interaction with humans required to create a half-elf would be rare. You can decide on your own how society treats the offspring stuck between two worlds.
  • Humans are the dominant race of the Nentir Vale anywhere outside of Hammerfast and the Harken Forest.
  • Halflings are the second most numerous people in the Vale, like humans can be found nearly anywhere.
  • Tieflings are rare and most likely to be found in Fallcrest, living under the thumb of two tiefling families or operating as shopkeepers. Tieflings have a long history in this world and were originally human nobles before they built the now collapsed Bael Turath empire.
  • You can find a place for other races such as Shifters and Goliaths, just like DMs had to in 4th edition as more race options were added with the release of the Player’s Handbook 2 and Player’s Handbook 3.

 

Don’t forget to check out Deities of the Nentir Vale (4e) for D&D 5th Edition.

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Shawn Ellsworth

Shawn is an author and co-founder of Tribality.com. He first got into tabletop RPGs through ninjas and then by playing a Kender in Dragonlance. Years later, he can be found running games in the Nentir Vale and his own Seas of Vodari campaign setting.