This campaign runs on the “points of light” concept, i.e. there are small settlements that provide a degree of solace and civilization in an otherwise hostile world. Vast stretches of wilderness are littered with brigands, monsters, and natural perils and travel is generally avoided by most folk. Enter the adventurers, stronger-than-average would-be heroes who are motivated by lore, treasure, or simple wanderlust.
Our story takes place in the Nentir Vale a century after the collapse of the great Nerath Empire. The Nentir Vale exists in what were the northernmost reaches of the Empire and as such has remained relatively unchanged by its fall.
The following is general history that most educated individuals (nobles, wizards, scholars) know, though most inhabitants of the Vale care little for events outside their own lives:
Up until four centuries or so ago, the Moon Hills and the surrounding Nentir Vale were thinly settled borderlands, home to quarrelsome human hill-chieftains and remote realms of nonhumans such as dwarves and elves. Giants, minotaur, orcs, ogres, and goblins plagued the area. Ruins such as those on the Gray Downs or the ring-forts atop the Old Hills date back to these days, as do stories of the hero Vendar and the Dragon of the Nentir. With the rise of the Empire of Nerath to the south, human settlers began to move up the Nentir, establishing towns such as Fastormel, Harkenwold, and Winterhaven. A Nerathan hero named Aranda Markelhay obtained a charter to build a keep at the portage of the Nentir Falls. She raised a simple tower at the site of Moonstone Keep three hundred ten years ago, and under its protection the town of Fallcrest began to grow.
Over the next two centuries, Fallcrest grew into a small and prosperous city. It was a natural crossroads for trade, and the Markelhays ruled it well. When the empire of Nerath began to crumble about a century ago, Fallcrest continued to flourish—for a time. Ninety years ago, a fierce horde of orcs known as the Bloodspears descended from the Stonemarch and swept over the vale. Fallcrest’s army was defeated in a rash attempt to halt the Bloodspears out on Gardbury Downs. The Bloodspears burned and pillaged Fallcrest and went on to wreak havoc all across the Nentir Vale.
In the decades since the Bloodspear War, Fallcrest has struggled to reestablish itself. The town is a shadow of the former city; little trade passes up and down the river these days. The countryside for scores of miles around is dotted with abandoned homesteads and manors from the days of Nerath. Once again the Nentir Vale is a thinly settled borderland where few folk live.
The main settlements now are Winterhaven, the Harkenwold, and Fallcrest (all predominately human), Hammerfast (occupied by dwarves and orcs), and Thunderspire (not really a settlement, but occupied by mixed races). Fallcrest, though drastically deteriorated, still remains the largest and strongest settlement in the Vale. Players will find this the best “base of operations” due to its size; goods are readily available, information can be gathered quickly, and work for adventurers is in high demand.
Humans, dwarves and halfling are abundant in the region now. A clan of elves lives in the woods near the Harkenwold, there are some non-feral minotaur around Thunderspire, and many Tiefling and Dragonborn pass through Fallcrest from the lands to the south. Tiefling and Dragonborn are generally at odds with each other do to the ancient conflict that dismantled the Nerath Empire. Also abundant are kobolds, goblins, and a small clan of hobgoblins. Orcs can sill be found in mountainous regions, remnants of the Bloodspear Clan that nearly wiped out the Vale generations back.