Demographics of Nentir Vale

Following on from the demographics of the Border Kingdoms, I thought it would be interesting to apply the same rules to D&D 4E’s Nentir Vale setting. With what I have – the DMG and module H1, Keep on the Shadowfell – I probably have enough data to reverse engineer the population.

Applying a ruler to my Dungeon Master’s Guide, I see that Nentir Vale has an area of 18,984 square miles. I also see on the map three towns (Hammerfast, Fallcrest and Winterhaven); one keep (Raven’s Roost); and three ruined fortifications (Kalton Manor, the Keep on the Shadowfell, Kobold Hall).


Nothing on the map is big enough to be a city. We know that Fallcrest has a population of 1,350 and Winterhaven, one of 977 – too small to be officially a town, but we’ll stretch a point. Hammerfast is bigger than both (says so in the DMG), so based on S John Ross’ research, on average luck it will have a population of 2,700.

Working that backwards and assuming average luck, the total population of Nentir Vale is 32,400. The total urban population of 5,027 is about 16% of the total, unusually high.


The population density is 1.7 people per square mile, a bit more than present-day Alaska. The total farmed land area is about 180 square miles, or roughly 1% of the total. As one would expect, Nentir Vale is a “points of light” setting – flickering candles of townships set in a vast, pitch black landscape.


One functioning castle is credible for that population level.

However, three ruined castles at this population level would indicate castle-building cultures have occupied the area for nearly a quarter of a million years; a bit long even for the D&D 4E world of continuously rising and falling empires.

It’s easier to assume that prior to the Fall of Nerath, population density was closer to 30 per square mile – still very low for a mediaeval society. Running those numbers there tells me that the Nentir Vale has been home to castle-building cultures for at least 694 years. The setting background tells me that humans from the Empire of Nerath moved here around 400 years ago, so prior to that the castles must have had non-human builders; probably the minotaurs who built Thunderspire Labyrinth. Raven Roost may still bear traces of this, as it’s easier to recycle a partly-ruined keep than it is to build a new one from scratch.


Something really bad happened to Nentir Vale a few centuries back – something bad enough to kill off over 90% of the population, and leave the survivors surrounded by ruins. Something bad enough to obliterate a dozen or so castles so thoroughly that not even ruins remain.

Now there’s a plotline for you.

CSI: Shadipuur

In an annual ritual whose origins are lost in the mists of time (and, admittedly, a certain amount of alcohol), it is my wont to spend one weekend each summer in the company of some good friends from college. We drink beer and play D&D from Friday night until Sunday night (Monday morning, if feeling particularly rebellious). In 2010, that was last weekend.

The DM, Tony, has been running this game for over 30 years now, across two generations of gamers, using Original D&D. (That’s right, the little brown booklets in the white box. I have a set too, somewhere.) You may well imagine the depth of understanding he has developed in that time.

For more than three decades we have wandered across Middle Earth, where his campaign began in the mid-1970s, into the mysterious East, off Tolkien’s map and into lands Tony created himself. For the past five or six years in real time, and something less than two months in game time, we have been working for the rightful Queen of Shadipuur, whose usurped throne we returned to her when we first arrived. Since each new adventure has begun with a murder for some time, we now refer to ourselves as “CSI: Shadipuur – solving murders by committing them.” (That last is because resolution usually involves a certain amount of wet work, leading to the official motto on our badges, “In blood lies justice.”

Over the course of that time, I think Tony has made three minor modifications to the rules. Meanwhile, I have changed game systems and campaigns more times than I can count, and house-ruled them senseless, in search of the perfect game.

I often think Tony has already found it.

Nentir Vale, Cardolan

This post is here just to draw your attention to Greywulf’s excellent idea of transplanting D&D 4e‘s Nentir Vale into Cardolan, in Middle Earth, in 1650. Nice job, Greywulf.

I’ve been a huge Lord of the Rings fan since I first read it in 1970; all my kids love it too, and it will be very cool for them to realise gradually where they are. The human characters are easy to fit into this set up, and the longtooth shifter isn’t too different from Beorn; but I’m not sure how I’m going to explain the warforged yet. So, he needs to start attracting more NPC attention, as he is more unusual than the party realise.

I should ask Anna for advice – she is a proper Tolkien scholar, did her undergraduate thesis on LotR, speaks at conferences about Tolkien, and so forth.

D&D in Sicily

No, so far as I know there is no huge underground cult of D&D players in Sicily, more’s the pity; but while we were there, and visited both by Giulia’s boyfriend (errm, fiance now) and Nick’s friend Buster, the dice came out for a few sessions.

Under the Village of Harken, Part 3 (28 July)
As you’ll recall, Nick and the girls were last seen just bursting into the lair of the Big Bad. Who should they find in there but Buster’s Drow PC, arguing with the Big Bad? In true pulp fashion, they recognised each other instantly as natural allies and set about the underground minions with a will, with the Drow joining the party. (“We are the good guys, right?”)

Tomb of the Novirate Council (30-31 July)
Not having much else in the way of scenarios with me, I made up a small dungeon (the titular tomb) and off we went.

The party made its way past a nest Kruthiks (which nearly ate them), and found the old puzzle of the two guard statues guarding a T junction (one of which always lies and the other always tells the truth); this they got wrong, but Drow infravision gave them disturbing clues of the nature of the trap down the “naughty” corridor, and they went down the “nice” one instead.

Here they found a selection of statues of various gods (which they vandalised), and the puzzle from Die Hard 3 about using 3 and 5 gallon jugs to  make a 4 gallon weight. This they did get right; not in the way I expected, but the solution worked, so fair enough.

Beyond the door opened by this puzzle they found more than enough giant spiders, which would have resulted in another TPK (Total Party Kill) except for the heroic actions of Giulia’s cleric (crawling round healing her webbed colleagues one by one despite a total lack of Stealth) and the inspired knifework of Tenchi’s rogue.

However, Anna’s ranger was dead of poison by this point, so pausing only to collect 64 spider legs (in the hope of selling them to alchemists) they crawled off to the nearest large city (Holyport) for resurrection.

Holyport (3 August)
The Temple of Bahamut in Holyport agreed to raise Anna in exchange for certain financial considerations and on condition the party did one little job for them, namely recover a relic stolen from pilgrim caravan by minions of their old nemesis Szartharax the white dragon.

The kobold minions and their rockslide trap at the cave entrance were dealt with swiftly and pitilessly, and they charged on into the lair just behind the alarm.

They’re learning. The NPC wizard, Veon, was parked outside the range of the dragon’s breath weapon with orders to keep zapping it until it dropped. The drow and the rogue, both of whom have at-will powers that slide their foes, ran to diagonally opposite “corners” of the dragon and started a game of impromptu dragon ping pong – fighters attack, rogues attack and slide it back past the fighters who then hit it again with attacks of opportunity, lather, rinse, repeat. That was a clever enough idea that I thought they deserved to get away with it at least once.

Packing up, I decided to change the campaign name from Holyport to Nentir Vale. The reality is that I have limited time to play, and I’d rather use it playing than designing scenarios; until I know D&D 4E well enough to play it off the cuff, that most likely means using the published scenarios, so really it is yet another Nentir Vale campaign, at least for the moment.

I had considered running the Treasure of Talon Pass module next, but doing three modules in a row where the end of scenario boss is a young dragon seemed a bit repetitive. So, next up is H1, The Keep on the Shadowfell, which has the advantage of being a free download from Wizards.

Beneath the Village of Harken, Part 1

The party’s adventures continued last Sunday… Having assimilated the lesson that diplomacy works better before you open fire, and having been hired to eliminate a nest of goblins, our merry band of heroes barged in on the goblins claiming to be a travelling band of chefs sent to pay homage by serving the them a meal.

OK, I thought, goblins are not the sharpest tools in the box, couple of good dice rolls… let’s see where this goes. Idaho Caramba, the ranger, started laying out food on the table. How would this be cooked, the goblins wanted to know? By magic, Idaho explained, it’s all part of the service. Gather round the table and our wizard will cook the food.

You can see this coming, can’t you? Burning Hands, followed by screams and violence. One slightly singed goblin escaped towards the next room, to be hacked down by the warforged fighter in the doorway. The session ended just as the warforged looked up from the body to see the rest of the goblins looking on in surprise and alarm. Nick is now trying to persuade me he can take an extended rest before tackling this new group, so that his Brute Strike power will regenerate. I think not.

Notably, for the first time on record, Giulia’s character didn’t get mortally wounded. Not even a scratch. She still isn’t hitting anything, though.


For the first time since 1978, a Total Party Kill!

Or it should have been. But given that they are all first level in a points buy system, they could all regenerate their characters exactly as written. And a recurring nemesis is much better from a story perspective; so having reduced them all below zero hit points, and not being much better off itself, the dragon limps off to dog their footsteps in later adventures.Lessons for the party to learn when cornering a young white dragon in its lair:

  1. Don’t massacre all its minions, throw spears at it, and then try to negotiate afterwards.
  2. Don’t allow the party wizard to be stunned by dragon breath and then spend the rest of the encounter continuously failing his saving throw – do something about it.

Come into the Dungeon, Maud

I’ve cracked. I said I wouldn’t play D&D 4th edition, because it didn’t feel like D&D anymore; but now I am playing it with the kids, and we’re enjoying it.

It was Nick who changed my mind. I moved from D&D 3.5 to True20, and then to Savage Worlds, in search of a fast, fun game that I could run with minimal preparation. Nick stopped roleplaying about three sessions in to the Savage Worlds campaign, and when I eventually asked why, he explained that the combat system wasn’t complicated enough to interest him. I didn’t see that one coming. Then it turned out that one of his closest friends was already playing 4e, so off we went.

4e is still complex, but once you ditch the idea of character sheets and start thinking of a character as a collectible card game deck made of power cards, it actually plays pretty quickly, especially if you print off the cards and literally play your character as a deck. It needs much more prep time than Savage Worlds, but as long as I’m using WotC commercial scenarios that’s not too bad; the new encounter layout in things like Keep on the Shadowfell helps a lot.

Currently we’re partway through the Kobold Hall adventure in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. The party consists of a warforged fighter with a greataxe (Nick), a longtooth shifter cleric (Guilia, who likes being a furry), a dungeoneering ranger wielding a whip in either hand (Anna), and an NPC wizard, who rounds out the party with the traditional four classes (fighter, cleric, wizard, thief – or in this case, ranger) and whom I intend to play as my PC if he survives long enough and we start playing random dungeons.

Session 1 – 10th May 2009

The group was hired by the Lord Warden of Fallcrest to get rid of the kobolds raiding caravans along the Kings Road. This led them to the ruins known as Kobold Hall. As Dungeon Master, I learned that while the Player Characters do massively more damage than in previous editions, even dinky opponents like kobolds now have enough hit points to soak that up; and that the combination of free shifts and bonuses for mobbing up on PCs means kobolds are now actually dangerous – they only failed to kill Giulia because of her shifter regeneration while bloodied.

I’m not sure if the designers realised that kobold cowardice (they flee if bloodied) meant the scenario created a tidal wave of kobolds falling back in front of the party until they could flee no more, then falling on them to fight like cornered rats. I did approve of the encounter room layouts, which encourage PCs to try jumping over pits of sludge. Of course, they all fell in.

Session 2 – 17th May 2009

Further into Kobold Hall, and the DM discovers what is more fun than a giant stone boulder rolling down the corridor towards the PCs – namely, a giant stone boulder rolling down the corridor towards PCs who have been immobilised by kobolds using their Glue Shot power.

Oh how we laughed. Well, I did, anyway. Evilly, of course.

We started sprouting house rules in this session. First, my usual d20 one; we don’t roll for initiative, we just assume everyone rolls 10. Second, based on Anna’s reaction to Giulia being glued to the floor in front of a rolling boulder, we determined that pointing and laughing at a colleague’s misfortune is a minor action. Finally, I (re)introduced my normal standing orders for NPCs; there is a list of options, in descending order of priority, and each NPC takes the highest priority option possible for him:

  1. If threatened by ranged weapons, take cover.
  2. Buff or heal oneself or an ally. (Only one buff per character though, or NPC clerics do nothing else.)
  3. Make a ranged attack on the enemy with the worst armour. (This means they always shoot the spellcasters if at all possible, which are after all the most serious threat.)
  4. Charge, flank, or gang up on foes and make a melee attack on the one with the worst armour.
  5. If allied to the PCs, move towards the one with the best Charisma.

Fear not, players in my Play By EMail campaigns; I shan’t change the rules on you again. Savage Worlds still works better for those.