So a while ago a Nentir Vale campaign setting was floated out there, but was pulled from the line of upcoming products. I imagine that a bit of the material got rolled up into threats to the Nentir Vale, as there is some background info in that book to my understanding (didn’t pick it up, so can’t say anything concrete on that). It looks like the Nentir Vale and the surrounding region will be a blank slate which is a shame and something that needs more attention, especially for new DMs.
I get the focus WotC had when 4E rolled out. Work on presenting the rules and help with explaining the nuts and bolts of the game. As for describing a campaign world, let the DM decide. Why bother putting all this work into describing possible histories, legends, and a fantasy lore that most DMs are just going to cherry pick from, or at worst ignore completely. Nope, best to just reinforce over and over, ‘this is your game, play the way you want, make the world the way you want.’ I personally found this direction a little refreshing. Let people play what they want, don’t saddle it down with all this canon of past editions.
Of course the failure with that comes with new players. I expect most people that rolled into 4E all ready were playing D&D. They had a grasp on making up their own campaign, or at least had a slew of older edition books to draw inspiration from. But what about the new DM? As much as I loved the idea of ‘just make it your own’ I think new DMs needed a little more guidance. I think if I was a 13 year old trying to get a campaign running, I’d need some help and a lot of background to get some adventure ideas.
Given this void of a D&D world for new DMs to play around in, the writeup in the DMG was not too bad. A fleshed out town with a few ideas, beginning adventure, and a sketch of the surrounding lands. Add to that the Keep on the Shadowfell as a free pdf download, and there were a few things out there to keep a group busy. But I expect folks were restless to get a new incarnation of other settings, so Forgotten Realms rolled out.
I really feel that that was one of the big reasons Forgotten Realms sort of fell flat when it released. You had this entire idea of a wild, untamed land in need of heroes, that Forgotten Realms had to be altered and reworked to fit with this new idea of a campaign world. So many changes were made, and this idea of vast expanses of uncivilized regions (something not quite in line with much of Forgotten Realms) seemed to saddle this setting. Likewise I think that was what made Eberron and Dark Sun shine so much when they were released. Simply put they were allowed to be the different settings/worlds that they were. Forgotten Realms had to be the new default setting for 4E, and 4E had these core concepts of a setting that ran counter to established lore so much so, that a lot had to be changed to bring this setting in line with the generic D&D setting 4E needed.
Make Nentir Vale the generic setting - Let Forgotten Realms go. Reintroduce a new world that has the core classes and races, and the default pantheon as part of its world. Let the other campaign settings revel in what makes them different (like drow, swordmages, the underdark, portal circles, etc.). Everything in this new setting would be reinforced by material in the core books. If a new group picks up a campaign setting, they have this entire new pantheon and mythology to wrap their heads around. They likely have new races and new classes as options, it can be a little overwhelming if you are new to the game. Offer a setting that supports what are in the rulebooks, not new material that alters and amends what they are trying to become familiar with. A Nentir Vale setting would help with this and best of all, fits perfectly with the points of light theme.
Use available products - With Keep on the Shadowfell, Thunderspire Labyrinth, and the Pyramid of Shadow, WotC all ready has a heroic adventure path with this setting. Add to that a few other books they’ve put out like Hammerfast, you’ve got a small line of products that would sell if they had some support. WotC all ready has a lot of material available, they just need something to help tie it all together. A campagin setting would be a step in that direction.
Let the fans do the heavy lifting - A lot of fan made material is out there. Why not announce more source material for the Nentir Vale would be a new series in Dragon? Let folks submit their historical timelines and thumbnail sketches of the surrounding regions. Let them offer ideas of what is in Harken Forrest or the Witchlight Fens. Better yet once most of this is printed in Dragon, at the end of the year compile it into a single PDF and offer it to folks with a DDI subscription. A print version would be great, but a compiled digital form is workable too.
Blurbs and short highlights are fine - We don’t necessarily need a complete detailed history and a full description of each region, just flesh out the surrounding lands a little more. Give the players an idea what certain regions a particular race would call home. Write up a few paragraphs on particular kingdoms and lands. Spend more time and material on presenting potential threats and villains for the players to face off against. We don't need volumes of material, just something for inspiration.
Stick to the heroic tier - Getting up to level 10 is just fine here. We don’t need to dip into world cataclysmic events and gods. Keep it focused on the lower tier to help new players get into the story. Spreading out appropriate threats to higher tiers cuts off story avenues for a new DM. Keeping everything heroic means just about any villain or evil faction could become a potential story for the DM to use.
Give us a generic setting in the Netir Vale. Give new DMs some more information and a world they can play with that adheres to the limited fluff in the rulebooks. Combined with Kobold Hall, and a few one shot adventures in Fallcrest, new players could get a solid start in their adventure career. They could branch out further heading to the Keep on the Shadowfell (just drop the first part with the kobold hideout and you’d have a solid adventure to shift into). They then could follow it up heading to other locales, or stick with playing the published adventures. In the end players could have a grand campaign all throughout the Nentir Vale and potentially move on to other parts of this new world if needed. Give Nentir Vale some support, WotC!