The following is a video transcript
Todd Kenreck: Heroes of the Vale is a brand-new D&D live stream being dungeon mastered by Mike Mearls himself. I am lucky enough to be part of this amazing cast as well. I spoke to Mike Mearls about what we're in for. What is the setting for the Heroes of the Vale?
Mike Mearls: So Nentir Vale was a setting that was included in fourth-edition Dungeons and Dragons in the Dungeon Master's Guide, and it expanded out a bit in a few of the other expansions. Now, I've taken that starting point and I've made some changes. If you're familiar with Nentir Vale, I'm going to touch on a few of the things where it started, but I've made some alterations to fit the campaign I want to run, which is... As someone who publishes the official D&D worlds, that's how we expect you're going to treat them. We expect you to bend and fold and mutilate them to fit your needs.
Mike Mearls: In the Nentir Vale, in my conception of it, what I really like about it and what has me excited about it is this idea that it exists in a world where there are only small points of safety and civilization. Most of the world is overrun with monsters or is very dangerous. What I have done in altering the setting a bit is really amp that up. Fall Crest is our starting town. It's in the middle of the Nentir Vale, which is like this valley amidst the mountains, and there is a forest outside of town called the Cloakwood.
Mike Mearls: The Cloakwood isn't just a dark, sinister forest filled with monsters. It is a forest that got pulled down into the Underdark by Torog, this god who literally crawls underground carving out the Underdark as he hollows the world beneath your feet. Sometimes, if you're especially unlucky that year, he might crawl under where you live and pull things down, and he also pushes things up. So Cloakwood was once just your typical dark, sort of scary forest. It got pulled down into the world, into the Underdark, and Torog pushed back up a twisted, warped Underdark ecosystem of massive mushrooms and twisted, weird trees and Mind Flayers and Aboleths and all the awful things that live in the Underdark. He imbued them with a permanent shadow so even though they're on the surface, it's cloaked in darkness. That's why it's called the Cloakwood.
Mike Mearls: If you venture too close to the Cloakwood, you might deal with a wandering pack of Carrion Crawlers. If you go into the Cloakwood, you might run across a Mind Flayer colony. The ecosystem is ... It's out to kill you because it's part of the Underdark. That's an example of what I've been doing with the setting overall. I'm taking everything and making it not only just, well, we are here clinging to our point of light of civilized safety, but out there is actively trying to destroy us. It's not that there's tribes of orcs or there's giants running around. It's like the ecosystem is designed to kill us.
Mike Mearls: There are vast stretches of the world that are just inherently dangerous, kind of pulling in the idea of the Outer Planes, where going to another plane is dangerous. I like that idea, but I don't want to wait until 10th level to do that. Let's do that at first level. Let's make walking into the Moon Hills, which sometimes get cloaked in this necromantic mist that drifts down from the Barrow Downs and brings with it the ghosts of those who died in the Great Cataclysm, and they seek out the living.
Mike Mearls: Leaving town is dangerous in the Nentir Vale because you never know what's going to be out there, and it only gets worse the further you go from ... The Nentir Vale is a relatively safe area because at least you can go back to town and you can farm, as long as you stay away from the dangerous zones. They don't encroach too often into the civilized spots that persist.
Mike Mearls: The other thing I've changed a bit ... In the Nentir Vale, originally there was this idea that there were the Primordials, who created the world, and the gods waged war against them. I've altered that story a little bit so that in my take on it, the gods were actually mortals, and the Primordials started out as essentially the rulers of the cosmos. And this very powerful group of mortals banded together and achieved godhood. They were the first gods and still the only gods, and they cast down the Primordials.
Mike Mearls: But, for instance, Erathis is the goddess of civilization. She was the first empress. She founded an empire of humanity that spanned half the world and then used that power she collected to make herself a god and throw down the Primordials. Asmodeus was her rival who founded another competing empire on the other side of the world. And so the two of them are ... They united against the Primordials, but they're still sworn enemies. They have very different takes on power and what it means.
Mike Mearls: Kord, the god of strength, is a great, brawling guy. He's a god of strength and prowess and battle, and he, like Torog, wanders the world. You might meet him. You might go into a tavern and there's this big, burly, barbaric-looking guy. That's Kord, god of strength. He's looking to arm wrestle. He's just looking for a mortal with the courage to go, "Sure, I'll throw down with a deity." If you impress him, he might take you on an adventure. He might call down his cloud chariot and pull you on board and say, "Let's go visit the sun." The sun is Pelor, and the sun is a god. He was once a mortal, and he casts, now, light down on the world to keep it safe from the darkness.
Mike Mearls: But then when the sun goes down, then the moon, Sehanine, rises. And she cloaks the world in darkness. Well, not darkness. Shadow darkness, because in her mind, Pelor is too severe. His light is too bright. It forces everyone to put up a pleasing front because it's revealing too much, and the shadows, that's where secrets can take hold and we can actually show our true nature because we have the comforting cloak of shadows that her moonlight provides. And the two chase each other. They're enemies ... They're not necessarily enemies, but they've agreed to go as far apart in the sky as possible and then just spin around the world, kind of always chasing each other, shadow following light and so on.
Mike Mearls: It's meant to be a world, too, where everything is very imminent. In D&D, often, as a dungeon master, we think, "Okay, here's my campaign, and at 15th level is when the characters will find the Wand of Orcus." What I want to do with the Nentir Vale is be like, "Okay, the Wand of Orcus? You find it at second level. Now what do you do with it? What happens next?" So really bringing the gods, making them part of the setting, taking those things like Mind Flayers and monsters and just putting them right there. They're right outside of town. They're in this weird shadowed forest that people go into.
Mike Mearls: There's a classic trope in D&D: "Oh, there's a forest. People go in and they never come out." It's like, yeah, it's just the woods, right? Yeah, there's maybe some werewolves running around. In this, I want it to be like, when you look at that and think, "Oh, people go in and they don't come out," well, of course they don't, because that is a scary, awful place, and I don't want to go there. And then the entire point of the campaign is to say, "No, you need to go there because there was a castle that was in the forest, this elf fortress which had ... This item was there, this artifact, and you really need that. Last we heard, it was in the forest that got pulled down to the Underdark. We have no idea where it ended up, but that's the last we heard of it." So now you're forced to venture into that place.
Mike Mearls: So really taking that magic, mystery, and danger, and really elevating it across the board, still leaving areas of mundane society that can exist. It's not craziness constantly 24/7. I think that'd get overwhelming. But just this idea that if you venture off the road, it really gets dangerous. It gets over the top deadly fast, and giving this real sense of just that kind of pressing danger coming from all sides but still, again, having those points of civilization where either the land has been reclaimed, especially ... This is where the gods come in.
Mike Mearls: A lot of this distorted element of the world is because of the struggle between the gods and the Primordials. Erathis's empire was largely destroyed. It was cursed, the world twisted. Same thing to Asmodeus. That was essentially the first thing the Primordials did. So in some ways, it also has a little bit of a hint of a post-apocalyptic world and a world with a sundered history. No one's really quite sure about the details of Erathis's empire because the people alive today, they weren't around, and all the records, everything, that's long gone.
Mike Mearls: It's not like, "Oh, let's just go to the ruins of the city." It's like, "Well, we think there's a big city to the west over the mountains, but now that's the Poison Plains where it's literally two to three feet of acid." It's a sea of, literally, acid. There's a few of these weird stone highways that cross it here and there, but it's always ... Sometimes the acid burbles, and then it's acid mist and it basically just kills everyone trying to cross it. And if there's ruins in there, how ... But, again, it's setting the table.
Mike Mearls: What I really would hope, if I'm running this campaign well, the players come to a point where they're like, "Well, we need to go to the Poison Plains. How would we survive in such an acidic environment?" And the players start coming up with ideas, again, this idea of ... Oh, I love doing this as a dungeon master. I pose questions, and then the players come up with answers. And the players figure out a way to survive in the Poison Plains, then that's great. That's exciting.
Mike Mearls: Hopefully, the players would feel like that's real sense, like, "Oh, we are the first. We went into the forest and we came back, and people in town are like, 'Woah. You guys are heavy hitters. You survived.'" And really giving the players a sense of accomplishment for that, giving the sense that what they're going into is very dangerous, it is very strange, it's very warped and twisted, but then really building in that sense that, "Oh, our heroes do feel mythic. We feel powerful. We feel very accomplished."
Todd Kenreck: I'm excited to play.
Mike Mearls: Cool. I'm excited about it. It's been fun. I brought a few things in there, but it's been fun putting it together.
Todd Kenreck: Heroes of the Vale premiers November 28th at 2:00 p.m. Pacific Time on D&D Beyond's own Twitch channel and also on every Wednesday after that at 2:00 p.m. We have an amazing dungeon master in Mike Mearls, a stunning cast. We have T. J. Storm, Hope LaVelle, myself, Adam Bradford, Lauren Urban, and, of course, Shelly Mazzanoble. I am so excited to be part of this cast and to go on this adventure. I cannot wait to play, and I hope you watch as well. Thank you so much for watching.