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[Let's Read] 4e Setting Lore/Nentir Vale/Nerath

MoutonRustique

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While I don't love this article, I do love that they went there : this isn't a place that fits anywhere, it has a strong theme, it has a strong purpose. Sure, there's plenty that can be poached, and it can be molded to fit many genres, but it's an article with a purpose.

The way it's written, it could very much be a place that is just "there" over those hills. The locals know not to got that way, but since nothing's come out of there in a good long while, people go about their days. It also helps to cement what Tiefling means - these are your legacies, and your burdens.

For my preferences, it could have used more concrete examples of "what can I find there" in terms of items, enchantments, lost arts, techniques, lore, historical artifacts (no stats necessary, simply descriptions or enumerations). These are the kind of details that really speak to me - and, they're the ones I always have trouble with when I'm world-building...

All in all, a strong opener.
 
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VoidDrifter

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Dragon #366: Mithrendain, Citadel of the Feywild
Opening Thoughts:
When I first read Wizards Presents: Worlds & Monsters, the entry on the Feywild immediately intrigued me. Faeries had always been something of an odd duck in D&D; clearly mystical to the point of being otherworldly, yet with no clear place in the multiverse. The Great Wheel didn't help, spreading the "faerieland" archetype across the Neutral Good to Chaotic Neutral corner of the Wheel. Oh, 2e had the "Court of Faerie" as a roving demiplane, and 3e offered the Plane of Faerie as an example "anomalous plane", but these were tepid attempts at inclusion.

4e was doing something new. The World Axis was embracing faeriekind and giving it a place to belong in the multiverse from the very beginning. That, right there, was one of the things that hooked me into the 4e base-setting, and made me a true believer.

This article was literally our first actual taste of the Feywild beyond those tantalizing few pages of notes, explanations, art and sketches. So, of course, I was eager to get involved in this.

...By the way, would there be interest in a Let's Read of the Wizards Presents 4e duology? Maybe as a separate topic?


A Brief on the Citadel:
Taking its name from an elven phrase that means "Wall of the Fortress", Mithrendain has transcended its origins to become one of the most magnificent cities ever constructed by the Eladrin. Standing in arcane forests beyond the swirling residuum storms of the Plains of Valdrennai, Mithrendain is home to nearly 40,000 people (primarily eladrin), and is also known as the Autumn Cities, since most of its towers are colored like autumn leaves, with yellow, gold and bronze being common.

What few beyond Mithrendain's leaders remember is that the city began as a fortress, built to block egress to one of the largest openings between the surface of the Feywild and the Underdark during the last of the great wars between eladrin and fomorians. The fortress was built to seal the opening, with its true purpose being enshrouded in secrecy - and eventually, its purpose was so well-concealed that its own guardians forgot why it was built. As generations passed, the fortress swelled into an enormous city, and the average inhabitant has no idea that at the heart of their beloved home lies an opening that the fomorians would yearn to exploit to resume war once more.


Life in Mithrendain:
Mithrendain is at once beautiful and alien to the sensibilities of humans. It is intimately interwoven into the forest, with its leaders carefully planning expansion to ensure both a ready access of view throughout the city and a plethora of parks, streams, gardens, pools and small lakes. Combined with the Feywild's own alien features - many trees growing in Mithrendain are larger than the towers - and it's easy to give the impression that the city grew out of the forest.

The city proper lacks defensive walls, a natural reaction by a species that can teleport short distances virtually at will. Streets, loosely paved with an extremely smooth stone of a sandy yellow color, wind their way in an endless sprawling network; rather than blocks, Mithrendain's buildings are clustered in groups of three to five towers, which adds to the feeling of openness.

Magic literally permeates the entire city; newcomers must learn to adjust to a constant, low-pitched hum that pulses through the city, stemming from the powerful arcane wards and other magical features that make up life here. Residuum gathers on streets and buildings like dust here, and is strictly collected by the city's rulers to reinforce and fuel the wards and sensors that guard the city. Unauthorized collection and private hoarding of this residuum is a crime - it's also a major faux pas, since it's well-known that the residuum is used to protect the city (even if not precisely how).

The Autumn City's rulership consists of a council of the seven most respected members of the community. Each bears a symbol of office, which is also the key to deactivating or destroying the seals on the barrier into the Underdark. Membership on the council is for life; when one expires, the survivors vote on a new incumbent from the most deserving members of society, taking into account the acceptance of the people of Mithrendain.

One of the things that non-fey can find hardest to deal with is that Mithrendain has a very laidback sense of timekeeper. There are no clocks, no sundials... really, nothing to help one keep track of time or even the date. Worse, natives tend to forget that newcomers may not be familiar with the organic layout of their streets, or with the eladrin indifference to precise timekeeping, and thus their directions can be frustratingly or confusingly vague - "meet me in the southeastern portion of the city, near the sculpture garden, sometime after midday" is a perfectly reasonable appointment for a native of the Autumn City.

With the exception of the areas described in detail below, Mithrendain's districts and zones tend to be identified by their directional relationship to the city as a whole. Weirdly, and the article calls attention to the fact that this is weird, Mithrendain doesn't have a dedicated merchant district; eladrin longevity means that virtually every eladrin learns more than one trade, and this propensity for every inhabitant to be capable of making their own clothing, repairing their own homes, and performing the basics of several other trades just means that eladrin don't need to specialize anywhere near as much as humans. Instead, specialty shops exist throughout Mithrendain, usually located on the bottom floors of civilian homes.


Defenses:
Mithrendain protects itself through various ways; the opening to the Underdark has been forgotten about, but the Feywild itself is full of dangers. It has both an official city guard, and a secret police called the Watchers of the Night, whom I'll cover in the Mithrendain's Protectors subchapter. Furthermore, the inhabitants - especially those of the outlying regions - are usually well-trained in personal defense, and the use of traps and arcane wards to safeguard one's home against intruders from the forest is common-place. Arrow slits are a common feature of the upper floors of those towers on the outskirts as well, for obvious reasons.

However, Mithrendain relies on two major forms of magical warding to safeguard the city as a whole.

The first are Revelation Spheres; 8ft diameter solid marble spheres which project arcane energy fields that disrupt illusion magic of all sorts, especially invisibility - this is, after all, one of the top dangers in the Feywild. The city is full of these spheres, placed at intervals to ensure almost the entire city is covered in overlapping disruptuion fields.

The second are Tremor Wards; rune-enscribed stones set into the ground which are used to detect major disturbances that could signal the opening of a breach large enough to let enemies up out of the ground. When a tremor ward detects a break in the ground, a path of runes leading from the Citadel Arcanum to the site of the breach glows brightly, allowing members of the city guard to follow the shortest path to the breach. The tremor wards can be deactivated by special request, such as when a new tower is to be built and ground needs to be broken, but most inhabitants of Mithrendain know better than to go digging within the reach of the tremor wards.

Mechanics for how these work are provided in the article proper.


The Citadel Arcanum:
The center of Mithrendain is the tallest tower in the Autumn City, built atop the Underdark entrance to replace the original fortress that the city grew from. A combination of human and eladrin architectural influences, the Citadel is both beautiful and a very defensible location, brimming with defensive walls and guard patrols.

It also serves as the central building of government and defense here; it's the meeting place and office for the city's seven council members, the barracks for the city guard, and base of operations for the Watchers of the Night.

Areas of note within the Citadel include the Mithrendain Barrier (which hosts the blocked-off opening into the Underdark), the Seven Seal Chambers (which house the magic circles whose wardings magically protect the Barrier from being breached), and the Catacombs (the enormous, dungeonlike array of secret passages and underground structures that riddle the Citadel and the ground below). A sidebar notes that adventurers could spend weeks exploring the catacombs, which are large enough to house multiple dungeon complexes.

The Citadel has its own special order of guards, the Barrier Sentinels, whose sole purpose is to guard the chamber containing the Mithrendain barrier and protect it against attacks from beyond or below.


The Old Battery:
This region was the first part of the city, being where the original inhabitants began settling after the fortress outgrew itself. Taking its name from a line of towers that originally stood there, the Old Battery is the closest thing Mithrendain has to a "bad part of town". With many of the towers here older than any living eladrin, although they are mostly kept in repair, few of the denizens here are what one would consider "wealthy".

For whatever reason, the custom has evolved that families of those criminals sentenced to exile are banished to the Old Battery through societal pressure, and many of them bear a grudge against either their exiled family member or against those who sent their kin into exile. This has made it a magnet for criminals and outcasts, and whilst the residents of other districts would hesitate to call the Old Battery "dangerous", it's definitely a breeding ground for dissent and chaos, making it a place only the unwise enter alone.


The Outskirts:
These are an array of small towns and farming communities that exist outside the borders of the Autumn City proper, and they produce much of Mithrendain's food. As you'd expect, they follow the typical eladrin building design and seek to integrate themselves into the forest as much as possible. Such farms usually appear to be little more than homes built at random in the deep forest, with ground-grown crops seemingly sprouting at random from amidst the trees.

The authority of the city guard usually doesn't stretch out this far, but the Watcher in the Nights occasionally can be found checking into the smaller towns.

Farmers from the outskirts harvest their crops year-round and in careful rotation. Every few weeks, an eladrin farmer brings a portion of his or her harvest to the city to sell to city-dwellers. The carts of these farmers dot the street corners throughout Mithrendain at all times, and inhabitants of Mithrendain have favorite farmers that they prefer to buy from whenever possible.


Architecture:
Mithrendain exemplifies eladrin architectural styles. They build vertically, rather than horizontally, and favor circular towers with spiralling staircases. Ground floors have doors, but almost never have windows; those windows on the higher floors are covered in reflective glass, preventing those outside from seeing in. Both of these are steps to prevent intrusion by other eladrin, since they foil the race's Fey Step ability.

Wealthy eladrin like to have disc-shaped platforms enchanted to hover near the buildings they own, allowing them to Fey Step from the upper floor to the platform and then descend by stairs from the platform, so they never have to use their own front door.

Inside, the ground floors are used as common areas, with private chambers being used on the upper floors. Instead of bedrooms, small but cozy - and soundproofed - meditation chambers are used. The plushness of one's meditation chamber is a matter of pride. It does make the city's inns usually lack bedrooms, and those that do tend to be rather uncomfortable.

Reading is highly valued in Mithrendain, and bookshelves are a common feature for common areas. Valuables are stored in small, underground vaults hidden behind secret doors.


Laws & Enforcement:
Mithrendain's laws are fairly easy to understand, and pretty much in line with most civilized areas - no theft, no murder, no trespassing, and so forth. But what seperates it from a human city are its punishments. After all, with the ability to teleport being inherent to their race, imprisoning eladrin is pretty much an exercise in futility. Whilst temporary holding areas are present in many of the city's guard stations, there are no dedicated prisons.

Instead, for those crimes judged too severe to be repaid with simple restitution, Mithrendain typically responds by disfiguring the criminals; arcane branding serves for the "lesser" of such crimes, but more severe felonies are met with the maiming of one of the offender's hands. The most severe punishment is exile, which removes the offender not only from Mithrendain, but from eladrin society. Many such exiles have fled to the Underdark, often completing their treason by falling in with the fomorians.


Mithrendain's Protectors:
The Autumn City is protected by two specific groups; the city guard, and the Watchers of the Night.

The city guard, unlike their human counterparts, comprises lightly-armored and nimble sword-wielders who rely on speed and dexterity to take down opponents. Their armor is specially made, consisting of small overlaping plates that are larger than scales, but offer the flexibility of most leather armors. They're made up of paid volunteers, usually young and unmarried denizens of Mithrendain; there's little upward mobility in the Guard, beyond the chance to become one of the elite barrier sentinels in the Citadel Arcanum, but few have the dedication or the skill to make it that far.

The Watchers of the Night, in comparison, are a secret police force responsible for finding and defeating traitors and others who would bring the city down by espionage, subversion or other covert activities. CLad in pitch-black leather armor, membership is signaled by ownership of ornate daggers and special signet rings, which grant them immunity to the effects of the Revelation Spheres. Nobody is sure who is recruited to become a Watcher, but rumor has it that the most exceptionally talented criminals of Mithrendain are "deputized" into their ranks.


Citizens & Denizens, Noteworthy & Otherwise:
Mithrendain is, as mentioned at the start of this article, a city built by eladrin, for eladrin. They make up the bulk of the inhabitants, and much of the frustrating aspects of life in this city (for non-eladrin) comes from their quirks. Eladrin take things extremely casually, a side-effect of their longevity; as established earlier, they don't consider timekeeping important at all, and this casual pace of business and leisure can be very frustrating.

Worse still, the lack of racial diversity has exacerbated some of the less pleasant aspects of eladrin society. The average eladrin, ignorant of the short lifespans of other races, tends to see outsiders as being too tightly wound, and would rather not deal with those they find exasperating and impatient. Even more of a problem, outsiders are usually considered to be novelties or curiosities - in no small part because a race that doesn't share the eladrin's smooth aesthetics is practically hideous in the eyes of this beauty-obsessed society. To put it bluntly, eladrin tend to gawk at visitors, and that can get old pretty quick.

The eladrin of Mithrendain operate on their own schedules and yet seem obsessed with maintaining the beauty of their society and their city, two aspects that can combine to frustrate visitors to the Autumn City who need something from one or more of its inhabitants.

Notable inhabitants of Mithrendain detailed in the article of Amon Bassiri (Lord Marshal of the Watchers of the Night), Vyndra Sysvani (a council member who spent her youth as a liaison between Mithrendain and various human cities), and Kagen the Blackknife (a redeemed drow who runs the Waystop, one of Mithrendain's most outsider-friendly inns, in the Old Battery).


Heroes of Mithrendain:
The final segment of the article is devoted to various ways to tweak a hero to represent an origin within the towers of the Autumn City. New Fighter exploits and some Wizard spells play into the theme of eladrin martial arts or Feywild-based tutelage, and are complimented by two paragon tier Eladrin racial feats, a Watcher of the Night paragon path for eladrin rogues, and four magical items; the Mithrendain Steel Weapon, Eldritch Serpent Armor, Shield of the Barrier Sentinels, and Watcher's Signet Ring.


Closing Thoughts:
...Okay, THIS is what an article on a settlement should be like! This is a beefy article, chock full of not only interesting settlement lore, but also the player goodies to help give players an even deeper investment - they don't just need to explore the place, they can come from here too!

I love how much attention to detail the author has put into this article; they've sat down and thought about who the eladrin are, what they are capable of, and made their settlement work to match those facts. Of course architecture and the punishment system would be adjusted if the native population are innately capable of at-will teleportation! Of course the city would shield itself against the most common forms of magical subversion and assault!

Also, I really love how this article also showcases the strength of the AEDU system. In older editions, fighters and the like really lag behind in terms of goodies; spellcasters got new spells handed out like candy, but beyond the clunkiness (and oft-wonky balance) of feats/nonweapon proficiencies or the endless procession of enchanted weapons, martial classes just didn't have anything they could be really given to "tie them to a place". And yet here, we've got 6 new fighter exploits (outnumbering wizard spells 2-1) that span the distance from base-Heroic to mid-Epic tier, all of which blend in perfectly with the logical fighting styles that any combatant of this city would develop - and yet at the same time they could easily be repurposed for your own setting and any race or culture that would emphasize mobility over taking hits.

This was our first real exposure to the Feywild. And personally, I think it was a really strong start... not to mention an improvement over Vor Kragal!

Our next outing will be in Dragon #369, with Io'Vanthor... but, until then, please let me know what you thought of this! I still feel like such an amateur with my Let's Reads, so any tips would be most appreciated.
 

Eklev

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The early Feywild stuff is a bit different than the later material. Books like Heroes of the Feywild emphasize the fantastical fairy tale nature of the world, whereas the early articles and books (chiefly Manual of the Planes) depict a more rational, less out there place. I think this article would’ve been written with a different kind of focus had it come out during the final months of 4e publication.
 

Nate_MI

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I really like this write-up of Mithrendain. It feels like the author (or authors -- it would be nice to know who wrote these articles) took the time to create a thoroughly real place and considered the consequences of living in the place where illusions, invisibility, and teleportation were commonplace occurrences. Though I feel like "there are magic items which turn these abilities off" is probably the laziest way to do it, it is pretty simple and straightforward to understand.
 

dshaffer

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But now your heist can include the lines 'And then we blow the spheres Here, Here, and Here' as you draw little x's on the map. :D
It always bugged me when a city built by group X doesnt seem to consider the common abilities of Group X, so I dont mind them so much. I especially like the pains taken to counter (And use) Fey Step as an architectural trait.
 

Kettlehelm

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I do like the fairy-like Elves have crime and seedy parts to their cities and organised mercantile systems based on agriculture, the normal parts of D&D's medieval world. Far too often writers get caught up trying to make their own Rivendell and forget that they are describing a settlement for adventurers, not a manor owned by a person who may as well be a king in his own right.
 

ru

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I think a prison designed for people with misty step would be a cool dungeon location. Imagine for example cages suspended from high branches more than 30' from anywhere to misty step to.
 

Nate_MI

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I think a prison designed for people with misty step would be a cool dungeon location. Imagine for example cages suspended from high branches more than 30' from anywhere to misty step to.
... So you have to get everyone in your cage swinging enough to bring you within 30' of another cage, and then start that one swinging so you can reach a ledge...
 

Manitou

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I have a red and white covered book the Best oF Dragon I think? Which has this as one of the articles they printed.
I thought it was a cool thing.
 
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