Why that? Because if you are willing to scour through 100+ Dungeon and Dragon magazines, you can find some really cool setting lore that if presented in a different light; is actually fucking awesome. 4e D&D suffered heavily under how it presented things, but the Nentir Vale had just enough info about it to make it a decent sandbox to play in.
Things to rip off for the campaign: Over the Wall's encounter packages and countdown clocks for the various factions. Old School sensibilities. 2e and 3e-3.5e levels of monster lore; provided you're willing to do the research. Simon Swermer is the soundtrack. https://soundcloud.com/simonswerwer
How I want to see the Nentir Vale? As the wild west fallen on hard times. Imagine if the East went silent during Westward Expansion. That's the Nentir Vale. Except the Empire it was part of was pretty much Rome, and thus the Nentir Vale is a nice combination of Roman and Russian designs and motifs. Men and women wear heavy fur-lined toga and stola respectively, patterned with Dwarven motifs the closer you get to their ancient mountain holds. Their language an food habits are Slovenian and Slavic rather than purely Punic; though that's the height of fashion if you have it.
Humans exist in spades, they're the race that runs this shit. They are tribal, each village has a rivalry with another but all come together to celebrate the annual owlbear hunt. Hunting culture is the sport of heroes and every Nentirite thinks himself a hero too tied to his land to make himself a legend. Dogs are man's best friend, but they are strictly for family protection; to teach a dog to hunt is to let the Lord of Beasts into the animal's heart. Gnolls under the sway of Yeenoghu laid waste to Nerath, the Old Empire. Nentir citizens fear gnolls coming up from the south to take slaves and sack cities. Rumor has it the Capital is still occupied by the horde a hundred years later, and nobody up here wants to risk confirming that.
The Dwarves of the Dawnforge Mountains are isolationist and cruel in their judgments. They are not welcome in the land proper, they shut their gates on humanity during the Bloodspear Purges. They are the most pious of their kind and look down on any outlander dwarf who come to pay homage at the World Forge beneath their holds. Clerics of Moradin who are not natives here are assumed heretics.
Elves are firmly denizens of the realm of Fey. They cannot hold iron without losing their sense of touch and hearing; all becomes numb save for pain. Elves are broken into seasons based on their age, and they do not dwell in the realm of Man. An Elf could be 4 as much as he could be 4000, he lives in all Springs concurrently until he lives in Summer, Autumn, and Winter. Elves in the mortal world slowly but surely lose their ties to the realm of Fey and their season become pronounced. An Elf changes seasons with the world of Man, in the realm of Fey he must change houses or make a bargain to change. No Elf is new at being an Elf, though he might not remember being of a previous season unless the shift was in the Realm of Man.
People find Elves confusing but beautiful, though rarely are they seen.
Halflings aren't native up here, and while I have a warm spot for hobbits; they don't belong here.
Tieflings exist, but you can't play one unless you want to roll on a chart.
Dragonborn are from across the sea and they're a lot nastier and unpleasant than usual. If you run into one, he's in service to something you don't want to deal with.
Gnomes wear pointed hats (all Gnomes consider it part of their uniform), and the can wildshape into a very ugly turkey/guinea fowl/chicken at will. It can't fly, it can speak to other forest creatures, and it loses this ability if its hat is removed. Gnomes are at war with Goblins (a hodgepodge of nasty fey backwater genetics) and Kobolds (dog-men with burrowing lizard features; Gnomes who gave their hats and cloaks to the King of Greed, Kurtulmak). Gnomes are associated with Autumn, and no Gnome has ever been Spring or Summer; though a few old old Gnomes claim to be in Winter. Elves dislike this stability, Humans don't much understand it but they consider Gnomes good luck.
Orcs are a scourge upon the world, a living leprosy, corruption given form. Orcs manifest from black boiling bile that leaked from the eye of Gruumsh when it was plucked out at the Dawn of Time. Orcs hear the thrumming of his great black heart and march to it as though it were a drum beat. Orcs corrupt the world around them, and Goblins appreciate and love this and often serve the Orcs. A Half-Orc is made, not born; the vestiges of a man who fell to the Orcs and suffered torture and torment because he gave in to the evil Orcs bring out of men. Orcs are rotting and pig-headed, Half-orcs are lepers with a mark of Orcishness about them; most wear masks and heavy robes. Half-Orcs are rare and shat upon for fear they'll corrupt others to the road of Evil with a capital E. They cannot do that. To become a Half-Orc means to secede free will for the sake of Evil and victory.
Lake Nen is now the Sea of Nen, which extends north to the edge of the world.
Alignments are Cosmic. You are unaligned unless you swear yourself to something. Paladins swear themselves to Good (not Lawful Good, or good), Orcs are a product of Evil. One cannot swear themselves to Chaos, they must become entropy itself for that to happen. One does not swear oneself to Law lightly, as it is an oath ironclad and can only be made at great proof of submission.
All creatures of Good can understand one another on some level, as can all creatures of Evil; if they so choose. To lose oneself and fall from Good to unaligned is at a cost of great sin (and sins of omission/weakness/sloth); to lose oneself from Good to Evil requires absolute devotion to darkness at the cost of all that made you Good. You do not come back from that.
All I got so far in my brain. Busy packing up to move down town. 8 boxes of heavy ass books, only a briefcase of clothing. I got my priorities in order.