Notes of other kinds
Winter Haven Map
This is a rough map of Winter Haven and its surrounding area, copied out by one of the townspeople. Its accuracy is... questionable.
The town of Winter Haven is one of the furthest outposts of human culture in the Cairngorm region, brushing the borders of Goblin territory. This area has been fought over for centuries, and although the last true wars were decades ago, skirmishes and raiding have continued within living memory. As a result, Winter Haven is not simply a town, but a fortified stronghold, capable of withstanding a moderate siege for several months. It is centred around the manor house, occupied by the local lord, Ernest Padraig. He keeps a standing force of ten guards to police the walls and deter crime, and can rally a militia if needed. The town has formidable walls, kept in good repair through compulsory labour, and a watch is kept over the walls and gate. Particular care is taken at night, when bandits or thieves are most likely to strike.
The town itself has a population of several hundred farmers, foresters, hunters and crafters, mostly tending lands outside the walls. Outlying villages, hamlets and farmsteads stretch out along the valley as much as twenty miles, though the furthest have little communication with Winter Haven. In times of trouble, the largest of these fortify themselves, while the remaining population retreats to Winter Haven to defend themselves. Militia training is compulsory, though most citizens do only the minimum. Being quite self-reliant, the townsfolk are mostly well able to defend themselves, but banditry is a persistent problem in the wilds.
The Old Keep Map
This is a rough map of the Old Keep, north of Winter Haven. It is copied from an old book, at least second-hand, and is incomplete. Nevertheless, it might be helpful.
The wider region
This part of the world is relatively hot and dry, though winters can be savage. In this mountainous region, the population is quite thinly spread as the soil isn't good enough to support large towns. Most people are farmers or primary producers, and the rule of law or the crown is fairly loose. In theory the human land is divided between various nobles, but in practice their grip on their land is not always secure. Other pockets of territory, especially in mining regions, are de facto Dwarven land and follow Dwarf Law. Elves tend to settle into whatever system prevails where they are, as this is not Elven territory, though they usually deal with their own affairs privately. Trade is still heavily based on barter and exchange, though coins are in circulation. The economy is largely subsistence, based around farmsteads, manors or semi-nomadic bands.
The Cult of the Dragon
The Cult of the Dragon is a political and philosophical ideology widespread throughout the cultures of many reptilian and draconic creatures. Individuals and groups adhere to different forms of the Cult, and the precise structure of their beliefs depend on other cultural and religious factors. In its broadest form, it claims that dragons are the originators or rightful heirs of knowledge, excellence and power, and that the "draconic races" share this destiny. Beyond that core, beliefs are widely divergent, and the varying branches are known as Teeth. There are three main Teeth, though others exist.
The Tooth of the Dragon Gods
The first Tooth of the Cult of the Dragon is the Tooth of the Dragon Gods, who view dragons as mighty immortals temporarily bound to the mortal planes. Some believe that the gods are in fact dragons, and that the "temporal" dragons of the physical planes are their reincarnations or kin, who can ascend to godhood if they regain the lost knowledge of their past selves or achieve enlightenment. It is this goal that drives some dragons and dragonkin to seek artifacts and treasure, not merely for the sake of wealth, but in the hope of finding items, magic or lost knowledge that will help them reach their destiny. Some dragons take a darker view, believing that great feats and achievements will draw the attention of the gods and win them the honours they crave. Some draconic beings believe that dragons are merely a higher form of self, and that excellence in life will allow them to be reborn as dragons on their path to enlightenment. Such dragons and draconians may be philanthropists, heroes and holy sages, seeking perfection and striving to shake off their material needs. However, their definition of "perfection", "heroic deeds" and "benevolence" do not always chime with those of other beings. The darker side of this philosophy is those who seek renown and glory in simple power, whether it be physical, political, spiritual or arcane, or who strive to do mighty deeds without concern for their morality.
The Tooth of the Dragon Kings
The second Tooth of the Cult of the Dragon is the Tooth of the Dragon Kings. Some believe that the dragons were the first beings, or the first to be granted intelligence and understanding, and the draconic races are their descendants. They believe that these races are innately superior or destined to rule. This is one of the most widespread forms of the Cult, especially amongst kobolds and dragonborn. Their interpretation of this belief varies. Some are actively xenophobic and seek to destroy, expel or enslave the non-draconic races. Others believe they were created to be intellectual and spiritual guides to the lesser races, or to protect them, and view them in a patronising light. Still others believe they failed in this original purpose and must strive to regain their former perfection before they can bring enlightenment to the world. There are cultures ruled by dragons who subscribe to this philosophy, or with a ruling caste of draconians over the non-draconic races. In other cases, draconians form a priestly or warrior caste. Such believers do not necessarily think themselves above other creatures, but rather believe they have a specific duty (and often, that each race has their own duty). Draconic rangers and druids may fall into this category, and there are also monastic centres, schools of philosophy and small city-states that strive to aid the world by providing examples and advice.
The Tooth of the Dragon Masters
The third Tooth of the Cult of the Dragon is the Tooth of the Dragon Masters. Some believe that dragons and draconic races were either created, or sprang into being, as natural expressions of fate and reality, and that their purpose and duty (or privilege, or right) is to guide the path of history and the fate of the worlds and their creatures. Such believers are less open about their beliefs than many, and often seek to exert hidden power without drawing the attention of those who would not understand. In some places societies of Dragon Masters exist openly, advising rulers and citizens, especially amongst the draconic races. Individual powerful dragons may also take on this role. Others see the world as a puzzle or even a game, and revel in manipulating "lesser beings" without detection. Even benevolent dragons may take on this role for the perceived good of their pawns, while the more evil of their species enjoy it with more destructive intent. Another form of this Tooth involves draconians as gatekeepers to knowledge, and such believers will gather and often conceal knowledge, artefacts or magic until they believe it should be revealed. They are inclined towards fortune-telling, and some will go to great efforts to provide specific information to key individuals in an attempt to shape fate as they believe it should be. The "mysterious stranger" in many a tale is a Dragon Master Cultist in disguise. Though theoretically benevolent, the long-term aims of the Dragon Masters may cause great short-term harm or ignore short-term suffering. They also share the usual disfavour of any secretive group aiming to manipulate others.
Making sense of Hit Points
This is a quick look at the combat and damage system, based on a few things other people have written.
If you imagine each "hit" in a D&D game to be an actual blow with a weapon, it sounds ridiculous. Even your average kobold can soak up five or ten axe-blows before it dies, and fight at full effectiveness the whole time. Also, the amount of hits a creature can take goes up dramatically as they increase in level because their Hit Points increase, whereas in real life, crippling injuries are no respecter of skill or experience. Unless your characters are fighting a block of jelly or a swarm, it doesn't make sense to slowly chip away at it, hacking bits off the enemy until they collapse.
However, Hit Points aren't intended to represent pure toughness, and damage doesn't just represent injury. Basically, Hit Points represent average survivability in battle; a combination of stamina, willpower, courage, skill, divine protection, luck, and yes, physical toughness. The last is probably the least important.
Think about the combat system like this:
- Armour Class and other defences represent how difficult it is to have any noticable effect on a creature.
- A failed roll to hit means the attack had no effect - it didn't connect, didn't break their concentration, they sidestepped or parried without breaking stride, or it glanced off their armour.
- A successful roll to hit, causing HP damage, means the attack took something out of them. It doesn't necessarily mean it actually hit them. They had to make a special effort avoid serious damage: maybe they make a clumsy parry, got thrown off balance, or had their nerve shaken; maybe they rolled with the blow or leapt aside. Maybe the magic bolt burned a hole in the wall next to them and scared them stiff. It might have caused an injury, but probably only a bruise or glancing blow. However, the attack sapped their ability to keep fighting, either in terms of pain, stamina, willpower or luck. You can't keep doing things like that forever.
- Although any attack might cause an injury, for most natural creatures (like humans or animals) you can assume that the only attack that causes real damage is the last one. The hit that drops their hit points to zero is the time when their luck runs out, they're too tired to bring their shield up, or not quick enough to react, and the sword or fireball or massive teeth finally find their mark.
As a result, fear or tiredness can lower HP, just as pep talks or short rests can restore it by giving a chance to regain focus and determination. Similarly, poisons don't usually cause obvious damage, but they do weaken, slow and tire their victims, represented by HP damage.
Minions make more sense this way. Minions aren't feeble - a level 23 Ogre minion is going to be a serious threat to any normal town. However, their skills and defensive ability are completely outclassed by the PCs, to the point of being negligible. Effectively, unless the PCs make a mistake in their attack, it's going to brush aside anything the minions can do to defend themselves, and put them out of the fight. As a result, as far as PCs of the same or higher level are concerned, they only have one hit point, because one accurate strike is all it takes.
Similarly, a character whose HP has dropped below zero doesn't necessarily need a three-month convalescence in intensive care, because they haven't necessarily taken massive injuries. They might just be unconscious, too weak to lift their weapon, cowering in fear or otherwise out of the fight. Again, one of the reasons "dead" characters can sometimes be brought back is that "dead" can be more like "critically wounded" - in need of treatment far above what normal healing or rest can provide. Of course, sometimes it just means dead.
On the other hand, if you prefer to think of it with the classic fantasy sheen, our hero(ine) fighting on undaunted despite crippling wounds... go ahead. It is a fantasy game, after all...