Dragons, in this setting, are more varied than dragons in “vanilla” D&D. For the mythologies from which I’m drawing inspiration, a “dragon” could be a huge turtle, phoenix, giant sea serpent, six-legged lion, and so on. What brings them together, though, is that they are highly intelligent, wise, knowledgeable, very long-lived, and dangerous. Some are benevolent and some are not. The largest ones might encircle the world, or rekindle the sun, or trample mountains.
In the Middle Kingdom, dragons are popular in the common imagination, but no one believes they are real. Maybe there were great beasts long ago that people called dragons (and some scholars argue just that), or large animals that people misidentified, but no dragons have been seen for generations. Who knows what lies at the edges of the known world, but for a place like the Middle Kingdom, the world is a well-understood place.
Dragons are elemental, primordial creatures, and as such the roughly align with the five flows of qi: earth, metal, water, wood and fire. Yellow, white, black, green-blue and red.
Yellow dragons are often enormous beasts, like aurochs or qilin by far larger and stranger. They live in the earth and eat earch, and as legends have it, they dwelt in the lands of the Middle Kingdom before people came. Yellow dragons, as a rule, cannot fly. Their breath is a bubbling acidic poison.
White dragons are depicted as huge hunting cats, or cat-like chimera, with spiky white or iron fur and often more than four legs. White dragons cannot normally fly, but they are able to leap vast distances. Their breath crackles with lightening. They are associated with northern lands, and some Yamata clans use white dragons on their banners.
Black dragons are amphibious, and are every kid of awful sea monster you can imagine, most often in the form of long serpents or huge dragon-turtles. Their breath is the freezing wind of a winter storm, and they have long been associated with the naga-lands. Black dragons also wield the fear that all share for the unknown dark sea.
Azure dragons are able to fly, and look the most draconic to Western eyes. Long, sinuous, at least two or more clawed limbs, long whiskers and demon-like faces. Their breath is a shattering roar that levels buildings and shatters eardrums, and they fly without the aid of wings most of the time. They are assocaited with the dense rainforests of the southeast, including Dandaka. They are known to be wrathful.
Red dragons are also able to fly, and resemble birds, or possibly dinosaurs like the archaeopterix only far larger. They are also sometimes called phoenixes, and are creatures of passion. Of all dragons, they might be the most likely to be concerned with ren and other peoples, and might even be helpful if it amuses them.
Dragons At War
Yellow dragons are used as mobile platforms for crossbowmen and spellcasters. They are devastating when deployed against fortifications. White dragons are comfortable in storms, and are also useful when deployed in tandem with the restless dead. Black dragons support naval vessels and water-based naga and are used to attack coastal towns and cities and then disappear before reinforcements can arrive. Green dragons’ versatility makes them powerful to use in sneak attacks and as rapid response to all kinds of dragon attacks. Red dragons are flying artillery, and also welcome mounts more readily than most others, a devastating combination.