Chinese Dragons by Stephen Irwin

Issue: 15
System: Hordes of the Things
Publisher: Wargames Research Group

Chinese Dragons
by Stephen Irwin

Everybody has heard about fierce fire-breathing, fair maiden-eating dragons beloved of fantasy writers and folk tales. However, there is much more to dragonlore than this. Such creatures have appeared in the myths and legends of just about every ancient civilisation in the world. In this article I would like to introduce the dragon of Chinese legend. So, what is different about the eastern dragon?

The Chinese dragon 'is not merely a giant lizard with wings (or even a flying elephant with a personal fire syphon... ). This creature has been described by ancient writers as having the head of a camel, the horns of a stag, the eyes of a demon, the ears of a cow, the neck of the snake, the belly of a clam, the scales of a carp, the claws of an eagle, and the soles of a tiger. Some dragons also have wings. Quite a combination.

On the dragon's head i the "chi'ji mu", a lump like a gas bag that enables it to fly. The dragon's body is jointed in three sections: head to shoulders; shoulders to breast; and breast to tail. Male dragons can be identified by a luminous pearl under their throat or chin, and also by the presence of whiskers. A male dragon has a horn, whilst a female dragon has a straight nose. A horned dragon is Called "k'iu lung" and a hornless one a "ch'i lung".

The Chinese Dragon may appear in different guises - a youth or old man, a fair maiden (that's irony for you) or an old hag, a rat, snake, tree, or even an inanimate object such as a weapon.

In Chinese folklore the dragon is connected with water. It is a thunder god that causes rain to fall and storms to raise. Because of this association with water the dragon is also connected with agriculture.

During the winter months (the Chinese dry season) dragons slept in pools of water in order to preserve themselves. If there are no dragons around there is no rain and therefore crops do not grow and hose pipes are banned.

When spring arrives the dragons awaken. Once they get out and about the dragons engage in battle with each other The result of this is torrential rain and thunderstorms. If the battles go on for too long rivers begin to flood and there is usually a great disaster with loss of life and ruined farm land.

When dragons do battle, it is said that pearls and fire bails drop to the ground. The pearls are an indication of abundant supplies of water in the future. These pearls would make suitable artifacts in any fantasy game. Imagine astute generals using them to bring rain down on enemy archers to render them ineffective. Or how about using them as combat rations on a desert campaign? A quest for magic pearls may even he the reason behind a campaign.

How do mere mortals perceive these wondrous beasts? The dragons were seen as bringers of life (providing rainfall for crops in spring) and also as destroyers (thunderstorms, floods, etc.). As the dragon was a deity, it became the symbol of holy men, and the symbol of imperial power (as the emperor was the holy representative on earth).

There are of course many other myths surrounding the dragons. There were dragons of different colours, each with different attributes. For example the blue dragon was predominant in the spring season.

Another story is of the medicinal qualities of dragon bones. Dragons shed their bones as well as their skin. Fossils found near pools of water were used for medicinal purposes. Coloured dragon bones (and also herbs associated with them) were used to treat different organs in the body, White, for example, was associated with the lungs and small intestine.

Another story that comes to mind concerns a solar eclipse. As the moon obscured the sun and the sky went dark people thought a dragon was eating the sun. Everybody made loud noises and banged drums to frighten the dragon away. Of course, the sun re-appeared a short time later. This incident was most unfortunate for the imperial court astronomers who were executed for failing to predict the arrival of the dragon and prevent it from carrying out this act of celestial vandalism!

Wargaming with Chinese Dragons

This is where things get interesting. How can Chinese dragons influence a fantasy battle game? I am sure you can come up with you own ideas, but here are a few to begin with. I will refer to aunty's favourite, Hordes of the Things, because it seems that everybody has got a copy. Obviously these ideas can translate into other systems with a little thought.

A Chinese Dragon is treated exactly the same as a God element, except that it will not flee the battlefield on a PIP roll of 1. When summoned, the dragon will appear next to the general or preferably a hero. If there is a water feature on the table the dragon will appear there.

Only one dragon can take part in a battle. If another is summoned, both dragons will fly off into the sky and do battle with each other. The dragons will not return to the game, but there is a side effect. There will be a torrential rainstorm during each side's next bound. Distant shooting and magic attacks cannot take place, and moves cost double the normal PIP expenditure.

It a dragon is summoned there may also be a side effect. Roll a D6. On a score of 4, 5, or 6 something interesting happens. Roll on the following table:

1There is a sudden clap of thunder - both generals are distracted and lose 1 PIP in their next bound.
2There is a torrential rainstorm - effect as above.
3There is a shower of blue pearls, and a Lake terrain feature appears randomly on the table. It any element contacts the lake roll a D6. On a score of 6 the lake is inhabited by a water lurker.
4Everything goes dark for 1 to 3 bounds as the sun disappears. All missile attacks suffer a -1 penalty and all moves cost double PIP expenditure.
5A bolt of lightning strikes a random element of the summoning side's army Treat it as a normal Artillery attack.
6As 5 but occurs on an element of the opposing side.

It you use other sets of rules, try including different weather effects, or how about sanity checks for units as the monster appears! You could even have more than one dragon appear, and refight the aerial duel - the outcome could affect the morale of the combatants below.

Ed Note: Hordes of the Things is a generic set of Fantasy wargames rules produced by the Wargames Research Group and was reviewed in Ragnarok 1. A second edition is now available and was reviewed in Ragnarok 43. HOTT has won the Best Fantasy Wargames Rules category in the SFSFW Awards five times out of seven! For further details regarding price and availability, send an SSAE to Wargames Research Group, The Keep, Le Marchant Barracks, London Road, Devizes, Wiltshire, SN10 2ER.