These factions within the Empire are essentially military dictatorships led by a Council of Dragonriders, Dragonborn Warlords who claim their title by an alliance with a true dragon. All other political institutions are considered subordinate to the Legions, the armed forces of the Shades. The Legions are strictly hierarchical organizations, with the highest military rank of Warlord and numerous subordinate ranks, such as Tribunes, Legates, Consuls, and so on. A powerful Warlord may have command over other, lesser Warlords, any number of Legions, merchant companies, craft guilds, and even all of the towns and cities of a region. These draconic rulers extract a heavy tribute in the form of slaves and wealth and tend to squabble and scheme for power among their peers.
Membership in the Shades is determined by birth, but the service a Dragonborn may choose is not. Society is corporate and highly regimented; upon adulthood, all must enter an organized guild or trade union, from the lowliest farmers to the most esteemed scholars. The few who don’t, willingly or not, or branded the Unbound and widely reviled. They typically end up as beggars, thieves, hermits – or adventurers.
Each of the Five Shades is associated with a race of chromatic dragons. Their guiding philosophy is inspired by the natural traits of the true dragons they follow. While the dragons are technically full members of the Shades, they are independent powers accountable to no one but themselves.
Flametongues – Red – The All-Devourers
The Flametongues are the largest and most powerful of the Shades and have historically been the main driver of Imperial campaigns of conquest. They see wealth in land, precious metals, and other trade goods as the true measure of power. Red wyrms collect massive hoards of treasure and red Dragonborn are typically greedy and ambitious beings.
Stormclouds – Blue – The Rain of Terror
The Stormcoulds believe that power lies in sheer destructive might and the terror they inflict upon their subjects. They expand their lands only to acquire more slaves and tributary states, whom they tax, raid, and burn for fun. Despite their wild nature, they are respected by their peers for their ferocity and bravery in battle.
Grimnights – Black – The Undying Family
The Grimnights have a long tradition of necromancy thrive in the aura of rot and death in their swampy homes. They see power over life and death as the most important goal and eagerly trade for slaves to use as subjects for their obscene magical rituals.
Vinestalkers – Green – The Last Victors
The Vinestalkers are the physically weakest but most cunning of the Shades. They value triumph over enemies by the cleverest means; those who rely on brute force are unworthy failures. They are strongly associated with poison, espionage, and assassination.
Hoarfrost – White – The Drifting Snow
The Hoarfrost are neutral, even detached in comparison to their peers. They have a long tradition of seers and diviners and typically prefer studying prophecy to conquering. They hold few lands outside of Zendikar and the Whitewall mountains and remain largely indifferent to Imperial aims, which can make them a crucial swing political faction.