A Player's Guide to Heraldry

...of the moldwarp and the ant,
Of the Dreamer Merlin and his prophecies,
And of a dragon and a finless fish,
A clip-wing'd griffin and a moulten raven,
A couching lion and a ramping cat...
Shakespeare, I Henry IV, III. i


Welcome to the Player's Guide to Heraldry. This document is designed to give players and game masters of the Birthright Campaign Setting a 'brief' overview of heraldry to visually enrich their games. This article will note some key components of heraldry so that readers can design heraldic arms for their characters or domains utilizing the correct terminology and following the commonly accepted conventions and practices as lain down by real world institutions of heraldry. Most of what is written is based on heraldic conventions of the United Kingdom (UK). European distinctions, if known, will be noted as well. This supplement does not address Japanese mons or extremely early displays.

This is by no means an exhaustive or authoritative work on the topic of heraldry, and players and DMs are encouraged to explore the topic on their own. Heraldic references are listed in the bibliography at the end of this article.

[top]What is Heraldry?

Heraldry is a way of designing a personal symbol that is easily identifiable from afar. Therefore, it can be used on flags, clothing, armour and other paraphernalia to indicate that the owner of the heraldry is present, or is supported by those who are there. Generally, one piece of heraldry is specific to one person, not a family. However, they can be inherited.
Someone's heraldic symbol is called their arms or device. If they wore them on their clothing, they would become a coat of arms. The formal description of their arms is a blazon and is recorded in an armorial, or a book of arms.

[top]The structure

An armorial blazon has its own set of terms which describe the how the arms are partitioned, what objects are upon it and what colours are involved. Some of these terms originate from Old French but have a special meaning for heraldry. There are also various rules about how to design allowable heraldry and the manner in which it can be blazoned.

Basic Glossary
  • field - the background of the arms
  • tincture - the colour or pattern used to cover a portion of the arms
  • ordinary - a line separating parts of the arms
  • division - a way of dividing the arms up into different sections
  • charge - an item portayed on the arms

[top]Tinctures - colors and metals

Heraldry only uses a specific set of tinctures, which are divided into two main subsets: metals and colors. One of the main heraldic rules is that no item (or charge) that is a colour can be placed on top of a colour background. Likewise, no metal can be on top of a metal.

  • argent - silver/white
  • or - gold/yellow

  • azure - blue
  • gules - red
  • purpure - purple
  • sable - black
  • vert - green

Some arms use variations that are known as furs or stains, some of which may have cultural meanings, e.g. indicating a blot in an individual's history.

Some charges can be blazoned as proper, which means they are portrayed in their natural colour, e.g. brown for an boar.

[top]The ordinaries and divisions

Heraldic arms may be divided up into sections in various ways, each division having its own tincture.
Some example divisions are:
  • Per fess - a horizontal demarcation into equal top and bottom divisions
  • Per pale - a vertical demarcation into equal left and right divisions
  • Quarterly (or per cross) - a + division into four divisions
  • Per saltire - a x division into four divisions
  • Per chevron - a horizontal demarcation resembling a chevron, which is like an inverted 'V'
  • Per bend - a diagonal demarcation, starting at the top left corner down to the lower right side
  • Per bend sinister - mirror image of per bend from the top right corner

Sometimes terms like wavy or indented are used to describe the manner of the edge between divisions.
Alternatively, sections may be divided by thick lines that follow the same patterns. These too can have their type of edge specified. Example ordinaries are
  • fess
  • pale
  • saltire
  • chevron
  • bend/bend sinister

Other example ordinaries mark an entire division, not a line between divisions:
  • base - the bottom of the arms
  • chief - the top of the arms
  • bordure - a thick edge surrounding the rest of the arms

Smaller or less-common ordinaries are called sub-ordinaries.

[top]The charges and postures

Any objects pictured on arms are called charges. They may depict creatures, people and plants, parts or whole, real or fantastic. For example
Special terms are used if only part of the charge is portrayed, e.g. erased, or part is omitted, e.g., blasted.
Objects that commonly appear in the world are also used:
[Describe postures]

[top]Describing heraldry

The description of the heraldry for a set of arms is its blazon. The arms are emblazoned when they are drawn.

Normally, the blazon will describe the heraldic elements in the following order:
  • The field, with any divisions
  • Any ordinaries
  • Charges on the field or ordinary
  • The sub-ordinary - if any
  • Charges on the sub-ordinary

Each charge is described in the blazon according to where it is positioned, e.g. "a sword gules on a chief argent" means a red sword is placed within a white chief ordinary.

If a tincture is shared between charges or (sub)ordinaries, then it will be described after them.
[add an example]

[top]Designing new arms

[top]Heraldry in Cerilia

Most heraldry in Cerilia originated during the era of the Anuirean Empire.

Most of the imagery of the armorial displays found on the covers of the official Player's Secrets domain source books and original boxed material break the accepted rules of heraldry; a jumble of symbols that may have meaning to the domains in question, but would never appear as haphazardly as they were designed.

Some of the arms depicted within [[BRwiki]] are based on examples from various campaigns to illustrate various arms of domains that don't have them defined in the official game supplements, such as Diemed and Alamie. When known, examples will show those of domains that have been depicted in the official game supplements such as Avanil and Boeruine, or simplified versions of Player's Secrets covers such as Ilien.


Guilds use trademarks.

[top]Wizard Marks

Wizards may use a wizard mark.

See Also: PBEM:Lands Apart/Heraldry - the symbolism of heraldic elements within Lands Apart

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