H is for Heraldry

Harold, the herald had a horn on his helm, hauberk and halberd.

The world of heroes is awash in personal iconography, whether it is the insignia worn by caped crusaders, the rank and unit markings of modern military operations, or the classic heraldry of the knights of old, symbolic representations of identity have been present across cultures and throughout history.

Establishing a system of heraldry for a work of fantasy, whether it is a book or a game, is a good way to add a sense of depth to the world… not to mention, it’s a lot of fun! The crest you develop for a particular character or group of characters can help establish expectations about them without ever having to say it outright. Take the Lannisters from Game of Thrones, their lion crest speaks worlds about their family characteristics. They see themselves as powerful, noble and kings of men, just as the lion is king of beasts. Others, however, may interpret the lion for its power, yes, but also for its pride. Pair that with the direwolf of the Starks, ferocious, loyal to the pack (family) and Martin has immediately established an implicit enmity… dogs vs. cats.

There are a number of handy online tools for learning about or coming up with heraldry for yourself, your heroes, villains or anyone else you so desire.

Internationalheraldry.com goes into great detail about the structure of European coats of arms
heraldicclipart.com offers numerous graphic elements that can be used in the construction of heraldic elements… of course, a Google search for heraldry will do the same.
The Escutcheons of Science is one of my favorite heraldry sites. It lists and displays the personal coat of arms for many of the world’s great scientists and inventors!

But now, to the meat of the matter. If you’re like me, and like to include visualizations of heraldry and other symbols in a game, you might want to have a way to quickly and easily assemble your crests and insignia. One of my favorite tools for doing this is Heromachine, which was my H entry for last year’s A to Z challenge. This online paper-doll creator can easily be adapted to create heraldic symbols as well.