Monday, February 15, 2021

Cattle Brands as Heraldry

Heraldic coats of arms are a fun way to distinguish powerful families, but they're best for a European setting.  If you're looking for interesting symbols for a non-European setting, there are plenty of other sources you could look at, from Japanese mon to Central Asian tamgha.

For an American setting, I decided to look at cattle brands.

The giants of the Northern Lands belong to houses: kinship societies centered around a family meeting-place.  Each house is named for its sign, carved on trees and painted on rocks throughout its territory. 


Start with a Base sign.  Here are a few of the more common ones:


(If you're interested, the names underneath are in the language of the giants of the Inner Sea.  Vowels are like in Spanish, h is pronounced even after a vowel, and doubled vowels are sustained twice as long.)


Then add at least one Modifier.  A standing sign has a single leg with a foot on each side.  A walking sign has a pair of feet splayed out at the bottom.  If they're facing the same way, it's running

Standing Hand
Solyo Sang
Walking Turkey
Lo Vath Tuyik
Running Hand
Vindva Sang

Flying signs have a pair of wings at the top:

Flying Spear
Saata Toxu
Flying Shoe
Saata Masvo

A sign can have a bar across the top:

Bar Hand
Dol Sang
Bar Turkey
Dol Tuyik

Broken signs are divided in half by a pair of parallel lines:

Broken Hand
Ontki Sang
Broken Shoe
Ontki Masvo

Signs can be enclosed by a diamond or a circle:

Diamond Turkey
Kusuk Tuyik
Circle Hand
Osu Sang

Turn a sign on its side and it's lazy; upside-down makes it crazy:

Lazy Turkey
Ugu Tuyik
Crazy Hand
Saya Sang

Signs can also be double, or you can have one by another, or one over another.

Double Hand
Anggaak Sang
Hand by Turkey
Sang do Tuyik
Turkey over Shoe
Tuyik so Masvo

Modifiers can even be combined:

Bar Standing Fence
Dol Solyo Lavta
  Broken Sled over Cloud
Ontki Laami so Movta
  Lazy Bar Trout by Walking Hill
Ugu Dol Lulut do Lo Vath Guth

Modifiers are applied in order, starting with the one closest to the base and working your way leftwards, so Lazy Bar Turkey starts with the sign for Turkey, then adds a Bar to make Bar Turkey, then rotates it sideways to make Lazy Bar Turkey.

Lazy Bar Turkey
Ugu Dol Tuyik
 Bar Lazy Turkey
Dol Ugu Tuyik

There's no strict upper bound to the number of modifiers you can use at once, but don't get too carried away.  This house, for example, would probably be ridiculed for their overly-complex sign: 

Lazy Running Standing Diamond Walking Net over Flying Running Lazy Standing Lazy Coat
Ugu Vindva Solyo Kusuk Lo Vath Tahya so Saata Vindva Ugu Solyo Ugu Lapu

(If you're playing a giant, I suggest you try something simpler for the sign of your own house.)

In our campaign over on Reddit, the party recently encounted the houses of Dead Spear and Spider by Crow, and they've heard of the abandoned ruin of the house of Flying Hand.  From the names alone, any giant would recognize their signs.

What kind of heraldry do they have in your game world?


  1. This is like a whole language in itself. Very clever.

    1. You could even use it to encode data -- with 32 base signs and 12 modifiers, if you're willing to use up to two modifiers on a base, that's over 5,000 possible signs. (Though this gets to be a cumbersome math problem, as some of the modifiers are indistinguishable. Lazy lazy X looks just like crazy X, bar walking X is the same as walking bar X, etc.)

  2. Not sure if this counts, but I made a table for generating European-style heraldry a while back:

    1. I like it! Just checking out your blog and one of your canyonland encounters really stood out to me []:

      A dragon who's willing to trade items from her hoard, but only for even more interesting items.

  3. This is really fantastic, very clever.