Coats-of-Arms and Heraldry for RPGs

Add depth to your noble PCs and NPCs with a coat-of-arms and a family motto. Plus learn heraldic terminology.

By Stolph*

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction to Heraldry
  2. Elements of a Coat-of-Arms
  3. Languages used in Heraldry
  4. Why Noble Houses Have Specific Coat-of-Arms
  5. Adventure Ideas Involving Coat-of-Arms
  6. Fantasy Coat-of-Arms Examples
  7. Coats-of-Arms aren't just for Noble Families
  8. Sci-fi Coats-of-Arms
  9. Heraldry Resources and Further Reading
Try Scabard's Blazon and Motto Generator!

Introduction to Heraldry

Heraldry is a system of visual identification used in medieval Europe and beyond. It involves the design, display, and regulation of armorial bearings, also known as coats-of-arms or heraldic achievements. Heraldry served as a means of distinguishing individuals, families, and institutions, often depicting symbols and imagery with specific meanings.

Key heraldic terminology includes blazon (the verbal description of a coat-of-arms), tinctures (the colors or patterns used in heraldic design), charges (the symbols or figures on a coat-of-arms), and supporters (additional elements supporting the shield).

Elements of a Coat-of-Arms

A coat-of-arms typically consists of several components:

  • Shield: The central element, often displaying the primary design and symbols.
  • Tinctures: The colors or patterns used to fill the areas of the shield and other elements.
  • Charges: Symbols or figures placed on the shield, representing various qualities, achievements, or affiliations.
  • Supporters and Attitudes: Additional elements, such as animals or human figures, placed beside the shield to support it.
  • Helm: A helmet depicted above the shield, indicating the wearer's rank or status.
  • Crest: An emblem or design placed on top of the helm, further identifying the bearer.
  • Mantling: Decorative drapery or cloth flowing from the helmet, originally used to protect the wearer from the sun and rain.
  • Field: The background of the shield, usually filled with a solid color or pattern.
  • Escutcheon: The shield itself, where the primary design and symbols are displayed.
  • Comparment: The base or ground upon which the shield and other elements rest, often representing the bearer's territorial holdings.
  • Motto: A phrase or motto displayed on a scroll below the shield, often conveying the bearer's values or aspirations.

Tinctures and Their Meaning

Heraldic tinctures are the colors or patterns used in heraldic design, each carrying specific meanings and associations:

  • Or (Gold/Yellow): Represents generosity and elevation of the mind.
  • Argent (Silver/White): Signifies peace and sincerity.
  • Azure (Blue): Symbolizes loyalty and truth.
  • Gules (Red): Represents military fortitude and courage.
  • Vert (Green): Signifies hope, joy, and loyalty in love.
  • Purpure (Purple): Represents royal majesty, sovereignty, and justice.
  • Sable (Black): Symbolizes constancy and grief.

The Rule of Tincture: "Metal should not be put on metal, nor colour on colour." Or and Argent are metals, and the rest are colors. The purpose is to ensure proper contrast, as metals are lighter, while "colors" are darker.

Supporters in Heraldry

Supporters are figures or symbols placed on either side of the shield in heraldic designs. They often represent loyalty, protection, or allegiance to the bearer of the coat-of-arms. Supporters can take various poses or attitudes, each conveying different meanings.

In the language Blazon, the supporter is named first, followed by the attitude (ex: Lion Rampant).

Lion Rampant
Lion Rampant

Rampant: A supporter rearing up on its hind legs, symbolizing aggression, strength, or defiance.

Statant: A supporter standing firmly with all feet on the ground, symbolizing stability, steadfastness, or defense.

Supporting Arms: Supporters can also be depicted holding shields, weapons, or other objects, further emphasizing their protective or defensive role.

Wolf Passant
Wolf Passant

Passant: A supporter walking with one foot raised, representing movement, progress, or readiness for action.

Sejant: A supporter sitting with its hind legs folded, often representing vigilance, patience, or watchfulness.

Regardant: A supporter looking back over its shoulder, signifying reflection, hindsight, or awareness of the past.

These poses add depth and symbolism to heraldic designs, enhancing the narrative and identity of the coat-of-arms.

These poses add depth and symbolism to heraldic designs, enhancing the narrative and identity of the coat-of-arms.

Languages used in Heraldry

The blazon, or formal heraldic description, is written in a special language called Blazon, a mixture of English or Latin, and Old French. The latter especially being used for tinctures and supporter attitudes

Mottos are most often in Latin, given its historical association with academia, religion, and chivalry. However, mottos can also be in the vernacular language of the bearer's culture or region.

Why Noble Houses Have Specific Coat-of-Arms

Noble houses historically adopted specific coat-of-arms designs for several reasons:

  • Familial ties and lineage, representing the heritage and ancestry of the house.
  • Territorial claims and feudal rights, symbolizing the lands and holdings controlled by the house.
  • Achievements and accolades, commemorating notable deeds or victories of the house's members.
  • Aspirations and ideals, reflecting the values, aspirations, and aspirations of the house.

Each element of a coat-of-arms carries symbolic meaning, representing the history, status, and identity of the noble house it belongs to.

Adventure Ideas Involving Coat-of-Arms

Embark on epic quests and thrilling adventures inspired by heraldry and coat-of-arms:

  • Retrieve a lost family heirloom, such as a legendary sword or ancient artifact depicted on the house's coat-of-arms.
  • Investigate a series of mysterious disappearances linked to a curse mentioned in the house's motto.
  • Negotiate a delicate peace treaty between rival noble houses, each represented by their distinctive coat-of-arms.
  • Uncover a conspiracy to usurp the throne, involving forged or stolen coat-of-arms designs to deceive the royal court.
  • Protect a valuable cargo ship bearing the coat-of-arms of a prominent trading guild from pirates or rival factions.

With creativity and imagination, the world of heraldry can be a rich source of inspiration for unforgettable adventures!

Fantasy IconFanasy Coat-of-Arms Examples, with Mottos

Blazons are the formal heraldic description of a coat-of-arms. They use a highly expressive, special purpose language called Blazon.

Mottos are short phrases or expressions often displayed on a scroll beneath a coat-of-arms. They serve to convey the values, aspirations, or ideals of the individual, family, or institution represented by the heraldic emblem.

Below are five example blazons, with mottos. You can generate your own blazons and mottos below that.

DALL-E-4 rendering, given the first blazon as the prompt. Note the mistakes in background tincture and supporter attitude. Still, not bad!

Blazon: Sable, a bend sinister Vert between two unicorns passant Argent.

Description: On a black background (Sable), a diagonal green stripe (bend sinister Vert) runs from the top left to the bottom right, flanked by two silver unicorns (Argent) walking with one foreleg raised.

Motto (Latin): "Virtus in Unitate."

Translation: "Strength in Unity."

Blazon: Purpure, a griffin rampant Or, wings elevated and addorsed, holding a quill Argent.

Description: A purple shield with a gold griffin standing proudly, wings raised, and holding a silver quill.

Motto (Latin): "Sapientia in Volatu, Virtus in Verbis."

Translation: "Wisdom in Flight, Valor in Words."

Blazon: Gules, a tower embattled Argent, a crescent moon in chief, accompanied by two crossed silver keys.

Description: A red shield with a silver embattled tower, a crescent moon above, and two crossed silver keys below.

Motto (Latin): "Custodes Noctis, Custodes Secretorum."

Translation: "Guardians of the Night, Keepers of Secrets."

Blazon: Vert, a dragon rampant Or, breathing fire proper, atop a mountain argent.

Description: A green shield with a gold dragon rearing, exhaling flames, perched on a silver mountain.

Motto (Latin): "Fortitudo in Flammis, Perseverantia in Montibus."

Translation: "Strength in Flames, Perseverance in Mountains."

Blazon: Azure, a silver mermaid holding a trident Or, emerging from waves sable.

Description: A blue shield with a silver mermaid wielding a gold trident, rising from black waves.

Motto (Latin): "Ducens Maris, Tuens Profunda."

Translation: "Guiding Seas, Watching Depths."

Blazon: Sable, a white stag leaping Or, above a silver open book on a field argent.

Description: A black shield with a gold leaping stag above a silver open book on a white field.

Motto (Latin): "Scientia Infinita, Spiritus Indomitus."

Translation: "Boundless Knowledge, Unbridled Spirit."

Create Your Own Coat-of-Arms - Blazon & Motto Generator

Try pasting the results of one you like into an AI image generator, such as DALL-E-4

More coat-of-arms generators can be found in the resources section below.

Coats-of-Arms Aren't Just for Noble Families

Did you know cities, guilds, and countries can have coats-of-arms too?

Imagine the PCs arriving at a new city and you show them the city's coat-of-arms. Then they ask, "what is the meaning?". The city's history will almost write itself as you explain, possibly at the top-of-your head, what the various elements of the coats-of-arms mean. Just make sure you take notes so it's consistent later!

Coats-of-Arms for Countries

Here are example coats-of-arms for countries from the real world. These symbolize their identity, history, and values.

Countries in your homebrew world can have them too!

Commonwealth Coat of Arms


Australia does not have an official national coat-of-arms, but the Commonwealth Coat of Arms is used as a symbol of the Australian Government. It features a kangaroo and an emu standing on either side of a shield.

Coat of arms of Canada


The coat-of-arms of Canada features a shield divided into four quarters, each representing a different part of Canada's heritage and geography. It is supported by a lion and a unicorn, representing Canada's ties to Great Britain.

Coat of arms of France


The coat-of-arms of France features a shield with three fleurs-de-lis on a blue background, symbolizing the French monarchy. It is often accompanied by the motto "Liberté, égalité, fraternité" (Liberty, equality, fraternity).

Coat of arms of Germany


The coat-of-arms of Germany is one of the oldest coats-of-arms in the world. It features a black eagle with red claws and a red beak on a golden background. It has been used in various forms throughout German history.

Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom

Great Britain

The coat-of-arms of Great Britain, commonly known as the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom, features a shield with symbols representing England, Scotland, and Ireland, supported by a lion and a unicorn.

Coat of arms of the Netherlands


The coat-of-arms of the Netherlands consists of a crowned lion holding a sword and arrows. It is often accompanied by the motto "Je Maintiendrai" (I will maintain).

Coat of arms of Russia


The coat-of-arms of Russia features a double-headed eagle with two crowns, representing the unity of the eastern and western parts of the country. It has been used since the late medieval period.

Great Seal of the United States

United States

The United States does not have an official national coat-of-arms, but the Great Seal of the United States serves a similar purpose. It features an eagle holding a shield with thirteen stripes representing the original states.

Sci-Fi IconSci-fi Coats-of-Arms

Lots of sci-fi novels, movies, and RPGs have noble houses. Here are some suggestions.

Suggested tinctures for sci-fi

Here are suggested tinctures for sci-fi coats-of-arms. Using Modern French, instead of Old French.
  • Or (Gold): Symbolizing technological power, prosperity, and advanced achievements of the noble house.
  • Argent (Silver): Representing futuristic ideals, innovation, and commitment to progress.
  • Cérulean (Cerulean Blue): Signifying unity, loyalty, and commitment to exploration beyond the stars.
  • Cramoisi (Crimson Red): Reflecting courage, honor, and the noble house's commitment to defense and valor.
  • Émeraude (Emerald Green): Denoting growth, harmony, and the house's commitment to environmental preservation.
  • Onyx (Onyx Black): Representing the unknown, a sense of mystery, and the noble house's exploration into uncharted territories.
  • Violet (Violet): Symbolizing nobility, wisdom, and commitment to the pursuit of knowledge and enlightenment.

Example blazons for sci-fi noble houses

Émeraude, a silver spacecraft on a field of cérulean, accompagné de deux golden stars.

Description: Sur un background vert émeraude, a silver spacecraft accompagné de deux golden stars.

Motto (Latin): "Exploratio et Conquisitio."

Translation: "Exploration and Conquest."

Cramoisi, an onyx planet orbited by two moons cérulen, on a field of argent.

Description: Sur un background rouge cramoisi, an onyx planet orbited by two moons cérulean, on a field of argent.

Motto (Latin): "Defensio et Progressus."

Translation: "Defense and Progress."

Violet, a golden cyborg wielding a scepter cérulean, on a field of émeraude.

Description: Sur un background violet, a golden cyborg wielding a scepter cérulean, on a field of émeraude.

Motto (Latin): "Sapientia et Progressus."

Translation: "Wisdom and Progress."

Or, an onyx asteroid flanked by two spacecrafts cérulean, on a field of cramoisi.

Description: Sur un background doré, an onyx asteroid flanked by two spacecrafts cérulean, on a field of cramoisi.

Motto (Latin): "Fortitudo et Resilientia."

Translation: "Strength and Resilience."

Argent, an émeraude crystal topped by a constellation of five violet stars, on a field of cérulean.

Description: Sur un background argenté, an émeraude crystal topped by a constellation of five violet stars, on a field of cérulean.

Motto (Latin): "Innovatio et Concordia."

Translation: "Innovation and Harmony."

Heraldry Resources and Further Reading

Explore more about heraldry and coat-of-arms with these resources:

Heraldry Societies

  • Heraldry Society: Official website of the Heraldry Society, dedicated to the study and preservation of heraldic tradition.
  • College of Arms: The official heraldic authority for England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and much of the Commonwealth.

Books on Heraldry

Coat of Arms Generators

Looking to create your own coat of arms? Check out these online generators: