Heraldry on Nova

Heraldry is the science of using stylized designs to indicate a person’s identity and House affiliation. A heraldic design is called a “coat of arms,” sometimes simply referred to as a person’s “arms.”


The use of heraldry has been a distinguishing characteristic of the Novan nobility since time immemorial. Its rules are maintained by the informal college of heralds across Nova. Heralds maintain that heraldry originated as designs painted on shields to help distinguish friendly from enemy knights in battle. In modern times, heraldry has permeated all aspects of life. Heraldic arms are displayed not just on shields but also on banners, pavilions, and civilian outerwear.

The Nine Colors

Novan heraldry recognizes nine heraldic tinctures, or colors. A heraldic color includes all shades of that color, and so may be referred to by a formal heraldic name (both royal blue and cornflower, for instance, are marine). Each color is also associated with a particular metal, which may be substituted for the color when designing heraldic objects (for instance, a shield painted white and a shield faced in solid silver are heraldically equivalent – though of course one makes much more of a statement than the other!).

Color Heraldic Name Associated Metal
Yellow Solen Gold
White Argen Silver
Black Ebon Ebonite
Green Adamant Adamantium
Purple Valar Valorium
Red Sanguine Sanguinite
Blue Marine Ultramarine
Gray Chalyb Steel
Orange Vermillion Vermillium
Pink Heliotrope Indignium

Of these nine, solen, argen, ebon, adamant, valar, sanguine, and marine are referred to as primary colors. Each great House has the right to use a primary color as its coat of arms, and only primary colors are used for heraldic charges (except for heliotrope; see below).

Chalyb is a special color that is only used in differentiating the field of a lesser House. When a lesser House adopts a coat of arms, those arms always consist of the great House’s color alternating with chalyb in a pattern that serves to identify the lesser House. Chalyb is never used in any other way in Novan heraldry.

Vermillion is the color of neutrality. A plain vermillion banner signifies that the bearer comes in peace or under diplomatic immunity. It is also used as the color of freeholders (sometimes differentiated with chalyb, at the freeholder’s option) who wish to display arms.

Heliotrope is the color of infamy. A heliotrope element on a coat of arms indicates that the bearer is shamed in some way. A member of “House Heliotrope” may be a bastard, attainted for cowardice, or undertaking a penance. In general, the larger the heliotrope element, the greater the shame.

Displaying Coats of Arms

Only men and women of the Brotherhood are entitled to coats of arms, and only the individual to whom a coat of arms belongs is entitled to display those arms full-sized (this is known as “bearing arms”), whether on a banner, shield, or tabard. The one exception to this is heralds, who are permitted to bear their employer’s arms full-sized on a special “herald’s cloak” of distinctive design.

However, those in the employ of an arms-bearer may bear his or her arms in miniature to indicate their allegiance (known as “porting arms”). For instance, a knight’s shield may be fully occupied by his coat of arms, while his sworn men-at-arms may bear the same arms, painted smaller, on their shields; or embroidered over the heart of their tunics rather than displayed full-size on a tabard. Individuals may port arms in this way for many reasons. A craftsman may wish to indicate his special relationship with his knightly patron as a means of advertising, while a house steward may wish to indicate his pride in (and loyalty to) his employer. However, porting arms may also serve as a measure of protection. If a soldier is captured in battle, the arms he ports indicate to whom his captors may look for ransom. Women often port arms to discourage sexual violence, particularly if their patron has a reputation for enforcing his feudal obligations.

When two individuals entitled to bear arms marry, they may (but red not) combine their arms into a single new coat of arms. Most often this is done through impaling, displaying each coat of arms on one side of the escutcheon or lozenge, with the bearer’s original arms on the viewer’s left. Other combinations are possible, however, the only hard and fast rule being that the bearer’s original arms be in the uppermost, leftmost (from the viewer’s perspective) section of the combined arms.

When one spouse is from a lower estate, he or she is elevated to the Brotherhood by marriage and entitled to bear his or her own arms. These arms are blazoned according to the normal rules for coats of arms, with the ordinary indicating birth order from the new noble’s parents, except that any ordinaries have a border of vermillion (or, if the chosen ordinary is itself vermillion, a border chalybs). For instance, if a scout knight’s second daughter married into a House, her arms would show the field of her new House and a fess with either a vermillion or chalybs border. The border ensures that there is no confusion as to whether a person married into the Brotherhood or is a natural child of the House. Borders used in this way are blazoned bordered (e.g., a fess argen, bordered vermillion).

The Rule of Contrast

Novan heraldry does not have a rule of tincture as many real-world heraldic systems do. However, as the primary historical function of a coat of arms was to be easily distinguished in the dust and chaos of battle, Novan heraldry does have a strong custom of preferring high-contrast coats of arms. Since heraldic colors encompass many shades, the Rule of Contrast encourages those who emblazon arms (see below) to use shades that are easily distinguished from each other. For instance, if a coat of arms includes both valar and marine, a painter might emblazon the arms using a light purple and a deep royal blue so that the overall design was easier to make out from a distance.

Blazon and Emblazon

Novan heraldry uses a formal vocabulary to describe coats of arms. A formal heraldic description is referred to as a blazon. Technically speaking, the blazon is the coat of arms. Any visual depiction of the coat of arms is known as an emblazon. The distinction between blazon and emblazon originally arose to preserve a knight’s honor. If a heraldic shield was destroyed during a battle, a knight had not lost his arms themselves, but only a representation. For instance, House Darry’s blazon is adamant. A shield painted light green would be a valid emblazon of the Darry arms, but so would a shield painted dark green, or a banner sewn with heather green cloth.

The Components of a Coat of Arms

Escutcheon and Lozenge

Both men and women may bear arms on Nova. The arms of a man are shown in the shape of a heater shield (called an escutcheon), while the arms of a woman are shown on a vertical diamond (called a lozenge). A Novan blazon formally begins per escutcheon or per lozenge, to indicate whether the arms are those of a man or woman, but this may be omitted if it is sufficiently clear from context.

The Field

The second element of a Novan blazon is a description of the field, or the background of the design. This may be a plain color (e.g., in the case of a great House), or a pattern of a color alternating with chalybs (e.g., in the case of a lesser House).

If the field is a solid color, the proper blazon is simply the heraldic name of the color (e.g., adamant). If the field consists of a pattern (“differentiated” in heraldic jargon), the proper blazon is the name of the pattern followed by the two colors in the order they appear, starting at the viewer’s top left. For instance, House Darrhel’s arms are alternating green and gray diamonds, and would be blazoned lozengy, adamant and chalybs. If chalybs is the second color to appear, it may be omitted from the blazon for the sake of brevity, as in Novan heraldry the second color is never anything else (e.g., lozengy, adamant and chalybs is the same as lozengy, adamant_). A handy list of field differentiations may be found here and here.

The Ordinary

Only the lord or lady of a House is permitted to use the arms of that House without further embellishment. A man who bears a shield painted all green, for instance, is instantly identified as Lord Darry. The arms of a son or daughter consist of the House field under an additional geometric design called an ordinary. The ordinary used by a given child is fixed by birth order according to ancient custom, as follows. A handy list of ordinaries is found here:

Pale First son or first daughter
Fess Second son or second daughter
Cross Third son or third daughter
Bend Fourth son or fourth daughter
Bend Sinister Fifth son or fifth daughter
Saltire Sixth son or sixth daughter
Chevron Seventh son or seventh daughter
Pile Inverted Eighth son or eighth daughter
Pall Ninth son or ninth daughter

Although a child’s ordinary is fixed by birth order, the color of that ordinary is up to individual preference. For instance, the sixth daughter of Lord Darry may have the arms per lozenge, adamant, a saltire sanguine, and in a hundred years another sixth daughter of a different Lord Darry may have the arms per lozenge, adamant, a saltire solen.

The Border

A border is used to indicate a sibling of the ruling lord or lady of a House. The border consists of a thin band of the individual’s choice of color around the edge of the escutcheon or lozenge. For instance, Lord Darry’s closest-in-age brother might bear the arms per escutcheon, adamant, a border marine, while his second-closest-in-age sister might bear the arms per lozenge, adamant, a border valar, a border argen (a green field surrounded by a white border, surrounded by a green border, so that from outside to inside the colors of the arms were green, white, green).

The Label

A label is used to indicate degrees of descent from the ruling lord or lady of a House. The grandchild of a ruling lord or lady bears the arms of his or her same-sex parent, plus a label with a number of points indicating birth order. For instance, the sixth daughter of Lord Darry may bear the arms per lozenge, adamant, a saltire sanguine, and her third daughter would bear the arms per lozenge, adamant, a saltire sanguine, a label of three points solen (or any other color for the label that she wished). If yet another degree of descent is required, a second label is added below the first, with more labels added as needed.

The Charge

The system described so far allows an individual to blazon their arms according to their position within their House. As a result, a single individual may bear multiple arms throughout his or her life (for instance, when the current Lord Darry dies, his eldest son would normally become the new Lord Darry, and his second eldest son would normally become the new Lord Darry’s closest-in-age brother). This is the norm on Nova, where a person’s status within his or her House is ordinarily more important than his or her individual identity.

However, occasionally an individual wishes to identify him- or herself as an individual. This is sometimes done to avoid confusion, but more often because the individual has accomplished some great deed. Any individual entitled to bear arms is also entitled to choose a charge, or design, that can be overlaid his or her normal “House” arms. A charge can be any arrangement of an object or geometric figures other than ordinaries (technically, ordinaries are a sub-species of charge, but as they have special significance in Novan heraldry, they are not used to identify individuals). For example, Lord Hugh Darry, known as “The Greenslayer” for his many victories over the orks, uses the charge of two crossed (or embattled) red battle-axes as his personal charge. When a charge is included in a blazon, it is always the last element listed.

Colors and Meanings

Heraldic colors have no fixed symbolic meanings in Novan heraldry; individuals are free to choose colors (when they are free to choose colors) on the basis of individual preference. However, there is an informal tradition among heralds of associating colors with certain qualities. These associations are not universal; sometimes marine only indicates that a person likes the color blue. They can form another layer of meaning for those so inclined, though, as follows:

Color Meanings
Argen Pedigree, experience, nobility
Solen Protection, guardianship, motherhood
Adamant Travel, commerce, friendship
Ebon Dominion, governance, administration
Valar Constancy, dependability, provision
Sanguine Courage, skill at arms, ingenuity
Marine Patence, hard work, triumph
Vermillion (when used in a charge or ordinary) Tradition, social order, culture
Chalybs (never used in a charge or ordinary) Support, war, feudal obligation
Proper Nature, piety, simplicity

The tincture proper indicates a charge that is colored as realistcally as possible (e.g., a tree proper might have a brown trunk and green leaves). For this reason, proper is used only of charges that are objects, such as weapons, plants, or animals; an ordinary proper would be nonsensical (as there is no natural color for, e.g., a diagonal line).

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