Sunday, July 17, 2016

Skill: Heraldry

Some Important People, apparently.
I decided to start a series on "background skills" you see on Dungeon Fantasy templates that, interesting or not, can sometimes feel underutilized or can be hard to integrate a setup for, at least, in my opinion. Today, I'm going to be looking at Heraldry, the skill of discerning meaning from flags and logos and being able to impart the same when creating new ones.

How To Use It: Design

So, as I said, I'm mostly focusing on Dungeon Fantasy. Let's first start with the more abstract application of Heraldry in that context: the ability to design a symbol, flag, coat of arms, or similar that specifically calls to mind what a certain group represents. How can we make this useful in terms of Dungeon Fantasy. Let's spin up some rules for designing a coat of arms or flag then.
  • Designing a brand new symbol takes 4 hours, extra time spent and haste can also be applied. Applicable complementary skills might be relevant forms of Artist for bringing a point across correctly, Hidden Lore for imparting a secret meaning that only an illuminated member of a certain society should understand, Savoir-Faire to communicate a message to a specific class, and whatever else you might want. Keep track of the margin of success for the Heraldry roll. This will help calculate a bonus for later situations.
  • Realizing a completed design takes a particular crafting skill like Armoury, Artist, Sewing or likewise to create a shield with the insignia, create a seal for letterheads, or to create a banner, or can be hired out. Low Tech Companion 3 has some thoughts on how to do that labor if you want help crunching numbers.
  • Once the party has a symbol that represents them, they can accrue a reputation as a group. This requires curation and tempering. When designing the symbol, the party should choose what kind of aura they want, perhaps from, but not limited to, the following:
    • Ruthless - Enemies are encouraged to surrender instead of incurring wrath. +1 to intimidation attempts to stop a fight from occurring for every 3 margin of success when designing the symbol.
    • Heroic - Jobs are easier to find because people know you are dependable. +1 to all rolls while looking for work for every 3 margin of success in the design roll.
    • Legendary - You are surely destined for great things, and for better or for worse, people want to find you. For every 3 margin of success, friendly people react to you at +1, while antagonistic characters react to you at -1.
    • Camaraderie - Especially if using skills like Hidden Lore to communicate a secret message to only the right people, "I support the fairy nationalist movement," or "we pledge fealty to the true king." Things like this might have a similar effect to a legendary aura, attracting requests for help from the right audience, aide from those in power aligned with your cause, and, as well, negative attention from those who would stand against such a cause.
  • These bonuses come with a restriction that a certain air must be maintained. A ruthless band doesn't save an orphanage with a bake sale, but I'd allow them to mow down a goblin fortress and sell all the copper wiring to solve the same problem. A Legendary band will turn down the small jobs for the bigger things, or find a way to turn small opportunities into the bigger things, and a Heroic band will stop at nothing to right all wrongs in the world.
So, in this case, design might be a way to receive reputation points for free above and beyond the points a party typically earns.

How To Use It: Recognition

The other main, and likely more relevant usage of heraldry is identifying an unknown party, some of the applications of such might be:
  • Seeing if you can trust an unknown party by the uniforms they wear or flags they carry
  • Knowing if a particular party of goblins is related or opposed to the ones you skirmished with a few days ago.
  • Determining if someone is an imposter because of nuanced inaccuracies in presentation.
  • Finding secret motivations or function in a group: If all the soldiers in the enemy army have a blue, three pronged trident on their shoulder, what does it mean that the one on horseback travelling towards your location has a two pronged, red bident instead?
  • Heraldry might be a kinda gateway ability that enables other abilities to follow. A successful heraldry roll might allow one of these rolls in secret:
    • Counterfit to tell that this unit is an imposter
    • Hidden Lore to tell this is the special hell's mouth division which is rumored to employ demons and Infernals for jobs that humans are not fit for.
    • Savoir-Faire to tell that the royal purple fleur de lis means that this unit is composed of royals... who either are pampered and have no idea how to fight and will make a great ransom... or who had the best tutoring that money can buy and you need to get away as soon as possible if you value your life.
    • Soldier to suss out what type of weapons a group might be specialized in.
    • Strategy to understand why a group of people with a particular skillset might be in a particular place at a particular time. (These royal Dwarf Miners are going in a different direction from the main force, are they coordinating a deceptive retreat into an explosive ambush?)
  • It could also be used in the identification of treasure. If, for example, you find an armory in an abandoned cathedral, and inside there is a glowing stone engraved with an olive branch entwined around a sword, you might recognize that this is mysteriously the crest of the empire to the east, hundreds of miles away from this location. Maybe they know what the stone means, what the purpose of the church was, or how to use the stone?
  • It could be used to identify the country of origin of certain currencies, if the flag or a seal is on a coin.
  • It could be used to verify that the sender of a letter is who they say they are by looking at the seal, assuming the seal was not stolen, of course.
So, in essence, the recognition ability of Heraldry allows for the making of informed choices, and narrowing down how to look for clues.

Other Thoughts and Conclusion

I'm kinda surprised I was able to brainstorm this much use for Heraldry when it rarely comes up in my games, I guess now I have some ideas on how to use it, and maybe I should do this with some other more obscure skills that seem to have niche use so that I can make them not feel like "wasted points."


  1. It's one of my personal favorite background skills for pre-modern games, and still has use to this day (corporate logos for one). It kinda gets rolled under the rug, though, since a lot of its use could be rather automatic - knowing where you are, and who's approaching you.

    1. I think going through this exercise the important thing I've learned is that There needs to be friendly encounters in the wilderness where the type of careful analysis/second guessing conundrum can be useful to the players. As it is, in a metagame sense, the players encounter something in the wild, and they think (correctly) that the best action to take is to take the first move. So I need to make a reason for them not to necessarily believe that, and consequences, positive and negative for taking that approach, without it bogging down drama with everyone being cagey because they don't trust anyone, or stupidly naive because it's better to swallow a sneak attack being overtrusting than to risk killing the guy that might be the instant win button.

    2. Could also work flipside for the PC's. Wandering about with out some kind of banner to identify yourself is *exactly* how you get taken for Highwaymen.


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