Two Heraldic Observations

First off, if you’re at all interested in the heraldry of the World of Greyhawk, hie thee hence to Anna Meyer’s excellent site, where she has re-created all the classic heraldry from the Folio as well as creating new designs for various places, families, etc. The heraldry in this article comes from there.

I wanted to take a moment today to mention two symbols that are used in Greyhawk that might escape the casual notice of the reader. They are, interestingly, found on opposite sides of the continent.

First, we have the device known as a fret. This is known in real-world heraldry, and looks like a square at a 45 degree angle, with an X intersecting the box. It is only found in one context in the Flanaess, and that is as an identifier of all the members of the Iron League. I posit that it could be used as an identifier on flags, seals, etc. that represent the League as a whole.

Some representative samples; Idee, Irongate, and Sunndi.

Next, we have an example from the Baklunish lands. A common symbol in their heraldic designs is known as a cross cercelée, and is found at a 45 degree angle, like an X, but with curved ends on the arms. It is found in the arms of Ekbir, Zeif, and the Paynims, but not Tusmit or Ull, suggesting that it is a religious or cultural symbol, but not one universally recognized as identifying the Baklunish people.

The colors red, black, and yellow are, however, found in all Baklunish national heraldry save that of the Paynims (which is only yellow and black). It’s probably overstating the case that red is symbolic in Baklunish culture of settled, as opposed to nomadic, peoples, but it’s certainly something that a DM could build some significance around.

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Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

8 thoughts on “Two Heraldic Observations

  1. I always found the Ahlissa heraldry, with the…grenades?…an interesting image. As far as I know, that particular element of heraldry is unique in Greyhawk.

    1. The grenade is an insignia in real-world heraldry, usually in the coats of arms of military units. The interesting part of that is how it could possibly have been used in Flanaess, since gunpowder doesn’t work on Oerth…

        1. I imagine at least two options:

          1. A more primitive version of a necklace of fireballs. Instead of a necklace, the item is an enchanted metal sphere…maybe something developed by dwur in the Iron Hills.
          2. A more advanced (and long lost) use of the Glyph of Warding that allows the glyphed object to be thrown quickly after setting the glyph with explosive runes.

          I imagine the Flannae of old Ahlissa used these objects in combat with invading Oeridians. After their defeat, their technique for crafting these “grenades” was lost.

  2. I’m pretty sure The Adventure Begins confirms that the Iron League uses a fret as its official symbol. It mentions that the Lordship of the Isles stopped depicting the fret on its coat of arms after it threw in with the Scarlet Brotherhood.

    There seems to be a real division between settled and nomadic peoples among the Baklunish in a way that there isn’t among cultures in the main Flanaess (aside from the Wolf and Tiger Nomads and the Rovers of the Barrens) and they interact much more than the Flanaess cultures do with the nomads that live among them. The Wolf and Tiger Nomads wouldn’t even exist in their present form unless the Sultans of Zeif had brought the Brazen and Relentless Hordes to try and fight the Paynim invaders, and the Uli are themselves a Paynim tribe that decided to become settled. Meanwhile, the Mahdi is causing major upheaval among the Paynims and is making religious authorities in the settled Baklunish lands nervous, whereas the Rovers and Nomads mostly seem interested in raiding other cultures and being left alone.

  3. I like the observation about red, black and yellow used in all Baklunish heraldry. I never compared them all side by side before so I like the consistency there. The Iron League fret was always a nice touch too and was a handy way to find those countries easier on a full page of shields haha

  4. It’s odd that they would have one coat of arms for the entire Plains of the Paynims when they would most likely be multiple tribes. Perhaps that was the seal of the original Baklunish Empire?

    1. I kind of like this. The Baklunish Empire originally had two symbols: cercelée and scimitar, and there was some sort of Shia/Sunni schism that each adopted one of them– Ull and Ket retain the scimitar, while Tusmit with its stars-and-scripture has gone its own way. Or possibly the general Paynim heraldry is an acknowledgment that both are present– “this is what we have in common”– though as you point out each tribe is going to have their own.

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