Don’t Talk To Me About Complications! or I’ve Got a Headache

The Heretical Herald Volume 1 Issue 2 February 22, AS XXXVIII being 2004 AD

(ed. Note that this was written a while ago and they may 
use a different way to judge complexity now. 
Consult your local herald.)

Acute song I have heard in the SCA dealing with Heraldry called “The Herald’s Complaint”, by Baldwin of Erebor is about the nightmares a herald has about a device he sees even in his dreams which haunts him in its ugly complexity. I won’t repeat the lyrics to this excellent song here out of courtesy to the writer and copyright, however I recommend that the reader look it up. You can find the lyrics printed with permission on this page: “http://www.florilegium.org/files/PERFORMANCE-ARTS/songs2-msg.text” Search down the fairly lengthy page for the phrase “The Herald’s Complaint” and you’ll find the articles on it with the lyrics. (Baldwin of Erebor is mundanely known as Derek Foster and the song has been published in the volume “Broadside of a Bard”, Copyright 1979 by Derek Foster) I can also reprint the registry of Baldwin of Erebor that includes the badge of which the song is written in illustration:

  • Baldwin of Erebor
  • This name was registered in March of 1980 (via Atenveldt).
  • The following device associated with this name was registered in March of 1980 (via Atenveldt):
    Azure, on a pile invected ermine a harp Or.
  • The following badge associated with this name was registered in April of 1980 (via Atenveldt):
    (Fieldless) A dove displayed upon a billet chequy Or and gules between a pair of cockatrices clad in motley like a fool’s, their feathers are dimidiated with a tree eradicated, limbed and fructed countercompony.

The badge you can see was passed in 1980 and likely wouldn’t pass today for a number of reasons, one of which is, it is just too complex. I’ll leave figuring out what it looks like to you. I’m not really sure what feathers that are half composed of eradicated trees look like.

In the SCA there is a guideline that heralds use to gauge how complex too complex is. In general as the number of tinctures used in a device increases the number of types of charges should decrease. The basic guideline used is that the total number of tinctures used when added to the total number of different types of charges should not exceed 8. Further three or more types of charges should not be used in the same group of charges. It is spelled out in the “Rules for Submission” Part VIII- Compatible Armorial Style 1. Armorial Simplicity a. Tincture and Charge Limit. I’m not sure how many colours “motley” counts as, but the badge in “The Herald’s Complaint” I’m sure comes out as more than 8.

There is a tendency with some newcomers to the SCA to want to virtually include their life story in their device. Their persona is from a port city so they want something nautical like a ship, their father was a miller and the byname they have selected is miller so they want a millrind, they love their pet dog whom they bring to all events so they want a hound and since they are welsh they want a dragon. Since they also want to be a crusading knight they also want a cross or saltire on the device somewhere too. They also really like the colours red, green, and yellow. The big thing is they want it all! Now before even trying to design anything just doing a count we have 5 + 3 = 8 for the complexity count. That is at the border. Now this does fit in. It just barely fits in. It would take a lot of care to incorporate all these items tastefully without it becoming indistinct and messy to look at. Simpler is better and if they were coming to consult with me I would try to convince them to pare down that list to what is truly what is important and what they want. I’ll remind them that they can also have in addition to a device up to three badges with which they can display these other symbols of their persona life.

It might be a good time to take them on a tour of period Rolls of Arms and Armorials and let them have a gander at what actually was done in period. Then have a look at some well known and recognizable SCA Arms and take turns pointing out the more striking ones and ones that strike each of your fancy and count out the complexity of them. Perhaps this might convince them to pare down their grand plans for their life story in heraldry. I’d suggest a wander down the online An Tir: Roll of Arms. There is nothing like some good examples to get the creative juices flowing in the right direction. There are also some very nice and very creative good examples of heraldry. Of course be wary of some that would not pass muster in today’s more stringent times.

…and if they still want everything and a bag of chocolate chip cookies proper… well work with it as best as possible and remind them that 8 isn’t a goal but a recommended maximum and that heralds really are sticky when it comes to the dreaded “slot machine” guideline!

The “slot machine” guideline refers to that second bit on complexity that you should not have three or more different types of charges in a charge group. In other words if you have three charges in a group, three the same are a winner; two the same and one different are a winner; but three different are a loser. So having a “bell” “book” and “candle” while sounding sort of neat and alluding to neat stuff just won’t go as a group of charges on your shield. (Though if you are cagey you could have your shield set up with a pale down the centre and but the bell to one side, the book on the other and then set the candle on the pale.)

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