I have always liked heraldry, the designs on the shields and their meaning. They can also be useful in games and on maps to identify groups and people.
There are several sites and tools that can make this easy.
- Coat of Arms Design Studio from Inkwell Ideas is one of the more accessible and powerful designers. There is an online tool and a downloadable tool you can buy — I ended up buying the standalone tool.
- Fantasy Shields is a strictly online tool and probably the simplest, but also the most limited. However, if it has enough to do what you need I think it makes the prettiest pictures.
- The Drawshield suite of programs aims to teach blazonry and the creation of shields [quoted from the site]. This is something of an advanced tool, but I think that if you develop the knowledge to use it correctly it will be very powerful.
- Oh, nifty! “All of the code is available under an Apache 2.0 open source licence hosted by google code at http://code.google.com/p/drawshield.” Now, if I didn’t have enough to spend my attention on….
Sporkchop at ROFL Initiative has also provided a few links where you can learn more about heraldry.
- Internationalheraldry.com goes into great detail about the structure of European coats of arms
- heraldicclipart.com offers numerous graphic elements that can be used in the construction of heraldic elements… of course, a Google search for heraldry will do the same.
- The Escutcheons of Science is one of my favorite heraldry sites. It lists and displays the personal coat of arms for many of the world’s great scientists and inventors!
There have been a few Dragon Magazine articles regarding heraldy, including one (I think for the Champions of Mystara series of articles) that had various elements of the coat of arms provide certain effects. For instance, having a lion on the shield might give a ‘Roar’ power or some form of fearlessness — I forget exactly. It might be worth looking up.