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Basic Conflict Checking

This is intended to get you started in conflict checking of SCA armory. Checking for conflict is not a subject that can be learned completely in a mere 2 hour class, therefore this is an overview which should put you on the road to learning the skills needed to become an adequate or better conflict checker.

The following resources are necessary in order to adequately check for conflict:

Standards for Evaluation of Names and Armory External Link (SENA). This comes with the Glossary of Terms which contains listings of restricted and reserved charges, default postures, and proper tinctures. It also comes with the Administrative Handbook External Link which defines what can be registered and what is protected.

The SCA Ordinary External Link (for armory) and Armorial External Link (for names). It's big, it's bulky, and you can't conflict check without it. But, fortunately, you can also use the online versions!

Compiled Laurel Precedents External Link. These cover situations which have no corollary in the RfS and are gleaned from Laurel Letters of Acceptance and Return (LoARs).

Also useful to have is A Pictorial Dictionary of Heraldry (aka PicDic), but not necessary. An online version is being compiled by Bruce Draconarius of Mistholme, Batonvert Herald Extraordinary.

Many of these items can be purchased in hard copy from the .

Note: This section contains an article written prior to the publication of "Standards for the Evaluation of Names and Armory" and may not comply with SENA or with the Laurel of Arms Precedents. ~Herring, 11/8/15.


I'll start by defining conflict, because all the Ordinaries and Armorials in the world can't help you if you're not certain what you're looking for. The goal here is to facilitate conflict checking by eliminating unnecessary steps in checks and to present tips on streamlining your checking process. No two people conflict check alike, so with practice you'll probably develop your own methods. This is the way it should be.

Conflict is when two pieces of armory are alike enough that they give the impression that the owners of the devices are related. Period armory often used a single change in the arms, a cadency step, to distinguish between immediate relatives, such as father and son or brothers. A cadency change is considered the smallest change that was recognized by period heralds.

[From the Glossary of Terms:
Cadency. The method of modifying armory to indicate a relationship with the owner of the original armory. Changes that were made to difference one device from another can be considered the smallest changes that were considered significant enough to be noticed at the time they were used. Systems of cadency vary depending on the time and place.]

RfS I.3.a.
Conflicting Claims - A ... piece of armory that creates a false impression of the identity of the submitter will not be registered. Someone may not claim to be another, either directly by using ... armory that is identical to another's, or by unmistakably claiming close relationship to an individual who is in fact unrelated.

Therefore, armory conflicts if it is identical to previously registered armory or makes the claim of close relationship to previously registered armory. Appearance does come into consideration, but is not the main reason we call conflict. Conflict can and does happen when two devices are visually dissimilar to one another. That isn't why they conflict. Visual conflict is nearly always a matter of whether charges were artistic variants of one another, or could be, and therefore would be considered the same charge drawn by different heralds.


Since cadency was generally a single step, two or more changes is required by the SCA to clear armory. Large changes were not used for cadency, so a complete change of primary charge assures there is no inappropriate claim.

[Cadency took many forms. In some cases, something was added to the arms to change them. The King of France in the 15th century bore "Azure semy-de-lis Or." His brother the Duke of Berry bore "Azure semy-de-lis Or, a bordure gules." His other brother, the Duke of Bourbon bore "Azure semy-de-lis Or, a bend gules." In other cases, the tincture of the field or charges was changed.]

When we count CDs, then, it would be appropriate to consider that "CD" can mean "clear difference" or "cadency difference" in order to keep in mind just why we need two or more.


The heraldic definition of "difference" is when two charges would not have been considered alike by period heralds. In the SCA we're dealing with a lot of charges that weren't used by any single country's heralds, or weren't known at all in period, so we need to rule on things that period heralds did not. However, the intent is the same. Differences come in three categories; substantial (or complete), significant, and insignificant. Only the first two count for anything when clearing conflict.

A substantial difference exists when two charges are more than one cadency step apart. These charges are viewed as completely different, such as a lion and a chevron, or a mullet and a billet. Armory which is substantially different may be completely clear of previously registered items.

A significant difference exists when two charges cannot be mistaken for one another because of major changes between them. A lion rampant and a lion rampant contourny are significantly different, even though the charge is the same. A lozenge and a mascle are significantly different. A bend and a bend engrailed are significantly different. Significantly different charges could have been used as a single cadency step in period heraldry. A significant difference between armory counts for one CD.

Insignificant difference is when the change isn't enough to be considered a cadency step. A sword and a rapier are both swords, hence they are insignificantly different. The difference between a hound passant and a hound passant regardant is insignificant. Some postures are not different enough to be significant - statant and passant, rampant and salient and sejant erect and statant erect, couchant and dormant. In each, only the position of one leg or the head changes, which is not enough to count as different. Maintained charges are not significant; there is no difference between a lion rampant and a lion rampant maintaining a sword. Continental heraldry had dragons with only two legs, English heraldic dragons had four legs. Therefore, there is no difference between them, no between dragons and wyverns, as English heraldry sometimes uses a 2-legged dragon and calls it a wyvern. Generally, if Continental and English heraldry had variants of the same charge with different names, they are insignificantly different from one another. In SCA heraldry, certain other charges are considered insignificantly different. All felines are considered the same, all architecture (castles, towers, bridges, etc.) are the same, and certain lines of division such as embattled and dovetailed are insignificantly different. Insignificant differences are not worth a CD.

The Ordinary is broken into categories which can often clue you into what is different and what is not. The header WHEEL covers water wheels, Catherine wheels, wagon wheels and others. None of these wheels is significantly different from the others.

Laurel precedents are made when a question comes up which is not covered in the RfS. Checking precedents can let you know if a charge is significantly different from another charge and worth a CD, or not.

The Pictorial Dictionary of Heraldry frequently lists charges which are insignificantly different from other charges.


Every charge in armory falls into a single group category. Primary charge group, secondary charge group, tertiary charge group, or overall charge group. A charge group is one or more charges. Yes, you can have a charge group of only a single charge. Charges in a charge group may be identical or they may not be.

The primary charge group either occupies the center of the shield or is the most important group of charges in the device. Ordinaries which pass through the middle of the shield are almost always the primary charge group. In "Gules, a fess argent" the fess is the primary charge group. In "Gules, three crosses argent" the crosses are the primary charge group. In "Azure semy of billets Or" the billets are the primary charge group.

The secondary charge group is arranged around the primary charge group. In "Gules, a chevron between three billets argent" the billets are the secondary charge group, as they are arranged around the primary charge. In "Azure semy of billets, a chevron Or" the billets are the secondary charge group. In both devices, removing the chevron would make the billets the primary charge group. Peripheral charges, such as bordures, chiefs, orles and charges which occupy the places those ordinaries would be in if they were present, are secondary charges. In devices where peripheral charges exist without a primary charge group, they aren't called secondaries, they're called peripheral charges. Secondary charges can only exist as such if there's a primary charge group as well. Cotisses are secondary charges.

The overall charge group crosses over both edges of another charge and lies on the field on either side. "Argent, a sword gules and overall a bend sable" has the bend crossing the sword and lying on the field on either side. An overall charge must have good contrast with the field. The underlying charge is the primary charge.

The tertiary charge group is that which lies entirely on another group of charges. In "Or, on a bend gules three mullets Or" the mullets are the tertiary charge group. In "Argent, on a billet sable a mullet argent, a bordure sable platy" both the mullet and the plates are tertiary charges. In "Sable, on a horse rampant between three crosses crosslet fitchy argent another sable" the horse is primary, the crosses on the field are secondaries, and the cross on the horse is tertiary.


When we compare devices, we compare the various charge groups to one another. Comparing "Argent, a mullet between three roundels sable" to "Argent, a mullet gules between three mascles sable" we start with the primary charge and find a mullet sable and a mullet gules to be significantly different. Then we compare three roundels to three mascles and also find them to be significantly different. This breaks the device down into component parts and facilitates the conflict checking process. Conflict check always begins with the primary charge group, when one is present.


RfS section X.1. states "Armory does not conflict with any protected armory that adds or removes the primary charge group." This is usually the only rule one needs to clear a device or badge, but is often overlooked.

In applying this rule, one of the devices under consideration need not have any primary charge group at all. "Paly gules and argent" does not conflict with "Paly gules and argent, an annulet azure" because a primary charge group has been added. Conversely, "Per pale sable and Or, a fess gules" does not conflict with "Per pale sable and Or" because the primary charge group has been removed. "Argent, a chief azure" does not conflict with "Argent, three crescents and a chief azure" because a primary charge group has been added.

The major benefit of this rule is that is streamlines conflict checking and eliminates areas which do not need to be checked. If you are checking "Bendy azure and argent" you don't need to check anything that has a primary charge group. You can still conflict with armory which has peripheral charges such as orle, bordure or chief, but not with a lion or bend. The header in the Ordinary to check is "Field division - Bendy".

In checking "Argent, three eagles displayed gules", this would not conflict with lions or chevronels. In checking "Bird - Whole - 3 or more" I might find "Argent, a chevron between three eagles displayed gules". There is no need to check past "Argent, a chevron" because the two devices cannot possibly conflict.

With the device "Azure, a pale between two lions combattant Or" you check for conflicts under Pale (check them all, charged and uncharged and plain and complex lines). But you do not need to check lions at all. This is completely clear of "Azure, two lions combattant Or".

Another way to clear armory is by a complete change of the primary charge. RfS section X.2. states "Simple armory does not conflict with other simple armory if the type of every primary charge is substantially changed." This is sometimes called the "simple armory rule". Don't call it that, it's not. Another rule in section X.4. also deals with so-called simple armory and the two are often confused. Book heralds usually get by simply by stating the pertinent rule by number, and henceforth I shall, too.

Substantial changes are as above, a complete change of type. Posture, tincture, orientation and the like don't count. Some examples of charges which are substantially different from one another are: lion, horse, wolf, fess, chevron, mullet, billet, fleur-de-lis, eagle, tree, rose, thistle, etc.

The major difficulty in applying rule X.2. is in defining what it means by "simple". The rule itself puts some 70 lines into that definition. With assistance from senior heralds, I'm going to try to present some clear examples and definitions. I'm also including the entire text of X.2. so you can compare them.

A device with only a single group of primary charges, which do not need to be identical is simple. The following are all simple: "Sable, a lion and a horse combattant argent", "Azure, three pallets Or", "Argent, a wheel per pale gules and sable" and "Per chevron Or and vert, three bulls' heads erased counterchanged".

A device with a single group of identical primary charges which are charged with tertiaries is simple. The following are simple: "Argent, on three billets gules three mullets Or", "Gules, on a fess argent three roses gules", and "Sable, two lozenges in fess argent each charged with an annulet azure". This one is NOT simple: "Azure, two turtles Or and a rose argent, the turtles each charged with a billet sable" because the primary charges are not identical.

A device with a primary group of identical charges and also a secondary group of identical charges is simple. "Gules, a rose between three mascles argent", "Per pale sable and argent, a chevron between three swords counterchanged", and "Azure, five mullets in saltire and a chief Or" are all simple. "Or, a bend between a sword and a rose gules" is not simple because the secondaries are not identical.

A device with a primary group of identical charges and a secondary group of identical charges in which tertiary charges exist. "Argent, on a chevron gules three roses Or and a bordure azure", "Or, three millrinds gules and a bordure sable bezanty" and "Argent, on a pale between four billets sable each charged with a crescent a harp Or" are all simple in this definition.

"Simple" as applied to X.2. does not apply anywhere else, and other definitions of "simple" in other rules don't apply here.

X.3. is frequently misinterpreted. What it means is that if two pieces of official SCA armory (usually branch arms) have laurel wreaths or crowns in them as their Primary charge group, you can count what would normally be the secondaries for difference using rules X.1. and X.2. This only applies when both devices have laurel wreaths or both devices have crowns as primary charges. If one of the devices you are checking against the other does not have either laurel wreaths or crowns as their primary charges, count the wreaths or crowns in the exact same manner as you would other charges. Laurel wreaths and crowns are not transparent and never have been. If you need to apply X.3. the best advice I can give is to request the assistance of a senior herald.

Rule X.4. deals with the counting of CDs. Apply this rule only when rules X.1. and X.2. have been eliminated in clearing conflict. Otherwise, you're just making yourself unnecessary work.

X.4. reads: "Significant Armorial Differences- Two pieces of armory will not be considered to conflict if two clear visual differences exist between them." This rule is even longer than X.2. and has as many chances for misinterpretation. Note that this rule deals exclusively with significant differences. The previous rules deal with substantial, now we're down to cumulative.

"Visual differences" include changes to type, tincture, posture and orientation, among other things. Let's break it down according to subsection.

X.4.a. is fairly straightforward. Note that changes to the field are only cumulative if no primary charge is present. Field-only and devices with peripheral ordinaries (ordinaries which touch or follow the edges of the shield) may gain more than one CD here. When primary charges are present, CDs from this rule are not cumulative: changing both field tincture and type of division line, or direction and tincture and type of line still only count for a single CD. Therefore, changing from "Per fess gules and sable two mullets argent" to "Per pale and per fess indented gules and azure, two mullets argent" is only worth a single CD. This also covers fieldless badges. The lack of a field is a single CD. Two pieces or fieldless armory still get a single CD from one another because of this rule.

X.4.b., X.4.c., X.4.d., X.4.e., X.4.f., X.4.g., X.4.h. and X.4.i. are also straightforward enough that the wordings in the RfS are their best descriptions.

X.4.j. is another of the rules which is often used and frequently needs to be reviewed to understand it well. Note that no matter how many changes you might make to tertiary charges, according to X.4.j. you only get one CD. X.4.j.i. requires more than one change to the tertiary charge group in order to count as a single CD.

X.4.j.ii. defines another type of simple armory. Note that only the piece of armory that is new needs to be simple by these definitions.

X.5. is tricky. For the most part, it's not often applied and when it is, the device is already at Laurel.

Precedents often cover things which were not considered when the RfS were written. Certain ones are highly difficult to conflict check without. Here are my personal Top Five:

Note that the last three here are clarifying extant Rules, specifically X.4.e. and X.4.h. Often a precedent occurs when something new is learned about period heraldic practice. Other times, it is a matter of applying historical practice to something period heralds would never have seen. There are also precedents which occur because a logical argument has been applied to a specific example which may or may not relate to any other situation.


Use the "Ordinary - NOT" printed below to check these blazons for conflict:

  • Azure, a tree Or between two lions combattant argent.
  • Sable, on a fess between two fish naiant argent three mascles gules.
  • Per saltire gules and sable, four arrows argent and on a bordure Or three roses sable.
  • Gules, a bend between an open book and a maunch argent.
  • Or, on three hearts gules three Stafford knots Or.
  • (Fieldless) On a tree per pale sable and vert three apples Or.
  • Per saltire vert and azure, a lion rampant contourney maintaining a heart argent.
  • Argent, a chevron sable between two harps and a tankard gules.

The SCA Ordinary - NOT

[This Ordinary is entirely fictitious and every piece of armory, name, date, and kingdom has no relevance to anything that actually exists. Or at least I don't think it does.]

This is a simplified version of the standard Ordinary layout. Headings are usually broken down into type, then sometimes tincture, posture, number and/or orientation. It depends entirely on what the charge is and how many entries there are under each heading. This mock-up has been specifically created to utilize the information presented in this class. It has no use in the real world.


  • Azure, four arrows in cross argent and a bordure Or. (Inigo Smith - Oct '87 Calontir)
  • Ermine, a sheaf of arrows inverted sable. (Paula of Braxton - Feb '98 Meridies)
  • Gules, an arrow argent. (Phillip the Archer - July '79)
  • Gyronny vert and argent, two arrows in pile and a chief gules. (Damian the Tasteless - Jan '85 East)
  • Per chevron gules and sable, on a chevron Or two arrows azure. (Ben the Bowman - Jun '81)
  • Sable semy of arrows argent, a saltire Or. (Conchobar mac Ewan - Sept '87 Calontir)

Beast - Cat

  • Azure, a lion rampant argent. (Richard Couer de Coney - Jun '95 An Tir)
  • Azure, a tree paly sable and Or between two lions rampant addorsed regardant argent. (Juan del Fuego - Apr '88 Middle)
  • Ermine, a lion rampant contorny vert between three hearts gules. (Anna the Unfound - Nov '91 Outlands)
  • Gules, three lions sejant contourny within an orle of roundels Or. (Alastair Baker - Dec '86 Caid)
  • Sable, a lion couchant contourny argent. (Penelope Luckless - Oct '85 Middle)
  • Sable, on a fess dancetty between two lions passant guardant argent, three mascles gules. (Sarah bint Joseph - Jan '92 Trimaris)
  • Vairy vert and Or, a lion sejant erect maintaining a harp sable. (Wat the Fuller - Apr '90 Atlantia)

Bend - 1

  • Argent, a bend between six roses gules and on a bordure sable ten Thor's hammers argent. (Magnus Ulffsson - Mar '94 Drachenwald)
  • Azure, a bend between three trees eradicated argent. (Angus MacAngus of Connacht - June '88 West)
  • Azure, a bend between two maunches argent. (Tomas the Boar - Apr '89 East)
  • Gules, on a bend argent between two open books Or, three roses azure. (Ivan the Learned - Jun '95 An Tir)
  • Per bend argent and azure, on a bend three roundels counterchanged. (Simon de London - Sept '92 Outlands)
  • Purpure, a bend between two estoilles argent. (Catriona ingean ui Dhoineannaigh - Mar '96 Trimaris)
  • Sable, a bend between two open books argent. (John Bookman - Feb '89 Caid)

Chevron - 1

  • Argent, a chevron between three tankards sable. (Donnegal the Drunkard - Mar '88 An Tir
  • Argent, a chevron between three billets gules. (Mongke Huag - Sept '86 Caid)
  • Ermine, on a chevron between three harps sable, a sword fracted proper. (Fuad al-Sayf - Jun '93 Atlantia)
  • Per chevron gules and sable, on a chevron Or two arrows azure. (Ben the Bowman - Jun '81)

Fess - 1

  • Argent mullety gules, a fess azure. (William of Applegate - May 84 East)
  • Azure, a fess between two fish naiant argent. (Justin Small - Apr 96 Ansteorra)
  • Gules, on a fess Or three hearts gules. (Peregrine the Lost - Aug 88 Meridies)
  • Per fess azure and gules, a fess argent between a rabbit courant and an Arabian lamp Or. (Genevieve des troix chattes - Sept '76)
  • Sable, on a fess dancetty between two lions passant guardant argent, three mascles gules. (Sarah bint Joseph - Jan '92 Trimaris)
  • Sable, a fess cotissed argent. (Elizabeth de Winter - Jun '97 Calontir)

Heart - 2 or more

  • Argent, three hearts and a bordure gules. (Hans Grosse - Sept '87 Caid)
  • Azure, on a heart gules fimbriated an annulet Or. (Lyotr Ivarrsson - May '98 Artemesia)
  • Gules, in pale three hearts Or between two Stafford knots argent. (Antonio de Roma - July '94 Atlantia)
  • Gules, on a fess Or three hearts gules. (Peregrine the Lost - Aug 88 Meridies)
  • Per pale Or and sable, three hearts gules. (Roisin Debeau - May '88 West)
  • Or, on three hearts gules three roses ermine. (Catherine Bellefontaine - Sept '83 East)

Tree - Rounded shape - 1

  • (Fieldless) A tree sable charged with a heart Or. (Romeo Valentine - Aug '88 East)
  • (Fieldless) A tree per pale sable and vert. (Dayfydd ap Dayfydd - May '94 Trimaris)
  • Argent, an apple tree between three escallops sable. (Adelaide the Widow - Jan '96 East)
  • Azure, a bend between three trees eradicated argent. (Angus MacAngus of Connacht - June '88 West)
  • Azure, a tree eradicated Or. (Matilda Witeoke - Sept '93 Middle)
  • Azure, a tree paly sable and Or between two lions rampant addorsed regardant argent. (Juan del Fuego - Apr '88 Middle)
  • Gules, three trees Or. (Paul of Bourbon - Dec '97 West)
  • Per pale vert and argent, a tree between three apples and on a chief an axe fesswise counterchanged. (Robert Gravenstein the Brewer - Sep '93 An Tir)
  • Per pale vert and sable, on a tree per pale argent and Or a bunch of cherries gules stemmed vert. (Caitlin the Stationary - Jun '98 Artemesia)
  • Sable, a tree vert fimbriated charged with a roundel Or. (Alys Stout - Nov '75)

(by Lady Teceangl Bach)

Permission is given to print, copy and distribute this document freely and without charge. This article may be printed in newsletters and other periodical publishings. This article may not be included in any other printed compilation that is charged for, except for minimal printing costs. This information must be included in any reprints of this article. Copyright 1999, Brenda Klein