Sunday, 23 November 2014

Skyrim Banners (game flags)

This is something I have wanted to write about for quite a long time. I am not an Elder Scrolls fan, but I do have the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and rather enjoy it. One thing that I noticed almost straight away was the use of banners in the game, some good, some not so good. Banners are often found hanging from the walls of capital cities, and forts, and the Jarl's (a hold king) residencies. They are also used as 'flags' over forts or beside the command tent in an Imperial or Stormcloak military camps, and often as indoor decorations of palaces, ships, castles & forts, ruins and even some caves.
Banner of Haafingar, hanging above the entrance too Castle Dauer in Solitude 
So here are some of my redesigns and proposals for the banners and flags of Skyrim. I tried to retain their historic feel but at the same time make them better from a vexillology view point.

Holds

The province of Skyrim is divided up into nine sub-regions known as holds, each governed by its own local king or queen called a Jarl. In the backdrop of the game the province is in a civil war between the Stormcloack rebels who want independence from the Empire and the Empire's Imperial Legion, with the out come depending on which side the player chooses. At the start each side has four holds with the central Whiterun hold being neutral (although it will later side with the Imperials regardless of which side the player joins).

 Each Hold has its own insignia which is displayed on the hold banner, and born on the shields of the hold guard:
Hold Banners in the Game
Hold Guard Shields
First of is the Hold of Eastmarch, the capital of which is Windhelm, and its Jarl (at the start of the Game at least) is Ulfric Stormcloack claimant of the High Kingship of Skyrim and leader of the rebellion. He has adopted his father's emblem of the bear, as such both the banner Stormcloak soldiers and his hold "fight under his banner" of the bear although the are slightly different. The hold banner isn't that bad, but here is my redesign, which keeps the blue and white colour scheme:
flag

banner
Next up is Falkreath Hold the capital of which is also called Falkreath. Its symbol is the stag:
banner

flag
Its really a simplified design of the game's flag with the exception of the white chevron, which adds a little bit of complexity to the design.
Haafingar, with its capital of Solitude is the imperial capital of Skyrim. It is the headquarters of the Imperial Legion in the province (IV Legion) and home to the provinces military governor, General Tullius. Its Jarl Elisif who is also a claimant to the tittle of High Queen. Her husband was High King, but was challenged and killed in "the Nord tradition" by Ullfrick Stormcloak, both now claim the High King title. Elisif wants Skyrim to remain part of the Empire and as such is recognised as High Queen by the Emperor, despite Nord tration giving Ulfric the title, hence the civil war. I made little changes to the banner hear but simplified the wolf symbol:
flag

banner
I personally didn't like the dark green, grey & black colour scheme in the banner of Hjaamarch. I though a green, grey and gold colours scheme was better with green being the primary colour, and grey and gold stripes in the centre and boarder of the design:
banner

flag
I also didn't like the banner of the Pale for the same reason, although I didn't really change the colours in this one, but rather made the star symbol (at least I think its a star) more prominent by placing it in a black diamond, also adding white and black stripes for a little complexity: 
banner

flag
The long and narrow banner of the Reach I didn't like at all, although the colours are okay. I got really creative here and actually based the design on a saltire. A green saltire on green field with silver and gold frimbation. The Ramskull design in the middle and in the corners. I kept the original colours but added silver to represent the rich silver mining in the area.
Banner

Flag
I really don't like the crossed swords symbol for the Rift, I think the writers were really scraping the bottom of the barrel for symbols, when it came to the rift. However I haven't changed any of the symbols for the other Holds so I kept the swords.  The Rift's banner on the other hand is rather good. The only change I made was to put the swords higher up, and give the a solid colour, I also added a purple rather than gold boarder but kept the gold bars:
banner

flag
The only thing I did to Winterhold's banner was simplify it:
banner

flag

Whiterun's banner wouldn't be that bad if it didn't have that pattern at the bottom of it, and perhaps a darker shade of gold. I used a gold field with a white diamond and simpler horse's head:
flag

banner

Imperial flags & banners

The banner used by the Imperial Legion in Skyrim is a black field displaying the imperial insignia in red. The Imperial insignia is a dragon with its wings spread to give the impression of a diamond shape.
This is the banner displayed on forts and in military camps. The legion also seems to have a different decorative banner thats only hung indoors:
As the Imperial Legion is modeled on the ancient Roman Legions, I decided to adopt a Roman styled theme. First is the decorative indoor flag:
Its a crimson field as is portrayed as the colour of Roman standards in popular media and culture. The Imperial insignia is in the middle of a laurel wreath an imperial symbol of Rome. At the bottom are two crossed swords a common feature on all my decorative indoor banners of the Imperial military. At the top of the wreath is the Roman numerals IV for 4. The 4th legion is the division of the Imperial Legion that is in Skyrim during the game. The numerals are also present in the corners.
Next is the fort flag, I think its silly that flags are not used over forts, as banners were generally carried by the troops, and flags used over buildings and structures. So here is my garrison flag:
It keeps the imperial insignia in the centre but without the decorative features like the wreath, the division's numerals are still in the corners though. While the indoor banner is decorative this flag is functional. It identifies the fort as belonging to the Empire, and identifies the division which is garrisoning it. The banner often found in military camps is really an elongated version of the garrison flag:
I kept this as a banner as I think when used in this role it is reflecting the banners carried by soldiers. As this piece of game artwork shows. See Here.
Next is the Imperial Navy; although there is no direct reference to this service being active in the Skyrim Civil War (or even in existence at the time), there are references to it in the past which are found when reading some of the books in the game. There are also a couple of what do seem to be military vessels in and around Solitude harbour, that have the black imperial banner (which seems to be a generic imperial military flag) hanging inside, infact there is even a minor quest where by extinguishing the light of Solitude light house, you guide a ship onto rocks, where by joining with the bandits you pillage the ship, this ship has imperial troops among the crew. Of course these might be vessels of the East Empire Company (modeled on the British East India Company) that has military backing. Anyway here is the Imperial Navy ensign (with the exception of the Emperor's ship) none of the ships display flags outside which seems odd, and probably should be corrected:
Similar to the Legion flag, but instead of the division numerals it has anchors identifying it as a naval flag. Likewise the decorative indoor banner follows the Legion pattern:
Next are the banners of the Penitus Oculatus, the Empires Security Service and the Emperor's bodyguard. This unit isn't in the Civil War quest line but the dark brotherhood (a guild of assassins) quest line, who are hired to kill the emperor. They have an outpost in Dragon's Bridge, which remains there regardless of the outcome of the civil war. Their outdoor banner is:
It still has the Imperial insignia in the centre, but inside a black diamond shape. In the coroners is the units insignia,(found on their armour) an eye, and a red diamond, reflective of the Amulet of the King's the Empire's Crown jewel (although this technically no longer exists as apparently it was destroyed in the last Elder Scrolls game). The decorative indoor banner inside the outpost again follows the pattern:
Last but not least is the Emperor's banner. These could be hung inside the Emperor's Tower of Castle Dauer in Solitude (where the Emperor is supposed to stay when he visits) and inside his personal ship, where he stays instead:
Purple was the colour of Roman Emperors and so the Imperial insignia is inside a purple diamond, the actual design is based on the pattern of the Emperors clothes. Likewise the ensign of his ship could be:

 Other Civil War related flags & banners

Of course for there to be a civil war there needs to be another side. The banner of the Stormcloak militia in the game is:
Like that of Eastmarch it has the Bear insigna of Ullfrick Stormcloak, however it is a plain blue banner rather than a blue and white design. it is simplified as much as possible.I decided to add a little bit of Complexity to this design by adding two white stripes and colouring the bear:
banner

garrison flag
The other Civil War faction allied with the Empire is the Thalmor a race of elves who 30 years prior to the beginning of the game launched a surprise attack on the Empire, and won. In exchange for retaining its sovereignty the Empire singed a peace treaty outlawing the worship of Talos. This is another reason why many of the citizens of Skyrim want independance, as Talos is "Skyrim personified." the Thalmor carry out inquisitions in Imperial held holds and have an embassy in the province, a HQ in Castle Dauer and their own fort/prison. However despite this they don't appear to use their own banners but rather Imperial ones. I decided to correct this:
garrison flag

banner
 These are the all round bad guys disliked by everyone (even the imperials) and possibly orchestrated the civil war to further weaken the Empire. They are often compared to the Nazis, due to their religious persecution, and ideology of racial superiority. This is why I used an eagle as their symbol (stopping short of placing a swastika below its claws). The gold colour comes from the colour of the Elvish armour, black is also an appropriate colour for the all round bad guys, with some white just to break up the colours. 

Joinable Factions

Most of these factions unlike the military or hold units don't display their emblems on forts or castles, however they do have decorative indoor banners hanging on their walls in their building or hide out.
One of the first factions the player can join is "The Companions" a well known and respected group of mercenaries. (sort of like the A-Team of Skyrim) Inside their mead hall and living quarters their banners decorate the walls. It is a long and narrow red banner with a depiction of Wuuthrad, the weapon of the unit's founder Ysgramor. I changed the banner slightly, I made it shorter and broader, and simplified it by removing the decoration and making the Wuuthrad a solid colour:
The other joinable faction you meet early on is the Blades. The Blades have their origins as dragon hunters but eventually became the personal bodyguards of the Emperor, until the Empire's defeat by the Thalmor when the Emperor was forced to disband and outlaw them. They since resorted to their original role of dragon hunting and guiding the dragonborn. I don't think I remember the blades having banners, but they could have ones inside their hide out. My design for a blades banner is:
It is reflective of their past as the Emperor's bodyguard. and as such has Imperial symbolism. It is purple the Roman colour of Emperors, and has the Imperial insignia in the corners. The central insignia is an interpretation of the Amulet of the Kings (a design copied by their successors). with the blades insignia in the centre.
The other more prominent faction is the magic College of Winterhold, as sort of Skyrim Hogwarts, It also has some decorative banners with the college's eye insignia.  My design moves away from this rather uncreative design, with two counterchanged colours of black and silver:
Another college that the player can join is the Bard's College. Again it has no banner of its own, however it does have Imperial Legion banners hanging from its walls. The college clearly has strong military connections and many of its students appear to provide the musical branch of the Imperial Legion. One trainee bard even says that he wishes he could hurry up and graduate so he could enroll in the Legion and that "my drums will lead us to victory." Still it is not part of the Legion though it has links to it so I think a separate banner is appropriate:
The central emblem is the harp symbolising that most of the college's work is in teaching and reciting music. The Imperial insignia in the corners symbolising its links with the Legion.
Next up is the Thieves Guild, I think their banner is actually OK and I wouldn't really change it, however if I was pushed then I would suggest this:
Through the Thieves Guild you join the Nightingales which is made up of the Guild's top membership but technically a separate religious organisation. Their banner I think leaves a lot to be desired, so this is my suggestion:
And of course last but not least for joinable factions is the Dark Brotherhood, a group of assassins. I actually like their banner, but the small changes I would suggest is changing the white/tan to black, and making the black hand, white, the changes are small but the results are big:
The red and the black compliment each other excellently, and a white hand looks more ghostly, all these together give the banner a darker and more sinister look.

Non Joinable Factions

As well as joinable groups there are also non joinable groups in the game that act as antagonists and enemies or are just there in the background that might offer one off jobs. The first I am going to mention is the East Empire Company. They are backed by the Imperial military and even have their own military arm, although this is for fighting pirates and bandits, and are not involved in the civil war or politics of the province. Their officers at least and many of their soldiers wear imperial legion armour (however their guards in the Solitude warehouse don't). There is a chance that the large ships seen in and around solitude (and wrecked and raided by the player) are company ships not navy. There is at least one company ship the player joins to fight some pirates that are terrorising local shipping and seem to be targetting East Empire Company ships. Alternatively the banner can also hang inside their offices and warehouse in Solitude and Windhelm. Anyway here are my designs:
ensign

indoor banner
Similar to the Navy flags but in black to distinguish them as they are not official military vessels. Next up is the above mentioned pirates, the Blood Horkers. Although you don't come across any of their ships, you do raid an island fort they occupy, it has plain neglected banners, I feel they should atleast have some pirate symbolism, I suggest the jolly roger, yes I know it probably wouldn't be accurate but this is fiction and the jolly roger is the undisputed pirate flag in popular culture:
The Silver Hand is a group of bandits/werewolf hunters and enemies of The Companions. They occupy a handful of neglected or abandoned forts. I designed their fort flag and indoor banners, it might look a little to grand for this group but I like it:
indoor banner

fort flag
The reference in the hand being obvious. 
Next is the Vigilant of Stendarr, a non hostile religious group who hunt dedra, witches, vampires etc. They have a local HQ calle the Hall of the Vigilant where this banner could hang:
  The horn is based on the design of the Amulet of Stendarr and the colours come from the order's robes. 
The "Natives of the Reach" the Forsworn who want to return to the "old religion" of dark magic and human sacrifice and take over and gain independence of their hold have no banner, despite their insurgency occupying several camps and forts. I designed a simple banner for them:
green field with some sort of native symbol I designed, not sure what it is just thought it looked cool.
Last but by no means least I noticed banners inside the Hall of Valor in Sovngarde (based on Valhalla from Norse mythology) the Skyrim Heaven. I personally don't like them and designed a more appropriate banner for the hall that looks after the souls of honored dead heros. 

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