I also make piece sets. Should you figure out a way to include fairy pieces, I'd be happy to make whatever you need. Examples of my work can bee seen here:
(may require free registration)
Well, the option of having Winboard map the regular pieces to any character of a user-selectable font, for each color separately, is definitely a useful option if one side does not have more than 6 different piece types. I will try to see if I can modify Winboard to actually use 9 different piece types internally, so that the initial setup always has 8 different piece types on the back rank, and in the default setting simply use the same symbols for, (and same move-generator case for move-legality checking), say, queen-side rook and king-side rook.
I strongly dislike the standard representation of fairy pieces, as rotated FIDE pieces, though. In addition I am not too charmed by the "Good Companion", let alone "Berliner" Chess fonts that support those. (Turns out I dislike skinny Pawns...)
So if it is not a very big job, I would like you to design a font that allow a more natural and intuitive representation of the fairy pieces. The standard Chess symbols seem to be designed according to the following guidelines:
* Animals are represented by their head (e.g. Horse figure for a Knight)
* Inanimate equipment is simply drawn (e.g. Castle for a Rook)
* Human characters are symbolized by their head covers
We could add a class of abstract geometric figures, as I designed for representing Ultima / Baroque pieces:
Working along those guidelines, Camel, Elephant, Giraffe, Bison, Gnu, Grasshopper would become reasonably realistic pictograms of their heads from the neck up. Stuff like Dabbabah (catapult) and Canon would be silhouettes of the entire object. The most tricky part is to find representations for the Human pieces. The royal vs non-royal distincion is an issue here. A Commoner (aka Man) moves as a King, but obviously representing it as a King causes confusion, and representing it by some kind of downgraded crown makes no sense, as it is non-royal. I like the idea of using a German Helmet here, as the silhouette roughly reminds of the royal crown (with a spike on top in stead of a cross), while it conveys the idea that the piece is basically canon fodder. The classical pieces Ferz (=General) and Wazir (=Grand Vizor) could be represented by a U.S. Civil-War-style hat with general markings, and a turban, respectively. Although for the General, a Chinese Mandarin hat might actually be a better alternative. (The Xianggi Mandarins, are basically Ferzes, confined to the Palace section of the board). Other characteristic head covers are a tropical helmet (Canvasser = Camel + Rook), a larger turban-like crown (Caliph = Camel + Bishop), a pointy hat (Wizzard?) or a Greek Phalanx helmet (Champion?), a chef's hat (is there any fairy piece called a Cook???).
Many composite pieces combine the gait of a Knight with that of other existing pieces. This is so common, that it seems useful to develop a general mechanism for indicating such 'mounted' pieces. I would suggest depicting a horse shoe and stirrups below a (slightly de-magnified) version of the basic piece. E.g. an Amazon would be a mounted Queen, The ArchBishop a mounted Bishop, the Centaur a mounted Commoner (it can be debated if the Centaur is an animal, but the 'from-the-neck-up' guideline makes it unsuitable for representation as one). The Marshal would be symbolized by a hat, as having a mounted Rook seems to make little sense.
The Zebra can be a usual Knight symbol with black and white stripes on the neck (the color of the head revealing the side it is on). The NightRider could be a Knight with 'air-flow stripes' (or waving mane) trailing behind it. (This could be adopted as a general mechanism to indicate riders, although I am not sure there are many others.) The Xianggi Horse could be simply a Knight looking the other way.
Some sketches I made:
Basically I wanted to conform as much as possible to the normal Winboard piece symbols, but I noticed too late that the head covers there actually have rounded bottoms, so for unity of style it would probably be better to change the perspective of the helmets a little.
For the mapping of the alphabet to the symbols, it would be most easy to have upper case designate white pieces, and lower case the corresponding black pieces (I do not need pieces with background white or black squares, Winboard takes care of that). Preferentially with an easy-to-remember mapping, that could also be used in FENs. E.g.
A = ArchBishop
B = Bishop
C = Camel
D = Dabbabah
E = Elephant
F = Ferz
G = Grasshopper (depicted as Praying Mantiss)
H = NightRider
I = Square (Ultima Immobilizer)
K = King
L = Caliph
M = Commoner / Man
N = Knight
O = Sphere (Ultima Chameleon)
P = Pawn
Q = Queen
R = Rook
S = Marshal / Chancellor
T = Draughts Chip
U = Unicorn
V = Bullet (Ultima Withdrawer)
W = Wazir
X = Disk antenna (Ultima Coordinator)
Y = Cylinder (Ultima Long Leaper)
Z = Zebra
Most notably missing are Amazon and Xianggi Canon.