12 Days of Christmas: Run, Rudolph, Run (Day 10)

12 Days of Christmas: Run, Rudolph, Run (Day 10)

She and Marbel headed towards the Mirror World. Once they were on the other side and Pippa was taking off her coat, she asked, “Why do they always want favors of food?”

Marbel snorted. “Because food ties us together.”

“Does it really? I mean, I know you appreciate me taking care of you, but that’s not why you stick with me.”

“It seemed like a good enough answer to me,” Marbel said and sounded pompous.

Pippa sighed. “Okay, find a recipe and make a mince-meat pie. Man, this list keeps getting longer.”

“We could hunt down a white air feather fir for ourselves.”

“You heard him. They’re rare. I’d feel awful cutting down a rare tree to fix Santa’s sleigh.”

“Oh, so that’s where you got the boards.”

“Yes, see, his sleigh looks horrid. We can’t be letting him go into town like that!” She pointed at it.

“You have a point,” Marbel said.

“Good morning!” Pippa said cheerfully to the horse and the reindeer.

They didn’t say anything to her.

Pippa sighed and set out salt licks and scattered carrots, sweet potatoes, and certain nuts for the reindeer. She then went over and put out feed and water for the horse. She brushed his coat and asked him. “Why do you dislike the reindeer?”

“What type of question is that?” the horse said.

“A question of the genuinely curious,” Pippa said.

The horse stomped his hoof. “Look, for hundreds of years, I was the one the children knew. Santa came to town. He rode a white horse.  I can pull a sleigh too. That was the end of it. And then, someone decided that there should be reindeer. And now there are eight of them and no one cares about me anymore! And don’t get me started on the one with the nose!”

“I’m sorry. That has to be awful,” Pippa said. “What if I could help you and tell the children about you. Then would you be able to get along better with the reindeer. All of you do important things. Santa loves all of you.”

“Maybe,” the horse said. “But I want carrots.” He glowered at her. “Lots and lots of carrots.”

Pippa giggled. “I understand,” she said. She understood that bribery worked well with horses.

She went over to check on the reindeer. “Why don’t you like the horse?” she asked.

“Because he’s a stuck up prig,” said one of the reindeer, a female.

Well, that was one way to put it. Pippa thought. “He was around first.”

“We’re here now. Santa doesn’t need him.”

“But Santa does need him. They’re friends!” Pippa said. “You don’t abandon your friends. Especially when they haven’t done anything wrong. I’m sure when you came along he felt horrible, like he wasn’t good enough anymore. Wouldn’t you feel horrible if you thought you weren’t good enough to help Santa anymore?”

“That would never happen.” The reindeer tossed her head.

“It could! You never know. You could be replaced with rabbits, cute and fluffy rabbits.”

The reindeer laughed.

“Or yaks! Or even goats. Hoppy goats!”

They all just looked at her as if she were mad. Pippa sighed. “Please think about it. Maybe if you were nice to him or talked to him about it instead of being rude.”

“He was rude first.”

“Well, being rude back isn’t going to solve anything.” Pippa stomped her foot. “I’m going now. Please try to be nice to each other while I’m gone,” she said loudly.

They just made noises at her.

Pippa sighed and rubbed her face. “I don’t know, Marbel,” she muttered as they trotted back to the normal world.

“It’s all in their heads, I’m sure. It’s nice of you to try.”

“I’m sure all the little boys and girls wouldn’t be pleased to discover that Santa’s horse and reindeer don’t get along.”

“Little girls, yes. Little boys?” Marbel tilted his head. In his experience, little boys would just stir the pot and make the reindeer and horse madder at each other.

“They aren’t all that bad.”

Marbel laughed as they stepped through the portal.

They walked back to town. Vesper waved at them. “Pippa! I need your help. Today we set up half of the light displays!”

“Light displays?”

“Yeah, every big town has them,” Vesper said. She reached up and patted Marbel’s nose. “We’re going to put big presents around the tree. There are huge presents to put up as well. Then the huge reindeer with Santa’s sleigh. There’s a new tribute to Rose Neptuna, since she’s become a huge deal. And the vendors want to put up their ornament shaped huts. Tomorrow we can work on putting up Santa’s house. And then the day after that, it’s just finishing touches and we’re done.”

“That’s, that’s a lot!” Pippa said.

“Of course, that’s why it takes so long,” Vesper said. “I told you that Astranar loves Christmas.”

“Then we better get started!” Pippa said.

“The light displays are in the warehouse. Do you still have the key?”

Pippa reached into her saddle bag and held it up. “Ready!”

The presents under the tree were actually large wire boxes covered with lights to represent paper and bows. They came in red with white bows, white with red bows, striped with red or yellow white bows and red with black beads with white bows. There were also big red and white stockings made of lights with smaller presents “tumbling” out of them. And interspersed among the presents were also ornaments balls made of lights. They all were flat on one side at different angles to make it look like they’d ‘fallen’ from the tree. The lights had to be checked, then the presents positioned, the cords all tied together and then everything plugged in. When it was done, it looked like there was a big pile of presents, stockings and ornaments around the Christmas tree.

“Oops, almost forgot!” Vesper said. “There should be more candy cane and peppermint swirl lights to go in there!”

“On it!” Pippa said and went off to get them. They positioned them among the presents. Pippa giggled. “This looks great.”

“Come on. We need to get the smaller plazas ready along the route then.”

The small plaza closest to the tree had a huge white present with a red bow. In order to get the parts there, they were loaded onto a flat trailer with wheels, then hitched to Marbel. They pulled them through the town. Objects like the large presents were in pieces and would be assembled on site. The present was a good two stories tall and there were openings  between the ‘box’ part and the ‘ribbons’ so people could walk inside it. Smaller present, stockings, ornaments and candy lights went on the edges of the plaza for decorations.

The next plaza was the new display, a tall wire statue of Rose Neptuna in a sweeping formal dress. She carried an umbrella that dripped ornaments, fairy lights, and crystals, just like the lamp lights. Her ‘hair” was fibre optic lights with small fairy lights. The frame skirt was a wire mesh so they could put red, white, and red and black ball ornaments on it. Some of the ball ornaments were clear and they pushed red Christmas lights into them. The bodice of the dress was also ornamented with more ornaments.

They put up more candy cane lights and presents and such in that plaza as well. Vesper told Pippa that the plaza used to have a larger ornament decoration, but Rose Neptuna was better.

“It’s so pretty!” Pippa said.

The next plaza also got a large present. It wasn’t as large as the white present, but it was still at least one story high. It was a red present this time with a white bow. It went up mildly easier than the taller one. Once again, smaller present lights and such went up along the edges of the plaza.

Vesper dusted off her hands. “There. We’re coming along. One more plaza and that has the sleigh and the reindeer.”

Pippa’s eyes widened. The reindeer were HUGE.

Marbel sighed as she hitched the trailer up to the back of his saddle. He pulled them down the street slowly.

They were also large wire light frames. They were as tall as the Rose Neptuna statue. Once they got them to the farthest plaza, they were decorated with more ornaments. There were ornament wreathes around their necks, ornaments hanging inside their bodies, and ornaments even hanging off their antlers! Then, they put together a light display version of Santa’s sleigh. It was red of course and had peppermint stick runners. It had ‘white light’ ribbons and big peppermint swirl candy decorations. And of course, more ornaments made into swags. It made Pippa giggle. But now, she did have a better idea of how to decorate Santa’s sleigh for Christmas!

They set out more small present lights and more ornament lights and more candy lights. Until, well, it looked quite breath taking.

“It really does look like Candy Cane Lane now!” Pippa said. “But ugh, it’s so much work.”

Vesper groaned and stretched. “It is! Fortunately, for the next bit, we can use magic.”

Character Spotlight: Rose Neptuna

Character Spotlight: Rose Neptuna

Rose Neptuna (Single)
Artwork courtesy of Ashante Johnson (@earthsong9405)

Name: Rose Neptuna                                                              Nickname: Rose
Age: Appears 17                                                                       Country of Origin: France
Birthday: Unknown                                                                 Pet: Unknown

Rose Neptuna is the biggest pop star in all of Astranar, and is quickly spreading to the other countries in Argentum too. Originally a rising star in France, she moved to Astranar last year after taking a summer sabbatical in Diamond District, and has been the biggest thing since then. Not only because of her catchy tunes, but also because of her sweet personality. She is a lady of the highest order, though her image seems to also hold a deep sadness, something that is echoed in her lyrics.

In addition to singing, Rose is well-known for playing the violin, even while she’s dancing! She says she looked to Lindsey Stirling as inspiration, and added that she is also classical trained in both violin and ballet. There’s also elements of Indila to her sound, perhaps because Rose is also a deeper toned soprano than most pop stars. She composes her own music, and this makes her widely sought after to work with–she can blend her sound with other music stars, even if they are different styles like country.

If you see her in parades and not on floats or around the city, she can sometimes be seen with her horse, a white Percheron stallion named Papillon Blanc. He’s a giant push over, though watch out if you are eating anything sweet by him. He has a reputation for stealing candy apples from those who come up for a photo op. While not the fastest horse, he’s trained in dressage and show jumping and is very careful with his feet, so he’s an excellent mount for the city streets and for a rider who deals with the public like Rose.

Her agent is Yvenne DuNoir, who came with her from France and often is your first point of contact with Rose before an event. A haughty blonde, it’s…hard to miss her. Otherwise, not a lot is known about Rose, such as who her family is, or even what her natural hair color is! She lives in the penthouse suite of the largest hotel in Diamond District, but good luck making it past security to see her there. There are also rumors of her attending AEFPA, but the administration is very hush-hush about it. But all that mystery just adds to her charm. The only one who seems to be upset about her being here is the hip-hop star, Hi-Fidelity.

Her summer tour is an anniversary special for her first year in Astranar! She’s touring all over Astranar, leading up to the big summer blow out with every big musical act in Argentum joining her. There’s also a competition to sing a song with her on stage that has some of the locals eager to impress her. Maybe the player will have to give one or two a helping hand…

Favorite Color: Rose pink
Favorite Horse: Percheron
Favorite Camp Activity: Dancing
Favorite Gemstone: Topaz, pink or blue
Favorite Race: Show Jumping

 

So, Boarding Schools Are a Thing Here…

So, Boarding Schools Are a Thing Here…

(In our defense, boarding schools is at least one of my favorite tropes, I am endlessly amused by them if they are done right.)

One of the goals of the core game from the player standpoint is getting a scholarship to attend the Royal Riding Academy of Astranar. It is considered one of the most elite riding schools in the world, and for good reason! Besides giving its students a quality education, it always turns out quality riders. (And you know, witches technically, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.) So what’s up with this world-famous school?

Besides the collection of winners from the different districts and from the group competition at the end of the summer who win scholarships, other students are also able to attend, provided they can pass the entrance exam. Besides high-level academics, equestrian skills, and active recreational activities, the board also looks for what many think is an X factor for who will be allowed entry into the school. While you don’t have to have all three of the other requirements, you definitely have to have the mysterious factor that they look for. Some of the girls from camp make it in anyway, despite not winning the scholarship, and some locals also attend. It’s a bit of a hodge-podge of people, but that’s part of what makes the environment so much fun.

And for another thing, well, it takes place in a palace. Literally. The Old Palace, as it’s called, makes up a large portion of the campus, with sections being converted to classrooms, practice rooms, lounges, and dorms rather than the spaces they were previously, and the grounds being converted in some cases to courses and the stables deeply expanded. But some passages remain nearly inaccessible…except if the right person goes looking. Dating back to the same time period as medieval Europe, the palace was closed for a few decades after the new palace completed construction, which has not helped stop the rumors of ghosts at all.

(Don’t tell those stories to Lottie, though. She’ll go running to Ves, and that’s not someone you want on your tail.)

There is a uniform that you’ll see some of the characters modeling as we start to gather artwork, but the school does allow some personalization in the forms of accessories and hairstyles. Where the school gets a little quirky is for riding competitions–it’s easy to spot who the scholarship students and who are the normal students, because they get given specific colors to wear. Rather than the small clubs of friends you experience in the summer, the school has “official” clubs that are mandatory participation in at least one because they signify your equestrian training. They have dressage, show jumping, cross country, racing, endurance, agility, and all-around, with one member each being representation on the council that serves as the leadership for the competitions. At the end of last spring semester, Jim Westhorn and Lottie Mistwaltz were made President and Vice President, respectively, so you may see them away from their districts and around the school grounds trying to work out what they want to do this upcoming school year!

Your mentors from the light side and the shadow side of the divide both attend the Royal Academy, and are happy to show you around when the new school year starts. Some other noted teachers include Mademoiselle Whistlesteel, the Russian ballet teacher who has a private dance studio in the city as well, Adelaide Gemstring, the French violinist who teaches all the music classes, and several industry specialist from the fashion world tend to poke their noses into the classes.

If you make it to the Academy though, don’t think you won’t have rivals outside the school. There’s a second boarding school, and their requirements are much more simple. They seek to excel at competition–test scores, media industries, but especially horsemanship. Sponsored by the Astranar Equestrian Federation, AEFPS (Astranar Equestrian Federation Preparatory School) is a school meant for those who want to succeed. The follow the rules to a t, just to prove that when they win, it’s because they are the best. (Now if only they would stop driving their horses into the ground to do it…)

Much like the Royal Academy, they have a uniform that is much more universally applied. To them, it doesn’t matter if you are there on scholarship or not. You are there to compete, not to work together as a team. Because of their federation ties, there is no magic in the curriculum here, so they don’t know what you are talking about in that regard (even if some of the members do have magic, they just have their heads too deep in the sand to see it). For them, it is all about placing at competition, and in fact they’ll even sabotage each other if it helps them. As a result, how well the school actually does in competition versus what they brag… Well, we’ll let you be the judge.

Some notables who attend AEFPS? Well, Rose Neptuna can sometimes be seen walking around the Diamond district in their uniform, but actually confirming her attendance is nearly impossible, the same for her best friend, Loki Tenderlily. We can confirm that Hi-Fidelity is a recent graduate, and there are conversations about perhaps world violinist Renart Mistwaltz will come to teach a special class. And you may have interest in knowing that the secret leader of the shadow rider mentors also attends…

Funny story, we were trying to decide if AEFPS was an all-girl school, and then realized two characters needed separated or there would be a dead body, so there are boys in both schools! We have a small collection of boys, but they make there presence known. Sometimes, loudly… Hopefully you’ll enjoy getting to poke around the schools and meeting the different people. (We promise not to make you attend any classes, lol.)

Diamond Media, Darlings

Diamond Media, Darlings

Those of you who follow us on Twitter or listen in on Ginny or I tweeting about the game have probably heard about Astranar’s pop icon and international star, Rose Neptuna. Did you know that Astranar has a recently flourishing music and media industry? No? Well buckle in folks, because today we’re doing a (pseudo) tour of the Diamond Media Complex.

Think of the media complex as a bit like the lots of Hollywood Studios and the music studios of LA thrust together. While Astranar has several outdoor theaters and stages for performances, the media complex is where movies are shot on sound stages, music albums are recorded, TV programs have their interviews, and much more. A sprawl of buildings, studios, and a limited number of outdoor sets and storage sheds, it still manages to blend in with the Capital’s architecture style (lest they wear out their welcome!). While the public is kept out by a guard and gate, you almost have to know where you are looking to know what you are looking at.

The complex is a bit of a catch-all for everyone who is anyone in the media business. There are some noted folks who you are going to have contact with:

  • Your mentors, of course! Both the mentors for the Light Riders and the Shadow Riders have formed girl groups: Doe Re Mi and HOOT, respectively. In addition to that, the Citrine Light mentor, Viva, has a special interest in dancing, and the Shadow mentor Var has an interest in acting and modeling.
  • The SSS, or the Style Secret Service, these are your dressers, hair stylists, wardrobe assistants, and fashion designers. With something as important as costumes and appearances on the line, you know they make their appearances! Most big names have at least one attached to them, though some seem to have difficulty keeping them. While Fashion Week is their Christmas, the media complex is home to most of them and their bread and butter for their daily lives. There’s a bit of an internal conflict though–Rose Neptuna brought French agents with her when she moved, and the local agents aren’t sure how they feel about that.
  • Agents and managers are the white blood cells of any media industry. They keep the schedules between different projects, different stars, and all the legal paperwork coordinated so jobs can function! Rather than having a separate firm, the agents and managers are actually worked into the structure of the complex. Less issues with paperwork and agency rivalries, but sometimes that makes it hard to get the agent you want! Some noted agents include Yvenne DuNoir, Anna Highflute, and Jillian Pearlchord. They manage some of the top industry professionals…or a few summer girl groups that the mentors are involved with.
  • The talent! Besides Rose Neptuna, there are other celebrities in Astranar to meet. Hip-hop artist and fashion designer, Hi-Felicity, the boy band the Heartbreakers, and even some talent comes in from outside of the country. In the acting world, you have Jameela and Harumi Softreed as the top actresses in the country, and you can’t forget the models, where Harumi has to compete with her twin sister, Miyuki, and there are always shenanigans where Sydney Azureballet goes. Besides just meeting these actors, actresses, dancers, and singers, we do offer a chance for the player to experience being a minor talent themselves and all the hardwork and practice that goes into it. (But more on our professions ideas in another blog post.)

So what all does the Diamond Media Complex put out? Astranar Fashion Week is one of their big productions, but summer in Astranar promises some huge blockbusters, from continuations of popular franchises to new premises, and that’s before you get to the TV shows. All these side stories are horse centric (and honestly are movies/TV shows that Ginny and I would go to see, not gonna lie). We took our inspiration for these Easter-Egg type media from some of our own favorite movies and books. It can be a little odd (like the one that is basically the premise of The Black Stallion…but in space), or it can be something more familiar that will bring to mind Horseland or the Saddle Club. In addition to all this, there is going to be an all-out summer smash concert before school starts again, bringing together talent from all over Argentum to participate.

We didn’t necessarily have to build a media complex into the game. But by doing so, it helps us centralize a lot of odds-and-ends that the player may need, both for professions and for story advancement within the capital. It also gave opportunities for the players to just have fun, including with their friends.