I blather on quite a bit about this “Roanoak” thing, and I've gotten a few questions about it all, so I will dispense with some information here where I can just link people to it.
To begin with, some ancient history…
Roanoak is a modernization of an RP land I created back in the early 80's called “Vardale”, and the world Vardale sits in, called Caerth, came about a few years after D&D came about.
I managed to score my first box-set for D&D in like 1977, and my friends and I started to burn through the pre-made modules at a pretty quick rate. During all of this pre-made module nonsense I had started taking bits of popular culture that appealed to me at the time, and creating a setting for our use.
This came to be known as Caerth – named after the fledgeling SCA barony here in Denver. 😉
It would have been sometime in '79 when I was running a campaign that called for a unicorn NPC – I have mentioned here previous how these critters factor into my day-to-day life – and an NPC named “Flinthorn” was created. Flinthorn hailed from the Gamboge forest from the Greyhawk setting, and henceforth became Flinthorn Gamboge – that Shire-colored unicorn that eventually became a full character and can still be seen on the post headers here… Some of you may have heard of this character, as he has been featured in a few game supplements over the years, and for a long time was something of a fixture at conventions… As one of the first 'named' RP unicorn characters, the work I did in creating a 'race' for him became a bit of a standard – such as the “Three T's”; Teleportation, Telepathy, and Telekinesis – the defining characteristics of the race, and what allows them to interact with the other races.
While all of this is going on, one of my favorite books (that had been tapped for some of the linguistic 'feel' of the Caerth setting) was turned into an animated movie; “The Last Unicorn” in 1983-ish. This popularity allowed Flinthorn from above to be a full-time character in the setting, and allowed me to start expanding the race. Then in 1985 or so, the My Little Pony thing began with “Rescue at Midnight Castle”… “Rescue” was surprisingly Dungeons and Dragons-esque, and while it was candy-colored ponies – the world was pure Frazetta, and that caught the attention of my RP group.
With this, Vardale was created as the land the unicorns and their ilk came from. The pony 'thing' had garnered enough interest in my group that Vardale quickly became the default setting for our adventures, and thus the kingdom needed more history – more story… This led to Vardale becoming a hegemonic empire after the First War and the Dragon Wars, and the creation of the immortal winged unicorn Empress who ruled over it – based loosely on Empress Alicia from Vicky Wyman's “Xanadu” comic in 1988, which was also big with my group…
Also with the advent of “Xanadu”, the denizens of Vardale got a whole lot more anthropomorphic… But that is a tale for another time.
So, roll everything forward about, oh, twenty years, and Lauren Faust reboots My Little Pony on 10/10/10 (Binary 42 – which is, as we know, the answer to everything), and the opening episodes set the stage for what looks an awful lot like Vardale. The ponies have a kingdom now, with winged unicorn leaders, and there is that same sense of D&D-esque 'world' going on with the magic and the adventure, and the combating of darkness in the form of emotional issues… A place where upset, anger, and disharmony are manifested as travails to be overcome.
A few months after this, as the fandom starts to grow, “pony” in SecondLife was pretty much being run by the 4chan crowd – so the areas for ponies tended to be mashups of memes and a lot of anon-style shenanigans. Because of this I was not too horribly enthused and decided to just bide my time in Luskwood (an anthro-critter hangout run by some friends of mine) as Valinye – who is one of the later era anthropomorphic denizens of Vardale.
But, being a dick will eventually catch up with you, even in SL, and LindenLab eventually got tired of the pony crowd messing up everyone else's day. So LL nuked the two sims where the fledgling fandom in SL was hanging out to take out the leaders. But not all of the ponies were assholes, but all of them were suddenly cast adrift in the virtual world.
Terry, one of the Luskwood folks and one of these early adopter pony fans, came to me shortly after the Ponypocalypse asking if there was a way we could make our own sim for the ponies, but with a noted absence of channer-bait and meme-culture asshats. As I had a sim and some passing experience with this whole thing, I was the go-to I guess.
Well, Michi, the owner of Luskwood, has far more experience than I, and so I start asking questions and getting input, and eventually I decide to give it a go… To build a 'pony sim' for the non-asshat pony-fans in SL. But to do this correctly, a place needs a reason to exist – a story… And all good stories need a main character, someone to interpret the world for the viewer.
And thus “Empress Aurora” came into being in SecondLife…
So I dust off the 3″ 3-ring binder where Caerth lives, and set about bringing Vardale up to the things I am seeing in Gen4 – and then create it all in Secondlife with the help of several really great folks from Luskwood – specifically OldVamp… None of it would have happened without his help early on.
I called this new setting “Roanoak” – horse puns are a requirement in Gen4, so Roan as in the red-brown color of a horse, and Oak because I have a thing for creating forests in SL. It also played nicely off of the tale of Roanoke – the lost colony, which would become more evident a year later.
This is where “Trotsdale” began, a town located in the Empire of Roanoak, and eventually Morgan Castle (another horse pun) was created in another sim, and collectively this formed the core of the 15-ish pony sims in the area right around it to this day.
(Morgan Castle as it appeared in SecondLife – a pony was about as tall as the railing on the bridge)
Over the last three years there were some epic stories told, some really great players encountered, and a lot of friendships made.
One of the more fun things for me was trying to guess where Gen4 MLP would go, and beat it to the punch with my blatantly non-canon rendition of Hasbro's IP.
For example; Aurora has been an Alicorn (a pony with wings and a horn, and who tend to be rulers) since the beginning – and I took SO much heat for this from the fandom for the first year or so. But I had a reason and a story – a story far and away more detailed and rich than a cartoon aimed at nine year olds – and eventually the Internet grudgingly gave Aurora a pass…
Which brings up one of the more interesting things about the Gen4 fandom; I have never encountered a fandom so thoroughly entrenched in unwavering adherence to the scripture of canon. Daring to not be a clone of a show pony is tantamount to sin… And I have the bruises from the stones over the years to prove it.
But, I am not easily dissuaded from my course, and over the years I crafted story elements that seemed so far-fetched when I put them into play, and then later the show did the same thing – leading many to believe I work for Hasbro… I don't. 🙂
Many of these story elements had illustrations made of them, and I'll post a few here…
The Roanoak story, like Vardale before it, used “Rifts” to bridge various worlds to resolve the vagaries of running a large-scale RP setting. In Vardale, Valinye is the “Mistress of the Rifts” and she is in the employ of the royal court for her ability to create and dismiss these gateways to other places. For Roanoak I decided to integrate the Empress and Valinye, and have Aurora's talent be the tempering of naturally occurring Rifts… Her talent is, literally, bringing people into the world of pony – fitting I think, as I did this for about a thousand people over the last three years.
Aurora cannot outright control these rifts, but she can dismiss them or hold them open for a time… The Gen4 MLP Cartoon eventually did this as well, with the magic mirrors used to allow Twilight Sparkle and Sunset Shimmer to reach a parallel human world in “Equestria Girls” and now in the comic series.
The problem with holding these Rifts open is that it far exceeds Aurora's magical power, so she has to draw power from Roanoak itself… And this led to a backlash of magic that ended with the entire Roanoak Empire being removed from the world for a time… Much like happened with the Crystal Empire in the Gen4 cartoon, but about a year later.
I mentioned above that Aurora taps her Kingdom's power to do the really big stuff. The Roanoak story has it that the various kingdoms are led by “Royals”, these are the landed Alicorns, and due to their connection to the land are essentially immortal. The other kind of Alicorn are the Ascended – those who have earned the mantle of rule, but as of yet do not have that bond, and are still mortal. This comes from the Vardale story where the kingdom's power is a shard of the old magic that created everything. This power is held in a thing called the Heartstone, and the Heartstone resides below a massive tree that is the link between the land and the stone…
Quite some time ago this illustration was done in response to Aurora encountering the visage of Roanoak's Heartstone – which happens to be a large stag-like creature that embodies the virtues Aurora must uphold…
There have been many things such as this, mostly dealing with technology such as airships, or the how's and why's of pony life. Roanoak eventually became frighteningly canon, even as I tried to steer away from the show's canon in order to do things more adventuresome than is possible in a cartoon aimed at nine year olds.
But, there are some things Roanoak has done that have not come to pass – yet…
One was a huge arc dealing with the Changelings. I eventually came up with a ponified version of “District 9” with regards to trying to work with the Changelings – and it eventually ended in the northern end of the Empire being taken over by the bugs and we pony-folk being routed from the area and the crown relocating to the port city of Ardennes… As in, this really happened…
(Aurora and Imperious, the captain of the Imperial Guard, discuss the proposed Changeling Registry Act)
Which ended with me having to completely re-theme two regions to create Ardennes, the city we all took refuge in.
Speaking of history, one last illustration: