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So this is the Grand Undertaking, aka the reason I haven't updated this blog in forever. In November 2014, Bioware released Dragon Age: Inquisition, and, as is fairly predictable when you put me and a Bioware game in the same general vicinity, I fell in love.

Bioware isn't a perfect company, but they try really hard to be inclusive, and that means a lot to me. They get a hard time from a lot of people, and that bothered me over the last year, so I decided that as well as sending them a letter to let them know how much DAI in particular and their games in general mean to me, I'd send them something a bit more concrete too. They put a lot of time and effort into creating games that I have consistently enjoyed, from Neverwinter Nights and Jade Empire to this latest instalment. It seemed only fair that I put in some time and effort to make them something to show my appreciation.

And since custom ponies are a Thing that I do, the Grand Undertaking was born.



Twelve ponies, one for each companion and advisor, to be sent to the Bioware offices in Edmonton upon completion. After the cut are about 60 pictures and descriptions, going into inspiration and why I chose the colours and assorted other things that I did. There be spoilers, folks.


In alphabetical order, then.

First up:
"Warden" Blackwall, aka Thom Rainer

This is Blackwall's in-game appearance. Sadly, I couldn't find a way to give a pony that awesome beard, or the hangdog expression he's capable of, so I compensated with emo hair.

Pony Blackwall has a standard G3 Rainbow Dash pose, as outlined here. His hair is Black Magick and After Midnight from mylittleponyhair.com, which is where I purchase all my hair. I chose those colours because a) Blackwall has black hair in-game, and b) he has a deep emotional connection to the idea of the Wardens, who tend to be represented by the colour blue. This is also why he has blue dry-brushed onto his feet, and why his symbol is a hand-painted Warden symbol.

Blackwall is an interesting character to me. He's all about trying to make up the things in your past that you regret, and the choice to face the wrongs you've done. I can see how some people would find him dull - he's not as emotive as some of the other characters, and his personal storyline isn't as tragic or as fraught with emotional pit traps as theirs - but I enjoy his understatedness.







Cassandra Pentaghast

This is Cassandra's in-game appearance. I adore Cassandra, because I'm a tall, broad, female-presenting person who still likes fluffy books and candles, and it's nice to see the acknowledgement that being buff and good at fighting (not that I'm either of those things, just tall and unfeminine) doesn't mean you have to eschew "feminine" things or "scholarly" things. The fact that Cassandra is a warrior who still loves reading is wonderful. It's not a physicality/intellectualism dichotomy, and that's a refreshing change. And, from a gaming-world perspective, it's wonderful to see a woman in such a high position of power.

My choices for Cassandra were pretty easy. Silver coat, to represent her armour. Black hair and tail, although I opted to braid her tail to represent that odd little braid she has and cut her mane short (which ended up looking like a mohawk, but let's be real, Cassandra would rock a mohawk if she wanted to). She also has her two facial scars; the smaller one on the side of her face facing the camera, and the larger one on the other side, as you'll see in the pictures (and let me tell you, it was weird taking a scalpel to a pony's face). And, of course, her cutie mark is the symbol of the Seekers. Her pose is the G3 Sparkleworks pose.







Cole

Perhaps appropriately, I originally forgot to take photos of Cole.

Cole's in-game appearance can be found here. I'm fond of Cole, because I have a soft spot for people who don't know how to Person but are trying to anyway, and that's how he comes across in the early game. He doesn’t see the world and people the way other people do, and he's just fundamentally kind. He's capable of violence, but what he wants most is to make people feel better. A character like that is very comforting to me, even with the weird mind-reading thing that he has going on.

Deciding on Cole's colour was tricky at first, but I eventually decided that I was going to model his colouring on a mist, because when he first meets the PC, he can appear and disappear like one. This is also why his cutie mark is what it is; crossed daggers (his default fighting style is two-weapon fighting) appearing out of a darker mist. He has wings because, with the exception of Leliana (who I will get to in her part), I've used pegasus molds for characters with deeper ties to the Fade. Cole's particular mold is the G3 Coconut Grove pose. His hair was done with a technique called cross-thatching, which is where you take each individual lock of hair and cross it over to the opposite side of the head, and then boil-set the hair. If I thought taking a scalpel to a pony's face was odd, dunking their heads in boiling water always feels a bit strange.

And of course he has his hat, sewn out of felt and given ear-holes.







Cullen Rutherford

This is Cullen's in-game appearance, complete with fluffy pauldrons. Cullen is a very important character to me, because he's a very good portrayal of both addiction and long-term trauma recovery, and those aren't topics that are explored in fiction with anything like enough frequency or sensitivity. I know he's a polarising character, and I respect people's reasons for disliking him, but I found his personal quest very moving. He's a flawed man who feels that by being flawed he's letting people down; I can relate to that. And it's a nice insight into the darker side of the Chantry, and into why the matter of the Circles is more complicated than "mages good, Templars bad". If your guardian body is made up of people who are unable to leave because the Chantry controls the substance they're addicted to, that's a problem for everyone, and that's something Cullen admits.

Colouring for him is a tiny bit pretentious, because that's how I roll. Like Cassandra, he has silver for armour, but his feet are red to represent the blood he feels he has on his hands thanks to the things he did as a Templar and his failure to act under Meredith. His cutie mark is a sword crossed over a broken lyrium vial, to represent his choice to be Commander of the Inquisition's forces rather than stay with the Templars. ...and then there's his fuzzy... thing. It's more of a stole here, because I wanted it to be removable, and to make it pauldrons that looked right I'd have needed to glue it on, but Cullen has a fluffy thing, and that's all that matters.

I needed to make his hair fancy, because of all the "Cullen, where did you get hair gel, it doesn't exist in your world" jokes. This involved wrapping it around pipecleaners lock by lock and boil-setting it, and then cutting it and sewing it back. Custom ponies get dunked in hot water a lot. Cullen is a G3 Kimono pose.







Dorian Pavus

This is Dorian's in-game appearance, and that white, high-collared tunic-y thing is what stuck with me when I was designing him. That and the purple colour of his necromancy specialty ended up informing a lot of his design.

Dorian is possibly one of my favourite characters in the franchise. LGBT characters are often draws for me, and Dorian was no exception. Getting past the flashy, quippy exterior and seeing the man who wanted to be able to be proud of his people and his country was one of the best parts of his storyline; after two games where Tevinter was this distant, ephemeral bogeyman, seeing someone from Tevinter who acknowledged the problems but also saw the potential was wonderful. The thing is, despite all the cynical remarks, Dorian comes across as an idealist a lot of the time. He puts on a good show about how all he cares about is himself, but he wants to make Tevinter better, because he believes that they can be. Considering the state Tevinter is in now (decadent empire about to be in ruins, anyone?) it has to take a dose of idealism to believe that.

Dorian's cutie mark is a staff, denoting his status as a mage, and it's surrounded by the eternity symbol, which seems to be a recurring motif with Dorian. His pose is the G3 Sweetberry "diva" pose.








The Iron Bull

The Iron Bull's in-game appearance is here, and he was a pain in the arse to work out, let me tell you. I was determined to do those horns. I ended up drilling holes into the poor pony's head, putting wires in to support the horns, and using air-drying clay to sculpt them, because Iron Bull has to have his horns. Stabbing myself three times in the thumb with the wire was not part of the plan.

Iron Bull is another important character to me; there are some things about him that are subtle but there that I love. Like the fact that he wears something that looks like a brace on one of his legs, the eyepatch, the fact that he's probably got post-traumatic stress from his work for the Qun. And then there's the stuff that's super unsubtle - the BDSM.

I know that's polarising too, but in the wake of works that portray it badly, it was really nice to see a portrayal of BDSM that didn't give me the shivers. Could it have been done better? Probably, but specifics are a matter of taste and opinion. What mattered to me is that the relationship existed and neither party was being portrayed as damaged for wanting or liking it that way.

Bull's also such a comforting character sometimes. He's this big, burly guy who leaps into dragon fights on the Storm Coast at level three (thanks, Bull, I needed that total party kill) and happily banters with Sera about women with nice breasts, but he's clearly got a huge attachment to his Chargers and he can be really sweet with Cole, once he's got used to him. He's got a lot of depth, and I appreciate that.

So, colouring. Dark red, for BLOOD and also the colour of his Ravager specialisation, with a streak of red in his tail (black, for a nice contrast). Grey horns. His cutie mark is a two-handed axe crossed over a blood-stained dragon tooth, because as if I was going to not give him a dragon-related cutie mark. And he has an eyepatch, and is another case of taking a scalpel to a pony's face to give him some scars (his good eye, the bad eye, and his lip on the side of the bad eye). He is a G3 Periwinkle pose.








Josephine Montilyet

Josie's in-game appearance can be found here, and she is adorable and has the best accent. That is all.

Okay, that's not all, but I pretty much view Josephine as the Disney Princess of the franchise. She's the diplomat, she's good at politicking, she's gorgeous, and she loves organising parties (at least, she seems to, when she's not fretting about the petit-fours). What's not to Disney Princess about that? Plus, if you romance her, you get to offer to duel her unexpected fiance! It's awesome. And she is another woman in a position of power in the Inquisition, which is always nice.

What's especially nice about Josephine is that even though she's the head of a large Antivan family, even though she's adept at the Game and has dabbled at Barding in the past (which is sort of like dabbling at assassining, for the unaware), she's still got this core of genuine niceness and almost innocence about her. She's not stupid by any stretch of the definition, but she seems to like to believe the best of people, and that's nice to see in a political character. And she's sweet, but she's not stupid. The Wicked Grace cutscene will prove that.

Pony Josephine was a lot of fun to do, because she's golden. She was also the very first Ponquisition pony to get painted. A nice, pale gold coat, with a blue mane and tail, to evoke Josephine's everyday outfit, and her cutie mark is a rolled scroll-with-seal and a quill, to evoke her role as the Inquisition's diplomat and chief writer of correspondence that isn't carried around the neck of large ravens. Her pose is a G3 Sunny Daze pose.







Leliana

This is Leliana's in-game appearance, with the exception of the creepy future. I have not done a pony from the creepy future, because it would be sad.

Leliana has undergone a massive journey from Dragon Age: Origins to Dragon Age: Inquisition, and it shows. She's not the idealistic-sounding young woman who talked about shoes and what dress to buy Morrigan anymore, and to me at least, that transition made sense, as sad as it was to see her faith so shaken. Having a portrayal of that shaken faith was important to the game, I think, as minimal as it was; the scene where she asks the PC what the Maker's plan is remains a strong one to me, no matter how many times I replay it (five and counting as of this post). What else could she ask, given the circumstances?

It would have been easy to portray Leliana as a hard, dark, all-business-all-the-time spymaster, but I don't feel that's what she is. There are light spots, like her banter with Josephine. She's more sombre these days, because she has a lot on her plate, but it's not all doom-and-gloom, and that balance is important. It's something you can remind her of, which I like.

So, her pony self. Leliana is one of three pegasi in this undertaking, because of her "Sister Nightingale" role under Divine Justinia. That also accounts for her colouring - the pale brown with darker tips (in her case, on her wings, ears, and legs) is the same colouring as the nightingale. In Leliana's case, however, she also has an orange-red left front hoof, to symbolise her role as Justinia's Left Hand. And her cutie mark is a simple one: the mark of the Rogue skill. Like Cole, her hair was cross-thatched and boil-set.








Sera

Sera's in-game appearance is here, although unlike her pony self, she is not Covered In Bees.

Sera is also one of my favourite characters. She's fun, but she's complicated, and I like that she's not just The Funny One or something like that. It would have been easy to reduce her to that, but if you talk to her, it becomes clear that there's a lot more going on with her. She's a Robin Hood figure, getting justice on the nobility for the downtrodden, although in classic "ha, made you cry" Bioware style, there are cock-ups, because miscommunication happens. She cares about the people that nobody else cares about because they're just poor people and she gets shirty at people who expect her to relate more to someone just because they both happen to be elves, and honestly, that feels very true to life.

Sera is young, impulsive, idealistic in her own way (if I shoot a nobby problem enough, it'll go away), absolutely crass, and has no time for people criticising her if they're not willing to try to see things from her perspective. I can see why she grates on people, but I love her. I love her accent and I love the stupid stuff she says in combat. Romancing her with a qunari is fantastic, not the least for Vivienne's reaction to your question about what to get Sera to show you love her. And then, when Trespasser happens, the character growth she shows is lovely. (Seriously, guys, read the book outside her room, and the note next to her in the tavern in Halamshiral. A chunk of her development is in what she writes.)

I also really like how Sera's faith is portrayed. She believes in the Maker, in a "I don't want actual proof" sort of way, because belief is one thing; finding out that the god you believe in is actually really real in a quantifiable way? That's terrifying. That means that all of the doomsday things that your religion talk about, that you could tell yourself were just metaphors or something, might also be actually really real. Sera's response to the possibility of the Golden City having been real, and thus proof of the Maker, feels very genuine to me. And her inability to reconcile her faith with the Dalish faith also feels very genuine.

So, Sera's pony self. Bright red, because her default tunic is red. Blonde hair cut short, although not with a knife, because I'd stabbed myself quite enough times thank you. Her cutie mark is a bow, to represent the fact that, well, she's an archer, and she is also COVERED IN BEES because I love her Jar of Bees grenade. The bees are fingernail decals, which are an awesome way to decorate ponies. Her pose is a G3 Minty pose.








Solas

Solas's in-game appearance is here, and he is a butt. Seriously, he did not want to be photographed in pony form, apparently.

Solas is another polarising character, because it's looking like he might be an antagonist in a future game, and because he kind of wants to do a thing that will destroy the world as we know it. That's generally considered a bad thing. I'm not as enamoured of him as some of the other fans, but I do like him as a character. He's extremely complicated (and TELLS ALL THE LIES whilst... not actually lying all that much, when you look at it) and ever since Patrick Weekes mentioned Solas's important dialogue following it on Twitter, I've found Hallelujah's cadence to be highly ominous.

He's stubborn as hell, though, which I suppose you'd have to be to initiate a slave revolt against immortal elf mages way back when. He doesn't seem to like acknowledging opinions that differ from his, although if you hammer him enough with rationale for your dissenting opinions he may crack just a little bit. He's not irrational; he's just been around for a very long time and, for a while after waking up, didn't actually see people as people. More like "augh shit these things are missing a fundamental thing that makes them people". Can't blame the guy that much for freaking out, when he makes the comparison to walking in a world full of Tranquil.

Solas's entire arc seems to be about fucking up and trying to fix it, even whilst knowing that once this fuck-up is fixed, you intend to "fix" things in a manner that will kill everyone. Because, as he said, he destroyed the elves, and he feels like it's his responsibility to return them to what they had. When you consider what they have now - alienages in the cities, or nomadic lives trying to remember fragments of a society he considered decadent and corrupt in the wilds - his perspective makes sense. He freed the elves, hoping to give them a bright future where they could be their own people, and it led to their downfall and their enslavement. He feels like he owes them better.

Not that that excuses destroying the world, Solas.

Pony Solas is a pegasus because of his connection to the Fade, and likewise is a dappled green to reflect the colour of Fade rifts. He has no hair. His cutie mark is a spoiler, being a (dread) wolf howling at what could be a moon or could be the black orb that he gave to Corypheus. WHO KNOWS. His pose is a G3 Coconut Grove pose.







Varric

Varric's in-game appearance can be found here. I adore Varric, because I like to write stories and seeing a video game character who is a writer, especially a fantasy game character who is a writer, is awesome.

Varric is another character who is more complicated than his snappy banter initially indicates. He uses humour and biting sarcasm to deflect, whether it's an emotionally gruelling situation or one that could turn violent. But there are plenty of things to indicate that he sees and understands a lot more than he lets on. The Wicked Grace game, giving the Inquisitor time to wind down, is one. The way he honestly seems interested in how the Inquisitor is doing at several points during the game is another.

Like Sera, Varric doesn't seem to like being defined by what he is - his responses to people saying things about him being a dwarf tend to be cutting. He doesn't seem to like to think about who he is much, really; he prefers to think about who other people are, because if he thinks about the world as a story, he feels more in control of things. It's understandable, given the events of DA2. But he's a good person under the bluster, and he's kinder than he lets on. The effort he puts into helping Kirkwall's reconstruction is something that he doesn't have to do, after all. And the way he treats Cole is lovely.

So, onto Varric's pony form. ...which I am somewhat embarrassed about. I can't tell you what pose Varric is, or what pose Vivienne is, because I was a doofus and mixed up their bodies. WHOOPS. They are UNIQUE.

However, I went for a nice reddish brown because his clothing colour palette is nice and earthy, with a sandier blonde hair than Cullen's brighter blonde or Sera's just plain yellow. His cutie mark is a quill (to represent his writing) over some cards, because one of my favourite Varric scenes is the Wicked Grace scene. And he has a book with a quill in it. That book is hand-bound and covered in leather and is about four centimetres tall and was a pain in my arse to make.








Vivienne

Vivienne's in-game appearance can be found here, and I was incredibly nervous about portraying her because look at that dress. Look at that hat.

Vivienne is also a bit polarising. Some people think she doesn't have any perspective about what mages can suffer in bad Circles because hers was good, and while I can understand that criticism, I don't necessarily agree with it. To me, Vivienne comes across as someone who has a very clear idea of how the world would work best and who has decided that listening to people complaining about things that wouldn't be that way if things were done her way is pointless. She acknowledges that there are problems in the way some Circles are run, but she pretty clearly has her own opinion of how they should be run and feels that in that system, there wouldn't be the same problems.

She can come across as a bit boot-strap-y sometimes, but she has worked her way into a position of incredible power; nobody could say she hasn't earned the prestige and position she has. And it's not like she doesn't care about other people, but she's also very aware that in Orlais, appearance is extremely important, so that informs a lot of her public decisions. She has a lot of heart underneath her cold exterior - the way she is with Bastien convinced me of that - but heart isn't an advantage in Orlais, and it's definitely not an advantage when you're a mage trying to gain power. Intelligence, cunning, ambition, and style are what get you through in Orlais, and a lot of the time, heart has to play second fiddle if you're going to survive the Game. Vivienne survives it with aplomb.

The thing that makes Vivienne understandable to me is how much she values structure. She values the Circle because they provide structure; because, managed properly, they provide a safe place for mages to learn their craft. Vivienne opposes the rebel mages as much as she does because they're threatening the structure of the Circles and because they threatened the Divine; assassination only ever leads to chaos.

Pony Vivienne, like Varric, suffers from an unfortunate case of Penny Mixed Up The Bodies And Didn't Realise Until It Was Time To Glue Them Back Together. She's grey in reference to her moniker of Madame de Fer, with ice and snow motifs largely because they went well with the grey and because I tend to stat her as an ice mage. There's a streak of glittery silver in her tail, and she has her signature Orlesian hennin, adorned with jewels. She's the only unicorn (or at least her head is).







And now some more group shots, some of which Cole has his hat on in and some of which he does not, because group shots are fun.








So that is the Grand Undertaking. Twelve ponies, done over the course of just over a year, averaging out to about a pony a month.
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