Epitaph for a Photographer

This week we played one of my favorite games, Epitaph by Marc Hobbs of Less Than Three Games. In this game, you collaborate to create the life story of a character together. We chose to center our story around a steampunk circus carnival in the Victorian era, a world without imperialism or colonialism, and where global travel is quick and easy thanks to steam airships. Our character, the departed—named Joseph Forrester—loved photography and had an easy facility with language. His goal in life was to collect a single sentence written out in every language by a native speaker of that language. His sentence is: The stars shine equally brightly on the blessed and the grotesque alike. Of course, not even a global traveller can visit every place and secure every language, but his collection was vast by the time of his death. Below is the list of key people we identified in his life and the timeline of his lifespan.

Overhead shot of group of people sitting around a table covered in dishes while a warm glowing light shines from the right.
Epitaph cover courtesy of Less Than Three Games.

Key People

  • Lucky (he/him), harsh carny mentor
  • Eliza (she/her), aunty in fact if not in law
  • Imogene (she/her), fire-breather and big “sister” that he looked up to
  • Patrick (he/him), love of his life


Joseph Forrester (he/him)

Born 1849 – Died 1918

Born 1849 over the Atlantic
  • Born on board the carnival airship while it west flew over the Atlantic.
Age 10 (1859) – Attended a child’s birthday party
  • Scene : (Departed, Imogene (chaperone), and birthday girl). Imogene escorts Joseph to a birthday party of a local girl, while the circus is stranded repairing the dirigible. She convinces him to bring a big pink bear that is a prize from the games as a gift.
  • Reflection : One of his few glimpses into the world of a stationary kid.
Age 15 (1864) – First day he picked up a camera
  • Remembrance : Eliza remembers when Joseph grabbed a camera that he wasn’t supposed to touch. He had been lost and tried many things at the circus but never found anything that fit until he grabbed the camera. His hands knew what to do right away and he never put it down. It was great to see someone finding themselves.
Age 16 (1865) – Dia de los Muertos & the Portuguese Women
  • Snapshot : Two older women wearing Day of the Dead face painting, wearing marigolds in their hair, and carrying candles. Face painting was put on at the booth in the carnival, and want to preserve it despite the Day of the Dead being a reminder of transience. Joseph takes their photo and gets his sentence in Portuguese from them.
  • Reflection : He believes that while things fade, you can remember them better with a photograph.
Age 21 (1870) – When Lucky saw that Joseph would be okay and a true asset to the circus.
  • Remembrance : Lucky watched him becoming a real asset to the circus, speaking to the guests in their own languages, welcoming them, charming the children, and convincing folks that the circus was magic.
Age 38 (1887) – Meeting his beloved Patrick
  • Snapshot : Close up portrait of forty-ish man wearing a brown tweed suit, worn at the edges with a big handlebar mustache. In the background is the ironworks of the Eiffel Tower just beginning to be built.
  • Reflection : Patrick reinvigorated him, giving him new reasons to live, to do, to travel, and to see.
Age 42 (1891) – Patrick decided to travel with Joseph
  • Snapshot : Patrick meets the circus dirigible when it lands at a cobblestone-paved aerodrome in the middle of Quebec City. He tells Joseph that he doesn’t want to meet occasionally anymore; he wants to travel with him for always.
  • Reflection : This is when our relationship became real, permanent, like an engagement or a marriage.
Age 52 (1901) – When the circus patrons questioned his place in the troupe
  • Snapshot : Ringmaster and magician owners/leaders of the circus ask him whether he is making enough of a contribution to earn his place.
  • Reflection : Realized that he might not be able to stay with the circus forever and began to plan for how to see the world if he couldn’t travel with the circus.
Age 53 (1902) – Discovers his talent for advertising
  • Snapshot : He seeks other ways to contribute to the circus and uses his gift for languages to create large circus posters tailored to each locale and language.
  • Reflection : There’s always a place for someone if you look for it.
Died 1918 in Osaka, Japan
  • Succumbed to the Swine/Spanish Flu while visiting Osaka, Japan.


  • Imogene: She brought together everyone from the circus and light candles on small boats, and send them out into the Atlantic carrying photos of the sender with something written out in another language on it.
  • Aerialist: Aerialist remembers how Joseph wasn’t a performer or roadie, but how he was the one you went to when something went wrong. He was the one who listened, probably would take your picture. He was special by not being special. One time when hit the net three times, Joseph was there to talk to. He was the most real person the aerialist had or would ever meet.
  • Patrick: Creates a book to keep Joseph active in his life. The book pairs photographs of the places they’ve been, the people they met, and the sentences in the languages of the places that Joseph collected over his life. He takes it out often and flips through it, and shows it to anyone who comes to visit him in his dotage and tells them about Joseph.