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.

Epitaph for a Wise Woman

We played another session of Epitaph by Marc Hobbs, this time set mostly in villages in Imperial Russia. Our departed is Miroslava Valerievna, a village wise-woman who uses tarot cards to diagnose and brews magical soups to cure.

Miroslava was born in the village of Czelmic in 1654. Her father told us how difficult she was as a child, and how at three years old, she would refuse to walk except in the early morning hours while he was occupied with chores. One day, he notices another set of tracks next to hers and leaves a bowl of porridge out for their invisible companion. After that, Miroslava walked more easily and frequently.

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.

Her uncle Iosef ran the village tavern. One day when she was eight, he sent her to clean out the storage area. Inside, she found a set of Tarot cards with the major arcana blank. As she looked at one card, a vision of herself as an adult appeared on it as it became the World card. She learned from this that Fate would guide her to wherever she needed to go. When she was eleven, she became lost in the woods, collecting plants and herbs. She was saved by a large, bearish, fur-trimmed Russian man who lived alone in the forest. Afterward, he appeared on one of her cards as the Hermit, and Miroslava felt the weight of magic in the world and what that could make possible.

As a teenager, her friends and family suggest many suitors, however none worked out, each ending in some comedic mishap. She saw then the truth of the Fortune Tarot: life is chaotic, so one must become the center of the storm. The first time she ever concocted a potion to help someone, was when she was twenty-five and working for the village apothecary. A woman waiting to see the apothecary confessed her loneliness and troubles to her, so Miroslava decides to make her a special soup, adding various herbs to bring good fortune, which soon follow. It’s funny, she thinks, how she’s never been able to recreate that exact soup, and she’s unsure which ingredient actually helped the woman.

We catch up with Miroslava when she is fifty-four and looking for an apprentice so she can pass on the wisdom in her sheaf of magical soup recipes. She chooses a bright-eyed teen girl who’s always caring for others with kindness, her younger siblings, her elders, her parents. She knows once she’s taught Gariazanel that her legacy will be secured, Fate once again showing her the way. Thirteen years later, Gariazanel brings home a girl from the poor house, Lyamina, and asks if she can be allowed to teach her, to take her as her own apprentice. Miroslava makes like the decision is difficult, but she sees that Gariazanel is growing into her role and that her legacy will spread beyond this generation. Five years later, she’s ready to leave them alone for a time and goes to the university in Kyiv. We hear from Vira Ivanenko, a scientist and debunker of superstitions, how Miroslava came to the city and had everyone at her feet without meriting any of it. Vira herself worked twice as hard as anyone and still struggled to be accepted, and Miroslava’s “magic” only made it less likely they would take a woman scientist seriously.

Miraculously, or she would likely say fortuitously, Miroslava lived another thirty-five years to die, back in Czelmic, at the age of 107, surrounded by her students and their students and many villagers. At the funeral, the villagers speak about how she outlived everyone who was alive when she was a child, which surely must be attributed to the way Fate always put her just where she needed to be. Lyamina plants yarrow at her gravesite, since that was the first plant she was asked to fetch for her. One day, not long after the funeral, strange footprints and a bowl of porridge are found on her tombstone. And Gariazanel makes her best impression of the friendship soup every year on the anniversary of Miroslava’s death and hands it out to the village.

Epitaph for a Misguided Hero

We played another game of Epitaph by Marc Hobbs this week, this time with all new players and in a fictional fantasy setting.


Grathar is a dwarf living her entire life underground, among the caves and underground lakes of the under dark. She relishes the tranquility of living below ground and the seriousness of her people as they mine the gems that power magical spells and devices in our world. When the gems are emptied of their magical power, they turn into colorful dust. She wants more than anything to have the frivolous jesters of the Academia banished because they besmirch and slander our ways with their jokes and their profligate tossing of the colorful gem powders.

Grathar (she/her)

Born 12th year of Austin Hjorth II — Died 75th year of Austin Hjorth III

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.


Born: 12th year of Lord Austin Hjorth II in Crystome

Age 20

Festival accident that leaves her uncle Folum injured.

  • Snapshot: Marching jesters throwing colored dust, causing people and animals to turn to run, a pair of dwarfs in their path, the older dwarf (Folum) wrapping a protective arm around the younger (Grathar).
  • Reflection: Recognizes that her feelings then were too easy, too simple.

Age 23

A family trip to underground hot springs when her father plays the didgeridoo and teachers Grathar love of music.

  • Snapshot: Grathar sits rapt watching her father play a didgeridoo beside the hot springs, cementing her love of music and her appreciation for the solemnity of the underdark.
  • Reflection: Feels how this moment put her on an arduous path toward an abstract principle rather than the concrete people who make it meaningful.

Age 127

Cinteele Hjorth recalls the solemn protests at Academia Jesteria

  • Remembrance: Cinteele recalls how the dwarves marched so quietly in soft-soled shoes while waving their signs: “It’s not funny.” Grathar was never intentionally funny, but often inspired us to laugh a lot, especially in the student scripts the following semester. Praxus’ script won third place that year.

Age 202

Failed negotiation with an emissary from the surface world.

  • Scene: Larry the halfling questions Grathar about whether she could ever accept the sincerity of other people when they practice the traditions, but Grathar insists all must carry the same sincerity in their heart as she does.
  • Reflection: Grathar regrets not having gotten to know Larry better. She wonders what might have been if they had become friends and what the halfling might have done later in life.

Age 224

Barivar’s banishment.

  • Snapshot: Grathar looking on as Barivar is carted away, banished by Lord Austin Hjorth II, weighing in her hand the festival powder she will use to rescue and release him.
  • Reflection: Mostly she feels fondness for her adopted son, whom she loves so ferociously. But that nostalgia is tempered by her indignation she felt at the child being abandoned by those spiteful royals. Her whole life turned on this moment.

Age 224

Dedicating Barivar to the old ways at the Amethyst Springs, not long after adopting him from banishment.

  • Snapshot: Grathar holds the toddler Barivar in the dark at precisely the right moment to feel the silence and comforting weight of the dark, hums the resonant tone, and moves as the space beckons.
  • Reflection: Grathar feels her responsibility for Barivar replaced the responsibility she had previously felt to this point for the solemn and sombre traditions.

Age 341

Moments before her death with her friend Praxus at the Pearl Grotto.

  • Snapshot: Praxus throwing powder as they dance between the stalagmites, colorful dust turning the water multicolored, Grathar laughing and enjoying herself immensely.
  • Reflection: Proud to be and feel so free, so unlike where she had started.

Died: 75th year of Lord Austin Hjorth III in the Pearl Grotto

Grathar chokes when too much festival powder gets into her lungs while playing with her friend, Praxus, the Master Jester.


  • Praxus, devastated when Grathar dies because of their play, begins a new performance tradition where the jesters walk in silence in their softest shoes. The guffaws of audience usually break the silence thanks to the jester’s antics.
  • Barivar must conduct the traditional funeral rites for his beloved adoptive father. Afterward, he uses his tenuous royal connection to help spread Grathar’s ideals more widely.
  • Lord Austin Hjorth III, in his official capacity at the funeral, jovially recalls her bothersome youth and the grace and kindness she developed in her mellower, older years. He says all will miss the solid gentleness that had come to characterize her life.
  • Roknet Bellsod, Head of the Student Script Department and a good friend of Praxus, dedicates a trophy of a bronzed soft-shoe in Grathar’s name in the main hall trophy cabinet at the Academia Jesteria. Whenever people walk by and create enough vibrations, a bell springs out and rings loud.

Epitaph for a Bartender

Tonight we played Epitaph by Marc Hobbs, a new game in which you explore the life of a character you create together.


A bartender named Mason never leaves the contemporary Midwestern city he is born into. He dreams of writing a book of the definitive and original drinks he mixes throughout his career. Mason, unlike most, sees and recognizes the fae folk who live among humanity for what they truly are.

Epitaph cover courtesy of Less Than Three Games.


Born 1933 in Traverse City, MI

Age 18 (1951)

Mason graduating from high school and saying goodbye to Opal.

  • Snapshot: Mason hugging Opal in their graduation gowns, saying goodbye as she goes to college and he prepares for the Korean War draft.
  • Reflection: Feels great nostalgia for Opal but wishes things had ended better.

Age 18 (1951)

Closing up the bar by himself for the first time (a few months after graduation).

  • Snapshot: Mason is standing in the dark bar with all the chairs and stools on top of the tables looking into a glowing hole in the wall, which houses a miniature bar. Two sprites with wings are serving drinks to other fairy folk inside.
  • Reflection: Feels privileged to have gotten to witness that moment and the fairy folk. He’s grateful to not be one who overlooks things.

Age 19 (1952)

Mason’s first encounter with Fenwick the selkie.

  • Snapshot: Shorter person in an oversized cloak with hood sitting at the bar smiling while waiting for Mason to serve him. Mason is wearing a puzzled expression on his face.
  • Reflection: Finds it amusing how clueless and skeptical of Fenwick he was initially.

Age 28 (1961)

First time Mason met Bethany.

  • Snapshot: Mason and Bethany at the bar on his birthday with streamers and balloons in the background, with Mason leaning over the bar talking to Bethany, who is smiling but not into him. Mason falls for that smile.
  • Reflection: Mason loves this memory; it makes him happy.

Age 35 (1968)

Mason serving a new drink inspired by a faun to a human (hairy hoof).

  • Scene: Local boy tries the drink after insisting that Mason remake it so that it uses only locally sourced or other non-exploitative ingredients. He really likes it and says he’ll bring his friends.
  • Reflection: Mason is extremely proud of his accomplishment to create this new drink, but feels guilty about not trusting the fae when they suggested the drinks.

Age 40 (1973)

Mason and Bethany’s long-delayed wedding.

  • Remembrance: Bethany remembers how long they had waited and their two children (age 6 and 3) in attendance. She feels their love will endure, and was so grateful to have her children in attendance. She remembers falling for him slowly due to his good humor and soft laughter, and how he was always there for her.

Age 43 (1976)

Mason starting to write his book.

  • Snapshot: Mason sitting at his kitchen/dining table with a toddler at his feet, a 6-year old sitting with him, and a 9-year old walking by. Mason is writing out the recipe for an old-fashioned that he believes he has at last perfected and deciding to write a book of his drink recipes.
  • Reflection: Mason sees this as the best decision he ever made.

Age 57 (1990)

Mason and Fenwick arguing over a drink recipe.

  • Scene: Fenwick claims that a Pale Sea Water needs more sea grapes, but Mason realizes that he served Fenwick a Manhattan by mistake. A young professional walks up to the bar and orders two Manhattans, ignoring the dispute between the two.
  • Reflection: Mason remembers with fondness the friendship of the selkie, even if his certainty and stubbornness were frequently frustrating.

Age 70 (2003)

Wake for bar’s previous owner who had sold the bar to Mason ages ago.

  • Snapshot: Mason sitting surrounded by his family including his new grandchild in his daughter’s arms and the many people who know him or his predecessor. People are raising glasses and hugging and consoling one another as they gather in an irregular semicircle around the bar with Mason at the center.
  • Reflection: Mason feels contentment when thinking about this event, when so many wonderful friends came together to remember someone who meant so much to them all.

Died 2017 in Traverse City, MI (Age 84)


  • To honor Mason, the Sprites who work in the weefolk bar-within-a-bar paint the signature inlaid in the glasses his unique drinks are served in so the signature actively shimmers like phosphorus and the signature never fades.
  • His children pull together all his various drink notes and recipes into a proper book that is printed as well as a hand-bound version that preserves his original papers that they keep at the bar.