Mini game review: Return of the Obra Dinn

Recently I played Return of the Obra Dinn (2018), an indie video game which bills itself as “An Insurance Adventure with Minimal Colour.” I’ve been playing so many (short) games lately that I can’t take the time to properly review them all, but I wanted to collect my Facebook musings about each game in one central place.

First, let me steal this description of the game from Wikipedia:

The game is set in 1807 with the player assuming the role of insurance inspector for the East India Company. The Obra Dinn, a merchant ship missing for five years, has reappeared off the coast of England with no one alive aboard. The player is dispatched to the ghost ship to perform an appraisal, reconstruct the events of the voyage, and determine the fates of all sixty souls aboard, providing a cause of death for those deceased or a probable current location for those presumed living. Investigation is accomplished through the use of the “Memento Mortem”, a pocket watch capable of transporting its user to the moment of death of any corpse located. The game, played in first-person perspective, uses a “1-bit” monochromatic graphical style inspired by games on early Macintosh computers.

“Return of the Obra Dinn” on Wikipedia

And here’s what I had to say about…

From June 29, 2022:

I just started playing Return of the Obra Dinn last night, the… new-ish? new-er? game by Lucas Pope, who did Papers, Please.

As usual with his games, I don’t really know how to describe them? It’s a puzzle game, I guess? You have to discover the fates (mostly, deaths) of the 60 people on board the Obra Dinn, using a magical stopwatch that shows memories of the person’s life. It’s mostly a deductive reasoning problem, but a SUPER COMPLEX one.

It’s hard! So far I’ve only solved 6 of the fates after 3hrs or so of play. It requires some careful observation skills — like: what is that accent? What part of the ship are they in? How do other people address them? How are they dressed? What manifest number is on their hammock?

Also love the early Macintosh-era graphics.

Additional things I wrote in the comments:

Since I’m bad with faces, I enjoy giving [the passengers] dumb names based on their appearance in the Life at Sea drawings. “Kicky neckerchief guy,” “tuque guy,” “tattoo guy,” etc.

I watched… an interesting video [Ars’ Technica’s “How Localizing Return of the Obra Dinn nearly sunk the game”] about how [the developers] decided on the different verbs [for what happened to the passengers], and how it made additional challenges when they translated it. (Like… some languages don’t have a verb that corresponds to “killed with a club”).

Additional notes:

  • You can actually pick what version of early computer graphics you want! I stayed with the early Mac era graphics, because it brought back memories of playing Oregon Trail on my Mac SE with a whopping 20mb of hard drive space.
  • The game is fairly lenient as to manner of death, disappearance. In many cases it will accept multiple different causes, such as “speared” “spiked” “bitten,” etc.
  • I feel like having toured the HMS Victory, Nelson’s flagship, in Portsmouth, UK, really prepared me for some of these puzzles. (Like… of course all the midshipmen hang around together! Or: what’s an orlop deck?)

From July 2, 2022:

Okay, folks who have played Obra Dinn: when are you supposed to leave the ship? Because (I think) I’ve uncovered all the memories I can except for the stuff in “The Bargain,” which explicitly says “this will be revealed once you leave the ship and turn in the book.” I’ve only uncovered 36 fates, though, and I thought you weren’t supposed to leave the ship until you solved all 60. But I’m already scraping the bottom of the barrel for clues, and I have no more memories (I think) to uncover on the ship, so I’m wondering if I’ve misunderstood something.

As a friend informed me in the comments, you do have to solve 58 out of the 60 fates before you leave the ship if you want the “good” ending, i.e. where you actually figure out what happened.

By this point it was some of the tricksiest puzzles that stumped me. Looking up videos about all the clues in the game, it seems I wasn’t the only one struggling to identify the Chinese topmen, or to tell Alexander Booth apart from Hamadou Diom. There were definitely a couple of places where I had to guess, or brute force the solution. The “fates are revealed in groups of three” mechanic does disincentivize guessing, though, which was both a blessing and a curse.

From July 3rd:

Also, apropos of Obra Dinn — good goddamn I love the music in Soldiers of the Sea. Those bells! It gives me shivers.

Yahtzee of Zero Punctuation, who is known for his scathing reviews, actually liked Obra Dinn — but he did not like the music. He is just wrong.

On the same post I commented:

And apparently Lucas Pope composed [the music], too? This man is too talented.

Later that day I wrote this:

I finished Obra Dinn!… I still have so many questions.

For all that I solved the game — discovering the fate of all 60 passengers on board — at the end I still felt like I didn’t really understand the throughline of the story. Of why things had happened, and why the ship seemed to be cursed.

I won’t copy over all spoilery questions I had, but I answered a lot of them by Googling “return of the obra dinn story” and finding this. Warning: wildly spoilery. I’d only suggest following that link if you, like me, got to the end and still had a ton of questions about the plotline.

Also, fwiw, Steam informs me that it took me around 19hrs to finish the game. These Sudoku experts playing Obra Dinn on YT put me to shame.

Final Verdict

I adored much of this game — the music, the writing, the voice acting, the stylized graphics, and of course, the puzzles. Despite my confusion about the individual details of the story, the emotional impact was always clear. You could tell it was a passion project for Lucas Pope, and that he took the time to make it just so.

All that said, one thing I didn’t love was the user interface. The game gives you no guidance as to the controls; you just sort of have to discover them organically. (Don’t ask me how long it took me to figure out I could zoom in on figures to match them to their picture in the “Life at Sea” drawings). Navigating between scenes seemed clunky; I’d love a way to pull up a scene from the logbook rather than having to go to the body in question. I also wish there was a way to replay a scene from the beginning while you’re in it.

All in all, I’d give it a 4 out of 5 stars.

The only bad thing is? Now I’m in the mood for puzzle games, but there’s nothing quite like Obra Dinn. There are many puzzle games, but after surveying my friends, we couldn’t come up with one that had the same blend of logic puzzle + story-driven + unique aesthetics.

That said, I dove into a few other puzzle games after that, and — dopamine willing! — I might say a few words about them later.

In Which Lise Fails Her Will Save vs. More Drow Bullshit

So you might have seen this tweet a few days ago:

This was my reaction to my friend Will reaching out to me to say “hey, Bill [a larp acquaintance of mine from RPI] is running a drow intrigue game; you want in?”

Because of course I had to say yes.

The Premise

To quote Bill’s intro to the preparation doc:

You are members of a Drow House. Your goal? To survive…  and to thrive. But with a dagger at every back, and a noose around every neck, neither task will be simple. How long can you live, and how far can you climb? Only time will tell.

In many ways, it bears some similarities to the r/rpghorrorstories-worthy game I considered joining about a year ago now. You are playing members of a drow house, in Menzoberranzan, ruthlessly striving to climb the ladder of rank in the city, etc.

But, like… without all the red flags.

At the time, I decided that if I ever played in a game like this, it had to be with people I trust, not randos on the internet. Playing evil characters is not something you want to take on without significant safety and consent mechanics in place.

But these are all folks I’ve met in real life, and larped with, and trust to not be assholes for the sake of being assholes.

Hence I jumped at the opportunity — how often would this sort of thing come up?

Bill’s name for the campaign in roll20: “Creating Happy and Order-filled Stories”

My Character(s)

Now… the hardest part for me was deciding what to play. In the Game of Red Flags, I had intended to play an arcane trickster rogue, but I’ve since repurposed that concept (ish) for Jhevaeth, my drow rogue in Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. So at first I had no idea what to play.

But that was quickly replaced by ALL THE IDEAS. I even put out a poll on Twitter, crowd-sourcing the decision between four different concepts:

Note that “ranger” here sorta became in my head “Gloom Stalker ranger,” because good goddamn is that OP.

… and then I completely ignored the results, deciding on the paladin.

At least first.

See, I came to an agreement with Bill that I’d like to play them serially, running through the sons of the Matron Mother of a house.

Because — except for the Spores druid — these character concepts were male. Roles and jobs are highly gendered in drow society, and hey, I like sad elf boys being sad playing drow males, because it’s much more interesting to me to be on the business end of a toxic matriarchy than to be perpetuating it.

Thus was born Kzandr, my Oath of Conquest paladin of Lolth.

… and yes, he has had to do some mental contortions in order to devoutly serve a goddess that demands his total obeisance. He is a zealot who has taken all his sublimated rage about his lot in life and turned it towards eliminating the enemies of the drow: heretics and other races. For the most part, it’s worked, too; he has the minor favor of Lolth.

For now.

As well as an anger management problem he has a death wish — his goal is streea, death in the service of Lolth.

Other than that? He’s elderboy and weapons master of the house, and has a rivalry with the youngest son (my Gloom Stalker ranger). He’s the consort of the first priestess of House Kenafin, which is the more religiously-focused of the two houses that merge and become Melarn in the future. (This takes place in 1325 DR, i.e. in canon, around the time Drizzt graduated from Tier Breche).

I’m also planning on rewriting the tenets of the oath, since right now it’s very uh order-focused, and that is kind of the opposite of Lolth.

… I expect he will die young and leave a fabulous corpse to be animated later on in the campaign.

I will probably play the Aberrant Mind sorcerer/wizard once Kzandr is gone — second son, product of a failed mind flayer ceremorphosis, suffering PTSD from his capture. (Oh yeah, and since he has psionics, the Oblodras probably want to kill him off as competition. Because they’re still around and #3).

The fourth son (because we don’t have third sons in Lolthite society, at least not for long, or unless they’re plot-bearing) is going to be the Gloom Stalker ranger, who definitely took the lessons of Master Hatch’net (the propaganda master from Melee-Magthere) to heart, and probably has several Underdark humanoids as his favored enemies. Also he might be a Vhaeraun worshipper?

And then the standalone one is the Circle of Spores druid. Probably female, probably works with Will’s character’s aunt, definitely has a spooder pal or three. That’s all I know for now.

Wheeeee this is gonna be wild.


I was going to write more about the house we designed — whose ancient and traditional name is basically going to be the Drow equivalent of What We Do in the Shadows. But I must Meeting, so perhaps I’ll talk about House Vel’bol Li’Veldrin later?

The Care and Feeding of Your Artist

(Originally posted on Facebook; reposting and expanding here)

One thing I think non-artists1 don’t understand about about artists — and that can be any kind of artist, from painters to fiber artists to writers like me — is how important feedback is to us. Positive and negative, but I’m going to focus on the positive today.

1This is a misnomer, because I truly believe everyone does something that could be called “art.” But certainly some people are more invested in the creative life than others.

We need to know you see us. We need to know you read us, saw us, experienced us.

That choice of word, “us,” is deliberate. The work isn’t us, except it is.

We need to know if you felt something when you read, saw, experienced our work. We need to know if the work lingered in your head. We need to know that we don’t cease to exist when we’re not there.

That “reaching out” part is important. Putting into words that positive feedback is so important to us. A tweet, a comment on a fanfic (likes or kudos don’t quite do it), an email, something that shows effort. That the work moved you to action.

Why? Because, first, we’re control freaks. We want to make people feel and do things. Second, it’s not a lie that we want to achieve immortality with our art. (Though me, I’m also aiming for the “becoming a lich” route).

One of my favorite Millay poems — and you know that’s like choosing my favorite of my four cats — speaks to this:

Stranger, pause and look;
From the dust of ages
Lift this little book,
Turn the tattered pages,
Read me, do not let me die!
Search the fading letters, finding
Steadfast in the broken binding
All that once was I!

Edna St. Vincent Millay, “The Poet and His Book”

“Just because I didn’t comment, doesn’t mean I didn’t read it!”

I hear you. Not everyone is good with words. Not everyone has the emotional energy to do more than hit “like” or “kudos” or retweet when they see something they like. If that’s all you can do, I am grateful.

But over time, that lack of outreach and feedback eats away at an artist. It feels like screaming into the void. I begin to think, “Am I really not succeeding at my goal? My work must not make people feel anything at all, if it doesn’t move them to action.”

My ask for you today

If you have the energy and inclination, of course!

Tell an artist you love their work. Write an email telling them you read their story and it moved you to tears. Write a long comment on a fanfic gushing about every line that evoked excited squeeing noises in you. Tell someone you followed them solely because of a funny tweet they wrote. Tell a character portraitist that you love their art and would like to commission your own. Tell a friend you watched their play and it made you chortle.

(It DEFINITELY does not have to be me, but I assure you, if it IS me, I will remember it forever).

My own artist love ❤️

Lest I be accused of asking and not giving, here are just a few of the artists whose work I fangirl!

First of all, my friend and fellow VP17er John Wiswell, whose short story, “Open House on Haunted Hill,” was just featured on Levar Burton Reads!

Summary: “A sentient house, haunted by its own loneliness, exercises its powers on a skeptic.”

I heard John read this at Readercon in the Beforetimes, and it made me laugh and warmed my heart. What sticks out in my head, nearly three years later, is the little girl rejecting the tyranny of pants, and the secret room with a sewing box and spinning wheel 🙂 (Of course I remember the sewing tools).

I also want to note that John’s life is its own piece of art. He is one of the kindest and friendliest people I know, always making efforts to include folks who might otherwise be excluded. (And this happens a lot in writerly circles; we’re a sensitive lot).

Second of all, there’s my pal Phoebe Roberts, who I know feels that whole “screaming into the void” sensation as acutely as I do. She is an incredibly prolific playwright and fanfic writer (and probably some things I’m forgetting), and I regret I have not experienced as much of her oeuvre as I would like.

But I can’t say enough good things about her Mrs. Hawking series. It will appeal to you if you like the idea of an idea of a female Sherlock Holmes+Batman analog, avenging crimes committed against women and the marginalized in Victorian society. (Oh, and Mrs. Hawking is ace, which of course appeals to me in a personal way).

For something a bit lighter, I also love the “in the same universe” piece Gentlemen Never Tell, which is kind of like if you took a Wodehouse novel and made it delightfully queer. It’s made me giggle riotously, but it’s also sweetly romantic. I had a ton of fun finding all the Wodehouse references, too. (Spot the Glossops!)

And you can watch it all for free on her YouTube channel!

Lastly — for today! — is my friend Melissa Carr, who describes herself as a “Mixed media artist, mythic blogger, and general teller of tales.” She blogs at The River’s Wayward Daughter, and you can support her on Ko-fi.

Melissa is multitalented, but I love her mythopoeic storytelling best of all. Reading one of her short pieces about folklore, the clever reader will realize that –sometimes, but not always — this is folklore she has imagined herself. She can do that because she has a deep understanding of folklore and what makes it sing.

That blurring that line between “real” and “invented” folklore says something really interesting about the value of stories in our lives — things that are true but not accurate.

(Of course it’s about metanarrative to me!)

Also she draws an awesome inkcap mushroom 🍄

Featured image credit: Adam Jang on Unsplash

2021 Retrospective

What a year! Or, I suppose, three-quarters of a year, since I didn’t post my 2021 Prospective until April 2021!

2020 lingered into 2021, and it seems to be tagging along into 2022, as well. We are still living the pandemic lifestyle, which for me is also the pajama lifestyle, despite my best efforts at this year’s theme. As I write this, Omicron variant is surging throughout the U.S., and I have spent the last two weeks either hiding out in my house or in the woods.

So, without further ado, let’s talk about my 2021 theme“making my outsides match my insides,” i.e. my year-long focus on dressing up my meat car.

How’d I do?

Er… not so well.

I’m hesitant to call anything a failure — “I learned 100 things that didn’t work,” etc — but I was probably less invested than I have ever been in one of these themes.

And, in fairness, I knew it going in. After all, it took me three months to write my 2021 Prospective! I even talked to my therapist about the ambivalence I felt going into the year.

And as a result… I saw few results.

Time-lost gentlethem?

I still don’t look like a time-lost noblethem in my day-to-day life. I still routinely spend my days in pajamas or athleisure.

I did, however, pull together some cool outfits for parties!… of which there were few in 2021.

Stylebook?

I did add a bunch of clothes to Stylebook — 52 tops, 16 bottoms, 4 pairs of shoes, 7 dresses, and 20 accessories!

I’m not exactly predictable about using it to record or plan my outfits, though. But! I am still using it as of this week, and that’s not nothing.

Selfiegeddon 2021?

Let the record show that — until today, when I went back and added a whole bunch of forgotten photos — I hadn’t added anything to my “Selfiegeddon 2021” album since July 2021.

However, after collation, I do have 53 photos in there, which means I actually met that goal? Hooray! Here are a few I especially liked:

Snazzual Fridays (or any days)?

A partial success. I did a few of these, but I also frequently got to the end of the month, saw the item in Todoist, and hit “postpone” — especially near the end of the year. I can’t remember which of my selfies were for Snazzual Friday, and I can’t honestly recall what the last one I participated in was.

Body image?

I haven’t gotten more comfortable with having the body of a hobbit and the aspirations of an elf. I can’t say I’ve actually cut my hair as I’d planned, still worried about looking like a chubby teenaged boy. I basically never feel like someone other people would find attractive.

Wardrobe curation?

Generally a success. I got some great new clothes from StitchFix, but I recently discontinued my scheduled fixes, only because I couldn’t fit more in my wardrobe!

I did get rid of some items that didn’t make me feel great, didn’t fit well, or didn’t fit my personal style (such as it is). I also got better about doing seasonal purges.

Health, not weight?

I can’t say I remembered this goal past April 2021! Sweeteners (artificial or otherwise) and beer still have a large role in my diet. I would definitely not say that I killed my sweet tooth or that my diet got better.

But my various health measures remained stable, and I don’t want to kill anyone for a donut, so I can’t say it was an unmitigated failure.

But what did I learn?

I learned that, more important than looking like a time-lost noblethem is… being comfortable.

I can’t even stand having an itchy tag in my clothes; how am I supposed to stand hosiery, fitted suit jackets, or jewelry that clangs against the keyboard?

I also learned: I’m not doing it for myself. I put on real clothes only a) if I’m in a meeting and I’m going to be on camera, or b) in the rare event I leave the house. If I were doing it for myself, I’d do it as part of my regular routine. But I don’t.

I want people to see me and see an eccentric time-lost noblethem. But I’m not convinced that’s something I care about seeing myself; I’m fine with the vision inside my head.

… which doesn’t exemplify “inhabiting my meat car,” does it?

Also: I still struggle to see fat as beautiful. An ad for plus-size lingerie comes up in my Facebook feed, with an actual plus-size model, and I still feel revulsion. I don’t like this, and I wish it weren’t so, but there we are.

I need more positive body role models, but I’m struggling to find them at the same time as I work to cut back on the media I consume.

But! I will say this: I got a lot of joy looking back through those selfies from the year. I do see progress towards loving what I am — towards expressing myself through fashion — even if it’s not what I could have hoped.

Now, on to what else happened this year…

A year of endings

This year, we unfortunately lost two of our cats, Brianna and Burnbright.

Brianna was 15, and passed in March, to an aggressive nasal tumor. Burnbright was 17, and passed in May. He was still recovering from brain surgery to remove a meningioma when complications from diabetes and kidney failure told us it was time to say goodbye.

It’s hard to lose one cat in a year, let alone two. Burnbright was the first cat I adopted as an adult, and has a special place in my heart. Brianna was the cat we never expected to adopt, my beautiful feisty princess who we almost lost once, in 2020.

I still miss them, and it still hurts.

One less momentous ending was the end of my Out of the Abyss campaign. You know, that thing that caused me to write 80k words of emotional hurt/comfort with my character’s NPC boyfriend? That had a big impact on me — it literally felt like the end of a relationship.

A year of new beginnings

Because having merely one cat in our house seemed untenable, Matt and I adopted three new kittens in June from the local shelter. They were ~9 weeks old when we adopted them; two of them are biological brothers, and one of them was socialized along with the other two. As soon as we saw the trio, we knew we couldn’t split them up.

Nerds that we are, we named them after characters from P.G. Wodehouse novels — Monty Bodkin, Gussie Fink-Nottle, and Pongo Twistleton.

The only thing that has made the stress of this year bearable is having these kittens around; at my most bereft, I would just take a break to pet them.

Also this year? I became a manager — my title is now Engineering Manager, Frontend, and I have a team of two reporting to me. Nothing can really prepare you for management, but I’ve been studying the theory and attempting to apply that to my work. My company has also provided a great deal of training, mentorship, and onboarding assistance in this regard.

Other interesting stuff

  • I read 16 books. I did not reach my goal of 27, but honestly pandemic brain has ruined my ability to read, and reading is a habit I have to relearn.
  • My first short story publication — “The Mirrors of Her Eyes” — appeared in Daily Science Fiction.
  • I queried 10 different agents for Lioness; had 5 requests for partial/fulls, but so far no offers of rep.
  • Did a “Words in May” challenge.
  • Wrote 35 blog posts
  • Wrote 80k+ words on Bright Future, my druid and drow-fancying retelling of the Out of the Abyss adventure.
  • Started playing Pathfinder 2e, running through the Agents of Edgewatch module with some marvelous human beans I somehow met on r/lfg.
  • Traveled to San Diego for a work retreat. I stayed at the historical and haunted Hotel del Coronado, met my coworkers for the first time, and saw my friend Skye for the first time in 15 years. Of course, I also took lots of pictures of flowers and sea life.
  • Visited my mom several times.
  • Went camping with my dad in August, in some of the worst heat of the summer!
  • Hosted a visit from Matt’s parents.
  • Started my Morrowind Remastered stream and YouTube series.
  • Spent 3 nights, 4 days in a yurt in western MA for my birthday.
  • Made 249 iNaturalist observations
  • Took a Bushcraft 101 class
  • Spent a great deal of time in my garden and in the woods.
  • Grew an elderberry from a cutting. (Let’s see if it survives the winter in the ground).
  • Foraged and ate a wild mushroom for the first time!
  • Actually got to do some larping! I played two one-day events for Cottington Woods 2, and a 1-day event for Shadowvale.

All right, friends, I think that wraps it up for 2021. Let’s lay this one to rest and grow just enough in 2022.


Featured image by Caroline Hernandez on Unsplash

2022 Prospective

Let’s switch things up this year — let’s write the prospective first. After all, 2021 is over on December 31st, and then I have all of 2022 to reflect; I can literally write the retrospective any time. But the sooner I announce my 2022 theme, and put it down on paper, the sooner I’ll know what I’m fully committing to.

So without further ado, 2022 will be…

The Year of “Enough.”

I’ve felt overwhelmed for a while now by all the “stuff” in my life. In my day jorb, I am an engineering manager at a startup — itself a stressful situation — and in my personal life I try to balance too many hobbies, including larping, TTRPGs, writing novels, and streaming games on Twitch.

This is a lot. A lot of commitments, and a lot of possessions. A lot of mental energy consumed tracking things, maintaining them, and disposing of them when they’re no longer useful. This is the outer and inner disorder contributing to my lack of calm.

It got both better and worse when I started treating my ADHD. I now have fewer “dunwannas,” and hard, boring things are easier to do than they used to be. But at the same time, once I was medicated, I felt like possibilities were open to me that weren’t before. And when that happened, a million ideas I wouldn’t have bothered with before crowded through the door to my attention.

It’s exhausting. Even when I relax, I can’t relax. I feel like a tireless engine that always needs to do, do, do.

My goal in 2022 is to pare down my life to the essentials.

What does this mean? I’ll give you a few watch words and strategies that I have in mind.

Cultivate boredom.

I want to be okay with doing nothing, even just for a few minutes at a time. Meditation helps, when I actually do it. But there are other ways to be bored.

Watch my kittens play.

Pet Lirazel.

Stare out the skylights.

Listen to the hum of the refrigerator.

“For every new thing you bring into your life, ask yourself: what will you give up?”

These words of wisdom came from Janessa, the director of marketing at my company and an all-around brilliant person. I would have phrased this less eloquently by saying something like “interrogate everything that comes into your life.” Or: “one thing in, one thing out.”

There’s a tricksy bit here. Many commitments aren’t explicitly brought into my life; they sneak in. Thus cultivating awareness of their arrival is a necessary first step.

For example, my Pathfinder group decided to commission art of the party. And by “decided” I mean I instigated it, and thus I’m the one who had to compile everyone’s preferences and communicate with the artist. Did I think of that before I posted “hey folks wanna get some party art done?” in our Discord?

I did not.

Was it worth the time I spent herding cats? Maybe, maybe not. We’ll see.

But I am getting better at…

Saying no.

Or at least, better at saying, “maybe,” “let me think about it,” or “let me check my calendar.”

It might be worthwhile keeping note of the things I say “no,” “yes,” or “maybe” to in a single day — maybe in my journal? What we measure, we improve, after all. For example, recently I said…

  • “No” to getting a book out of the library when I have three in progress and hundreds unread on my shelf.
  • “Yes” to playing in a new D&D campaign (that I’ve been wanting to play for a while) — and I’ve been pretty joyful about this.
  • “Maybe” to buying a Worldcon 2022 membership from someone who can no longer use it.

Likewise, I think it’s important that I reflect on what I have brought into my life, and how it’s made me feel. I bought an RPG sourcebook recently, rather expensively, which turned out to be not what I expected. I might still get value out of it, but probably not what I anticipated. How could I have prevented mistakes like this?

And when that fails…

Get rid of the stuff that no longer brings me joy

Declutter, in other words. Both physical things and intangible things like commitments. Recurring expenses. Clothes that no longer fit. Books that represent a person you no longer are, or a life you’ll never lead.

I suppose this is a little Konmari-ish, though I can’t really say I love her methods. Some of it seems very silly and woo-woo to me; I will not start my decluttering journey by thanking my house, sorrynotsorry. I’ve also looked into The Home Edit and uhhhh those ladies have way too much energy for me. I know my library has a copy of Peter Walsh’s book It’s All Too Much — I’ve read it before! Maybe it’s time to take a second look.

… goddamn it, Lise, you’re doing it again. Even if they’re library books, even if they go home after three weeks, they’re still mental clutter.

Ultimately: what a home organization system won’t tell me is what stuff no longer fits my life. That’s a path I have to walk all by myself.

In any case, I started my decluttering today — a “Begin as You Mean to Go On” strategy, as Leigh Bardugo would call it — by going through one of my bookshelves and getting rid of a number of books. Technical manuals that are so old they’re useless, books I have to be honest about never reading, etc.

In the process I discovered…

It’s harder to get rid of things than to acquire them

So now I have a box of books I don’t want sitting in my guest bedroom, right? What am I going to do with them? They’re still taking up room in my house.

I can’t find any book donation bins near me. My town library isn’t taking them right now. The nearest thrift store is a Salvation Army, which I would prefer not to donate to — and the nearest Goodwill or Savers is 40 minutes away in Worcester. The only charity that will do home pickups to my area is the Epilepsy Foundation, and currently they are only picking up clothes, bedding, and shoes.

The library in the next town over is taking some donations of books, so that is probably what I will look into. But that will require me to take some time out of my day — probably a weekday — and drive over there and potentially wait in line and who knows, they might still tell me they don’t take them.

(ETA: I learned that the dump in the next town over has a book donation box! Hooray!)

Whereas if I want to buy a new book, it’s a few clicks away, and it will show up automagically on my phone or at my doorstep.

… maybe the lesson here is “don’t save your credit card info in your browser.” I definitely would do less impulse buying if I had to go downstairs and find my credit card every time I wanted to buy something.

The decluttering burst

I learned about this from the Be More With Less blog. It’s literally “let(ting) go of one hundred things in less than an hour.” It’s even easier if you count throwing out trash.

I’ve tried it a few times, and honestly, the hardest part was counting how many things you got rid of.

But seriously, folks…

No more books.

I have SUCH a backlog. Maybe this is a good year to conquer Mount TBR. As I said elseweb…

If I really, really need to read books that aren’t on my bookshelf — like, say, for the book club at my job — I can use the public library. But as I said above… for the love of gourd, stop, Lise.

Regular connectivity detoxes.

I love ye olde W-W-W, I really do. I work as a web developer, after all! And how else could I miss half of a movie by falling down an IMDb rabbit hole?

I’ve talked before about the “attention economy” that is social media, and what a drain it can be on our lives, so I won’t say more here. But there’s another piece to this, which is the fact that we now have the entirety of human knowledge at our fingertips, on our phones. For someone like me — with ADHD — this can be the source of more “brain stuff” that we don’t need.

For example, recently I learned about 1000 Hours Outside — a challenge to spend a thousand hours outside in the next year. It’s mostly aimed at kids, but adults can play, too, and once I saw that one of the trackers was a coloring sheet, I was ready to sign up.

Noooooo, Lise. A thousand hours outside in a year is ~2.7 hours per day, and how tf would I fit that in my life? Do I just want another thing I to feel obligated to do? I already have a hard time getting outside as much as I would like; this would only make it harder. To say nothing of the mental effort of tracking that time, or figuring out what counts as “outside” time.

So, it’s important to me to get away from it all ™, where all is “a constant drip of all the world’s knowledge and more new ideas than can fit in my head.” A complicating factor is my seeming inability to just ignore the internet if it’s there; if I can be connected easily, I will be.

One solution I found: Last year I spent three nights in a yurt in western Mass the week of my birthday, and I just made a reservation to spend four nights there again this April.

I chose this place because of a very specific feature — there’s no wifi in the yurt, and cell reception in this part of MA is spotty. I left my phone locked in my car for most of the weekend, and checked in once a day with my husband, when I was up at the main house and had access to wifi.

Of course, I can’t spend four nights in a yurt all the time, so I will also need to figure out some way to get short-term detoxes, as well. Something to noodle on.

Banish perfectionism.

I’m working on it.

Time-boxing helps.

Making myself sit here and finish this post and not eat until it’s done also helps.

Speaking of…

That’s all, folks.

I’ve screamed into the void enough for now. Maybe I’ll add more later. Maybe I won’t. Now I’mma go eat dinner.


Photo by Felicia Buitenwerf on Unsplash

Remastering Morrowind

Or: come see me play my favorite 20-year old video game, beautified for 2021 audiences!

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately modding The Elder Scrolls into completely unrelated games, like RimWorld. While there’s something magical about turning a science fictional game about building a colony on the rim of known space into a game about running a Dunmer cornerclub, it just wasn’t scratching That Elder Scrolls Itch ™.

We do have fun with our tiny murder elves, though…

So! I decided that since it had been ten years since I last played Morrowind, I was overdue for a replay. And this time, I was going to stream it on my Twitch channel.

Why? I want my friends to see Morrowind through my eyes. I wanted to show you Morrowind — but remastered for 2021. I want you to know why I love it so much; why I think it’s the finest iteration of the “venerable” series.

The nitty gritty details

This game will be running on OpenMW, “a free, open source, and modern engine which re-implements and extends the 2002 Gamebryo engine for the open-world role-playing game The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind.”

The advantages to using OpenMW are many — it fixes many bugs with the original engine, and adds features that the original game didn’t have, like distant terrain. It also makes modding cleaner and more, well… modular.

And mod it I sure would! Not knowing where else to start, I Googled “modding OpenMW” and came upon a site of the same name. Modding OpenMW features a number of different modlists, as well as detailed instructions for implementing them.

I started by implementing the massive Total Overhaul list. But I ended up stopping after the first few items, and implementing a modlist that was best summarized as “Graphics Overhaul plus some bug fixes.”

Why? Well, after putting more thought into it, I’d realized I wanted to (mostly) leave the vanilla gameplay untouched. My goal was for folks like you, dear reader, to see Morrowind through my eyes, right? How could I do that if all the rough edges had been smoothed off? Some of what I love about is those rough edges!

So ultimately: I modded the graphics out completely and fixed the obvious bugs, but I didn’t, say, add in a poison system, or rebalance the economy, or fix the messy leveling system.

(As it turns out, “graphics overhaul” and “obvious bugs” are more subjective than I thought! But that’s something I can talk about more on my stream).

Is this ready to play?

It sure is! It took me about a hundred hours, and many emails with the (very responsive and helpful) author of Modding OpenMW, but I now have my 250+ modlist working smoothly. I’m a dozen or so hours into a test game, and so far it’s been rock solid!

… not gonna lie, there were moments where I was like “I’m never following a modlist again,” but I’m glad I stuck with it. The end result is lovely. (See: the featured image for this post).

So where do I sign up?

I’ll be starting “Morrowind Remastered” on my Twitch channel on Weds, December 1 at 7pm EST (UTC-5). I will aim to stream Wednesday and Sunday nights at the same time — or more or less frequently, as I feel like it. Because I’m a rebel, and nothing makes me want to do something less than scheduling it 😉

Your best bet to find out when I’ll be going live is to click the big purple follow button on Twitch; that should email you when I go live.

If you are more asynchronously inclined, you can also subscribe to my YouTube channel, where I plan to upload the VODs.

I’m also posting occasionally on Twitter about the process of setting up the game. Sometimes I use my liseplays Twitter account for this, but more often it’s threads like this on my main lisefrac account:

And that’s it! I hope to see you in the stream!

ETA: I also published a Google Calendar with the dates, if that’s helpful to you:

The fun guys of fall 2021: cauliflower mushroom

My dad was visiting recently, and — as one does when the only thing you have in common is a love of nature– we went for a walk in the woods.

There, we found this big boi:

Cauliflower mushroom, Sparassis americana (?)

I realize you have no sense of scale or terrain here, so imagine this growing at the food of an Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus). It was about 12-18 square inches in size — large enough that it barely fit in a standard grocery bag.

How do I know that last bit? Because I harvested it. My dad was very insistent that if it was edible, he wanted to harvest it and eat it “before anybody else could get it.” (My dad, gentlethems. If food is in danger of disappearing, he’s there).

I was almost dismayed when iNaturalist IDed it as being an edible in the Sparassis genus — cauliflower mushroom, in the vernacular. Oh no, I said, as my dad started up again.

But not only is cauliflower mushroom edible, it’s a choice edible and often hard to find. There’s also very little it can be mistaken for. So after doing lots of research, I too determined: I was gonna eat that big boi.

How did that go, Lise?

Slowly, but deliciously!

This was my first time harvesting Sparassis — really, any wild mushroom — so I took it slow. I ate a tiny piece (cooked, of course), and waited 24 hours. Then I ate a bigger piece and waited 24 more. Only then did I move on to using it in recipes.

Most recently I made a quiche with 4 cups dry weight of mushrooms in it, and hey, it was pretty great! And I’m not dead!

How did cauliflower mushroom taste? It was your pretty standard mushroom umami. I wouldn’t say it was particularly “choice”, or unique, but maybe it was past its prime? I read that when it begins to yellow like that, it begins to decline in quality.

You want to use mushrooms quickly once you harvest them — within a week — so I gave half of the bounty to my dad to take home. I attempted to dry some in the oven, but my oven only goes down to 170 degrees F, which was still too high and cooked the mushrooms into, well, mush. My dad had better luck with a food dehydrator.

Also worth noting: this sample was pretty clean and free from critters, but it was still a pain in the butt to clean. I ended up breaking it into pieces and rinsing it in cold water. Unlike many mushrooms, Sparassis doesn’t soak up much water, so this was an acceptable treatment.

What did you learn?

SO MUCH. I’ve spent the last ten days endlessly researching mushrooms in general and Sparassis in particular. I read and watched videos about foraging mushrooms, cooking mushrooms, and identifying mushrooms. I’ve devoured the entire oeuvre of Learn Your Land.

So let me drop some cool mushroom knowledge on you:

  • If you’re wondering why no full binomial name for this sample, it’s because the Sparassis genus is kind of a muddle. Some folks refer to all cauliflower mushrooms are S. crispa, but in fact S. crispa is only accurately applied to the European species. In North America we have S. americana in the east and S. radicata in the west. (And then further confusing it, there’s S. spathulata…). I’m pretty confident saying this specimen was S. americana, but it really doesn’t matter, because they’re all delicious.
  • Very few of the million+ mushroom species are poisonous — that is, have substances that are toxic to humans in them (eg. amatoxins in amanitas). Furthermore, some toxic substances are denatured by cooking, eg. the toxins in the delicious morel mushroom. (Hence why you want to cook most mushrooms).
  • More accurately, not everybody can tolerate every mushroom. I was surprised to learn that certain species of mushrooms, like Armillaria spp (honey mushrooms) and Hydnum spp (hedgehog mushrooms) are famously ones that some people can’t tolerate.
  • Certain mushrooms shouldn’t be eaten with alcohol! In specific, mushrooms in the genus Coprinopsis contain a substance called coprine that combines in the human body to form something similar to disulfiram. You know, that drug they use to treat alcoholism — by making you really sick when you consume alcohol.
  • Mushrooms contain chitin. Yep, that thing that crab shells are made up of. So almost certainly some cases of non-deadly mushroom “poisoning” are actually gastric upset caused by trying to eat significant quantities of something indigestible. (Cooking breaks down the chitin, however, which is yet another reason why you want to cook almost all mushrooms).
  • Sparassis is a saprobe and/or parasite (depending on who you ask), mainly on conifer trees and their debris. In the eastern U.S., Pinus strobus (eastern white pine) is a preferred host. Just where I found it!
  • Like most mushrooms, the mycelium of Sparassis are are unharmed by harvesting, and thus we are likely to see it again next year in the same location.
  • Apparently Sparassis has a deep “taproot” of mycelium? I didn’t pull my sample up in order to see, but this Paul Stamets video mentions it can be up to six feet deep!

Resources

Just some of the many resources I consulted recently:

  • Learn Your Land, a YouTube channel by Adam Haritan. Love this guy’s videos, and not just about mushrooms! This is what my YT watch history looks like right now, lol.

That’s it! I’ve taken soooo many mushroom pics this season, so maybe more posts like this anon?

Fanfic journal: Bright Future, chapter “Orb’ilythiiri”

Read “Orb’ilythiiri” here.

Chapter Summary

Jorlan had seen driders, of course. They were used as a minatory example for the students of all schools of Tier Breche, not just Sorcere. Standing at the edge of the drider pits, no one said — but he was meant to know —this is what happens when you fuck up so hard that a priestess thinks death is too kind.

And Jorlan had truly, fatally fucked up.

Chapter Front Notes

This chapter has some important content warnings: parasitism, body horror, and our old friend implied/referenced sexual assault. Basically, if you don’t want to know my headcanon about how a drider is made, I’d skip this one, or read between your fingers. This is a dark one, friends.

That said, this chapter also stands well on its own, so if you have never read Bright Future before, this is a decent place to start, as it references events mostly outside the timeline of the main story.

Chapter End Notes

I have always hated the portmanteau “drider,” which is why I use here… well, a Drow portmanteau of “orbb,” spider, and “Ilythiiri,” drow. It’s illogical, but it sounds better to my ear.

The lore has gone back and forth on whether or not becoming a drider is a reward or a punishment. As always, I’m most familiar with 2e, where it is most definitely a punishment. I tried to split the difference by implying that both are possible — it’s just the degree of torment involved, and your relevant standing in drow society afterwards. If Lolth can wave her spidery hand and make you a drider, I imagine it will be a relatively painless process, and you will have a place of honor, as a temple guard or teacher at Arach-Tinilith. (One imagines most of these driders are female).

But if it’s a punishment, it’s a gruesome parasitic process that robs you of some of your will, and you’ll basically spend the rest of your wretched life doing the work of a slave, thrown into battle as cannon fodder, and used as breeding stock (if you’re “lucky” enough to have genetics that the Lolthites want; let’s not forget the drow are rampant eugenicists, too).

(Does this imply drider fucking? I’ll leave that to your own imagination, ya perv, but I was thinking something more clinical, like artificial insemination).

I am inspired here by cordyceps fungus, which is famous for parasitizing the bodies and brains of insects, causing them to display risky behavior, and eventually bursting through the insect’s head, spreading their spores and killing the host. The word I chose for the fungus, shanaal’karliik, means “goblet-headed” according to the fan dictionary, which is a nod to the fact that “cordycep” is Latin? Greek? for “club-headed.”

If that sounds similar to the Zuggtmoy stuff in RAW… well, it probably took inspiration from the same thing.

I worry I went too far in the direction of misery porn and extravagant evil in this chapter, which I have so often derided in the canon writings about the drow. But as my friend Alice says: “we like our misery porn and extravagant evil, just in moderation.” It’s basically the worst thing the drow do to each other, and so I think it’s realistic to imagine it’s a horrible process — but also fairly rare. It also needs to be something that evoked such horror in Jorlan that he blocked it out until now, as one does with trauma.

I spent a looooong time on the Forgotten Realms wiki trying to figure out the tangle of House Mizzrym — made more challenging that I haven’t read the War of the Spider Queen books, or any books where they are prominent. We know from OotA that Miz’ri Mizzrym is still matron of the house in 1484; we’ll assume this is the same Miz’ri who was also matron in the 1370s, and thus who was the mother of Pharaun, Greyanna, and Sabal, who are all now dead. RAS apparently mentioned a “Sabbal” as first priestess in 1484 in Night of the Hunter, but… is that just a typo? Did he forget/not know that Richard Lee Byers killed off Sabal? Did Miz’ri have two daughters that she named “Sabal” and “Sabbal”? Is 1484 Miz’ri a different Miz’ri? Who knows!

Tl;dr Ilvara can be first priestess because the lore is vague and inconsistent and it suits my need to torment my boy.

Anything about Quenthel’s age is a guess. Heck, we don’t even know Jarlaxle’s age precisely, and he’s arguably the second most famous drow in Faerun.

Keeping with my headcanon of “drow as the ultimate in guess culture,” there’s SO MUCH that is implied and not stated here — both about drow canon, and about Jorlan’s history. I’m pretty proud of how it turned out, but definitely ask if you have questions about any of it.

Fanfic journal: Bright Future, chapter “Ilindith”

Read “Ilindith” here.

Chapter Summary

The secret to the prophecy is: do not lose hope. Mavash and companions seek six feathers from six petrified angels, and unearth a terrible prophecy in the bargain.

Chapter Front Notes

I am skipping ahead quite a bit in the timeline here, to get to the stuff that a) I remember the most, or recorded the most of, and b) is most personally meaningful. That means I’m skipping the Vast Oblivium and much of the Labyrinth. Our intrepid heroes now have two of the components for Vizeran’s ritual — a purple worm egg and the central eye stalk of a beholder — and are on their way to find the third.

There is definitely some fun stuff I’m missing, and maybe I’ll go back and fill it in eventually. Or maybe it will simply remain in flashbacks! Gods know I love my flashbacks.

Quick content warning: mention of animal suffering.

Chapter End Notes

  • You originally meet Yuk-yuk and Spiderbait, the goblin guides, when they offer to guide you through the Silken Path at the beginning of the adventure. DM Nixon had them come back as our guides to the Labyrinth, which I thought was a nice callback.
  • “A letter written in uncertainty” is a line I stole from my favoritest in-universe book in The Elder Scrolls, The 36 Lessons of Vivec. Let this be your regular reminder that the drow are only my second favorite murder elves; the Dunmer still are number one.
  • “What language does a child speak if no one speaks any language to it?” is a real question that Renaissance scholars asked, and if I recall correctly, the answer is child abuse. (Also I added this in because I needed an in-universe reason why Umbra doesn’t speak Drow. Because Drow isn’t an actual language your PC can learn in 5e, don’t-even-get-me-started).
  • The gnoll event is from the Spiral of the Horned King chapter in RAW. In actual play, it was an interesting conflict between Gaulir’s lawful good and Mavash’s chaotic good, and was a character-defining moment for all concerned. There’s not really enough there to build a chapter around, but I wanted to include it somehow. Relevant Twitter thread.
  • The final line is from the Emily Dickinson poem of the same name.
  • The title of the chapter, ilindith, means “aim, goal, or hoped-for end” in Drow. I was looking for a word that meant “hope” (the noun), but that word is — perhaps understandably — lacking in Drow! I debated mightily between this and some permutation of kyorl (to wait). After all, in some languages, like Spanish, “hope” and “wait” are the same verb. I also considered a compound word like kyor’lindith, but do we really need more Drow compound words with apostrophes? We do not.
  • While the prophecy was all our DM’s invention, this chapter of the adventure otherwise played out pretty close to RAW!
  • The side story â€œSmall Sacrifices” — which outlines Jorlan and Ambergris’ plan re: the prophecy — takes place immediately after this one. Hopefully it makes a lot more sense after reading this one.

Fanfic journal: Bright Future, chapter “Oloth”

Somehow I never posted this?

Read “Oloth” here.

Chapter Summary

“The Widower.” The man made a throttled chuckle. “A consort who outlives his mistress outlives his welcome. And you’ve done it… how many times now?”

Mavash and companions try to skirt around the troglodyte lair, but find prisoners, ropers, and a head-chopping sword. Jorlan makes a difficult choice, which forces him to consider his less-than-savory past.

Chapter End Notes

The way this played out in session, there wasn’t anything remarkable about the drow in the oubliette. But I wanted to up the stakes here a bit, because otherwise exploring the troglodyte cavern is pretty boring. I used it to bring up a plot thread from later on in the adventure, when a Certain Someone ™ implies that Jorlan has a Reputation ™ for outliving his lovers, who all die in Perfectly Innocent Ways ™.

The attack by the ropers and piercers is true to RAW, but I forgot most of the details of how it played out — except for Mavash blinding poor Jorlan and Hanne with Sunburst. It was a similar case when we met the troglodyte chieftain — I know we got a sword out of it, but I don’t recall how. But I was tired of writing fight scenes, so we get Umbra pulling an Indiana Jones.

The end of this chapter echoes a flashback in “Siltrin,” which I am probably going to remove in favor of this version. As I said in those author’s notes, Oloth tlu malla is meant to be a +2 longsword as written, but that’s not very interesting.

Mavash pretending to be the spirit of Oloth tlu malla is also true to the actual session 🙂

I’ve finally read enough of the newer Drizzt books to realize… my Ambergris (well, DM Nixon’s) is hella different from how she is written in the books. But given how abysmally she is portrayed in Timeless (still not over that, grrr), I am a-okay with this! If this has been bothering you, just imagine she is a totally different character with the same name? Because she basically is.

Also I refuse to have my dwarves sound like a walking plate of haggis.

Vendui’, vel’uss lil vith phuul dos? means roughly, “excuse me, who the fuck are you?” This is Lux’s favorite way to greet enemies — this was, in fact, how they greeted Jorlan, since they had not been in Velkynvelve with the rest of us and had no idea who he was. It became a tradition after that.

Do accents and pronunciation exist in telepathic communication? Who knows! Creative license!

Incidentally, I’m not sure if I’m going to write the scene in the purple worm nursery, since you do see the important bits through Jorlan’s POV in “Siltrin.” To be completionist I would, from Mavash’s POV. But at the same time, my memories of the campaign are fading, and I haven’t yet reached the portions where I took detailed notes. We may be skipping right from here to the Gallery of Angels, in the interest of getting to the Important Stuff.

I mean, of course, noodles.