Dumb Plant Facts with Lise: the Stanky Red Trillium

It’s the most wonderful time of the year — when trilliums are in bloom! Since I can’t get out in the woods much right now, instead have some completely useless facts about red trilliums.

Red trillium (Trillium erectum), like all trilliums, is a monocot, meaning it arises from a seed with a single cotyledon or seed leaf. Most plants are dicots, which have seeds with two cotyledons, so this makes trilliums a little bit special. At least, when I was a young teenager, I thought monocots were pretty cool.

That probably says something about cool a teenager I was not.

Therefore trilliums are class Liliopsida (monocot)*, and order Liliales, both of which are fancy ways of saying, with varying degrees of freedom… “it’s kind of like a lily.” But rather than being a member of family Liliaceae, it’s a member of the bunchflower family, Melanthiaceae, which are described as — get this — “lilioid monocots.”

That is… “it’s kind of like a lily.” Boy, botanists are good at naming things.

* Botanists will argue if monocots are a class or a clade. A clade is a category distinct from a taxa, based on a system of classification that is more focused on evolutionary relationships between plants than taxonomy traditionally is. (Except taxonomy is becoming more evolutionary-focused… okay, let’s not go into the whole weird conversation I had when I asked ChatGPT to explain cladistics to me). But for the purposes of this post — where I will never mention cladistics again! — let’s go with what iNaturalist says, which is that class Liliopsida = monocots.

Also grasses are in class Liliopsida, too. LOOK I DON’T MAKE THE RULES.

Have I lost you yet? No? Oh good. Let’s get into the actual dumb plant facts. Some these are about trilliums as a genus; some are more specific to red trilliums.

  • Every aerial structure in trilliums — leaves, sepals, petals, reproductive structures — comes in multiples of threes. Hence the “tri” in the name.

    … Wait, I just realized… it’s basically “tri-lilium,” isn’t it? Botanists, you bastards.
  • As a super cool teenager (already established), I typed up the Mary Oliver poem “Trilliums” for a school assignment. (Which is technically about T. grandiflorum, the white trillium). In the process I discovered… each line is indented by three spaces. Mary Oliver, you magnificent bastard, I read your book! (Dream Work, New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1986)
  • T. erectum has a funky-looking six-lobed ovary with six stamens arranged around it. (See picture below). Again: multiples of three.
Closeup of red trillium, showed the male and female reproductive structures.
Closeup of red trillium’s male and female reproductive structures. Hubba hubba. Source: Wikipedia
  • This makes the red trillium monoecious, meaning it has both male and female reproductive structures on the same plant. (Hubba hubba). And since there’s only a single influorescence (a fancy way of saying “flower”), it is also a “perfect” or bisexual flower, having both pistils and stamens.

    Thank you, botanists, for acknowledging the perfection of bisexuals. I’m ready for your hot take on elf-earred disaster bisexuals; call me 🤙
  • Red trilliums, being bisexual, can self-pollinate (wait, you can’t?) However, they set seed more reliably when cross-pollinated. It’s hypothesized this is because it has a “self-incompatibility” mechanism, which a number of different plants have as an adaptation. Presumably this encourages genetic diversity?

    Considering plants can reproduce asexually, they already have a lot to answer for when it comes to genetic diversity 😂
  • Trilliums are morphologically “scapes,” meaning they produce no true leaves or stems above ground. (Think of a garlic scape… GODDAMNIT I ALREADY SAID DO NOT EAT THE TRILLIUM). The stem is just an extension of the rhizome, and the “leaves” are actual flower bracts. However, these bracts photosynthesize, and have the same internal and external structure as leaves, so for all intents and purposes… they’re leaves.

That’s all the dumb (red) trillium facts I’ve got, nature fiends. It’s breakfast time as I write this, so maybe I’ll go have a nice omelet now, with garlic and tomatoes AND DEFINITELY NOT TRILLIUMS.

Featured image: two red trilliums (Trillium erectum). Taken by Lise Fracalossi, May 1 2020, in Lane Conservation Area in Lunenburg, MA.

Fanfic Journal: Bright Future, chapter “Jindurnen”

Read “Jindurnen” here

Chapter Summary

“Even the prey thinks the spider’s web is beautiful.” Mavash and companions set out towards Menzoberranzan and Tier Breche to complete their half of the Dark Heart ritual. Jorlan contemplates faces, both hidden and revealed.

Chapter End Notes

  • When I played through this, I did not know nearly as much about Jarlaxle’s gadgets as I do now, and so did not know about his eyepatch that protects him from any sort of magical scrying or telepathy. In retrospect, I think Mavash should have noticed that he’s psychically invisible to her! At least with some prompting…
  • Um’raxel is an NPC from the drow intrigue game I play in! (And which I have begun novelizing here!) She’s a Circle of Spores druid who is aunt to many of the PCs, including mine. She experiments with drider venom and may kiiiinda be using it to turn one of her nieces (another PC) into a sort of arachnid barbarian. I couldn’t resist the chance to name drop her here.
  • I am very clearly taking liberties with spells here. Seeming is probably the only spell that would disguise this many people, and even that’s a stretch.

“Jindurnen” is “faces” in the Drow fan dictionary.

This chapter is pretty much all my invention. We glossed over the actual journey to Menzo from the Tower, with DM Nixon saying, “okay, you disguise yourself as drow or go invisible, as necessary.” So in writing this, I wanted to play with Mavash taking on a drow disguise, and its effect on Jorlan.

(“Why doesn’t she just wildshape into the shape of a spider or something?” Reasons, I assure you. At least one of which is just “because I decided it worked better narratively”).

Also, this was the part where the DM absolutely insisted there would be no slumming at noodle shops during our infiltration of Menzoberranzan. “None. None-dles,” said he. No time for that when you’re saving the world, I guess!

Featured image: Landscape shaped like a face (state 1), Wenceslaus Hollar, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Fanfic journal: “A Prison Made of Chitin,” chapter 1

Oh no more drow bullshit.

Read “A Prison Made of Chitin,” chapter one, here.


Kzandr Vel’bol Veldrin is honored to serve as paladin of Lolth, and wants nothing more than to give his life in her service. But when his eldest sister Ethestra’tana is murdered, he finds the carefully-constructed fiction of his life unraveling. Will the mercy of the Spider Queen save him? (Spoiler: it will not).

Introductory Notes

This series — “The Fortunes of House Vel’bol Veldrin” — is the novelization of the ongoing drow intrigue campaign I’m playing in. While the campaign itself is homebrew, it begins in Menzoberranzan in 1325 DR, around the time Drizzt graduated from Melee-Magthere. (Canon characters may occasionally appear). We play members of the 20th house of Menzoberranzan, scheming and murdering their way up the hierarchy of the city.

(“Vel’bol Veldrin” is short for the ancient full name of the House, which basically is “what we do in the shadows” translated into Drow. Oh, we have fun…)

Drow fancier that I am, I had too many character ideas to play just one, so I decided I would play them serially, bringing each character’s arc to a good conclusion. Thus each fic in this series will be primarily the POV of one of my PCs, detailing how they experience the adventure. This work, “A Prison Made of Chitin,” is focused on Kzandr, the elderboy of the house, an Oath of Conquest paladin of Lolth, who in-game I have just managed to kill off in a narratively satisfying way. The first few chapters will be short character history vignettes about Kzandr, and then we’ll go into the adventure itself.

Because (Lolthite) Drow Are Awful ™, this is an evil campaign, and evil shit will happen in this story. In our campaign, we have safety mechanisms in place and have all opted into Some Pretty Dark Shit, though by consensus the darkest shit (torture, sexual violence) is veiled or off-screen. Of course, in this fic, any disturbing content will be tagged appropriately.

Content warnings for this chapter include: child abuse, blood sacrifice, some deep cultural misandry, slavery, and spiders.

Future CW are likely to include: murder (including of children), implied/referenced torture and mutilation, implied/referenced sexual assault, some deeply fucked up and not entirely consensual relationships (because what even is consent in an evil matriarchy??), body horror, transphobia and deadnaming, and probably a bunch of stuff I’m forgetting. I’ll tag them as they come up.

… yes, I do have another campaign novelization going right now, why do you ask? Trust me, I have not forgotten about Mavash and Jorlan and their much, much healthier relationship.

Chapter End Notes

I won’t introduce the PCs yet because you’ve only met Kzandr so far! Aksharu and Zeska are both NPCs — respectively, the second priestess and the Matron Mother.

Darthiir are surface elves.

Your comments are priceless, and constructive criticism is welcome ❤️

The featured image is art of Kzandr I commissioned from iisjah/Natalia Komuniewska

Lise opines: plant identification apps

Or: why I use iNaturalist.

I constantly see posts from my Facebook friends (and even in native plant communities) asking for recommendations on mobile apps to identify plants.

Inevitably someone will pop up with PictureThis, or Google Lens, or even Seek. But here’s why I use iNaturalist.org‘s mobile app.


PictureThis is ad-supported if you don’t give them money. The premium version ranges in price from $30-$50/year, depending on plan.

The last thing I want when I’m in the woods is ads. And while I am willing to spend money for apps that are valuable to me, nothing I’ve seen has convinced me the IDs are any higher quality than what I can get for free with iNaturalist. It’s also more than I spend per year for, say, Zombies Run!, which IMHO gives a lot more content (hundreds, if not thousands, of adjustable length and intensity story-driven workouts).

Also, don’t quote me on this, but I would venture that PictureThis is taking an API and/or computer vision model that is available for free — potentially even the one collated by the California Academy of Sciences (see below) — and profiting off it.

I haven’t really played around with Google Lens, but I imagine it has the same problem as any Google product — if you’re not paying for it, then you are the product. Plus my experience with Google is that as soon as they decide they no longer want to develop a product, well, fuck you, even if it’s a product millions of people use. (Google Reader, I’m looking at you).

Scope of IDs

Look, you know me. If I could do nothing all day but touch plants, I’d be pretty happy.

But I also like spiders, and snakes, and mushrooms, and birds and mammals. I don’t call myself a real life druid for no reason; I observe any living thing that will stand still for long enough to get a picture of it.

(Also poop and dead things, too, because I’m classy like that).

On the other end of the scale, Google Lens will identify anything. But that has its limitations, too. It’s hard to get accurate predictions when your model includes every picture posted on the Google-curated internet. What happens when your plant happens to look like a snake — an example I came across recently? It’s not super helpful.

(In its defense have found it very useful for “hey I took a picture of this famous building in England and I have totally forgotten what it is, please help me, Architect Google!”)

Non-profit and mission-driven

Both Seek and iNaturalist meet the criteria above:

  • They’re truly free
  • They ID not just plants, but any form of life

But it’s more than that. Both are developed by the California Academy of Sciences, a non-profit organization with this mission:

The mission of the California Academy of Sciences is to regenerate the natural world through science, learning, and collaboration.

CalAcademy has a ton of different initiatives, but they are perhaps best known for their their computer vision algorithm tuned specifically to the natural world. That includes all kinds of life, from protists to blue whales!

Moreover, that model, like machine learning models everywhere, learns from user contribution. Those user observations are made available, for free, through the GBIF API, which is used by thousands of different organizations to conduct scientific research.

The way I look at it is: By using Seek or iNaturalist, you are contributing to the mission of regenerating the natural world.

Feels good, man.

Community science

So why choose iNaturalist over Seek? After all, the Seek app is definitely slicker of the two apps — it has gamification! By comparison, the iNat app looks clunky and buggy.

One big reason pertains to community/citizen science. When you observe something with Seek, it uses the CalAcademy CV model to identify your form of life, but it does not save that observation. You might learn from it — and certainly there’s value in that! — but you’re not helping the machine learning algorithm you know. Learn.

(For that matter, it’s debatable how much it helps you learn. I get a lot of value from going back through my old observations in iNat to remind myself where and when I observed something).

On top of that, Seek is pretty much just the CV model. Once you’ve made an ID, that’s it, you’re done. But on iNat, once you’ve made a preliminary ID, that’s where the fun begins.

See, once you’ve posted the observation, other people — real humans! — can come in and refine that ID. If you posted something that the CV could only ID to genus level, maybe some nice expert comes in and says, “hey you can tell X and Y species apart from the leaves; looks like X to me!”

When two other users confirm or refine your tentative ID to the species level, it is labeled “research grade.” Research grade observations are available in GBIF — helping science across the world! — and are used to train newer versions of the CV model.

And you are the expert! Know a lot about the trilliums of Massachusetts? Go identify trilliums! (That feature is website only currently. Alas). It’s yet another way you can use iNat to give back to citizen science.

Other nice to haves

  • Since iNat is community supported, you can use it to ID, say, birds by song. I’ve had a lot of luck recording birdsong in a voice memo, uploading it to iNat, tagging it as class Aves, and letting the birders have a go. Birders on iNat are an enthusiastic lot, and usually I’ll have an ID within minutes.
  • iNaturalist itself has an API (not the same as GBIF, I don’t think?) which allows you to write your own algorithm against iNat data. I’ve seen people use it to write nature quiz webapps; at one point in time I considered using it to answer the question of “how many taxa did I ID for the first time in 2020?”
  • As I mentioned earlier, iNat is a website first, and an app second. Maybe this is a con for you, I don’t know. But when I’m, you know, IDing trilliums of Massachusetts, it helps to see them on a big screen with a keyboard that allows me to write comments and use shortcuts.
  • Similar to what I mentioned above: Seek is video-based and real time; it does not save or import images to your photo app. iNaturalist can work on a live image, but most often I take the photos and ID them later.

Here’s a good comparison of the two apps.

Value to my life

This is unquantifiable, but in the early pandemic, iNaturalist saved my life. When I couldn’t go anywhere or do anything, I went to the woods. I took pictures, and I participated in socially distanced bioblitzes, and identified hundreds of species. I didn’t stop using it after the pandemic, either. I’m now up to over a thousand observations across three countries and two continents.

(“What happens when you reach 1000 observations on iNat?” my friend Scott asked. I replied: “They send you a letter informing you that you’re legally a nerd”).

Could another app have done this? Maybe. But for me, it was iNat.

tl;dr: this is why I use iNaturalist, and donate $10/month to CalAcademy, even though I absolutely don’t need to.

Have I won you over? Go download the iNaturalist app for iOS or Android!

Meet Me In the Woods: Hepatica americana

(Look, I’ve been listening to a lot of Lord Huron lately and I couldn’t turn down the chance to make a reference)

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The snow has melted, spring ephemerals are… ephemering, and woodpeckers are gettin’ it on in the trees.

In my continuing effort to bring you more dumb plant facts, I figured I’d share some of the pictures of what I’ve been seeing in the woods in the past ~week or so.

This is round-lobed hepatica, Hepatica americana. It is a small and oft-overlooked spring ephemeral, found in the first weeks of April here in Massachusetts. For that reason, I like to call it my birthday flower, because it’s one of the few things blooming on April 6! In particular, these pictures were taken in Williamsburg, MA, on April 7th, during my annual “yurtmas” birthday trip.

The name “hepatica” — as you might guess if you’ve ever had to have a hepatic function test — refers to the liver. In some places it also has the common name of “liverwort” (not to be confused with the bryophytes of the same name) or “liverleaf.” So how did it get this name? At least according to the above Wikipedia article:

The word hepatica derives from the Greek ἡπατικός hēpatikós, from ἧπαρ hêpar ‘liver’, because its three-lobed leaf was thought to resemble the human liver.

“Hepatica” on Wikipedia, by way of the OED

*whispers* I don’t think the liver has three lobes, but what do I know.

I’d add this one to my list of “dumb common names,” but listen, the scientific name is dumb, too.

My personal experience with finding hepatica is that they are elusive. For one thing, they are really small — those plants are about 3″ high and the flowers are about the size of a penny. They grow in drifts, but you can walk right by them and never notice them. I’ve had a few instances where I found a single group and then looked down to realize I’d nearly stepped on a few on my way there.

I’m also not entirely certain about what sort of habitats they like. I have often found them growing on hillsides or at the base of trees. The hillsides make sense — they like well-drained soil — but I’m unaware of any symbiosis they might have with particular trees. And even knowing those facts about where to find them… I’ve not had luck finding them in places I might expect to find them.

I know of only one place they grow in my town, and I try to make it there every April. Here are some pics I took last year at that pilgrimage site: Robbs’ Hill Conservation Area in Lunenburg, MA.

In conclusion: stay sneaky, hepatica. If anyone caught on to how beautiful you are, you might be in danger.

Fanfic journal: Bright Future, chapter “Sarn”

(I have been absolute rubbish about posting fic journals for Bright Future in the past year or so, but I’m trying to get back into it! I have a lot of back-dating to do…)

Read “Sarn” here

Chapter Summary

She’d had this vision before, or something like it. Little details were different, but the idea was the same — a Jorlan-who-was-not-Jorlan, beautiful and empty, claimed by cold darkness at the end.

On the morning of the Menzoberranzan infiltration, Mavash is haunted by another vision from her quori.

Chapter Front Notes

I am so, so sorry this chapter took so long to get out. Unfortunately, not long after I posted the last chapter, my mom passed away. As an only child and the executor of her estate, all the estate work has fallen on me. As well as, you know, that whole grieving thing.

Anyway, four months later and I am just now getting my life back. Please enjoy this short-ish chapter, knowing I am a good 3000 words into the next one!

CW: mention of past suicidal ideation

Chapter End Notes

Sarn is Drow for “warning.”

Mavash’s dream/warning is based on an actual dream I had. After I awoke, I was like, “Wow, I bet Mavash was dreaming something like this the night she saved Jorlan’s life.” I’ve been dying to use it for a while, but I figured now was a good time?

Why Mavash needs a warning now, I leave as an exercise for the eager reader 🙂

Completely unrelatedly! If you have any interest in Pathfinder, I recently wrote a one-shot about my character in that game and her complicated relationship with her mother. If that sounds like your jam, you may find it here: “The Tide Falls Away”

Fanfic Journal: “The Tide Falls Away”

Featured image by Eric Ward on Unsplash

A Pathfinder 2e/Agents of Edgewatch fic, starring my redeemer champion Kivran.

Read “The Tide Falls Away”


It was easier to think of that than the goddess who awaited her in the dry land of death, the one she had disappointed in her grief.

Kivran Sulla, champion of Iomedae and soul warden of Pharasma, has lost three companions in the same number of months, and she’s just stopped saving Absalom long enough to grieve. The only person she can ask for advice is her mother, former adventurer and highly-placed paladin in the Seventh Church. Unfortunately, she’s just about given up hope that her mother will approve. Of anything.

Takes place in the fifth book of Agents of Edgewatch, but there are no significant spoilers.

Front Notes

All lyrics are from Dar Williams’ “The Tide Falls Away,” a song which gave me some serious Kivran feels.

This takes place in book five of Agents of Edgewatch (just after chapter two, I think?), but I’ve cagily avoided any direct spoilers, so it should be safe to read even if you haven’t played or finished the adventure.

End Notes

Behold: the closest I will ever get to writing a songfic 😉 And now I inflict this self-indulgence on you!

Some notes:

  • Aside from the song, which was the proximal cause, another impetus for this fic is how many character deaths we’ve had in this campaign — three, and one player is now on his third character. (Death effects suck). I wondered how Kivran would grieve that. Especially when she had some down time to reflect on it. Especially when in close proximity to her mother, who doesn’t take this whole “joining the Edgewatch” and “becoming a soul warden of Pharasma” thing very seriously. 
  • Way back when Kivran’s mom first appeared “on screen,” the GM asked me what I imagined her being like. My response? “Imagine a female version of Henry Spencer from Psych.”
  • If Ameredine is Henry Spencer, then Carlo is the father from Pride and Prejudice!
  • The “gang leader in the Docks” was a real NPC who Kivran became obsessed with. Kivran’s Battle Cry, appearing out of the shadows in their final conflict, was “your hair smells terrific.” It was a crit success; Frightened 2 🙂
  • Re: sensing Cedela’s alignment: that was the moment when Kivran probably said, “oh yeah, I did once have Sense Alignment before I retrained.” And also that she’s seen Cedela damaged by good/positive damage.
  • I figure Ameredine probably was involved in one of the Mendevian Crusades.

Other party members, for name reference:

  • Shep, leshy summoner. Sorry for calling her a “sentient berry bush.” I guess Kivran is a little fauna-ist.
  • Lucio Merenas, Taldan human swashbuckler (played by my husband). 
  • Zokaratz Vir, fetchling witch from Shadow Absalom. This player previously played Jabi (a kobold alchemist who retrained into inventor. And yes, he did really have an animated rope with button eyes as a construct companion). 
  • Cedela, Galtan human rogue. Who totally doesn’t have the Grey Gardener archetype 👀This player previously played Frøya (an Ulfen human thaumaturge) and Nathraak (a Varisian human magus).

Also! Since the last Kivran fic I wrote, I haven’t shared the art that I commissioned from Kii Weatherton. Please enjoy!

No one asked: Lise’s take on the OGL 1.1 kerfuffle

(Slightly edited from something I posted on Facebook)

For those of you (none of you) who were waiting on my hot take re: the OGL 1.1 kerfuffle, it’s a very boring, middle-of-the-road one. Merely a lukewarm take, if you will.

I am more concerned with the legal side of it than the financial one. It is unethical, if not illegal, to revoke a contract that was intended to be irrevocable. Given that this is the take of my friends who are lawyers, I sort of trust them in this.

(The fact that WotC’s defense is like “we were never gonna take away the rights of creators! This was a draft that was leaked!” when a) said contract had already been sent out to creators to sign, and b) the contract they sent out very specifically DID say they could use OGL content in any way they wanted… is disingenuous, at best).

OTOH, good points are made (by one of my current DMs, no less) that DNDBeyond is essentially a small company that was bought out by a larger one, and that by boycotting it, you are hurting the writers and developers more than you are WotC. This will always be the case in situations like this, unfortunately, because Capitalism™️. The same was said when Paizo workers were fighting to unionize, (and yes, Paizo has done some shitty things, too), or when Blizzard was staging a walkout. Generally my point of view is that it’s best to give support in the way that the workers themselves want support.

Unfortunately, the only DNDBeyond employee that I am aware of who has spoken out is the person who wrote to a bunch of TTRPG YouTubers telling them to boycott DNDBeyond, and I have heard it claimed that that letter is a fake. (Would love to see evidence either for or against — I don’t fully trust any YouTube talking head). But if you believe that letter is real, then I agree, you are perfectly in the right to cancel your DNDBeyond membership.

Have I canceled mine? No. My reason is simple — I have games in progress that depend on it, both as a player and a DM. (And uhh I happen to be writing the epic love story between a druid and a drow, based on a 5e adventure which I sometimes have to reference). Even if I were to do something like scrape the content of all the books I have access to in DNDBeyond before closing my account, I still no longer be able to use those books in what is probably one of the best character sheet generators out there.

And if I wanted to use them in, say, roll20– I say this with great dismay — the best VTT for playing 5e out there, I’d have to buy them again in the roll20 marketplace. Which also gives WotC money, if indirectly. (Or I could enter them in manually to any VTT like. If only I had that kind of time!)

(Foundry/Forge, OTOH, partners with Paizo, so all the rules are built right in and/or it’s easy to get them in there with a script. I haven’t set up a game myself, so I don’t know the details, though).

Which brings me to my next point, and the crux of the matter. D&D is the center of an ecosystem. It is the largest player in this ecosystem. It has financial, legal, social, technological, and nostalgia power. 5e is also a really good system for the type of game a lot of people want to play. Go to r/lfg (… a year ago, not today) and try finding a game that isn’t D&D. I did it, a year+ ago, when I found my ongoing Pathfinder game, and it was not easy.

There’s more. If you look to the newly TTRPG-curious, it’s probably because they watched CritRole or another popular D&D actual-play. (And yes, I know, they used to use PF1e, etc). It’s almost certainly not because they listened to Glass Cannon Podcast. Compare how many people played Baldur’s Gate III –which is still only in pre-release! — compared to Wrath of the Righteous or Kingmaker. Compare who knows about Faerun to what folks know about Golarion.

And here’s the thing. This kerfuffle is widening people’s view of that ecosystem. It is making them aware that there ARE other systems out there. That there are other VTTs, or actual-plays, or podcasts. That there are other ways of licensing Your Basic Fantasy RPG. (I am all-in on ORC, and I think it’s the best idea that’s come out of this mess).

I’ve always been aware of that; back when I played AD&D 2e with my high school friends, we also played Shadowrun and the Star Wars RPG and others that were lost to time (remember Aeon Trinity?) But we haven’t all been doing this for *cough* 25 years.

Most of the migration away from D&D has been towards Pathfinder, because they are the ones heading the ORC charge. r/Pathfinder2e has grown by THOUSANDS in the last week. It added 1,000 just on Thursday.

Paizo is, as my DM rightly pointed out, a big company, too. And Paizo has done some shitty stuff, as well — releasing an adventure about playing fantasy cops in July 2020 was more than a little tone-deaf. And certainly there were specific injustices that led the employees to unionize.

But on the whole, Paizo has taken a much stronger stance on diversity than WotC. There are no longer races; there are ancestries. The adventures contain many queer, non-cis, and non-white-coded NPCs — in fact the prototypical champion is a queer Black-coded woman. The mess with the aforementioned adventure — Agents of Edgewatch, the one I’m playing now — was followed up by an apology directly from CEO(?) Erik Mona and a reprinting of the adventure where non-lethal damage was the default and you also had the option to play as adventurers instead of cops. When Jewish folks objected to the language of “phylactery,” they changed it to “soul cage.”

People, and companies, are gonna fuck up on matters of DEI. It’s how they get back up that matters. And Paizo has consistently done a better job at that than WotC.

(Maybe it’s because they were born out of WotC fucking them over. I dunno).

While I have come to deeply enjoy playing in a Golarion, I still kind of hate the PF2e rules. And I think a lot of these D&D emigrés are going to find that Pathfinder (1e or 2e) is way too crunchy for them, too. But maybe they discover FATE, or Blades in the Dark, or Thirsty Sword Lesbians. Or, yes, Mork Borg (as my friend Alice would heckle me about 😂).

And I think that’s pretty special.

… on that note, there’s something to be said — and it’s not good — that the impetus for this migration away from D&D and to Pathfinder is licensing issues instead of, oh, you know, the continued racism in D&D products. While they’ve done some things in reparation here (like making drow less “elves in blackface”), let’s not forgot that back with Candlekeep Mysteries, they bowdlerized the work of a Black writer without his knowledge (or permission). Or that, more recently, one of the races presented in the brand-new Spelljammer book was a simian race that had some unfortunate tropes associated with.

The former event is about when I said “… maybe I should look into what Paizo is up to lately.” But apparently racism was okay for a lot of people, but licensing issues were a bridge too far? That kind of cheeses me off. Or at least, it cheeses me off that this is what was publicized — you can’t fail to hear about OGL-gate in geek spaces right now — and not the continual racefails.

So that’s where I am. Explore other systems, question shitty legal practices, maybe (or maybe not) cancel your DNDBeyond membership. I hate to be all “both sides,” because I do generally think WotC is in the wrong here. But I respect your opinions and decisions either way.

Eulogy: Shelley Fracalossi

My beautiful mama passed away on Monday morning, 12/12/22 after a 7-year battle with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). My heart is breaking ❤️

I wrote her obituary for the local newspaper, which you can view on the funeral home webpage. I also wrote this eulogy for her, which I read at graveside. I thought I would share it here for anyone who wasn’t able to attend or just wanted to know my mother more than a mere 300 words could say.

Shelley A. Fracalossi: June 14, 1954 – December 12, 2022

I had to write my mom’s obituary yesterday. How inadequate are 300-odd words to convey the details of a human life! And a eulogy isn’t much better…

I’m sure most of you know the facts and figures – born in 1954, first in her family to attend college, two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s, married to my father Daniel for 20ish years years, tax preparer and antique dealer, Rotarian, host parent, survived by her sister Anita and her daughter Elisabeth.  You also probably know that she battled IPF – idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis – for the past seven years, outliving the typical life expectancy for that disease.  No need to rehash all that in detail.

I want to stress two of the things I loved best about my mother.

The first is the amount of intellectual curiosity she had. She was a lifelong learner, both in formal schooling and in the famed “school of hard knocks.” She loved to read, and loved to go on long Wikipedia crawls about topics such as bumblebees. She could teach you about psychology, or look at a quilt and tell you how old it was by looking at the fabrics. She was constantly, constantly looking to improve herself. She had the same therapist for thirty+ years, Jackie, and I know (because my mom told me!) how impressed Jackie was how, even with a terminal illness, my mom was still working on herself. She held a million different jobs in her lifetime, and had so many hobbies – quilting and contradance primary among them. She was always interested in travel and learning more about other cultures, and one of her last major trips was a whirlwind tour of England, France, and Spain in 2015, right before she got sick.

That intellectual curiosity is one way in which I take after her. Maybe the primary way. And I feel like that segues well into the next thing I want to note about my mom – her generosity, and the sheer number of people whose lives she touched.

When I was in my sophomore year of high school, I heard about the Rotary Exchange program, and wanted to study abroad in France. It was very last minute, but I was dead-set on applying to the program. So over the course of a couple of days, my mom pulled together everything I would need for the application, even trying to get photos of me from my taekwondo studio to illustrate my hobbies. We did it – I was accepted, and I received a scholarship to study abroad in France. And from there she did everything she could to support me in what was the toughest and yet most educational year of my life.

I was her daughter, sure, and you might expect such generosity with family, but she extended the same level of kindness to everyone in her life. She hosted and helped countless exchange students – through the Rotary, through Seton’s exchange program, and through the PICL program at SUNY. She had a wide circle of friends — from Rotary, from contradance, from her tax business, from her antique shop, from auctions, from working the polls, and more that I probably don’t know. I used to joke that she knew everybody in Plattsburgh – maybe in the North Country! She was always happy to give her time, her money, or just a listening ear and advice to anyone in her life. 

I think the number of people who are here today – and the number of people who replied to the Facebook post I made about her passing – speaks to that kindness. I want to share a few things that folks said about her on Facebook, to illustrate the number of lives she touched:

words escape me. My dear, dear friend – gone. Your mom gave me so much love, friendship., opportunities and great joy in dancing and shared the simple pleasures of a good sandwich….and a true friend to my dad too.

Marisa Goodenough

I am so sorry to hear this….my parents and Shelley shared the love of antiques for many years and she always used to share stories about them with me when I would see her. My condolences

Julie Gordon Ross

Condolences to all of you from all of us at Condo Pharmacy. She was a bright delightful person and we are saddened by this news. She did do things her way which was an admirable trait.

Jean Moore

Shelley I will miss you. Please don’t stop looking after your family and friends. Dance away my dear friend, dance away. Love you more ❤️

Nathalie Frigault

(“Love you more” is what my mother always used to say when you said “I love you” to her).

Hi Lise, you don’t know me, I’m a former Rotary Youth Exchange student from Colombia, when I was on the exchange your mom talked me a lot about you. Words are not enough to express how sorry I am for your loss, Shelley means a lot to me, she was such a nice lady with me on that year, I’m grateful with her forever because of the great things and experiences on those times. I truly believe she won a corner on heaven, because of her big heart with exchange students and people in general. I hope God help you pass through this tough times, and I send you my condolences and hugs from the distance. Shelley is a unique woman that never will be forget and she’ll live in our hearts. 🙏❤️😔

Jose David Lopez Acosta

Even the choice Shelley made with her final arrangements was generous and deliberate. Spirit Sanctuary here is a conservation burial ground, which means that the land is held in trust, and due to a conservation easement, can never be sold for development. She was aware that the funeral industry can be tremendously polluting, and was looking for a way to lower the impact of her death on the world around her. Conservation burial – which I’ve heard compared to chaining yourself to a tree for eternity – appealed to her greatly. I was honored and humbled to pick out this spot for her when she first entered hospice. I chose this spot because it was the sunny, which she would have loved – and because of this huge oak tree nearby, in memory of the “Black Oak Tree” folk song she used to sing to me as a lullaby.

Speaking of verse, I’d like to read a few poems that were favorites of my mother. The first is “Wild Geese,” by Mary Oliver, which is printed on the memorial card.

Wild Geese
by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Any of you who were close with my mother know that she used to quote that line: “Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.” (She had a quote for every occasion!) I think it truly reflects how she interacted with her closest friends – always willing to share troubles and burdens.

The next poem is “Journey,” by Edna St. Vincent Millay. Millay is more my favorite poet than my mother’s, and this is one of several Millay poems I had memorized. But this is the one my mom loved the most of those, and often requested I recite.

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

AH, could I lay me down in this long grass
And close my eyes, and let the quiet wind
Blow over me,–I am so tired, so tired
Of passing pleasant places! All my life,
Following Care along the dusty road,
Have I looked back at loveliness and sighed;
Yet at my hand an unrelenting hand
Tugged ever, and I passed. All my life long
Over my shoulder have I looked at peace;
And now I fain would lie in this long grass
And close my eyes.
                Yet onward !

                          Cat-birds call

Through the long afternoon, and creeks at dusk
Are guttural. Whip-poor-wills wake and cry,
Drawing the twilight close about their throats.
Only my heart makes answer. Eager vines
Go up the rocks and wait; flushed apple-trees
Pause in their dance and break the ring for me;
Dim, shady wood-roads, redolent of fern
And bayberry, that through sweet bevies thread
Of round-faced roses, pink and petulant,
Look back and beckon ere they disappear.
Only my heart, only my heart responds.
Yet, ah, my path is sweet on either side
All through the dragging day,–sharp underfoot,
And hot, and like dead mist the dry dust hangs–
But far, oh, far as passionate eye can reach,
And long, ah, long as rapturous eye can cling,

The world is mine: blue hill, still silver lake,
Broad field, bright flower, and the long white road
A gateless garden, and an open path:
My feet to follow, and my heart to hold.

Finally, and most irreverently, a ditty that my mother always used to quote:

Love many
Trust few
Always paddle your own canoe

It’s a silly little rhyme, but I think emblematic of how my mother lived her life, and of the tremendous love she put out into the world. In her final months, that love was returned to her hundredfold, and she always had people willing to take care of her, to visit, and to bring food.

But at the same time, she was fiercely independent. She would always speak her mind and stand up for what was right, even if it made her unpopular or made her life more difficult. She was particular about the tax code and about grammar – mom, please note I didn’t use “very unique” in this eulogy. Even up until her last days, she was resistant to anyone helping her with the personal tasks that were increasingly difficult. She still talked about having to do payroll for the Peru Library or the tax returns she was going to do next year, and she was pricing antiques two days before her death. She definitely paddled her own canoe.

This is a hard time of year to lose somebody, with the holidays right around the corner. I asked my mom a few days ago if there were any holiday movies she wanted to watch — aside from It’s A Wonderful Life, which was her favorite. We watched that together last year. (It still makes me cry). I think, of course, of the famous line at the close of the film, and the lesson that George Bailey learns: “No man is a failure who has friends.” This was something my mother would often quote, and I think it ties into how critical my mother was of herself. She was by no means “a failure” – whatever that means – but I also think her friends and her generosity were a tremendous legacy that she leaves behind.

The darkest time of the year is a little darker this year. Please light a fire in your heart or your hearth to remember my mom.

Postscript: if you’re interested in learning more about conservation burial and other eco-friendly death planning options, I invite you to check out Ask a Mortician’s Eco-Death takeover video on YouTube.

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.