In Memory of Izmo

A little over a year ago, I wrote in remembrance of a dear friend of mine, Frankie—sometimes known as Ghenn—and today, it is sadly time for me to do that again, only this time in memory of his older brother Pedro, who went by Izmo on Final Fantasy XI and later, occasionally, on Final Fantasy XIV. While Pedro never quite took to the game the way I did or his brother did, he was instrumental in convincing me to try it. Without him, it’s likely that Fashion Ninjutsu wouldn’t exist at all, and so like his brother, he deserves a place here, too.

I don’t remember precisely when Pedro and I met the first time—probably at some point when I had gone to visit Frankie during high school—but for the first few years of my friendship with Frankie, the idea of Pedro was always present. At first, I knew of him mostly as someone who did things Frankie didn’t like—namely, Pedro held his brother to high standards, because he wanted him to be the best person he could be, something I don’t think either of us as young teenagers really understood.

In time, though, I came to understand that the two brothers—for all the grief Frankie sometimes thought he got from Pedro—were inseparable, tightly bonded from a childhood where Pedro had to be both brother and father figure to his younger brother. I came to know him best through Dungeons & Dragons, which Frankie and I had dabbled in together occasionally, but he had played under Pedro’s wing for many years.

I don’t remember which campaign came first, anymore, but that first foray lead to many more, all with Pedro as the Dungeon Master, where I came to admire his mastery not only of the craft of running a game but also his talent as a storyteller, the likes of which I had never seen then, and will probably never see again. For my last couple years of high school, we had regular get-togethers for D&D, and over time our friendship came to be about a lot more than just rolling dice.

Frequently, Pedro would want to “grab a bite to eat,” which often meant scooping up both Frankie and me to hit one of our favorite haunts—sometimes in the dead of night to sit and talk in the Taco Bell parking lot over food we really shouldn’t have been eating so late at night (or arguably, not at all, but we loved it anyway). If there was a good restaurant in town, the three of us had probably eaten there, and of course, in grand D&D tradition, we ate a lot of pizza—often those $5 Little Caesar’s “hot and ready” pizzas, both because they were an affordable way to feed the whole D&D group and because we loved Crazy Bread.

But to be honest, it was never really about the food. It was about the company, and Pedro was some of the best company anyone could ask for. Beyond his signature sense of humor—or as my uncle, one of his high school teachers, once put it, his “satirical wit”—Pedro was one of the most clever and thoughtful people I’ve ever known. Though he always had a joke on hand for any matter, he was also incredibly principled, ever skeptical of power and the ways power could be brought to bear against the marginalized and less fortunate.

That skepticism of power informed much of his storytelling and world-building, too. In Pedro’s D&D games, it so often came down to those in power abusing their power in ways that made everyone else suffer, leaving it up to whatever ragtag band of adventurers we had assembled for that particular campaign to fix the world. But he played things straight, too: as much as he wanted the heroes to save the day, he wasn’t afraid to let the villains win if the heroes made poor choices.

That attitude culminated in some of his most memorable games: what he called “campaign busters,” short campaigns with dire consequences—usually with the existence of an entire world on the line. One of the first was the last game he ran with me before I left our hometown for college, in which an ancient “Living Dungeon” threatened to consume the world of Menroth, his very first, which had origins all the way back in what was middle school for him and his original group of D&D friends. There were many other campaign busters over the years, and not every world survived, but I’m proud to say that the groups and campaign busters I was a part of tended to have a decent track record.

A group of us at a session for one of Pedro’s notorious campaign busters—that’s his brother Frankie on the left and me in the back middle. Pedro is just out of frame (you can just barely see him plotting from behind the DM’s screen on the far right).

D&D games like these created some of my most enduring memories of Pedro (including one where I had the distinct honor of playing Dungeon Master for him instead, a campaign buster of my own), but they aren’t the only ones. After my high school years, Pedro was instrumental in the creation of Save Point at our local library, a youth outreach program built around video games like Mario Kart, Super Smash Brothers, Pokémon, and Dance Dance Revolution.

Save Point events featured tournaments, officiated by Pedro himself, but they were really about giving local kids a place to hang out on the weekends (ostensibly with the goal of getting them more involved at the local library, but for many of the teens involved, Save Point became its own reward). The events were such a blast that I made it home from far afield (first from college, and later from Chicago, where I moved after graduating) as often as I could, and they wouldn’t have been half as amazing without Pedro’s advocacy for the program and the tireless effort he put into making it the best our little city had to offer.

Much as with his brother Frankie, after I left our hometown, my friendship with Pedro moved to the internet, facilitated primarily through MMORPGs: first FFXI, then World of Warcraft, and to a small degree, FFXIV. FFXI was where many people came to know Pedro best as Izmo, the Tarutaru Summoner whose name graces the title of this post (and on display on the left, as drawn by Pedro himself).

Always the type to be a leader, Pedro became the centerpiece of our Linkshell Arcane Sanctum, which almost became our guild on WoW, too (but he shied away from the name since Arcane Sanctum also referred to a building unit in that game’s predecessor, Warcraft III). Though he never particularly took to FFXIV, his enthusiasm for the game is got what me to try it out all the way back in the lead-up to A Realm Reborn.

But for all that the internet gave us, whenever we could make it possible, Pedro wanted to get together as we often did in the earliest days of our friendship, to the point that he would go out of his way to make sure it happened. Once, he volunteered to drive all the way to my college to get me home for a weekend so that I could see both him and my girlfriend at the time (who would later join us for one of his grandest campaign busters, saving all of time from the nefarious Chronos bent on unraveling it). On the way back, we took a wrong turn and turned what should have been a two hour drive home into a four hour one, but in such good company, the extra time spent wasn’t bad at all.

His willingness to go out of his way to include me in things and spend time with me extended to the whole of our friendship, though. Disabled as I am, I never got a license in high school the way everyone else around me did, which tended to mean that as I got older, I got used to feeling left out of the things my friends were doing—that is, with everyone except for Pedro. More than any other friend I’ve had in my life, Pedro would make sure I had a lift to where things were happening, whether it was D&D games, Save Point events, movie nights (many of which were held in my honor, since he was appalled by just how few movies I’d seen growing up), meetings where we “talked shop” (and dreamed of one day publishing tabletop RPG work together), or just because he was grabbing lunch and wanted some company.

For that, he was always, and will always be, one of my most treasured friends. Pedro believed that we should make the world a better place, and he tried to do that in ways large and small, from bigger things like Save Point events to smaller ones like never complaining about picking me up or letting more than one friend crash on his couch for awhile while they were trying to get back on their feet. He was a builder of communities, too, from our guilds and Linkshells to Save Point, and in the last several years of his life, World Walkers, an “actual, actual play podcast” (his words) centered around the tabletop adventures of a group of webcomic artists (and later expanding to include numerous other campaigns, too).

Never much of a podcast person myself, I regrettably never got into listening, though Pedro found joy in this fact in his own way: it meant he could talk to me about spoilers and things the players didn’t know. One of his greatest loves was telling stories about the stories he told and the stories he hoped to one day tell. Things never aligned for me to be a part of World Walkers, either, but once I’ve had enough time to grieve and prepare for it, though, I know I’ve got one more series of stories waiting for me from one of the best friends I’ll ever have.

World Walkers began by bringing together Pedro’s lifelong loves: comics and tabletop RPGs, though this wasn’t the first time he’d married the two. For as long as I knew him, he was an artist (and the artwork featured with this post is his). His on-and-off again webcomic, Rule Zero, followed the trials and travails of a group of friends loosely inspired by the many people he had played them with over the years. There are bits and pieces of me in the curmudgeonly CJ (the best friend of Harold, who was inspired by his brother Frankie), though these days I suppose I identify more with Anna, the anxious game master (and I’ll always wonder how much of that was intentional on his part, although neither of us knew that I was trans for most of our friendship).

That was how Pedro worked, though: he saw stories in everything around him and used them to make sense of the world. Accordingly, there are so many more stories I could share both of him and from him, but this memorial piece does have to end somewhere, lest it go on to encompass whole swaths of the Akashic Memory—a concept that Pedro was always fond of, given his love of chronicles and stories. I’ll end, I suppose, with one more, that perhaps captures everything there is to know about Pedro in one neat little package.

I alluded to the Chronos campaign above, one of those campaign busters he loved to run, which was, until World Walkers, perhaps his greatest. The campaign itself was spread across two separate D&D groups, who were each tasked with hopping from world to world, trying to stop the machinations of the Chronos at each one. As masters of time, the Chronos could erase people, places, and things from existence, reducing them down to nothing but sand—like the remnants of a shattered hourglass.

Together, the two groups did manage to stop the Chronos from unraveling all of existence, and—to blow my own horn a little—my group saved the most worlds from destruction. But our group had its setbacks, too. On one of the worlds, we were tasked with stopping a particularly vicious member of the organization of Chronos (whose name was Psolin, if I remember right), reminiscent of Larxene from Kingdom Hearts II (a game that convinced Pedro he could tell the story of the Chronos that he’d had kicking around in his head for years).

We failed, and as Psolin began to turn the world and its people to sand, centered around a village we had become fond of, Pedro turned to his stereo and turned on Utada Hikaru’s “Simple and Clean,” in a bit of a homage to the series that had been the thing that spurred the story of the Chronos into existence. Pedro would, many years later, describe the inspiration behind the choice of the song as such: “Watching as an existence ends in front of you, and you’re not sure you can stop it.” The entire group cried that night—it was our most enduring failure of that campaign, though it did spur us on to win, in the end, even though Pedro had turned one of our favorite songs into something marred by tragedy.

But that’s actually just background information. You see, Pedro was always something of a joker—I mentioned his “satirical wit,” above—and humor was how he faced the difficult things in life. For the virtual memorial service in honor of his brother Frankie last year, Pedro asked a couple of his friends to perform the song, which would seem innocent enough to most viewers, since the song is, in part, about not wanting to say good-bye to someone. But to a few of us in the audience, it had a much deeper meaning, since Frankie was also part of the group that failed to stop Psolin.

At the time, it didn’t even register for me, given the grief I was feeling over the loss of my old friend, but even now it makes me smile to think of the glee in Pedro’s voice when he called me later to ask if I had “noticed” anything about the memorial service. Then, of course, it dawned on me, and after years of giving him playful ribbings over ruining the song for all of us, it became something even more special, a joke shared between the dearest of friends that no one can ever take away from us.

It was with that sense of levity Pedro approached even his cancer diagnosis and the life he was determined to live for whatever time he had left, which ended up being a fruitful few years. Even in his final days, after entering hospice care early in July, he was “joking and his old self,” in the words of his spouse Jess. I saw Pedro for the last time a couple days after that, grateful for vaccines and enough of a lull in the still-raging pandemic that I could say good-bye to my old friend—a chance I never got in the case of his brother, whose passing was incredibly sudden.

Even then, I didn’t quite get a proper good-bye in. We laughed and joked, talked tabletop games and stories just like we always would have. We made tentative plans to get together again to play Smash Brothers, just like old times, and I left his home that day hopeful that I would see my friend again before the end. Sadly, given my limited transportation, I never got that opportunity before Pedro’s health took a turn for the worst.

Pedro Galicia, variously known as P, Potato, Miguel, Izmo, and Primus online and in the comics he created, passed on the evening of July 30th, 2021, after around four years of facing cancer with dignity and grace, determined to put as much joy out into the world and its people as he could before his final days. He was a gifted storyteller fascinated by the concept of time itself, something that showed up both in his D&D campaigns (such as with the Chronos) and some of his favorite movies, like the Back to the Future trilogy. He was a devoted friend, husband, and father, and the bedrock of numerous communities and friend groups throughout his life.

He believed that we should all do our part to make the lives of those close to us and everyone else brighter, and I hope that in some small way, I’ve been able to capture some of the ways he lived his life with that as a goal. He passed with one final story to tell, a return to the world of Menroth that started it all, which will now tragically never be told. But if you knew Pedro and had the opportunity to witness his storytelling craft, you will know it would have undoubtedly been one of his best.

More than anything else, Pedro spent the whole of our friendship showing me that I mattered and had value, and I am beyond honored to have known him. Maybe someday I’ll learn to be half the storyteller that he was.

Izmo, in his FFXIV incarnation, along with our friend Macduncan from our FFXI days, and my partner Anari on the left, who he insisted take part in the photo, at the memorial service for his brother Ghenn held in-game by the Stellazio Virtual Theatre Company of Diabolos.

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