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Thaumistry: In Charm's Way

by Bob Bates


Web Site

(based on 13 ratings)
3 reviews

About the Story

Thaum: (noun). A unit of magical energy
Bodge: (verb). To hack or kludge

Eric Knight was a child prodigy who was featured on the cover of Invent! Magazine at the age of 13 for his invention of an anti-stain chemical treatment.

Unfortunately, he hasn’t invented anything since and now, at the age of 23, he has a strong case of imposter syndrome. He feels like a failure.

For the past few years he has been given laboratory space in a start-up incubator, but as the game opens, he is holding a letter from IncuLab threatening to pull the plug if he cannot demonstrate within a day that his latest invention works.

As he thinks this over, an energetic stranger bursts into his lab and says, “I’m your wake-up call, dude. You feel like you don't quite fit in, right? Weird things happen when you're around? Traffic lights turn red just as you get to them. Elevator doors don't close when you push the button. Your alarm clock randomly fails in the morning. There's a name for people like that. We're called Bodgers. I'm one, and you might be one too.”

Eric soon learns that Bodgers are a group of people through whom magic flows into the world. Some Bodgers aren’t aware of this ability, and they come to regard themselves as accident-prone, jinxes, or jonahs. But Bodgers who realize their identity can learn to channel this mischievous magic. The aim of a Bodger is to make a small thing go wrong in order to make big things go right.

Is Eric himself a Bodger? Through the course of the game he tries to find out. But first there is an imminent danger that must be dealt with. Another inventor has created a thaumeter – a device that measures magical energy. Its unveiling is planned for the end of day, and if that happens then the existence of the Bodgers will be exposed, and mass persecution will follow.

Ran a Kickstarter campaign until 2017-02-22. Published in October 2017.

Game Details


Nominee, Best Implementation - 2017 XYZZY Awards

Editorial Reviews

Quarter To Three
Thaumistry: In Charm’s Way put a spell on me
Thaumistry is exactly what you want if you’re an Infocom fanboy like me. It has that thoughtful, funny writing Infocom spoiled us with, dozens of just-hard-enough puzzles, a cast of characters with enough personality to be interesting, an over-the-top set-piece climax, and all the refinements you expect from a modern adventure game.
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Big Boss Battle
Thaumistry is bursting with personality and charm. What it lacks in 4k resolution and orchestral soundtracks it makes up for with humor and excellent characters. The details are so easy to imagine thanks to the excellent writing and I felt as immersed as I would have been playing the newest Playstation or Xbox One RPG offering.
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Finger Guns
A Whimsical Text Adventure
What I can say is that this game is funny. It’s full of absurdist humour and crazy characters that had me smiling for the majority of my 8 hours with it. The solutions to the problems have a very Monkey Island meets Monty Python feel to them. They’re not immediately apparent, from deep in left field with that comedy twist.
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Adventure Gamers

An adventure out of time, Thaumistry‘s a lighthearted text romp that casts its entertaining puzzle magic on the modern era.
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Number of Reviews: 3
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful:
IF cotton candy, November 11, 2017
by Mr. Patient (Saint Paul, Minn.)

Thaumistry, by famed implementer Bob Bates, would slot pretty well into the Legend catalog of the early 1990s. It's fun, it's breezy, and very well-polished. It's also less ambitious than the best-regarded works from Infocom or modern IF. No heavy themes, no unfamiliar gameplay mechanics, no fiendishly intricate puzzles. It'd probably be an excellent first game for newbies.

You're Eric, a struggling inventor who learns that he's also a bodger; which is to say, a wizard who seems to generate an inordinate amount of bad luck. You spend the game discovering your powers and foiling a threat to the hidden bodger community. Spellcasting is Enchanter-style, where accumulating spells with silly names and effects is the primary means of progressing through the story. The tone is "restrained zany" in the Infocom house style. Prominent members of the IF community past and present (Bates's Kickstarters and former colleagues) show up as NPCs. I enjoyed getting to prod baf up onto a stage.

The puzzles are straightforward, and most don't require a lot of lateral thinking. There are very few takeable objects, and a finite number of spells. Solving the puzzles is generally a matter of running through the list of objects and spells until a new result is obtained. With some of the spells (e.g., (Spoiler - click to show)summoning Greek waiters), there's no way to anticipate what the spell will really do, so it's just a matter of trying it everywhere until something happens.

The real strength of the game is in the implementation. It's as thoroughly-tested and bug-free as anything Infocom or Legend ever shipped, and, since we're no longer playing on Commodore 64s, much more richly implemented. It gates you in a tutorial area to begin. It ensures you can never end up in an unwinnable state. It minimizes pointless tasks, and teaches you shortcuts as you go along. There's a very handy THINK/RECAP function, which summarizes what you know and what you need to work on. There are appropriate and funny responses to almost everything, and Easter eggs everywhere. The feelies are fun and don't overstay their welcome. Presumably the hints are helpful and well-designed; I never actually looked at them. All in all, it's an extremely smooth experience. A little more friction might not have been so terrible, though.

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
A slick commercial game by a former Infocom author, March 31, 2018
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

This game was funded by kickstarter, like Hadean Lands before it. It casts you as a novice magic user who is trying to save magic folk from discovery.

The magic system is a bit unusual; it seems to rely mostly on moon-logic. In fact, a lot of the game does. There's really no connection between things; it seems like the puzzles are mostly solvable by trying everything everywhere.

Many players enjoy this style of careful play, and the game has very positive steam reviews and ratings on here, and people I've talked to liked it quite a bit.

But I like puzzle games where you can plan ahead more, like Hadean Lands. I felt like Thaumistry kept saying 'I'll notice that you tried a reasonable solution, but it's not the one I want. Just wait and be patient, kid.' I ended up stopping playing halfway and through, and left it that way for months.

So it's not my style. But it is incredibly high-quality in terms of polish. It was beta tested over and over, and looks good.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Return of a Legend legend!, September 17, 2023
by deathbytroggles (Minneapolis, MN)

Bob Bates is a legend in the world of text adventures. While his two games for Infocom (Arthur and Sherlock: The Riddle of the Crown Jewels) are generally not considered among their best, he co-founded Legend Entertainment and had his hands in almost every game, including Eric the Unready, Gateway, The Blackstone Chronicles, and Quandaries. After being co-president of Zynga and working on all sorts of projects, he returned after 20 years to the world of interactive fiction with the delightful Thaumistry: In Charm’s Way. I was one of the kickstarters and even got a couple of lines into the game myself. Naturally, I was quite eager to play. And while it’s a very short game with little freedom, it’s still a joy for those who like wordplay and tongue-in-cheek humor.

You play as Eric Knight, a young inventor who got famous as a teenager thanks to a lab accident that led to a remarkable invention. However, years have gone by without anything else to add to the résumé. With his career on the verge of ruin, he is visited by a bodger, a magical user who is part of a hidden society that subtly tries to affect positive change in the world. A very successful inventor has created a device that can detect magic, which would be the end of the bodgers; you’re enlisted to sneak into a convention to destroy this device.

Thaumistry is excellently coded. I’ve played the game twice now and have detected not a single bug, incongruent response, or guess-the-verb issue that tend to be the hallmark frustrations with text adventures. Your bodger friend gives you a tutorial on magic (while the game gives you a tutorial on playing text adventures), including teaching you a few spells (or charms, as it were), as you learn about their history before being brought to the convention. Of course, the magic-detecting device is under guard and there are investors who would also like to get their hands on it.

The disappointing feature of the game is that it's overly linear. While there is often a few puzzles you can be working on at a given time, each has only one solution. And with few exceptions, every spell you learn throughout the game is only relevant to one puzzle, often obviously so. There are a couple of spells that require some acute thinking, including a two-step puzzle that involves time travel. And most alternative solutions that aren’t accepted are at least recognized and explained away. However, I would have much preferred a system like in Wishbringer, where every puzzle has multiple solutions and more points were awarded for the more clever angle. Speaking of points, this game has 100 of them, and there is no way to win the game without getting all 100, defeating the purpose of the scoring system.

The game also needlessly locks off certain areas until your bodger friend feels you need them, making him seem less like a sidekick than a manipulative dungeon master. More than that, these additional areas (such as the zoo and the financial district) are neither near the convention nor connected to it in anyway, making the exercise feel quite contrived.

While there are no graphics or sound of any kind, a helpful map is one click away so that you don’t need to make one yourself. Though, the map is so small that within twenty minutes of playing you’ll have it memorized anyway. And there is an excellent nested hint system that recognizes where you are in the game and offers gradual hints for available puzzles only.

What ultimately saves the game is–-forgive me-–its charm. Nearly every character and scene exudes whimsy, from the twin sisters who created a literal copy machine to the inventor who values his privacy so much that nobody is allowed to see his product. Perhaps my favorite is a stranger you bump into who is playing with an invisible dog, and you must figure out how to convince the dog that you are a worthy play partner. The game also has the classic Infocom-style digs at pop culture and authority figures without it feeling like Mr. Bates is hitting you over the head with his personal grievances.

While it doesn’t offer much in the way of length or challenge, Thaumistry is an amusing romp that should take even text adventure novices no more than an afternoon or two to complete.

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The following polls include votes for Thaumistry: In Charm's Way:

Canonicity and IF by juliaofbath
I'm interested in determining whether or not a clear canon has emerged within the world of IF/hypertext. Of course, there is a clear critical opinion regarding which works belong to this tentative canon, but I'm interested in what...

games with magic by Xw
any game will do

For your consideration: XYZZY-eligible Implementation of 2017 by MathBrush
This is for suggesting games released in 2017 which you think might be worth considering for Best Implementation in the XYZZY awards. This is not a zeroth-round nomination. The category will still be text-entry, and games not mentioned...

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