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The Magician's Workshop

by Kate Heartfield

Fantasy, Historical

Web Site

(based on 3 ratings)
1 review

About the Story

When your master is murdered, you must uncover the magical secrets of Renaissance Italy, before your rival apprentices expose them first!

"The Magician’s Workshop" is a 190,000-word interactive historical fantasy novel by Kate Heartfield, where your choices control the story. It's entirely text-based—without graphics or sound effects—and fueled by the vast, unstoppable power of your imagination.

In 1512, Florence is known for ruthless politics, art, and magic. Now that the infamous Medici banking family is back in power, the city is full of dangerous secrets. What would the treacherous Machiavelli do in a situation like this? Just ask him in person!

When your master's body washes up in the Arno river, you must take over his Maria Novella workshop—the designs, the paintings, the marvelous machines and inventions, and most importantly, his book of spells, written in various ciphers and magical invisible inks. You have inherited a roster of dangerous clients who are losing patience, and two rival apprentices who could prove allies or even lovers, if they don't turn on you to wrest the workshop from your hands.

Can you use your skills in the arts or sciences to gain allies and buy time? Are you quick enough with a blade to keep yourself safe in the streets? Are you clever enough to decode the master's instructions to build a terrible new machine, and are you ruthless enough to sell it to the highest bidder? Or will you work together with your fellow apprentices to build the machine in secret and use it to bring stability to the city, and to all of Italy?

• Play as male, female, or non-binary; gay, straight, bi, asexual, or poly.
• Use alchemy, animation and soothsaying to create magical entertainments, win street fights and impress your clients
• Design and build a flying machine, an unbreakable vault, a wall-breaking weapon, an enchanted pen and ink for a philosopher, or a refillable gold purse for bribes
• Uncover the secrets of Florence and rise to power in your own workshop, leading your own team of magicians and artists
• Meet famous historical figures such as Niccolo Machiavelli and the future Pope Leo X
• Paint a fresco in the public square, escape your enemies in a boat chase on the Arno River, or just play cards and talk politics in the taverns of Florence

The master made dark sacrifices to learn what he knew. Are you prepared to do the same?

Game Details


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Run a workshop in Venice--historical alternate universe with magic, December 19, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

Every commercial Choice of Games entry I've played is well put-together, interesting, and felt worth my while. So when I rate them, it's usually on intangible personal feelings that may not translate to others.

This game has a cool setting. You are one of three apprentices to a master in Venice near the end of the 15th century. This game features encounters with several of the Medici's as well as Machiavelli (who is very pleasant) and several references to an exiled Leonardo da Vinci. Care is taken in presenting the setting. For fans of this setting (similar to that in Jon Ingold's All Roads) or alternate histories in general, I can absolutely recommend the game for its writing and style.

Mechanically, I have some questions with it. There are many stats, the bonuses to stats are small, stats are frequently decreased, most stat checks require multiple stats at once, and there is significant overlap in stats making divining the correct choice difficult (such as Boldness being an opposed stat and confidence being a skill, or charm being an opposed stat and guile being a skill).

I think these design choices were intended to increase the difficulty and prevent player boredom, something I struggled with in my own choicescript game. But the net effect was a feeling of frustration for me. Also, it's hard to know how to raise some stats. I took every opportunity to be romantic with Dangereuse and ended up with a 53% in the relationship, too low to get their support vs the machine.

I feel like games do best when, if you know what you intend to do, it is clear on what you must do to succeed in it; I think Emily Short and other early parser theorists stated a similar principle, where if you know the solution to a puzzle it should be easy to type it in.

I think instead of throwing stat difficulties in the way, it's better to do what games like Choice of Magics or Psy High do, where perhaps the person you love turns out to be a horrible person and you have to do things you hate to be with them, or you can be as powerful as you want but will accrue a specific penalty that is known long ahead of time.

I guess that's a counterpart to delayed branching (a principle in Choicescript where your choices have effects far down the road): being able to strategize.

Anyway, that's a long aside that's more about a class of games (including this game and my own) than any individual one. For this specific game, the trouble with stats made it harder to make plans and I ended up turning to the Machine to solve all my problems. Fortunately, the ending was well-written.

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The following polls include votes for The Magician's Workshop:

Historical sci-fi / alternate history by Rovarsson
I loved "Slouching towards Bedlam". Does anyone know of any other games that have that "the-future-as-it-might-have-been-imagined-long-ago"-feel? Anything steampunk qualifies, I'm also thinking of Jules Verne's novels and even the world...

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