A Recommended Reading List of Late Medieval History From Pentiment Game Director Josh Sawyer


  • Explore the inspirations behind the world of Pentiment with this curated list of books recommended by Game Director Josh Sawyer.
  • Pentiment will place you in an illustrated world inspired by late medieval manuscripts at a time when Europe is amidst political and religious unrest.
  • Pentiment will release on November 15 for Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Windows 10/11 PC, and Steam for $19.99. It will also be available on day one with Xbox Game Pass and PC Game Pass.

When it arrives November 15, Pentiment will allow you to explore one of the most unique and inspired gaming worlds this year. As Andreas Maler, an artist working at Kiersau Abbey near the town of Tassing in Upper Bavaria, you will live out your life in this 16th century early modern world over the course of 25 years. Kicking off the storyline of this narrative adventure is the murder of a nobleman whom your friend, Brother Piero, stands accused; it’s up to you to prove his innocence.

As you set off on this adventure, you will have the opportunity to pick a series of education and lifestyle-inspired traits that will help define Andreas, affecting the many options afforded to you via dialog interactions throughout the game. From Hedonist to Occultist, Medicine, or Theology, and even where he has travelled for his “wanderjahre” or wander years, you will have a wide variety of choices to establish Andreas’ background and knowledge to help immerse you even deeper in the game’s world.

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Pentiment’s setting is inspired and informed by a mix of fiction and non-fiction works that we are sharing with you here today, personally recommended by Game Director Josh Sawyer. Each of these books can give you a better sense on how states and religious beliefs clashed at the time of Pentiment, how people can change over time, the life of late medieval peasants, and how education and literacy can put one at odds with the Church — many of these elements and themes will play out in various respects throughout your time with Pentiment.

You can learn more about each of these recommended works below.

“Dürer’s Journeys: Travels of a Renaissance Artist” by Susan Foister and Peter van den Brink
“Wonderful compilation of essays exploring the travels of 16th century artist Albrecht Dürer and the impact they had on his life.  Dürer kept a number of travel journals over the years and they provide incredible insights into how he thought about art, his contemporaries, other cultures, and the many changes that were rapidly occurring in his own homeland. This hardcover also contains many illustrations, both by Dürer and other European artists of the period.”

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“The Faithful Executioner: Life and Death, Honor and Shame in the Turbulent Sixteenth Century” by Joel F. Harrington
“This fascinating bit of microhistory looks at the life of a single executioner, Franz Schmidt, who lived during the latter half of the 16th century in Bavaria. Schmidt’s father was forced into the executioner business through a shocking and cruel twist of fate. Once the family was in the business, they found it almost impossible to get out due to the heavy shame associated with the profession. Franz kept a meticulous diary — rare if not unique among executioners — that reveals an unusual level of professionalism and piety as well as a lifelong desire to restore the honor of his family. The book also gives an interesting view into the consolidation of the power to execute justice under the state — the nascent belief that the state held the power to avenge injustices against the people through their reviled agent, the executioner.”

“The Return of Martin Guerre” by Natalie Zemon Davis
Zemon Davis authored this book after consulting for a film based on the same 16th century historical case, Le Retour de Martin Guerre. It is the wild but true story of a young man from the Basque town of Hendaye who disappeared for eight years and returned a changed man — a very changed man. After resuming life with his wife, son, and extended family, details started to emerge that cast doubt on the man’s identity. It resulted in a unique court case that the Toulousain jurist Jean Coras recorded for posterity. It is a quick read and the film’s worth watching, too.”

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“Peasant Fires: The Drummer of Niklashausen” by Richard Wunderli
Although pre-dating the more famous peasant revolt in early 16th century Swabia, the small 1476 uprising of peasants in Niklashausen is no less interesting. A farmer named Hans Böhm said he had received visions of the Virgin Mary. Among other things, Hans said that Mary told him the people needed to overthrow their corrupt clergy. The festival atmosphere of Carnival emboldened the peasants, who gave up their work to travel to Niklashausen and listen to the visionary. You may have already guessed that it did not end well for them, but it’s an interesting look at a community turned upside down by a single charismatic peasant.”

“The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller” by Carlo Ginzburg
Ginzburg was one of the first historians to start popularizing micro-historical examinations of what could today be classified as weird little dudes. The dude in question, a Friulian miller named Domenico Scandella (aka Menocchio), was certainly very weird. He learned to read at a school established in his region for the purpose of free public education. He used his literacy to read a wide variety of books that contributed to his formulation of an extremely unorthodox cosmology — so unorthodox that some (e.g. inquisitors) might (did) consider it heretical. At the heart of it all was his belief that all the elements combined at creation into a cheese-like mass out of which worms appeared. The worms ate through the cheese, one of him became God, and the rest is history. Much like Hans Böhm, things didn’t work out for Menocchio in the end, mostly because like Hans, Menocchio simply could not shut up about his beliefs. Fantastic book.”

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“The Name of the Rose” by Umberto Eco
“Already an established medievalist and semiotician, Eco decided to write fiction at the age of 48, a time when he said you either ‘escape with a Cuban ballerina and abandon [your] family or you write a novel.’ He started with a list of names – names of monks. When he finished, he had ‘created a murder mystery set in a 14th century Italian monastery during a tense debate between the Roman Curia and the Franciscans over apostolic poverty. The Name of the Rose manages to be a gripping thriller populated with colorful characters while illuminating the setting’s historical context in incredible detail. Despite his extensive use of historical research, Eco chose to set his story in an unnamed fictional abbey, which gave him the freedom to create the labyrinthine Aedificium, containing ‘more books than any other Christian library.’ It’s a fantastic novel (my ‘favorite), a huge inspiration for Pentiment, and I highly recommend it.”

We hope this list has invigorated your interest in the upcoming world of Pentiment and late medieval history and literature. Pentiment will release on November 15 for Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Windows 10/11 PC, and Steam for $19.99. It will also be available on day one with Xbox Game Pass and PC Game Pass. Pre-orders for the game are available today as well as pre-installs with Game Pass.

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Art Imitates Death Step into a living illustrated world inspired by illuminated manuscripts and printed woodcuts in a time when Europe is at a crossroads of great religious and political change. Walk in the footsteps of Andreas Maler, a master artist who finds himself in the middle of murders, scandals, and intrigue in the Bavarian Alps. Illustrated world Experience 16th century Europe as the master artists of the time saw them. Art inspired by great illuminated manuscripts and the earliest printed books becomes a living, breathing world in Pentiment. Uncover mysteries Choose different academic and social backgrounds and meet a colorful cast of characters as you discover the stories and secrets that lie within the small Bavarian town of Tassing and nearby Keirsau Abbey. Impact a changing world In an era of great religious and political change, each decision you make can have a profound impact on the community’s future. Find your own way through this turbulent time and see the consequences of your choices play out over generations.