Thursday, 26 May 2016

Missed Classic 22: Robin of Sherwood: The Touchstones of Rhiannon (1985) - Introduction

Written by Alex



Yes indeed, here we are. Another Robin Hood game, and my first Missed Classic for The Adventure Gamer. Yeah! After I played and reviewed 1991’s excellent Conquests of the Longbow: The Legend of Robin Hood, fellow TAG writer Joe Pranevich threw down the gauntlet and challenged me to play The Touchstones of Rhiannon. And like a dumb-dumb, which should come as no surprise to anybody reading this blog, I accepted. So if it turns out that this is a great game, thanks Joe! And if it turns out to be a horrible one . . . thanks Joe!


So . . . The Touchstones of Rhiannon . . . . For starters, don’t make the same mistake I did. This is not Rhiannon:



This is Rihanna, which initially got me really excited to play this game. But alas. A “Rhiannon” is actually the name of a prominent figure in Celtic mythology. It’s also a Fleetwood Mac song you’ve probably heard even if you don’t recognize the name. Who said computer games don’t teach you anything? My parents, that’s who!

That said, my extensive research has lead me to the conclusion that The Touchstones of Rhiannon is either about the mythical Rhiannon’s magical telephone, or is based on a British TV series that ran between 1984 and 1986. Here’s the synopsis of the series according to the Internet Movie Database:

“Robin of Loxley is chosen by the mystical Herne the Hunter to become his 'son' and champion the oppressed. Gathering a band of comrades around him he fights a guerilla campaign against their Norman dictators, particularly the Sheriff of Nottingham and his deputy, Guy de Gisburne. Later he is succeeded by Robert of Huntingdon, renegade nobleman. This retelling of the legend introduces a strong fantasy element, with black magic and the old religion.”


So this should be similar to Conquests of the Longbow in that there are magical and supernatural elements mixed in with the historical fiction and familiar characters like the wicked Sheriff and the venal Guy. Sounds interesting. Looking back at my Longbow posts, because I’m vain like that, I see that commenter and adventure game legend Cory Cole, as well as TAG writer and legend in his own right Ilmari, both brought this TV series up as a possible influence on Conquests of the Longbow designer Christy Marx (read our interview with Christy here). See? We’re really on top of things here at The Adventure Gamer. Never doubt us.


Well, sometimes doubt us.

The Touchstones of Rhiannon is also the first (mostly) text adventure for me on this blog, as well as my first non-DOS game. So bear with me if I am not used to some of the tropes and parser issues I may encounter.


The Designers

The Touchstones of Rhiannon was designed by the soon-to-be-interviewed Mike Woodroffe and Brian Howarth of Adventure International, first for the Spectrum 48K (with graphics!). However, I am playing the Commodore 64 version, as I was not able to find a Spectrum emulator that worked.



Okay, you got me. I just couldn’t figure out how to use it, but VICE, the C64 emulator, is working just fine.

Let’s Get This Adventure Started



The game starts off in medias res, with Robin stuck in a deep, dark dungeon with his companions Will Scarlet and . . .


No . . .


Oh, dear God no . . .




“Well hey boss! Looks like we’re gonna be spending lots of time together! I’ve got some ideas about how to get out of this dungeon! Wanna hear them?”

Joe! What have you done to me?!

Alright, no sense in getting all bent out of shape. First things first: I can’t think straight. I need to do something to make my stay in this dungeon of despair a little more tolerable.


“Nothing special.” I’ll say.


Oh, I don’t know. Maybe Much and I could talk about WILD BOARS.


Dammit game, no! It’s never pointless to kill much!

Right off the bat, I’m stuck at the first puzzle: Getting rid of Much the Miller’s son. Let me check the manual to see if I’m missing anything.



Great! In addition to getting a bit more of the story, I learn that I should try to “strangle” Much.


Nobody understands . . .

Alright, I’ll have to deal with Much and just get the hell out of here.

Escaping the Cell


This is actually a pretty cool puzzle, and made me realize why so many people like these text adventures.

Examining the grate reveals that it’s twelve feet off the ground, way too high for Robin to reach. Talking to the prisoners reveals that “To escape the guard will have to be killed.” Bloodthirsty lot they are, but they are correct. But in order to kill that guard, I have to reach him.

Will and Much are useless in this endeavor (surprise surprise), but I can STAND PRISONER to clamber on their shoulders and reach the grating. Thanks you anonymous, faceless prisoners! When my own men fail me, I can count on you! If we ever get out alive, I’ll never forget your spirit and generosity!



Every few turns, the guard sits on a chair about ten feet away, gets up, starts pacing, and returns to his chair. The prisoners will get tired and collapse after a while, requiring Robin to STAND on them again, but examining the guard enough times reveals that his ankle is close enough to grab. Like the ankle-biter he is, Robin GRABs it. The guard falls, getting winded in the process. If you take too long after this, the guard runs off to fetch Guy de Gisburne, but I’m quick like a real OUTLAW, so I strangle the son of a bitch.



Quite with what I strangled him, I’m not sure. I’m guessing my bare hands, but they’re sticking through a grate with presumably small, not-quite hand-sized openings on account of it being there to keep prisoners secure. Suppose the guard fell at just the right spot for his throat to be somewhere near his ankle (?), and I think I’m not dealing with any ordinary guard, but the Mr. Fantastic of medieval grunts.


That’s right. I worked Mr. Fantastic into a post about Robin Hood. You’re welcome.

The guard has a sword, which Robin takes and uses to knock the bolt off of the grating. He’s free! And finally, finally, we see a different screenshot!



In all of this excitement, though, Robin drops the sword, probably impaling one of those saps who helped him get out in the first place and leaving him, Much, and Will Scarlet totally defenseless.

That’s right. Robin. Our hero. Dropped the sword. In his excitement. There’s a joke here somewhere, but I’m too stunned to make it. Errol Flynn never would have done this! He’d have gotten all of the prisoners pregnant, maybe, even the male ones, but he would have held on to his sword until the end.


No wonder they look so happy!

You’ll also notice from the screenshot up there that Much and Will made the trip out of the cell with Robin, but those other prisoners—you know, the ones that actually helped Robin escape?—remain in the dungeon to rot. So long, suckers! Been nice knowing you! The three Merry Men leave the guardroom and find themselves in the castle courtyard, with nary a guilty feeling for the fate of those miserable losers who shall forever remain trapped in the Sheriff’s stinky cell to await God-knows-what foul and sadistic torments.


Our hero, ladies and gentlemen.

Leaving the Castle

Here’s where things get fun: Mapping and puzzle-solving. Being an old-school adventure game, this means lots of trial and error.



Instead of going step-by-step through what I did, I’ll show you my map and point out the highlights of Robin’s daring, dashing escape.



  • The Courtyard gate closes if you try to go through it. However, Much and Will escape, so Robin’s on his own.
  • There are no puzzles really, save for the fact that going into the Great Hall results in death. You only learn this by going LEFT at the Courtyard. It’s a cheap adventure game death, but par for the course so I can’t get too mad about it. Thank God for save states!
  • Going down the Staircase also takes you to the Great Hall and Robin’s eventual doom.
  • The final death I discovered was going out the window in the Bedroom to the left of the first Staircase. The game warns Robin that there are guards down there, but does he listen?
  • There is a Treasure Chest in that same bedroom, but if there’s a way to open it, I haven’t found it yet.

  • The last room of note is the Bedroom to the RIGHT of the Staircase. Maid Marion (the game’s spelling, not mine) is waiting on the bed.


She won’t go with Robin, she doesn’t give him anything (AN ITEM! I’M TALKING ABOUT AN ITEM!) but she does impart some valuable wisdom: “Never lose your grip on your sword.”

Okay, I made that up. She gives Robin a little family history.



Nothing left to do but defenestrate yourself and land smack dab in the middle of Sherwood Forest.

While out there, Herne the Hunter appears to conveniently give Robin some plot:


“Exposition!”

And with that, Herne leaves Robin in the middle of the forest, charged to find the six Touchstones of Rhiannon (whatever those are) and return them to their rightful home (wherever that is) for . . . why exactly is Robin doing this again.

It doesn’t matter. Adventure games, like pornography, just need some plot. That’s not why we play these things.


He said it; I didn’t!


In the forest, there are exists to the North, East, West, and South. I smell mapping. Either that, or Much is nearby. This is as good a place as any to stop this post. Stay tuned for Robin’s continuing search for the Touchstones of Rhiannon!
“Bitch better have my touchstones!”

Session Playtime: 1 hour.
Total Playtime: 1 hour.

Inventory: NOT A BLOODY THING!

15 comments:

  1. Hey guys, I've held the interview with Mike Woodroffe open until this came out (thanks, Alex!). So if, after reading this you want to ask any more questions, please add it here: http://advgamer.blogspot.com/2016/05/call-for-questions-for-mike-woodroffe.html (or send a note to the admins on the left).

    Back when I challenged Alex to play this game, I made a promise: If he played his first Missed Classic, I would make a donation to the Sherwood Forest Trust, a group dedicated to preserving the history and beauty of Robin Hood's favorite stomping grounds. I have made good on this pledge and donated $30 in honor of "The Adventure Gamer" to their cause. Please check out their website and consider donating. It's a worthy cause. http://sherwoodforest.org.uk/

    I know this is more my thing than anyone else's, but I'm considering if there's any way we can make charities like this a part of TAG culture. Back when we played KQ5, we did a group donation to an owl sanctuary thanks to our abuse of poor Cedrick. I can't come up with how it would work, but groups like Games Done Quick have been very successful at giving back in their own ways. We're tiny tiny tiny compared to them, but I always feel good when we can make a small impact on the world.

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    1. Nice, Joe.

      Obviously we've done nothing about this since May, but if someone did want to organise something I'm all for it (I'm just too damn lazy to do any actual organising myself.)

      Having said that, I think I copped enough uselessness and whingeing from Cedric over the month I played the game that I have little sympathy for any abuse he gets.

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    2. I did end up donating to the Sherwood Forest Trust personally, per my promise to Alex.

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  2. Alex, I think you are flattering me when you compare me with Corey Cole - he makes games, I just occasionally write about them (and mostly I leave even that to more capable hands and just do the nitty gritty of publishing them).

    Up to this point, the game seems to have followed the plot of the first episode of Robin of Sherwood - well, at least a small part of it. If you are interested to see the episode, it appears to be on Youtube, although I'd encourage buying the whole series: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZOuD5j95rI

    Lot of the exposition from the manual is more fleshed out in the episode. Aelric of Locksley, Robin's father, is killed by the future sheriff of Nottingham, whose men also burn down the village of Locksley, which Norman rulers then consistently denied ever existed - rulers don't want to remind their subjects of past centers of rebellion. But nothing's forgotten, nothing's ever forgotten.

    Young and orphanized Robin is left to the care of the local miller, who eventually has a son of his own. You guessed, he's called Much. We know your opinion of the character in Longbow, and in RoS, many people call Much a halfwit - whether he truly has some mental problems or whether he is just so young and innocent, we are never revealed.

    By the time when Robin and Much are locked in the cell, they are not yet an official gang. Much just killed a king's deer, Robin found it out and scolded Much for breaking the law. When they were carrying the dead deer away, they were caught by Guy of Gisbourne, who at the time worked for abbot Hugo, brother of the sheriff. (Later on in the series, Gisbourne becomes the second hand of the sheriff. Gisbourne in the series has clearly more brawn than brains and is basically the butt of all Nottingham).

    Robin and Much met Will Scarlett only at the cell. Originally named Scatlock, he changed his name to Scarlett after his wife (coincidentally also from Locksley) was raped and killed by soldiers. Basically he became a vigilante and was locked away after having killed "three of those bastards".

    There were other prisoners in the cell with them and they even had names (Dickon and Tom Fletcher). They definitely followed Robin from the cell, but got killed in some of the first episodes. There was one nameless prisoner, who did leave voluntarily behind, mainly to look after his pet rat, Arthur (this man becomes a kind of running joke in the series, he is always in the cell, saying the same lines every time: "Feet first, it's the only way out").

    Closing of the courtyard gate happens also in the first episode. Other outlaws get out, Robin is left as the only one inside the castle. Like in the game, Robin finds his way to Marion's bedroom. Marion is the daughter of supposedly deceased Richard at Lea, and now at the custody of abbot Hugo, who is about to marry her to Jesus (i.e. send her to nunnery), in order to get the lands of her father to church. Looking at the picture in the game, she's not really to be compared with a May morning, but I guess the artists had their limitations.

    As for Herne the Hunter, he is a bit more impressive in the series. He is actually just a druid, who occasionally is possessed by the spirit of Herne. Especially in the later series, in these moments the face of the man under the deer head is shrouded in the mist and you only see a vague shape with a deer head rising from the deep - very effective (especially if you are in the tender ages of six to seven, when you first see the series).

    In the episode, Robin doesn't at first accept the mission Herne gives him - and there's no mention of any touchstones of Rhiannon. Instead, he is meant to help the poor and the dispossessed and to fight for the England against the Norman rule.

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    1. Ilmari, given your knowledge of the genre, I'm sure you'd be a fabulous game designer.

      And thanks for the recap of the show this game is based on! It seems like the game is hewing very closely to the show's plot. Very cool.

      And I just had a though: maybe I could have done something to keep the sword, like slide it through the grating before Robin exits...

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  3. Oh yes, I should probably guess the score. This doesn't look that much different from Seas of Blood, let's say 29.

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  4. And I thought FleetwoodMac actually sang about some woman, not a celtic god. Probably should have known it was some mysticism involved with the other songs Stevie Nicks sings on. And the dice says 37.

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    1. I've got a feeling hat Rhiannon must have worn a lot of scarves. Otherwise, why would Stevie Nicks have taken an interest?

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    2. I had to check up on this and apparently it was inspired by a witch with the same name from a book called Triad by Mary Bartlet Leader. Stevie Nicks didn't realise until afterwards it was a celtic goddesses and picked the name because it sounded interesting. So maybe the witch had scarfs in the book.

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  5. @Joe

    That is awesome and I think donating to charities or otherwise raising money a la AGDQ is a fantastic idea. We'll all have to brainstorm ideas, but if we can use our blog to help kidney-punch cancer, I'm all for it.

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  6. I have vague memories of that show from when I was a small lad. I think there was a scene where the merry men were all sad about one of their friends who had died, so they all lobbed flaming arrows into a pond. It was pretty cool.

    Rating: 42?

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    1. That scene happened at least twice during the show. On both occasions there was also a surprise flame shooter at the end: "Oh, we got a new mysterious regular!"

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