In screenwriting there is an axiom that every scene needs conflict. In other words, the writer should never make things easy for the protagonist. Steven Spielberg was the master of this. Jurassic Park, the Back to the Future trilogy and the Indiana Jones movies keep viewers on the edge of their seats by ratcheting up the tension: Right when you think the heroes are going to get away with their latest adventure, another obstacle gets thrown in their way. It can get ridiculous, but it makes for one hell of an entertaining thrill ride.
These movies also dispensed with elaborate backstories, which are more appropriate in books than on-screen. Think about the opening text crawls of the Star Wars movies: Everything you need to know is in there, and no time gets wasted getting to the action in medias res.
These same general rules can go for any type of fiction, including computer games. And it sure seems like Christy Marx and her colleagues know what they’re doing. Not only does Conquests of the Longbow drop the player into the thick of things sans overlong flashbacks, something I praised in my first gameplay post. Robin’s missions follow suit: He wakes up, and right away there’s a conflict. And solving it is anything but a cakewalk.
Day five dawns with Robin eager to embark on his latest quest: The recovery of Marian’s hand scroll from the monks in the fens. But first, he wants some breakfast. Alas, Friar Tuck’s nowhere to be found. Alan mentions that he has gone to visit the Widow before bidding Robin farewell.
|Or “Tah.” “Tah”? Who says “Tah”?!|
That’s right! This time, Robin is thinking with his head, and not his head, if you catch my drift.
|“I don’t get it, bro.”|
|"So two monks walk into a bar . . .”|
As with most problems in this game, this one can be solved by a quick visit to Watling Street. After all, what kind of outlaw worth his salt would actually devise a solution using what he has on hand when he can just steal one?
And what’s this? Two monks come a-walkin’ down the street, one a black-clad denizen of the monastery and the other a brown-robed brother from St. Mary’s. What to do?
I clicked my “Hand” icon on both fellows, but I’ll save the discussion of what happens with the black monk for another post. It seems to me that the Widow’s boys need my help more urgently than Maid Marian, so I decide to hold up the monk from St. Mary’s.
- Talking to the monk has Robin bust his balls about being out and about—and fat—while he is supposed to be at St. Mary’s doing the Lord’s work and spending time in prayer and quiet contemplation.
- Trying to use the horn has Robin tell the player that he does not need help with this particular monk.
- Giving money lightens Robin’s purse, but does not get the monk to part with his robe.
- Likewise, the monk will not accept the gem as payment for the robe.
- Threatening the monk with the bow gets Robin his robe, but he sure feels bad about it. It also costs the player 75 points.
|Or a personal favorite analogy, courtesy of Mr. Zappa, it would be like “treating dandruff by decapitation.”|
- Clicking hand on the monk causes him to pee his pants (metaphorically) and hand over his clothes. What a cheap date (75 points)!
|And what a weenie!|
|No, not THAT sword!|
Wait a minute. What about Friar Tuck himself? Are we to assume that he is doing the Lord’s work by being an OUTLAW!!!? Or am I overthinking this too much.
In all honestly, I care not what two monks decide to do with their free time, or where to put their swords. Robin has his disguise and now can rescue the Widow’s sons.
I fully approve of the fact that Robin has the choice of which monk to assail in this scenario. Far from making me feel like I am missing out, this gives the game more replay value. I honestly wonder what would happen to the Widow’s sons if I decided to infiltrate the monastery first, and it makes me want to restore back to the point and see if it has any consequences on the end game. I also wonder what would happen if the player does not visit the Widow in the morning and instead goes directly to Watling Street. Would the brown monk be there at all? Would the boys be executed off-screen? Would the quest to rescue the three boys occur anyway the next time the player visits the Widow’s? Stuff like this in adventure games, when done well, is great.
Game mechanics aside, it’s time for Robin to begin his rescue mission by heading into town. I assume that the boys are being held in the castle, but I don’t head there first. Something from my first playthrough of this game fifteen or so years ago tickles my memory and I head to the pub.
Nine Men’s Morris
The bartender won’t give Robin any free ale, and complains that the Abbott of St. Mary’s is yet to pay his long-overdue tab. Even worse, the Abbott never returns the empty ale casks. Nice guy, that Abbott. I sure hope I get to visit him soon.
If Robin wants ale, he’ll have to pay for it the old-fashioned way. Don’t drink too much, though, or else Robin will get drunk and insult Prince John in front a bunch of his soldiers, just like he could do when disguised as a beggar.
More interesting is the guy at the game board. He tells Robin that he was a crusader with King Richard in Jerusalem and came home after the King made peace with Saladin. He then tries to entice Robin to play a game or two of Nine Men’s Morris by offering a friendly wager: A chunk of amethyst full of “magick” that will keep whomever dissolves it in their drink stone-cold sober. But it can be used only once before dissolving.
The old fellow, Harry, has no use for anything that will keep him sober, so Robin bets a few pennies and gets down to the game. If you dawdle, Harry suggests a friendly game sans wager just for fun. But I don’t mess around! I plunk my money down and prepare to use my outlaw’s brain, as dangerous as any longbow, to part old Harry from his magic rock.
Yeah, I’m not as good at Nine Men’s Morris as I thought. The rules, helpfully outlined in the manual, are pretty simple: Everywhere spot on the board where the lines meet is called a “point.” Each player has nine “men” and takes turns placing them on these points. During this phase it is imperative to keep your opponent from getting three pieces in a row, either horizontally or vertically. Three men in a row is called a “mill,” but mills cannot be created diagonally. Whomever makes a mill removes an opponent’s piece from the board.
After each player puts their pieces on the board, they take turns moving the pieces from point to point in order to make more mills and block their opponent. Once a mill is made, it can be recreated—and another opponent’s piece taken—by moving one piece out of line and then back in on the next turn. Strategy consists of preventing your opponent from both disrupting your mill and creating mills of your own.
As I learned, initial placement is very important. Even though Harry lets Robin go first, I had the best luck copying Harry’s strategy which consisted of occupying the outside corners of the board and strategic positions on the inside to allow maximum movement with minimum chance of being blocked. And it pays to be aggressive, putting your opponent on the defensive by making him block your potential mills. It’s kind of like tic-tac-toe, but with more rules.
Eventually I created a mill in the inner square that I could keep recreating because I had successfully blocked Harry. And the more of his pieces I took, the more futile his attempts at thwarting my trollish strategy. Like I cared. You snooze, you lose, Harry! Soon, the amethyst was mine (50).
|Checkmate! Or something.|
My next stop is St. Mary’s. I’m dressed as a monk, so I might as well go in.
Let’s go through this room-by-room:
- In the lower-right is a bedroom Robin cannot enter since the door is locked.
- In the back is the altar. There is a reliquary said to hold a piece of the True Cross, said to have been brought from Jerusalem by King Arthur himself.
- A hedge maze.
No! Not a maze! Anything but a maze! I start to map it, before realizing that it’s exceedingly easy. Robin’s destination is the back, where there is a door hidden rather poorly into the hedge.
Going through this door (100) brings Robin to. . .
- The Witch’s Court
The Abbott, sadistic bastard that he is, has built a place where he and other spectators can watch fun things like suspected witches being burned alive. With a name like “Witch’s Court,” I was hoping for some kind of cross between basketball and Quidditch. Alas, this is not the case. There is nothing for Robin to do here, nor anywhere else to go, so I leave and return to St. Mary’s.
- There is nothing Robin can do in the sleeping cells, nor can he exit the abbey from them.
- In a small room in the lower-left, next to the door to the altar, Robin finds a laundry room.
- Finally, the room in the lower-left is the abbey’s dining area, where Robin finds the Abbott himself. He is trying to open a wooden puzzle box. Robin asks if he can be of any help. The Abbott replies that he’s having trouble with the box, and the only thing that could help is more ale.
Casks and Flagons
Remember earlier in this post when the bartender complained about the Abbott keeping all of his casks? Robin sure did. And since he’s an outlaw with a heart of gold, he returns the cask to the beleaguered bartender (25). The typically surly guy starts to warm up to Robin. He gives Robin a filled cask and tells him he can use the secret passage in the basement, which is a short-cut to St. Mary’s.
Tunnels sans Treasure
The passage brings Robin to an intersection. I start with the left tunnel, because it seems shorter.
|“Hi guys! What do you mean you didn’t know there was a door in here?”|
|Oh, screw you. I don’t see YOU bums risking your lives to save Hal, Hob, and Dicken.|
The Drinking Contest
|Uh, YOU’RE WELCOME?|
Robin dutifully delivers the ale, and the Abbott offers for Robin to join him.
Good thing I have that magical amethyst! I slip it into Robin’s mug when the Abbott isn’t looking (50) and keep refilling the fat bastard’s mug, clicking “Talk” on him between slurps. Eventually, he gets more and more inebriated and spills the beans about how Prince John trusts him to guard the Queen’s 50,000 marks (25). Robin tries to figure out when exactly the money will be sent, but the Abbott isn’t quite the powerhouse drinker he claims to be and passes out.
Before leaving, I search the Abbott and swipe his purse (10). Sucker. I also take the empty cask because this is an adventure game and the game lets me take it.
There’s only one place to go now: The Abbott’s bedroom. I want to see what this puzzle box is all about.
|“Listen, you slug of the patriarchy! It’s the 21st century! Don’t be such an oppressive cis-het transphobe or you might just wind up in federal prison! Or banned from Twitter!”|
On the alternate solution front, there’s a pull-cord near the bed used by the Abbott for summoning a monk to wait on him. Yanking it does indeed summon another brother which leads to a short exchange in which Robin says the Abbott asked him to get his wooden box, but Robin doesn’t know where it’s found. Other hilarity ensues, involving both men saying that the other doesn’t look familiar and Robin spooking the other monk with tales of a ghost. Regardless, I wonder if this is another way to find the box if the player doesn’t think to look under the pillows.
That’s all to do here. I stroll out of St. Mary’s through the front door and head back to the pub.
Bring the Boys Back Home
At the pub, I return the second cask to the grateful bartender (10) and settle up the Abbott’s 12 penny bill (20). The bartender really takes a liking to Robin now, telling him that he’s the only good monk he’s ever come across, and reiterating that he can use the secret entrance anytime he wants.
|And you’re worth your weight in, um, pepper?|
I rush into the empty room and notice that Robin’s footsteps make a hollow sound over the wooden floor. That’s because there’s a pit under there, and trap door conveniently located near the table. I open it, but the guards come back and capture Robin before he can do anything else. Thinking I took too long, I restore and try again, immediately clicking “Hand” on the trap door instead of farting around with the “Eye” icon. I still get captured. Restoring again, I get an idea to purchase some ale for the guards, but when I go back to the pub’s basement, I cannot open the door because some of the Sheriff’s men are in there.
It’s pretty obvious that I need to get the guards drunk, or at least provide them the means, but I don’t know what to do. They mentioned needing four pennies. Is the answer as simple as leaving four pennies on their table when they leave?
Stuck in a pit, the boys urge Robin to lower the ladder. The problem with that idea is the noticeable lack of ladder in the room. No worries. Robin has three monk’s robes complete with sturdy silken belts. He fashions these into a rope and, Rapunzel-like, gets the three boys out of the pit (150).
Three cheers for silk! The boys are free, and I have disguises for them to boot! There’s even a handy escape route through the abbey!
Back in the tunnels, Robin tells the boys that there’s only one way to go: Back through the pub where the Sheriff’s men are having a party.
It’s the Sherriff! And . . . he’s pretty blitzed! Thinking Robin is just an ordinary, run-of-the-mill brother from St. Mary’s, he asks for a blessing. And Robin delivers: “May God give you all that you deserve, and may I live to see it. Amen” (10). Pleased, the Sheriff gives Robin a penny, which he takes before making like a tree and getting the hell out.
The Boys Are Back In Town
Robin did it! The boys are free! Robin meets them at their mother’s house (300) where they brag about their daring escape. The grateful Widow gives Robin a gift from her time as the Guardian of the Forest, the position now held by Marian. Yup, it turns out that the Widow used to be a Green Priestess, doing the very same Spiral Dance Robin saw Marian doing in his dream. The gift is a golden net (50), which the Widow says will protect Robin with the power of the forest in a time of need.
Lastly, she urges Robin to take her sons with him to be Merry Men, since they are now true outlaws. Hell yeah I’ll take them! Hal, Hob, and Dicken are pretty ballsy dudes, the know how to slip in and out of town, they don’t lose their cool when the going gets rough, and they can follow orders. Robin’s outlaw count climbs to 34, and he heads back for some well-deserved ale and adulation from his crew as the day comes to a satisfying close.
The one downside to this play session? I didn’t get to murder anybody. Oh well. There’s always Robin’s next mission.
Session Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.
Total Time: 5 hours, 30 minutes
Inventory: Horn, money, gem, puzzle box, golden net
Score: 2190 out of 7325
Problems Conquested by the Longbow (as of this post): Do I feel bad about Robin’s murder spree? Nope!
Day 1: Saved a peasant woman from being raped and murdered by one of the Sheriff’s goons.
Day 2: Rescued Maid Marian from an evil monk from the fens.
Day 4: Saved a poacher from being executed by one of the sheriff’s men.
Day 5: Get the brown robe from the monk of St. Mary’s (but lose points because only cowards threaten a helpless monk with a longbow).
Corrections and Omissions: Ever wanted to tell some random writer on the Internet that he’s a buffoon? Here’s your chance!
*5 CAPs to Fry for the idea to track all the problems solved with the longbow.
*5 CAPs to TBD for revealing what two seconds of web-searching would have told me: Robert Zemeckis directed the Back to the Future trilogy, not Steven Spielberg.