A Robinsonade is a type of story that takes its name from Robinson Crusoe. In the structure of the story a person from a technologically superior area is stranded in an area where they have limited societal support. Robinsonades are interesting as ways of starting Ars Magica sagas, because they force characters to use the spontaneous magic system for something other than combat.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is kind of terrible in terms of its social implications. As a person who works with special needs children I find particularly unpleasant his idea that people who don’t have their health are incapable of artistic appreciation or spiritual development, but it does lead us think through some of the basic things characters would need if they suddenly found themselves stranded on an island. What resources can they use their abilities to acquire? How can they then use their skills and and magic to meet their requirements for food, water, shelter, communication with the outside world, attempting to leave, and studying their magic Arts? If they do an excellent job of survival the temptation is to place something valuable on the island, so that it becomes the site of the players’ covenant. If you think through Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” it’s a Robinsonade.

Robinsonades make it interesting origin stories for covenants. They, like the covenant design negotiation process, force the characters to prioritise. Players cannot just choose to have one of everything. They need to take their limited resources and expend them, and by expending them, indicate what their characters consider to be the most important priorities.

Imagine a group player characters shipwrecked. They may have the leftover pieces of the ship, the remnants of the cargo, and some of the crew. They need to choose which of these things to rescue/ Is it more important to rescue every last crew member, or to rescue the rations? Is it more important to rescue every last crew member or rescue building materials? From then on I have a series of forced decisions, and they can mitigate the effects of some of those decisions through clever use of spontaneous magic.

In Robinsonades nature is not, generally speaking, bountiful because by having scarce resources characters are forced to act, and that action is the plot of the story. A rich island would transform the characters into lotus eaters who just sit around enjoying themselves, which is fine for a sandbox game  Difficult choices – creative constraints – force players to deepen their characters. Sometimes allowing the players limitless choice freezes character development – freeze in a narrative sense not in an experience gathering sense – because the story just becomes a pastoral where everyone is happy and bucolic. So, consider a Robinsonade for your next saga.

Suitable islands.

The Scilly islands in the English Channel.

The Hebrides off the coast of Scotland, if you’re setting a campaign in either Scotland or Ireland.

The small islands off Sicily, f you are setting your covenant in Italy.

There are interesting islands between Spain and Majorca for Iberia.

Technically the Channel Islands are in the Normandy Tribunal.

With a strong enough mystical barrier, you can even set a Robinsonade trapped within a forest, or within a regio.


4 replies on “Robinsonades

  1. I was toying with this idea some years ago. After reading The Tempest as it happens.

    I was looking at either one of the islands in the greek areas (Ionian, Aegean or similar), but those waters are fairly heavily travelled. Why would rescue be more than a few days and a bonfire away?
    I think I prefer either an island that doesn’t exist outside of it’s regio, or an island that’s fated to sink under the waves at some later point, either triggered or simply at a point so far in the future that there’s temporal room for the saga to play out before then.


    1. Likewise the islands of the Tyrrhenian Sea are interesting, but in a heavily travelled are with merchants from Genoa and Pisa plying the nearby trade lanes. In some ways, getting lost in the Mythic Middle East or Africa provides an equivalent to an “island” from a Robinsonade perspective.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Actually, the Aeolian islands are far enough away form the Italian mainland or Sicily to potentially be used as a Robinsonade setting for an Ars Magica Saga. The map in the Mythic Genoa section of my blog detailing the Aeolian islands:: https://wordpress.com/page/jarkmanpages.wordpress.com/1027, suggests to me that the whole group could be a mini-setting in itself with magi stranded on one of the smaller islands having the opportunity to gradually dominate and control the whole archipelago perhaps through Chapter Houses and startegically based sancti…


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