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"No phones! No lights! No motorcars!
Not a single luxury!
Like Robinson Ca-ru-soe,
As primitive as can be!

— "The Ballad of Gilligan's Island"

Basic Information

Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe, has been called the first English novel. Over the years since it's publication in 1719, it has spawned myriad imitations; so many that the "stranded on a desert island" story has become a sub-genre of it's very own: the Robinsonade.

In the Robinsonade, the hero or heroes are stranded in a remote location with little or no hope of rescue. They have to figure out how to live for an indefinite period with what little resources they have with them and what they can find. They are frequently aided in this by a ship conveniently full of stuff nearby, usually the wreck of the ship they came in.

Probably the best-known literary Robinsonades are The Swiss Family Robinson, by Johan David Wyss, (did you know that Robinson was not actually the family's name, but rather that they are a family of "Robinsons"?); and The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne. (Verne wrote several other Robinsonades, including an unauthorized sequel to the Wyss novel, a tale featuring a group of stranded schoolboys, one set on a rogue comet and a parody version.) More recent Robinsonades include the Tom Hanks movie Cast Away and the TV shows Survivor and Lost. And, of course, Gilligan's Island.


Game and Story Use

  • The PC's are contestants on a reality show called "Who Wants to Be A Castaway?" But shortly after they arrive on the island, the ship they came in disappears, and they discover they have been cut off from civilization…
    • Combine that with the backstory from The Running Man or Saw. The PCs are disposable contestants in a game show … either they are condemned criminals or they thought they were signing up for a legitimate gameshow and instead have been conned into taking part in someone's Robinsonade of Death
  • In a Science Fiction campaign: The PC's are Determined Homesteaders seeking to colonize a planet; but the shuttle they arrive in lands several hundred kilometers from the established drop point — where the bulk of their supplies are. Now they must travel across an unknown alien wilderness.
    • This can also be done Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri style, with a crisis leading to a scattered drop of the whole expedition - possibly in escape pods - as per the death of the UNSS Unity.
  • Dwarf Fortress … the RPG? Anyone?
  • In a pirate campaign: Next to walking the plank, a pirate's favorite method of dealing with unwanted personnel was to maroon them. The person would be dumped on the nearest island with a rifle and a canteen and left to survive as best he could.
    • The PC's might find themselves marooned, after crossing a bloodthirsty buccaneer.
    • Or, while visiting an island, might find a poor sailor who had been marooned himself many years ago.
      • The smart ones might ask why he was marooned (and the even smarter ones check his story)…
    • The traditional shipwreck also works fine in this situation.
  • In a fantasy game, the PCs end up in an alternate dimension. Now they need to cope with a totally alien environment, as well as the strange magical powers of the natives.
    • Perhaps the PCs are even from modern-day Earth.
    • This sort of marooning might well be expected to result from various magical mishaps including teleportation errors, problems with dimensional gates, misjudgements during interplanar travel and general banishments.
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