Beyond the Horizon: Thoughts on Mediterranean Robinsonades

In a recent post over on Games from Folktales, Timothy commented on the concept of “Robinsonades” in terms of their story potential as a starting point for an Ars Magica Saga. Alluding to Shakespeare’s The Tempest as a potential source of inspiration, he broadly defines the concept in his first paragraph:

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.

Read “magically adept” for “technologically superior” by invoking Clarke’s 3rd Law and he argues that starting a covenant from a shipwrecked group of magi and their surviving grogs is a potential Robinsonade beginning to a Saga. Let’s not get into the whys and hows of a group of magi travelling by ship and managing to get shipwrecked – that’s a whole different post or two – and take a moment to concentrate on the where, at least in terms of the Mediterranean, potentially linking into my Mythic Genoa concepts.

The Areas of the Meditteranean Out of Sight of Land.jpg
Areas Out of Sight of Land (from The Corrupting Sea)

The above image is a photograph from a very useful book about Mediterranean History (The Corrupting Sea, Peregrine Horden and Nicholas Purcell, Peregrine 2000) that discusses the Meditteranean as a maritime continent or “extended archipelago” of ports and settlements along the coasts linked by a common culture. The map demonstrates those areas “out of sight of land”, the “deeps” of the ocean beyond the horizon which in this instance equates to the line of demarcation between where an individual on a ship at sea can still see land features including mountains and where the observer sees only an unbroken circle of water.

I’d like to explore these so-called featureless “deeps” later, but in his original post Timothy suggests that Sagas set on islands out of sight of a passing ship may make a good example of a Robinsonade. Let’s use then this map as a starting point for discussion.

Note: the image above presumably details what those on board a ship can see – unless an observer is standing on a high peak, their horizon at any coastal point is limited to mere 3 miles. An observer on the deck of a ship can similarly only see human sized objects at sea level 3 miles away, which according to this calculator extends for those in the crow’s nest or the top of the mast of most contemporary ships to about 10 miles at most in clear weather during daylight. This is only the top of the landmark however, the rest of the landmass is hidden behind the horizon. So it’s entirely possible to miss another ship or a beacon fire on the beach unless the smoke rises as a column or you have a lookout positioned up the mast. Also one ship may be able to see another’s mast from miles off while remaining undetected by the other crew at deck level or be completely hidden from castaways gazing out from the where they have waded into the waves…

Height above sea level, for both the observer AND the object is the key.

  • sea level: 3 miles
  • 30 feet: 7 miles
  • 50 feet:  9 miles

If the top of the object and the observer are elevated, then the distance increases.

Historically, particularly in ancient times when oared galleys were the primary means of maritime transport, but also in medieval times of sail, most ships sailed within sight of the coast – within a few miles along the plains and further out to sea for coasts rocky headlands or mountainous coasts. To venture beyond this horizon was a concept that generated significant dread and had associated superstitions. Ships did sometimes cross the wider expanses with the aid of astrological navigation (itself a great topic) but much more rarely, so the borders on the map potentially represent the furthermost limit a ship would readily sail.

western-meditteranean-out-of-sight-of-land
Western “Deeps”

Although there’s no scale to the overall map (and technically the line varies by a few miles depending on the height of the observer if they’re at the top of the mast of the ship), it’s interesting to me for several reasons, but in response to Timothy’s post, let’s briefly deal with whether this map helps with the hypothesis that there are islands out of sight of passing ships traversing the common coastal routes of the Mediterranean and leave out those few intrepid ships and crews that cross the wider open expanses for now.

He mentions the Scilly Isles, the Channel Isles and the Hebrides, which are all part of more northern Tribunals, and does not mention the Aegean islands possibly because of the busy sea traffic in the Theban Tribunal. So let’s deal with the two Mediterranean suggestions: the islands off Sicily  (Aeolian, Ustica, Aegadian, Pelagian) and the smaller islands between Spain and the Balearics.

Example #1: the Balearic Islands?

Let’s deal with the Balearics area first.

The initial map indicates that the Balearics, given their mountainous nature, are readily seen by ships sailing eastwards from the port of Valencia and the small islets off the coasts of the three main islands are well within the 10 mile diameter of a passing ship (blue circles on the map below) if not the 3 mile radius of being seen from the coast. So it’s really a question of whether the smaller island of Formentera (highest point 390 feet) south of Ibiza and the islets of the Cabrera Archipelago (highest point 560 feet) south of Majorca  are easily visible.

Both lie within 10 miles of their nearby major islands, so their landward coasts are readily visible from a ship sailing within sight of the main coast and their peaks are easily seen from even further out (24 miles and 29 miles respectively, green circles on the map).

balearic-robinsonades
Horizons relevant to the lesser Balearic Islands

It’s unclear whether ships passed to the north or south of the Balearics (Edit: checking another reference, they probably did pass to the south due to the prevailing winds and currents of the western Mediterranean), but assuming they did round the southern coastline, Formontera with it’s overall flatter relief to the west and elevation to the east would be passed frequently. On the other hand, the rocky seaward side of Cabrera might be relatively hidden in the shadow of its highest central elevation from most passing ships hugging the Majorcan coastline to the north and therefore might be a potential Robinsonade style covenant location.

archipielago_de_cabrera
Cabrera Archipelago: a Robinsonade Saga location?

To be continued…

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Fennmar: Innsmouth Hinterland

So this is the concept drafting for the “Innsmouth Hinterland” in the Fennmar area on my whiteboard, consisting of a web article “Where is H.P. Lovecraft’s Innsmouth” used to generate the Chaosium Escape from Innsmouth supplement “Lovecraft Country” map below, an annotated map of Innsmouth from DeviantArt and sketchings on a blow up section of the Immoren map from the IKRPG Corebook.

innsmouth-in-immoren-working-map

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“Lovecraft Country” (annotated)

Having a look at the various maps, Fennmar seems a logical place to situate Innsmouth and it’s “Lovecraft Country” surrounds (see IKRPG2, page 69 for the following excerpt from the Duchy of Southpoint section): “The Fenn Marsh, one of the largest natural wetlands in Cygnar, surrounds this area, and it is a major barrier to land traffic to the port city of Mercir. All attempts to connect Mercir by road or rail have met with mixed and impermanent results, although local nobles insist ingenuity can overcome these travails. Amid this marsh live a large number of gatormen as well as several prominent trollkin kriels. At present, most who need to travel past this desolate region prefer to do so by ship or to cross the northern interior by road through Highgate.

The area is well within Cygnar, but away from the front lines and the ongoing war and it’s steamjacks and other industrial elements – a perfect backwater to place Mythos elements. The industrial port city of Mercir provides a clear correlate with Arkham or perhaps even elements of Boston, with Clocker’s Cove to the north standing in for Newburyport and the Great Cygnaran Observatory reached by steamboat from the south making a serviceable meta-game substitute for Miskatonic University and a potential repository of greater Mythos related lore and adventure hooks in the form of missions from scholars…

Return to Mythic Corsica

campomoro_towerI became aware from the near terminal Berklist recently via the Project Redcap refresh project “30 Pages for November” started by the incoming heir, Walter, of a new Saga set in Mythic Corsica. As I have some material on the area in the Mythic Genoa section of this blog, I contacted the Storyguide, Robert Petrone, offering to link to his Saga from the relevant section of this blog.

While linking his site, “Riacciu Carmenta Covenant“, I noticed some of my Corsican and nearby Sardinian material was not publically published, so I’ve made these available to all:

There are some patchy sections admittedly, but I think making them available in their current format is still justified, even if only for Robert’s sake 😉

I also noticed that there were no actual updates to Project: Redcap for Faith & Flame, so I might go back sometime and link some of the cut-file material from my draft…

Edit: I’ve now updated some of the material on Project: Redcap, linking to some of the cut-file material here and indicating which SubRosa issues contain relevant Provencal material.

Fennmar – Immoren’s Lovecraft Country?

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Fennmar: Immoren’s Lovecraft Country?

So I’ve been thinking a lot about inserting Mythos elements in other settings lately and the IKRPG setting of Immoren seems an appropriate candidate – in fact, there’s a section of southern Cygnar, Fennmar Province (detailed in Kingdoms and Gods, pages 71-72) , that has many of the elements of so-called “Lovecraft Country”, including a reasonable fit for the probable location of the legendary town of Innsmouth. The location is marked with a star at the edge of the swamp nestled off the seldom used main road from Clocker’s Cove to Mercir at the edge of the Trollkin and Gatorman controlled swampy peninsular that juts to the east into the expanse of the Gulf of Cygnar.

A Matter of Correlation

There’s a number of reasonable correlates that make this a suitable option both from a thematic and meta-game perspective. By example, the following map is from Chaosium’s Escape from Innsmouth supplement details so-called “Lovecraft Country” based on the are of Cape Ann, Massachusetts:

lovecraftcountry

Rough geographical correlation with the shape of the area helps, with Cape Ann being represented by the swampy peninsular jutting east, although the scale is much smaller on the Immoren map, with Innsmouth-in-Fennmar located about 50 miles south of Clocker’s Cove rather than 8 miles south of the equivalent town, Newburyport in Massachusetts. Equating the large southern city of Mercir with it’s stronghold of the Fraternal Order of Wizardry as the area’s substitute for Boston is easy enough.

The distance makes it just over a day’s travel by carriage or wagon to this version of Innsmouth, suggesting that most travellers must stop overnight at the village of Rowley rather than using it as a staging point before continuing through the marsh towards Mercir or on their way to the unnamed riverboat station that is used to access the Great Cygnaran Observatory to the southwest, itself a useful substitute for Arkham’s Miskatonic University in terms of story hooks involving scholars.  Innsmouth-in-Fennmar then becomes a half forgotten town off the main road, accessible only by those willing to travel into the night and stay an evening in the swamp girded estuary settlement…

Return of the Deep Ones?

I’ve just moved into a new place and unpacked one of my older boxes of books and was delighted to discover a trove of Mythos related source material I’ve collected, specifically Innsmouth and Deep One stories:

deep-ones-source-material
Various Anthologies with Deep One source material

The top 3 are the Stephen Jones collated anthologies that include a number of great stories by Neil Gaiman, JohnGlasby, Brian Lumley,  Kim Newman / Jack Yeovil and others. While the first volume was originally published back in 1994 by Del Rey with high hopes, there were apparently issues with continuing as planned and it took almost a decade for the next two planned volumes to appear in 2013 and 2015 respectively (Titan as the publisher). The first collection of the series contains the whole narrative of Lovercraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” from which the titles and concepts are derived, while the later books contain variant discarded drafts of the story and rarities such as Lovecraft’s poem “The Port” and August Derleth’s “Innsmouth Clay” story that builds on some of HP’s abandoned / unfinished writings.

The bottom left two anthologies are the products of Chaosium Books (1998 and 1999) and contain various Innsmouth related stories, arguably of lesser quality, but still containing some potentially useful ideas for Mythos themed scenarios and character concepts.

“Return of the Deep Ones” includes some of Lumley’s other stories as well as the entire novel of the title – behind it is an Encyclopedia of the Cthulu Mythos I must have picked up somewhere in my peripatetic book collecting.

I’ve also collected a number of other Innsmouth related eBooks:

And there are a number of Deep One themed stories in some of my other collections that I’ll have to pull out and look for further details…

The Diverse Grog

It’s been over 6 months since I last posted to this blog – during the hiatus I had a brief foray into writing another RPG blog, but although I learnt a lot from that particular experiement, for a variety of personal reasons that stopped as well. I’ve now had a chance to regroup and reflect and I think the time has come to evolve the site into a more general RPG blog (because there just aren’t enough of those, eh?).

I’ve decided I’ll keep the name out of affection for my work on Ars Magica 5th Edition and all the material is still there, just neatly filed under the “Ars Magica” tab above.

Go on take a look now and double-check for the most popular ArM5 pages…

The main difference is I’ve lifted most of the non-Ars Magica content out from behind the “Sundry” tab into different tabs eg. GDW’s Twilight 2k, Iron Kingdoms, Pathfinder RPG etc for ease of reference although the somewhat surprisingly popular 3 Optional Weapons for Mouse Guard is still hidden in there for the moment as it’s the only MG article and I haven’t written any additional material for that system since.

So a more diverse grog, a more evolved grog perhaps but with all the history?

Enjoy…

Mythic Africa Complete (in 2 parts)

0313BSaS Cover

I’ve just received my print copy of Lands of the Nile, the second African “not-Tribunal” book and it’s an absolutely fantastic piece of work, further demonstrating that “the Mythic World” of ArM5 includes much more than just the conventional construct of Europe and adding to the non-Christian extent of the setting.

To my mind, these two books have always been one project – in fact when Timothy (Ferguson) originally pitched the idea this material was going to be one book. This was how it was developed and brainstormed, until we realised the only way to do the material justice without compromising the amazing potential of this area was to excise Egypt and the Nile into it’s own book and give ourselves more time to get everything right for players and Storyguides alike.