Home School Life Journal From Preschool to High School

Home School Life Journal ........... Ceramics by Katie Bergenholtz
"Let us strive to make each moment beautiful."
Saint Francis DeSales

Renaissance: Role-playing History

My students all have enjoyed hands-on homeschooling, even in Middle School. As they get older, they tend to not want to make crafts, so what can you do to make your homeschool activities both more hands-on and yet age appropriate for the older students? We have been doing more and more role-playing games which are great for older students, multi age family groups or co-op groups. Any student from elementary to adult can play and learn. This year we have been role-playing historical events using the role-playing game, Renaissance.

What is a role-playing game?

Role-playing games give a structure to pretend play as players take on the roles of characters in a story and make decisions that determine the course of the story. One person takes on the job of the game master who helps the players by giving them the basic structure for the story and guides them through the consequences of their decisions. Dice are rolled to determine certain things, such as whether a character's aim is true with a rifle, or whether his resistance to disease is good or fair. These scenarios can last for a single game of a couple of hours or can be long plots that carry over from one playing session to another, for weeks at a time, much like a television show. The rulebook of the game, such as Renaissance,  has the directions for how to create a character, including a list of professions, factions (political and religious affiliations), skills to choose from and Era - specific equipment for the characters to buy. The rulebook also guides the game master and players through a simple system to determine combat outcomes as well as the outcomes of various circumstances such as weather, fatigue, thirst or falling, all based on percentages and dice rolls.

What about witchcraft and other such objectionable things in the game?

Role-playing games began with a fantasy setting and are often thought of as being steeped in concepts with objectionable themes such as witchcraft. Role-playing games are much like a smorgasbord, however, and it is the job of the game master to pick and choose what is appropriate based on his own and his players sensibilities and goals for the game. In the Renaissance rulebook, it explains rules of play that involves no magic, some mythological creatures or one that is all fantasy. For our purposes, since our game is purely an historic one, we have chosen a setting in which only real animals exist and there is no magic or alchemy. Even within these guidelines,  there is some choice. You can choose a setting involving an actual historical place and time, such as Renaissance Venice or you can choose a realistic "what if" set-up such as "an Elizabethan England conquered by the Spanish Armada" or "the colonization of Virginia in a world where the indigenous population of the Americas weren't decimated by European diseases. "

Is the time spent on it worth the educational value you get out of it?

There is little that is more engaging to students than a game. A game, by its nature, is fun. Your student, then, is likely to stick with a game a lot longer than learning the same information through reading or researching. This type of game also excites the imagination so that they begin to be able to picture the people, places and things of a particular period. Because they are also making decisions based on things that really happened to the people, the student begins to empathize with historical figures and make connections with the people of the past.  These things are not always possible by reading about historical figures and the dilemmas they faced.

So, what is it like to play?

For our first game, I chose, as the teacher and gamemaster, the historical story of the Lost Colony of Roanoke, Virginia. I chose this because it was an actual historic event in which I could find enough documented material to add to my game, but also had enough of the unknown that my student -players could collaboratively write their own story without the problem of already knowing the plot.  I hope you will come back and join us as I will be writing a series of posts outlining how I used the Renaissance game, how we entertained history and story without sacrificing either and what we learned by playing the game.


  1. I'd love to play role-playing games with my son. I'm not sure how far we'd get with just the 2 of us but I'm sure we can figure something out! My daughter always seems to be too busy for games these days. I shall check out your resources...

    1. I can give you some ideas and pointers for one-on-one role-playing in my upcoming posts. We have done that before from time to time.

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  2. Yes, yes I will be coming back on a regular basis to read about this. It sounds super duper cool.

  3. Super-duper!! I love that word! I couldn't have put it better myself. I shall enjoy learning more :)


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