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"Let us strive to make each moment beautiful."
Saint Francis DeSales
painting by Katie Bergenholtz

Renaissance and Early American History : The Colony of Roanoke Roleplay, part I

 This post is one is a series of posts on how to include roleplaying in your history curriculum. Go here to see the introductory post.

The Colony of Roanoke
The background

After a bit of research on my part, I decided that we would begin the story on the journey from England to Virginia in 1857. This is almost in the middle of the story since the first expedition to explore the eastern coast of North America happened in 1584 when Sir Walter Raleigh dispatched Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe with a crew. They successfully established relations with the Secotan and Croatoan Indians, returning to England with two Croatoans, Manteo and Wanchese. It is unclear how voluntary this trip was for the two Croatoans, but they did "describe the politics and geography of the area to Raleigh" and based on this information, Raleigh organized a second expedition, which had five ships and 107 men, led by Sir Richard Grenville in 1585.
This second expedition was not quite as lucky, spurring on many events which may have led to the eventual demise of the colony. First, the lead ship separated from the other four ships in a storm. They had made contingency plans to meet up in Puerto Rico should they separate and so Grenville landed there and built a fort to wait for the other ships. While he waited he engaged in both making friends with and privateering against the Spanish there, which may have contributed to the Spanish wanting to get rid of the colony the English intended on establishing in the New World. He ended up only reconnecting with one ship before deciding to continue the voyage.
Grenville ' s ship struck a shoal when it arrived at the Outer Banks, ruining most of its food supplies that were meant for the colony. The ship was repaired and thrn it meets up with two of the other ships it had lost, along with the people that the fifth ship left off before sailing on to Newfoundland for privateering. They finally arrive in Roanoke,  Virginia, where relations with the local Indians begins to sour. Indians, it is reputed, steal a silver cup from the colony. The colonists ask the nearby Croatoan Indians about it and they finger the Aquascocoge, a tribe in which the Croatoans had also had trouble with, and give the colonists the Aquascocoge's location as well as the offer of support. The colonists go back to their camp and prepare a party to war with the Aquascocoge. When they arrive at the location the Croatoans had described and see Indians,  the colonists begin sacking and burning the village before realizing that the Indians are in fact the Croatoans that had also arrived on location to either watch or lend support to the colonists but found the Aquascocoge not there at all. This accident was eventually worked out with the Croatoans, but naturally led to some uneasiness between the colonists and their most useful allies.
Despite this and the fact that the colonists had little food (since they had lost what they had brought with them and did not have time for a growing season before winter), Grenville left the 107 men on the island.
While left there the relations with the local Indians did not get better. The Indians retaliated against the raid on the village, but the colonists were able to repel it. Grenville had not returned with supplies in eight months, so when Sir Francis Drake, after a successful Caribbean raid, stopped by the colony and offered to take them back to England, they left.
Grenville's relief ship arrived soon after, and fearing that Sir Walter Raleigh would lose his claim to the area, left a detachment of 20-some men.

Here is where our scenario begins. My students are to play the roles of people in the third group to come over. This time the group consists of men, women and children detached to settle a colony in the Chesapeake Bay region. You can read this to them to give them an idea of what this role-play will be about.


Act I: February and March 1587
Setting and Setting Up


You hear of an expedition to the New World to set up a permanent settlement in the Chesapeake Bay area called the "Cite of Raleigh." They are accepting single hard working men and married couples with or without families. Each adult will be given 500 free acres of land. A man named John White is to be governor, and you hear that his daughter, who is pregnant and her husband are going on the expedition, lending credence to the idea that the settlement will be a successful one.
The plan is to follow the route to America usually taken by English mariners of the time, to the Canary Islands, cross the Atlantic to the West Indies and then move on to the North American coast. White is to go first to Roanoke Island, where he will make contact with the small garrison left earlier by Grenville. During the stay you are also to:
  • Return the two Indians,  Towaye and Manteo to their own people.
  • Inquire about what the garrison has found out about the conditions of the country, about the Indian peoples, and about the possibility of mines in the interior.
  • White is to go on north to the Chesapeake Bay to establish a settlement there. Fernandes and Spicer will go back to England to inform Raleigh of the colony's safe arrival, leaving the pinnacle behind for the settlers' use.

Making a character. 
What can they learn?

Before they can begin to role-play, the students need to create a character. For this scenario,  your students could use the name of one of the people who actually came over, because the list of who was on the ship is available. There are even the detailed backgrounds for a handful of the people. Your students could research their backgrounds and pick the abilities, skills, factions and the like from the possibilities in the Renaissance roleplaying game rule book that would most closely match the biographical information. (Don't let them pick John White, Simon Fernandes,  Ananias Dare, Eleanor Dare,  George White, Roger Pratt, Nicholas Johnson, Roger Bailey, Dyonis Harvey,  Margery Harvey, Thomas Ellis, George Howe,  Towaye, or Manteo, since these will be non-player characters, as I will cover in the next post). Or, your student could imagine a person who would be coming over and build a character from the things he believes would make up a person coming over to start a colony in the New World. Either way, your students, if they are like mine, will eagerly research in order to make their character. Can you begin to see the depth of the learning possibilities available with this resource?

Generating Characteristics 
How-To's
You will need 3 six-sided dice. Roll them five times and assign the totals to the characteristics of Strength, Constitution,  Dexterity, Power and Charisma as you and your student feels is appropriate. Have your student give justification for his choices. Strength is the character's physical force, which will determine how much he can lift, how much damage he can do in a fight, what weapons he can wield and the like. 
Constitution measures the character's health.
Dexterity  is your character's agility, coordination and speed of reaction. 
Power is a measure of the character's life force and strength of willpower. This is perhaps the most abstract characteristic.
Charisma quantifies the character's attractiveness and leadership qualities. 

Next, roll 2 6-sided dice twice and assign the totals to Intelligence and Size. 

Intelligence is the character's ability to think through problems, analyze information and memorize instructions. 
Size is pretty self-explanatory. It also affects the amount of damage he can deal and how well he can absorb damage.

Hit Points: Add your character's Size and Constitution points together and this score determines the character's general health and physical wellbeing. This determines how much damage he can take before receiving grave wounds or dying.


Now you can determine the character's skills.


Common Skills:

Athletics: Dexterity + Strength 
Close Combat: Intelligence  + Strength 
Culture  (the Character's own): Intelligence x 2
Dance: Dexterity  + Charisma 
Dodge: Dexterity  x 2
Drive:  Dexterity  + Intelligence 
Evaluate: Intelligence  + Charisma 
First Aid: Dexterity  + Intelligence 
Gun Combat: Intelligence + Dexterity 
Influence: Charisma  x 2
Insight: Intelligence  + Power
Lore (regional): Intelligence  x 2
Perception: Intelligence  + Power
Persistence: Power  x 2
Ranged Combat: Intelligence  + Dexterity 
Resilience: Constitution  x 2
Ride: Dexterity  + Power
Sing: Power  + Charisma 
Sleight: Dexterity  + Charisma 
Stealth: Dexterity  + Intelligence 
Unarmed Combat: Strength + Dexterity 

The characters also get 250 additional skill points they can either add to a common skill score or get an advanced skill. No single skill can benefit from more than 30 free skill points for common skills or no more than 20 for advanced skills.

Advanced Skills

To get an advanced skill, characters must purchase them at a cost of 10 free skill points. The Advanced skill then starts at its basic characteristic-derived score as given below. Once  purchased, the character can take from the free skill points, just like the common skill points.:
Alchemy: Intelligence  + Power 
Art (specify type): Power  + Charisma 
Artillery: Intelligence  + Dexterity 
Beliefs  (factions): Intelligence  x 2
Commerce: Intelligence  + Charisma 
Courtesy: Intelligence  + Charisma 
Craft (specify type): Dexterity  + Intelligence 
Culture (other than your own, specify): Intelligence  x 2
Disguise: Intelligence  + Charisma 
Dual Weapons: Intelligence  + Dexterity 
Engineering: Intelligence  x 2
Gambling: Intelligence  + Power 
Healing: Intelligence  + Power 
Language (native or other): Intelligence  + Charisma 
Lore (specify type): Intelligence  x 2
Mechanisms: Dexterity  + Intelligence 
Oratory: Power  + Charisma 
Play Instrument  (specify type): Dexterity  + Charisma 
Ship handling: Intelligence  + Constitution 
Streetwise: Power + Charisma 
Survival: Power  + Constitution 
Teaching: Intelligence  + Charisma 
Tracking: Intelligence  + Constitution 

For more information on character generation, refer to the Renaissance guide (see below).

In my next post, we will begin our journey on board the Red Lion.

To make this a more complete history curriculum,  I also required my students to read The Kingfisher History Encyclopedia, pgs 244-357 and write a paragraph summary on each of the topics covered.

Sources and Resources:
Renaissance,  Cakebread and Watson
Colonial Gothic: Roanoke Island, Jennifer Brozek
A Kingdom Strange, The brief and Tragic History of The Lost Colony of Roanoke,  James Horn
The Lost Colony of Roanoke,  Jean Fritz 
Roanoke : Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony,  Lee Miller
The Roanoke Voyages, 1584-1590, (2 volumes), David Beers Quinn (editor)



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