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: The Colony of Roanoke, part II

(This post is part of a series of posts on Role-playing History. For the Introduction, click here. For Act I: Character Creation,  click here.)

Equipping the Character

Now that your student has created a character, he can give him equipment. Students will first have to determine from what social class the character comes from. The student can choose what best fits his chapter from the five basic possibilities.:

Peasant: Roll 1 6-sided die x 10 shillings.
Towns man: Roll 2 6-sided dice x 10 shillings.
Middle Class: Roll 4 6-sided dice x 10 shillings.
Gentry: Roll 4 6-sided dice x 20 shillings.
Nobility: Roll 6 6-sided x 30 shillings.

In addition, all characters begin with a set of clothing suitable for the character's social class. They also have several small items of personal value such as a crucifix or a family Bible. They have one weapon suited to the character's skills and the minimum tools of the character's trade. The Gentry and Nobility classes, in addition, get an additional weapon that has been handed down to the family, a horse and a spare set of fine clothing suitable for an upper class banquet or ball. Refer to the Renaissance Guide for a list of additional equipment the character can buy.

Interweaving the possibilities with the facts.
So, now that your student has researched, designed and equipped his character, it is time to begin the role-playing.  This will take a bit of research on the part of the teacher/gamemaster. The teacher/gamemaster takes the facts of the historical story and this is the outline for the game/story. Here is the first part of the historical fact outline I made for The Colony of Roanoke.

The Trip Over

April - July 1587

Interweaving the possibilities with the facts.

Act II : The Voyage Over
Background: The fleet of ships in this part of the scenario consists of three ships, The Red Lion, and two ships that are unnamed, one a flyboat and the other a pinnacle. The player characters and about fifty other passengers sail on the masthead of the fleet, the Red Lion with White and Fernandes. The flyboat commanded by Edward Spicer sails with about fifty passengers as well as most of the colony's cargo. The pinnacle under the command of Edward Stafford, which had been with Lane's colony, carry about 20 settlers.

During the game, you will role-play all of the characters in the story that are not your student/players. These are called Non-player Characters or NPC's, for short. Obviously,  you can't actually role-play unique personalities for over a hundred people, so you will need to prepare a group of personalities that will give the players characters to interact with that is large enough to give the feeling of a large group and yet small enough for you to be able to manage. Here is an example,  but feel free to modify this list to best meet your and your students' needs and tastes. It is just to give you an idea. Please understand that although I used actual names from the passenger manifest, that the descriptions are entirely fictional. Partly they are fictional because there is little information to be found about the people involved and partly it is because I  didn't want to spend an inordinate amount of time researching information that has little bearing on the actual story. The non-player characters then are actually characterizations of typical people that could have been involved.

"As the Games Master, you'll be playing lots of different characters  (whether they be major villains,  minor crooks, soldiers,  strangers...rural families, radical agitators, or whatever ) while the other players only have one character to play..." 
Renaissance Roleplaying Game Book

John White: Artist and governor of the colony. Referred to as the Gentlemen Artist, he wants very much to have good relations with all. His only fault may be that he is sometimes to reticent for a leader.

Simon Fernandes: A Portuguese navigator and sailor is John White's polar opposite. He is brash, impulsive and selfish. No one gets along with him.

Ananias Dare: Tiles and bricklayer. Ananias is a strong, but quiet man. He is respected among the men and is often the one the men turn to if they want to  address an issue of the colony because he can easily talk to his father-in-law, John White.

Eleanor Dare (and Virginia Dare): daughter of John White,  wife of Ananias, and mother to Virginia Dare, the first child born in the colonies to British parents. Everyone looks to her for advise and hope, especially when John leaves the colony. Eleanor is a bright, upstanding woman who cares for the colonists and keeps their needs in mind. Her biggest secret and fear, the one she has admitted only to her husband Ananias,  is that her father won't return and the colonists will turn on their family. She is positive to the player character.

George White: Master builder by trade, he is a respected man. Colonists know they can get a straight answer from him, albeit a bit rough. He is a hard worker and likes to drink, so he skirts the line between truthful and troublemaker.  He is fiercely loyal to John White and to the colony ' s best interest. He tends to want to hang out with the other men and drink after a hard days work. If the colony is in danger, he is the first to their defense.

Roger Pratt: A middle aged man of good reputation and nature. He volunteered to to lead the colonists spiritually. He takes his duties seriously and will always stop for a word to one and all. He also doubles as the colonists ' teacher.

Nicholas Johnson: The resident barber and dentist, he is always busy visiting every home on a weekly basis,  sometimes just for a chat, and sometimes to perform a service. He always spreads news as it comes to him. He knows all of the colonists,  their habits, who is having trouble,  who is doing well, and anything else of interest. Although he is nosy and annoying,  he is tolerated and even encouraged by the player characters because he is a reliable source of information that is needed from time to time. The colonists, however,  know that if they want to keep something quiet, they don't tell him. On the other hand,  if they want to spread something around. ..

Roger Bailey: A scientist,  lawyer and scribe, he is a respected leader. He is polite and courteous and expects the colonists to be civilized no matter what disagreements take place. He believes it is this courtesy and manners that keeps the colony running in the face of trials.

Dyonis Harvey, Ship builder and master carpenter. Quiet, reserved, but is willing to do whatever is asked of him.

Margery Harvey: Wife of Dyonis, Eleanor 's friend. The two women have banded together for the common good.

Thomas Ellis: Ten years old. He views the colonists experience as one giant, sometimes unpleasant adventure. He keeps track of the other children and fills the need for entertainment.  This frequently gets him in trouble as pranks happen, things go missing. He also spends his time with studies and chores.

George Howe: He is as close to a lawman as the colony has. Educated and talented,  he is officially in charge of the buttery and is the brew master.

Towaye:  While relations at times are tense between the colonists and the Croatian tribe, he still interacts with the colonists.  It is through his efforts that the tribe and colony are not at open war, but at times tensions do run high.

Manteo: Although also Croatoan,  he is very interested in the English and learning the English language and customs. He is the point of contact for the tribe.

First Leg: Plymouth to Canary Islands
The following are things you describe to your players/students. Be as descriptive as you can they can visualize it in their mind's eye.

  • Flyboat separates from the Red Lion and pinnace during a night of bad weather. (Describe the growing storm and the fact that you are all having trouble keeping the ships together on the rolling sea until, at last you can no longer see the Flyboat.)
  • The next day, the storm has past and the sun comes up. You begin again on your way. Describe what it is like to sail on the boats, with the captain shouting orders.
  • Stop briefly at Canary Islands to refresh water casks. Describe the island, and how when you first get off the boat it is hard to walk on the land, which is still and not rolling. Describe filling the water casks from the streams.

Second  Leg: Canary Islands to West Indies
This is the lone stretch, 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean. For each day of travel, the gamemaster /teacher needs to roll for each of these circumstances, but can modify the circumstances so as to keep the players/students interested, but not overwhelmed.

  • 15% chance of foul weather
  • 15% chance of seasickness
  • 20% chance of fair winds
  • 15% chance of attack from Spanish warships and Pirates
  • 10% chance of sickness from disease
  • 15% chance of sickness from food spoilage
  • 20% chance of extreme heat

Aside from these conditions,  you will also fill their days with interactions. You may role-play the various people,  giving them each unique characteristics,  or you can just say something like, "John White talks about the wildlife such as deer, squirrels and wild fowl and the endless green fields and woods there." You always end your descriptions with the invitation for their characters to participate as well, but they don't have to react with a specific action at each turn.

During this portion,  there is plenty of time to exchange stories and talk about hopes for the future. John White describes his experiences in the West Indies and Roanoke.  Manteo describes his people and their customs and ways of life as well as those of the other Indians around Roanoke and the Chesapeake Bay. They both try to describe what it is like as compared to England including the rivers, forests, and wildlife.

You can also describe the weary routine of being on a ship, the crowded conditions and no privacy. Let your imagination go as you role-play all the non ' player characters.

Meals follow the same dreary routine : Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday: salt beef or pork; with bacon and peas, once a week; Wednesday, Friday and Saturday: dried cod, cheese and biscuits; beer and water all days.

After 17 days on board, roll each day for:
  • 30% chance of seeing pieces of debris
  • 30% chance of seeing increasing numbers of birds
  • 30% chance of seeing land

     ...until you reach land one week later.

Once you land in the West Indies in your game,  you will guide your player/students to their next phase of experiences.  Tell them, "After being so long without fresh food, you are eager for fresh fruit. You see small green fruit that looks like small green apples." They can decide whether they eat them or whether they wait to see what happens when others eat them. If eaten, it burns their mouths and swells their tongues so that they cannot speak for a 4-sided die roll days.

Other things you will need to roll for every day:
  • 20% chance of drinking contaminated water from a stagnant pond
  • 20% chance of your face to burn and swell from washing in contaminated water so much so you cannot see for 3-6 days (roll a four sided die and add 2 to see how many days)
  • 70% chance of Capture five sea-turtles, which provides fresh meat for everyone who can eat.

You begin to build temporary shelters.

You walk have a chance to go with a search party to Muskitoes bay, where Ralph Lane built fortified settlement in 1585. Nothing is found but mosquitoes very bad and you return with itchy bites all over.

You are constantly trying to find fresh water, but in the heat, you end up drinking more beer than you can find water.

Darby Glavin and Dennis Carroll,  two Irish Catholics, have deserted.  White is afraid that they are headed to Spanish authorities to tell of plans to establish colony on Chesapeake Bay as well as where the Roanoke settlement is located. Chance of Spanish attacks increase to 25% here on out, as well as an increased distrust of any Catholics in the party, Catholic factions -10% on Charisma rolls.


Since this is the first mention of any type of combat. I think that I should take a moment and describe how combat is done in terms of game mechanics. 
Combat is divided into rounds, which are 5 seconds of time each, giving 12 rounds to each minute.  During a round, a character can perform one Combat action, one Reaction action and one Movement action. The order of what character goes first is usually determined by who has the highest dexterity, on down to who has the lowest.


An attack is made by rolling a set of percentile dice (2 10 - sided dice, one is the ones numeral and the other is the 10's place numeral) and comparing it to the character's skill in the weapon he is using. If the character rolls equal to or lower than his weapon skill, he has hit the target. If the character  rolls greater than his weapon skill, he has missed his target. This is an example of the rare concept of lower is better.


The target can either attempt to dodge or parry the attack. The defender rolls against his Dodge score. A parry rolls against his Close Combat score.


If the attack is successful,  damage is rolled, depending on the weapon used. The attacker also has a damage modifier, which is also added, to find the total damage.
If the defender is armored,  some of the damage will be absorbed by it, reducing the damage equal to the armor points of the defender's armor. Very light armor is just one or two items of protection such as a metal skullcap and a soft leather jacket, and gives the character 1 point for close combat, but none for guns. Light armor is little more than a helmet and soft leather jerkin and trousers.  This provides 2 armor points and 1 against guns. Medium armor provides 3/1 armor points. Heavy armor for the extremely well armored infantry provides 4/2 armor points, and full heavy armor provides 5/2 armor points. Refer to the Renaissance Guide for more detailed description of the armor. 
Any remaining damage is applied to the defender's hit points.


A character can change his stance, retreat, move (up to 15 meters), sprint (30 meters, if he forsakes his attack, although he can also dodge as a defensive action)

This covers the basics of combat but the Renaissance guide has more details on different types of possible actions.

Third Leg: West Indies to North Carolina Coast

Fernandes promises to take in salt in Puerto Rico,  but then exclaims that the area is too shallow and commands the crew to leave without stopping for salt.

White and Fernandes begin arguing. White blames him for losing contact with flyboat in Bay of Portugal. He yells at Fernandes, "You intentionally abandoned Spicer!"

White looks for a place to purchase and collect orange plants, pineapples and plantains for cultivation, but Fernandes refuses to cooperate and sails on.

July 21: Off coast of North Carolina, White decides to make contact with garrison left by Grenville and sets off in pinnace accompanied by 40 men. The player characters don't go with this party but hear someone from The Red Lion yell to the sailors not to bring back any of the men. The player characters are left to wonder what is going on or what will happen. Try to drum up as much suspense as you can. White sails back to the boat, leaving the men at the garrison. Encourage your students to consider the situation. Was that the plan all along? Do you trust, White? Fernandes? Neither man? White reports that there are no men at the garrison. Only one set of bleached bones. Why did he leave his men there, then?

July 22: The next day, all march to the north end of the island to Lane's fort. There you find the earthworks and palisade thrown down but the houses within and around still standing, uninhabited and "overgrown with Melons (gourds, squash ) of many sorts and Deer within them, feeding." White decides to winter here before moving on to the Chesapeake Bay in the spring.

Over the next few days settlers and crew unload their gear and supplies from ship using the pinnace. They begin repairing the houses and break ground for "new Cottages" for families.

The flyboat arrives with settlers safe and sound, much to everyone's joy.

For Sources and Resources, see part I.

Our story continues with my next post that outlines more adventures on the island of Roanoke...

To make this a more complete history curriculum, I also required them to read Kingfisher History Encyclopedia, pgs 258-269 and write a paragraph summarizing each of the topics covered. 

1 comment:

  1. I've been fascinated by Roanoke since I was a kid and there was an article about them in my National Geographic Junior.


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