My name is Ben Parkinson and I have been interested in roleplaying for most of my life. For the last five years I have been running a project in Uganda, which trains indigenous youth in Uganda to become social entrepreneurs, sometimes known as change makers. Our project is known as the Butterfly Project because it relies on the concept that nurturing youth can transform them into Butterflies, capable of changing the community in which they live and we are very proud of the young people we have been working with, most of which come from slum areas in Kampala and some from remote village areas.
I originally thought of the value of roleplaying when I was in Nigeria. Children there were using their own creativity to make games from local materials and I felt strongly that the minimal materials needed for roleplaying—just some dice and maybe a pen and paper—could be made available in village areas very easily. Similarly, children in slums have very little inspiring to do and I felt that these children I was beginning to get to know loved the creativity of monsters and were going to benefit from seeing themselves as heroes, when poverty eats away at confidence to be able to effect change.
I developed a roleplaying group in Uganda in 2010 with some youth and we started with Keep on the Shadowfell and moved through The Trollhaunt Warrens by 2013, after an enforced break in 2012. I am a fan of 4th Edition and the brightest kids enjoyed the complexity of the battles, though I felt that the game was not achieving my purpose of trying to stimulate creativity, teamwork and problem-solving, as the game was orientated more towards combat. Also, the issue became worse not better, as the players became more experienced, as everything became even more complicated in the same way and played towards the combat tactics.
I had run Crown of the Kobold King online a few years ago and I thought also starting at Level 2 might work better for the group, who, other than Joseph and Brian, had never run a roleplaying game before—more hit points meant they could make more mistakes! The game was a real hit and the kids were every session excited and enthusiastic to be there. The Kobold King wiped out the whole group except Lem and Merisiel and so they had to sell most of their treasure to pay for the resurrection bills. Then I noticed how involved they were with their characters and that they discussed their adventures with their friends in between sessions and so momentum was building.
The group wanted a new adventure, so I looked through the other adventures I owned which seemed to be suitable for a new group. We switched to W3 Flight of the Red Raven and I asked Joseph whether he would take over being GM. He agreed and ran more or less the whole adventure on his own, as he is a very bright kid and will be a future star of Uganda, given the chance. Readers should be aware that English is the third language for these children, so reading is much more of a chore for them. Most of the children living around survive on one meal a day—usually the same thing—and so it is not always obvious which sorts of activities they might enjoy. With Joseph as GM, I had wondered that maybe the group would lose interest, but actually I think interest has grown since Joseph took over—all credit to him—AND he has prompted others to believe that they can GM too.
Their enthusiasm inspired me to think more broadly and so I wondered whether we could work with some of our potential changemakers and social entrepreneurs, seeing whether we could run a more challenging thoughtful group, where they were making more human decisions, which might help them in their own development as leaders. I owned a pdf of Kingmaker and this seemed to be the ideal vehicle for this idea. So, I recruited a young leaders group, including Joseph (The GM), Brian, Patrick, Barbara, Kenneth and Oswaldo and, to further challenge them, we used some of the advanced character classes from Master of the Fallen Fortress. Joseph (14) chose the complex Summoner; Brian (13), a great roleplayer, computer trainer and problem-solver, chose Imrijka the Inquisitor; Patrick (13) who wants to be an engineer, the Alchemist; Barbara (14) who has a project empowering girls against child abuse, wanted Lini the Druid; Kenneth, who is the editor of the Acholi Quarter Youth News, chose Alhazra the Oracle; and Oswaldo, who is a Ugandan taekwondo champion, Sajjan the monk.
I didn't want the group to just focus on fighting, as had been happening previously, so we started straightaway explaining that they were going to be kings and that they had to act like leaders and that some problems would be difficult to solve and perhaps not have immediately obvious solutions. They were challenged to act as a team when preparing for the bandits right at the start and then I gave responsibilities for the mapmaking, the treasure record-keeping, the rations and timeframe and, later, the city statistics.
They were stunned at the Stag Lord's fight that one of the "bandits" seemed to be fighting on their side and this prompted them to think differently about their adversaries. They are looking for allies now, rather than adversaries, when they adventure, so that they can improve the quality of their city. Damiel was slain by a wandering shambling mound and the party rallied around to see what could be sold to bring him back. They are now looking for people who might have sighted trolls, as their city unrest plummets. However, the most interesting discussions came from when a visitor was undermining them in the city. Should we kill him? Should we discredit him? Should we banish him?
Last week, Imrijka, using his alignment detection ability, noticed a lot of evil women entering the city, so we shall see where this leads and whether they see this as a priority, or further exploration...
Kingmaker has been a backdrop, though, to an explosion in interest in roleplaying. We now have six GMs and perhaps 30 young people starting to participate in roleplaying here, so we are trying to figure out how to use what resources we have to develop an RPG timetable. Brian is also running a group entirely of girls and he has taken them through "The Deadly Mine" and I hope he will start them on Pathfinder Society Organised Play. We use figures from Descent 2, a homemade map, and various dice gathered from different places, and we use the computer or print out the pdfs when running the adventures.
The next project will be to take our GMs out into remote Northern Uganda (many are native Acholi speakers) and test the reaction from local children to the dice and adventure. Our objective will be to assess the sessions as a new and fun mechanism to assess which children might be best at making decisions, solving problems and acting for the good of all and then bring them onto our changemaker programme and they will then be taught how to solve problems in their communities.
Lastly, culture is very important in Uganda. Recent legislative changes here have demonstrated some alternative thinking and we are not about to use roleplaying to suggest or impose actions outside of the culture. We plan to continue to vet the adventures ahead of them being run too, to ensure that they are suitable for the group we are working with. The game is simply a creative stimulus, which teaches children what they are good at and enhances their life skills. By teaching young GMs how to GM, we hope we are building their confidence, helping their reading and other academic studies, helping them to be leaders and also, because a GM's role is not to kill the party, to be considerate in making the adventure fun for the players, not just for the GM! GMs will even learn problem-solving from their players, who also learn from each other and, since poverty is not negatively influencing their make believe life, finding solutions to challenges can flourish.
The Butterfly Project is funded by Chrysalis Youth Empowerment Network (CYEN), a charitable organisation based in the UK. The web-site is http://www.cyen.org.uk and the youth blog is at http://chrysalisuganda.wordpress.com. You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or via the web-site. CYEN supports Uganda-based non-profit, Chrysalis, who run activities at their Chrysalis Centre in Kireka, Kampala. They run sports, arts and music, as well as a range of more academic activities, such as roleplaying. Chrysalis are in the process of building a rural-based centre in Northern Uganda, to deliver empowering activities in Gulu district, Uganda.
Patrick is the roleplaying monitor, who is responsible for looking after all of the materials we have. He plays Damiel, the Level 4 alchemist, who recently fell to a shambling mound. Patrick is a keen engineer.
Oswaldo (right) is a Ugandan age group taekwondo champion, so he decided to play the monk in the group. Sajjan is trying out different moves and I am discussing him maybe making a vow with his character.
Joseph is a brilliant student, who picks new things up like lightning and is very hard to beat at any board or card game. Here he is with the Kingmaker map, which shows how far the group has explored.
Brian is 13 and a computer trainer at the Chrysalis Centre. He's a problem-solver and excellent roleplayer and actor. Brian is also now a GM and has recruited several girls into a girls-only group.