The witch in the castle

In the café a young man is inclined on the sofa, typing quickly onto his laptop. Ivan, my next interviewee, is the oldest son of Mara who is still here, tidying up in the kitchen. “Is this his normal pose then?” I ask Mara cheekily.
“24/7,” she says, “24/7.”

For the Neighbourhood Challenge 18-year-old Ivan expanded his passion for role-playing games to start a group at The Edge which has attracted a disparate group of teenager boys and young men including Sammy.

“I started role-playing games about ten years ago,” says Ivan, now talking into my tape recorder. “I’d normally play just with my friends but when I saw there might be some money available it was a good opportunity to get some equipment for The Edge and set something up more formally here.”

I’m still not entirely sure what this game is all about. “So what equipment do you need?”

“Rule books basically.” Ivan shows me three thick books with fantastical illustrations of wide-mouthed monsters battling with sabre-wielding heros.

“So these are your bibles?”

“You could say that. We’ve been able to buy these three for The Edge. This one is essential,” he says, holding up the thickest of the three, “this one is useful, and this one is the icing on the cake.

“And you need lots of paper and pens… and dice, lots of dice.”

“Lots of dice? How many are we talking about?”

“The standard set has a minimum of seven dice: there’s a four-sided; a six-sided; an eight-sided; two 10-sided; a 12-sided and two 20-sided.”

For the Challenge Ivan set up a regular Saturday afternoon role-playing session and, although he is modest with me about his achievements I know his group has brought new friends together and the gaming has taught them negotiation and problem-solving skills that any young person would find useful. His initiative has also inspired fledgling players to set up their own games and, as we are talking, Sam, still in his school uniform, gathers the equipment together for the Monday after-school session. This delegation is crucial to the continuing success of The Edge’s role-playing group as Ivan will be leaving for Cambridge University in the autumn to begin a degree in medicine.

The role-playing project didn’t win one of the six Challenge prizes but, in a way, that doesn’t matter. The 50p per session charge is more than sufficient to replace any lost dice and now with more sessions being run by other people, Ivan is effectively making himself redundant which was his plan.

There is more activity in the kitchen. Laura’s partner Ntembe has arrived and is bringing in plastic containers of food for an evening buffet. Angela has taken up my offer of giving a talk about my work and over 20 people are coming along for 6.30 to share curry and then listen to this grockle from Manchester. Outside Laura is spray mounting photographs from her project to display around the café, hopefully enthused by our conversation. Elsewhere I hear snippets about party frocks and preparations for the award ceremony on Wednesday.

On a large table at the back of the café Ivan, Sam and a younger boy – Dan – are beginning their game. With a page of hieroglyphics in front of him, Dan tells me this is only his third week and he still needs advice from some of the more experienced players.

Seeing that I am finding it difficult to follow, Ivan attempts to explain. “There’s a witch in a room in a castle and we are all trying different ways of killing her. I’ve waved my fingers and cast a bad luck spell on her,” he says.

“And I’ve attempted to kill her twice with a longbow and once with a hammer,” says tonight’s ‘ringmaster’ Sam, his blazer and tie now stripped off.

Although I am none the wiser, I’d put my money on Sam.

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