Actual Play – Escorting General Konstantin (7/26/2013)

Night_WitchesNight GMs: Sean Nittner, Karen Twelves
Day GMs: Eric Fattig, Eric Zimmerman
Players: All of the above
System: Night Witches

Here is the second part of our Night Withes play-test, which notably has a lot of people excited. We played for a time and then talked afterwards… a lot!

Now that I was plating my character as a PC, I thought a bit more about her bonds and decided I wanted to swap her relationship between the pilots. She thought Soyna was the hot shot, and had a crush on Liza. Everyone was fine with that, and it gave me some direction for the…

Morning in the 588

The morning opened with the whistling sound of artillery shells flying over head. Only infrequently ending with a deafening thud indicating their were nearby.

Natasha desperate for parts to fix up #47, was sifting through the salvaged munitions and realized that while they would aid the war effort, what she really needed was parts. Parts she could salvage off the convoy the bombed last night. If she was fast enough…and if she had some help!

Liza was supposed to be cleaning the planes (as her punishment for last night) but instead had fallen asleep in a cockpit.  When Natasha found her, woke her up, and asked if she would sneak off the base in a jeep to go get parts with Natasha, she blearily asked “Are you drunk?” “Your wing was damaged last night and I need more than wood and canvas to fix it. I need some help, will you go with me?” Natasha rolled Get Your Way but she already had 2-stress from the previous session, and was certainly not relieving it yet, so it wasn’t promising [Result: 4. They left, but their absence was very much noticed]. [Liza made a sacrifice for Natasha and gave her a bond]

Sasha was looking for her mechanic (we wondered how many mechanics there would be, but decided it was fine to be looking for Natasha) when Masha found her in the hanger and told her that General Konstantin Andreyevich Vershinin wanted to see the front lines. He was to be carried in one of the U-2, which would have to be modified to seat him, to the front by her best pilot. She tried to argue that it was unsafe, but relented when her loyalty was called into question [and took 1-stress as we decided this was being called out by the NKVD].

In the trenches

Liza and Natasha drove out it a battered old jeep, more twine and bailing wire than metal. On the ride Natasha asked about the mission last night and then after the small talk was over, kept talking. She confessed it was strange to have a navigator fly out ever night, who had the same name as her sister (Sonya), and that she missed her family very much. She asked who Liza wrote to, and when she heard it was Liza’s grandfather, asked how old he was, and if Liza thought she would see him again. [Moment of intimacy, stress removed. Although we wondered if this also counted as acting like a woman and therefore would give stress. We decided that we should only engage one of the two (removing or gaining) systems. Also, we gave each other bonds as per our intimacy moves].

When they arrived, the remains of the convoy was still there, but so was a peasant family, who scavenging through the remains themselves. A middle aged woman, clearly a mother claimed they had gotten their first, and the parts belonged to them. Natasha protested, these parts were needed for the war, to protect our home from the Hitlerites. This close to the border though, alliances were shaky. Natasha rolled to Get Your Way [Result 7] They would give her the parts, for the war, and even offer to help, but Natasha and Liza would also have to stay and eat dinner with them as well. Natasha looked at Liza crestfallen, she knew they couldn’t possibly stay till dinner, they needed to get back to the base and fix the planes, but the very attractive, very young peasant man insisted.

Reporters at the Gate

As Sasha realized both Natasha and Liza were gone (unaccountably so), and that she’d have to do the work to convert the as U-2 herself, she started cutting away at the canvas to make a space for the general. [We decided that since she wasn’t the mechanic, getting the job done would be Enduring Hardship. Result: 4]. She did a great job taking the U-2 apart, it was putting it back together that was going to be hard.

When she looked up from her work, sweaty and exhausted, Sasha realized she was surrounded by reporters. They all wanted stories to take back to the people. The first one asked “Is it true you gave moral support to the 218 last night?” “What do you mean, moral support?” “The Major for the 218 said they successfully bombed a German convoy and the ladies of the 588 cheered them on.” This was an awesome moment for Sasha. The 218 had taken credit for her victory and she had the choice of letting it stand, or telling the truth and contradicting a higher ranking officer. Hell yeah. “The 218 had nothing to do with it! That was our mission. We bombed the convoy, and we too their munitions!” The reporters eyes lit up like Christmas had come early.

Another was quick to jump in. “The women at home want to know what makeup you use.” Again, Sasha flew off the handle “Makeup? We don’t have time for makeup. All we have time to do is pin our hair back so it doesn’t get in our pretty little faces!” Though she meant the last part ironically, the reporter was quick to jot down “The 588 and their pretty little faces.”

Salvage with a price

Given access the the parts, Natasha and Liza went Ratfucking among them [Result 7. Shit parts and a dept to a terrible person]. The parts were damaged from the bombing, and would make substandard replacements. More importantly though, the Lebidev family had helped Natasha, and they expected that aid to be repaid. We cut that scene (though I think we could have played it out to get more specific details) but I would love to see the Lebidevs show back up in a future session.

When Natasha returned with Liza they found Sasha waist deep in the bowls of a U-2. As could be imagined, lots of screaming happened. Natasha had left the base without permission. Sasha had torn apart a plane. They were both supposed to be preparing for a ridiculous mission. The real kicker was that there actually were parts on the base, conveniently labeled as peaches [This was a hiccup on our part. We didn’t have Sasha roll her Operations move until a little ways into the game, when Natasha had already left. We decided to roll it in the narrative that there were parts available, Natasha just didn’t know about it]. [Both were “acting like men by yelling at each other, so Sasha cleared her stress].

Sasha, having the parts at hand gave Natasha (no with no valid reason for her insubordination) the kind of yelling that would strip paint of a Yak-1 fighter! Natasha rolled to Endure Harship [Result 4] and out of cruelty Sasha forces Natasha to work on the 47 by scrapping the 22, a plane that was out of commission but had sentimental value to Natasha, and was one she was sure she could get back into service given enough time and materials.

Head hanging low, Natasha scrapped #22 down to her struts and used the parts to retrofit a U-2 “Limousine”. There, I fixed It [1 of the supply, provided by Sasha spent. Result 4. “On a miss you are sending a broken plane into combat”] Well, it looked like it would work. Who was to know that the fuel line was loose.

She also had to repair the 47 so Liza could fly that night. There, I fixed It [1 of the supply, provided by Ratfucking spent. Result 8]. She was better than ever!

Daylight Mission in the 588

In the wet command tent, Sasha briefed her pilots. “Well be flying General Konstantin to the front, and delivering him to command there.” “We’ll be shot down before we make it half way there” Dasha doubted. She didn’t like the plan. A lot of the pilots and navigators didn’t like the plan. Sasha walked over and slapped her in the face. “This is the mission, and you are going to carry it out!” She rolled to Get Your Way [Result 10]. Dasha stiffened and walked out of the tent to go prepare her plane. [Liza and Sonya took 1-stress for the mission being announced].

Sasha laid out the plan, this night’s Operations [Result 10. Liza’s stress removed, and hold 1 going forward]. It was a bullshit mission but they knew Sasha knew it too and there was camaraderie in dealing with bullshit together.

On the field strip, in the rain was General Konstantin and Masha of the NKVD. Masha was full of bluster. He complained about the U-2, swore that it was a piece of junk and would never make it there and back.  Sonya had been assigned to fly the general with Tanya, and of course that wasn’t good enough for Masha either. He started tearing into her as well. Liza stood up for her [Making a small sacrifice, giving Sonya a bond] and said that Sonya was a great navigator and would get him there on time. Masha turned his attention to Liza and began making demands of her “The General better land without so much as a scuff on his cap, or I’ll have your wings!” Lisa had to Endure Hardship [Roll 2]. She acted like a woman and followed orders regardless of merit [Gain 1 stress].

In the Air

Sonya and Tanya were flying with General Konstantin. Liza and Dasha were flying in formation with them in #47. The general, a quiet man in his late 40s shared pleasantries with Sonya as they flew. He offered her a cigarette and they started talking. We were all angling for Sonya’s story (a Harrowing Romance) so we thought an interesting and much older man would be worth investigating. As they talked Sonya tried to Access him [Result 2. Move turned back on her. Question asked “What do you wish I’d do?”]. Sonya instead revealed that she was just looking for a fight, looking for an opportunity to be singled out as a woman, so she could give him what for.

Liza meanwhile was showing off. She took her U-2 and showed off what it could do. [She rolled War Rating. Taking a +1 from the Operations (mission to not only deliver the general but also show him what the women of the 588 could do) and from There, I Fixed It (Natasha’s work on the engine). Result 12]. Liza flew a loopty loop. She was elated. Dasha was nauseous.  General Konstantin was impressed.

As they go closer to the front however, something started going wrong on the general’s plane (remember that sending a broken plain into combat result from earlier). First a prop started sputtering, then black smoke started pouring out of the engine. As they started loosing altitude Sonya spit into the air and said “I can take care of this”. She crawled out onto the wing to Access what was wrong [Result 7. Question: What’s my best way out of this?] It was a leaking fuel line, spraying oil onto the engine. She looked back at the general defiantly and climbed to the front to fix the line [Push Your Luck. Result 10]. With a little know how and a lot of moxie she fixed it!

As she climbed back into the cockpit the general comment that she did and excellent job… for a woman [triggered by previous failed Access roll]. Without thinking twice, Sonya rammed the stick down and sent the plane into a nose dive. She turned to the general and said Fuck this Shit [Result 10. The patriarch weakens a little]. Sonya yelled at him until the general relented. And of course pulled out of the dive just in time!

Landing on the Front

Liza didn’t need to land, she and the rest of the 588 just flew in formation over the base, but Sonya had to put down the “Limo” on a bit of open space in front of the base (no airfield here). She went Wheels Down [Result 6] and had a bumpy as fuck landing… one witnessed by all the senior officers at the base, all of which who were quick to jump down her throat with threats and insults, but were silenced by the general, which just pissed Sonya off even more. As the 588 flew out, the general lit another cigarette and nodded to the Sonya with admiration.


Liza reported that the mission was performed according to plan. Dasha, fuming, stormed out of the tent. Sonya backed her up. When Sasha asked her why she smelled like cigarettes and oil she replied “May I be dismissed?”

Thoughts on the game

Most of these are in the playtest question answers below.

Should Sonya have had a -1 to Fuck this Shit because of us turning the Access move against her, or should she have a -1 if she did anything else? More an Apoc World question than a Night Witches question really.

The argument between Natasha and Sasha when she returned with parts seemed like it mechanically could have been handled a few different ways.

  1. As we did it. Sasha punishes Natasha for leaving without permission. Natasha rolls Endure Hardship.
  2. Both yell and don’t relent. Sasha rolls Get Your Way to put Natasha back in her place.
  3. Both yell and don’t relent. Natasha rolls Get Your Way to buck command and show what she did was necessary.
  4. Natasha rolls Push Your Luck to brush off Sasha and dive into her work.
  5. Both yell at each other. Nothing happens mechanically. Nothing changes in the fiction.

Any thoughts about the best way to handle this? I think it represent a reasonably common situation (both have a point to prove, both want something, status is in question). I’d add an option #6 for really passionate fights (this one wasn’t one), which is that it triggers and Intimate Moment.

Playtests Questions:

  1. There’s a stress mechanic that is very harsh, does it work? Does it compel you to relieve stress and does that drive the fiction?

    • Yes, it had a big effect on rolls so it compelled us to relieve stress, but sometimes it felt forced and not a natural flow of the fiction. However it did change relationships between people, which led to good interactions.

    • Should it have been harder to relieve stress, or were we expected to operate under stress more frequently?

    • We were unsure how liberal to interpret gaining/relieving stress. Can it be done with simple actions and immediately cancel out earned stress?

    • “Acting like a lady” isn’t always something that a player would necessarily do intentionally, so other players/GMs had to “catch” them and call out stress. This could potentially lead to players debating what their actions qualify as and slow down the story.

    • There is some bleed between intimacy and acting like a lady — some actions could be interpreted as both (writing a letter home relieves stress, pining for home earns stress).

    • We primarily removed stress by acting like a hooligan — were only intimate once.

    • Stress (and bonds to an extent) add a secondary mechanic to the basic AW engine. Instead of making flat rolls with few modifiers when you take your action, first you have to review the situational modifiers (how much stress do I have, and who will spend bonds to aid or hinder me), which sometimes caused us to re-evaluate our choices (example: Before I try and fix the plan, I’m going to spit and boast about my prowess to relieve stress before the roll). Sometimes that colors scenes, but it can also dilute the narrative if people are overly concerned with the mechanics (and making choices based on them).


  1. There’s an unorthodox division of GM labor, does it work and does it make the non-flying roles interesting?

    • Night GMs are given a format (briefing, mission anatomy, debriefing) as well as a layout of missions and flavor elements for the game. But day is largely undefined, so our GMs weren’t sure what to do at first.

    • Day GMs would benefit from more structure to lead the game. Letter-writing & awarding medals could be built into day activities, and the Day GMs could be more clearly instructed to pick from the long list of inspirational elements for ideas.

    • There could also be a more ritualized designation to show that the GMs are switching (perhaps a phrase, as seen in games like Penny for My Thoughts).

    • It isn’t clear when the game should start — day or night. It should be noted somewhere, even if it doesn’t matter when you start.

    • How long should day/night scenes last? Our first time playing, one mission took about an hour and a half to play out. The second session had one day and one night scene of 45 mins each, but is this still considered too long? There was some confusion of how far though a Duty Station we were supposed to get in one session.

    • Also, how much time is considered to pass between missions? If someone were to take the “Leave” move, they would automatically push the story forward by many days. This isn’t a problem, but notes on moving forward in time could be included in the instructions of pacing the scenes.

    • We found it pretty easy to slip everyone into both day/night scenes, with the two GMs switching off so one character could be there. The Commander was able to have some involvement in the beginning/end of mission in the night scene and use some of her moves. The Pilot also had some involvement in the day scenes due to how the fiction had developed.

    • With the pilot and navigator flying in separate planes, it meant that they didn’t actually interact during their missions, and only had conversations with NPCs.

    • Eventually, whoever wasn’t active in the scene started to GM. Our group is pretty familiar with GM-less games and we were comfortable with everyone contributing, but having a clear designation is always helpful, with the understanding that some players will just adjust things to whatever feels natural while playing.


  1. Do gender roles enter the fiction in challenging and interesting ways? There are mechanical pointers but I don’t know if I need a bigger hammer, this feels like the game’s fruitful void to me.

    • We played up gender roles in terms of how it relates to stress mechanic, but it was sometimes hard to keep track of in the middle of play because we had to keep consulting how to gain/remove stress.

    • Male NPCs being present created a lot of tension for the PCs, especially as they tried to reinforce gender roles.

    • Female NPCs often created opportunities for the PCs to act like men, by acting like women themselves and the PCs taking higher status by acting like a man.

    • Gender/sexuality was brought up between the women during a moment of intimacy, which developed the characters’ relationships.

    • A bigger hammer seems necessary to give better direction and clearer flow of the mechanic and how it influences fiction. This is something new to gaming so players need more guidance/instruction than they would with a more familiar issue.


  1. There’s a bond mechanic engineered to mitigate stress somewhat – does it work in this context? Do bonds pile up or are they scarce? is this self-correcting?

    • How one gave or earned bonds wasn’t always clear, which dragged down time spent rolling while everyone re-read the rules and did some mental math.

    • We couldn’t find an explanation of how a bond with death works. Who spends it and how?

    • In addition to monitoring gaining/removing stress, keeping tabs on bonds was just one more thing to count.

    • It’s good that bonds can be spent at a distance, but there could be examples as to how it can be worked into the fiction when someone aids or hinders from afar.

    • Some of the bonds imply a two way relationship (Rival, Treats with Respect, etc). Is that intended to be negotiated between players, or stated by the player with the bond?


  1. How do medals, duty-swapping and changing duty stations enter play and do they work well?

    • We didn’t advance that much at all, largely because not everyone took moves that allowed them to advance.

    • If a PC chooses a medal, it should be explained and acknowledged in the fiction and even played out during the day shift.

    • Nobody changed duty stations in our game. How would this play out in the fiction? Does this mean that the commander would be “demoted” if switched to pilot?

    • “Duty” and “Duty Station” sound too similar and were easy to get confused.


  1. Do you have enough history to guide you but not too much to be suffocated?

    • Did not feel suffocated, but did lack some guidance.

    • Lacked some specifics: How many planes are there in the 588? How many people? We started getting distracted by pinning down the details because we lacked a strong foundation of setting.

    • There is enough information about the planes and some good flavor, but we expected more in the day/night mission outlines.

    • Some of the historical “keywords” lacked explanation — for example not all players knew what the German “Blue Line” was (from Duty Station 3).

    • The “History Panic” text is some comfort, but the game doesn’t feel authentic if it’s too far off from actual history, and can lead to disagreements between players if they want to declare extremely different things.


  1. Do the moves make sense? Are they fun and useful?

    • If Pilot and Navigator are in different planes, they are rolling both Wayfinding & Wheels Down, even though those moves are designed for one PC to be better at than the other (except if they choose low stats). Should they instead roll for all the 3 planes?

    • It also means that PCs are on separate planes during the mission — focusing more on making moves than playing out character development.

    • What is the point of the “Leave” move? Mechanically it doesn’t bring much, PCs could just as easily write a letter any time they want to remove stress (and more than once, as opposed to taking the move).

    • A series of success rolls meant the mission was accomplished quickly, but failed rolls started to snow-ball and stretched out the scene.


Additional Notes:


  • Pilot and Navigator playbooks both say “if your Navigator or Pilot is an NPC” but the Pilot and Navigator must pick tail numbers that are different, so they can only have NPC counterparts.

  • There isn’t any place to record details on the third plane and its crew.

  • If crews are (historically) running multiple raids a night, how many of those circuits should we actually play out? We only did one per mission, and our missions were plenty long.

  • Missions could include clearer objectives instead of just setting/complication so players aren’t doing too much guesswork when defining the missions. Putting some of the specifics from the inspiration list underneath each mission could also help. It could also include specific orders: scout, bomb, harry, deliver, etc.

  • Missions could also explain coordination with other units (some other unit is doing the real fighting, the 588 is doing XXX during that time) so we have a better feel of being part of a larger war.

  • Is there a place to mark supply? The Mechanic’s moves has supply as a countable resource, but the Commander’s role just says that we have the supplies we need.

  • In general, the game could use a little more direction. Assuming that players will follow the fiction may not be enough. There were a lot of points when we wondered if we were “doing it right,” either not knowing how to interpret instructions or getting distracted by mechanics.

  • Players learning the system would greatly benefit from reading examples of play.

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