Actual Play – March 1943: Pashkovskaya – Assault on the German Convoy (7/23/2013)

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

Karen signed to play-test Jason Morningstar’s newest creation: Night Witches. Night Witches an Apocalypse World hack in the vein of Sagas of the Icelanders. He’s used a lot Apocalypse World’s core dice and move mechanics, and tailored them specifically to the rigors of female Russian fighter pilots in WWII.

A quote from the game. “This is a game about women and their experiences during a cataclysmic war. How you parse this is up to you, but it is, very specifically, not a game about people in wartime – but specifically women. Sex and gender are a part of it, and hopefully a meaningful and important part. It will be a delicate balance.”

After hearing his latest interview on Penny Red, and having just played Night Witches, I’m once again floored by how deep Jason’s research goes. If you are interested in the play-testing Night Witches, contact Jason on G+

I’m including a lot of details in this post (behind the scene mechanics that I normally wouldn’t) because I want to make it useful as a play-test review doc as well.

Getting started

With everyone online, we confirmed that everyone had read the play-test document and reviewed a little bit of what the Night and Day GMs would be doing, then we picked characters.


Name: Natalya Maltseva (Natasha)
Story: Natasha’s Painful Reward
Stats: +1 Skill, -1 Guts, +1 Luck
Uniform: No uniform
Body: Wiry
Hands: nervous
Write to: Sister Sonya
This comrade thinks she’s hot shit on a blue plate: Liza
This comrade treats me with respect: Sasha
I have a small crush on this comrade: Sonya
This particular airplane is an endless source of trouble: #47

Natasha was  seamstress in a factory before the war. Her home town had been occupied and most of her family didn’t survive. Here skill at working with canvas and fixing sewing machines was useful trying to keep the U-2s in tact, but the idea that pilots lives depending on her repair of he planes terrified her.


Name: Alexandra Yusupova (Sasha)
Story: Sasha’s Deadly Miracle
Stats: +2 skill -1 guts +0 luck
Uniform: Regulation uniform
Body: Compact body
Eyes: Darting eyes
Writes to: Brother Maxim.
This comrade is a rival: Liza
This comrade is worldly: Sonya
This comrade is a mother hen: Natasha
This airplane is my life: #47

Sasha’s brother is in the University and she feels that she has to prove herself both to him and to everyone around her by excelling. She was given a command position after being a pilot in Plane 47.

Eric Fattig

Name:Sofia Alexandrova (Sonya)
Story: Sonya’s Harrowing Romance
Stats: -1 skill 0 guts +2 luck
Uniform: Regulation
Body: Angular
Handsome Face
Writes to: Cousin Nina
Tail #: 77
Pilot: Tanya (doomed)
This comrade is a Marxist-Leninist work in progress: Sasha
This comrade has a death wish: Natasha
This comrade wants to be my best friend: Liza
This particular airplane bears my lucky number: #77

Sonya is university educated and sees herself as above the war and the people fighting in it. She has delicate hands from a delicate life. She has been lucky all of her life, but not all if was good luck. She went to university, but while gone much of her family got sick and died. She is a fierce patriot and judges all those by their dedication to democracy.

Eric Zimmerman

Name: Elizaveta Vorapaeva (Liza)
Story: Liza’s Dangerous Farewell
Stats: +2 Skill, +0 Guts, -1 Luck
Uniform: tattered
Body: small
Face: honest
Writes to: grandfather
Tail # 47
Navigator: Dasha (nervous)
This comrade is an over-compensating fool: Sasha
This comrade knows how to get things done: Natasha
This comrade is a reliable friend: Sonya
This airplane is the mechanical embodiment of my deepest desire: #77

All she new was life on the farm in rural Russia. Raised by her family to believe she’s a true daughter of the revolution, she was among the first volunteers turned away for her sex.

March 1943: Pashkovskaya

The tide turns in the Battle of the Caucasus.

Mission: German supply convoy near Krasnodar.

We opted to start at night, thinking that is where the action would be, and would probably give some interesting fallout for all of us to deal with in the morning. Karen and I were the Night GMs, so Karen opened up with Sasha briefing the pilots and navigators on their mission.


Sasha announced the mission, and it was a ballsy one at that.  “You are to bomb the German convoy and when their defenses have been disabled, land, steal their supplies, and get back to base.” [Pilot and Navigator took 1 Stress]

As she gave the brief both of us described the scenery. Numb looking pilots who couldn’t believe the orders they were being given. Spring storms making everything wet and muddy. The tent they were in was sagging from water that collected on top of it, threatening to break through at any moment. I took over GMing for a moment as Karen had Sasha roll her Operations [Result: 7. Flight crews hold 1 to spend as +1 forward during the mission] to detail out the tactical elements of the the mission.

After the brief, our pilots and navigators commiserated with each other some. An NKVD officer Masha Smirnova entered the tent looking for Sasha (who had already left) but could still spare a dreadful scowl for the pilots and navigators lollygagging in the command tent.

Take off

Liza thought it was crazy to be sent to land in the mud and she wasn’t going to go out until the mechanics fitted her U-2 to do so. I jumped it as Natasha and Karen took the seat as GM. Natasha was also worried about #47 (she had a bond with it as a plane always giving her trouble) but was reluctant to make last minute changes in haste.  Liza pushed that she wasn’t going down in that mud if it meant she wouldn’t be able to get back up again. We decided this was trying to Get Your Way. [Result: 6. Result GM Move. I picked “Put a Price on it”] Natasha relented, but told Liza she was going to catch hell from Commander Yusupova (Sasha) for still being on the ground after everyone else has taken off.

Sure enough, Sasha was more than happy to come chew out her pilot. The argued for a time about the mission parameters but sure enough Liza’s commander gave her a dressing down. Liza was ordered to work the day shift tomorrow cleaning mud off the planes for her insubordination. We considered that a hardship, and she rolled Endure Hardship [Result: 6. Karen and I agreed the last miss should snowball into this one and we chose “Position” as in positioned away from the other planes]. By the time Liza was done arguing with Sasha, she realized all the other kites were in the air and long gone. Still despite that, she had bucked authority, and gotten what she wanted (her landing gear worked on), we called that Acting like a Man [Stress removed].

Sonya meanwhile was talking to her pilot Tanya who said (fitting with her nature) “We’re doomed. We’re never coming back from this mission.” Sonya tried to cheer her up, offering her spirits when they got back, but Tanya was just the same have them now, for courage, and in case they didn’t make it back…


When they took to the air it was dark, windy, and wet. All perfect conditions for getting lost. Also, intelligence on the location of the convoy was vague at best, so to find her target, Sonya rolled Wayfinding [Result: 7, she chose “You’re late, alone, and low on fuel” and “You’ve been spotted”]. The German air support had missed the first way, but when they came back around caught #77 (Tanya and Sonya’s plane) in their sights. Tanya wanted to pull back but Sonya urged to keep going, swearing the Germans wouldn’t be able to get a clean shot. She rolled Push Your Luck [Result: 7. Death took a bond with her, but she made it through] and blazed under the nose of the air support. Machine gun fire erupted from the German plane, tattering #77s wings and body, but her canvas construction held together!

Liza – Alone with her navigator Dasha had to find her comrades and the convoy. She rolled Wayfinding [Result: 4. After some discussion we chose “Doubt them, and make them prove their worth”, this again was meant to snowball from the previous failures that now Dasha was doubting her pilot and wasn’t going to help her further, unless it was to return to base]. Infuriated that Dasha would not aid Liza refused to turn back and yelled at her for directions. She rolled Get Your Way [Result: 2. Poor Liza can’t catch a break. Lost and alone we decided the weather needed to step up an hit her with “Damage their planes”] A sudden gust of wind hit and tore open the stitching on her wing, damaging it and forcing her to land unprepared. She rolled Wheels Down [Result: 11. Safe landing] and the landing gear held up in the mud. Still, she was stranded.

Bombs away… or planes away

Sonya, at the same time was dropping her payload on the ground forces. She rolled Attack Run [Result: 7. Crew takes 1-stress]. Ground fire from a jeep was harrying her on her way in. She was freaked out, but they dropped payload and salvage could begin! She got her Wheels Down [Spent the Hold from Sasha’s Operations Move. Result: 7. Immediate Danger] but two soldiers emerged from the jeep with their rifles and came gunning for her. Tanya tried to sink into the cockpit and pray, but Sonya jumped into the mud and advanced, shouting boasts and firing her sidearm to confuse and distract them [Which we considerd to be Acting Like a Man and removed her stress]. We called that Push Your Luck [Result 7. Another bond for death on Sonya]. Distracted from return fire the soldiers didn’t look up in time to hear the U-2 quietly drifting in overheard. It dropped it’s payload next to them and the explosion sent them flying.

Liza was trying to get her plane back in the air, but like Luke’s X-wing in Dagobah, it was stuck. She rolled to Assess [Result 10. Hold 3, spend to ask questions from the list] and asked “What’s my best way out of this?”  Karen and I talked and one thought was that she would be able to repair her plane in the field, but we ended up saying she was stranded, and that her best way out was using a signal flare and getting picked up by the pilots in the morning. I wasn’t certain about this decision (see thoughts below).

Coming Home

Sonya was trying to load up the stolen munitions from the convoy, which we decided was just hard work. She rolled Endure Hardship [Result: 2. I opted for Inflict Harm]. A German out of ammunition ran up behind her and just as she turned around planted his rifle butt in her face, knocking her in the mud [1 Harm, 1 stress]. She stabbed him in the foot with her combat knife and while he limped and shouted in pain, quickly loaded up the good before reinforcements arrived [Push Your Luck. Result: 7. Death got a 3rd bond on her]. She clambered back into #77 and Tanya fired up the engines and took them home.

In the morning Liza was picked up. Natasha would be sent to repair #47 and bring her back.


The night mission ends with a Debrief. Sonya, considered the hero of the mission decried Dasha (Liza’s navigator) for getting Liza lost. [She removed all stress (and her 1 harm) for shaming Dasha, and gave Liza a bond with her].

Liza meanwhile was thoroughly reprimanded by Sasha for missing the mission because of her initial delay. Liza once again had to Endure Hardship but Natasha Aided her by saying the landing gear held up like Liza had asked for, it was the wind that took her down [Result: 7 (with Natasha’s aid). Liza got to ask a question “How did Sasha lose her pilot duty?” but Natasha also took a stress for Acting like a woman when she defended Liza]. Sasha’s public chastisement was harsh, and others took pity on Liza suffering through all of it. In all the shouting though, it came out (at least to Liza) that Sasha had flown the #47 but got scarred and couldn’t cut it anymore in the air. She was projecting her disappointment with herself, and her concern for that plane in particular onto Liza.

[Natasha got a 2nd stress for Liza’s plane (that she had worked on) going down.]

[Final Death Bonds. Sonya: 3, Final Stress. Natasha: 2, Final Harm: None]

Thoughts on the game

General thoughts from this write up

Stranding Liza was a hard call. On one hand she had failed four rolls in a row, all of which were snowballing into a disaster for her. On the other, I felt like it completely left Eric Zim out of the action, even if the action had been trying to jury rig a fix for her Liza’s U-2 to get her back in the air and at least limping home on her own accord. Both possibilities made sense, but the one we picked felt pretty harsh.

I really like that Jason doesn’t imbed a lot of stereotypical Russian sounding vernacular in the text. People address each other as comrade, and there is certainly a lot of propaganda, but the language itself is contemporary, not filled with “In Mother Russia…” bullshit.

I took the move Push Your Luck to stand in for Act Under Fire, which seems like the most basic move in any game (trying something that is difficult, dangerous, our both).

If someone uses the Access move, there are only 2 questions that don’t apply to people. So accessing a situation and rolling a 10+ means you probably don’t get to use all of your hold.

From the “Anatomy of a Mission” chart, we hit Liza with Ground delays, Wayfinding Errors, and Bad Weather (she never made it to the front). Sonya faced Wayfinding Errors, Night Fighters, and Ground Fire.  None of these were specifically GM moves (tough the bad weather was a result of a miss) but they were challenges we presented the comrades, which they had to figure some way of overcoming (or not, in the case of Liza).

Questions/Notes that came up during the game

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

Could there be specific instructions for Day GMs and their objectives?

When should the game start, day or night?

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.

How many planes are there at the base? How many go on a mission?

How long does one mission usually take?

How are bonds with Death spent?

Is push your luck, “act under fire”?

Play-test Questions

These are just my answers (not the consensus of the group)

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

Stress is definitely harsh. Even -1 or -2 has a major impact. However it felt trivially easy to me to remove it by acting like a man. I keep seeking ways to make Acting Like a Man have repercussions (like Liza being demanding about her plane, and catching flak from Sasha), but I’m not sure if that is intentional, of if the idea is that the simple (and easy) solution to remove stress is just to be an asshole.

Note, that is the only way stress was relieved stress in the game. No intimacy or other methods, so I’ll have more thoughts on those once they come up.

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

Yeah, this worked really well for us. Karen and I (we only did the Night mission in our session) would both add bits to a scene, or discuss outcomes and then call for rolls. When one of our characters entered the fiction the other one would take over. There was some time spent negotiating this, but no more so then players figuring out which die to pass at the end of a scene in Fiasco.

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.

I wasn’t seeing any impetus to act like a woman (and it was in fact discouraged by the stress mechanics), so it felt a bit lopsided on that front. We only had one male NPC show up, and he was only there for forecast future badness for a moment and leave, so we didn’t see a lot of gender disparity yet. I suspect we’ll see more during the Day shift.

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?

We spent a few bonds (I know I missed one that Sasha spent helping Sonya while she was in battle) and gained one (during the debrief). I think intimacy is a good way to get them. My thought is that acting like a man (the easy way to remove stress) should make intimacy (the easy way to get bonds) difficult or problematic.

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

None of these came up in play.

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

We definitely wanted a bit more of the 588s composition, like how many planes were there. Also, we didn’t know what a “Marxist-Leninist work in progress” was (from Raven’s Bonds).

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

Yes. Yes. Yes. I definitely want and “Act Under Fire” move, and it Push Your Luck is it (it looks like it’s it to me) then I’m happy with it as is. Liza didn’t get to use her Good Landing move when her plane went down because we ruled that it was damaged but repairable (not utterly wrecked). Access needs more non-people questions for when you roll 10+ when assessing a situation. Other than that, I think all the moves we wanted to use worked well.

5 thoughts on “Actual Play – March 1943: Pashkovskaya – Assault on the German Convoy (7/23/2013)”

  1. Thanks Sean, this is fantastic! I appreciate your thoughts and will adjust the text accordingly. There will be a lot more discussion of the composition of the unit, etc eventually.

    The PC/NPC pilot/navigator divide can get mashed in the fiction – in fact, in the previous two playtests I’ve seen 100% PC crews develop for one reason or another! In some ways it is more fun, but really focuses the night half of the game to a fragile pinpoint.

    1. Cool, super glad if anything here ends up being useful. When we’re finished (playing again on Friday), I think everyone will answer the play-test questions as well.

  2. Oh hey – Marxist-Leninist work in progress = not a very good one. Viz:

    “Yeah, Billy is technically a Boy Scout, but really more of a work in progress.”

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