Actual Play – Airwomen of the 588th (7/31/2015)

Night WitchesGM: Steve Segedy
Players: Kristin Firth, Sean Nittner, Michele Royal, Jeff Croff, and Eric Hope
System Night Witches

We ran mission after mission, and pushed the Germans back with everything we had. Some of us didn’t make it back. Some of our planes were burnt to cinders. We didn’t stop flying.

Actual Play – Crash that plane into my heart (6/27/2014)

night_witchesGM: Adam Koebel
Players: Julie Southworth, Morgan Stinson, Morgan Ellis, Karen Twelves, Sean Nittner
System: Night Witches

Wow, Night Witches has changed a ton since last time I saw it. (here and here). The most notable change is that the GM role is now held by one person per duty station (no more switching GMs between day and night). Otherwise though, the game feels much more fully developed both in terms of mechanics, and the tools for depicting the setting.

What struck me immediately was that nobody was honest with one another, we all had too much at stake to tell the truth. Beliefs, feelings, opinions, religious views, all of it – off the table. So instead we used our patriotism (or facsimile there of) as a weapon against one another and as shield against our detractors (which was pretty much everyone).

Talking about the game afterwards, it came up that playing Night Witches is like playing Orange is the New Black by day. And thinking about it now, it’s like Russian roulette by night. Devilishly genius Mr. Morningstar.

 Game Description

From Adam’s post on the Go Play NW forums:

“We’re playing Soviet women in an all-female night bomber regiment during World War Two. We’ll be pilots, navigators, mechanics and political officers.

Our mission is to harass the German army, which has invaded our country. The war is brutal and horrific.

We fly obsolete biplanes and drop bombs or, when we don’t have bombs, railroad ties on the Germans. Things are desperate. It is incredibly dangerous. We fly in darkness, sometimes a dozen missions each night.

The Soviet army wishes we didn’t exist and nobody expects us to succeed. We are going to succeed anyway.”

It was that last sentiment, the defiance and perseverance of the 588th that made the game so much fun to play. Without that I think it would have just been a depressing dramatization of people being horrible to one another.

Night Bombers

Junior Lieutenant M. “Masha” Gerasimova (Julie) the Raven came from an aristocratic family where she was always overlooked for not being prettier. Did she enlist in the 588 to prove herself, or just to get away from her families expectations? We learned later that she was an idealist quick to call our her fellow comrades for less than exemplary behavior.

Sergeant Elizaveta “Liza” Vorapayeva (Sean) the Pigeon had lost much of her family and hated the krauts. She was from Bratsk and secretly a devout member of the Russian Orthodoxy. She had all sorts of anger issues around authority figures that we’re mixed up in sexual aggression. She hated Katya, her section leader, but was sleeping with her just the same, bucked enough orders that she never got promoted (and probably should have been executed for insubordination), but had several medals for her valor.

Junior Lieutenant Svetlana “Sevta” Fomenkova (Karen) the Owl was a prodigal child of the 588. Except for an ugly scar on her cheek she was pretty, devoted, skilled, and followed regulations perfectly.  She wrote letters to the editor documenting every failing of “the people” in the air base. None of those letters were ever sent.

Senior Lieutenant Yekaterina “Katya” Trushina (Morgan Stinson) the Hawk was a shameless opportunist. She was our section commander and very connected with the aristocracy. She had secret meetings with the Major and thought of her self as much better than all of us. She reached for the stars and we never found out whether she would take them or be burned by their heat.

Lieutenant Hanna Ruttman (Morgan Ellis) the Sparrow was a child that bounced from orphanage to orphanage until she finally wound up in the worst of them all, the 588. She was tougher than most of us. What we thought was gruel, she was happy to eat as sustenance. She had done thing, seen things. She knew about planes and how the worked. She had dreams, bad premonitions, most of them came true.

Day time is the worst

Rather than go through all the issues chronologically here were the highlights of the troubles we faced.

Damaged plane

Last night to get through the breech Sveta and Masha took heavy fire. They made it back but their plane was un-flyable.

Hanna knew a mechanic that could fix the plane, but he needed work order from Major Kiril Popo to get it on the list (it had been due for repair for months and was never going to get attention without an order to do so. Sveta, Masha, and Hanna all worked to go through the official channels to get the work order approved. When Hanna spoke with the Major himself, he made it very clear that she should go through her section leader Katya, who would take it to to the squadron leader Senior Lt. Khadzhiyeva, who would take it to her regimental commander Major Bershanskaya, who would bring it to him. Yeah, that was totally going to happen in time for the work order to be signed, passed back down that chain of command, and in the hands of the mechanic in time to make the plan fly-worthy by night time. Totally.

Meanwhile Liza just wanted a plane in the air. She fucked Katya and convinced her during sex to “make it happen”. Katya scrounged up a work order, forged the Mayor’s signature and sent Liza and Hanna back to the mechanic with papers in hand. There was a bit of confusion as the mechanic had also offered to do the work if Hanna set him up with Liza. So when it turned out Hanna had a work order and Liza was just walking with her, not coming as an offering, he was most unhappy.

Health and Safety in the air base

After arriving injured from flak fire, Sveta sought medical attention, so that she would be fit and healthy to fly again that night. The line to the medical tent though was impossibly long. Being clever she found the most wounded soldier in line and tried to escort him to the front of the line, where she would also, coincidentally, get treatment herself.  It should have worked, it seemed like a good plan. The man didn’t want to move though. He didn’t want to cause trouble. And another woman Lt. Aleksandra asked what she was trying to do. When she saw that Sveta was part of the 588, she got even more incensed “Get to the back of the line”.

Seveta bullied her way in, extolled the importance of  being a good pilot in the service of Russia. She said that we wouldn’t win the war without pilots to fly the planes. That shut Aleksandra up but made an enemy of her for sure. Then Sveta let Masha cut in front of her so they could both be treated.

Afterwards, she went to her bunk and wrote a very angry letter to the editor about the health and safety standards that an air base should adhere to. Another letter she would never send.

Boot licking with the best of them

Katya wanted only one thing, to advance in the ranks and have power of those below her. Following the first law of the 48 Laws of Power, Katya was happy to lick boots, or int this case massage feet to get there.

After the debriefing in the morning, Katya followed the Politruk and the Major back to their tent in order to weasel her way into their good graces, or rather to displace the Politruk (political commissar) and put herself in the Major’s favor. Neither of them were going to make this easy, but she could tell that the deputy had some leverage on the major. If she could figure it out, she could take it for herself.

She was then dismissed to attend to her soldiers.

Picking fights for no good reason

When Liza went to the mess tent after debriefing for breakfast, she overheard men from the 218 bragging about their amazing mission the night before. It was clear immediately that they were taking credit for the mission her section flew! She protected, first hinting that he misread the call numbers on the plane, and them openly that he was a liar.

When he realized who she was, even that she was a she (Liza was wearing fatigues and had a blunt enough face she could pass for man some times), he laughed in her face, and told her it was understandable that she was jealous. She should have called him out right there, thrown a punch or called him a liar outright, but instead she tried to goad him into making the first move.

She flung some of her porridge at his face, and then pretended to blame it on being a clumsy woman. It might have worked, he might have been incensed, if not for the fact that Mayor Kiril Popov happened to be standing right behind him! Liza fell in line and apologized to the pilot, lying and saying that he had completed the mission that she flew. She was so angry, but this wasn’t the right fight to pick.

Outside she was kicking the mud in anger when Hanna, her trusted navigator came with news about the repairs (and what was needed to get them done). Hanna tried to calm her down, asked what happened and Liza first berated the men, but then, in the confidence of her co-pilot and she hoped friend, told her that she was angry that it was Masha and Sveta that flew into the breach, because she had been too much of a coward to follow them. Flying straight into gunfire would be suicidal, but had she been a better pilot, more valorous, she would have done it.

Night time is the worst

Our mission was to bomb the hell out of the Germans that had taken one of our air bases (one that we use to be stationed at) and were using it to attack us. We took it back. We bombed the hell out of it took it back! Some casualties of doing so:

The lone pilot Jr. Ltd. Zoya Perfinova had lost her entire section the night before. She sat in our our briefing but Katya gave her no orders, and paired her with nobody else. Without a navigator to guide her she followed our section (C) to the destination but without a wingman to watch over her, she was gunned down by the Germans. We lost of of our own. Hannah saw it happen and took it hard. Liza blamed Katya for leaving Zoya to fend for herself.

Because Sveta was still hurting from the mission last night, and because she had challenged Katya’s authority, Masha was piloting (instead of navigating) and had to put their wheels down. She came in to sharp and crashed. The plan engine tore right through the hull and landed in her lap. The wooden frame cracked and impaled Sveta, who was unconscious and bleeding as her plane began to smolder from the head of the engine. Soon it would ignite.

Masha got herself out but no others wanted to help her with Sveta. Other pilots were doing their jobs. Mechanics were yelling at her for damaging the plane, and the Politruk reprimanded her for wasting time when she should be getting back in the air and completing the mission, even though her legs were burned from the engine.

Liza did a piss poor job landing her plane, setting it way off course and got the attention of the Politruk for clearing landing it so poorly that she must have intended to put the base in danger! When Liza and Hanna walked back onto the air strip the Politruk stood in front of them expecting some sort of response. Hanna stopped to explain herself, but Liza just pushed past. She saw that one of her section was in danger ignored her superior and then pulled her unconscious comrade from the plane and carried her to the medical tent. I got to feel like a hero and know I was going to pay for it in the morning. Awesome!  Hanna was escorted to a room for questioning. She entered, sat down and then the door was closed and locked behind her!

Masha still did not want to fly but when Katya landed she ordered her back into the sky. Good comrade!

Day time is the worst

In the morning both Hanna and Liza were interrogated for their misconduct. Hanna got off by throwing Liza under the bus. Liza got off by seducing the Politruk and after some violent sex throwing Katya under the bus and agreeing to spy on her for “Sveta” (the Deupty Politruk).

She earned the Order of the Red star for her bravery and was promoted to Junior Lieutenant!

Quotes from the game:

“You just crashed that plane right into my heart.”

“The 588th – Like summer camp with guns!”

Thoughts on this game

Adam did a fantastic job of putting pressure on us from the start. It felt like we never had enough time to get everything done that needed to be and that there was no possible way we could get ourselves in the air and fly another mission, but some how we did. Flying barely repaired planes and bringing those back barely in tact, and then getting in trouble for not doing a better job was all kind of awesome.

The hipocracy Adam presented was fantastic. After our night mission, when Masha was injured from having an engine land in her lap and burn her legs, the Deputy Politruk told her to get back in a plane and keep flying missions, questioning her patriotism if she didn’t fly despite her injuries. Not two scenes later the same deputy berated Liza for flying when she wasn’t fit to do so and endangering the lives of her comrades. Oh, how two-faced and awful she was!

That said, what I’d love to see, presumably in a longer game, is the cracks under the surface of these characters, where the NPCs were nuanced and had their own faults, weaknesses, and even redeeming qualities. We saw just a bit of that with Major Kiril Popov when Hannah inadvertently put him on the defensive by saying that Katya (who had been having secret meetings with him to report news from the home front) wanted to see him. Watching what the Major would have done with that loose end would have been really interesting.

“Nobody expects us to succeed. We are going to succeed anyway.” – I mention this above but I’m going to reiterate it here because it’s so important. Without hope of something better, and the chance (even if a slim one) to succeed, this game would quickly turn into torture porn. I love seeing character suffer, but it’s got to be for a reason. So, if you’re running this game, do what Adam did and make sure the 588 can do something awesome at night, even  if  (especially if) they then have to defend it in the morning!

I seriously gravitate towards angry women who have had something taken away from them (family, rights, property, status, etc) and are now ready to pick a fight with anyone that challenges them. It’s fine, I’m not against the archetype, but it’s getting somewhat stale for me. Merrowyn from our Kingmaker Pathfinder campaign, Vonk the Sculptor from Olive Garden Apocalypse World, Kalkara my PFS character modeled after Aeryn Su from Farscape, etc.

When I do play women that don’t have a chip on their shoulder it is usually because it’s a pre-generated character (Karolina in The Mines of Agnocost who wants to protect her allies, Emily from The Harvesters who didn’t want to anger her abusive boyfriend, or the very young, very lost woman I played in Last Train out of Warsaw). With most of those characters I felt a little bit at a loss, like I wasn’t playing them to their full potential. I like causing problems and dealing with the repercussions and I didn’t know how to get in trouble with those characters. Or when I did (like in the Harvesters) I didn’t know what to do except apologize over and over to the other characters for my mistake.

I think my favorites though are Karolina once she decided to save the dwarves of Free Town, Fornax who wanted to rescue her sister, and Grip that was trying to make her gang leader listen to reason and keep the gang together. The characters all had a real purpose in the fiction that they could push for. It wasn’t a distant ideal or a personal crisis to resolve, it was an external problem that they were capable of addressing even though in most cases (2 of 3 from this sample group) they fail.

Morgan Ellis pointed out that during the night there aren’t necessarily moves for every player to make. In our mission Katya rolled Wingman, Sveta rolled Wayfind, Masha rolled Wheels Down, and Liza rolled both Wheel’s Down and Attack Run.  I’m not sure if the assignments were different, if that would have worked out, or if it plays better with four players instead of five, but Morgan noted that Hanna didn’t actually take any action during the Night.


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.

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.