Sunday, May 31, 2015

"Engines Don't Give You Any Backchat"

I've been called a Stalinist many times in my life, but yesterday, was the first chance I've ever had to GM like one. It was fun. I ran a one-shot of +Jason Morningstar's Night Witches at the Fantasy Flight Games Event center. Night Witches is an Apocalypse World variant in which one plays WW II Soviet airwomen who flew nightime bombing raids against the German lines using modified cropdusters. That's right: it's a game pitting biplanes against flak guns and ME 109 fighters.

Folks have no doubt heard a lot about the game so I'll just say that the sequence of play alternates nightime bombing raids with daytime repair operations, NKVD interviews, and secret liaisons. The game can be quite lethal, which accurately simulates the WW II reality of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment. Over a single Duty Station and about 5 missions, we lost:
  • One pilot (the "extra" PC that I created) to the NKVD. who took her away on suspicion of promoting antisocialist ideas (she was a devout Orthodox Christian)
  • Lost two of the four planes in our Section to anti-aircraft fire and a crash (the airfield had a tilted statue of Lenin quite close to two criss-crossing airstrips
  • One pilot to enemy fire
The players had to fend off at least two other NKVD investigations. Thus the title quote, which came from our Section chief.

I purchased the Night Witches card set to use in the game. They are a real godsend for managing play. The deck has cards for: 
  • Positions in the aircraft (each plane has a Pilot and a Navigator, and the deck has four cards for each role, with each card also labelled as corresponding to one of four planes in a Section), 
  • Advances, which considerably speed up character generarion during one-shots
  • Medals that the PCs can earn through valiant deeds, and
  • Portraits of Soviet officers. All of these but one are female, which is great. I can't think of any RPG where I have had so many different and non-hypersexualized female images to choose from for PCs and NPCs. 

We enjoyed the session, and one of the players suggested we run a Night Witches campaign as part of our regular Thursday Night Group.  It's a good game for episodic play, which is how we'll probably do it.