Sunday, 28 April 2019

Night Witches


Last week a friend of mine shared a post on Facebook about the 'Night Witches', or the Soviet 588th Night Bomber Regiment of WWII. I ended up reading more beyond the article, and came across a reference to a role-playing game specifically written to cover their exploits. One thing led to another; I dowloaded it, read it, found it to my liking and, this afternoon ran a session of it - my first RPG experience in about ten years.

So, 'Night Witches' is published by Bully Pulpit Games, and is based on the Apocalypse World system. Or so they say; I have no experience of it, but although it's a big thick book, the rules seemed short, simple and intuitive, with most of the book taken up with how to implement them and a wealth of background information and colour.

The Night Witches are more properly known as the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, and were an all-female unit. Their job was night-harassment bombing; short range missions designed to disrupt the Germans, with each plane flying multiple missions every night. They fought from mid-1942 util May 1945, and in that time flew over 23,000 sorties. Their pilots ranged in ages from their teens to their mid-twenties. Of the 260 personnel who served, 23 of them were awarded the accolade Hero of the Soviet Union.



Their exploits were all the more remarkable because they flew an obsolete biplane, the Polikarpov PO-2, originally designed as a crop-duster in 1928.


They flew without radios, because of the weight, and without parachutes, because of weight and the fact that their attacks were at such low altitude that parachutes were of little use anyway. Bomb-runs were made at low-level, with the engine off, each plane in a flight attacking whilst the other two distracted the German defences. And all at night.

The RPG builds all of this into a tense game where the characters work their way through the war, flying night-mission after night-mission, whilst trying to stay alive, stay sane and remain human in the days in-between. As well as the enemy and the limitations of their aircraft, they must contend with the mistrust of their own side; those who believe that women can't be combat-soldiers and, of course, the dreaded NKVD, always ready to root out treason and counter-revolutionary thoughts and deeds.

Characters progress through six Duty Stations, each representing a theatre or campaign in which the regiment fought. The first covers their training, and the final station covers their involvement in the final battle for Berlin.

The nature of the setup makes it easy for players to drop in or out from session to session, and it's also designed such that each player can take turns being the GM, giving everyone a chance to bring their own style to the game, and also to play a character.

I found a nice introductory document in the game's free downloads, which does a wonderful job of walking players, and the GM, through the first Duty Station, whilst building the characters and learning the rules. So this afternoon I played through it with my wife, Catherine and daughter, Maya. I was a GM, but the initial stages can be run cooperatively, so all three of us designed and explored our characters, before life on the airbase started properly. At that point my character moved offstage, and I ran the game for the other two.

Another download consists of a series of 36 character portraits, by illustrator Claudia Cangini. we started by choosing one each, as well as a name, and went from there.


This is Catherine's character, Junior Lieutenant Dominika Yavlova. She's a hard-faced, no-nonsense pilot whose main claim to fame seems to be that she once spent a night getting drunk with heroic Soviet aviator Marina Raskova. Trained on crop-dusters on a farm near Novgorod, she enlisted to give the Germans the kicking they deserved.


Maya's character is the youthful Junior Lieutenant Natalaya Fyodorova. People say she looks younger than her 18 years, and they'd be right if only they knew it; she lied about her age and is in fact only 16.  Not a great one for rules.


Finally I fleshed out the beginnings of Sergeant Galina Cherenchikova, a quiet, withdrawn widow from Kiev. There's a few mysteries surrounding Galina; her flying experience may not be all she claims it is, her husband disappeared several years ago, with his body never having been found and she keeps a sharp kitchen-knife lovingly wrapped in oilskin in her footlocker.

The duty station was Engels Airdrome, where training for several units takes place. We assembled, travelled to the airfield, received rations and uniforms (or partial uniforms), and were introduced to the basics of new lives and our aircraft by various senior officers in the unit. Once established I moved Galina into the background, whilst Dominika and Natalya moved centre-stage.

There was already a certain tension with the all-male 218th Bomber Regiment, who were also training at Engels, and who simply regarded the 588th as a bunch of girls flying sewing machines. In setting about to supplement their meagre uniforms, Dominika and Natalya managed to inflame the situation almost from the start. After suffering name-calling and harassment from the men, Natalya decided to steal the boots of one of their sergeants, which she did successfully. Unfortunately whilst not recognised she was spotted, and the 588th were blamed for the theft. Dominika went one better. She planned to slip into their stores and liberate some warmer flying clothes. Hanging around in order to get a feel for the routine of the place she attracted the attention of one of the flight-crews, Junior Lieutenent Sergei Yurlov and his sidekick, the boorish Sergeant Yartsev. An argument ensued which quickly escalated into an all-out fist-fight between the two Lieutenants. It was quickly broken up, but Dominika came off worse, being thoroughly beaten up, despite giving a good account of herself. And, yes, she started it. She received a thorough dressing-down, and confinement to barracks for an extended period, but escaped harsher penalties because the higher officers knew of the tensions with the male unit. Even so, relationships were now strained between the two regiments.

With Natalya sporting boots of dubious origin, and Dominika some cuts and bruises they were assigned to their unit, Section C of the 3rd Squadron. By dint of her earlier enlistment date, the youthful rebel Natalya was assigned the role of provisional Section Leader. The unit of six was fleshed out by NPCs: chain-smoking ex-factory-worker Junior Lieutenant Nina Biryukova and three Sergeants, enthusiastic literature student Kira Annikova, maternal gossip Kotinka Avilova and spindly, bespectacled soldier, Eudoxia Voloshina. Natalya assigned them as pilots and navigators to their three planes, and they headed out on their first proper training mission; a simple mock bombing run.

I'd like to say there's a big story here, but there isn't. With Dominika leading the attack, the section passed its first test with no problems whatsoever (something helped by me forgetting a rule about attack resolution which should have made things slightly harder for them*).

Back at the base they were informed that their next test would be a night-bombing exercise with live bombs. They'd have to navigate to the target in the darkness as well. And they'd be under the watchful eye of Soviet heroine Marina Raskova.

Before the test, Dominika set about trying to repair relationships with the 218th Regiment, or at least Lieutenant Yurlov. There was an ulterior motive to this; they had warm flight-jackets in the 218th and she reckoned that if she played her cards right she could score a couple. And talking of playing cards right, Natalya set about organising a regular (and almost certainly illicit) gambling ring, based around poker**. Natalya is nothing if not precocious. She sounded out interested parties and found a quiet venue, but also discovered that 1st Squadron was running a game too, something which will cause issues further down the line. Dominika got her jackets, but only on the promise of helping the 218th find out who stole the boots of one of their sergeants. Later on Yurlov's sergeant tried to make a pass at her, but she managed to arrange an accident that actually looked like an accident, and put him out of the running temporarily.

The regiment was inspected by Major Raskova before their next exercise. I had expected at least one player to arrange some way of meeting her, and getting noticed (such patronage would be worth having) but neither took the well-dangled bait I offered.

The Section's next exercise involved night-flying and live bombs. Natalya was lead navigator, and nearly got the unit lost, salvaging the situation at the last minute. Even so, her aircraft clipped a tree on the approach, causing some serious damage to the undercarriage. Dominika led the attack, but pulled out without dropping her bombs, immediately turning for home. Natalya seized the initiative, and took her plane into the attack, scoring a direct hit, and paving the way for the third aircraft as well. She and her pilot even managed a safe landing in their damaged plane.

The debriefing was tense. Despite the damaged plane, Natalya came out OK, owing to her text-book bomb-run, but Dominika came under scrutiny for aborting her attack. She claimed the bombs didn't release due to a malfunction (which was borne out by an investigation of the plane), but was criticised for not sending her navigator out to at least try and release them manually. Her failure lead to an informal interview with the unit's assistant NKVD officer, who decided that she was telling the truth, but used the incident as leverage to get Dominika to frame an officer of the 218th for her. You've guessed it - Lt. Yurlov.

At this point we called time on the game. They have one training exercise left - a proper attack on German positions. Before then, Natalya has plans to start her gambling enterprise, whilst Dominika is now stuck informing both for and against Lt. Yurlov. And all this whilst trying to get their planes and crews ready for an attack on an enemy that shoots back.

I was surprised how easy the game was to run. I wouldn't say our role-playing was slick, or remained in character the whole time, but with a basic setting and a few prompts the game has begun to deliver a world where characters are teetering on the brink of disaster much of the time (even if they are mostly ones of their own making). It's only a matter of time before incidents which are currently just annoyances will lead to tragedy instead. High point of the session for me was Catherine exchanging insults with Lt Yurlov, until she decided to just punch him in the face, and hang the consequences.

*Actually the rules I missed is fairly critical, since it causes even a successful attack run to have at least one detrimental effect on a crew or plane. These cause complications after the mission, on top of the ones caused by day to day life on the base. I will remember to apply it to future missions.

**I have no idea if poker was even played in Soviet Russia in the 1940s. We'll assume that *some* card game filled the role, and just call it poker.

Friday, 26 April 2019

HOTT

I played a couple of 24AP HOT games with Gary last night. He has 15mm figures mounted on 60mm frontages, so the armies look pretty good. He used some warband-heavy Orcs, defending against a blades and knights-based Chaos army.

(Apologies for the picture quality - I was obviously off my game yesterday)


Chaos.


Orcs.


The main fight was on the flank, where the Orc wolf-riders, aided by a hero, met the Chaos lizard-riders, also led by a hero.


The heroes met in a classic HOTT hero lottery and, despite having a one point overlap advantage, my hero was slain by the Orc.


It went downhill from there. The death of my hero, followed by a rubbish PIP roll saw Gary seize the initiative and my magician general was soon surrounded and dispatched.


We swapped sides. Again the mounted lined up against each other. Gary tried to eliminate my hero with his magician, who completely failed to find the right spell.


My hero cut through the Chaos knights before him, but Chaos was on a roll everywhere else along the line.


My hero was dispatched, followed by the last unit of wolf-riders. The Chaos magician slew a pair of warband, and it was all over for the Orcs.


Meanwhile Caesar and Vic were trying out Hail Caesar, using some nice semi-Dark Age armies Vic had put together (and which Caesar bulked out with some of his Saga units).




The single-base units on a 120mm frontage would make for an excellent large HOTT game, I think (on a 6' square table, naturally).


Thursday, 25 April 2019

Pioneer I

I was tidying out a bookshelf today, and came across a few print-and-play games I'd stashed in it. One of them was 'Brown Water Submarines', which is a simple game - more of a simulator - of ACW submarine operations. Included in it was a piece of paper with my scribbled rules changes on it, and I thought that it would be interesting to see if, nearly five years on, I could understand what I'd written.

So I set up a game.

I used CSS Pioneer I - 4 knots speed with a screw-in torpedo. The rules aren't totally clear how those work; it's implied under another submarine that the vessel has to be stationary on the turn that the weapon is deployed, so I went for that. It's a solitaire game, so the only person for whom I'm making life easier or more difficult is me. And an extra turn in danger gives a better story.

I randomly generated the setup. The Confederates were operating in a harbour, which offers the easiest attacks, and it was may, so the water wasn't considered cold. I played with tides, which offer random changes to how far the vessel moves.

Pioneer started at a reasonable distance from its target, but the tide was running such that it would receive a generous boost to its movement. I chose to run on the surface, with the hatch open and candle lit. This offered more risk to the crew, and a chance of being spotted later, but I wanted to conserve the crew's strength and light and air for as long as possible does this. 



The submarine moved swiftly towards its target, and stayed on curse despite a collision with another vessel in the darkness. Closing the hatches and extinguishing the candle the crew lined up for the attack. However the vessel was still on the surface, and a lookout on the Union ship saw them. The Union ship raised anchor and moved off.


Pioneer cast around for an alternative target, but none was to be found. So the crew turned the submarine for home, and the turning tide brought them back safely.

The next night they set out again, having established the new position of their previous target. Conditions were not as ideal, however. The tide wasn't as strong, slowing the approach. And, worse, a squall caused the water to get suddenly rough, swamping Pioneer. With the hatches open this was fatal, and the vessel went straight to the bottom only a couple of hundred yards from its moorings.

A week or so later the vessel had been raised, its crew buried and the reserve crew cajoled into making a third attack. This time the tide was completely against them, and their long approach would be made entirely via the crew's own strength. They started off well, but were not even close to the target when a squall blew up. The crew managed to keep the submarine from being swamped this time. However the change in weather must have concerned the crew of the target, for it raised anchor and moved off into the night. Once again a quick search of the harbour failed to find any alternative targets, so Pioneer turned for home. An incoming tide made for a speedy passage, and all would have been well, except that Pioneer collided with two small craft trying to reach its moorings. The crew returned, frustrated and tired.

The next night they had another try. Again the tide wasn't in their favour, and the target was a long way out in the harbour. So the captain of the Pioneer secured the services of a tug to get them part of the way there. And it did. About halfway to the target, the tug cut the line and the Pioneer continued under its own power. To avoid being spotted this time they dived earlier, but problems with the pumps saw them sit on the bottom for a while until they were repaired. They continued to the target, but were mortified to see it repeat its performance of the previous night and sail off. Once again there was no new target, so the tired crew turned for home. They were working against an outgoing tide, and progress was slow, with the sub snagging on the bottom of the harbour for a brief while. Pioneer came to the surface, but some of the crew's energy was expended controlling one of their number who started to panic. The captain opened the hatch in order to provide the crew with air to give them strength for the long trip home. This meant that he spotted a picket boat in time to avoid any incident with it. Unfortunately their encounter left the sub off-course and as they corrected their heading they found the bows of their earlier target bearing down on them. Pioneer was lost as water flooded through the open hatch.

I'm beginning to think that leaving the hatch open is a bad thing.






Sunday, 21 April 2019

Rebels & Patriots

Caesar and I had another go at Rebels & patriots on Thursday, using Vic's 28mm figures instead on my 6mm units. We used 1862 companies. Caesar and Vic took the Union, whilst I took the Confederates. The Confederate force was small, but enthusiastic, whilst the Union had more green troops, and were less effective in close combat, but had an extra unit.

I'm afraid the terrain ended up being unintentionally ... phallic. 


Once again the objective was undisputed control of the central hill for more turns than the opposition managed, in a game with a random turn length. I pushed forward toward the objective, whilst my artillery, which had a line of fire on the central Union units, provided support.


Meanwhile I sent one unit towards the fields  on my left flank, where Vic had a couple of infantry units up to no good.


He came forward enthusiastically, but my troops hopped the hedge-line, and charged his lead unit, driving it off. The other unit tried musketry, but with little effect.


We ended up in a series of charges and counter-charges.


Meanwhile in the centre, my leader's unit was on the reverse slope and in range of the objective. Caesar had tried to advance his two units, but one was suffering badly from the artillery fire, whilst the other kept failing activation rolls. I had undisputed control of the objective for three turns.


Casualties mounted on the flank, as a series of fierce melees were fought.


Caesar finally brought up troops to contest the hill, but he needed to drive off mine before he could start scoring points. And he had to crest the ill to do that, or outflank my position.


An outflanking move wasn't going to come on my left. The Confederates won the day there, with both Union units breaking and running. One contained the Union company commander, and his loss broke the Union artillery as well.


With the Union morale collapsing, Caesar considered his options in the centre, but at that point the game ended, having run for no more than the minimum eight turns possible.


The game played very smoothly as we had more of a handle on the rules this time. Also pretty quickly as well (although the shortest possible finish helped there). It does pay to keep your eye on the objective, which is such that a side can win even if their units are wiped out; it's about holding ground for as long as possible rather than killing the enemy.

We may move on to another scenario in the next game.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Conflict Of Interests


Last week I thought I had dodged a bullet with regard to my regular Thursday night wargaming, in that my next set of burlesque lessons would all be taking place on a Saturday, and that there would be no clash.

Unfortunately I was wrong.

So for the whole of May, and most of June, I will have to skip my regular gaming fix, in favour of sequins, corsets and performance.


Never take on more than one hobby ...

This is actually a big step for me, which is why I'm keen to do the classes. One class will be another group performance such as we did last year. But the other will be about developing my first solo routine, which (assuming it goes OK) I will be performing in June. It's definitely one of those things where if I don't do it now I will find ways of putting it off forever. It's just a shame that gaming will have to take a backseat whilst I work on it.

(The pictures accompanying this short post were taken at Red Light Confidential in Sydney in October 2018, and show our group doing the routine we learned in our last set of classes. They are copyright Rob Studdert Photography)

Thursday, 18 April 2019

A Taste Of Rebels And Patriots

I'm off into the wilderness for a couple of days, so don't have time to write up a full game report of tonight's Rebels & Patriots battle. So here's a taster, and you can have the rest after the weekend's over.


Wednesday, 17 April 2019

The Sultan And The Snakemen

Fresh from his victory over Arthur's knights, the Sultan found himself facing a new foe ...


... the slithery Ophidians, with their core of mystical magicians. Fortunately the Sultan's army contained a wise cleric to counter the snakes' dark magic.


The main body of the Ophidian army was made up of fierce warriors, supported by archer, and these advanced rapidly on the centre. The Sultan's horsemen rode forward to occupy a hill opposite the Ophidian sorcerers.


The magicians attacked in close combat, confident of driving the cavalry back, or at least pinning it whilst the warriors did their work in the centre.


Archers exchanged fire on the flank.


In the centre the warriors attacked the Sultan's foot, who fled almost immediately. Including the cleric.


The Sultan ordered his cavalry into a counter-attack, supported by the flying carpets, and the Ophidian's chief magician found herself in serious trouble. One of the minor magician fell in combat with the bold Arab horsemen.


The Ophidian warriors now attacked the Sultan himself, whilst their chief magician fought for her life.


A minor magician used magic to force the flying carpets to flee, taking the pressure off the Ophidian general.


The Sultan wasn't so lucky - his bodyguard was overwhelmed by the Ophidian warriors, and the battle was lost.


In terms of kills the Ophidian victory was achieved by the four warband in the centre, who destroyed, two hordes, a cleric and a blade general. This is generally the way with warband-based armies; you either win big or die horribly.


Sunday, 14 April 2019

Arthur and The Sultan Of Z'uing

Arthur and his Knights travelled far and wide in their quest for the Holy Grail. This particular sunny Sunday afternoon saw them in the lands of the Sultan of Z'uing (way down south).

The Sultan led his army out to meet the King of the Britons.


Arthur placed himself in the centre of his knights on the right flank, leaving Merlin and Lancelot to cover the left flank.


Simple plans are always the best; Arthur's knights would be more than a match for the lighter Arab horseman, so a straight charge on the flank was obviously the approach to go for.


Assassins sneaked out between the lines as they closed.


Contact!


Arthur and his men drove their foes back, but now their flanks were exposed. I mean you saw that coming, yes?


The Sultan of Z'uing was famous for deploying flying carpets as part of his army, and their heroic riders fell on Arthur's right flank. Meanwhile his skilled archers turned on the left.


Arthur's men held, and kept driving the Arabs back, destroying one troop of horse.


But some knights fell to the flying carpets.


The assassins caused disruption in Arthur's rear, evading an attempt by the foot-soldiers to chase them down.


More knights fell to archery.


Arthur was now looking dangerously exposed.



Merlin led the foot-soldiers to the rescue.


But the Sultan led his bodyguard in a counter-attack.


And Arthur fell. Oh dear.


Arthur and his knights lost Arthur and two elements of knights. The Sultan of Z'uing lost two riders. But I think we've learned that an unsupported attack by knights is a recipe for disaster.
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