Dexcon After Action Report
Dexcon After Action Report
I ran two sessions of Night Witches at Dexcon 2016 (many thanks to Jason Morningstar for the shout-out) and both went well.
I used a mashup of the “Pashkovskaya Nocturne” and my own ideas from when I ran that duty station for my meetup group. This involved adding a couple of stock characters I use, some of which play against type a bit. You can see them on the linked TOE I made for the sessions (the large blank boxes were so that I could write in the names of the PCs.)
Here’s the new NPCs:
Capt. Ekaterina Pavlovna Zaharina, REGT Chief of Staff: a new transfer from the 587th; she was invalided to staff duty following a crash. Capt. Zaharina is dedicated, and one of the few officers to have been in the Red Army before the Great Patriotic War. She’s not doctrinaire at all, and sees her primary responsibility as keeping the regiment happy and healthy so that they can kill Germans.
When I ran this scenario for the meetup, I succeeded at making the captain the kind of CO people would gladly fight and die for, which was my purpose; it’s so easy to fall into the kind of crapsack world (I mean, life was legitimately terrible) that the war story meme of the officer you’d follow to hell sometimes gets overlooked. At Dexcon, Captain Zaharina was in the background mostly.
Capt. Nadezhda Ivanovna Toropova, REGT Zampolit: In 1943, the politruks were taken out of chain of command; to reflect that I use the contemporary term “zampolit”. Capt. Toropova is young, blond, and perky; I basically describe her as a Komsomol camp counselor in over her head. (Her motto is “Our goal is socialism, our weapon is education!”) With Nadia I wanted to play against the stereotype of the evil and uncaring politruk. In the campaign, she eventually broke down from the darkness around her; at Dexcon, she mostly kept her optimism. (I based her, slightly, on the interview with a political officer in A Dance With Death.)
SLT Olga Olegovna Lavrova, Deputy Zampolit: Of course, I still wanted a vicious zampolit somewhere, and Olga filled that job. She was a Bolshevik before there were Bolsheviks, having been sent to the camps by the Tsar after the 1905 Revolution. (She also liked to name drop how she’d been at Finland Station when “Vladimir Ilyich” returned to Petrograd.) Olga probably is affiliated with SMERSH and is definitely antagonistic to the PCs. (One of her specialties is asking a PC to execute a prisoner–with an unloaded pistol, not that the PC knows that–as a test of loyalty.)
Senior SGT Ksenya Krykov: Ksenya is the squadron chief mechanic, a wiry woman in her 50s with close-cropped curly grey hair and a cigarette constantly hanging from her mouth. She’s never lost an air crew and demands of the section CO that she keep up that streak. She’s a Father Hen figure to her three teenaged mechanics.
SGT Lara Nemstova, Squadron Armorer: Lara is a master scrounger; I generally introduce her with a scene where she drags in an ammo box full of cigarettes for her section. She always wears a bulky winter coat and a stocking cap, and has huge round eyeglasses. Lara is also a zek, a political prisoner who was released because of the manpower shortage; if you look closely, you can see all her fingers have been broken. (I usually explain her background as having been a teacher–she likes to read Chekhov–who taught the wrong thing on the wrong week.) Lara is determined never to go back to the camps and carries a straight razor with her at all times to ensure that.
In both sessions, I had the centerpiece be a party thrown in celebration of the visit of Lt. Gen. Miroshnichenko’s visit. I included both times the American businessman on an observation tour with the general, who talked in mumble (“Hermm ha herrmmm ha”) because nobody in the section speaks English 🙂 But the Hershey bars he gives everyone makes up for that.
(When I announce the party, and mention that the gallant airmen of the 218th are coming, I like to wait for the male players to suddenly realize that maybe their PCs need to find some lipstick…)
The Sessions: Thursday night’s session was the lighter in tone of the two. Nadia asked each section to do a talent show for the general; Section 2C was going for interpretive ballet and ended up with one of the airwomen doing contortions to accordion accompaniment; this was described as a little “formalist” by Nadia. Olga staged her mock execution, the section CO was commanded to put a “disloyal” airwoman in the lead plane, but everyone mostly made out well.
Friday afternoon got darker. The section CO, Lena (props to Rebecca W for playing an amazingly dedicated officer) and her navigator were both dedicated, loyal, and conscientious. So conscientious that they actually tried to save Lara by having the political officers declare her rehabilitated. (This never happens!) One airwoman got in trouble and was assigned a punishment detail…helping to decorate the school where the party was going to be held. (The section navigator was asked to make an American flag, but nobody knew what that looked like, so they had to ask Lara…and they still managed to hang it upside down.)
With the engine blown on her lead plane, Lena made a deal to find dates for Ivan Dmitrich, son of Dmitri Popov of the 218th. Ivan was a pig, his comrade Val a cad, but Volodya was sweet and Grigory spent the entire evening weeping on his date. (Val lost a drinking contest with his date, resulting in him and some other 218th airmen dropping in the new engine into the lead plane in the middle of the night.) Meanwhile the performance of the new Soviet Anthem went well, with the Chrisitan member of 2C (who had a surprising baritone) dueting with Major Popov’s pleasant and powerful Russian bass-baritone.
The final mission was the beach supply drop; Lena was flat out told to volunteer for it. (“We’re suspect?” her player asked me. “You’re very loyal; so of course you are,” I replied.) This got messy, with a plane going down…but Lena and her navigator managed to survive both their “behind enemy lines” and “informal interview” moves, so it was a happy ending…I guess?
In all, they were two very nice sessions, I got some flattering comments (probably undeserved) about my MCing, and I spread the glory of our Night Witches game to several new Comrades! Na zdrovie!