Red Sisters, Black Skies: Women at the Gaming Table and Designing for Gender

Last weekend, at Phenomenon 2017, I facilitated two sessions of an 18-player freeform/live-action role-playing game I’ve designed over the last year (with a great deal of help and encouragement). It was called Red Sisters, Black Skies.

Red Sisters was originally inspired by the incredible Night Witches, by Jason Morningstar, about an all-woman regiment of Soviet bomber pilots during the Great Patriotic War. After reading that game, I was desperate to run a LARP that explored the lives of the Night Witches. The final product shared little resemblance to the source material, but I’m eternally thankful for the seed that Night Witches planted, that grew into Red Sisters. I strongly recommend checking it out.

From the blurb for Red Sisters:

It is April 1945 and Berlin will soon fall to the Red Army. The fight against the fascist wolves is bloody, desperate and uncertain. But the airwomen of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment have other things to think about.

They’re making sure their planes keep running, that their friends (or lovers) are safe from both German flak and the perils of life on an airbase. Most of all, they’re trying to find something to keep them going.

It’s not easy to fly every night over enemy lines. There’s too many farewells and regrets. Too many dead friends and not enough good news. To fight despair with hope and make it through each day, they need to repair relationships and planes, confront the ghosts of the past, and find a place in their fragile sisterhood.

For these women, war is more than the constant bombing runs. It’s about their relationships with the other women on base, making hard decisions, and coming home safely. It’s also about a birthday, and being a part of a community.

Both sessions went perfectly, better than I could ever have imagined they would. I’m still a little overwhelmed by the stories the players created, and the lovely things I’ve been told since. (I won the Best New Designer Award! I’m still in shock, to be honest).

From concept to execution, the process was exciting and harrowing in equal measure, and I can’t help but look back and try to learn something from it all. There are a lot of things I could say about the process and how it was executed, and there is a lot of analysis still to come, but I want to start with the lesson that was closest to my heart.

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