‘Thirsty Sword Lesbians’ Publisher Is Releasing a New Magical Girl Tabletop RPG!
Thirsty Sword Lesbians publisher Evil Hat Productions revealed a brand new game last week, featuring magical girl imagery that invokes all of your favorite characters. The game, which is slated to launch next month on crowdfunding platform BackerKit, is called Girl by Moonlight and is designed by Andrew Gillis.
“I wanted to make a game that was to Blades in the Dark what Monsterhearts was to Apocalypse World—a game that takes two seemingly incompatible ideas and synthesizes them into a compelling and unexpected outcome,” Gillis told The Mary Sue via email. “I also wanted to use magical girls as a metaphor to talk about a certain trans experience. This idea of having an unrealized other self, and how embodying that other self can be an act of defiance.”
Blades in the Dark is an original RPG system designed by John Harper. It’s a fiction-first game that puts the character’s position (desperate or risky, for example) first, then bases mechanics on it. This gives Game Masters and players tons of opportunities to dig deep, invest in the world, and leave number-crunching and stat blocks behind. Girl by Moonlight is based on this system, and it includes four adventures that tailor the core rulebook to each one’s specific subgenres.
“The world of the game is something that the players all collaborate to create. There’s no canonical setting. Instead, you choose a series playset that you use to create antagonists, the world, and the themes for your game. So your series of Girl by Moonlight is going to be totally different from mine, even as we are using a shared set of tools and materials to build our setting and so on,” Gillis said. “The playsets are very flexible, since you’re interpreting their contents, and they span a range of different themes and take the concept of ‘magical girl’ to some pretty divergent places.”
“At the Brink of the Abyss,” inspired by Steven Universe and Sailor Moon, is about heroes trying to reclaim a corrupt world. “Beneath a Rotting Sky,” inspired by Puella Magi Madoka Magica, is a tragic story about betrayal in which the player characters are complicit in their world’s oppression, which ultimately leads to their undoing. “On a Sea of Stars,” inspired by Diebuster and The Vision of Escaflowne, is about mecha pilots attempting to save themselves from extinction at the hands of the overwhelmingly powerful Leviathans. Last but not least, “In a Maze of Dreams,” inspired by Paprika and Serial Experiments Lain, is about dream travelers attempting to uncover the truth behind a magical conspiracy in a world where ideas develop lives of their own and desire and mass culture are tightly enmeshed.
As for character creation, there are seven playbooks in Girl by Moonlight: “the Unlikely Hero,” “the Outsider,” “the Guardian,” “the Time Traveller,” “the Harmony,” “the Enigma,” and “the Stranger.”
“Each one offers a different spin on being a ‘magical girl’ for protagonists to embody. The common thread in all of them, though, is that I wanted each of them to point back at the other protagonists in some way. Some are very direct in this, like the Time Traveller who is trying to prevent some terrible fate that will befall one of the other characters,” Gillis explained. “Others are indirect, like the Stranger, who has a fundamentally different relationship to emotion and connection than the other protagonists, and needs to find some way to cross that divide. Your story is always going to feature the other characters, and you’re part of theirs as well.”
Gillis has been working on Girl by Moonlight since late 2016, and it started as a Powered By the Apocalypse game. Although the design was mostly complete by early 2018, Gillis said they spent most of that year in the hospital or a spinal core injury rehab center.
“The arc of that recovery was quite long, and I didn’t really get back into the game until 2020, and it was slow going. I still had to write the game manual, and I really struggled with getting into writing examples and explaining the game in a way that I felt good about,” they said. “I’m truly grateful to my editor Daniel Wood (editor of Monsterhearts, designer of My Daughter the Queen of France, and a longtime friend of mine) for helping me find a voice for the book.”
They cited “Eclipse” as their favorite part of Girl by Moonlight, which they said is a take on the “darkest self” from the game Monsterhearts. They described it as “a fractured inversion of the protagonists’ virtues.”
“I always loved playing my darkest self in Monsterhearts, and I wanted to use something similar in my game to highlight the potential in the protagonists not only for transcendent beauty and defiance, but also the ways that people can succumb to pressure, or pursue dysfunctional and self-destructive outcomes. It serves as a release valve both mechanically, and for the players. Sometimes you just need to embrace your villain arc for a little bit so that you can enjoy being the hero later.”
Gillis hopes players will “think of themselves as authors and creators contributing to the magical girl genre” and that the game “offers players a chance to explore identity and play in that space that is so often off-limits in our daily lives. We need queer stories, especially in the face of so much open hostility. I don’t expect my little game to change the world or anything, but I hope that it can give people an excuse to make meaningful connections and tell beautiful stories.
“I encourage anyone reading this to go find people in their communities who are doing good work, and to contribute their time and effort to those causes. My game presents a fantasy where big problems are given monstrous form and can be dealt with using magic, but in reality, we make that change by organizing and building power.”
Girl by Moonlight launches May 23 on BackerKit. For updates, sign up here.
(featured image: Raven Warner / Evil Hat Productions)
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