A shining circle that says "Girl by Moonlight" near the top of the cover, with shadowy eyes hovering in the background. In the foreground is a femme presenting character in a shoulderless dress, wearing a crown, with braids framing their head. Reflected in the images on the figure's dress are four other characters, including a figure with a wide brimmed hat and a mask, holding a sword stylized after the head of a quill pen.It’s become a bit of a meme for people to declare characters from different genres to be “magical girls.” Prince Adam lives his life, during the day, as an unassuming royal heir that hasn’t quite grown up enough to assume his full responsibilities, but when he holds his sword aloft and says “by the power of Grayskull,” he transforms into a big buff dude that can punch holes in tanks. He’s even got a talking cat.

But a lot of those memes assume that the concept of the magical girl is really about Sailor Moon style stories. You have young women living a normal life at school, with normal student problems, who are also superheroes that need to transform into their superhero persona and save the world. But the magical girl genre is broader than those tropes. In broader terms, the magical girl genre is about someone who has magical powers that aren’t common in the society they live in, dealing with the dual nature of being separate from the world they live in, while also living in it.

Two of the earliest magical girl creators in Japan, Mitsuteru Yokoyama and Fujio Akatsuka, have cited the American sitcom Bewitched as an inspiration. While I have watched many magical girl anime stories, I grew up watching Bewitched, so this makes a lot of things click for me. Samantha is a woman with magical powers. She comes from a culture that can’t be revealed to the contemporary American culture to which her husband belongs. She had to deal with complications in her mundane life, as well as using her powers to deal with the complications that arise from her connection to a magical other world.

Understanding that underlying concept of being an outsider who would be less conflicted if you could be what you are, all the time, and juggling the mundane complications that everyone in your position in society needs to deal with, along with additional complications that come with being who you really are, is really important to understanding the game we’re looking at today, Girl by Moonlight.


I did not receive a review copy of Girl by Moonlight, and I was a backer of the crowdfunding campaign for the game. I have not had the opportunity to play the game, although I do have experience both playing and running Forged in the Dark games, the engine on which the game is built. I have played and run other magical girl RPGs, though, so I have that going for me.

 Girl by Moonlight

Publisher Evil Hat
Author Andrew Gillis
Editors Daniel Wood, Jenn Martin
Proofreader Jenn Martin
Cover Artists Lorne Colt, Kelsey Phillips
Design Consultant Luke Jordan
Indexer Sadie Neat
Art Director Trivia Fox
Interior Artists Carly A-F, Lonnie Garcia, Kelsey Phillips, Zak Goggins, Simon Sweetman, Raven Warner, Jabari Weathers
Sensitivity Readers Jess Meier, Takuma Okada
Layout & Graphic Design John Harper, Fred Hicks
Playtesters Allison Arth, Andi Carrison, Ash Mcallan, Emily Mcallan, John Harper, Luke Jordan, Melody Watson, Nadja Otikor, Violet Miller

A dark purple background, with shining stars in multiple places. At the bottom of the page is a light inside a tunnel of swirling colors. A face emerges from the stars, with glowing eyes, and swirling hair drifting into the colored lines streaked across the image.Girl by Moonlight Format Power, Mark Up!

This review is based on both the physical copy of Girl by Moonlight, and the PDF version of the product. The physical copy I received is the limited edition cover, because I’m extremely weak against the powers of FOMO.

If you have any of the other Evil Hat Forged in the Dark games, the physical book matches the digest hardcover format of the other games they have released, like Blades in the Dark, Scum and Villainy, and Band of Blades. This also has the matte finish cover that those books have. The pages are sturdy, glossy, and hold the colors in a vibrant manner. The end papers display a repeating pattern of the symbols that appear in the game, in purple, blue, green, and dark pink.

The PDF and the book are 226 pages long. This includes a title page, a publication page, a two-page table of contents, a two-page index, a three-page summary of game rules, and a page of author bios. The PDF includes an image of the limited edition cover in addition to the standard cover.

The book itself has bold headers, many bullet points, it’s “side bars” are actually color bands that introduce their topics in the center of the page, and the layout is in single column format. I love lots of different book formats and flourishes, but I don’t think Evil Hat gets enough credit for maintaining very clear, uncluttered formatting that still looks very inviting and attractive. They make books that bridge the gap between bold, clear formatting, and stylish presentation, better than about anyone else. Girl by Moonlight is no exception.

The Magical Girl Power Source: Forged in the Dark

When Blades in the Dark introduced the Forged in the Dark engine to RPG games, it was built to portray heist-based action, where the story follows a predictable pattern that moves from gathering information, performing missions, dealing with consequences, and working on long term projects. While this makes sense for games about mercenaries trying to survive the winter, striving against an enemy force, or space pirates trying to get rich while dodging the authorities and avoiding political entanglements, it may not seem to be the most natural engine for magical girls.

Remember up in the introduction when I mentioned the expanded concept of magical girls that goes beyond the superhero style magical girl stories? This game uses the more structured, procedural format of the Forged in the Dark engine to make sure that characters think about each aspect of what the stories they are telling are touching upon. Right away in Girl by Moonlight, the book introduces the thesis of this game. Magical Girls, in this instance, are symbolic of people that belong to a marginalized community, drawing the most direct inspiration from the marginalization LBGTQIA+ people experience. If the only version of magical girls you have been exposed to has been the 90s version of Sailor Moon introduced in the United States, you may not realize exactly how apt it is to use the Magical Girl genre in this way.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about and want a quick course, go google Sailor Neptune, Sailor Uranus, or the Amazon Trio, especially if you’ve only encountered 90s Sailor Moon. Then come back. Is it clearer now? Okay, let’s get back to it.

It’s also probably important to point out that “magical girls” in this game aren’t limited to people whose gender identity is female. The genre leans towards portraying women protagonists, but includes characters that have a male gender identity, or do not conform to a gender binary. The term “magical girl,” however, does help to remind us that the default protagonist in these stories isn’t a straight cis male.

The structured nature of the Forged in the Dark engine makes it very clear how each aspect of gameplay contributes to the narrative of marginalized people living in a world that doesn’t accept them, while not being able to ignore the aspects of themselves that aren’t accepted. The phases of play in this game are:

  • Obligation
  • Downtime
  • Mission
  • Fallout

Each of these phases will look different depending on the series framework that the group agrees to use, but in general, this means that the characters will need to deal with what the mundane world expects them to do, choose what projects they want to focus on, attempt to fight back against the manifested destructed elements of the story in the mission, and deal with how the resolution of the mission affects the character’s long term goals and their daily lives.

While there has been a trend in a few more well known iterations of games based on the Forged in the Dark engine to move away from some of the more granular aspects of Forged in the Dark resolution, most of those standards as still present in this game. The baseline of the game is taking an action to resolve a situation, rolling a number of dice based on the ratings of the action being used, modified by help provided by others and additional dice provided by taking a dangerous compromise, and taking the highest result of the dice. If your highest die is 1-3, you don’t get what you want, if it’s a 4-5, you get it with a complication, and on a 6, you do exactly what you wanted to do the way you wanted to do it.

Downtime allows you to do things like recover from stress or start and advance long term projects. Mission objectives that can’t be resolved with a single action are tracked with clocks. Fallout can force the PCs to deal with enemy attacks when they aren’t ready, or see their opposition increase in tier, meaning that the PCs will  have a harder time advancing mission clocks against the threats they face (usually because it takes more successes to fill in a clock to completion).

Depending on the series playset, there are aspects similar to claiming territory in Blades in the Dark. You might expand your superhero hideout’s resources, the carrier ship facilities of your bastion, or shut down aspects of an ongoing conspiracy.

A femme presenting character wearing a crown in their hair, which is collected in many long braids. They have dark skin, and are wearing an armored breastplate with flowinging multicolored skirts coming out of the bottom of the breastplate. There is a strange structure in the middle of the page, and towards the top of the page is a humanoid femme presenting character with long hair, whose form is made of the night sky. There is a crescent moon in the sky, purple, blue, and orange clouds, and stars peeking through the clouds.Transforming the Forged in the Dark Engine

One of the ways that Girl by Moonlight addresses the genre is by introducing Transcendence. When characters meet the conditions by which they transform, they gain access to the Transcendent special abilities on their playbook, gain the use of armor, pick up more dots in some of their action ratings, and gain increased effect. Remember when we said that the opposition tier might go up, making it harder to fill your mission clocks . . . this is one of the ways you can counter that. Of course, there are also some powerful forces that you really can’t act against unless you are transcended.

There are a limited number of actions you can take while you are transcended. Because actions, especially in missions, represent more than just punching someone once or lifting a heavy object, this doesn’t mean that you only stay transformed for a minute or two, but it does mean that you only have so many mechanically significant, player driven moments with your transcended powers.

In many Forged in the Dark games, when your stress track is full, you leave the scene and take some kind of long term mark or injury before your character returns to play. Instead of leaving the scene, a stressed-out character falls into Eclipse. Eclipse is like the concept of the Darkest Self from Monsterhearts. You don’t become an enemy fighting against your friends, but the actions you are taking are harmful to your psyche and push yourself beyond your personal boundaries. You leave eclipse when one of your allies performs the action that is listed on your playbook as your escape.

All of this is meant to show that you have to fight to act as your true self and make it count, and that because you can’t always be the self you want to be, you have these shadows that fall over you, telling you that you aren’t the person that you want to be.

The specific actions in Girl by Moonlight include:

  • Defy
  • Empathize
  • Express
  • Confess
  • Forgive
  • Perceive
  • Analyze
  • Conceal
  • Flow

The playbooks that the game uses include the following:

  • Enigma (the mysterious character that helps the others while hiding who they are even from their allies)
  • Stranger (the character that doesn’t connect with others as well as they do with things)
  • Time Traveller (someone that knows what happens in one version of the future, and is trying to change things)
  • Harmony (two characters in such a harmonious relationship that they act together to accomplish things)
  • Guardian (the honor bound hero)
  • Outsider (the character with a shady past and a rivalry with one of their allies)
  • Unlikely Hero (the normal person who helps the other protagonists, and may not see what’s special about themselves)

Before we move on from the playbooks, I would just like to quote how your character views the world if they fall into Eclipse as the Unlikely Hero: “you are not who they need you to be. You’re weak, useless, unworthy of their friendship. They have given so much to you, and in return you give them nothing.”

Girl by Moonlight. I don’t know why you need to attack me personally, but I’m telling my therapist about this.

Another unique aspect of Girl by Moonlight are links. You gain links with different characters, and you can spend them in a number of ways to help one another, like recovering stress, ignoring harm, boosting an ally’s action, or preventing them from falling into eclipse. This is to reinforce the fact that the protagonists aren’t just individuals working towards a common goal, but that working together is one of the protagonists’ goals.

A dark skinned woman in a business suit has a black crown hovering in front of her. Behind her is a femme presenting figure made of shadow. At the bottom of the page are four people. One is wearing a breastplate with a skirt under it, other is wearing a mask, a cape, and is carrying a sword, another has a huge axe/pick combination, and the last is holding a book.The Series

A game of Girl by Moonlight is a combination of picking your playbook, and picking the series that you are going to play. Series may have special rules that affect the general rules of the game, like the shrines that grant special abilities in At the Brink of the Abyss, the modified means by which the characters must recover stress and transcendence in Beneath a Rotting Sky, the rules for bonding with your giant robot friends in On the Sea of Stars, or the intimate moment rules for In a Maze of Dreams. They also have specific series abilities that can be taken in addition to playbook abilities, as well as customized transcendent abilities.

While there is a general theme for each of the series, the group still customizes and details the elements when they discuss what series they want to play. For example, they will often define the form the series opposition takes, where the characters derive their powers, what the mundane obligations of the characters are, and what end they are working towards, or fighting against.

The series included in the book are the following:

  • At the Brink of the Abyss (magical girls as superheroes fighting for a better future)
  • Beneath a Rotting Sky (magical girls as supernatural hunters fighting against a corruption that will ultimately break them)
  • On a Sea of Stars (magical girls as mech pilots defending the last vestiges of human society against a destructive alien entity and its minions)
  • In a Maze of Dreams (magical girls as manifestations of the characters’ subconscious selves, investigating the dreams of others to uncover an ongoing conspiracy)

Each of these series not only presents a different collection of tropes to utilize in storytelling, but also uses these different settings to explore different aspects of characters dealing with their marginalization in the face of the challenges they encounter. Not every setting is about our protagonists fighting hard and prevailing in the end.

At the Brink of the Abyss is what many people will think of when they think of the magical girls genre. Characters have a mundane, day-to-day life, with responsibilities they must perform. There is a unifying villainous force that both infects day to day life, making it harder for our protagonists to be themselves, and manifested villainous monsters, which can be challenged with superheroic action. Monsters in the setting are usually regular people corrupted by the unifying evil force that heroes are working against and can often be “saved” by reaching the human within the monster and appealing to their better nature. While the PCs still need to deal with the evil force corrupting society, they can defeat evil and make the world better. Some of the people that are adversaries are just people that don’t understand how they have been manipulated. It’s an overall more positive and optimistic setting, emphasizing perseverance and communication to overcome bigotry.

Beneath a Rotting Sky is perhaps the polar opposite of At the Brink of the Abyss. A very horror-inflected series, the evil that is corrupting society is so entrenched in the world that it’s not likely that it can ever be cleansed. If characters want to remove stress and recharge their powers, they need to consume the hearts of the monsters they hunt. They must deal with an opposing group of hunters who act as their rivals. They are portrayed as survivors, doing the best they can for as long as they can, until they can’t anymore. They try to do what they do because they don’t want to give up, not because they can win. In some ways, they are never fully free of the taint that has affected society, even when acting against the monsters of the setting, and may even come into conflict with others who are just trying to do the same things that the protagonists are doing. This series really explores the stress of existing in a world that actively resists change, and rather than moving forward, sometimes actively moves backward.

On a Sea of Stars splits the difference between the two previously detailed series. The humans’ last bastion isn’t as open and welcoming as it should be, meaning that the PCs may need to fight to make the surviving human society better in addition to fighting against the external forces trying to destroy humanity. It’s not assumed that the PCs will succeed, like At the Brink of the Abyss, but they aren’t doomed to eventually fall, as in Beneath a Rotting Sky. On a Sea of Stars puts an emphasis on building defenses and improving the human bastions, so that they can survive while the PCs are out taking the fight to the alien leviathans, which introduces the idea that big, grand gestures aren’t the only thing necessary to be successful, but also long term planning and change.

In a Maze of Dreams is the most conceptual of the settings. In superhero settings like the one detailed in At the Brink of the Abyss, the character’s heroic identity is often referred to as their “alter-ego,’ their self in a different reality. In a Maze of Dreams presents the concept that your transformed identity is really your “alter-Id,” your drives and desires given active reign over your supercharged form. The emphasis in this series is that there isn’t a big, obvious villain to fight, rather there are nefarious people that are subtly linked, causing harm as part of an established superstructure. Characters go into the dreams of people to determine how and if they are parts of the conspiracy, while also exploring desires and aspirations that the protagonist doesn’t fully understand. In a way, it’s trying to do what’s right, without knowing what’s right, while also learning why you really do the things you do.

Viewing the game through the lens of the series playbooks brings into focus what the game is trying to accomplish, using both the magical girl genre and the Forged in the Dark engine as tools to that end. Each of these series explores an aspect of surviving and interacting with society as a queer individual, each one asking, “but how would it change if you had to face this?” In some ways, it feels like the ultimate experience of this game would be to play through all these series and examine what they all say, and where those narratives overlap. That said, I can also see where some of these settings would be harder to engage with. For example, I could see running or playing in At the Brink of the Abyss or On a Sea of Stars, because when I’m gaming, I like at least the possibility of a happy ending. I may be able to engage with In a Maze of Dreams if I was in the right, introspective mindset, but I suspect that Under a Rotting Sky would be emotionally taxing for me in a way I wouldn’t enjoy.

That’s not a proclamation on what series are “good” or “bad.” I think, as a product, that Under a Rotting Sky and In a Maze of Dreams make the product feel more complete for the perspectives that those series offer. Other people are going to have different dials and perspectives they enjoy when they address these topics in a game.

Cosmic Heart Compact
 This game is going to be a great tool for using fantasy elements to explore important issues facing queer people in modern society, as well as exploring how marginalized people survive and work to change society in a narrative form. 

This is one of those games that I feel is just as strong as a commentary as it is as an actual game, but it balances that commentary and gamification well enough to be both. The specific phases of play support the exploration of the game’s themes by pacing the game in step with the topics introduced in the other phases. The four series do a wonderful job at touching on the same topics, while also turning the dials on the details up or down to explore the same philosophical questions with different priorities.

Losing the Crystal Star

I think anyone looking at this game closely will understand that it’s “magical girls used to produce a specific experience,” but it’s probably still worth noting that if you want a game that leans harder on blow by blow action against a villain of the week, the pace of this game is probably going to be more deliberate and more introspective than you want to scratch that itch. It’s not really a failing of the game, so much as an easily foreseen misalignment of expectations.

Recommended–If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.

This game is going to be a great tool for using fantasy elements to explore important issues facing queer people in modern society, as well as exploring how marginalized people survive and work to change society in a narrative form. In addition to its use as an active tool at the gaming table, both for having fun and exploring perspectives, I think that anyone that is concerned about queer marginalization, and who enjoys engaging with tabletop gaming rules will benefit from reading through this book, even if they never get the game into active use.

If you just want to punch evil in the face after your magical girl transformation, you may still get something out of this game, just know that the focus of the game isn’t squarely fixed on that aspect of the story as the primary narrative. Even at that, there are still some series and playbooks that lean more closely to what you may want out of the game.

Maybe someday, when enough people have played games like this, and internalized what they learn at the gaming table, they’ll realize that Samantha should have been able to be accepted as a witch even though she married a man. Her current partner didn’t make her any less of a witch, even when she wasn’t actively using her powers.