How You Can Use Fate Core to Write/Design A Game

Yesterday I wrote about how you can use Fate Core to write a novel. Today, I’m going to tell you how you can use Fate Core to write a game, or a setting, or a scenario, or a campaign…even if that game doesn’t use Fate.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – that sounds crazy. But really it’s not. We’re just going to look at the applications of what we talked about yesterday, and leave the mechanical constructs (fate point economy, dice rolling, etc) to the side for now, else we’ll muddy waters and confuse people (including myself).

Note though, this is how I design things, and my design style may be an entirely different approach than what you do, what you like or how you go about even starting it. I say this not to ward you off, but rather tell you to make this method your own, and that you’re free to change elements to suit your tastes, rather than clone me.

A brief overview is in order:

1. Characters and scenes have aspects.
2. There are four actions – overcome, create an advantage, attack, defend

(see, wasn’t kidding when I said that was brief)

To start this discussion, we have to pick a thing we’re making. Let’s say you’re making something that you can run with your weekly group, but something that if you polished it up enough, you may consider releasing for profit if all goes well. This way, we’ll keep the conversation “local” and free from business-y distractions.

Now we take our first steps and decide what sort of genre this game is going to be in. Will it be steampunk? Will it be swords and sorcery? Will it feature struggles against zombies?

Step 1:: If you haven’t already, write down 1 sentence or phrase (try and center it on the topmost line of the legal pad, if you’re like me) that summarizes the experience of this yet-untitled-game.

Here’s one straight from my little blue notebook of designs —

Prison escape, investigation and catching of real culprits 

Already from this one sentence expression we can pull out concrete requirements for the game. Mine will need a prison to escape from, some badguys to catch, and good guys (the players) who will try to clear their names (suggestive of drama, tension and investigation).

Yours may have aliens, trolls, clowns, goat-bartering or vampires. Whatever you’ve got on your paper, look for the concrete elements. If your sentence doesn’t have any, give it more thought, and write a different sentence.

When you’ve gotten that down on paper, we go forward.

Step 2:: For each concrete thing you can pull out of that sentence, create three to five aspects for each element.

For mine, I divide the legal pad into 3 columns: Prison, Badguys, PCs

Note: I don’t want to dictate what aspects the PCs have – because I want my players to have some creative ability and input in my game. But I can create a loose framework for what sort of aspects work best…essentially crafting boundaries for the field the players operate on, and later (as we’ll see) giving me sentences that I can use to describe the game to others.

Prison
Formidable
Thought to be inescapable 
Made of the best materials available
Heavily guarded
Wretched hive of scum and villainy

Badguys
Veterans of crime
Scarred and broken people
Rough and tumble
Thick
Hungry

Players
Innocents among the guilty
Never going back
Always on the run
Schemers, Fighters and Planners
Adjusting to life on the outside

Step 3:: Using the Aspects as a reference, apply your mechanical base to your elements In my case, that’s NPC(s) and location(s).

Here is a point where we may go down radically different paths. Depending on what mechanical engine you’re using, this step might take some time. That’s okay, this process isn’t quick. Think about how you’ve described the elements of your game, and using your best judgment, convert the words into numbers.

If the Prison is formidable, how many feet thick are the walls? Does your game have an armor rating? Maybe the walls rate a large number. If the badguys are veterans of crime, just how good are they at the criminal skillset your game may have?

When this step is done, you should have stats for some of the components of the thing you’re creating. Over time, as you give this more thought and as we get to applying the four actions, you can flesh out the rest of the stats.

Step 4:: Find the adventure’s best starting point. 

Whether you’ve got adventurers meeting in a tavern, intrepid reporters responding to a Craigslist ad, or a bunch of mercenaries gathered on Gamma Beta Seven, every adventure has a starting point. Now if this adventure is a campaign, then we’re looking for this “episode’s” best starting point.

Starting points are most often exposition dumps, where everyone goes around the table and says who and what their character is, and it can be WAY boring. There are ways around it, by intermingling the backstories of characters (as in Fate games) or by withholding backstories and focusing on the task at hand (as is done in Call of Cthulhu). Keep an eye out for boredom generators (far too much talking, not enough doing, the players don’t engage the mechanics right away), and the adventure can start before you know it.

Step 5:: Map out the adventure, using the four actions of Fate.

Every type of scene the players get into can be expressed as one of the four actions.

Overcome Scenes are those scenes where there are skill-based challenges or puzzles that require the players make use of the mechanics of the game. This could be a sphinx’s riddle, orchestrating a jailbreak, sweet-talking guards instead of fighting them, or anything where a player uses skills or abilities against opposition but doesn’t get into combat.

Advantage Scenes (scenes where the players create an advantage) are those scenes where players use the environment or story detail to improve their situation(s). A super scientist spending time in the lab to create power armor, a thief spending time with the local guild, a cop shaking down informants — all are situations created because the world/environment of the game has made them possible. Yes, the line may blur a little between overcome and advantage scenes, but to distinguish between the two, look at your focus — is the focus on the skill-check? Then it’s an overcome scene. If the focus is on the end result, or you’re likely to handwave the roll, then it’s an advantage scene.

Attack Scenes are combat, most often initiated by the players, where they brandish sword, fists or guns and take on enemy forces. Most often the climax of an adventure is an attack scene or “boss fight”. It doesn’t have to be that way, if your game centers more on investigation (as in Gumshoe) or in self-discovery (“I learned something new about myself!”), then your climaxes aren’t going to be fight-y. Attack scenes are also opportunities for the mechanics of your system to be tested, so if you’re home-brewing, make sure your combative ducks are in a row.

Defense Scenes (scenes where players Defend) are NOT just part of combat. Yes, defense is inherent in combat, as a reaction to a fighting action, but Defense scenes can also lay the groundwork and advantages for future scenes. In an investigative game, these scenes pit clues against reality – as players work to rectify what they know already with new information just acquired (it was old man Jenkins who killed Robbie!) Defense outside of a combat scene is most often a narrative experience, giving characters a chance to explore feelings, situations and experiences to find their place in-game.

There is no standard formula for how many of each scene you have to have, or that every sixth scene must be a combat. But there is a progression within a story of scenes, as tensions rise and build to climax.

Often, Attack scenes sit atop the pyramid, having been set up by Overcome Scenes and Defense Scenes, all predicated on the work established in Advantage Scenes, and lesser Overcome Scenes.

Let’s come back to the earlier prison game example…

I want my players to start by escaping from prison (Overcome scene), possibly fighting their way out as needed (Attack scene), and making their way to an established safehouse (Advantage scene). From there they’ll investigate the crime that sent them to prison (Overcome scenes, Advantage scenes, Defense scenes), ultimately confronting the real villains (Attack scene) and getting them to confess before escaping the pursuing prison forces (Defense scene, Advantage scene).

That’s episode one of my campaign, or if this is a one-shot deal, that’s the adventure as a whole.

Step 6:: Prepare anything you may have missed, now that you have an outline.

Going now scene by scene, give each scene the needed details. Write in those clues for the investigators to find. Fluff up that flavor text that you can read to players so they’ll know what to expect. Make sure any opposition the PCs will face has proper stats and equipment and make sure any treasure available is appropriately balanced (or wildly off-balance, if that’s your preference). This is also a chance to read over the work as a whole and make sure that scenes connect to each other, either for narrative reasons (one scene comes as a result of the previous) or mechanical reasons (you need a hospital after getting beaten near to death).

Step 7:: Go play your game.

Enjoy yourself. Change whatever you need to, on the fly, to make sure you have the best time possible. It doesn’t matter that the players totally skipped the sweet action you had planned on page 4, the bottom line is always this — have the best time possible with your friends. Rules and games change accordingly.

See you next time, happy writing and gaming.

Using Fate Core To Write Your Novel

Good morning, strap in and let’s get to work. We start today with a story.

I was having lunch with someone yesterday and over the course of our discussion (which naturally covered what he could do to bolster his newly rejected novel), I began describing how he could flesh out characters to make them less static and make them multi-dimensional.

As I was talking and gesturing, I used the word ‘aspect’ a few times, and realized that there’s a way to meld my two great passions, gaming and editing/helping people write better, and that aspects are the key.

Everyone go look at your most recent copy of your favorite Fate product. (There’s still a week on Kickstarter! Get to it!) Now, go get a legal pad. And a pen.

For today we use Fate Core to write your novel.

We’ll start by identifying what “aspects” are. For the purposes of our discussion, let’s use this definition —

Aspects are phrases or sentences that express some element of the character, either physically, mentally or emotionally.

For example, that tall nervous blonde you work with has the aspects “Tall” “Blonde” and “Nervous Wreck”.

So, how does this help you? Let’s look at step 1.

Step 1:: Identify (and write down) 5 Aspects your primary character(s) has/have. (A primary character is your protagonist, your antagonist and anyone you spend more than 45% of the book describing)

Yes, five. I like to do them in some combination of physical and emotional/psychological descriptors, usually three and two. I’d stay away from a 4-to-1 ratio (particularly 4 physical and 1 emotional/psychological), because that may lead to your character looking pretty, but being sort of hollow inside. (This may or may not be called ‘Kristen Stewart Syndrome’)

What does this look like on paper? Here, let’s talk about Batman.

Batman
– Forever avenging the death of his parents
– Rich & handsome playboy
– The greatest detective in the DC Universe
– Master martial artist
– Has a Rogues’ Gallery (translation: lots of enemies)

Here I mention who he is – a rich & handsome playboy, master martial artist, and the greatest detective in the DC Universe – but also what he does – forever avenging the death of his parents – and what that brings him in return – lots of enemies.

What we’ve got is a snapshot of the character, and ideally something that isn’t *only* a physical run-down of traits. This isn’t a dating profile, we don’t need to go on and on about someone’s appearance in a superficial or sexist way – this is a chance to distill character down to key emotional hooks and connect the character to both other characters AND their world.

Just as character have aspects, so too do scenes. Most of time, scene aspects in novels are expressed as tension-beats, creating dangerous complications like a building burning down or a badguy about to shoot or a bomb about to explode. (They don’t always have to be melodramatic like that, it can also be an uncomfortable conversation between two characters or something.)

Example: Barry is trapped in a burning office building. He can hear the sirens, so he knows that at some point, he’ll get rescued. But until then, he’s stuck in a smoky room that’s growing progressively hotter and hotter. It’s getting hard to breathe. He’s not a strong man, but he’s got to at least to try and make a break for it – maybe out the window before it’s too late? 

In this example, the building has the aspects “burning down“, “getting hotter and hotter” and “slowly suffocating in a growing furnace“. Barry has the aspects “not the strongest” and “not quite Hero material“.

Step 2:: Identify (and write down) how the character(s) make use of the 4 Actions. 

Fate Core has four key actions available to players. They cover a multitude of possibilities. Admittedly, I’m tweaking them here for our purposes.

a) Create an Advantage — This is the ability of a character to use their skills and talents to take advantage/make use of the environment or situation they’re in.

The ability of an author/creator to conceive of a scene’s aspects (the elements that describe it physically, emotionally or psychologically) and parse them into phrases or short sentences is an invaluable tool for world-building, tension-crafting, or general descriptive capacity. Thinking about what goes down on paper and being able to think about it in an observational way, allows you to control and shape the scene more to your liking in a more intimate way.

So, look at your characters and look to their aspects and skills. Now look at your scene and its aspects. How can the character, in this one particular situation, use their aspects and skills to partner with a scene’s aspects to reach the desirable outcome? Note: The desirable outcome is not always the same as the perfect outcome – the character’s best option may not be coming out of a scene unscathed.

Now, you may be tempted to change aspects to suit the scene. Take caution – you’re doing yourself a disservice (and creating a crappy character) if the character’s aspects change at the start of every scene, just so that they come out smelling like roses and being perfect. Here’s the rule – if you’ve got to change aspects, change it AFTER AND BECAUSE OF the scene that just happened, and remember, keep it to five.

To continue our previous example….

Barry has to smash a window to escape the fire. He realizes that he doesn’t have the brute strength to smash the glass by hand, but if he can pick up one of the chairs, he can hurl it through the window. Summoning courage and strength, Barry wades through the smoke, grabs the sturdiest looking chair he can find and in a run, sends it hurtling through the window, raining glass down onto the street!

Here, the scene aspect “full of chairs and desks” is created so as to provide Barry the tools he needs to make good his survival. This is justified because the building is an office building, so it’s reasonable to assume it has office equipment in it. So while Barry isn’t Hero material, in a survival situation, he takes the initiative and creates an advantage for himself – allowing him to make it to the next scene.

b) Overcome an Obstacle — This is where the character(s) face down a challenge that requires them to use their skills. This is a test of the character’s ability. And with that test comes risk – often injury of a physical, mental, emotional or social nature – but again, it’s what makes the scene compelling to both read and write.

We keep with our example…

Barry finds himself looking out the hole the chair created. Yes, he thinks, this is where he gets out of here, but look down, it’s higher up than he thought. And he’s no athlete, but the fire’s getting worse and if he doesn’t jump now, he might not last long enough for the firefighters to rescue him.  So, he backs up as far as he can into the room and makes a run for it, jumping out the hole and into the alley.

Barry’s obstacle is both internal (his fear) and external (he’s got to try and run, then jump out of a burning building).  It’s through these overcome scenes that we learn what sort of characters we have. Are they brave? Will they do the right thing? Are they capable? Are they cowards? Overcoming obstacles should be a challenge, not in some great Herculean way, but some element of who they are or what they can do should be tested.

Success brings the reward of character growth. Failure can also trigger growth, but carries with it consequences – the character ends up hurt in one way or another.

c) Attack Note: Because we’re writing a story and not rolling dice, I’m changing the nature of Attack. My apologies to my Fate Core friends. An attack action is anything the character(s) do(es) to change the status quo or current situation. (Also, this can cover fights) This definition may seem a little broad, but coming off the heels of overcoming an obstacle, an attack action may partner up nicely here.

Whatever occurs in the scene, characters are going to react to it, because of it and through it. They are going to attempt to alter it, changing the circumstances and possible outcomes so that they’re more favorable…and so that they can then go ahead and create more advantages. (See how this is starting to come together?).

This is NOT a call to make your characters more selfish, this is a raising of awareness that characters are a part of the scene, not always at the scene’s mercy. Flat, one-dimensional characters can get tossed around the scene like red-shirted crewmen on Star Trek. Characters with some heft to them can weather the scenes, and push back.

Our example marches on…

Barry has jumped out the window and luckily avoids breaking both his legs when he lands. He separates his shoulder, probably fractures some bones in his foot, but for the most part, he’s going to make it out of here alive. Thankfully, the firefighters arrive and the blaze is contained. We then join Barry getting interviewed by a cop, who believes Barry started the fire and got trapped inside. Barry has to change this situation, so Barry stands up for himself, saying that he knows who started the fire because he heard Larry talking about it the day before. 

Barry attacks the situation by challenging the cop’s assumption that Barry is the culprit. (For the game mechanically minded, this is Rapport). The revelation that Larry is a suspect both moves the story forward by introducing new character Larry, but also introduces Larry’s plot…setting up Larry as the likely antagonist if we haven’t done so already.

d) Defend Again, I’m really sorry, Fate Core friends, I’m changing this. A defense action is when the character must preserve themselves from harm or preserve the status quo for the continuation of the story.

Our example…

Barry confronts Larry, just as he’s about to set another fire. They tussle, but not before Larry reveals every detail of his master plan. Barry manages to get the upper hand for a moment, long enough to press Larry’s hand into some freshly spilled paint, leaving palm prints all over the room. The police arrive just before the fire is set, and combined with the palm prints, Larry’s going to jail. 

Here Barry has to use a combination of attack and defend actions, both during the altercation (obviously) but   also in a test of wills to coerce Larry’s villain monologue out of him, which Larry was happy to do, because Larry was a jerk.

It’s the synthesis of these four actions that tells the compelling saga of Barry and Larry. Story is about expression of aspects through challenges, created advantages and the attack and defense of the characters along the way.

It’s my hope that this quick-and-dirty toolkit is helpful when you’re writing. If you have any questions, please let me know. (Twitter, G+, email)

Happy writing.

The Writer And Fairness

Good morning everyone. I’m writing this morning not because I’m angry, but because I’m content, and I want to share HOW I got to be this way — because I see and talk to a lot of writers who…just aren’t so content. They want to be, but for whatever reasons, either internal or external, they just can’t seem to get into the spot that they want to be. I’d like to offer some solutions for that.

One of the biggest problems I hear about, and thankfully have seldom experienced, is getting treated unfairly within the gaming/writing industry (yes I’m lumping them together – I believe in this case the Venn diagrams overlap). So let’s look at the roll fairness plays in getting you where you want to be.

I’m a woman/part of the LGBTQ community/I’m not a white male — Despite owning a lab coat, I am not a scientist, and this is not a science blog. Nor am I a trained sociologist or anthropologist. All I have is my opinion, shaped into a sense and a feeling that your race, your gender and your preferences are all factors outside most of your control. It’s not like you purchased “woman” or “black” from late-night television and you can return them after thirty days if you’re dissatisfied. You are who and what you are. People and institutions (read: businesses) who cannot recognize that should be either ignored or encouraged/educated to change whatever sexist, racist, phobic views they persist. Who and what you are, whatever that might be, however you choose to identify yourself, has ZERO bearing on your ability to work.

As an editor, I get a chance to read and deduce a lot about a writer. I can tell their level of education, maybe where they’re from, sometimes their gender. But not their race, not their sexual preference. Also, and I’m not sure you’re aware of this — those things don’t matter when the goal is to write the best thing you can, tell the best story you can, and get it into the hands of people who want to read it. And my job is to help the author, whoever they are, do that.

I run a company, I want to be taken seriously, so I have this hugely exclusive and limiting contract, replete with NDAs and clauses to protect my work — The very thought of this makes my stomach churn. Not because I don’t believe you shouldn’t be taken seriously, I just don’t think that a big contract that limits rather than encourages is the way to go. It’s also patently unfair to the people who have to work under that contract. I’m not sure if you know this, but restrictions aren’t really all that great a fuel for creativity. Now, don’t confuse boundaries for restrictions, they’re not the same thing. (Boundaries limit range, restrictions limit actions). Everyone needs a little boundary now and then, just to keep them moving forward rather than in a constant lateral loop, but when you’re trying to get that business going, keep it chugging along, so that one day you can be a big deal in your respective field(s), nothing slams the brakes down on progress like a contract that prohibits writers from writing, or speaking about their writing.

See, I get it, the company is afraid that their property, their idea, is going to be stolen by other people if word gets out. Now this assumes a few things:
1. That there are some sort of idea-pirates roaming just on the edges of your workspace, waiting to rob you.
2. That your idea is so…revolutionary that everyone is going to want it.
3. That you need this level of security.

There are no pirates. There might be some jerks out on the fringes of your respective communities and arenas, but here’s a pro-tip – everyone’s so afraid their ideas are either going to be stolen or “ripped off” that no one’s doing any active stealing or “ripping”.

Your idea, no matter how revolutionary, is going to be wanted by people, who will want to exchange currency for your efforts (more on this concept in a minute). Whether you have an audience of one or one million, someone somewhere is going to want it. Not “everybody” because even in the “global audience”, not everyone is interested in all things.

Your need for security screams two adjectives: “childish” and “insecure”. Like a child who won’t shed their security blankie for even a moment, you cling to big fancy “adult” things like contracts and NDAs because you think that’s what’s done, because you think these pieces of paper somehow empower and entitle you to be treated like the larger more successful companies.

I propose a radical idea — treat people fairly, treat them kindly, encourage their good efforts, educate them on their bad habits and reward them more than equitably when they help you accomplish a common goal.

For those people who think that’s utterly impossible, I can point to three companies I work for who do exactly this, and not surprisingly, they’re very successful. (Yes, there are more than three who do this, but I’m making a point here)

Want to be more successful? Don’t obfuscate and limit your work behind contracts, clauses and limitations, show the creative processes, encourage demonstrations and relax your fear that people will steal it — that attitude shift alone will create interest in your work.

I am a writer/editor/artist. I don’t think my work is worth what the industry rate is, so I undercharge — There’s a variation to this “I’m just helping out a friend, so I can’t charge them that much”.

Look, what you do has a value to other people, beyond their appreciation or liking you for doing it. This effort, be it with words or inks or whatever, deserves compensation at a fair value. Regardless of how quick it was for you to dash out the task, you are entitled, just by the act of creating something for someone else’s consumption, to receive a fair amount of reward for doing so.

I tell this story often: When I was starting out writing and editing, and I didn’t think I was worth anything, and I didn’t know about pricing per word, I charged EVERYONE $40, regardless of the project or how long or short it took me. Because $40 was an amount of money that, at the time, seemed very large to me (read: I was always broke and hungry), so I thought I was asking for the moon anytime I did work. This sometimes led to me not even asking for money, because I thought there was no way I’d receive forty whole dollars for reading 300 pages and making notes. That just sounds absurd.

And then I came to realize that what I’m doing, even if I’m good at it, is something that sets me apart from other people. I have a talent, and a passion for editing, just as you may have a talent for writing or art or music or book-binding or whatever.

Listen to me carefully – Talents get rewarded. Period. They deserve, they merit, they are good enough for remuneration. Whatever art it is you do, whatever skill you apply, you deserve a fair wage for good work. It’s simple. You are good enough at something to earn money for doing it. However, it’s up to you to educate yourself on how much that money can actually be, else you’ll be charging everyone $40 for a nearly a decade and wondering how anyone ever gets by.

It is criminal, it is an atrocity that there exist people in the world who let those of us who doubt ourselves keep doubting ourselves by reinforcing our “we don’t deserve it” attitudes. When we get paid less than what we deserve, the idea of “not being good enough” cements into our thinking a little more, becoming harder to prise loose and convince us that we are in fact good at something and can make money doing it. Flat out, the people who underpay intentionally are scumbags and I strongly believe they should be drummed out of their industries. How dare people treat hard working writers and artists and editors so poorly. Do they think that word won’t (if it hasn’t already) spread? Do they think that won’t have an effect on sales? Or popularity?

Stand up for yourselves. Educate yourselves. Have the courage and the faith and the strength to believe in yourself and your art to receive what it properly is owed.

I hope these ideas about fairness help those who need them. I hope you share them, practice them, and encourage their spread.

We’ll talk soon, probably about gaming.

Happy writing.

Games I did! Games I’m doing!

Sorry for the lack of blog action. My schedule has been packed lately, and after a long day of writing and editing, blogging falls by the wayside. My apologies.

What I wanted to talk about today is Recess, and the game I’m running there.

If you look at the list of games, you’ll see right at the top “Night’s Black Agents: The 80s Strike Back” – that would be the game I’m running on January 19th. Here’s a more complete synopsis.

The world yet again calls upon the saviors of mankind known as Wyld Stallyns to do what only they can — which is save the world, dude. See, in the year 2113, a way heinous vampire has captured the phone booth and will use it to totally make the world lame and not-excellent. So, Bill S Preston Esquire and Ted “Theodore” Logan will have to assemble a team of heroes to travel to the days just before the vampire rises, the year 2013, and do all they can to stop this way bad thing from happening.”

So, I can announce the possible player-characters:

  1. Bill S Preston Esquire
  2. Ted “Theodore” Logan
  3. Jack Burton
  4. Ellen Ripley
  5. Thomas Magnum
  6. Lee “Scarecrow” Stetson
  7. Amanda “Mrs King” King
  8. Jessica Fletcher
  9. Ben Matlock
  10. Debbie Mays * 
* A character of my own creation that I’m testing out.
 
That’s January 19th. Details are here. And here
Now, to other business. Have you seen the Fate Core Kickstarter? It is CRAZY how that just churns right the hell along. I’m so proud to have a part in it and excited for all the authors and writers associated with it.
As the money count rose, stretch goals were unlocked. Several of those stretch goals are settings and adventures for Fate Core. I took a few out for a spin last week with my local group. 
1. Wild Blue by Brian Engard.This fusion of the western and superheroes was a HUGE hit. I mean a ridiculous hit, so much so that one of my players kept the same character (more or less) for the entirety of our gaming evening. In Wild Blue, the players are lawmen tasked with keeping the peace against forces empowered and otherwise that seek to make like difficult. Their job is both helped and harmed by the fact that a whole lot of people in this setting have super powers to one degree or another. 
My group decided (for once) to work together, and they had a relatively simply mission – stop a train robbery before the speeding train derailed and wiped out a town of orphans and grandmothers. Now in Wild  Blue, powers aren’t just given out or bought with points…they come with a cost, the idea that you have powers but there exists some limitation or some other side effect which keeps that power in check. Like “I can lift a ton, but only up.” or “I’m the fastest gun in the world, but I bleed easy.” or “I can remember everything I’ve ever read, but don’t always recall it right.”
So my players, who are still adapting to the freedom of Fate gaming set off to stop this train robbery. Fortunately, they did, but not without first unionizing all the prostitutes they could find on board, and wondering if they had enough time to take the roof off one whole car and build riot shields. 
This is significant because this is the first time my players ever got through an entire game of ANYTHING without a) asking me how much experience they got for saving the day and b) not attacking first in combat. Big gold stars to all my players. 
From the Wild West, we went to the Great War with…
2. Kriegszeppelin Valkyrie by Clark Valentine. Set during World War 1, the players are fighter pilots ordered to defeat the hostile robotic forces of a mad scientist whose lair is in Mount Kilimanjaro. It gets described as “Battlestar Galactica meets World War 1”, and while I’ve not seen enough BSG to comment, I can tell you this game is so much more than either an air combat exercise or a chance to see Edward James Olmos chew scenery. 
The game may come with a lot of pre-created options for aces and planes, but my players wanted their own spin on it, so one of them of course statted Snoopy, and another wanted a tri-wing plane. (I did have to prevent them from making a TIE fighter) Once they got in the air though, I watched players who don’t normally take to a language-centric game (meaning you have to know the jargon and use it, rather than just roll dice and hope for high numbers) work both competitively and cooperatively (only narrowly saving each other at the last possible second, taunting their robot foes at every turn) and really….enjoy themselves.

With aspects like “Known for last minute heroics” and “Unknown heroic potential” how could they not? 

After trying to get Ernest Hemingway to join them on a victory-lap-turned-bombing-run, we moved onto our newest challenge…
3. The Tower of Serpents by Brennan Taylor. Okay, to understand this, we need to cover some background. For YEARS I have been trying to get my players away from only playing D&D 3 and 3.5 and ultimately to Dresden Files game. YEARS it’s taken me to get them more comfortable with new systems and radical narrative concepts and then….and then Fate Core came out. 
And I wanted to streamline Dresden into Fate Core. Because, really, why not? 
So I took my biggest challenge in Dresden – the magic system – and wrote my own quickie version. And then I took this adventure and migrated it from the fantasy setting to where we were going to start our Dresden game, 1895 London (my players are notorious for avoiding the present day whenever possible). It took some geographic fiddling and some name changes, but watching 3 wizards and a lecherous old historian  trying to scale a tower while avoiding magical dangers and traps was sheer enjoyment. When else was I going to use the aspect “Proud sufferer of Foot in Mouth disease” ? Or watch them happily laugh and giggle when the badguys all descend on them, because for once they saw the trap coming and did NOTHING to plan for it? 
Okay, confession time. I’m biased towards all these projects. I edited them. I know their authors. I work with them. But there comes a time when you have to put that aside and just play with your friends around the table. Twitter hashtag #FateCoreGameNight was a huge success, and when another batch of Fate Core expansions comes my way, we’ll do another, without question. 
If you aren’t one of the 5,997 (at the time of this writing) backers for Fate Core, this is your chance. Spend $1 (seriously, a single buck) and get your hands on some of this stuff. You will NOT regret it. 
See some of you at Recess. We’ll talk soon.
Happy writing, happy gaming.