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Teens transform into robots to combat absurd creatures embodying their own inner turmoil and societal expectations
445 backers pledged CA$ 7,352 to help bring this project to life.
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CA$ 7,352

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Welcome to the 2 week campaign for the limited edition ashcan edition of Never Knows Best!

Cover art by Natasha Alterici (Heathen)

Never Knows Best is a tabletop roleplaying game inspired by quite possibly the very first anime I ever watched, Fooly Cooly, or FLCL. I don't think I understood it entirely at the time. Although quite young, I identified with it despite not grasping the nuances. Years later, when it came to Canada I watched it as an adult and I began to unravel what the heck I had seen and why it made such an impression.

To be clear, this game is not trying to be FLCL. It's my effort to create a rule set that would communicate what I felt it was about. 

Never Knows Best is about teens struggling to discover their identity while grappling with what it means to "grow up" in a world where society imposes expectations and rules that are counter productive and, sometimes, absurd.

The rules of this game literalizes this by making the inner turmoil the teens struggle with on a daily basis something real and tangible. Those thoughts and emotions and pressures become strange, absurd creatures ordinary kids wouldn't be able to combat. But these teenagers transform into their robot selves to take them on, embodying their inner strength.

The Never Knows Best ashcan features:

  • Mechanics that facilitate a cycle of play stemming from character choice 
  • An emphasis on collaborative play, with a person running the game for 3-5 players
  • An innovative iteration of rules that combine elements of the Powered by the Apocalypse and Blades in the Dark approach to games, along with other mechanics
  •  Structured sessions that facilitate episodic arcs and that also function as a session debrief tool 
  • Six character archetypes approached holistically, meant for a quick setup ideal for convention play 
  • Low prep
  • Tools for a cinematic approach to creating collaborative fiction

Never Knows Best uses a system that is easy to grasp yet nuanced enough for rules mastery that results in highly creative solutions to problems. Players roll a pool of six-sided dice with success being tiered; roughly equating to: success, success with a cost, and failing forward.

Each character starts with Traits--something solidified about their character already and which help players role-play their characters--and Labels, which are given to them by other characters and show how they are viewed by those around them. When a player goes to roll they add any Traits and Labels that apply, generating a dice pool. The highest die is their final result.

During town creation players codify how their characters are pressured by society. Those things are then literalized, becoming creatures that are obstacles to be faced. Each of these obstacles embody a particular struggle a character is going through and can be dealt with in any number of ways--not just with physical conflict.

1 of 6 pieces of interior art by Jabari Weathers

To contrast the towns expectations, players also codify what counterculture looks like in this town. These things become visual motifs that reinforce an underlying theme throughout play.

All player characters have two kinds of repressed Traits: undesirable and desirable (determined by the player). When a character experiences distress or harm, all of these repressed Traits are released. The player character also transforms into their robot selves--manifesting their desirable Traits, which empower them. But they also release their undesirable Traits into the world, which turn into future obstacles they must face. When players defeat obstacles that embody these undesirable repressed Traits of theirs that were released, they gain more power

The mechanics facilitate this metaphor: taking on representations of the things they're dealing with internally with an absurdist bent that reflects the confusion of adolescence. 

As the player continues to play and understand their character better they decide what Traits still apply to them; which Labels to embrace or shed that are placed on them; and choose what growing up means to them. 

To reinforce these changes when they occur, each time a new session begins the players describe their character's room. They describe how it reflects the changes and who they are now, which telegraphs to everyone at the start of play what their character's experience and growth thus far look like in the fiction. Perhaps even showcasing any advancements they've selected with the experience they've accrued. 

The ashcan version of Never Knows Best is 6x9 (digest-sized), black and white, and will be somewhere between 30-60 pages long. 

It will have 6 pieces of fantastic art by Jabari Weathers and features a cover by Natasha Alterici. All of this art is already finished. The text is also complete and already being edited by the wonderfully talented Lauren McManamon; the final count of the draft clocking in at around 10,000 words.

For physical copies of the book I'm using Print-on-Demand at-cost coupons via DriveThruRPG, meaning you will pay for the materials needed to publish it and the cost of shipping after this Kickstarter is complete. The book will be available in both softcover and hardcover formats. Cost of materials for each version is estimated to be below $3 USD for the softcover and $7 USD for the hardcover. The at-cost production for a 200 page black and white book in the same dimensions for a different project clocks in at $4.45 USD for softcover and $8.88 USD for hardcover. 

Shipping estimates from DriveThruRPG can be found here

Every copy of the book will also come with a PDF version distributed via itch.io and DriveThruRPG. This way you'll be able to store them in your online library on these sites and be able to download them whenever you like.

What's an ashcan? It's a term adopted from the comic industries with a slight twist for the tabletop roleplaying community. It essentially mean a work-in-progress that can be presented for feedback and reflects what a fully developed book would be like.This ashcan version will contain all of the rules for playing the game. It simply does not go into laborious detail as a normal teaching text would. Why choose this format? I've seen what Magpie Games has done with their ashcan games and think it's a smart way to develop a game. An ashcan is especially well suited for this project, as it's such a niche game in a niche market, so I'm publishing the ashcan version of Never Knows Best myself, in the same format. I've come to a point with this project where I have invested as much of my personal money and my time as I can risk. It's time to see if this is something people want!

So who am I? I'm Fraser Simons. This is the 7th game in development by me. I'm probably best known for my cyberpunk games: The Veil (with the third book in development) and Hack the Planet (my climate fiction, cyberpunk Forged in the Dark game).  I've also already done a Print-on-Demand game called Uncanny Echo, so I'm well versed in bringing a book into production in this method. 

There is also an exclusive notebook edition available only to backers of this Kickstarter. It will be a limited edition hardcover with an added section which adapts the reference sheets to digest-size and adds pages for note taking; allowing you to write in the book itself when playing, if you wish.

This notebook edition also include the regular version of the book! You'll getan at-cost coupon for 2 versions of your choice: the softcover, hardcover, or notebook edition of the game. You'll also, of course, receive the PDF for both the regular version of the game and the notebook version. 

As an added bonus, you'll also get 2 at-cost coupons to print posters of each of the covers via DriveThruCards (12" x 18" Small Poster, Deluxe Paper, Single-sided, Square-corner.)

Mockup cover for notebook edition, subject to change

Risks and challenges

I've produced a tabletop Print-on-Demand product recently (Uncanny Echo), so I am confident in my ability to do this work. However, if the proofs ordered need correcting it can take a while to get to Canada, which could delay the timeline presented. Alternatively, editing or layout might take longer due to life events but I have built in a couple of months and the only thing required is editing and layout before being able to order proof copies.

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  1. Select this reward

    Pledge CA$ 10 or more About US$ 8

    Softcover Book + PDF

    You get a PDF copy of the game via Itch.io & DrivethruRPG and an at-cost coupon code for the softcover print version of Never Knows Best (a black & white digest-sized book) at a discounted price (MSRP $10 USD).

    Redeeming the coupon means only paying the cost of printing the zine (projected to be less than $3 USD) and shipping.

    Includes:
    • Never Knows Best PDF
    • Never Knows Best Softcover Print-on-Demand Coupon
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    259 backers
    CA$

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  2. Select this reward

    Pledge CA$ 18 or more About US$ 14

    Hardcover Book + PDF

    You get a PDF copy of the game via Itch.io & DrivethruRPG and a coupon code for the hardcover print version of Never Knows Best (a black & white digest-sized book) at a discounted price (MSRP approx. $16 USD). This is the same as the previous reward but it is for the hardcover edition (rather than softcover).

    Redeeming the coupon means only paying the cost of printing the book (projected to be less than $7 USD) and shipping.

    Includes:
    • Never Knows Best PDF
    • Never Knows Best Hardcover Print-on-Demand Coupon
    Less
    Estimated delivery
    47 backers
    CA$

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    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

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  3. Select this reward

    Pledge CA$ 25 or more About US$ 19

    KS Exclusive Notebook Edition PDF+Book

    This exclusive version will be the same as the hardcover but with an additional section at the with playbooks, reference sheets, and notes adapted to digest-size dimensions--allowing you to write in these pages at the table. It will also have a different cover than the regular edition.

    You get the notebook edition and regular edition PDF via Itch.io & DrivethruRPG and 2 coupon codes for any print version of Never Knows Best of your choice (all of which are a black & white digest-sized book).

    Redeeming the coupon means only paying the cost of printing the book (projected to be less than $8 USD for the notebook edition) and shipping.

    You also get 2 at-cost coupon codes to print posters of the covers of both versions of the game (approx. $.50 USD cost to print).

    Includes:
    • Notebook Edition + Regular Edition PDF
    • 2 Print-on-Demand Coupons For The Print Version Of Your Choice
    • Print-on-Demand Coupons For Posters Of Each Cover
    Less
    Estimated delivery
    130 backers
    CA$

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    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

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  4. Select this reward

    Pledge CA$ 100 or more About US$ 76

    Group Exclusive Notebook Edition

    This is the same as the notebook edition pledge except that 5 of each reward will be provided at a discounted rate. If you're looking to get enough copies of the exclusive edition of Never Knows Best for a group, this is the way to go.

    Includes:
    • Notebook Edition + Regular Edition PDF
    • 2 Print-on-Demand Coupons For The Print Version Of Your Choice
    • Print-on-Demand Coupons For Posters Of Each Cover
    Less
    Estimated delivery
    6 backers
    CA$

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Funding period

- (16 days)