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Kesshi Tales # 1 was released a little less than a year ago. The adventure presented in the book, The Wise Men and the Woods, occurs in the region of Ikusa Kokoro. Each numbered Kesshi Tales release occurs in the region detailed in it’s corresponding Guide Book which creates an interesting symbiotic link between the products. Despite this link, it’s still possible to use the adventures without buying the Guide Books if you are so inclined.
The Kesshi Tales books are very well thought out products. They get it right in several key areas which is why I wanted to talk about them a bit. The first thing worth noting is the layout and choice to go with a digest sized format. Given that these are pdf only books, it was smart for Reality Blurs to use a single column layout that displays well on tablets. These books look great and, more importantly, are easy to read. There is no interior art except for a map of the region where the adventure takes place which is on the second page. The lack of interior art adds to the clean presentation and increases the utility factor of the text. Organization is very simple, with sections that are easy to navigate on the fly. These books actually live up to the promise of being able to play with minimal GM preparation. You could grab one of these an hour before play, read through it, and be more or less ready to go when the players arrive.
There are a number of reasons I am fond of the Kesshi Tales beyond the nuts and bolts stuff I already mentioned. The first is the way the adventures are structured. While the usual hooks and plot mechanics are certainly present, they manage to present a cohesive narrative without ever feeling like they are on rails. There are always multiple ways a tale could go and player influence is paramount. Player decisions have an important effect on both character development and events within the world. The open way that the tales are designed lends itself well to customization and it’s fairly easy to swap out elements to personalize stories in ways that makes them more relevant to your group.
Another strength of the books is what I’ll refer to as a “lead by example” design philosophy. Using the Kesshi Tales as templates for home grown adventures is very easy, owing to the simple clear way the books are presented. There are a plethora of great martial arts and samurai movies out there for inspiration, and pulling themes and hooks from them and plugging them into this format is a breeze. It would also be fairly simple to produce home made tales that maintain consistency with the visual aesthetics of the official releases.
These are great books. They are fun to read and provide a lot of material for inspiration. While I love them on my tablet, I sure would get a kick out of seeing them in print. I suspect that the demand isn’t high enough to warrant a print run but it would be awesome if it ever happened.