Since it’s looking like it’s going to become an important part of two of the games I’m working on, I decided to write up a blog post about kishoutenketsu (起承転結). Kishoutenketsu is a four-act structure commonly used in Japan. Although it originally derives from Chinese poetry, it has been applied to all sorts of longer works, including novels and manga. The four stages are introduction, development, climax (or turn), and resolution. Just like the three-act structure (set-up, confrontation, resolution) more commonly used in the West, it is ultimately just a model, and it certainly can’t be used to explain the structure of every story out there.
On the other hand, there’s the case of yon-koma (four-panel) manga. These are comic strips consisting of four vertical panels, and are more or less Japan’s version of our newspaper comic strips (which, possibly not coincidentally, are mostly three panels). When you examine yon-koma comics from the point of view of kishoutenketsu, more often than not the panels correspond exactly to the four-act structure, wrought in miniature. In case you’re wondering I learned about this through (1) a fan-translation of Welcome to the NHK, which mentioned kishoutenketsu in a footnote, and (2) a how to draw manga book I saw at a store and have never been able to find since.
Anyway, with Raspberry Heaven most of the source material (notably Azumanga Daioh and Lucky Star) started off as yon-koma manga. Even when I come up with a good idea I usually need some prodding in the right direction, so it wasn’t until Jake Richmond egged me on that I came up with a good idea for how to use it in this game, and in a way that will hopefully make the game that much better. Essentially it’s going to be a part of the rules structure for how scenes are set up and run. The four phases are:
- Ki/Introduction: The player sets up and initiates the scene.
- Shou/Development: The group commences role-playing.
- Ten/Climax: The scene comes to a head, and a “challenge” (a thing that requires rolling dice) happens.
- Ketsu/Resolution: A little more to bring the aftermath of the climax into the game, and to close up the scene.
With Tokyo Heroes (at Filip’s urging) I’m also planning to use it, albeit on a different scale. As a genre, sentai has a relatively rigid plot structure, so the four acts could correspond fairly tightly to the stages of the story of a standard episode, with mechanical effects (or a lack thereof) appropriate to each.
- Ki/Introduction: The game starts, with the heroes doing something ordinary (for them) that, though they don’t know it yet, is going to lead into this week’s conflict.
- Shou/Development: The inciting incident hits. The heroes have to do whatever investigating is necessary to be ready for this week’s battle. For this I’m thinking of taking a cue from Gumshoe/Esoterrorists, and making it more about how the PCs find clues rather than if.
- Ten/Climax: The battle finally happens for real. The heroes go all-out and beat the monster of the week.
- Ketsu/Resolution: The game goes a little further, to establish what happens after the monster is defeated. The people affected by it turn back to normal, the girl it kidnapped is freed, etc. The heroes go back to base and things settle down. Credits roll. Preview plays.
Raspberry Heaven is coming together fast enough that I might actually be able to playtest it before the month is up. With Tokyo Heroes it’s kind of a different story in that Filip sent me a LONG e-mail (8 pages when I printed it out) with a blow-by-blow critique. It’s been tremendously helpful, but it’s required me to rethink some very basic parts of the game’s structure, and a massive rewrite is in order before I do more playtesting.
(Some day I’ll work on Thrash 2.0 again…)