World Wide Wrestling RPG is a new game that allows a group of players to create their own professional wrestling promotion and live out their dreams as larger-than-life characters in and out of the ring. The game is a must for any tabletop RPG enthusiast that also happens to have a soft spot for professional wrestling; however, the game can be readily consumed by players that do not know the difference between a suplex and DDT. I previously presented how borrowing the drama of professional wrestling can be used to enhance roleplaying games. World Wide Wrestling RPG is nothing but the drama and action of professional wrestling.
I played the game for the first time last week, and it was a fantastic session. I am also in the process of interviewing WWW RPG’s creator, Nathan D. Paoletta, which should post within the next couple of weeks. My goal with this post is to briefly explain how the game works, and then present a number of suggestions based on my experiences running a session.
Professional Wrestling is Roleplaying
Professional wrestling presents a fictional world to an audience to consume. That world features heroes (babyfaces) and villains (heels) with many shades of grey in between. The plot for the audience is scripted by a creative team to maximize the audience reaction to events that take place in the fictional world. The heroes battle the villains, and there are many complications along the way. The wrestlers do combat in (and sometimes outside) of the ring to determine who wins and who loses. Whenever one villain is defeated, he or she finds a way to come back again – or a new foe takes center stage. The hero’s work is never truly done as there is always a new challenge to overcome. Sound like a familiar premise for a roleplaying game?
Players create different types of wrestlers instead of adventurers. Players roll dice to determine the success of wrestling moves and other activities to increase the popularity of his or her wrestler. When a player’s wrestler gain enough popularity, the wrestler is allowed to level up (called Advance in WWW RPG) to learn new skills or strengthen an existing statistic. The GM (referred to as Creative in WWW RPG) orchestrates the session by introducing non-playable wrestlers (NPWs) and other personalities to set events in motion. Other world-building activities required of Creative are detailed below.
Build Your Promotion
When a GM runs a game like Dungeons & Dragons, she either borrows from an available adventure or creates her own homebrew setting. While WWW RPG offers some examples of fictional wrestling promotions and numerous wrestlers, the player taking on the role of Creative should be prepared to establish some background information for her wrestling promotion including:
- Title of the promotion
- Logo for the promotion
- Names and brief bios for the owner, general manager, and announcer
- Brief bio and gimmick information (including theme song) for at least 4-5 non-playable wrestlers (NPWs)
- Names of championship belts and who currently holds them
- Theme song for the wrestling promotion to be played at the start of each episode
Since I have lived in either Minnesota or Iowa for approximately 10 years of my life, I decided to focus on what I know best and created the Midwest Wrestling Alliance (MWA) as the name of the promotion. A friend assisted me with creating a simple logo for the MWA that I could share with the players to increase their excitement for the game. Limiting the promotion to a specific region is in some ways similar to starting a D&D campaign in a smaller town; it allows the person running the game to impose some boundaries on the world while giving everyone in the game a chance to grow.
Next I started to populate the promotion with important characters much like I would create important NPCs for a D&D campaign. Over the course of several days, I thought of various wrestlers for the promotion and borrowed heavily from my history of watching professional wrestling throughout my life. For example, the primary villain (heel) in the promotion is a character with a “Wall Street Broker” gimmick, which is loosely based on the old World Wrestling Federation (WWF) character, Irwin R. Schyster (I.R.S). I continued to jot down ideas for wrestling gimmicks here and there, including an idea for a microbrewer gimmick (while strangely enough drinking and eating dinner at a brewery) that eventually turned into a wrestler, Fulton Kilkenny (aka The Growler). The Growler even has his own interview show called On Tap, which I will detail later.
Once I had a few wrestlers, other key characters to develop were the MWA’s owner, general manager, and announcer. The owner is someone who can play a very prominent role in the promotion – or stay completely off screen. To avoid a Vince McMahon clone, I created an owner who remains behind the scenes and takes a hands-off approach to the promotion. By keeping the owner out of the spotlight in the beginning, I could bring him in sometime in the future for greater effect. In the MWA, the general manager is the individual that will be seen as “in charge” during the wrestling shows. This character is known as the booker – meaning he decides who wins the matches. Finally, I wanted to create a vanilla play-by-play announcer. In my mind, the announcer would be the NPC I would be roleplaying the most since he is calling the in-ring action and explaining to the imaginary audience why events are important.
The next task was to create the name of the title belts in the promotion. Since the promotion is based in the Midwest, I decided to use some of that flavor for the title belts. The top belt in the promotion is the MWA Heartland Championship Belt. Most professional wrestling promotions have multiple title belts so they can promote various feuds between wrestlers with something important at stake. For example, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) has the following belts in their promotion:
- World Heavyweight Championship
- Intercontinental Championship
- United States Championship
- Tag Team Championship
- Divas Championship
With four individual and one tag team championship, it gives at least 12 wrestlers something important to obtain. I decided to start with three belts to keep things simpler in the beginning. I could always introduce a new championship belt in the future to spice things up.
The cherry on the top in the construction of the Midwest Wrestling Alliance was deciding on a theme song. Given my love of incorporating music into gaming sessions, this was enjoyable. I considered modern songs, though I could not shake the idea of using Joe Esposito’s “You’re the Best.” This song is forever linked to one of the greatest 80’s movie montages ever from the film The Karate Kid.
I think this song triggers a flood of nostalgia for most people in their 30s and 40s, which is primarily the age range that will be joining me as players for WWW RPG. By playing the song when an episode of Midwest Wrestling Alliance begins, it sets a tone for players to be more comfortable taking the campiness up a few levels for the game.
Manage the Episode
After building the core elements of the MWA, I recruited players and prepared for the first session; each session in WWW RPG is referred to as an Episode. The game is structured so each play session is one professional wrestling event. I sent the players details on how to create a wrestler along with introductory information about the game. There are two free PDFs that can be downloaded from the WWW RPG website. One file contains the Gimmicks for possible wrestlers and rules for how to create a wrestler. In WWW RPG, Gimmicks align with Classes from games such as D&D. Examples of Gimmicks include the Monster, Veteran, Golden Boy, Anti-Hero, and High Flyer. Players sent me a brief description of their wrestler prior to the first episode.
I also asked players to select a theme song for their wrestler. For those who have not watched professional wrestling, each wrestler has a specific entrance that includes various elements including audio and video cues. Fireworks, smoke effects, and the lights dropping completely are just a few touches; but all wrestlers announce their presence with a musical cue. I wanted to capture this vibe during the game, so I created a playlist with the songs selected by the players. With this information, I could easily play their music when it was their time to enter the ring. The song choices by the players were inspired! And they ranged from a striptease song that appeared in the film, Magic Mike, to the Cuban National Anthem.
Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the play session was how the role for the GM is different compared to systems such as Dungeons & Dragons. The GM in a game like D&D is working against the players in some capacity – whether it be throwing monsters at them, setting traps, or challenging them with difficult social encounters. The players are tasked with navigating the GM’s world even though they can shape that world in some ways. The role of the GM in WWW RPG is completely stripped of that dynamic. As Creative, the GM is there to keep the action moving, get everyone at the table involved, and increase the entertainment value of the episode for the imaginary viewing audience of the professional wrestling promotion.
Also, Creative in WWW RPG never needs to roll any dice. Normally, this would shatter my worldview but it removes the element of chance from key decisions. I have already brainstromed a few ways to introduce more die rolls into the game, though they would be house rules and completely unnecessary. For example, one element in gameplay is for a wrestler to add a stipulation to an existing match, which modifies the winning condition. A stipulation could be that the match can only be won via submission; another stipulation could be the match becomes a hardcore match, which means it becomes perfectly legal to hit your opponent with a chair. Players that are not wrestling fans may not have an encyclopedic understanding of various stipulations that typically occur in professional wrestling. One option would be to create a list of 10 possible stipulation options and have the the player roll to determine the new stipulation.
In my role as Creative, I started the episode by giving each wrestler a chance to introduce their wrestler through “cutting a promo.” A wrestler “cuts a promo” when he talks to the audience and announces his or her intentions. It gives the wrestler a chance to perform for the audience and let them know what he cares about; perhaps it is winning the match, hurting his opponent, or putting on a show for the crowd. Starting with individual promos from each wrestler gave the players a chance to immediately dive into their character.
I had ideas on how to keep the gameplay flowing throughout the episode. First, I created a babyface play-by-play announcer that I would roleplay; this character would inform the imaginary viewing audience (and the players) of the events happening in and out of the ring. I designed the announcer to have a vanilla personality so other players could join the announcer with colorful and lively characters. The straight-laced, babyface play-by-play announcer paired with a villainous (heel) color commentator is a routine that has worked in professional wrestling for a very long time. Whenever two players were involved in a match during the episode, I invited a third player to join me as the color commentator, and both players fully committed to their heel character. It was glorious!
Second, I created a non-playable wrestler (NPW) to host an interview show within the episode, and used him to interview one of the players. Interview shows hosted by a wrestler are commonplace in professional wrestling promotions; famous shows include Piper’s Pit, and some wrestler’s careers have skyrocketed after shocking interview segments. Shawn Michaels took his first step to being an individual superstar when he superkicked his partner Marty Jannetty during an installment of The Barber Shop. For those who did not grow up as a fan of professional wrestling, I cannot begin to convey how iconic this moment was. I wanted to have a show like this to offer players a different way to shine. The player I invited onto the interview show, On Tap – hosted by “The Growler” Fulton Kilkenny, jumped into his character and almost got into a shuffle with Fulton before the segment concluded. It worked well, and sets up future possibilities between the host of the show and the player’s wrestler.
To summarize, here are some tips to prepare for the first session of WWW RPG:
- Send the free PDF files for WWW RPG to the players ahead of time
- Request the players to select a theme song for their wrestler, and have those songs cued up for when those wrestlers enter the arena
- Call the action in and out of the ring with a consistent play-by-play announcer, inviting other players to join the announce table as color commentators
- Create a NPW to host an interview show, and invite at least one of the players onto the show
Later this week, I will post a recap of the first episode of the Midwest Wrestling Alliance so other groups can get a better sense of how the action played out during the session.