When I was a kid, I was an enormous fan of the World Wrestling Federation. In particular, my hero was Hulk Hogan. I believed firmly in each of the following:
- 24-inch pythons
- Hulkamania running wild on you, brother
Recently, I learned of World Wide Wrestling, a new RPG by Nathan Paoletta. 10-year-old me promptly applied a figure-4 leg lock and demanded I investigate further.
I will confess that, when I first heard about World Wide Wrestling, I was expecting a tabletop version of Pro Wrestling on the NES. I was expecting hit points, moves that cost some sort of energy, and matches that ended by pinning the opponent or keeping them outside the ring for a count of 20. I was expecting the point of the game to be to beat your opponents.
I was wrong. Gloriously wrong.
You see, 10 year old me existed in the mid-eighties, when professional wrestling was real. I thought you had to stomp the floor when you punched someone. I’d get genuinely upset when people would cheat (which, in retrospect, was a lot). I thought wrestling was an athletic competition. I just thought they were extremely entertaining while doing it.
These days, everybody knows that the on-screen feuds are just an act, and the matches are predetermined and everybody is just putting on a show full of difficult, athletic stunt work. Wrestlers even change from a good character to a bad character from week to week, and nobody bats an eye. (Well, almost nobody. I was extremely distraught the first time I ever saw Hollywood Hulk Hogan. I still refuse to believe he exists.)
This is what World Wide Wrestling is about. The objective is not to see who wins. The objective is to put on one hell of a show.
If all you’ve ever played is D&D or something similar, this game is going to be a little different. To me, World Wide Wrestling feels more like Fiasco, where there’s more improvisation and control of the narrative can pass between players. Don’t worry. The author provides some handy advice for players on what to do if you have no idea what to do. Also, the game features a few things you may find familiar. One player, known as “Creative”, books the matches, decides who will win the matches, and what storylines will be in that episode. They’re not exactly the Game Master, but they’re close enough. You’ll see what I mean in a second.
Everybody else plays the Talent, which means the wrestlers. Each wrestler has a Gimmick, which loosely represents several familiar breeds of wrestler. Here are a few of the Gimmicks:
- The Anti-Hero, who everyone loves because they bloody the nose of the Establishment at every opportunity
- The Monster, who everyone loves because they like to crush the Establishment because it is smaller and weaker, then eat it because it is full of protein
- The Hardcore, who everyone loves because they bloody their own nose and all other noses and basically everything else in a 10’ radius
- The High Flyer, who everyone loves because HOLY CRAP THEY’RE ON THE TOP ROPE WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING
- The Veteran, who has been around forever and might not be super-popular but has forgotten more about wrestling than the next three guys in line ever learned
It’s important to note here that the players are actually playing the wrestlers, not the characters. By this, I mean they’re playing the people that portray the characters. If Hulk Hogan were in this game, a player would play Terry Bollea, who in turn portrays Hulk Hogan (and Hollywood Hulk Hogan, if that character existed — which is not true). It’s like Wrestleception.
This means that, as in real-life professional wrestling, the wrestlers’ real lives can and do impact the show. They might have drug problems. They might have family issues. There might be romantic entanglements with members of the cast and crew. They might just be really hard to work with. This is reflected in-game as the REAL stat, which represents (among other things) the character’s ability to handle — and bring to the show — “real-world” problems. Your wrestler has other stats as well, such as your wrestler’s appearance and charisma (LOOK), athleticism (POWER), charisma, and skill at performing (WORK).
I said earlier that the objective was to put on a good show. You may be wondering, since this is a show, who the audience is. Well, the audience is fictional too, and it’s represented by the Audience stat. You want lots of it, and you do things that will get you more of it. These things vary wildly, but almost always involve doing something awesome (or horrible) that gets a reaction from the crowd. Audience is sort of like experience points, and when you have enough of it you can trade it for new stats, moves, and other fun stuff.
The Main Event
Now that you know about all that stuff, here’s where I think the game really shines.
Remember when I said Creative decides who wins the matches? The wrestlers don’t actually so much have to abide by that. They can do whatever they want — but there’ll be Hell to pay from the bosses later. That is, unless they brought in a ton of new viewers. The things you do in-game will either lose or win you Audience. If your Audience goes down to zero, your wrestler is fired. Your character can be a lying, cheating bastard. Your character’s character can be twice as bad. Even so, as long as you’re bringing in viewers, you can stay. Being bad often comes with great reward — but the other wrestlers get to enact their vengeance, both in the “real-world” and as their ring personalities. And messing with Creative, well, that’s when things get really interesting.
These struggles are represented in-game as Moves, which are pretty much things you can do that have consequences. All the Talent has some common Moves, and every Gimmick has certain moves they can do that fit their flavor. Creative has all sorts of nastiness to bring to bear, both in the ring and in “real-life”. Like a BOSS, can hire and fire people, arrange situations where a wrestler has to make tough choices that will affect their relationships with others, and even make them look bad so the Audience turns against them. Some of this may sound like is causes conflict, which is true. This is a good thing, as long as everybody’s committed to the goal — to put on one hell of a show.
The icing on the cake for me is that the players whose wrestlers are not currently in the match are assigned announcer duties, and provide color commentary during the matches. They can even “put over” a particular wrestler, which means they work the audience up a bit to get them more excited about whatever that wrestler is doing. If all the players are involved in the match somehow, Creative can take it over temporarily.
The Match Was Rigged, But Everybody Still Had Fun
I should clear something up: Several of our staff have been fortunate enough to have their projects funded through crowdfunding. So it is that we like to boost the signal of some other cool projects in the hopes that they might enjoy the same. In that spirit, this review should be taken with a couple grains of salt. The materials I received were in beta, and I’m not going to get all worked up over things that might not even be there by the final release. Please keep this in mind if you decide to try out the beta, which is what I was working with for the purposes of this article.
All that being said, here are my condensed thoughts on this game:
There’s a lot of good stuff. You just read some of it. There is more. This game is packed so full of wrestleicious flavor that it’s ridiculous. Everybody always has something to do, and most of it even moves the story forward. The end goal is to collectively be really entertaining, and in my experience this is a winning formula for an extremely good night of gaming.
There were a few minor bumpy parts for me, but nothing to get worked up about.
First, the game uses the Apocalypse World system at its core, and the materials I was provided tended to assume I already knew what I was doing. The author told me well in advance that the final release will smooth out a lot of these things.
The other tough part for me is that the game is very geared toward people who are already fans of professional wrestling. This is both good and bad. I spent several of my younger years with this stuff, but I still found myself googling furiously to figure out what a lot of the terms meant. (“Kayfabe? Is that a kind of cheese?”)
While I think this might put off people who don’t know Wrestlespeak and how everything works, I am really happy I bothered to read up because it’s obviously a labor of love by somebody who gets it at a molecular level. This also means that people who are giant wrestling fans will explode into a giant cloud of turnbuckles and barbed wire if they play this. (And they should.)
In short: I strongly encourage you to check this game out, and throw money at it until it arrives at your house and does a flying elbow through your door. It has 24-inch game pythons, and on special occasions I believe it will wear powder blue tights and things will get crazy.
What you gonna do when World Wide Wrestling runs wild on you, brother?