Finally, finally finished reading this last night. I bought a copy off Nathan Paoletta at NewMexicon a few weeks back and it’s been languishing on my shelf since then. :-/
I think my favorite bit of the book is all the essays. There’s one that’s kind of an overview of professional wrestling, starting in the 1970s and going forward. Then there’s one about RPGs. Those two essays basically set up a reader who’s familiar with one zone to get familiar with the other zone. Then there are some neat personal essays talking about wrestling fandom, including what feels like a pretty deep dive by Ian Williams.
I think the game would be a ton of fun to play with fans of professional wrestling. I’ve heard nothing but good stories about how the game really really speaks to existing fans, and that non-fans can have fun with the game as well. But I gotta say — and this is not a criticism of the game at all — as a non-fan of wrestling, hooking into the game feels really hard — without the enthusiasm of a fan to drag me along, at least.
This is all going to be Wrestling 101 for the in-deep fans and I don’t know that I need further selling from/by those people. I’m just going to talk about my impressions of the thing. Again, please, for the love of God, nobody get all offended.
The thing I’m having trouble hooking into is the second-order meta-ness, the uh self awareness required to play the game. It is a game about telling the story of storytellers whose only tool is violence. You play a character who plays a character, with this super-weird vagueness about the reality/contrivance of the feuds being played out.
My relationship with wrestling is tenuous at best. I got lassoed into watching it in the late ’80s in college with my gaming buddies (who were telling me the exact same thing nearly 30 years ago: this is exactly the same as an RPG!). I couldn’t really connect with what was going on, because I couldn’t suspend my disbelief long enough to enjoy the action and athleticism. I’d ask “so these guys are performers, right? So we’re basically watching a TV show with the narrative pared down to the fights?” Which is right-ish but also completely misses the point, I suspect.
Then I got interested in the backstories of extreme sports people, not just in wrestling but across all kinds of athletics. The Wrestler was exciting for me to watch because the stakes seemed more emotionally real. I think that part of the story was interesting to me because my own grandfather was a luchador in southern Arizona in the early 1950s, and his stories about everything happening outside the ring were always more interesting to me than whatever happened inside the ring.
But World Wide Wrestling does not tackle that at all. Or rather it does, but it never breaks the kayfabe, the fiction of the sport/show. There are literally no rules for dealing with conflicts outside the ring. Some moves inject back-stage actions but the fallback is that you talk it out without rolling or, if you want a system to mediate the conflict, you go into the ring and fight it out. It is a perfect implementation of the “real world beefs are played out in front of an audience” aesthetic of the game.
The place my head just cannot get me is that I can’t figure out how real-world stakes get any kind of resolution in the make-believe land of the ring. That’s so weird to me, but that’s because I’m trying my damnedest to jam The Wrestler into the game, and it does not belong there. Different story and it would take different tools. It’s entirely on me.
Which is why I say I’d love to play with fans of professional wrestling. I’ll bet the excitement is infectious and it would become completely clear to me. It also makes me wistful for my college buddies, nearly all of whom have moved on and away (but one of whom is one of my very best friends).
Other notes and thoughts:
* Now I see why Nathan says PbtA-style Fronts are Bangs. They totally aren’t but at least I understand where he’s coming from. Between sessions in WWW, each player puts a feud or issue “on deck” to be resolved in an upcoming session. It’s a terrific way for the players to drive the action and take most of the planning load off the GM/MC. Buuut that’s just jamming Bangs into PbtA; they’re not a direct replacement for Fronts. The front is there to drive forward the big-picture narrative, which might or might not directly challenge a character with a right-now problem. In fact they mostly don’t.
* I’m super curious to see the Kickstarter-only Season One gimmicks (playbooks). The game itself comes with a really nice array of styles, including a non-wrestler, The Manager, who apparently can get sucked into the ring because that’s a thing that happens in pro wrestling?
* I would have been interested in seeing more talk about outside-the-ring personalities and how they can impact the storyline. Everyone’s called a NPW, a non-player wrestler, with the implication I suppose that literally anyone and everyone can end up in the ring.
* One of the players whose character is not currently wrestling is designated as The Announcer. I like that! I’m not totally sure what I’d do with a mike if it was handed to me. This is actually the thing where having pro wrestling fans at the table would probably be the most awesome. Same with the “cut a promo” move, where your character grabs a mike and rants at The Audience about whatever. It’s there to reinforce the roles (good/bad guy) and gimmicks (playbooks) while juicing the various economies at work in the game (momentum and audience).
* I really like the competition for Audience. That feels like where the stakes of the game actually lie. Everyone’s incentivized to juice their Heat (the kayfabe conflict between wrestlers) so that they improve the odds of gaining Audience. Neat. Also very meta!
Anyway, interesting game and I’m glad I have it. $20 is a steal, too. Learn more: http://ndpdesign.com/wwwrpg/