World Wide Wrestling
Last year, some friends and I agreed to try the World Wide Wrestling RPG. We like trying out new stuff, and Rohit was pumped about it and willing to GM, so the rest of us said, "Sure!"
Andrew, Joey, Ramya and I came up with characters, fleshed out our theatrical gimmicks, and laughed our way through a few ridiculous fights. We slowly got a handle on how the rules worked (pull off Moves to generate Momentum to spend on other Moves to generate Heat to earn Audience to earn Advances) while using punches and tackles as an excuse to pimp our tycoon (Daddy Warbucks), jungle mystic (Dr. Hell-no), and talk show host (Late Nite) shticks. We had a good time, but schedules changed, Ramya moved, and we didn't come back to it.
New Ongoing Game
Then, last month, Rohit got a copy of the finished game, and suggested we play again. Andrew and Joey and I were down, and we invited Mark to replace Ramya.
Rohit is a big pro wrestling fan. Mark used to be, and has retained a lot of familiarity with it. Myself, Joey and Andrew are largely ignorant of it, and Rohit decided we needed to watch some wrestling before playing again. So, three weeks ago, we watched two hours of NXT. It was about what I expected in terms of over-the-top showmanship (which I enjoy plenty) and clownish over-acting in the ring (which I enjoy in small doses), but I was impressed by what great athletes many wrestlers are. The second match was a lot of jumping and spinning and fast-paced acrobatics, infinitely more enjoyable than the slow first match where the wrestlers would punch for a few seconds and then stagger around moaning or yelling for dozens. The third match featured some guy in elaborate dragon body paint + costume, which was really cool. Running around outside the ring and hitting each other with chairs was a nice change of pace after the bodyslams started to get routine. The pre-fight build-up was pretty weak until the last match, but the last match featured some nice interviews and historical montage as set-up, which made the otherwise mundane fight more enjoyable. These were my takeaways, and my sources of inspiration for our first session of the new arc.
Session one had some good and some bad. Mark wasn't there. Andrew fought first, and really hammed it up with Late Nite, finding clever ways to work his gimmick into both his entrance and his actual wrestling moves. I thought it was brilliant... but not quite as brilliant as the first time he did it last year. While he fought an NPC, I studied the rules and tried to get a handle on the game's strategies, so I wouldn't have to sweat them during my own fight. Then it was time for me (Daddy Warbucks) to fight Dr. Hell-no (Joey). We had fun with our gimmicks, but just as with Late Nite, there was some sense of diminishing returns (no one said that; this is my guess from people being less pumped than last year). Joey and I tried to include more actual wrestling moves, in celebration of the athleticism we'd watched on TV, but our descriptions got a little awkward and we had to look at the sheet of move pictures a lot. We'd babble on, and Rohit would say, "You mean you do a powerslam?" And we'd look at the sheet and go, "Yeah! That!" There wasn't much resonance to the experience, as Andrew was sleep-deprived and not into being an active Announcer for our fight. I also was still distracted by working my way through the rules. After the session, having finally somewhat internalized how best to pursue progress, I was left reflecting on why to care. I asked Rohit, "So the development of play and luck of the dice determine how quickly my guy advances and reaches the inevitable end state; does this pace matter? Or is there other stuff going on besides just my progress?" He replied that there'd be other stuff going on, that each development would feed into the story of my character and the World Wide Wrestling league. This sounded good to me! But why hadn't it begun already?
Seeking a Vision
In the time after this session, I spent some time thinking about what was missing. I felt like Rohit had a more complete Vision in his head, where every little NPC action he described was plugged into some implied contexts. Grudge-building, good-bad flip-flops, foul play, lobbying for fights or opponents or recognition, playing off past history -- he knew how to evoke each of these with a good one-liner, while Joey and Andrew and I needed things spelled out to clue ourselves in. We were sticking with our initial inspirations (character gimmicks) plus what we'd seen on screen (wrestling moves) but it wasn't quite enough to make it all mean anything. I asked Rohit if this game would turn out like Contenders, where we spent a lot of time on the characters' real lives, and he said no. So the more robust inspiration I was seeking wasn't going to come from that.
Tonight, in the car on the way to the game, I asked Rohit about some of the topics I've been addressing in this thread. "So dude, now I know what wrestling looks like, but what inspires you about it? What's the most rewarding thing you do when you play it with Nathan and other wrestling buffs?" His answer included some fluidity of trading wrestling moves with an equally-informed other player (not a great sign for our group of noobs) but also a lot of storyline stuff. Although he never said, "I love the history of these ongoing narratives," he repeatedly referenced how wrestlers joined forces and split apart, re-branded themselves, jumped to new federations, were outed for being bad sports or influencing things behind the scenes, etc.
That's when my Vision expanded. Just like the final NXT match I watched, it was about context. But not real-life-players context, or real-life-wrestlers context -- it was about on-camera context. I'd taken a stab at that in the first session, sending a minion to disrespect Dr. Hell-no before we fought, but it didn't add much, and now I saw that wrestling storylines were bigger than that. My first attempt was like the sports rivalry coverage you get from disconnected broadcasters on a national network who don't know the teams -- just the obvious facts. "The Yankees and Red Sox don't like each other. Go!" But what Rohit was seeing was more like what I see as a Mets fan turned semi Sox van via Yankee hatred -- a deeper history of twists and turns, a true epic. Our grandstanding fights didn't need more grandstanding -- they needed drama, stakes, Shakespeare and Homer, factions and families and feuds. Wrestling isn't quite as ephemeral and flavor-of-the-week as I'd thought. There's more to a rivalry than "I'm coming for YOU, brother!" When Joe Whatsisname joins in a match alongside Hulk Hogan, everyone remembers how he used to roll with the Iron Sheik and the Undertaker. Just like in Marvel comics, something I actually do know, Rogue going from one established "evil" team to another established "good" team and how that colored everything she did for a while.
So, tonight, I spent my brief moment of out-of-the-ring camera time on establishing an evil empire that would absorb wrestlers. Daddy Warbucks is everything people hate about The One Percent -- he enters with a butler and secretary, smacks people with hundred dollar bills, tells the audience to go get a job, and uses a finishing move where he blows cigar smoke into his opponent's face while choking him out. So it's only natural for this guy to launch a corporate takeover of World Wide Wrestling itself. I introduced top lieutenant Isaac Vanderbilt, chief attorney of Frontrunner Industries, who scammed opponent Monster Ricky into signing a contract putting his allegiance on the line. If he lost his upcoming fight, Ricky would have to join Frontrunner in fighting behind Warbucks. The other players loved this, and it made the tag team match of Warbucks and Late Nite vs Ricky and Steve much easier to narrate. Instead of generic "evil rich guy" riffs, I was doing stuff specific to Ricky -- having my goons put a Frontrunner Industries T-shirt on his little sister once he made eye contact with her in the crowd, etc. All this stuff was a big hit with Joey as audience and Mark as Announcer.
This kind of "fraught allegiance shift" material was already a part of what Rohit and Mark were bringing into play, but we hadn't really celebrated it together, as a group, before tonight. I don't know how accessible it is to Andrew and Joey yet -- Joey's fight, which closed the session, was for the league title, but was mostly narrated as a sequence of wrestling moves and didn't elicit as much full-group enthusiasm. I'm tempted to discount that as "rushing to finish" and "past Andrew's bedtime" -- we shall see.
In the car afterward, Rohit told me how excited he was by the WWW vs Frontrunner antagonism and how he already had more fun ideas for his NPCs and new ways to present conflicts and matches. So we're definitely on the same page about this being an important dynamic in play. I don't know how long our game will last -- Rohit doesn't tend to GM one game for very long -- so it's possible that the current faction struggle will be a single instance and thus hard to draw conclusions from. In one respect, it's just like any persistent fiction -- the more you play, the more background you have for future play, and the richer your situations become. So, "look, my group now sees wrestlers as embroiled in a faction war, because I narrated it!" is not really my takeaway as regards Vision.
My takeaway is more about how we were able to get to this point: exposure, first efforts, and then the key -- picking the brain of the guy whose personal Vision was most full of the vital ingredients for play, and knowing what to look for. I was looking for a love of the source material's beauty, and fluid access to it as inspiration, and I got enough of that from Rohit to improve our overlap and the Vision we could share. Hopefully the whole group can share something similar after I brought it into play. I can't claim that I've developed a deep appreciation for wrestling after one chat and one good session, so we'll see where this goes, but I think we're on the right track. I certainly got more out of my richer Vision tonight than I did from my less vibrant one in session one.