Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Review: World Wide Wrestling


This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to play World Wide Wrestling: The Roleplaying Game by Nathan D. Paoletta.  (I've previously encountered the author via Annalise, although I've only skimmed it.)

Professional wrestling is not a part of my background, but I know a fair number of people who enjoy it.  (By-and-large, they're gamers, and they like wrestling for the same reasons they enjoy role-playing games — action and soap opera, in equal measure.)  As with a lot of things, I've absorbed portions of it via osmosis — time spent around friends who watch wrestling, jaunts on TV Tropes or Wikipedia, and the inevitable absorption of pop culture detritus that all minds accumulate.  I probably should have done a bit more research beforehand, but this isn't a terrible game to enter cold.

World Wide Wrestling is an attempt to model professional wrestling in all its chaotic glory, both in and out of the ring.  It is a *World game — Powered by the Apocalypse, as they say — putting it in the camp with Apocalypse World, Dungeon World, Monsterhearts, and the like.  The mechanics should be familiar to those familiar with *World games, but I'll give a quick run-down:  Your actions are governed by a list of broad "moves" that define what you can do.  If there's any certainty or randomness involved, you roll 2d6 + some stat.  You fail if you roll 6 or lower, get an incomplete success with a roll of 7-9, and completely succeed on a 10 or higher.  In addition to your stats, you have bonds with your fellow PCs; these bonds form the core mechanic, as increasing your relationships to other PCs is the primary means of leveling up.  It's a fast, light system designed to simulate narrative reality.

Of course, it's been hacked from the core system.  You have four stats: Look (how well you perform), Power (governing feats of strength), Work (how skilled you are at the technical aspects of wrestling), and Real (how well you balance the role you're playing and how good you are at breaking kayfabe and making it work).  You're still trying to improve those relationships (called "Heat," and working almost exactly like Hx from Apocalypse World), but improving your relationships is a direct result of working with a person (be it in a match, cutting promos, whatever).

The biggest change is the wound and advancement system.  You can get injured — accidents do happen — but you're not going to die in the ring; injuries just take you out until you heal.  Instead, the "health" and "experience" mechanics are folded into a single system, called "Audience," which measures how well-received you are by the public.  Certain factors (like increasing your Heat with another wrestler) increase Audience; when you hit Audience 4, you gain an advance (which lets you take an additional move, increase a stat, or gain some advantageous relationship like a manager or tag-team).  If you end an episode at Audience 0, though, you're fired (character "death," essentially).  There are a couple of other methods to gain advances, but that's probably the most straightforward and common one.

The Gimmicks — "playbooks" in other *World games, and character classes in other games — are all wrestling tropes, and focus as much on the actual actor and the wrestling character the person portrays.  (As an example, the playbook I'm using is "The Wasted" — a drug addict, you're pretty adept at flashy stunts in the ring, but you're also a walking threat to kayfabe when you're using.  Which is frequent.)

One of the other differences is the increased import of player-versus-player in this game.  Succeeding at a wrestling maneuver grants bonuses, but also grants narrative control.  Narrative control typically shifts back-and-forth a couple of times during a match until the GM calls for the finish.  As per pro wrestling, outcomes are fixed (although some unruly types can "throw" matches, as happened in the first match), but it is still possible to grow one's audience even if one "loses."

As with other *World games, the GM doesn't roll anything.  The hot potato of narrative control passes as normal, but if the PC loses, the GM accepts it and narrates for a while before returning narrative control to the player.

Amusingly, most of the players present had limited wrestling knowledge, but we still seemed to get into the swing of things as the game progressed.  (Most notably, the quickstart has a list of wrestling moves on pages 8-9.)

About the only complaint about the system is the back-and-forth of the narrative.  The fact that poor dice rolls can prevent a player from describing actions is a bit of a pain, although "narrative control" could just as easily mean collaborating with your opponent and holding final veto rights.  I'm guessing it varies among play groups.

All-in-all, it's the kind of quick, story-driven play I've come expect from *World games.  It seems like a solid system for the genre, likely better than trying to model it with d20.

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