Nathan D. Paoletta‘s World Wide Wrestling RPG reminds me of Action Movie World, another tight-premise PbtA game, not because they share a premise but because WWW 100% delivers on its premise (just like AMW).
My last contact with professional wrestling was in the 1980s, when I used to occasionally watch it as a kid. I dug the larger-than-life personalities, but it wasn’t my thing in the same way as, say, G.I. Joe (so much G.I. Joe!). That didn’t crimp my enjoyment of the game one bit — and being accessible to gamers who aren’t into wrestling is just the first of many things WWW does well.
On the night we played WWW, my Seattle group consisted of two wrestling fans, one more casual fan, one lapsed fan (me), and two players with close to zero knowledge of professional wrestling. Without fans in the group, we’d have leaned on WWW’s excellent “How Wrestling Works” essay and been just fine; with fans, we probably got into the action a bit faster than we otherwise might have.
Our GM bought this little wrestling ring, complete with figures, to make it easier for us to demonstrate what we wanted to do in the ring:
It worked nicely, and helped to set the mood. I think it’s this set, which is totally worth its $10 price.
WWW’s playbooks make it easy to create colorful, grandiose, and suitably bananas wrestlers. We created characters as a group, riffing off each others’ ideas, suggesting concepts and special moves and looks and theme songs rapid-fire, and cranked out some memorably crazy characters.
We baked in relationships — rivals, mentor and mentee, etc. — during character creation, which the game facilitates, and that gave the GM (called “Creative” in WWW) fuel to prepare the bookings. He spent a couple of minutes matching us up against each other based on those relationships, and secretly noted who was supposed to win each match.
On my initial read-through of the game, I was concerned about that aspect of the system; it sounded confining. But in play, it worked beautifully. We were all excited about each match-up, and we all had the chance to flip the script and change who won the match; one player used this option at the perfect time, but otherwise we stuck to the bookings.
Ditto my pre-game concern that there might be too many mechanics for my taste. There are more moving parts than some PbtA games, but in play they all did their job and clicked — just like good mechanics should.
A unique rhythm
A game where most of the group watches two people play might sound boring for everyone but those two people (and the GM), but again, WWW sets things up so it isn’t. One person plays the announcer, using a prop microphone to provide color commentary, and that adds a layer of interaction and entertainment for everyone. (The role is supposed to rotate, but we quickly found our best announcer and generally stuck with him.) And of course the matches are quick, so after being on the sidelines in one match the spotlight rotates and suddenly you’re the center of attention again.
The division of wrestlers into babyfaces and heels — good and evil ring personas, more or less — also gave the players on the sidelines something to think about. Not in the match, but have a heated rivalry with someone who is? Use the right move, and you can show up and get involved anyway. This worked really well in play.
The evening played out as a mix of matches and out-of-the-ring scenes. We had fun cutting promos for our wrestlers, striving to outdo each other with cheesy one-liners and catchphrases. We didn’t delve much into the other side of the game — the real wrestlers behind the personalities, and how they interact outside the ring — that much, mostly due to time and this being the first session. But what we did in this session primed that pump beautifully for some more real-world action in a follow-up session.
The best way I can sum up my first WWW session is that there wasn’t a single moment that didn’t feel right. The game facilitates feeling right at every step, from character creation through individual matches through the behind-the-scenes stuff, and the mechanics work to keep everyone engaged and on point.
World Wide Wrestling is pure electric sex. It’s exhilarating to play, and the stuff I had reservations about after reading it — Creative booking match results in advance, the number of moving parts compared to the average PbtA game — fell away at the table.
The over-the-top goodness of pro wrestling is a perfect match for the collaborative, player agency-driven magic of the PbtA engine. World Wide Wrestling is a two cups of coffee, bring my A game sort of RPG for me: No one can coast, because everyone is involved an “on” pretty much all the time. I highly reccommend it.