I would get up really early on Saturday mornings to get ready to watch cartoons. Sometimes I got up so early that I would see these shows that looked like the sports broadcasts that my family would watch in the afternoon, except that the people that were getting ready to compete would spend several minutes explaining why they were upset with one another, and proclaiming how they were going to take each other apart, piece by piece. Then I watched as people in trunks picked one another up and threw each other around the ring.
This was in the early 80s, as the territory system of professional wrestling was starting to give way to the (then) World Wrestling Federation. Not long after I saw those early Saturday morning shows, I started seeing a Sunday morning highlight show featuring fascinating, larger-than-life personalities, like Randy “Macho Man” Savage. Once I saw the glitzy presentation of the WWF (at the time, before the World Wildlife Foundation won the title), I was hooked.
Many, many years later, I got hooked on another hobby. I was just starting to understand Powered by the Apocalypse-based games when I encountered the first edition of World Wide Wrestling RPG. I have said in the past that WWWRPG, along with Monster of the Week, was the game that helped me to understand what had previously been impenetrable rules.
I ran an ongoing game of WWWRPG 1e, as well as running multiple sessions at conventions over the years. Back in the glory days of Google+ Roleplaying discussion, I spent a lot of time in the community for the game. Even when I found it impossible to continue following the WWE due to the various actions and positions of the people in control of the company, I loved engaging with the concept of professional wrestling. When World Wide Wrestling Second Edition came to Kickstarter, I backed the project. Today we’re going to take a look at the game.
I’m going to do a quick summary of some of the changes from 1st edition to 2nd edition, in case you are familiar with the first edition of the game, and you want to know what’s new:
- The first edition is 162 pages, and the second edition expands to 261 pages.
- The second edition rules include material that was originally presented in The International Incident and The Road, as well as some mixing and matching of some gimmicks from later releases–It doesn’t include the Guest Stars supplement, and most of the gimmicks that get folded in do not include the Season Two gimmicks (but see the roles updates).
- The Wasted and the Timebomb have been rolled into optional rules instead of gimmicks.
- Rules surrounding momentum, and how the face and heel moves work have been updated.
- The gimmicks included are a mix of First Edition, Season One, and International Incident Gimmicks, with some remastered moves.
- The Golden Boy has been shifted to the Anointed, the High Flyer and Luchador were largely merged, The Cultural Champion is shifted into the broader Luminary, the Indie Darling shifted to The Call-Up, and the Shoot Fighter simplified to The Fighter.
- There are new example promotions, giving example promotions with different sizes, themes, and reach.
- The essays included have a mix of some “greatest hits” from the first edition, as well as some new essays on Lucha Libre, Puroresu, Catch Wrestling, and Indie Wrestling.
If you don’t see a gimmick from the first edition, it may still exist as options folded into another gimmick, or in the expanded role moves that are presented.
This review is based on the PDF of World Wide Wrestling Second Edition. As mentioned above, the PDF is 261 pages, in full color. While the original edition of the game featured full-color covers and alternating color headers, there are more prominent color bands used in this edition, and the artwork from the latter supplements has been incorporated in the design of this book. While the previous edition was well-formatted and clear, this version retains the clear bullet points and sections and has full-color art of the various gimmick characters as well. Overall, it keeps what worked in the previous editions, and adds more color and clarity to the package.
The colors serve to differentiate sections and topics:
- Red = Overview
- Blue = Core Rules Discussion
- Green = Optional Rules and Customization
- Pink = Gimmick and Moves Descriptions
The overview section of the book contains these sections:
- About the Game
- How to Play This Game
- The First Episode
The basic concept of the game is that you are playing professional wrestlers, working for a promotion, trying to maintain your popularity and your employment. The thing to keep in mind is that you are playing the wrestler, who then portrays their wrestling persona. In other words, you know that the matches have predetermined outcomes and that Creative is telling you how the story should end. What you and your opponent are doing is trying to tell the story in the most engaging way possible.
This is a Powered by the Apocalypse game, which means its core resolution mechanic is that when you describe an action that your character takes, if that action matches the trigger for one of the moves, the discreet rule resolution packets in the game, then you roll 2d6 + a bonus, which gives you results in a range of 6- (You don’t get what you want how you want it), 7-9 (you get what you want, with a twist), or 10+ (you get what you want).
Creative is the name of the game facilitator in this game, which is also a wrestling term for the “writer’s room” that books matches. In this case, Creative is determining who fights who in what kind of match, and who is intended to win. While wrestling matches are predetermined affairs, there are several ways for the wrestlers to scrap an ending and put their own twist on those endings, which vary depending on the roles that a character has.
In addition to portraying a wrestler or being Creative, one player not currently running a wrestler can also serve as an announcer. The announcer has the option to provide a bonus to a wrestler based on how they describe what just happened in the ring.
There are two pools that you track in the game, Momentum and Audience. Momentum is a currency you can spend to trigger moves or improve your rolls, and Audience is the wrestler’s popularity with fans of the promotion. If you ever end an episode with Audience of 0, you’re fired.
What I really enjoy about this game is the framing. You aren’t playing the wrestler’s personas, learning power moves that wear down someone else’s vitality meter. You can be in the real world position of trying to make it look plausible that a 150 lbs. wrestler can take down a 300 lbs. towering guest star football player. Some moves revolve around arguing with Creative about how your character has been treated, and the stakes are continued employment.
Before we move to the next section of this book, I want to point out that this book does what I wish so many other RPG rulebooks would do. It walks you through the basic concepts, and it explains how to play a session of the game. It gives you a working knowledge of the structure of the game, and lets you have fun with it before it layers on the more granular rules.
The rules section of the book has the following sections:
- Making the Roster
- How to Play Your Wrestler
- How to be Creative
This section discusses the playbooks, or “gimmicks” in more detail. What does it mean to be an anti-hero and what are the tropes of that type of character, versus a monster, versus the anointed. This section also includes a summary of all the moves, which includes moves that may not be as relevant to the single session explained in the previous section.
Some moves replace some of the standard wrestling moves to represent specific types of matches, like hardcore matches, tag team matches, or battle royales.
In one of the most 2020 things ever, there is also a section on what a wrestling match looks like when you are having wrestling matches that are being filmed without an audience. This means you don’t get access to some audience manipulation rules, but you do get access to things like reshoots.
This section expounds on “ring psychology” as well as providing a nice technique for pacing the narration of a wrestling match, making sure it doesn’t feel like it’s going too short or too long before you call for the ending.
How to Be Creative not only covers facilitating games in an ongoing campaign, but it also looks at what kind of recurring NPCs a promotion might have, and even different ways you can facilitate trading the Creative duties for a campaign in a collaborative manner.
Customization includes the following sections:
- Building Your Promotion
- Going Beyond the Ring: The Road
- The Worlds of Wrestling
- The Promotions
This section includes some of the rules that were my favorite from the rules supplements when I was running the 1st edition of this game. The promotion rules provide rules for adding traits to a promotion (what does it have going for it, what does it have working against it), and the road rules have moves for resolving characters traveling between venues, showing up at conventions, interacting with social media, doing interviews, and dealing with family.
Just like an individual wrestler might get sacked because their audience is at 0 at the end of a night, a promotion might end up having so many problems that it can’t continue to function. This really reinforces that the whole table is working together to put on a good show. Additionally, I love the road rules so much. I will forever remember the road trips that some of the wrestlers in my campaign had with members of the roster that were Non-Player Wrestlers, which really fleshed out the promotion’s personalities. There was this one time that involved a flat tire, a steakhouse, and the police . . .
The section on The Worlds of Wrestling presents a series of essays about different aspects of wrestling as a form of entertainment. All of these are engaging and fun to read, and they range from explaining more obscure corners of wrestling entertainment to interviews with people whose first experience with wrestling was this game. “Professional Wrestling is the American Dream,” an essay which appeared in 1st edition discussing class disparity and the popularity of Dusty Rhodes, is highly recommended.
This section ends with several example promotions. These range from traditional but well-detailed promotions, to very high concept promotions, to promotions that exist expressly to cross over with other promotions. These promotions are organized by Reach (mentioned previously in the promotions section):
Gimmicks and Moves
This section is an overall summary of the game mechanics and gimmicks from across the books, all in one area. This brings the basic moves you need for your first night, and presents them alongside the rules for different matches, etc. from later sections. The gimmicks provided in this version of the game include the following:
- The Ace
- The Anointed
- The Anti-Hero
- The Call Up
- The Clown
- The Fighter
- The Hardcore
- The Jobber
- The Luchador
- The Luminary
- The Manager
- The Monster
- The Provocateur
- The Technician
- The Veteran
This is a truncated list of gimmicks compared to all the supplements that came out in 1st edition, but it’s more gimmicks that were included with the core rules the first time around, and in many cases, its less that the other playbooks disappeared, so much as concepts from there were streamlined into similar existing playbooks. Between the gimmicks and the Role and Advanced Role moves (Babyface, Heel, Tecnico, Rudo, Celebrity, Icon, and Legend), there is a lot of customizability for characters.
Clean Finish The essays discussing the philosophy and story of wrestling are so engaging that they are worth the price of admission on their own.
I love the way the rules “layer” additional aspects of the game, starting with playing a one-shot, adding information on ongoing play, and then finally the customization elements to play different styles of promotions with different audiences, etc. It is well-executed modularity that I think promotes functionality and immersion in the game itself. There are so many aspects of the book that address the wide range of what people might love about wrestling that engage the imagination.
The text makes a strong case for professional wrestling as a genre for storytelling that doesn’t require engagement with actual professional wrestling, but still does a great deal to recommend professional wrestling to those that haven’t previously engaged with it. The essays discussing the philosophy and story of wrestling are so engaging that they are worth the price of admission on their own.
Most of what I could point out are going to be minor problems in the grand scheme of things. With all the other concepts that got rolled in from the supplementary material, I wouldn’t have minded a revised “boss” playbook, and I actually kind of liked the guest stars concepts that appeared in the supplementary material.
While the idea of narrating NPW activities and then handing the match to the player definitely works, and I’ve done it many times, I wouldn’t have minded a player facing move for situations like a move for squash matches, or a slightly different process for the (well described) process for “one two three” narrations for a match.
Recommended–If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.
Normally, even a well-executed game about a niche genre of entertainment isn’t something I would recommend as broadly as I recommend World Wide Wrestling Second Edition, but the game does such a good job of describing wrestling as a storytelling genre unto itself, and breaking down the steps of telling a good story that contains conflict and ongoing narratives, I think even people that may not be attracted to the genre will get something worthwhile from the discussion of pacing and the essays on the history and development of the entertainment form. The book is consistently entertaining and compelling in its presentation not only of the rules, but of the entertainment it is gamifying.
Do you have a favorite roleplaying game about portraying someone that is portraying someone else in the narrative itself? Do you enjoy games where physical contests or the process of preparing for a performance might be part of the game? Are there other forms of sports or sports entertainment that you think would make for a good RPG? We want to hear from you in the comments below!