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Monday, April 25, 2016

Quick Hitter: Things Game Masters can Learn from Pro Wrestling.

This will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me. One of my secret loves in life is pro wrestling. I'm admittedly not a "fan" like I was when I was a kid. I mean I don't watch as much as I used to. My watching had degenerated into that kind of smarky thing where I search out "good matches" on the internet, and bitch about the WWE. Recently however, playing The World Wide Wrestling  RPG lead to an uptick in my wrestling watching, because of that I have started thinking about it again.

I see similarities between  Wrestling and RPGs. In fact I think of Wrestling  in terms of a giant on going LARP.

Any how, this being a quick post I should get to the damn point.

The stories in wrestling work best when they are honest and  have some degree of  logical consistency.
Bad guys and  good guys should have realistic goals, and motivations.
For example: In wrestling there is alway  a championship, and  if the  main players are all competing for the  championship then the other moving parts make sense. If a wrestler is just coming out and making trouble with no clear direction, it never seems to stick. Especially if that wrestler is losing week in and week out. Recently this was Bray Wyatt in the  WWE. His schtick is that he is a spooky cult leader type who brings his hulking minions to the ring and beats people up. Never once that I know of has he even sniffed around at a championship run. Despite being portrayed as a legitimate threat when big matches have gone down he and his "family " have lost over and over again.
His results going against his booking, and the character not having a clear goal have lead to fans not embracing him as fully as he deserves. (He is good material. Decent ring presence and work rate combined with solid mic skills.)

The same goes for  Role playing games.
As a game master your big bad should have a goal. A clear goal. A motivation that guides its actions. The players don't need to know it overtly, but when they come acrossed the big bad, that enemy should be consistent and  successful at moving toward its goal. Don't "book your heel weak."
The only reason the  big bad should exist is to  reach it's goal. The only force which should be able to stop it are the players. That's why we are hear, to engage the players. Make sure they know they are the  ones who are going to be in the big match when the showdown comes.

Lastly let's take the  wrestling metaphor back a few years and show what happens when it works.
Wrestlemania three held in 1987 was a different time, but the  hero epic has not changed for thousands of years. The  people of the  then WWF used all of the traditional aspects of the hero vs  rival story to near perfection setting up the  main event.
 Hulk Hogan , the  hero had a best friend named Andre the Giant. Andre had been unbeatable for years. Traveling the old territory system Andre had drawn huge crowds, every one wanted to see the  "8th Wonder of the  World."
The  WWF cooked up a story that Andre had gone undefeated for 15 years in the WWF.  For this astounding (and I think false) achievement Andre was presented a small trophy. At andres cerimony Hogan came out and made a spectacle of him self steam some of the lime light form good old Andre.  A few weeks earlier Hogan, had been given a huge trophy for being champion for three years.
The seeds of jealousy crept into Andre and  he fell under the  sway of the evil Bobby Heenan. (The true big bad in this story)
Heenan was obsessed with getting the belt from Hogan, so he used Andres Jealousy to influence Hogan's old friend the unbeatable  Andre into confronting him, and challenging him for a title shot.
Leading to this, perhaps one of the best segments of the time.



The  motivation is Heenan's desire to get the belt off hogan and on to a guy he manages. He had tried before with other wrestlers. (King kong bundy, Big John Studd, Ken Patera)  So here we had a big bad who had a clear motivation, and had consistently, successfully enlisted credibly  threatening challenges to throw at the hero.
No one other than the hero was going to stop Andre, hell no one had in "15 years."
The eventual clash between the two was the greatest spectacle in the industry up to that time.


This is not so unlike betrayals common in literature going back thousands of years.
Hogan is our Siegfried, who  offended Brunhild (Heenan), who went out and got someone nearly unbeatable to take him out, Hagan (Andre). The only thing  keeping the analogy from being spot on is the end result with Hogan Vs Andre, but still the form is there.

It works .

WWE / WWF used that for over again several times (notably with Randy Savage I mean they did the SAME THING) but never with quite the success they had in 1987.
Primarily because the  pieces were never so good. Andre was a near unbeatable foe, even at the end of his WWE run. Hogan was Siegfried at the time having vanquished every opponent up to that point. Lastly  Nobody was better in their role as Big bad puppet master than  Bobby Heenan.

Thanks for reading.
-Mark.