Wednesday, September 20, 2006

What Role-Players Can Learn From Professional Wrestling

I'll bet you thought I was kidding when I listed this as an upcoming post.

As a fan of Professional Wrestling, I've seen a number of basic elements on the various shows and principles can easily be applied to table-top roleplaying. Most of this advice is oriented towards Game-Masters (GM's), but some of it will help players as well.

While I've watched a number of other promotions, I'm most familiar with the WWE, and most of my examples will be drawn from WWE Monday Night Raw. I may also pull an example or two out of the ECW. Not all of my examples will be 100% accurate, either, so don't use my examples as a means of catching up on your favorite character's storyline.

Every Character Has A Story
In Professional Wrestling, every single character has some sort of hook and a bit of background. It doesn't have to be very deep or even interesting. It just has to exist.
Randy Orton wants to outshine his father, and so he's trying to beat all the wrestlers who beat his father.

The Highlanders are a tag team from Scotland. Even the smarter one isn't very bright.
Know Your Role
This is separate from the background - you need to know what you are capable of. As a GM, you need to be aware of what your players are capable of.
The Big Show is seven feet tall, and weighs over 500 pounds. While he's perfectly willing to take on two opponents at a time in a Handicap Match, you won't see him doing many ladder matches.

Supercrazy is unlikely to go one-on-one with the Big Show.
At the same time, players will want to achieve the nearly impossible.
Sabu wants the ECW title, and he thinks he can take on the Big Show to get it.
More than that, as a player you should also know if you're a Face, a Heel or a Tweener - Most PC's are Good Guys, which makes them Faces, but not every fan favorite is a Face. Heels should be NPC villains for the most part. Just because a character is humorous doesn't mean they're a face - There are comic heels and serious heels, just like there are comic faces and serious faces.

There Needs To Be A Story
It's that simple. If you just throw a bunch of wrestlers in a ring, it's not very entertaining. Give them a reason for being in that ring. Similarly, just dropping PC's into the world you've created won't get you any benefit or fun.
John Cena wrestling Edge isn't very interesting. John Cena wrestling Edge because Edge has been mocking John Cena relentlessly is much more interesting. John Cena wrestling Edge for the WWE Title that Edge stole from him is even more entertaining.
Characters Can't Always Succeed Alone
Working together, characters can succeed where they would have individually failed.
HHH and Sean Michaels are good friends who just want to have fun. They share a dislike for Vince McMahon, and are currently making his life a little miserable. Individually, they wouldn't be able to work nearly as much mahem.
The fact that some goals are impossible alone can also be used to encourage PC's to get to know NPC's or each other.

Characters Will Develop Their Own Relationships
Don't just force characters together. Give them a reason to work together.
Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit had been rivals for a long time, but, with a common foe, formed a tag team (and won the Tag Title).
Along the same lines, allow character relationships to develop and change. Player Characters very rarely wind up hating each other - they may be rivals, but there's nothing wrong with a friendly rivalry.

Characters Will Change
Over time, characters gain more skills. Depending on the system, they may also pick up personality quirks (good and bad). It's not a bad thing - and it shouldn't be limited to PC's.
Shane McMahon spent a great deal of time as a Face, feuding with his father. Now, he is his father's right-hand man. This makes him a more effective villain, because he has positive history with some of the Faces in the league.
Don't Give That Man A Mike
Professional Wrestlers all do what they call "Promos," in which they grab the microphone and rant for a time. Some wrestlers are better at it than others. In the same, way, some players will spell out exactly what they are saying in character, and others will paraphrase. Don't force paraphrase players to stretch out what they're saying if they don't want to. Also remember: Some players just want the action. They're not interested in character interaction.
Johnny Nitro is a decent wrestler, but when you give him a microphone, it's like watching paint dry. It's better to just cut to the action so he doesn't have to open his mouth.
Along the same lines, don't allow an NPC to make a long speech - and don't allow them to argue with one another at length, either. Even if there's a factional split among the Villains, keep the arguments short. Players have short attention spans, and long NPC discussions put them to sleep.

Evil Cheats
It's that simple. As a GM, always be looking for a way to make the game more difficult for your players. Don't make it too difficult - and if they can counter the cheating somehow, let them. Even faces PC's cheat from time to time.
Edge held the WWE Championship for a long time. Nearly all of his title defense victories were because his side-kick Lita handed him chairs or distracted the referee or just beat on his opponent while Edge distracted the referee.
Don't make it too easy, either. Players need to feel like they have earned that win. If they counter your cheating, find a new way to cheat.

Accidents Happen
Sometimes, your players will throw that critical success and badly wound your best villain during the introductory scene. Roll with it - have his assistant step up or stage a coup.
If Vince McMahon suffers a breakdown, Shane McMahon will step in to do the job. If they're both incapacitated, Jonathan Coachman steps up.

Even though Paul Heyman may set foot in the ring, he's got two bodyguards who will do his fighting for him.
The Fix Is In
Good will eventually triumph. It won't be easy, and it can take some time, but PC's will eventually succeed at their quests.
John Cena just re-took his title from Edge. It took several months, and it involved beating Edge in Toronto (Edge's home town). It also involved a Tables, Ladders and Chairs match - a match type at which John Cena had no experience, and at which Edge excels.
Evil Doesn't Go Away
Just because they've won one battle or completed one adventure doesn't mean that the game is over.
John Cena just won the title back from Edge, but Edge has made it clear that he feels as though it's still his title, and he's threatened to invoke the rematch clause of his contract.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:07 PM

    Well said!

    I once argued with another GM about "the fix is in" rule. I felt that Good should eventually win, while he believed that this ruined the suspense and drama of the game.

    I think that there are certain games where evil could legitimately win (Call of Cthulhu being the obvious example). However, the GM should work with the players to guide the story to a satisfying conclusion, and in many game genres (superhero, let's say) that conclusion involves the defeat of Evil. Doesn't mean that the good guys have to come through it in one piece, or even alive.