This article originally appeared in Pyramid #8
WORLD WRESTLING FEDERATION® RPGPublished by Whit Publications
Designed by M. David Clark
What, this game again? I can feel you rolling your eyes and thumbing ahead to check out the latest exploits of Bruno. It's not like it's never happened before. In most polite company, admitting a fondness for professional wrestling is like bringing roadkill into a crowded room -- everybody looks at you funny and turns up their noses.
Don't you know it's all fake? Well, "fake" is such a negative word. I prefer "booked" (the wrestler's slang for it) or "scripted." It's a performance, not an athletic contest -- the promoters have admitted as much in their license applications.
So what's this got to do with the WWF Roleplaying Game? If you have no interest in the subject, you couldn't possibly enjoy playing a roleplaying simulation, right? Believe it or not, wrong. The folks at Whit Publications report something that I've seen myself: once people get over their prejudices and actually play the game, they have fun. They get into the characters. They bellow, they shout. They boo the bad guys and (sometimes) cheer the good guys. Played to the hilt -- complete with interviews, brawls outside the ring, cheating managers and all the rest -- this game is a real hoot.
And what's more, it's a real achievement in design. The WWF Roleplaying Game faced a design challenge that I don't believe any other RPG has ever tackled; namely, how to do a competitive simulation of a non-competitive event. In "real" wrestling, the designated loser has to cooperate with the designated winner; he must "sell" his opponent's moves during the match, and when the time comes for the big finish, he must obligingly stand (or kneel or lay or whatever) in the proper position so that the winner can execute his finishing move. In a roleplaying simulation, there is no "designated loser." Nobody is going to stand around and let the other guy win the match. What to do?
M. David Clark's design uses initiative and something called a Weardown System (TM, naturally) to do the job. The wrestler with initiative keeps it as long as he keeps making his rolls to execute offensive maneuvers (and the other wrestler doesn't get a critical success on his counter-move). The amount of Stun damage each move does translates into a number of Stun Points you have to set up your opponent for the next move -- it costs a certain number of points to get your opponent to stand up with his back to you in the middle of the ring, and another bundle of points for you to climb to the top rope, and so on. And most of the really devastating moves can only be applied after your opponent has taken a large amount of Stun damage.
Which is pretty much how a "real" match works -- the wrestlers start out even, but only after one of them has taken a lot of punishment is he ready for the big finish.
If that was all there was to it, matches would be pretty dull -- whoever got the upper hand early would build on that advantage to certain victory. But bad guys get cheap shots (and good guys get comebacks) they can use to take the initiative away from the other guy and deal a little punishment of their own.
And is this book thorough. There are over 100 maneuvers available to the wrestlers (and this is just the Basic Game). There's rules for taunting the crowd (for bad guys) and visiting hospitals (for good guys) -- both of which will send a wrestler's popularity in the desired direction (positive Fan Support for good guys, negative for bad). There's a money system, where cash earned with wins in the ring can be used to buy equipment (like those nasty foreign objects!) or spent on training to increase your abilities.
By the time you add it all up, you've got -- surprise! -- one of the most comprehensive hand-to-hand combat systems every designed. And now that Whit has the license to do an RPG version of the Mortal Kombat video game (using the same basic rules system as the WWF RPG), even more people will get a chance to see just how good this system is.
One word of warning: This is a very detailed, very complicated system, which causes two problems. One, it's not that easy to learn (a real problem in Whit's attempts to market this game to wrestling fans with no RPG experience), and two, it lends itself to manipulation from the min-maxing, rules-lawyering, squeeze- every-drop-out-of-every-point munchkin gamers that so many of us would love to body slam on the nearest concrete surface. But since the subject is so inherently silly, it is devoutly hoped that the most fervent of them will spend their time on something more important, like building the perfect 500-point superhero.
But it's a good game. And it's a neat subject. And I'll give a flying elbow off the top rope to anyone who disagrees.
-- Scott Haring
The World Wrestling Federation is a registered trademark of TitanSports.
Article publication date: August 1, 1994
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