In 2010, D. Vincent Baker made a game called Apocalypse World. Since then, the hobby’s never been the same. Emphasizing a conversational approach to gaming rather than hard-and-fast rulings and backed by simple, elegant mechanics, Apocalypse World took the world of roleplaying by storm, and has since spawned numerous spinoffs and conversions. The latest game to adorn the now-glorious words “Powered by the Apocalypse” logo on its cover is World Wide Wrestling. Written by Nathan D. Paoletta, WWW adapts Baker’s opus into the over-the-top world of professional wrestling.
Professional wrestling is a bizarre culture clash of “fake” and “reality.” Ask even a casual wrestling fan and they’ll invariably launch into twin narratives on what’s going on in the ring (called “kayfabe”) and out of the ring (regarding creative decisions, the attitudes of the wrestlers involved, real-life injuries, etc.) What’s really clever about WWW is that Paoletta understands this, and has baked it into the game. Player-made wrestlers aren’t just a gimmick and a mask; they’re regular, everyday people, with problems, hopes and aspirations, and sometimes that stuff comes into conflict with what the big-wigs are looking for. That tension, combined with the teamwork and communication inherent to putting on a good match for the fans, is at the core of World Wide Wrestling.
Though a lot of what makes “Powered by the Apocalypse” engine games good is the inherent understanding of RPGs as a conversation, Paoletta sharpens the mechanics to drive home the theme without burdening the game. Each wrestler has an “Audience” attribute that works vaguely similar to experience points in other games, except it can go up, down, and reset during various milestones. The primary way to increase your Audience score is to generate Heat, another statistic, with another wrestler (think Bond from Apocalypse World). The primary way to increase Heat during a match with another wrestler is through Momentum, yet another statistic, but this one is a lot more fluid, and is actively spent to pull off the OMFG moves inside the squared circle.
Most Apocalypse World fans will shoot straight to the playbooks section of WWW to determine whether or not the game is worth picking up. For those of you not in the know, a “playbook” is like a character class. A playbook contains all the iconic moves of your chosen character type, but many of those moves are not just special abilities, like a wizard’s magic spells; they’re actual narrative bits that inform the story. For example, the “Wasted” playbook, built all around a drug-addicted wrestler, has a move about things that can happen when that character shows up in the ring while under the influence. Again, Paoletta nails theme here: each of the game’s included ten playbooks cover just about every wrestling stereotype you can think of, with plenty of room around the edges to customize each to your exact creative vision. A vibrant fan community is certain to keep new playbooks showing up regularly, as well.
World Wide Wrestling should be an absolute no-brainer pickup for anyone into Apocalypse World, Dungeon World, or Monster of the Week, but only one thing may hold those players back: the theme. To not give this game a chance because you don’t know a suplex from a spinebuster would be doing yourself a serious disservice. The book literally teaches you everything you need to know, right down to the lingo. Absolutely NO knowledge of professional wrestling is necessary to pick up WWW and have a blast with it and your friends.
Pro wrestling can be a very polarizing sport. The rulebook even says as such in a series of brilliant essays on pro wrestling, roleplaying, and the places where they intersect. Rascism, classism, sexism, and brutal violence have played parts in the history of the sport, and WWW does not try to defend that. However, the book argues, pro wrestling is a performance art, mixed with some grand, circus-like spectacle, and spiked with a little modern mythology. Embrace the theme, the same way you’d embrace the 1920’s in a game of Call of Cthulhu or Middle Earth in a game of The One Ring, and you’ll be blown away by the excitement and fun this game can bring you. World Wide Wrestling is, quite possibly, the best game the Apocalypse has produced yet.