Why do a wrestling issue? Let’s get straight to the elephant in the room: If you don’t give a hoot about professional wrestling, why would you want to buy, let alone read, this issue of Hippogryph? It’s simple. If your interest is in the wargaming-influenced side of tabletop roleplaying, the horse part of the Hippogryph, wrestling is all about fighting. Unarmed combat! Grappling! Improvised weapons! Should your preferences be for storytelling, the eagle half of the beast, wrestling depends heavily on character development, building coherent narratives, and emotional impacts. Useful ideas can be found everywhere, if you’re willing to have an open mind and look for them. I promise not to make inside jokes that only wrestling fans will get, and that all of the content in these pages is applicable to any tabletop roleplaying system or genre. For the essential terms that I must use for flavor and context, there’s a glossary at the end of the issue on page 30.
If you’re a smark, I don’t have to go for a cheap pop here. There’s no need to sell the angle. None of the wrestling content is promotion-specific, so you can apply it to running your own version of WWE, AEW, ROH, NJPW, MLW, and so on, or relive the glory days of the original NWA, WCW, or EC-f’n-DUB. Use Hippogryph to book your own cards, or follow the advice given to bring the action into the system of your choice.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about why I decided to do a wrestling issue this early into the zine’s run. A safer bet would have been to lean into the well-worn genres of fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Do what’s expected and stick to what’s popular with tabletop roleplaying fans. I’ll get to those things eventually, but one of my guiding principles is to explore genres, settings, and ideas that haven’t already been done to death. There are wrestling RPGs, to be sure, and several excellent ones. Compared to the sheer volume of games in the above-named genres, though, I stand by my statement that wrestling remains under-represented.
There’s a deeper connection than just this issue, though. When I was deciding how to write these op/ed piece I had profession wrestling in mind. Wrestlers cut promos so you can get to know their personalities and storylines. I think it’s helpful for you to see a bit of who the person writing this zine is. My decision was to make every editorial a shoot, wrestling-speak for speaking openly, honestly, and out of character. While I’ll probably never drop a pipe bomb (a shocking promo that addresses controversial or taboo subjects head-on) ala CM Punk, I’d do it for the right reasons. You can call it “editorial tone” or “voice”, but in my mind these editorials and opinion pieces are shoots.
For a while I considered adopting a heel (bad guy) persona for these shoots. Abusive jerks in tabletop roleplaying somehow end up with large ride-or-die followings, so why not me? As I felt was very necessary to write about in Issue One, we have so much of that toxic crap already that it wouldn’t be fun for me to even satirize it. In the same way that it’s become difficult to tell the difference between real headlines and stories in The Onion, I didn’t want people to think anything I said for cheap heat was meant to be serious.
There’s also the huge level of inspiration I take from independent wrestling. Mainstream audiences may associate professional wrestling, or “sports entertainment” as they call it, with the WWE. They’ve got crossover stars like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and shows held in arenas for massive audiences. The WWE has merchandise in Walmart and Target, TV deals on multiple networks, their own streaming service, and tons of production value. The indie guys are wrestling shows in bars, bingo halls, and high school gymnasiums. They might have a t-shirt or poster they’re selling at a folding table after their match.
My favorite indie promotion right now is NWA Powerrr. The NWA stands for National Wrestling Alliance, an organization that was founded in 1948. In the 1980s, as the WWE began to take over everything, the NWA began to fade and by the early 2000s were pretty much dead. In 2017 they were bought by William Patrick Corgan, of the band Smashing Pumpkins, and he’s been doing a great job of bringing it back to life.
NWA Powerrr has the production value of public access television. It’s filmed in the Georgia Public Broadcasting studio in Atlanta, and new episodes are released on YouTube every Tuesday. There is one set of bleachers where a small but enthusiastic audience of about 100 people sit. There’s are no pyrotechnics. There’s no entrance music. As wrestlers are introduced by the announcer they come out from backstage and get into the ring. This is where the magic happens. Without a lot of production value, they have to rely on talent. There are no scripted promos, so when they speak they need to be charismatic and entertaining. Everyone has to try harder, put their heart and soul into it, and let you see the love they have for what they’re doing. These men and women have to put on a great show every week, and they do.
That is the do-it-yourself ethos of punk rock. It’s the “three chords and the truth” of a classic country song. There is a beautiful minimalism to it, a peeling away of the excess to get straight to the bits that matter. If you look at the production value of this zine, and know about the Black Box Manifesto, you’ll understand why this resonates with me so deeply.