A wrestling MMO, or why I should not become bored.

Last post I made I went over my nostalgia for my old wrestling role-playing game group. Today I want to go over what brought that up.
It all started with me getting bored. Apparently I should not be allowed to become bored. When I get bored I start planning things.
Recently I went on a trip that we need to take my wife’s car because it has more cargo room than mine. I can’t drive a stick shift so she had to drive. It was a long drive. I ended up with a lot of time to think. And where did my mind go?
I started mapping out how you would structure a functional wrestling MMO.
Yeah, really, I went there of all places.
So we went over my history with wrestling role-playing. Go back and re-read it if you need a refresher.
The other link that leads to my boredom inspired plan was a trip to San Diego Comic Con one year. It was when Everquest was the king of the MMO heap.  There was a panel that was about designing MMOs. At the panel I asked the panelist thought were the different genres that could translate to MMOs. The lead designer said that any genre that is successful as a regular video game would work as an MMO.
You know what are fairly successful games? The WWE wrestling games, after all they put out one or more a year.
So these are the elements that came together in my head on this long drive.
So what plan did I come up with? Come with me on my whimsical flight of game design fantasy.
The one major conceit needed to make the game work is that everything shown in professional wrestling is absolutely real.
Also a wrestling game by its very nature is going to be Player vs. Player. There is the ability to have some Player vs. NPC action, but it would not be the focus of the design.
Let’s start with the basics. How a character would work.
When you create your wrestler you would have several choices to make. First would be allocation of points. You would have a basic set of stats to fill: Stamina, recovery, brute strength, technical skill, acrobatics, martial arts, and dirty fighting. All the stats except stamina and recovery represent a style of wrestling and determine the wrestling moves your character can execute and how well. They also define how well the character and defend against that style. Stamina determines how much punishment you can take and recovery determines how well you can regain stamina. Once all the stats are done you will pick your characters finisher (their signature move)
Next you would select the look of your character. Not just what the avatar looks like, but how they stand and walk. You would also select a ring entrance style. Alignment would be next, are you a face (hero) or heel (villain).
Finally you would select personal information. Of course the character’s name would be the most important thing here. This would include a first and last name, plus an optional nickname.  You would also need to pick which one people commonly call you.  You would also select where you are from, and have text field to enter a character bio.
Once your character is finished it would be off to the tutorial. The tutorial would take the form of going to a wrestling school. Here you would go through the basics of how the game works and a few sample matches. All matches in the tutorial would be player vs. NPC. Once you are done it is off to the big bad world of professional wrestling.
The character will start off on the independent circuit. These are shows that have no real storyline outside of the match itself. All matches are set up by the game system itself. It would be possible to have matches some matches that are player vs. NPC here, but they would be worth less points then PvP.
This brings us to rewards. Rewards would take two forms: points and money. Points would be spent on improving your stats, both in raising the overall stat, or buying a special maneuver if you meet the stat requirements for it. Money on the other hand would have several uses. You could by better gear to improve your look. You could upgrade to a flashier ring entrance. You could spend it to hire a manager or valet, which would be an NPC that would go to the ring with you and might provide some bonuses. You can also save it up for one time uses.
Once your character is past the beginner levels they will have the opportunity to join a wrestling federation.
This brings us to the thing you have to deal with if you want to have a wrestling game with thousands of players? In a wrestling game your goal would be to become the champion and hold that championship belt. But how do you do that?
The answer is you base it on a guild structure, an in game organization of players. In most MMOs a guild is a large group that gets together to share resources and go on organized missions. In our proposed Wrestling MMO these would be called federations and would be the crux of the game.
A federation would need 10 people to start. At first it would have a limit of 25 members. There would be a federation point system to allow for growth. Eventually the federation could grow to a membership max of 75. Each federation would start out with a championship belt.  The members would compete amongst each other to be the champion.  As the federation grows it can add more belts.
As with the independent circuit, federation matches would be set up automatically by the system. Getting a title shot would be based on ranking in the federation. The rank would be calculated by various factors, such as overall win/loss record, how active you have been recently, if you had a recent title shot, and so forth.
One rule that would have to be in place is that once you win a belt you have to defend it at least once a week. This way someone cannot just win the belt and sit on it. If you do not the system strips it from you and sets up a tournament to find a new champion. Beside a title match generates more money so there is a reason to get out there and defend it.
The heads of the federation (which would be like officers in a regular MMO guild) could schedule periodic events, called PPV events (named for Pay-Per View events that real wrestling organizations have) They can be whenever they heads wanted them, but no more than once a week. There would be twenty slots available. Getting a slot would be based on how active you were in the week before the event and how well you did in your matches, as well as being logged into the game at the right time for slot selection. If a belt holder is logged in they automatically get a slot defending their belt. All PPV matches are worth double money.
For additional interactions federations can have cross-promotional matches where two feds have a joint PPV with the winner being the fed that wins the most matches.
And I’ll stop here. This is not everything I thought up, but it is the basics I came up with.
Now in all fairness, I am not a game designer, and I do not know if what I came up with is feasible or not. I just know that I would love to play in a game like this.
So what do you think? Cool idea or should I never be allowed to become bored again?

My Favorite Role-playing game experience.

Let’s get one thing straight, I love role-playing games.
I’ve been a role-playing enthusiast since I was a teenager. I can trace my connection to the majority of my social circle to role-playing games. I spent several years working at a role-playing game company.  I helped found an international organization devoted to role-playing. Role-playing is second to only comic books in the hierarchy of my fanboy interests.
I’ve played several versions of Dungeons and Dragons. I’ve played most of the old World of Darkness games and a couple of the new. I’ve played Champions, Gamma World, Toon, Chill, Cyberpunk 2020, Deadlands, and many more.
I am currently in a group that plays both Promethean and The Dresden Files RPG.
However like every role-play there is that one game. Every role-player has one, that one group that just clicked for them and even years after it broke up still has that lingering nostalgia for it.
In 1994 while working at Wizards of the Coast I found mine.
I found it when I learned a co-worker found a copy of the WWF basic Adventure Game and had started a group and wanted to know if I was interested in joining.
Yes you read that correctly.
My favorite role-playing group of all time was a group playing an RPG based on Professional Wrestling. It was a game published by Whit publication. It was meant to be the main book for a whole line, but as far as I have ever been able to learn it was the only book released.
To be honest that book as published was a so-so game but we worked at a gaming company. We were able to fix the rules to make a working game.
And what a game it was. For the majority of the nearly two years we played this game there were only three of us playing. All players had several wrestlers and managers, a ref, and a ring announcer.
It was structured so that in a match you would have two wrestlers and the third player would have his ref character in the match. Whoever was ref was the GM for that match. The game was basically a protracted fight that goes move by move with attacks and counters.  In a night we would have time for about 4 to 5 matches and all three of got to play as all three of us also acted as gm. 
Our fictional wrestling organization was Intercontinental Wrestling Federation or the ICW. It was located in Las Vegas. Steve, whose house we played out went so far as to get little wrestling figures to use as miniatures and made a scale map of the arena that took up most of the table to use for play.
As I said earlier each of us ran about 4 or 5 wrestlers. Mine were a mixed bag of various archetypes that would show up in wrestling.
Johnny Hartman the all-American. He was a college football star from South Carolina that had gotten into wrestling as a form of cross-training.  He was taken under the wing of “Captain America” Lance Arness, who he referred to as coach. He had a long rivalry with a wrestler only known as the Duke of Slamchester and a brief rivalry with the ICW champion the Golem. His finishing move was a pile driver he called the Touchdown.
Vincent “The Don” Vincenzo was a Mafia themed wrestler. He was managed by Uncle Guido Vincenzo and teamed with his cousin Benny “the leg breaker” Pagliocci.  I ran all three characters. Vincent would start most matches offering a bribe to his opponent to throw the match. His finishing move was a choke slam called the Strong arm.
Jerry Aldini, who was often called the hardest working man in wrestling. He briefly held the Intercontinental champion ship after defeating Apollo Storm. Eventually had a heel turn after he felt he was disrespected once too often.
We had storylines that would go on for months, we had rivalries, and we had pay-per-views. We were convinced that the house we played at was bugged because we would have a storyline and soon a similar storyline would appear in one of the real feds.
Seriously, we had a game session where one wrestler was taken out with a high heel shoe. A week later on WCW Hulk Hogan was hit taken down with a high heel shoe.
Of all the role-playing gaming groups I have been part of this one still stands as my favorite. I had more fun with this one than any other I have ever played in.  It was that perfect mix of the right people together with the right game setting. We had three other players that joined briefly at various times, but it was usually the core three.
 The group finally broke up when Shawn, our third player lost interest and Steve and I didn’t think anyone could really take his place.
I made a couple of attempts to put together new groups but they either didn’t gel or just didn’t get off the ground.
And what made me bring up that bit of nostalgia? Stay tuned, I will be getting to that.
So what was your favorite role-playing experience?

Role-Playing and Urban Legends Part 2

In the last post, I said that urban legends have been a hobby of mine since I was 12. This has had its ups and downs.

When I was in my early twenties I worked as a clerk at a 7-11. A woman came in wanting to put up a flier warning about lick-on tattoos laced with LSD. It was a classic example of the Blue Star Tattoo legend. I took a flier and explained the legend.

Let’s just say that both she and my manager were less then pleased.

But the real fun with urban legends started when I was working as a customer service representative at Wizards of the Coast.

I was hired by WotC in July of 1993, the same month they released Magic: the Gathering. So I was there for its early rush of success.

My day-to-day job was answering questions about our games. The majority of these questions were based on the rules to Magic: the Gathering; and later, after we bought TSR, Dungeons and Dragons. However, this was a job based on taking incoming phone calls, so anything could happen. At some point my manager decided that one of us should be focused on any calls based on rumors about our games, like the ones based on the sources I cited in the last post.  Specifically he wanted a point person to deal with any question about our games being evil, satanic, or harmful. Basically, to deal with people who believed the urban legends.

In his wisdom, he decided I should be that person.  I guess my love of urban legends made me the ideal candidate.

Part of the fun of this new responsibility was that I got to have special training.

WotC flew out a Michael Stackpole to give me this training. You may remember Michael; as I mentioned him in the last post. If the industry had an expert in this field it was Michael.

I would like to believe that by the time I left WotC, thanks to Michael’s training and my own experiences, I was the industry’s second leading expert.

The method used to direct calls to me was pretty simple. The person who got the call would put the customer on hold and then yell out loud, “Jeff! Satan call!”

I ended up developing a lot of responses to that.

“Tell him I’m not here”

“Tell him it can never work out between us.”

“Tell them we’re not in league with Satan. We’re in a bowling league with Satan. And do you know how hard it is for him to rent shoes?”

“Why don’t I ever get Shiva calls?”

You get the idea.

After that I would take the call and get to work.

Most of the calls and letters fit into two basic categories.

The first would go like this: “What is this game based on?” I would be asked. “Math, basic arithmetic and a little algebra.” I would answer.

“What?” as I had clearly not given the expected answer.

“Well the game was developed by a math professor. If you take out all the art and flavor text what you are left with is a game mechanic that is based on mathematic principles.”

The other type would go like this

“Is this game based on the occult?”

“I’ll be honest with you; I doubt any of the game designers know anything about it. All the setting and art are based on western fantasy literature and most of that was derived from the work of a pair of English theologians who were writing Christian allegory,” I would answer. Of course, I was referring to J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

Between these two sets of stock answers, I was able to field a good majority of those calls.

Of course, there were some real winners.

My personal favorite was a woman who called and as soon as I answered she went off, “I am going to burn these cards my son bought.”

“No ma’am, you don’t want to burn them.”

“No, I am going to burn them.”

“No, please, shred them instead.”


“The cards are coated in plastic like poker cards; if you burn them the smoke will be toxic. Shredding them will be much safer.”

“Aren’t you upset that I am going to destroy them?”

“Why would that upset me? We already have your money. The rest is an issue between you and your son.”

My manager wanted to give me a stern talking to for that one, but he was laughing too hard.

Another one that always puzzled me was a bit of mail we received. It wasn’t a letter; it was a copy of the rule book found in Magic decks. Someone had written in Bible quotes on random pages. Well, not the quote – it would be Book, Chapter and Verse; it was up to me to look up the quotes. They were mostly from the Old Testament.  I could never really figure out what theme they were going for, since no two passages covered the same subject.

They did write one original thing on the back of the rulebook.

“I Pled the Blood of Christ on your company”

I still look at that and think that the word just seems off.

Then again it’s not like they took the time to write an actually letter.

The last one was a doozy that was still going on when I left WotC in 1997.

I got a call from the superintendent of a school district in upstate New York.

His story went like this. One of the schools in his district had allowed students to start up a Magic: The Gathering club. Everything was going fine until some parents had seen the cards and complained to the district. It was a fairly standard “These cards are Satanic” complaint. What was different was that one of the parents was a lawyer and she was preparing a t First Amendment law suit against the school.

I’m pretty sure you looked at that previous sentence and thought, “A First Amendment law suit? Why?”

This was her logic (so to speak): Since the game was so clearly Satanic in nature, allowing it to be played at school was promoting a religion, and thus violated the separation of church and state.

Honestly, if this was a work of fiction, I would have violated suspension of disbelief.

I spent time helping the superintendent understand the game, and even gave him examples of cards so that he could have the game looked at by a child psychologist. They found nothing wrong with the game, but the lawsuit went on. And from what I heard, it was going on as late as 2004.


Role-Playing and Urban Legends Part 1

With Halloween around the corner, it is time for ghost stories to make the rounds again. And in my opinion the best ghost stories are the ones that grow into urban legends. I love urban legends.
When I was about 12 years old, my mother heard that a woman at our local Kmart had been killed by a snake that had gotten into a shipment of clothes from overseas.  She became very concerned that this could happen at other stores, and wanted me to be careful when we were out shopping.
Two days later, our local newspaper ran a story on about this incident. More to the point: they ran a piece debunking it as an urban legend. It was a well-written piece that covered what an urban legend was, how they spread, and some of the most common ones.  It also cited a book by Jan Harold Brunvand called The Vanishing Hitchhiker: Urban Legends & their Meanings.
The next day I checked out this book from the school library.
I was hooked. I found other books, and from there, following urban legends became a small hobby of mine.
I suppose I should make sure you know what I am talking about before I go on. Of course the best way to educate yourself on this would be to check out Professor Brunvand’s books on the subject.
Basically, an urban legend is modern folklore. It takes the form of a story relayed as being true, usually happening to “a friend of a friend,” and that usually holds some kind of cautionary tale or supernatural element.
But why I am I bringing this up on a site devoted to geek culture?
It’s due to some doozy urban legends that have grown around role-playing games.
Since almost the time of their inception, fantasy role-playing games have attracted their own set of urban legends.
These grew out of three sources.
The first was simply that fact that some people would look at the fantasy elements in Dungeons and Dragons and assume it meant the game was Satanic. The idea that any role playing game will lead to devil worship come from this basic misunderstanding. I’ve always found this one funny since many of those fantasy elements were lifted from the writings J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, both of whom had Christian allegory in their stories.
The second source was an attempted suicide in the utility tunnels of Michigan State University that was erroneously linked to Dungeons and Dragons. A student at MSU went to the steam tunnels to commit suicide by overdose. He left a map on graph paper (left over from a D&D game) of his location so his body could be found. Instead of dying he wandered off. A detective hired by his family to find him idly speculated that he had gone to the tunnel to play a live action version of the game, and the press latched onto that as fact. This led to the myth of someone getting killed playing a live action Role playing game. This myth got leveraged in an incredibly bad book called Mazes and Monsters, which in turn got turned into a lousy TV movie starring Tom Hanks.
The third source was the suicide of a high school student in Richmond Virginia that is mother attributed to his involvement with a Dungeons and Dragons game he played at school. She tried to sue TSR, the publisher of Dungeons and Dragons at that time. All her lawsuits were dismissed. In response, she formed Bothered about Dungeons and Dragons (BADD) to combat the “evils” of roleplaying. It got to the point that game designer and future Star Wars author Michael A Stackpole wrote the article “Game Hysteria and the Truth” to debunk BADD’s claims. 
These stories have a life of their own now. Even though role-playing gamers now have an image of the loner geek in his mom’s basement, many of these stories still persist. Even now, there is probably a preacher somewhere firm in the belief that role-playing leads directly to Satan.
And in the next post I will discuss how all of this intersected directly with my life.
Here is a hint: I used to work for Wizards of the Coast