Yesterday I talked about what RPGs could learn from Pro Wrestling and how wrestling went from a sport that took too long to win so was only sometimes entertaining enough to an entertainment that looked like sport focused on pleasing fans. It did this by kayfabe or ‘keeping it fake’, fixing fights and enhancing the action with moves that make no sense as far as real wrestling is concerned but are exciting to watch.
So how do we use that to make RPGs an easier hobby to take up and make them more fun in the process? At first the idea of kayfabe making the game more fake sounds awful but so does turning a sport into a pseudosport. The fact is though that Pro Wrestling is a bigger money maker now than it was. The concept when executed properly is successful.
What we have to remember is that the players are not the audience. They are the contestants and the contestants are in on the fakery. In fact, they act out the fakery which is core to making this work.
Lets back up though for a moment and look at the goal of our faking. One is to make the game shorter. Two it’s to amplify the excitement of the game. To get to the good part right away. What is “the good part?” That could change from game to game but I’m going to start with the example of a the final conflict with the Big Bad that comes at the end of the game.
Just skipping to the Big Bad would be unsatisfying. There is no discovery, no ramp up, less challenge to the PCs. We don’t want to just skip to the end. This is where the players being in on the kayfabe comes into play. They generate how they got to this point. The GM presents them with the big exciting finale and then asks them “How did you get here?” and the players describe why they took on a job offered to them by a old man in the village. It doesn’t matter what they come up with as long as it fits the description of them getting to the finale.
You might be thinking “But they don’t have to fight their way through the Big Bad’s hordes to get to this point, they’re fresh as daisies. This won’t be as interesting.” Lets fix that then.
The point of all that build up is partly for the story of a struggle to get to this point and partly to wear down the PCs resources. Let’s have the players generate both. The GM can offer a set of deals. Take 2 hit points of damage and get the “Brave and Heroic” experience bonus. Take off half your ammo and get extra cash. Take 30 points of stress of any kind and you get to pick from this list of equipment. Nothing says they have to take any deals so they have to be tempting enough that the players will bite and make a more interesting story.
Now as well as “How did you get here?” the players also have to integrate the deals they chose into their story.
This whole process should take 15-20 minutes. The finale could then take 40 minutes and you have a game in one hour that included everything you normally put in your games.
There are story advantages to this process also. Because the players can describe their own story, they will likely tell one that is more interesting to them. The GM may learn more about the specific interests of the players and be able to really tune into what they like and want out of a game.
The players can throw in crazy things that they would never accept from a GM. Things like “The guy that gave us the job turned out to be my long-lost father!” because it’s safe from consequence. They have control of it and more or less know what the GM has in store in the finale. Yes there’s some room for surprises but the players have a reasonable expectation of what’s to come.
Mixing it up
What if the real draw to your game isn’t the Big Bad? What if it’s the puzzle, or the mystery that you worked so hard on? Then we reverse the process. The deals happen after the puzzle is solved. So that take off two hit points happens only after the puzzle is done. What if the PC has lost most of their hit points while solving the puzzle and then goes into the finale with only two? Well they die in the battle. Kayfabe it and make up the heroic battle and how they die saving their friends.
Try it, see if you like it. No doubt it will be a bit different from what you’re used to but remember the point is to enhance the entertainment and make the game quicker and easier to take up. This will be an odd sell to a lot of players but would be a lot of fun if embraced. The main question is can players fake it so well that it feels authentic to them, like they really went through all those things.
Let us know what you think. Will you try a kayfabe session?