Behind The Screens – Wrestling with Moments

Oh good, you didn’t see “wrestling” in the title and the image of two sweaty near-naked men and think today’s blog wasn’t for you. Yes, wrestling is however you feel about it and this blog post is not going to change that feeling or even try. I am only using a recent example of successful longform storytelling in wrestling as an example of how layered callbacks can turn into stuff happening in your game into impactful moments.

As you may or may not know or care, this past Saturday there was a special event on the WWE Network: NXT Takeover Chicago II. NXT is owned by WWE and is branded as their developmental show, where new talent can train for the pressures of live TV by being booked in front of intentionally smaller audiences. That said, many wrestling fans consider it the best wrestling WWE produces and even the best wrestling promotion in the world. Not just for the wrestling, but the also the quality of the writing. 

Consider the following sentence:

At NXT Takeover Chicago II, in a No Disqualification match in which both wrestlers -Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano- came to the ring armed with crutches and featured multiple weapons being used in and out of the ring, one of the moments that got the biggest crowd reaction was when Ciampa took the wedding ring off Gargano’s finger, spit on it, and threw it away.

Despite this being a violent wrestling match, the crowd responded to a visceral moment. I don’t know about you but I’ve never been hit by a crutch. My brain would have to substitute experiences and fabricate feelings for me to be grasp what that might be like. I have, however, thought I lost my wedding ring. That is not a fun feeling. Knowing that Ciampa inflicted that feeling on Gargano on purpose without even directly advancing towards his goal of winning the match makes me hate Ciampa furiously and immediately, immersing in a way that fiction thrives for.

Lesson #1: It’s important to remember that our job as GMs is not just to describe the fantastic of a scene in our fantasy roleplaying game but relate it to the everyday. After an encounter in which the wizard cast fireball, take a minute to remind them that they have bat guano under their fingernails and when they try to pick it out they just get it under another nail. When the fighter makes two attacks on an outsider for the first time, one hits and one misses, say they slice their foe heartily and true, but the otherworldly shade of blue blood that stains their blade catches them off-guard. By the time their weapon comes back around they’re contemplating the number of different creatures’ blood they’ve spilled. The moment of introspection falters their aim. As the cleric holds up their holy symbol to cast light, the emanation of their spell beams across the back of the symbol. For a moment, their god’s shadowy silhouette crosses the floor. The creeping rogue puts their weight on a creaky floor board. They grit their teeth as they slowly lift their foot and are somehow surprised that yes, it makes just as loud a noise stepping off of it as stepping on.

Back to our sentence to consider, here are a few additional facts that change its context:

  1. Ciampa was an usher at Gargano’s wedding (in real life and in the storyline);

  2. Ciampa and Gargano were tag team champions together;

  3. On the night they lost their titles, Ciampa suffered a knee injury that kept him out of the ring for months. This was after Ciampa turned on Gargano;
    Image result for ciampa injured
  4. Ciampa hit Gargano with a crutch during a title match, costing him the NXT championship;

  5. In the weeks leading up to their match, Gargano’s wife tried to reconcile the former friends.Image result for gargano bumps candice lerae

Now consider this again:

At NXT Takeover Chicago II, in a No Disqualification match in which both wrestlers -Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano- came to the ring armed with crutches and featured multiple weapons being used in and out of the ring, one of the moments that got the biggest crowd reaction was when Ciampa took the wedding ring off Gargano’s finger, spit on it, and threw it away.

The wedding ring and the crutches spots weren’t just independently powerful moment. When combined with the layers of backstory (way more than a wrestling storyline usually has) you can see why them starting the match wielding crutches and the act of stealing, spitting on, and throwing away a wedding ring had greater significance.

Lesson #2: In a lot of ways, callbacks are what separate a story from simply a series of events. This doesn’t just have to apply to the overarching plot. Stand-alone moments can become character defining traits with the right callback. The wizard smells guano in the air and immediately suspects another wizard is about. A creatures looks at the shades of bloodstains on the fighter’s sword and is suddenly willing to talk. When the cleric casts daylight, the silhouette of their holy symbol burns into the face of a vampire. The rogue has learned to spot when a floorboard will creak and strategically steps on one they know will only grown on the opposite side of a guard, causing a distraction.

Don’t underestimate the value of the mundane in a fantastic world. Ground a world of monsters and magic with reminders of the everyday inconveniences we can all relate to. And when you make the mundane memorable, take note and use it later to even greater effect.

Ryan Costello

What started as one gamer wanting to talk about his love of a game has turned into an empire of gamers talking about their games. Ryan founded what would become the Know Direction Podcast network with Jason "Jay" Dubsky, his friend and fellow 3.5 enthusiast. They and their game group moved on to Pathfinder, and the Know Direction podcast network was born. Now married and a father, Ryan continues to serve the network as a co-host of the flagship podcast, Know Direction.

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