(This is a slightly edited version of the Play Dirty episode published in Wicked Words #11, which you can get a copy of here! Support my Patreon for only $2.99 per issue. Your subscription also includes ALL back issues. Every issue of Wicked Words contains one Play Dirty episode plus additional gaming/fiction stuff!)
You’re about to enter a new world. No, scratch that. You’re about to enter a new multiverse. And we’ll answer three very important questions.
1. What happens when pro wrestlers are geeks instead of jocks?
2. And what happens when women tell stories about women in the world of pro wrestling?, and
3. How do I apply this to my table top GM tool box?
Professional wrestling is weird. I mean most people really don’t understand how weird it can get. And that’s one of the reasons I love it. I love weird.
Now, most people think of Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage when they think of pro wrestling. They think of huge, muscular, chemically inflated jocks with serious masculinity issues. And to be honest, they wouldn’t be wrong. That’s what 90% of pro wrestling used to be.
I say “used to be” because that isn’t exactly what pro wrestling is anymore.
Now, before I go any further, I should probably take a step back and say a word or two about what pro wrestling is: it’s theater. It’s a particular kind of theater that specializes in telling stories with violence. Stories of betrayal, revenge, honor, dynastic feuds and loyalty. That’s what makes (good) pro wrestling awesome. Ancient stories retold for a modern audience.
Until recently, this theater has been firmly in the hands of men. Women have had parts in pro wrestling—even as wrestlers—but typically, women have played the roles of trophies and objects of desire. As I said, until recently.
Over the last couple of decades, women have made strides to change their roles in this vicious, physical theater. No longer simply valets, they are the lead actors in the performance. WWE’s NXT has made huge strides in putting women wrestlers in the forefront and the promotion’s main shows (Raw and Smackdown) have taken…well…stumbling strides forward. (At least in this humble reporter’s opinion.)
However, there are places in pro wrestling where women not only hold significant roles, but primary roles. Promotions such as Shine and Stardom feature only women wrestlers. And they aren’t promoted as simply titillating spectacles in small clothes, but as real athletes telling real stories.
And my favorite story in wrestling right now—more than any other—is the story of Rosemary and Allie: the Demon Assassin and the Bunny Slayer.
Right about now, my Faithful Readers are probably wondering, “John, WTF does this have to do with running a roleplaying game?!?!” Well, my friends, it comes back to the most basic game mastering trick in the world:
Give the players something to love, then set it on fire.
I’ll get to that in a moment, but first, you have to know a little bit more about Rosemary and Allie. See, I have to get you to fall in love with them. And that won’t be hard. I promise.
Now, as we progress, I’m going to get parts of this wrong. Some of it will be out of order and some of it will be simplified. But that’s for the purpose of brevity. If you want the full story—and yes, you do want the full story—you can follow the links I’ve provided below.
Rosemary (Holly Letkeman) and Allie (Laura Dennis) are friends, but their characters have not always been friends. They’ve fought together and against each other in multiple wrestling promotions all over the US and other parts of the world. They’ve wrestled under different names because that’s how wrestling works: you go to a different promotion and they want you to play a new role? Generally, you say, “Yes.”
Recently, they’ve taken on the roles of Rosemary—a demon assassin who has sworn her heart to a mysterious force she calls “the Darkness”—and Allie—a demon hunter who has all the sweetness of a Joss Whedon creation without all the self-inflicted tragedy and melodrama. The two of them couldn’t be more different. After all, one of them is a creature of darkness and the other is an avatar of light. And they’ve fought against each other many times.
However, during the Impact wrestling program, we discover Rosemary has received instructions from the Darkness to protect Allie. And when you hear Rosemary explain why…it makes…sense? At least, about as much sense as a demon assassin can make.
And so the friendship between Rosemary and Allie begins. The two of them engaged in different feuds and storylines on Impact, but both coming to each other’s aid when needed. It’s a strange relationship, and at first, we’re not really certain if Rosemary is sincere. She is, after all, a demon. But whenever Allie is in danger, Rosemary is there, throwing herself between Ally and physical danger.
Now, wrestling is full of double-crosses and betrayals, so we fans are always skeptical when villains come to the rescue of heroes. And make no mistake: Rosemary is a villain. But it really seemed Rosemary’s actions were sincere. And because Allie is a babyface, that means Rosemary was making a slow, dramatic turn from villain to hero.
You know what that means? That means us fans started cheering for her. When she shows up to protect Allie, we cheer. We get invested.
We want to see the two of them become friends. We want Rosemary to be on our side.
Wrestlers know that screen time is money. The more time you have to tell your story, the more convincing your story becomes. Wrestlers have very little time on TV. They have to share it with other wrestlers. Now, if only there was a way for Allie and Rosemary to give more depth to their story…if only there was a medium they could use to get the fans more involved with their characters…
Welcome to Youtube.
In early 2018, Allie began documenting the Rosemary/Allie relationship on her Youtube channel, Allie’s World. The videos tell the story of Allie introducing Rosemary to coffee, donuts, and Swedish Fish (the candies, not actual fish, which is something that confuses Rosemary). They’re short, charming, and delightful. And they introduce the concept of the multiverse: the explanation for why Allie and Rosemary are friends in some wrestling promotions, enemies in others, and even have entirely different personalities. (This plays a huge role in Season 2.)
Did I also mention that both Allie and Rosemary have held the Impact womens’ championship? Rosemary held it for over a year. Both of them are capable women who can defend themselves, and don’t need men to do it.
And to me, as a wrestling fan since before I can remember, I can say that this is a great wrestling story. It has everything I want. It has friendship, loyalty, and danger. There’s a possibility of betrayal, but I’m certain that isn’t going to happen. Because that never happens. And when it does happen, I’m going to be heartbroken. I’m going to want to see the fight between these two, because I want to see the betrayer get what’s coming to her.
But more importantly, it’s a wrestling story told by women about women. Let me say that again:
It’s a wrestling story told by women about women.
And for all my feminist friends: yes, it sure as hell passes the Bechdel Test. At no point do the women ever talk about romantic relationships with men. The story is about their friendship. And in the testosterone filled world of pro wrestling, that’s a fantastic breath of fresh air.
And did I mention pro wrestling is weird? Yes, it seems Rosemary has some sort of limited magical ability. She can turn off the lights in an arena and appear and disappear at will. She can spit a magical spray of mist that blinds her opponents. And because both of them are professional wrestlers, they can endure a tremendous amount of pain.
But the “magic” elements are kept vague and subtle. Well, “subtle” as subtle can be in the world of pro wrestling. We don’t know if Rosemary’s powers are supernatural or just coincidence. Maybe she paid off the production manager to turn off the lights. Maybe that mist spray is just really harmful chemicals she’s somehow learned to keep in her mouth without harming herself. And maybe all that damage the two of them take is because wrestling is a choreographed action thea—
NO! It’s real! Dammit! It’s real! Rosemary really is a demon assassin and Allie really is a multidimensional demon slayer doing her best to be Rosemary’s friend!
So, hopefully by now, I’ve sold you on Rosemary and Allie’s relationship. Hopefully, you’ve checked out the Youtube links I’ve provided. Hopefully, you understand why I adore these two and admire them for their devotion to a demanding, physical craft that’s been largely dominated by men for more than a century. And hopefully, you give a shit about their friendship.
I hope so. Because they’re about to set it on fire.
* * *
Not too long ago, Holly Letkeman injured her ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament). She needed surgery to make sure she didn’t have long-term damage, but like most professional wrestlers, she worked through the pain. Worked through the pain until the moment was right for her character to get written off the show for a few months while she recovered.
So, how do you do that? How do you create a circumstance where a character as insane and seemingly impervious to pain as Rosemary gets taken off the show?
You know the answer to that question. You know it. Come on. Think. Rosemary is a demon. Seemingly impervious to pain. Indestructible.
You know the answer. You’ve been reading this article long enough to know. Ah, I see you’re starting to get it. Remember the first thing I told you about playing dirty as the GM? Remember?
Hurt them in ways their character sheet can’t help them.
Think of your biggest munchkin player. Someone who went through the rules and found all the loopholes. Made a character impervious to pain, impervious to acid, impervious to fire, and everything else. They’re indestructible. Nothing can hurt them!
That’s fine. That’s absolutely fine. As the GM, I’m not going to hurt you.
I’m going to hurt her. I’m going to hurt Allie.
Enter Su Yung, the ghost bride. Another supernatural character with powers very similar to Rosemary’s. And just as dangerous. While Rosemary has been eating donuts and Swedish Fish with Allie, Su Yung has been destroying opponents in the ring. While Rosemary has been having delightful adventures with Allie, Su Yung has been destroying opponents in the ring.
See what we’re doing here? We’re establishing the destructive power of an enemy while humanizing our new friend.
Rosemary’s character sheet cannot protect her. Because we’ve made her fall in love with Allie. And because of that, we’ve fallen in love with Allie. And because of that, Rosemary is going to suffer.
Of course, all of this pays off in a wrestling match because that’s how wrestling works. A showdown between good and evil. Well, maybe not good, but less evil than Su Yung.
Nah, let’s stop quibbling. Rosemary is dark, but she isn’t evil. Not in the same way Su Yung is. And when the two of them face off in the ring…
…I’m not going to tell you how it turns out. You’ll have to watch for yourself. But remember, this was a way to write Rosemary off the show so Holly Ketkeman could recover from ACL surgery.
And while I won’t give you any spoilers, I will say this: it’s gonna get dusty in here.
* * *
Without talking about spoilers, let’s talk about what just happened. And yes, that means you have to go watch the video. Remember the basic principles of playing dirty: give the players something to love, then set it on fire.
In this case, the player characters can either be Rosemary or Allie. Or both. But let’s explore Allie as PC and Rosemary as NPC.
A beneficent but evil spirit who finds some kind of connection with the player characters. Yes, it’s plainly evil, and absolutely insane, but it turns up when they’re in danger and helps them out. It uses its dark powers for good. She’s a fantastic example of an anti-villain (from TV Tropes: “a villain with heroic goals, personality traits, and/or virtues; their desired ends are mostly good, but their means of getting there are evil”).
But then, Rosemary must face a terrible power. And what happens after that? What happens when the players watch their best friend, their demon friend, face that power and… what can the PCs do then?
DemonxBunny is more than your standard pro wrestling storyline. It’s a story about two friends (Holly and Laura) telling a story. And if you watch carefully, you’ll learn how they apply the simplest narrative rules to get great results. Specifically, they do what all pro wrestling is trying to do: get their fans to care.
Watch them. Learn from them. But more importantly, enjoy the show.