By Matt Gwinn, Errant Knight Games, $12 PDF
Kayfabe is the inside wrestling roleplaying game. You might think this would mean it was a game with rules for big brawny men engaged in rigged fights, and to some extent you'd be right, but kayfabe manages to be quite different to what you expect.
Kayfabe is a 80 page PDF from Errant Knight Games (though a printed version is available too), it was written by Matt Gwinn, a man with an obvious enthusiasm for the subject matter. The layout is solid and easy on the eye, it reminds me somewhat of the original Blood Bowl rulebook (minus the orcs). The illustration is all lineart, but of a high quality, and while sparsely used it adds a nice amount of atmosphere. There's the occasional glitch in layout, with columns of text ending prematurely, but these a fortunately not on vital sections. There aren't any PDF bookmarks, but there's a small Index to help locate information.
So what's the game itself like? Rather than take the dull approach of "every player makes a wrestler, and they fight, that's it", Kayfabe is about the wrestling industry, the behind the scenes shenanigans, the unfolding stories, and playing the crowd for all it's worth. Even to somebody like me, with my meagre understanding of wrestling, can easily grasp the premise and roll with it.
The first part of the PDF deals with how to create your charactes. Kayfabe defines the wrestler by four stats(wrestling, work rate, mic skills and clout) and several assets and flaws(which give bonuses/penalties in different situations). Wrestling is the character's athletic ability, work rate is your wrestlers ability to read the crowd's reaction, mic skills is how well you can vocally work the crowd, and clout is how much backstage influence your character has.
A game of Kayfabe is split into three parts. The first is a writers meeting, where players take on the role of the people who write the wrestling's plots. At this stage they come up with the cool story that unfolds through the matches in a series. They also decide which wrestlers from the talent pool (the pool of created characters) are going to be matched against each other. Players get to work out how much of the wrestling show will be given over to matches, interviews, skits and promos. Overseeing all this is the booker (GM), who puts it all together into a summary called a booking sheet.
Next comes the locker-room section, where players get to roleplay the dodgy dealings that go on back-stage of an event. Players now take on the role of the wrestlers and try and influence the booking sheet, to get themselves top billing or better deals. There's plenty of opportunity for nefarious plotting and politics here, adding a nice slant to the game. Clout is the main stat for this section, and clout rolls can be used to get your way, or build up an opponants bad rep.
Finally, the players get to control their wrestlers during the show. The most important thing in the matches is Heat. Heat is effectively how much crowd enthusiasm you have generated and your wrestler's reputation too. Since the matches are rigged by the story team, what matters is how much heat you generate for your wrestler during them, rather than any of this winning stuff. You want your wrestler to be more adored by the crowd after the match than before, after all.
Matches are given a time limit in minutes, this is effectively Kayfabe's round, and for every minute one of the players involved describes a move set he is engaging in. After the move set, dice are rolled and the match heat can go up or down. Rolling a 6 is a good result, rolling ones but no sixes is bad, but doesn't mean the move failed, just that you didn't sell it to the crowd. Doing things like risking injury, using a signature move or finisher, increases the dice you roll and therefore your chance of the heat going up. You can also wager match heat, by doing unexpected things to boost the audiences reaction. This carries the risk of the match heat going down by what you wager though.
Kayfabe works by sticking to it's core mechanic, and everything else being a logical extension of it. Dice rolls are simple and elegant(6s are success 1s failures), and the concept of heat really works for the setting. There's a good sized section for the Booker(GM), which provides some useful advice, and an a large amount of rules for creating your groups promotion and promoter.
Are there any problems with Kayfabe? Well, the text can sometimes be confusing, and occasionally uses a term before it has been properly introduced. Obviously it assumes a certain degree of wrestling knowledge too, so non-fans will find it harder going. The text's insistence that the players are "creating their own wrestling promotion", rather than playing a game about it, can get a bit annoying. But these are minor problems when seen with the whole.
Overall: Kayfabe is the kind of game where the raw enthusiasm of the auhor is infectious. The text makes you want to play the game right now. While the subject matter won't be to everybody's tastes, those who like wrestling will be right at home.