Last Wednesday saw the first session of Gauntlet League Wrestling: Season 4. This is our ongoing World Wide Wrestling RPG promotion. While the Gauntlet focuses on one-shot and short-run games, many GMs experiment with longer or connected campaigns. This includes series like Mercy Falls, Rich Roger’s extended Star Wars Saturday Universe, and linked tales drawn from the superheroic universe of Gauntlet Comics. Over three plus seasons, Gauntlet League Wrestling has grown, transformed, created legends, and then torn those legends down.
I first played World Wide Wrestling at Origins 2016 and it blew my mind. Even knocked out of the tournament early, I felt engaged the whole session. I’d grown up during Hulkamania and the “Rock-n-Wrestling” era, but hadn’t been interested. That just got in the way of my watching music videos on MTV. But WWW grabbed me and made me check out and appreciate the form and the stories. I came home and ran it a few times before deciding to create a promotion for The Gauntlet.
I knew Gauntlet League Wrestling would have to be in Gauntlet City, Rich Roger’s ongoing collaborative city project. He ran lots of smaller games there (1%, Tweaks, Ninja Burger, High Strung). It would be a third tier promotion, struggling to gain traction but with an extensive history. General Manager Wolf Backhaus and interviewer Victoria Onyx made up the back office. I set up a small stable of Non-Player Wrestlers (NPWs): El Toro, Typhoon Bale, Rattler Queen, Sirius Bizness, Herr Euro. Many would stick around between seasons, but others would fade away. Our champion, holding the MC or Master of Carnage belt, would be Stan “The Percolator” Steiger, with his pal “Dreamboat” Alex acting as gatekeeper for belt contenders.
It was a raucous and wild season of eight sessions. Cyborg Destroyer, a wrestler working on borrowed time, tried to secure his legacy. Harbinger got too caught up in his story and ended up fired after injuring several in the ring. Terry Burns! dug himself a hole and self-medicated with booze. The Padishah of Professional Wrestling served as a call back to “old school” wrestling even as the gimmicks and theatrics got wilder and wilder. His wrestler, The Skunk Ape would become alternately a figure of fear and sympathy. Others fought back and forth, trying to grab the gold gauntlet.
But perhaps the greatest spectacle was the ongoing battle between Jeffrey Bleakwood and Wolly “The Candyman” Winka. In the first you had the scion of a line of wrestlers who’d come up with a weird and disturbing set of in-ring theatrics. In the second you had an entertaining clown with a solid set of skills. They would battle each other repeatedly, drawing the battle lines between faces and heels. By the end, Winka would become The Dingo and come away on top.
When I ran this I had more ambition (and was running fewer games per week). To compliment the recorded sessions, I asked online wrestling fan The Hooded Luchadore to provide commentary spots between them. They’re rough, strange, and I’m not entirely sure what happens in the final episode. In any case, I never heard from HL again. You can see the first season episodes here. That includes the Hooded Luchadore’s mini-episodes. You can check out the season one roster here.
Our second season happened several months later and had two components. Since our online gaming convention Gauntlet Con happened right in the middle, I ran four sessions of “Gauntlet League Roadshow.” These were one-off sessions in which GLW tried to recruit and develop new wrestlers. A few old faces returned, but mostly it offered a desperate mix of wrestlers battling for the single session spotlight. We briefly met Tutti Freddy, Outback Thunder, Dead Man Jim, The Stick, and Randy Pan. One of my favorite sessions had only two players, pitting The Brazilian Beast against Mimi Hazard. With just a duo on-screen, both characters got solid, intense arcs. You can find videos of these sessions on the channel. Roster.
PC wrestlers from the main roster appeared in those road shows to help develop talent, like the always punctual Analyst. The actual season for Gauntlet League Wrestling was short but introduced characters who would go on to reshape the promotion: Spider-Hero, a young talent who worked to develop superheroic storylines; Anon who would later be revealed as an heir to the Bleakwood name; The Kraken, a monster with a heart of gold; and Sub-Pig, a damaged wrestler who would go through many changes. Roster.
Throughout this season, the promotion itself would change. Hints about strange conspiracies and forces working behind the scenes emerged. Wrestlers spoke in whispers about the Cestus League who lurked in the shadows. The promotion burned through its money with high-concept events, produced by Jeffrey Bleakwood now working behind the scenes. To compensate for those expenses, the promotion turned to social media, drawing in a legion of smart fans. It grew the audience. Still the cracks showed and GM Wolf Backhaus lost some of his control.
The next season came almost eight months later. It began with a short road-tour while the Gauntlet League Wrestling arena could be fumigated and renovated. This led into a sprawling twelve session series which destroyed careers, showcased betrayals, lifted up the underdogs, and weirdly focused on family. Several wrestlers returned: Sub-Pig had briefly taken the identity of Mr. Fahrenheit, and now he became Sub-Fahrenheit, a strange amalgam of his identities. Anon underwent a similar transformation, having revealed herself as Clarabelle Bleakwood. She would continue to revise her gimmick throughout the season, before finally succumbing to her own demons. Spider-Hero, in his civilian identity Robbie Reyes, tried to work backstage but found it filled with backstabbing and lies. When Wolf Backhaus brought back the dangerous Harbinger in a new identity, Robbie donned the mask and became Spider Hero again.
Many stories would be told throughout the season. Bobby K., a wrestler who thought he was finished would end up taking the lead for a new GLW touring company. The Kraken would rise to the top and then be tricked into leaving the promotion for a time. The Machine would live out his life-long dream of becoming a wrestler, hiding his terminal illness. The Underdog went from an untrained recruit to someone who understood the life. Kent Reid outgrew his father’s shadow and become something more in the process. But few stories could compete with the tragic and hopeful tale of The Colosseum, a too old, too out of shape veteran who somehow managed to go out on top.
Gauntlet League Wrestling reached a new level: gaining corporate sponsorships, a new arena, and international reach. That came with a new family-friendly approach which rankled some. Battles for control behind the scenes saw Wolf Backhaus briefly sent down and replaced with the treacherous Hangman. In the end NPW Sirius Bizness would reveal her new purchase of a controlling interest in the promotion and offer Spider-Hero a chance to shape the promotion’s future.
OTHER GAUNTLET LEAGUES
Several Creatives have also done riffs on Gauntlet League Wrestling. Gerwyn Walters took the promotion over to Great Britain for an off-shoot/co-op league. Tyler Lominack has taken GLW out for a spin twice:
The first was GLW On the Road, with a focus on wrestlers outside the ring. Our wrestlers did bar shows, County Fairs, and High School gyms. The roster was made up of new faces such as Kandi Roxx and "Big Tex" Hodge, and veterans of the minor circuits like Dr Donna Destruction, Mr Monet, and long suffering jobber Danger Dan, with a guest spot by old schooler Cyborg Destroyer. Along with some first rate matches, we saw the horrible toll wrestling takes on performer's health and family life. This was an actual tearjerker in WWW. Some performers continued on the thankless small venue circuit, Mr Monet found family and wrestling could come together for professional success, and Danger Dan threw off the jobber label and headed for the big league.
The second was a high level return to GLW's main roster during the build up toward a PPV. Veteran wrestler, TV personality, Fan favorite, and backstage bastard Prof K Oz feuds in and out of the ring with Bloody Bob Kross. Before peace is reached both wrestlers' health and personal lives are shattered. MMA veteran "Crush Queen" Zoe Muller learns the art of wrestling after suspensions due to deliberate injuries. "The Reckoning" Raphaelle Rousseau uses wits and alliances to fight for the belt against two of GLW's most feared combatants, The Harbinger and The Kraken, and against all odds comes out on top.
With all of these successes, the sky seemed the limit for Gauntlet League Wrestling. Roster.
This season opened with the promotion desperately putting on a tiny show on a makeshift stage next to the State Fairgrounds. For dressing rooms they have a single airstream trailer, for jumbotron they have an overhead projector. The arena had been lost, sold to pay off debts. It and the adjoining racetrack are scheduled to be demolished to make way for a new minor-league baseball stadium.
Veteran wrestlers have headed off to join the new All Elite Wrestling. GLW’s Road Tour and Gauntlet Japan Club had been spun off as a way to preserve the company. But now they’ve become independent, cutting ties with Gauntlet League Wrestling. It’s a dark hour for the promotion which must return to its roots and try to find new stars who can draw in a crowd. That evening of mud and humidity would be an inauspicious start…
You can watch all 30 sessions of GLW here (along with nine mini-segments of the Hooded Luchadore). Thanks to Lu Quade for the GLW Tournament Image