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1920s professional wrestler & carny characters?

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One of my players is creating a small-time professional wrestler character ("The Kennebunkport Colossus") - we were thinking that he'd probably also be employed as an all-around carny too.


Are there any CoC sourcebooks that have segments outlining carnival life and/or specifically "professional" wrestling of the era (which was transitioning from legit competition to scripted/fixed around this time)? I've found a little info via google, but some of the stuff I want to evoke - how matches actually worked, what a wrestler's day-to-day was like, how the audiences might be composed, etc - hasn't seemed much available. Same with carnival day-to-day in general.


I'd also be curious if any of your players ran similar characters, maybe hear some of the narratives you made up for them. I really like the idea, but it's definitely a detour from the typical HPL protagonist.

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You might want to try to find HBO's Carnivàle series, which depicts a travelling carnival in 1930s Dustbowl America.


The wrestler would be an act in the sideshow, typically wrestling local volunteers who win $25 if they can survive three rounds without being pinned. Maybe he used to be a more legit wrestler, but had to quit for some reason. If there is no volunteer or as another act, maybe he wrestles one of the roustabouts or the strongman. Since it would be detrimental to the show for any of them to get injured, they script the bouts. The wrestler probably plays the Heel and the strongman the Face.


There might even be special 'after hours' contests with the wrestler versus two or three tag-teaming dancing girls whose costumes inexplicably fall off at strategic points.

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Great stuff, Gaffer - and I think these webpages might be just what the doctor ordered, too:  (link) and especially (link).  It sounds like a fun and original character, too! :) 

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Thanks Gaffer - just started watching Carnivale on your suggestion. I kind of want to do an all-carny campaign now!


And good links YM, especially the 2nd.


I'm working on hacking together some quick pro-wrestling rules. Basically rather than say explicitly that it's fixed, etc, I'm going with a "I Want To Believe" approach - we will actually roll out the matches (using temporary/false HP) and determine victors as if it was a competitive contest while at the same time implying that maybe the outcome was scripted all along. Schrodinger's Wrestling, if you will.


In additional to standard Brawling & Maneuver rules, I'm going to allow each wrestler a Specialty Move and a Finishing Move that can lead to additional damage and/or effects. All of this would only be applicable in a pro-wrestling context, in actual fighting we'd go BTB.


We'll see how the houserules hold together, I only intend to break them out very occasionally. Part of my motivation is that I'm making a scenario where the wrestler investigator begins a match, only to realize partway thru that his opponent means him actual harm and starts doing real damage.

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Sounds like a blast, and, you're quite welcome! 


If it helps with some other flavor and ideas, I think the parallels to Vaudeville and Burlesque implied by those pages might be well worth following up on, and here's a great link describing how those work:  (link)


The Vaudevillian and Burlesque acts - such as acrobats, comedians of every stripe, musicians and dancers, strippers, stage magicians, ventriloquists with their creepy dummies, short-subject and feature films, and any kind of bizarre and outre side-show act you might imagine - seem like a great source of memorable characters and potential plot points or story ideas.

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Great stuff, Yronimos. Thanks.


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On 10/07/2018 at 16:29, yronimoswhateley said:

If it helps with some other flavor and ideas, I think the parallels to Vaudeville and Burlesque implied by those pages might be well worth following up on, and here's a great link describing how those work:  (link)


Another useful link, thanks!


Last night my player created the wrestler character and we began a short prologue for him & another investigator that should be wrapped up in 1 more session. I assigned him an Art/Craft skill "Wrasslin", which is focused solely on the performance & theatrical sides of professional wrestling - doing aesthetically impressive and/or acrobatic moves, pretending to take a hit or feign injury/exhaustion, to key up the crowd whether playing heel or face, etc.


Since this is so profession-specific & of dubious use in a non wrestling context (or even in a non-fixed match), I allowed that skill at 1/2 SP price - i.e. 25 SP would get you a score of 50. The Brawling skill would cover "real" wrestling.


Next session this character will actually wrestle a match - catch-as-catch-can type bout, so legitimate competition. I'm trying to figure out the best way to model it as sort-of combat. Any suggestions are welcome!


I'm thinking about dividing each 3 minute round into a few phases where Brawling actions and/or Maneuvers can be attempted. The combat rules as-written don't quite simulate this how I'd like however. Was thinking of using temporary HP as a measure of stamina - when these HP are reduced to 0, a participant must check against CON each time they are "hit" by a strike or maneuver from their opponent, failure means a pin.


I dunno. It's a little clumsy.

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Traditionally carny wrestlers consist of a team of three.  You have a shooter, who is a genuinely formidable wrestler and who takes on local volunteers.  You have a heel who the shooter beats in demonstrations (and who waits behind the curtain to sabotage any volunteer who is doing too well against the shooter, often with some sort of cosh so as to disable the contender without being detected).  And then some sort of "freak" wrestler (woman, little person, wildman, genuine grizzly bear, etc) whose participation in a match is meant to be terrifying or titillating.  And, yes, usually either the shooter or the heel would double as a carny strongman.

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Oh, I love the "Wrasslin'" skill!  (Apparently in the business it's "wrestling psychology", but I think "wrasslin'" gets to the heart of it better!)



When I was a youngster, one of my neighbors was a retired pro wrestler active, I believe, in the 1930s, '40s, and '50s... of course, pro wrestling lives and dies by the "gimmicks" (personas) that the wrestlers take on, and this neighbor seemed to really enjoy his heel giant/monster type persona:  his gimmick in (and out) of the ring was as a huge, angry guy who shouted at the audience to help generate support for his All-American "blue eyed" face opponents.  So, the kids walking home from school past his house would see this guy sitting out on his porch, smoking a cigar, wearing a wife-beater and an eye-patch, and when he'd see you, he'd raise up his fist, shake it in the air, and growl, "GET OFF MY LAWN, YA WHIPPER-SNAPPERS!"  (even if you you were nowhere near his lawn), and laugh and wave.  Then he'd throw these barbecues/picnics for the kids in the neighborhood every year, have arm-wrestling matches with them in-character where he'd do his whole shtick by growling "You're goin' down!  I can take ya!  Oh, you've gotten stronger since last year!  Arrrrgh!  You're puttin' up more of a fight than I thought you would, you little pipsqueak!"  He was always very polite to the mothers, and apparently he was quite a story-teller with a mix of obvious tall-tales and bizarre real-life experiences when hanging out with the fathers.  It was all kind of surreal, he clearly enjoyed being a professional villain and missed interacting with the crowds and all, but I think everyone just kind of adopted him as a neighborhood character.  Anyway, I think he basically used that showmanship his entire life, used it all the time in the ring, and even more outside of it!


If it helps, pro wrestling matches aren't scripted from beginning to ending - there's a lot of room in there for improvisation.  Most matches have a scripted beginning, a scripted ending, and a few scripted scenes in the middle, and the wrestlers are free to make up what happens in between those scripted bits, communicating to each other what they're going to do on the fly so their opponent knows how to react and isn't taken by surprise.  (Sometimes, that doesn't go too well, and the wrestlers really do try to hurt or surprise each other, either because of an out-of-character beef, or to take a wrestler down a peg or two if he's taking himself too seriously, or whatever.)  So, I might imagine those scripted bits might be worthy of dice-rolls for athletic skills, or for "wrasslin'", or for actual combat, while the improv stuff in between can simply be called out and described without dice rolls. 


(It might also help at this point to mention that the referee is as much an actor in the play as the wrestlers are, with the referee a part of the scripting, doing his own part in the act to help convince the audience that everything they see is "real", as well as doing his part to help tell the story by getting "knocked out" or "distracted" at all the right times, etc.; the exact same thing can be said of the "managers" in modern pro wrestling, as well as commentators/announcers and other staff:  they're all actors playing roles, often wrestlers or former wrestlers themselves!)


A brief glossary of wrestling terms might be at least interesting, and maybe helpful, too (if for no other reason than the unfamiliar jargon describes some concepts that are quite familiar to role-players):



  • business - pro wrestling, as opposed to a profession or sport
  • wrestling psychology - the art of acting and showmanship used to tell a story through a series of scripted wrestling moves, lending coherence and credibility to the performance; basically, the wrestlers' skill in role-playing; the goal of wrestling psychology is to get the audience emotionally involved in the match
  • kayfabe - refers to the audience's suspension of disbelief, and the wrestling industry's efforts to support and preserve it by pretending that everything that happens in and out of the ring is "real" - in the old days, wrestlers were expected to stay in-characters and act out their storylines both in and out of the ring, at all times, when there's any chance of being seen by the public
  • breaking kayfabe - doing something "out of character" that "breaks the fourth wall" and reveals that pro wrestling is "fake", either accidentally (maybe being caught having a few drinks after a match with your "mortal enemy", or failing to sell your opponent's move) or deliberately (by admitting something was fake in an interview, or talking about the behind-the-scenes business publicly)
  • skit / vignette - scripted but non-wrestling aspects of the wrestling showbusiness, such as interviews, peeks into scripted trash-talking in the locker room, etc.; these skits are a bigger part of modern wrestling (1980s to present) than they were in the past (for a time during the 1980s and 1990s, such skits would reach absurd heights of complexity and cinematic imagination, portraying scenes involving wrestlers sprouting wings and flying, conjuring demons, getting abducted by UFOs, performing voodoo rituals, engaging in car duels complete with pyrotechnics and stunts, etc....); at their subtlest, such vignettes serve to provide audiences a little information about the wrestlers in the vignettes by providing insight into the characterization, or a glimpse into the essential elements of a long-running feud or other angle, get a reminder of the emotional response the wrestler is supposed to evoke, etc.
  • marks - from the carnival business, "marks" are victims of carnival scams; in old-fashioned pro wrestling, the "marks" were virtually the entire audience who weren't in on the kayfabe; in more modern wrestling, in an era where the business of professional wrestling has become more transparent, marks are either those increasingly rare members of the audience who still believe pro wrestling is "real", or in recent years it might be used in a more affectionate way (perhaps by a heel character, to generate heat) for a sophisticated audience that probably understands the inner workings of the business too well to be fairly or seriously considered true "marks"
  • angle - essentially the wrestling equivalent of an RPG campaign or scenario, or a fictional plot or story arc:  the plots that dictate the wrestlers' gimmicks, character interactions, and scripting/booking in the ring
  • to book - to script out how a match will run; the person who does this is "the booker", who acts something like an RPG "keeper" or "game master" in that the booker sets up the general plots of the matches (the main difference being that the booker has more control over "railroading" an ending than a game master generally should)
  • to call - as a wrestler, to instruct your opponent as to what move is about to happen in the match (you might call your own move, also called a "shot", or suggest a shot to your opponent); "to call the shot in the ring" is to call an improvised shot in the ring
  • to sell, to no-sell, and to oversell - the acting used to convince the audience that the blows and wrestling moves ("shots") hurt; to work hard to convince the audience of the reality of the business; a wrestler can "no-sell" the shot (probably by missing the call for it), and also "over-sell" the shot by over-reacting to it in a cartoonish and unrealistic way
  • to put over - to sell your opponent's credibility, including by "jobbing" (losing) to him, selling his shots, etc.; though they aren't glamorous, there are important wrestling roles that exist for the purpose of helping to put over the designated heroes and villains and their angles ("jobbers", "carpenters", "mechanics", etc.)
  • to powder - to rapidly flee the ring (as in the old expression, "to take a powder"); a heel might dramatically take a scripted powder after a face resists a cheap shot, to sell the heel's sudden realization that he's bitten off more trouble than he can chew!
  • to work, a work - to follow and sell an angle, convincing the audience it's real; a work is a planned, scripted part of an angle intended to sell the angle
  • worker - a wrestler
  • green - an unseasoned, young, inexperienced wrestler, probably prone to making a lot of mistakes
  • carpenter - one of a range of terms for wrestlers whose respected job and skills are for building up and selling their opponents as believably better wrestlers (in reality, these "carpenters" tend to be the most experienced and highly-skilled wrestlers in the business, who are helping to train younger and less experienced designated champions in looking the part)
  • mechanic - similar to a "carpenter", a mechanic's job is to help train and prepare a new or inexperienced wrestler for their angles, serving as a foil to help tune up the wrestler's gimmick while "jobbing" for the wrestler and building the wrestler's history, credibility, skill, and audience exposure
  • jobber, to job - to "job" is to (deliberately) lose a match to your opponent as part of the work; every wrestler is expected to do this eventually; also phrased "to put over" and "to sell" your opponent; a "jobber" is someone who probably does this for a living, a wrestler hired for the purpose of losing matches to more popular wrestlers; the best jobbers are "carpenters" and "mechanics":   experienced and highly-skilled wrestlers who quietly "build up", "tune up", and "sell" their opponents' status for the audience; many jobbers today are full-time employees of the wrestling organization, but in the old days they would have been local talent hired temporarily to take the job
  • ham-and-egger - a rank-and-file working-man of the wrestling world, a wrestler with minimal (or no) "draw" and little real chance at a championship; many ham-and-eggers make their living in the lower ranks of wrestling, jobbing for more popular performers; named for the inexpensive, ordinary working-man's breakfast such wrestlers are supposed to subsist on
  • to squash, squash match - a squash match is a match booked to make the winner look as intimidating or spectacular as possible, by "squashing" a jobber opponent as quickly and decisively as possible; this can be used to hype new talent, or to make a "heel" character look even more villainous
  • to carry - when one wrestler has to do most of the work, both in selling his own side of the angle, and the (typically less experienced and skilled) opponent's side as well; a "carpenter" might have to carry a young, inexperienced wrestler's weight in the ring, doing all the work of making that opponent's victory look believable for him; your opponent is expected to carry his own weight - it's not bad enough that you have to job to him, you shouldn't have to carry him!  (A good carpenter probably won't complain about this, unless the dead weight opponent is a real primadonna with an over-inflated ego....)
  • sandbagging - a form of unscripted, out-of-character sabotage against another wrestler's moves; most wrestling moves require skilled and dedicated cooperation between the two wrestlers to be performed gracefully, convincingly, and safely, but a wrestler might accidentally - or deliberately - "sandbag" his opponent's move, going limp at the wrong time.  Done deliberately, it would be perhaps to make the opponent's job harder, or to make the opponent look clumsy or weak, perhaps in response to an out-of-character feud resulting from some real or imaginary slight (perhaps to punish a "stiff" blow that hit too hard, or some back-stage disagreement, or a missed call, or a big ego, etc.)  Sandbagging can be genuinely dangerous, leading to all sorts of real injuries!
  • x-signal - in older eras of professional wrestling, a signal used by the referee to indicate that the match has ended and that a wrestler has actually been hurt, and may need real medical assistance; in more recent years, as fans have become more aware of the significance of the signal, the signal has been worked into scripts to help sell the work
  • stiff shots - either hard, painful blows delivered to the opponent, or reactions to an opponent's shots that "stiffen" the recipient against the blows making them more painful for the wrestler delivering them, or wrestling moves applied with too much strength, etc.; this is sometimes accidental, but often deliberate, as out-of-character "punishment" for real or imagined slights between the performers.
  • to stretch - a common practice in the older eras of pro wrestling, in which a wrestler would inflict very real pain and perhaps damage on younger wrestlers (especially local challengers), for the purpose of leaving unmistakable evidence that at least some part of what was happening was "real", and perhaps also to keep the young upstarts in their place and haze them into their place in the business....
  • to blade - to use a bit of razor blade hidden on your person (taped to your finger) to cut yourself; once a popular way to really sell the match by making it look like you've been beaten to a bloody pulp
  • bust open - to start bleeding, perhaps incidentally after being struck by a chair (for example), and more likely due to blading
  • crimson mask - to bust open from the forehead or scalp, probably after blading, covering your face with blood
  • rushed finish - a match that ends faster than planned, probably because one of the wrestlers was actually hurt; hopefully, nobody was hurt so badly that the wrestlers couldn't work out a graceful rushed ending to the match, and scripted calls for paramedics in response to finishing moves and foreign objects are all normal parts of the drama of modern pro wrestling, but sometimes a rushed finish involves a very real emergency and call for an ambulance....
  • rest hold - a long, loose hold used to slow things down a bit so that the wrestlers can catch their breath and plan their next moves together
  • shot - a scripted and planned event in the match; a "missed shot" is a mistake in which one of the wrestlers forgets or doesn't notice the cue for a move, and thus fails to do his part to sell it....
  • cheap shot - an underhanded and usually illegal trick, such as a sucker-punch, or using a foreign object, when the referee is distracted; a "low blow" is a cheapshot in which a wrestler (almost always the heal) strikes an opponent below the belt; "double-teaming" is a cheap shot where more than one wrestler attacks an opponent at the same time; of course, as part of wrestling psychology, cheap shots are best played dramatically and over-the-top to the audience, to ensure that the audience sees them, playing the audience for the desired sympathy for the victim of the cheap shot, and hostility toward the heel who sunk to using a cheap shot....
  • foreign object - a weapon used in the match, usually against the rules, probably while the referee's back is conveniently turned - perhaps a roll of quarters tucked into the heel's tights, or a folding chair pulled from ringside, or a cement block mysteriously and conveniently pulled from under the ring...  using a foreign object is a cheap shot that no honorable, self-respecting "face" character would sink to!
  • interference - a work (usually) where somebody uninvolved in the match (perhaps a "manager", another wrestler, or "member of the audience") interferes, such as by by distracting the referee, helping a wrestler double-team his opponent, sneaking a foreign object into the ring, etc.  Usually the "member of the audience" is actually a professional "plant" hired by the wrestling organization to participate in the work as part of the scripted match, but sometimes enthusiastic fans have been known to interfere in the match (especially in the old days before pro wrestling broke kayfabe and admitted to being entertainment rather than a competitive sport), requiring the wrestlers to improvise around the interference....
  • valet - an escort or assistant - usually (though not necessarily) an attractive woman - who accompanies a (usually "heel") wrestler to the ringside, where she generally serves to titillate and antagonize the audience, and sometimes interfere in the match; interestingly, attractive women who actively interfere in matches seem to very frequently work with wrestlers who employ the "glam"/"sissy" character gimmick (a lot can be implied in the wrestling psychology behind the success of that sort of pairing....)
  • plant - a performer "planted" in the audience by the bookers as part of the angle, usually in the role of someone providing interference that helps the heel, or as someone for the heel to insult or attack for the sake of generating heat, or a "jobber" who will try to wrestle a challenger only to suffer a quick defeat, etc.; it's not unusual for a new wrestler's introduction to take the form of a recurring plant who soon becomes a regular wrestler....
  • run-in - a worked interference where a wrestler - typically a heel who has dropped out of the action for a while - runs into a match already in progress, perhaps to join other heels sharing a feud with a popular face in a beat-down for the face; it's not unusual for this to prompt a dramatic run-in from another popular hero character who rescues the beaten-down victim of the double-teaming, while the heels powder out of the ring, leading perhaps to an extended feud, or the repackaging of the wrestlers involved into feuding tag-teams or other partnerships; sometimes, a run-in is a "plant" from the audience, later revealed to be the return of a long-forgotten heel in disguise!
  • beat-down - a severe (and usually unsportsmanlike) worked beating administered to a vulnerable wrestler, perhaps one dazed by a blow from a foreign object, or one double-teamed with the help of a run-in heel; the wrestling psychology behind the beat-down generates audience sympathy for the victim, and, if successful, tends to lead to a big "pop" when the victim gets his second wind and makes a comeback from the beat-down that allows him to win the match
  • ref bump - a (typically worked) shot that knocks the referee out of action long enough for the heel to get a few cheap shots in; in many cases, the referee will remain unconscious long enough for the heel's cheating to succeed, at which point the referee will conveniently awaken in time for a count-out to judge the heel a winner
  • visual fall - a pinfall (wrestling move that should result in defeat), usually against a "heel" character, that is seen by the audience, but not by the referee (perhaps due to interference, or a ref bump); a visual fall is typically dramatically followed by the pinned character escaping from the fall, reversing his fortune (perhaps with a cheap shot or a foreign object), and pinning the stunned/injured would-be victor just in time for the referee to turn around or wake up and award the match to the wrong wrestler; this is a type of scripted "screwjob"
  • screwjob - usually a worked victory resulting from cheap shots, ref bumps, run-ins, double-teaming, foreign object use, or other dirty tricks that have "screwed" the face character out of a fair match, probably one he would have won otherwise, used under wrestling psychology to generate heat for a good heal or sympathy for a good face character; sometimes, a screwjob results from a change in the booking plans that the screwed wrestler wasn't informed about, perhaps stemming from shady, back-room politics, or occasionally an improvised change of plans with the cooperation of the "victim" to take advantage of an unexpected audience reaction (perhaps the audience ended up cheering for the "villain", and booing the designated "hero", inspiring an improvised re-working of the angle and its booking!)
  • a botch, to botch - something that didn't go according to plan, probably the result of a mistake or bad communication; also "to blow"
  • bump - a fall, preferably a solid fall flat on the  mat with a lot of dramatic noise
  • phantom bump - a fall without a plausible explanation, typically the result of a botch or other mistake
  • finishing move - a flashy signature move that a wrestler performs at the end of the match, usually (but not always) "incapacitating" the opponent and ending the match - as a bit of wrestling psychology, a good, flashy finishing move usually generates a good pop when used by the face, and a finishing move that doesn't work, probably due to interference from a cheap shot of some sort, is a common plot-twist that allows a villainous heel to "steal" a victory from the heroic face, hopefully setting up a long-running feud followed by audience members waiting for justice in a rematch....
  • comeback - a turning point in a match where the heroic face, after taking a suitably dramatic beating (no doubt complete with cheap-shots from his opponent), gets his "second wind", and starts effectively fighting back; a good bit of wrestling psychology that helps generate sympathy for the face
  • feud - a staged long-running rivalry between characters
  • payoff - the climax of the angle, such as where the face finally defeats a heal after a long-running feud, for example; this will be the part of the angle that the story told over the wrestler's last several matches has been leading to, and the audience at last gets (in wrestling psychology terms) their "payoff" for investing in and following the angle
  • a pop - a strong audience reaction in response to the wrestlers' actions; if things are going well, the pop is typically a burst of audience energy and cheering in reaction to the face doing something good, but can also include enthusiastic jeering and booing in response to the heel doing something villainous (such as using a foreign object, insulting the audience, etc.); an appropriate "pop" means that the wrestlers are doing their jobs well, selling their work, and applying their wrestling psychology skillfully....
  • heat - a negative reaction from the audience; if the wrestlers are doing their job right, the designated heel is the one getting all the heat due to his skillful work on the audience through his gimmick, interactions with the audience (such as insults and showing off), cheap shots, and other wrestling psychology
  • to be/go over - to successfully convince the audience of the angle and gimmick; a wrestler or angle that gets at least the minimal "pop" or "heat" the promoters or bookers were hoping for has gone over well with the audience
  • gimmick - the "character" or "persona" that the wrestler takes on, generally a combination of the wrestler's skill and physical characteristics, combined with a character's supposed origin, appearance, and behavior
  • face - the guy who is booked to be cheered by fans; also "blue eyes" or "babyface", referring to the wholesome and pleasant appearance of the wrestlers who traditionally get these roles; generally limited by their role to basic "good guy" gimmicks appealing to identification with the audience and probably familiar to role-players:  basically, the hard-working, honest, honorable guy from a small town trying to find success while following the rules and doing good deeds....
  • heel - the guy who is booked to be booed by fans; also, a "bad guy" gimmick:  these characters traditionally act like "heels" (jerks)
  • turn ("heel-face-turn" or "face-heel-turn") - when a character shifts from a villain to hero role, or vice-versa, for dramatic purposes, and to give an aging gimmick a reboot with a new angle
  • repackage - to give the wrestler a new gimmick (as if the wrestler were a product); for example, a heel-face-turn or face-heel-turn;  a wrestler can be repackaged with something as simple as a change of name and a mask, or a dramatic change of persona from a standard glam act to a basic hillbilly wrestler with a change of costume, name, and acting, to something as complicated as a long-running angle with carefully-planned character development...
  • giant - a gimmick that relies on the wrestler's prodigious size in terms of height, muscle, and dead weight (usually all three!   A "giant" can be of average height, as long as he's very powerful and very fat...); some of the classic wrestlers who adopted this gimmick include Haystacks Calhoun (a lot of hillbilly wrestlers following in Haystacks Calhoun's footsteps tended to fall into this category), Happy Humphrey, "Kamala, the Ugandan Giant", "Gorilla" Monsoon, and (of course) Andre the Giant, one of the most famous examples
  • monster - a giant heel gimmick surrounding a big, ugly, slow-moving, all-brawn-no-brain character that delights in mindless destruction (the character might be portrayed as a sadist, an uncivilized barbarian, a loose-wheel, a lunatic, or a simpleton; the character is also frequently given a Gothic, occult, or satanic angle); The Undertaker, Kane, and Mankind are among the more well-known modern examples, while some of the more classic examples included Tor Johnson (of Ed Wood movie fame), George "the Animal" Steel, "Ox" Baker, The Sheik, "The French Angel", Kevin Sullivan, Abdullah the Butcher, Killer Kowalski, Fritz Von Erich, "Wild Bull" Curry, Sergeant Slaughter, and other variations on any number of evil/mad German, Russian, Mad Arab, Wild Savage, Missing Link, and other such gimmicks....
  • exotic, glam, sissy - a classic gimmick that relies on the wrestler to adopt a flamboyant, camp persona, acting and dressing in a self-absorbed, pretentious, intellectual, and effeminate manner, which inevitably paints the character as the sort of heel that audiences love to cheer against; one of the most popular heel gimmicks of all time, expect the wrestler to dress in frills, feathers, silk, etc., wear perfectly-coifed hair and manicured nails, spritz himself with perfume (or have assistants spray it on him), etc.  The character may act one minute as if he is too weak to wrestle, and as if he cannot bear to get his hands dirty, only to pull out as dirty a cheap-shot as possible the next, and the role can probably be traced back to pro wrestling entertainment's primitive origins as a sideshow presentation of "manly" athletic prowess.  See "Gorgeous" George Wagner (one of the earliest examples), "Adorable" Adrian Adonnis, Rikki Starr (a rare "face" example, from the 1950s!), "Exotic" Adrian Street, "Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig, "Macho Man" Randy Savage, "Ravishing" Ric Rudd, etc.
  • spoiled millionaire/tyrant/celebrity - perhaps a cousin of the glam/exotic gimmick, this classic gimmick portrays the wrestler as a spoiled rich or powerful character who expects to be handed anything he wants, or at least anything he can throw money at, providing the common-man, "local/poor boy makes good" face character a perfect foil to compete against.  "The Million-Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase would be the first modern example, but in the classic old days of pro wrestling the equivalent would be any out-of-town heel who pretends entitlement to his championship and challenges to local-yokels to take it from him....
  • masked - a gimmick marked (of course) by the wrestler wearing a mask, which can be thought of as being related to masked vigilante supehero and supervillain tropes; began in European and U.S. pro wrestling, but really caught on as a culture in Mexican wrestling; masked wrestlers thrive on the mystery of their true identity, and would often be billed as coming "from parts unknown!"  A wrestler whose old gimmick has grown tired can get a fresh start by putting on a mask and adopting a mysterious new name!
  • garbage wrestling, garbage match, garbage wrestler - a gimmick (and style) based less on athletics and acting ability ("wrestling psychology"), and more on exaggerated gimmicks, over-the-top use of foreign objects, cages and wacky "extreme" rules, environments, and conditions, blading, biting the heads off of chickens, and other "garbage" side-show elements; garbage wrestling matches use little, if any, real wrestling psychology (or, for that matter, technical wrestling ability), depending instead on shock value; if the "wrestlers" spend their match posing in bizarre costumes while beating each other with elbows, knuckles, folding chairs, cement blocks, and the garbage cans the gimmick is named after, in a caged ring full of thumbtacks and razor blades, while laser-light shows and fireworks burst overhead and strippers and cheerleaders dance around the ring to a loud and animated soundtrack, you're probably watching a garbage match....
  • spotfests - a match consisting of a series of unconnected, dry, technical moves ("spots") with very little "wrestling psychology" behind them, resulting in an aimless and endless exchange of perhaps flashy moves with very little substance to the match's story....
  • technician - a wrestler who prides himself on technical mastery of his wrestling technique; can be thought of as the opposite of a "garbage wrestler"; that wouldn't stop a match between two technicians from devolving into a lifeless "spotfest" exchanging technically skilled wrestling moves without much storytelling drama or acting performance behind them....


Much of the above has parallels in the RPG hobby.


Some of the terms are from far more recent eras of wrestling than the 1920s, but might still illustrate how things have changed since then, and why, and what they might have been like before those changes happened.


Many of the terms - like "booking", "jobbing", "working", "selling", "business", "gimmicks", and "repackaging" - help to shine a lot of light on just how the pro wrestling business operates, while many others ("comeback", "visual fall", "heel-face-turn") do a great job of revealing the kind of storytelling techniques that come from "wrestling psychology".  I found these very interesting insights into the way things work!


The jargon that might come in most immediately useful for your worked-match turning to a real fight would include terms like "calling" (the normal practice of signalling to your opponent what you are about to do next), "missed shot" (what happens when your opponent doesn't notice - or ignores - the shot you called), "sandbagging" (a dangerous failure to cooperate with the other wrestler's moves), "stiff shots" (excessive force, like real punches/kicks/chops, probably with intent to inflict real pain and injury), "stretching" (deliberate excessive force, for the purpose of trying to convince people wrestling is real, and to help keep new wrestlers from getting too cocky), "rushed finish" (when a scripted match doesn't go according to plan and has to be finished early), and "x-signal" (a hand gesture used by the referee in the early days to end the match and alert the medical staff that someone really got hurt!)


(And, I confess:  I grew up with pro wrestling and enjoyed it a lot through the 1970s and 1980s!  I don't remember enjoying it that much, but this topic really did bring back some fond memories!)

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When I was watching professional wrestling as a kid in the late 50s/early 60s, the premier heel move was the foreign object concealed in his waistband. The object would come out and be scraped against the opponent's eyes, causing him to stagger about blindly, shaking his head in great "pain." The ref would accuse the heel of some misfeasance which the heel would deny in broad pantomime, thrusting out his hands to show that nossir, he was not a cheater (the object being once again concealed. Sometimes the face would gain possession of the object and use it on the heel in justified retribution, but sometimes he would be detected and disqualified in a miscarriage of justice.

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Timeless stuff - I haven't watched pro-wrestling in decades, but I remember the same thing from the '70s and '80s, I'd bet they did the same thing in the '30s and '40s (if not the '20s), and guarantee they still pull the exact same act today! :)


I found a great video of the "jobber" who wrestled as The Brooklyn Brawler from the 1980s to a few years ago (The Brooklyn Brawler was the first guy that came to mind when I found terms like "carpenter", "mechanic", "ham-and-egger", and "jobber" for the glossary - these guys really are the unsung heroes of this particular entertainment genre); in the video, he breaks kayfabe right away, and talks pretty frankly and entertainingly about the behind-the-scenes end of the business, making things like selling a match, taking stiff shots, booking moves, jobbing and so on like perfectly natural parts of a totally normal career:  (link)


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