Back in the days of America Online chatrooms, role-playing games were kind of a big thing. Not proper RPG systems like Dungeons & Dragons, but more freeform-style playing. And, for whatever reason, this morning I had been thinking about one time, when my friend Dané invited me to join his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game that his friends had been playing, for a one-off encounter.
In the Archie TMNT comics, the Turtles occasionally joined an intergalactic wrestling promotion called STUMP Wrestling, where they battled all kinds of other mutants and aliens from other worlds. Since Dané knew I was a fan of both TMNT and pro wrestling, and possibly because I had some role-playing experience under my belt, I was apparently a good candidate to play a rival for the Turtles on this particular occasion.
One thing of note is that in the TMNT world, pro wrestling is presented as a legitimate sport. While it’s pre-determined and the competitors don’t try to hurt each other in real life, in this world, everything is a “shoot.” It’s all real, like UFC and other Mixed Martial Arts are, in the real world.
I “made up” a character called the Red Cyclone, a burly Russian wrestler covered in scars obtained from wrestling bears, whose specialty attack was a corkscrew pile driver.
“Wait a minute,” you say. “Red Cyclone? Wrestles bears? Covered in scars? Spinning pile drivers? Andy, you didn’t make up anything, that’s just Zangief from the Street Fighter video games!”
Yes. Yes it was.
But it was Zangief wearing a red-with-yellow-trim luchador mask! The mask was the part I made up. Heh.
No, I just thought it might be fun to see what would happen if Zangief took on the TMNT. So I used enough references that it was obvious what I was doing, but didn’t ever directly call him “Zangief.”
The match started normally enough. I don’t remember all of the details, but the Red Cyclone took on, I believe, just Michelangelo in a steel cage match. But as the bout wore on, I got a little more vicious with each attack. And then a little more vicious. And then a little MORE vicious.
At a certain point, I bent the rules. Not the wrestling rules, but role-playing rules. I stopped reacting to Michelangelo’s attacks, making up counters and converting them into my own attacks. This is one of those things that’s very dangerous to do; go too far, and you’re not playing fair and people won’t want to play with you. But bend things juuuust far enough, and you make things a bit more interesting. Besides, how boring would it have been for me to show up, wrestle a little, lose, the end? No way, you’ve gotta spice things up just a tad. But much like with actual spices, too much garlic or whatever becomes overpowering, and the whole dish is ruined. This analogy may have gotten away from me.
Now, obviously, I knew I couldn’t WIN. I was a guest in their game, and I was playing a one-off character. But the way I saw it was, if I was going to lose, and I was only going to play this one time, I was going to make the Turtles earn that victory. And I was going to make things interesting enough that maybe they’d invite me back.
Cyclone just laid Michelangelo out. Mikey got KO’ed during the battle. Then one of the other Turtles jumped in to save his brother (I believe it was Donatello? This was over a decade ago, so my memory on the details is a bit hazy). And then another. And then ANOTHER. It was perfect. The four Turtles knew they couldn’t use their full ninja skills or weapons against Red Cyclone, he was just a guy. A hugely muscular one who fights bears as a hobby, but still just a guy. But he’d knocked out their fourth, and they wanted to protect their family.
This is where character motivation, especially for villains, gets interesting. TECHNICALLY, my character didn’t do anything wrong, except maybe use excessive force in a combat sport. But the Turtles reacting to their brother being brutalized is 100% reasonable, and I applaud all the players for reacting the way they did. It was sound logic, and totally in-character for the Ninja Turtles. Plus it opened up a HUGE door for me to exploit and give more depth to the situation.
See, if I had just beaten up Mikey , and the other three retaliated, that’s fine. It’s an average, run-of-the-mill action story. There’s nothing WRONG with that, but it’s not terribly exciting. But putting it in the setting of a wrestling ring meant there were extra rules for everybody to follow, and if they didn’t follow those wrestling rules, they were cheating. Interfering in a wrestling match you aren’t a participant in is against the rules of wrestling; the three non-combatant turtles had entered the match and attacked Red Cyclone, when all he had done was destroy their brother in a TECHNICALLY legal manner.
“CHEATING!!” Red Cyclone belted out. “YOU ARE ALL CHEATING!” Hey, this was a one-on-one match. If Mikey couldn’t hang, that wasn’t Cyclone’s fault…even if WAS totally MINE, for intentionally playing a bit too brutally.
So I continued making Red Cyclone complain about the cheating, while successfully defending himself against Donatello, Leonardo, and Raphael…for a while. Eventually, the numbers game caught up with him, and Cyclone was soundly defeated by FOUR opponents. STUMP Wrestling’s teleporting cow, Cudley the Cowlick, appeared (If you don’t know who that is, go with it; TMNT is weird, okay?). Cudley exclaimed that Red Cyclone was too dangerous, and expelled him into the empty vacuum of space. And that was that.
The whole thing was maybe an hour? But it was great, at least from my viewpoint. I showed up, presented a legitimate threat, and forced the four Ninja Turtles to work together to overcome that threat. It was kind of an ideal TMNT story. But I also made sure that Red Cyclone would have motivation to return, should the occasion arise. He was a wrestler, in the ring with another wrestler. He out-wrestled his opponent, and was attacked by three other dudes for his trouble. Why would they do that? He was winning fair-and-square, and got attacked? Imagine watching UFC and suddenly three other dudes jump into the Octagon, and start attacking the guy who’s winning. People would cry foul for the rest of time!
My grand idea was that, since Zangief got dumped out into space, similar to how Megatron had been at the end of the first act of the 1986 Transformers movie, ‘Gief would run into Unicron, who would rebuild him as Mecha-Zangief, a hidden joke character in the Marvel vs Capcom video games. In this form, Zangief can’t block, but he also never suffers from hit stun; that attack is going thru, you just need to inflict more damage in a few hits than your opponent can while your moves’ animations are playing out. Again, the Turtles would be able to overpower him with teamwork and using all their ninja skills and weapons, but he’d be way too much for les than the four of them. Also, Mecha-Zangief has metal skin can randomly breath fire. I don’t know why.
(Admittedly, in hindsight, inserting Zangief into the TMNT world is enough of a stretch, but at least one that’s kind of reasonable. Adding the biggest of big bads from Transformers into the mix probably wouldn’t have been the best idea. But the ideas all kind of fit together, right?)
So, in his eyes, Red Cyclone didn’t do anything wrong in his wrestling match, got attacked, and dumped into space. Then he got more powerful, and would come back after the Turtles, in a non-wrestling capacity, for revenge. I’d again go into the ordeal knowing I was going to lose, but also having to make the Turtles work together.
Unfortunately, I never got to play with those guys again, as the whole thing fell apart due to work and college schedules. But I was ready to go.
It’s been YEARS, and I still look back on that evening of role-playing pretty fondly. I’m glad I got that opportunity.