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The All-In Wrestlers of 1930s London

True fact: tens of thousands of Londoners happily attended professional wrestling shows during the 1930s. This resurgence in the “sport” was thanks to one Sir Edward Atholl Oakeley, whose autobiography I really gotta read. (In his later years, long after his wrestling career ended, he became the 7th Baronet of Shrewsbury. Wild life story.) He dubbed his wrestling style “All-In,” since it allowed for wrestlers from a variety of traditions. Sir Oakeley always maintained he was promoting real sporting matches, but given that US pro wrestling had already become mostly staged by 1930, it seems pretty likely that All-In wrestling matches were also fixed.

This phase of British professional wrestling history lasted under a decade. By 1940, the quality of the wrestling had degenerated as demand rose. It became more a spectacle, less a sport, and unacceptable in the eyes of civil society. By the time promoters were running mixed gender matches, judges were handing down decrees preventing public shows.

Let’s talk about gaming!

No wait, let’s watch a video first.

That was cool. OK, now gaming. There’s a ton you could do with this chunk of history in a Trail of Cthulhu game, whether Bookhounds-flavored or otherwise. It fits better into a Pulp game than a Purist game, although an individual tragic wrestling-related person has some possible Purist resonance: imagine the figure of a former wrestler, broken by his exertions in the ring, tormented by the things he saw one night outside the arena.

Wrestlers make excellent thugs. This doesn’t need to be related to wrestling per se; it’s perfectly good flavor if the hired goon who’s beating up Investigators happens to spend his evenings fighting in the squared circle. Most wrestlers don’t make a full time living wrestling, so they need a second source of income. Muscle for hire works well. In some cases, it’ll be the Investigators hiring them.

Also on the individual level: the wrestling promoters of the 30s were every bit as nativist as Vince McMahon. There were plenty of wrestlers who were billed as wicked Indians, brutish Americans, or savage islanders. I don’t recommend playing to those stereotypes, but what if Ali the Wicked is in London to investigate the Mythos, rather than to aid it?

By the by, if you didn’t bother following that first link in this post, check it out now. The history is pretty thin but the collection of wrestling fliers, programs, and posters is superb. Use it for all the male NPC names you could ever want; and yeah, even back then we had a smattering of goofy wrestling names. “Tiger Duala.” “The Golden Hawk.” “The Great Montiverdi.” So good.

I mentioned earlier that most of the wrestling of the era was probably staged. Nonetheless, Atholl Oakeley did serve in the military. More interestingly, the de Relwyskow family (PDF) included Army unarmed combat instructors and a wrestler who spent much of World War II as spy behind enemy lines. If you’re running a World War II game in either of the two Mythos World War II settings, George de Relwyskow Jr. seems like a natural fit.

Parenthetically, the fact that there’s not one but two World War II Mythos settings continues to delight me. You could do something with Night’s Black Agents, Delta Green, or the Savage Worlds Weird Wars setting there, too, of course.

Right, back to the 1930s. One could certainly build a mystery around an entire wrestling promotion. The great thing about being Sir Atholl Oakeley (or George de Relwyskow Sr.) is that you have all these tough guys at your beck and call. I can’t think of any reason why Sir Oakeley couldn’t be a cultist worshipping the Black Pharaoh, say. Swap in a fictional version if you dislike maligning the British nobility. He’s certainly got the connections for it. This might be particularly good if you want to confound the obvious expectations — there are a ton of elegant sophisticated spiritualists and occultists running around. It might be fun to make the big bad cult be a bunch of competent, resourceful wrestlers.

Or you could play into that and make Atholl’s wrestlers prey for some upper-class snobbery. Who’ll miss a guy named Mick Flack? That’s a lower-class name if I’ve ever seen one; feed him to the shoggoths. Sir Oakeley knows he can’t seek help among his own social peers, since a) they think he’s degrading his family by wrestling and b) one of them is behind it. The Investigators are the perfect people to help him.

Finally, to wrap it all up, have a Trail of Cthulhu Wrestler Occupation. This is amusingly specific and you should just reskin it into a general Athlete instead. Also, not play tested, but if you think a combat specialist is going to unbalance your Cthulhu game you may not have enough eldritch in the mix.

Wrestler

You fight for a living. I mean, you do other things to make ends meet — but wrestling is your passion. If it’s not your passion, it’s the only thing you’re really great at. Why else would you take on a part-time job that pays so poorly and risks your body?

You see a lot of strange things in the dark corners of London, and you’ve been to a lot of London’s dark corners. Goes with the business. You may not fit in well with the rest of the Investigators at first glance — nobody’s ever suspected you of being a book-lover even if you are — but your heart is in the same place as theirs and someone’s got to do the heavy lifting.

Occupational Abilities: Languages, Medicine, Cop Talk, Intimidation, Streetwise, Pharmacy, Athletics, Disguise, Scuffling.

Credit Rating: 0-3

Special: Because of your understanding of human anatomy and weak points, your hand to hand damage is +1 more than usual: a fist or kick has a -1 Damage Modifier, brass knuckles have a 0 Damage Modifier, and a fireplace poker in your hands carries a +1 Damage Modifier.

Also, you may make a bare hands attack and spend 2 Scuffling or Athletics points before the roll to restrain an opponent. The points spent do not add to the roll. If you’re successful, you control one limb of your opponent: could be a leg if you don’t want them running away, could be an arm if you don’t want them shooting at you any more. You may repeat this if you want to control an additional limb on your next turn.

2 Comments

  1. Neill Neill

    You need to check out 70’s British wrestling it didn’t go away it just went working class

    • Yeah, there was a ton of great pro wrestling in Britain post-War — much respect for the tradition.

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