The Independents: Sangre y Mascaras

I have a confession to make: I never got into professional wrestling. I seem to have completely missed the boat when it came to the days of Stone Cold Steve Austin, and my memories of Dwayne Johnson are all as an actor. So, in that vein, digging into luchador culture is like jumping straight to eight ounces of sweet black-tar heroin. It is with this proverbial drug trip that Sangre y Mascaras, the Powered by the Apocalypse homage to luchador movies, jumps into the action.

To the uninitiated, Lucha Libre is the Mexican form of professional wrestling. While the American form is theatrical enough, Lucha has historically taken it up a notch with wrestlers adopting masked personas meant to be their characters, to the point where the most famous ones would never conduct an interview or be seen in public without a mask. One wrestler in particular exploded the popularity of the sport: El Santo, or “The Saint”. As Sangre y Mascaras explains, El Santo would transcend wrestling itself to become a folk hero, starring in comic books, cartoons, and over fifty movies as himself, even being buried in his mask upon his death. It is the movies that Sangre y Mascaras looks to capture the spirit of: cheesy, dirt cheap grindhouse movies where the Luchador (the real wrestler, without a stunt double) would effectively be a superhero facing off against every B-movie feature of the time: spies, aliens, and a veritable litany of Universal Horror monsters.

It’s this campy, cheesy, over the top style that SyM tries to carry into a world . . . perhaps one that is a bit more serious than my description might have suggested. While there are included recommendations for sources if players want a sillier setup (Scooby Doo episodes), there are some explicit setting notes for the kind of world prospective luchadors would be in: the setting should be black and white (but also, paradoxically, filled with Technicolor visuals), but the villains are meant to have a plan, one that is supposed to lead to an end, no matter how silly the idea of a mummy brainwashing people might sound. The challenges are meant to be completely irony free, which leads to one potential challenge in practice: getting players to make it irony free.

This might not come up for every group, but I can honestly say that in my experience that playing characters completely irony free, and for GMs to corral can be harder than you think, even in a setting that’s completely grimdark – an ogre prostitute in a Zweihander oneshot springs to mind. Luchador movies are . . . a little over the top. It isn’t an indictment of the game, but is an inherent part of the setting that it is based upon: by now, Universal horror monsters and aliens are a bit silly. If the GM has doubts about his abilities to keep players on topic, perhaps you should address Sangre y Mascaras with some caution.

In terms of mechanics, as previously mentioned Sangre y Mascaras is a Powered by the Apocalypse game, meaning that players assign stats to preexisting classes (playbooks). These stats are assigned to universal actions that all players can take, while the playbook offers a choice of other actions specific to who that character is, and what kind of Luchador they are. This is pretty consistent with what gamers will find across the board, but there is one huge difference: Stats are determined by dice roll and placed by choice into a given category, a la Dungeons and Dragons.

This introduces a level of variety that seems out of place in the standard PbtA world, and it does make me worry a little bit about balance. The variation with playbooks is also a little lackluster. There is a big split in Lucha between the technicos and rudos (Faces and Heels in American wrestling) and it seems that is where the creators drew a hard line, and yet they would need to form a cohesive group with each other. The other two playbooks, the Exotico (drag performer) and Mini Estrella (dwarf wrestlers) feel more like bolted on additions. I honestly believe that the creators could have taken more time to think up more options and offer more and better choices for players.

There is one interesting quirk: a Luchador’s blood is blessed, and acts as a “fate point” to tilt rolls and circumstances in their favor. Once spent, players must wait until they level up and visit a monastery to be blessed to return that potency . . . but you better hope that the monks consider you worth blessing without some contrition. Another option for leveling up is to work your day job and wrestle! You are a professional after all. Stopping to work allows players to pick moves, gain money, move the plot . . . but you have to wrestle for it. In both cases, rolling determines how much benefit you see from leveling up. It’s a nice quirk that offers a bit of flavor where it was needed.

Overall, I have some reservations about actually playing or running Sangre y Mascaras due to its limited playbooks and potential for a session to go off the rails, but it’s obvious that it is written from a place of love. If your GM thinks he can keep silliness to a minimum, and players are down for some light, campy action, it might be the game for you!

For those interested, the Luchador action of Sangre y Mascaras is available for purchase at DriveThru RPG. Like what Cannibal Halfling Gaming is doing and want to help us bring games and gamers together? First, you can tell your friends about us! You can say hello on our Discord channel!  Finally, you can support us directly on Patreon, which lets us cover costs, pay our contributors, and save up for projects. Thanks for reading!

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