You step up to the table only 60 minutes before game time. You’re armed with your minis, dice, notebooks and a few maps you’ve created yourself. Oh, and your wits. You’ll need those, because the host just announced the three secret ingredients: Frost Giants, Flashbacks, Funeral. Craft a clever and fun adventure out of those and you might win a trip to next year’s Gen Con. This is…Iron GM!
Iron GM is a contest held at gaming cons all over the U.S. (with plans to expand into other parts of the Western Hemisphere). You can sign up to be either a player or a GM. The GMs learn the three secret alliterative ingredients 60 minutes before the start time. In addition to the frost giants above, past contests have used Minotaurs, Mistaken Identity, Magma; Raksashas, Redemption, River Rapids; and Beholders, Betrayal, Besieged. The default system is OGL/3.5, but if all the players at a table agree, another system can be used. During the 60 minute build time, the GMs are furiously crafting adventures (well, some of them) and the players are rolling up new PCs, finely honing their party’s abilities into a crack dungeoneering force (well, some of them). After the play session is over, the players rate their GMs on secret scorecards. It’s like Iron Chef, but 8.4 trillion times more awesome.
All this would be a giant, heaping, glorious pile of outrageous convention fun all by itself, but the GMs aren’t just playing for pride. At each regional event, a free trip to Gen Con to compete in the finals is given away to the top GM. Plus, there are a couple of thousand dollars worth of gaming swag given out to the top three GMs. At the upcoming NeonCon in Las Vegas, over $6k in prizes are up for grabs. I can’t believe I managed to avoid ending that last sentence with an exclamation point.
Iron GM is perpetrated by Lou Agresta, Rone Barton and Ed Healy. If Lou’s name sounds familiar, we’ve reviewed his work here before. If Rone and Ed sound familiar, it might be because they run some highly regarded gaming podcasts. They haven’t announced any cons beyond NeonCon yet because they like to focus promotional attention on one con at a time. Lou explained the game plan: “One of the things we’re really trying to do is help cons draw attendees and help retailers draw customers by giving everyone an awesome game and holding out the shot at Gencon.”
“On November 1st, we’ll be announcing the next one, and hope to follow up with more such announcements. Our dream is to create an action-packed, energizing event that celebrates great gaming. The response from convention organizers, and even retail store owners, has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic,” added Ed Healy.
Lest you think this is a fairly dry affair, with the GMs studiously concocting their maps and encounters, I point you to the photos, including Lou as the host in his orange tux. And then there are the GMs. Maybe I should just let Lou explain:
The current title holder, Iron GM Ancient Sensei, uses every ingredient from every year listed above. It’s sort of his thing — “I’m so Iron I use all the ingredients…”
Another fellow, GM Necessary Evil, likes to cover his ears and not hear the ingredients, give his three words [to the players, the only pre-adventure communication allowed], nap or snack during prep, then walk up to his table and ask the player’s what the ingredients are…He takes 2nd or 3rd nearly every year.
Iron GM Dreads is very serious. Like Sensei, he’s won twice and has a rivalry with Sensei. He comes prepped to the gills. Pre-printed color maps (his own – published material is prohibited), the works. A guy at his table came away saying something I’d like to see as our official tagline “The most fun I’ve ever had with my pants on…”
Lastly there’s a fellow who calls himself “The Butcher”. Shows up every year with a fake hatchet, a blood covered apron and bloody (fake) shrunken head in is mouth. He’s been slowly climbing the ranks and almost made it this year. He interviews his players afterwards. Not allowed to ask what scores he received, but he asks for comment. Only guy I’ve seen do that.
This season’s schedule has at least 12 cons in the works, and Lou mentioned that their reputation is growing — cons call them now in hopes that they’ll put on an Iron GM event. So chances are good there will be one at a con within driving distance of you. You can go to the official Iron GM site for information on upcoming cons as it becomes available. There’s an Iron GM Facebook page, too.