What The Hell is Iron GM? (And Why You Should Try It)
Salutations to my most esteemed Storytellers. Greetings to my most gracious Game Masters and delightful Dungeon Masters. What would you say if I told you that in our beloved hobby there is an actual sport that tested us to our very limits and put all of our many talents on full display?
No. Not that.
No, what I refer to is something visceral. Something brutal. Something sure to test the mettle of even the most veteran of GMs out there. It is unlike anything you have ever seen before, and it can be summed up in three words.
Competitive Game Mastering.
And what is this blissful gift to our hobby called?
What Is Iron GM?
Iron GM is a celebration of Game Masters and players alike, framed within a grueling competition that will test a Game Master's ability to improvise, prepare a story, and convey a memorable and fun experience for their players with minimal prep time or communication. As such, it draws only the most dedicated, insane, and clever Game Masters the world has ever seen and pits them against one another in a no-holds-barred dice-chucking slug-fest to determine who is worthy of the title "Iron GM".
"Of course there is a belt. Wouldn't be proper championship without a belt"
How It Works
The competing Game Masters are assigned a random table full of players. Then the wackiness ensues. Like the name implies, Iron GM is not unlike Iron Chef. Contestants are given three secret story elements (the 'ingredients' of a game) that are not revealed until the moment the competition is to begin. These three story elements are always a monster, a place, and an idea. However, the exact elements themselves vary wildly from competition to competition, and they are almost always alliterative. Some examples are Allip, Avalanche, Arranged-Marriage or Mimic, Mansion, Melancholy.
Once the three secret story elements are announced, the Game Masters' true test awaits. They are given exactly one hour to create and prepare a four-hour game session for their players that is not only entertaining but also manages to work in the three elements in fun and creative ways.
While the Game Master is prepping, the players have one hour to create characters for the session. However, here is where things get dicey (see what I did there?). During this one hour window, the Game Master is forbidden to vocalize more than three single words to their players to help guide them through character creation. Three words, to convey what level they will be at, any restrictions for race or class, any special items like magic weapons and whatnot, and even what system or edition you will be implementing.
Luckily, the word "vocalize" is very clear in the rules. You can only speak three words, but you can write, type, or sign as many as you want. You can never go wrong with a whiteboard around your neck.
Some Game Masters will spare themselves a headache and provide pre-generated characters for the players to use. This, however, can be a double-edged sword when it comes to scoring. We'll get to more of that in a bit.
After the grueling hour is up, it is playtime. Game Masters spend the next four hours diving headlong into their stories. Once the four hours is up, the GM exits the table and awaits the scores.
The measure of a good Game Master is how their players react. Iron GM gets this concept, and so when it comes time to judge the prowess of the competitors, it is the players that decide the fate of their respective GMs.
Each player is given a scorecard and is asked to rate the GM and their game based on many criteria, such as the level of fun, the GM's grasp on the rules, and how well he GM worked in the three story elements. Then the scorecards are collected and the points calculated. The Game Master who receives the highest overall score wins the competition.
"Hail to the King!"
Why Should You Compete?
Iron GM presents a unique challenge to Game Masters that simply doesn't exist anywhere else. It demands the GM run the best possible game they can with a minimal amount of time to work with and incorporate elements that are out of their control. It hones one's mind to near razor sharpness and forces the GM to think on their feet.
But that's just the nitty-gritty. The competitions themselves are so incredibly fun and entertaining I am honestly surprised someone hasn't found a way to televise them yet.
Each Game Master takes on a persona. Some of them are loved, some hated, some feared. The amount of pageantry and posturing makes it more akin to professional wrestling.
I have had the pleasure of competing in every local Iron GM competition since they started them up here in the frosty north. I even had the honor of going on to compete in the World Championship at Gen Con in 2016. The party-like atmosphere, the plush d20s, the beads, and the "Bonzai!"'s are still fondly remembered to this day.
Aside from the bragging rights, and the chance at the championship belt, there is also a fair amount of prize support. Gaming paper, books, dice, minis. When I competed at the World Championship, I didn't even place in the top three. Still, just for competing I was given a core set of 5th Edition D&D books. I can attest first hand, those that win the ultimate prize tend to need to wheel out their prize packs in multiple trips.
But, beyond the material gain, there is still one thing that outshines everything else you could possibly win; the glory. To win Iron GM, you must essentially become one of the greatest Game Masters in the world. That is a rush few other things can compare to.
How To Compete
You may be surprised to hear this, but there is a good chance that there is an Iron GM qualifying competition right in your backyard. Several gaming conventions these days have an Iron GM event that could win you a trip to the next stage of the competition. If not at a convention, some Friendly Local Gaming Stores will also feature Iron GM qualifiers.
If you can't find one in your area, but find yourself attending Gen Con (the best four days of gaming) in Indiana, you can sign up and buy an entry for a paltry $20.
If you are looking to challenge your GM skills or looking for a memorable event, I highly suggest Iron GM to you.
Roll well, my friends
+Ed The Bard
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