Cooking with the Iron GM

So some of you might have noticed the term "Iron GM" in my Seasons of Doctor Who as an RPG Campaign postings and you might have wondered what I was on about. Well, let me explain, and perhaps, inspire.
The concept, as you might have contextualized yourself, isn't far off from that of Iron Chef competitions. In Iron Chef, participants are imposed certain ingredients and force to bring their flourish and style to those ingredients in a dish created under pressure. Same with Iron GM, only the ingredients don't need to be food, and the creation is an adventure scenario for one's players. The first I heard about this idea was in the old Pyramid Online magazine from Steve Jackson Games, which called it Iron Ref. Every so often (I'm going to assume, annually), a handful of scenario writers would take weekly turns offering short adventure modules in a variety of genres using the same three "ingredients", usually stuff that isn't obviously part of the same scenario. Today, there's an annual GameMastering competition called Iron GM that does the same thing, live, with 5-hour games immediately following a single hour of preparation. The 2011 Iron GM, for example, forced GameMasters to work in Ogre Magi, an opera house and oppression. Not too hard from where I'm sitting. Pyramid's Iron Ref were a little more random, if I remember correctly - a Stradivarius, a rabbit's foot, Mexico - and then turned into an Espionage, Horror and perhaps, a Western game.

Now, "competitive gaming" is all very well and good, but can you do that sort of thing in your regular group? Well... yes! One of the disappointing things about a set-up like the official Iron GM contest is that players are hardly likely to experience more than one "recipe" using any particular ingredients to compare. Within the same group, having each person GM a different one-shot - within or outside any kind of regular campaign, of varying genres or game systems, or not - will allow everyone to enjoy each GM's specific permutations. The same ingredients could yield horror or humor, fantasy or SF, grit or high heroism. This works best as a series of unconnected one-shots, but linking them (as part of the same larger campaign) adds another challenge.

But maybe not every member of the group is up to the challenges of GMing. That makes Iron GM a little more difficult, but not impossible. In fact, I've played Iron GM all by my lonesome. In my Dream Park games, I had the opportunity to create different GameMasters who "ran" the games for the "players" played by my players. It sounds very meta, but it was pretty simple in terms of execution. The players simply became used to the GMs and their different personalities and interests when it came to scenario-building. (Not everyone is playing Dream Park, so I wrote an article that discusses different ways of achieving the multi-GM effect in other games HERE.) Iron GM competitions in this context are all written by the same person, but written and run with a different GM personality in mind (varying genre was crucial). So for example, I once prepped three consecutive games that had the following ingredients: Cheating at sports, a temple, and a celebrity and/or Bob Gauvin (inside joke, he's a local actor with a strong personality we all knew). The games were the possessed football scenario and the luchadore adventure, both from Call of Cthulhu's Blood Brothers, and the DC Heroes module When a Stranger Calls (which starts with a superhuman basketball game). So you see? I was even able to use pre-fab adventures (with very few tweaks) and still respect the conceit.

Choosing ingredients can be done a number of ways. The best is probably to have all the players write down a few and draw three out of a hat. A lone GM could ask three different people in their lives to supply an ingredient each. Optionally, treat is as a friendly competition, with players rating each ingredient's use in any given game to see who (or which of your personalities) did the best with them.

It's not a bad way to get inspiration for games when you're not quite sure where to send the PCs next...

9 comments:

Craig Oxbrow said...

We had Ir'n GM (like Ir'n Bru) at our local convention - take three random GURPS books from the game society library and run an adventure (not necessarily for GURPS) using elements of the above the next day. I was lazy and used Doctor Who the time I did it, as it can take just about anything.

Siskoid said...

Obviously, that's one way to do it. Or Torg/Rifts it. And GURPS sourcebooks almost always have a sidebar on sourcebook crossovers that discusses potential mash-ups.

By now, I've played so much cross-genre adventures, I think I'd be uniquely suited to mashing up GURPS books.

RANDOMIZER! Imperial Rome + Old West + Blood Types = Roman Empire run by vampires manages to last to 19th century where it hits trouble on the wild frontier where Natives are uniquely suited to fighting the undead.

Craig Oxbrow said...

Lazier version - ancient Roman vampire escapes from the travelling museum where he was on display when some dumb kid pulls the stake out, and runs amok in Dodge City.

Siskoid said...

Actually, I love that one too.

Craig Oxbrow said...

Thanks!

Influenced by (and this is going back a loooong way) an ancient Mexica vampire doing the same thing in modern San Francisco in the first Vampire: The Masquerade fiction anthology.

Robert Ruthven said...

Love this idea, so I've suggested integrating the 'three ingredients' aspect into our local RP society's Run Club, as well as maybe doing a proper Iron GM event at one of our mini-cons.

Siskoid said...

Wow, let us know how that goes! I'm always interested in seeing how this idea is applied.

What games does you club usually play?

Robert Ruthven said...

Going by previous years, there's a preference for WoD, but there've also been a couple of L5R campaigns (one of which I'm in right now), a Laundry campaign, and Marvel Heroic.

Siskoid said...

That's enough variety to make an Iron GM thing fun!

 

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