Ryan Macklin writes:
As a GM, I love playing with other GMs. I learn so much from seeing the tricks they use, from the way Carl Rigney riffs off of playing input around misery to how Sean Nittner elevates the use of props to a new level. But it’s playing in convention games run by Brian Isikoff (the Iron GM of Oakland!) that has had the biggest impact on my GMing.
He has this thing called Backstory, which he’s talked about some on his podcast, 2d6 Feet In A Random Direction. He passes out characters, pitches the initial situation, and makes it clear that it’s not his scenario but *ours*. The last time I was in a game with him, some months ago, he ran a military space opera game using Heroquest. I grabbed the ship’s captain, and others grabbed the XO, engineer, etc.
Then he turned to one of the other players and asked “So, who’s the new guy on the ship?” That player replied with “The captain.”
He responded with some excitement. “Oh! I wonder what happened to the last captain?” he asked with a sly grin to another player. “Killed in the last encounter we had. That’s why we’re in dock — repairs.”
More enthusiasm. Brian just exuded joy and awesome. We were all getting pumped. He asked some more questions from each of us. One I remember keenly: “What’s this new captain’s reputation?”
That was open to the table rather than asking a single person. One of my friends answered “he’s a hardass, by-the-book kinda guy.” Brian checked with me to make sure that’s cool, “You good with that? Remember, it could just be an unjustified reputation.” He weaves the characters together, but doesn’t want to pigeonhole them into something they don’t want.
(I naturally replied with “You mean, ‘It could be an unjustified reputation, *sir*.’” It was on.)
What Brian did for that short bit of time turned six people at the table, some who knew each other and some who didn’t, into folks who trusted him and each other to play something fun. We didn’t have to shy away from PC-PC arguments. By using targeted questions, he gets us to throw ideas out on the table—no question so big that we have decision paralysis. And by bringing enthusiasm to each answer, he makes us excited about the game and trust that it’s totally cool to throw out ideas. Not only does he build a neat relationship web and short history of badness we as characters have to deal with, but he makes us as players *love* it…because it’s ours as much as it is his.
Recently, he defeated me in Endgame Oakland’s first Iron GM competition. We’ve talked about it a bit on his podcast, and some of his players talked about it on another show. I cannot think of a better person to be crowned our first Iron GM; we’re all made a better at gaming because of him.