Iron GM


By Rone Barton

Let’s say this up front. I’m the Huge Loser and the 2017 TotalCon Regional Semi-Final Iron Contender is the Big Winner. But I’ll get to the latter later. Now you might think I’m being hard on myself for dramatic effect, but after you read the following account of my TotalCon experience you’ll realize that the clown shoe fits just fine.

Flying on one engine…

As co-producer of Iron GM, I’m at least acquainted with all of the moving parts of our show. My partner, Lou Agresta, and I share many tasks, although publicly our roles are different. He is our emcee and behind the scenes handles contracts and tallies scorecards to determine our winner. I’m in charge of music and sound effects, write scripts and devise each show’s Player Olympics. I also collect pictures and videos for promotion and posterity.

Together – with a lot of volunteer help – we make a great show happen. When Lou said he couldn’t attend the 2017 Regional Semi-Final at TotalCon, perhaps I should have missed a beat and not declared “I’ll do it” quite so confidently. Neither of us had ever produced a show alone, but I didn’t want to let Totalcon, our fans, or Iron GM down. And so I drove from New York to Massachusetts with a car full of event paperwork, costumes, props — and a head full of big ideas about how well it was going to go because after all… I am so “the man.”

And I’d have models from the D20 Girls Project to back me up. There wouldn’t be an Iron GM event without our professional, courteous and whip smart staffers. They brighten the show and amp the fun just by being themselves in colorful costume, but they also facilitate operations. Without them, putting on Iron GM would be like tightrope walking barefoot on razor wire with your mom screaming at you.

I’d soon learn I couldn’t be host, producer, and DJ at the same time. But boy could I do a great impression of a flaming car wreck.

An undersold event

We were woefully undersold, which hasn’t happened in years. TotalCon moved to a new hotel in 2017. In the shuffle, I never noticed what else had changed. Their new multi-day event drew an enormous, attendance draining audience. If I’d seen it coming, I could have stood outside the registration office to hawk tickets — we did it when we first started — but I had no idea there was a threat. When you do a con for years and everything goes your way, it’s easy to grow complacent.

A really hot room

TotalCon did the right thing. They gave their prime space to the big draw, multi-day event. But Iron GM got shunted to a breakfast restaurant so stuffy that not even the big fan holding open a door to the outside put a dent in the 80-degree heat.

What’s more, big picture windows behind my stage area beamed sunlight at my laptop screen and phone. I tried to read the show script on those devices but saw only rectangles of glare. As this was my first time hosting I tried to stick to the written script but the attempt to read hobbled me. Better if I’d just improvised. Instead, I was caught between the gears and you could just hear the grinding

(From left to right: Miz Sylver, Aela the Cosplayer, Rone Barton, Glitchiee)

The cos-creeper…

A known cosplay stalker dude glommed onto one of our models. He used their passing acquaintance from other conventions as an excuse to creep our other models and tried to weasel into my HQ area. I explained that he had to clear out in no uncertain terms, muting my aggression at first because either he was pushing sixty or he’d aged horribly like some grizzled were-fig. He complied.

But when he dared to reappear and cross into HQ a second time, I was forced to remind him that we’d met before at a con where cosplayer pals pointed him out as someone who’d predated them and I was the guy who offered to deliver some amateur chiropracty if he didn’t vacate. With that, he finally left for good. Any cosplayers reading this, you’ll recognize this old white dude because he looks like a human mudslide and has a powerful curiosity about women wearing full body paint. Kick on sight policy in effect until further notice.

Turn off the loop function you idiot…

It was hard to quiet the crowd. I blame this on not being able to both host and simultaneously cue the show music that always made our players come to attention, and then there was the complete absence of Lou’s orange tux to stun these folks into submission. At least that’s what I tell myself.

Now I did manage to trigger the show’s sound effects, but my media player was accidentally set to loop and I couldn’t make out anything on the glaring screen well enough to fix it. So a few sound files played twice in a row, causing me to clumsily scramble to shut them down. Everyone laughed, and for that I was glad. Nothing brings people to your side like a public display of utter failure.

Then someone shouted, “We like the other guy better!” and that made the room laugh even more. I tried to ignore the sting of that well-intended ribbing, but didn’t they know I was an action hero trying to diffuse an atom bomb with a spork and only two seconds left on the clock?

And then there was prize support…

Couple things went right. Our amazing OffWorld Designs T-shirts arrived on time and our Swagonomicon (booklet of downloadable PDF prize support) was all set thanks to, Engine Publishing, 0one Games, and Rogue Genius Games. But our Gaming Paper never arrived, and that was a Tokyo-stomping big deal. The only paper gamers love more than Gaming Paper is paper made of pizza. When I announced Gaming Paper’s absence it raised a loud “aw” from our attendees, but the company rectified the situation by asking me to collect names so they could mail out the prize support directly to each attendee. Thank you, Erik Bauer and Ben Baas. You are princes in a world of dumpster pirates.

My heroes

Just before starting the show we learned they took a beloved competitor from the hotel to the hospital, and I saw the worry on the faces of the other GMs. I asked longtime Iron GM player Patrick Curtin if he’d step up to cover. It wasn’t a quick decision for him, but he said yes. Like a hero. When it turned out we didn’t have the right numbers in the room (again, woefully undersold), he offered to step right back down.

And then there was David Deluca. David acts the wisecracking foil online, but I cannot properly explain the amount of time and effort he donated that day. It should be its own article. He was indispensable and event-saving. Imma tattoo his face on one of my butt cheeks so his momma won’t be alone on the other.

Andy Fairweather owns a DJ business called Amped Up Sounds, and he donated the sound equipment. He even set up a few laser lights from his private reserve. And when he saw us struggling to reach our player minimum he sat down to play.

Iron Contender David Benevides learned that his elderly father was readmitted to the hospital! No one in their right minds would have blamed him for rushing to his father’s side, and he wore his worry like a shiny hat. But David stayed. He stayed for all of us. I still don’t begin to know how to process that.

When Iron Contender Alexander Jackl saw we had too many GMs and not enough players, he also offered to step down to play instead. A magnanimous gesture, considering he’d won Iron GM TotalCon the last two times he competed. He stood a fair chance to win a free trip to compete at our World Championship in Gen Con but the good of the event meant more to him.

Finally, when I needed a few extra minutes to score the competition, I asked Iron GM, Chris Pierce, to perform stand-up comedy. Despite kids in the audience, Chris’ material was bluer than an asphyxiated Na’vi. And while that may initially horrify you, oh genteel and well-bred reader, David Benevides’ young son heckled Chris into near submission. The interplay between those two was perhaps my favorite moment of the day.

So who was the big winner?

We had a new face at our competition, Mike Pankenier. His friends put him up to competing and he looked a little bewildered at times by our boisterous production. Mike ran his game for a family that attends every year, a family that almost decided to pass this time around. Why, you ask? Because a previous year’s GM actually yelled at the young woman in the family for asking a question and brought her to tears (learning this, we can’t allow him to GM at our event any longer). Troopers that they are, the family gave it another go. So whether Mike knew it or not, he had his work cut out for him and was our brand ambassador.

Mike not only won those jaded and rightfully suspicious gamers over, he received a perfect score. Only three other GMs ever accomplished that feat.

He radiated a quiet shock, confusion, and slow blooming excitement.

Now Iron Contender Mike is on his way this week to Gen Con to take on our heaviest hitters at our World Championship, including reigning Iron GM Alan Venable whose perfect score last year coupled with his engagement to fellow competitor Gillian Fraser blew us all away.

GOOD LUCK THIS SATURDAY, MIKE! (And good riddance to me ever hosting Iron GM solo again)

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