Having participated in a Smallville session, including character creation, I was instantly fascinated by the various applications of this very simple idea. The core idea is that the players define what they want to make important, and the storyteller essentially takes this sandbox setting and runs with it. It is very likely the storyteller has a guideline in place already, and their framework informs the players, who then informs the storyteller, and so forth. It’s very cyclical game creation process, and one that works great with a small group of people. It helps create a sense of authorship and pride that might not otherwise exist within the game itself. As a player I wanted to know how all this stuff I had a hand in creating was going to play out. What if you take this system and apply it to a much larger group of people, could it work in any sort of meaningful way? I was eager to try my hand at dynamic world creation, so I took to social media and engaged many long time LARPers in the experiment. Helmouth is the resultant playground.
What is Helmouth?
Helmouth takes place in an office building or office park that is the site of a pandimensional rift in which horrible things are starting to appear for some strange reason. Unknown to everyone else, the companies inside the office building are all aware of the Helmouth and are either working for or against the Helmouth, each for their own reasons. The players play characters that have been prepped as recipients of the souls of other people from the different dimensions, each linked to the corporations in some way.
Simple enough set up, to be sure.
So what’s the hook here? The hook is that while the frame work is created by the staff (or made up on the spot by me in this case) the details are fleshed out entirely by the player base. For the initial set up, I wanted a combination of six corporations and organizations to be the “main characters” of the story. Here are the names and quick summation of the agencies that were presented:
1) Shining Stars Job Agency
2) Speedy Turtle Investigations
3) Vectored Initiative Philanthropies
4) R.U.M.B.L.E. – Real Urban Mixed Battle League Enterprises (MMA + Top Shot)
5) The Davinger Foundation – A non-profit foundation dedicated to helping orphans and troubled teens find their place in the world.
6) DEVGroupSigma – Paramilitary Contractors focusing on Security, R&D, Advanced Weaponry & Training
7) Lurianic Sciences – Focus on Academic research as well as Occult teachings. They train to understand paranomal sciences and tend to use Occult focused weaponry.
8) Newhon Energies – uses alternative( maybe magic) as an energy source
9) Umbrosa Event Management -Events Managed, locations evaluated, contingencies developed, problems…contained.
10) TCBY – Expanded to mean Food Court vendors!
11) Straylight Studios – does a little bit of everything, photography-wise, but with a particular focus on urban archaeology, architecture, aurae (Kirlian photography, etc.) and ghost images
So about double the minimum of six different organizations, which is great. Anything that ends up not being voted on heavily will be relegated to “child” status, and be hung off of a “parent” corporation during the next stage of the development process. After this voting is done, the next stage of the process is the defining of the relationships between the Big Six. In Smallville creation, each character would do this on their own sheet and define the relationships however they see fit. The other characters are tacitly aware of these varied definitions, but it doesn’t matter to them too much. In this though, how much should be readily available for public consumption? Obviously the process of relationship definition is one that spurs player investment, but where’s the tipping point for secrets vs. ownership here? In thinking of this, I couldn’t help but extrapolate from my own office experiences. Even within one company, different groups have opinions about the other divisions within a company. In a shared building, or office complex, the companies obviously interact with each other to some degree and have basic opinions of each other. This means a broad categorization of words that help define the relationships, and this is functionally the same as Smallville when placed in that context. The story of WHY these relationships exist needs to remain ill-defined, so that it can be explored by the game staff, in this type of game context. After all, the organizations aren’t actually players, the players are members of the organizations, and thus exploring the relationships is part of the fun.
In Smallville, these relationship strengths would increase the player’s efficacy when doing something with that character when they were the ones calling upon it. Obviously this doesn’t work so much in a LARP focused on actual combat, so what can take the place of this? As short run game, a lot of the options are more narrow, but you don’t have to worry about the upper eschelon of balance as much either. The most interesting option to me is to manipulate skills in different ways based on these definitions. If a relationship is strained, it might mean that it’s more difficult to pick up a skill that the other organization would normally offer up for instruction. However, it could mean that the organizations just don’t share technology, and might not have access to equipment that organizations that are more friendly might share. I’m not positive which path is the best yet, so I need to noodle on it. As a gut thing, I’m happier to restrict skills in a short run game, I think, as it feels like a more conscious choice and there are ways to give everything more equal screen time when it’s over a short timeline.
The next update of this will have the basic relationship mapping, and possibly even some hammered out meanings of those relationships. Of course, I still haven’t presented anything in the way of resembling skills or system, so that might eventually come along, too. Instead, I am more focused on the world design by collaboration in a macro environment.