Bustle In My Hedgerow
But there’s still time to change the road I’m on
It’s been a great week for clarity, thanks to the primarily sage readers who were thoughtful enough to comment on last week’s freak-out.
In a not-surprising development, I thought I’d share the vision granted by that clarity. If you’re a newsletter subscriber, you already have more than inkling of what I’m about to say. If you’re an OSR practitioner, you may be slightly disappointed, but perhaps ultimately pleased. If you’re a fan of Chimera proper, you’ll be happy. If you’re my wife, you’re just glad I’ve stopped grousing about the hobby that’s supposed to reduce stress.
What It Was
Quick recap: I had reached a crossroads in Chimera 3.0 development. While chock full of new mechanics and of an appropriately small, “rules-lite” footprint, Chimera wasn’t meeting my expectations, plus sales (while not my exclusive goal) were disappointing. It seemed that maybe I was squandering time and effort by trying to reinvent the wheel. More specifically, promoting a new RPG system was proving to be an uphill battle. So what if I took the innovative pieces of Chimera and wrapped them around a more familiar framework? Not really a new wheel–just fitting a wheel with Chimera-brand tires.
Pursuing this line of thought, and given Chimera’s deep roots in B/X D&D, and given my renewed interest in Moldvay Basic, it seemed that converting Chimera as a multi-genre add-on for B/X was fitting. And, in order to distribute without hassle, why not use Labyrinth Lord instead of B/X, thereby gaining some appreciable OSR exposure.
Then, in the process of brewing up this brainstorm, I had some deep thoughts about what pissed me off about OSR to begin with, and I realised that I was over-reacting and stuff.
What It Is
In a nutshell, Chimera will retain its “sovereignty” as a independent RPG system. As easy and immediate as the returns might be, Chimera will not be grafted onto any OSR title, nor will it be developed as a “Basic/Expert” supplement for unexpressed (but nevertheless assumed) use with B/X D&D.
Despite my enthusiasm during last week’s proposal, considered review suggests certain disadvantages along the OSR route. First and foremost would be adoption of the OGL. Some of you may recall that Chimera 1.x made use of the OGL. While nothing negative resulted, neither did anything especially positive. The resulting ambivalence prompted me to abandon it for Chimera 2.x, which felt more “my own” than its predecessor. That alone was sufficient to put me off on the OGL as an instrument useful for my purposes. That and the creeping paranoia that leaves me convinced that it’s not a safe publishing harbour, no matter what WotC or their counsel or existing OSR authors have stated.
In a somewhat related vein, a perusal of the Labyrinth Lord Forum reveals that my original intent–publishing Chimera as a multi-genre add-on for LL–is not going to fill an empty niche. There are other projects afoot within the LL community that will accomplish this goal, and it makes absolutely no sense for me to pile on. It makes even less sense given that we’d all be building our respective projects with the same tool–Labyrinth Lord. For me to feel that I’m competing wisely, Chimera needs to be separate and distinct. With no aspersions cast on Goblinoid Games, my gut tells me that the LL field is already being arduously plowed. I’d prefer to tend a furlong or two of my own.
Which leads me to the whole innovation thing. I’ve heard both sides of the argument on this point, and frankly, it’s become a religious debate in whose outcome I’m no longer interested. On one hand, retro-clone authors are disclaiming originality–it’s not their goal, and they properly acknowledge that they make no pretense at building a better mousetrap. On the other hand, that retro-clones are unoriginal reproductions ensures OSR’s accessibility and thus a core following from which originality–in the form of supplements and settings–might grow. I generally agree with this last bit, though I don’t think it’s a completely satisfying defence. As a game author, I feel it’s my responsibility to provide something new. If I latch onto a retro-clone, an OSR title, or even B/X in its pristine state, Chimera ceases to be an original work.
My last misgiving, if you could call it that, is about what the “OS” in “OSR” really means. In recent parlance (depending on with whom you’re speaking), Old School Renaissance has become synonymous with retro-clone, and I think that’s demonstrably inaccurate. Or rather, “retro-clone” restricts the potential implied by “OSR.” To many gamers, OSR is a misnomer anyway–if you’re playing D&D or Star Frontiers or Gamma World the way you played it–however you played it–30 years ago, then you’re pretty much old school by default. Perforce, old school becomes a highly subjective label.
If LL captures the “old school” feel, it’s because it’s literally a copy of an old game. I say this without rancor, and I think Dan Proctor would agree: a retro-clone simple makes it easier to capture that old school feeling. It follows then that old school isn’t about a specific game–it’s about a mode of play or a system’s style. In Smale-talk, old school is more akin to rules-lite than to playing a specific game. If I can produce with Chimera the same flexibility I experienced with B/X, then it’s already old school.
What It Means
So Chimera forges ahead on its own. But not exactly in its present incarnation.
As you know, Chimera 3.0 is fast approaching release–sometime this month, I’m confident to report. But Chimera 3.0 will make its debut as Chimera Basic, a 30-some-page rulebook available as a free PDF.
Given this opportunity to consider Chimera’s future and how it will get from its present state to its glorious future, I’ve convinced myself that Chimera’s inevitable success will be determined by the input and support of the community it fosters. From a consumer standpoint, this is an obvious conclusion. Yet from a producer perspective, it’s a mildly nuanced epiphany. Innovation is important, but it won’t stand on its own, especially since we’re talking about a game system instead of a game supplement. Brilliant mechanics are also important, but one has to read and play the game to appreciate them. Sales is a convenient gauge of success, but I don’t think starting with profit is going to work.
I believe the key is accessibility: Make it easy to get a copy of Chimera, and I think gamers are more likely to give it a shot.
This also supports a piece of really good advice I had forgotten: it’s always better to show than to tell. I’ve stated several times that Chimera is super-modular, bitchin’-flexible, crazy-easy. So we start with Chimera Basic. People will download it. Some will read it, I’m certain a few will play it. I will devote more space on this site to free Chimera stuff–monsters, character classes, powers, gear, perks, Special Perks, character races, etc.–all built with and compatible with Chimera Basic. If you–the readers–like what you see, you’ll lend your support to Chimera’s continued development, and I’ll get a better picture of where gamers would like to see it go. If the Basic rules grow the way I think they can, you’ll also see Chimera-based settings and scenarios. But everything in due time…right now, I’m concentrating on showing as broad an audience as possible that Chimera Basic is worth a look.
Which reminds me–the Chimera Core Rules soon will be put on ice. Not sure for how long, but at least until I figure out how to grow Chimera Basic. If you’re an existing customer, don’t worry–when the Core is re-released, you’ll get a free upgrade. If the Core goes away, you’ll get a credit for a setting or supplement of your choice.
First off, I thank everyone who posted a comment last week on this subject–believe it or not, everybody’s collective input helped shape this decision, and I appreciate your time and support.
Chimera Basic will be out before the end of this month. I’ll post a banner on the home page, along with an announcement to newsletter subscribers. It is my strong hope that you download it, give it a read, and see at least a few places where it could make your RPG life easier or more fun or cleverer or somehow better. But before you can do any of that, it has to be accessible. So as of now, that’s the Prime Directive: Chimera must be peopled.