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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.

Final Words

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.

  1. October 7th, 2010 at 09:38 | #1

    Glad you are over your crisis, Erin. The best way to look at the approach you are advocationg is that the roleplaying games industry is largely switching from a product-based industry to a service-based industry. This is largely thanks to the interent – a major development in human communications technology since the days of B/XD&D which means that the costs for e-publishing are now super low – so low in fact that developers can afford to give out free content, and do so on a regular basis, through their blogs, support, and expertise.

    When someone buys Chimera RPG 3.0, they are really investing in Erin Smale and The Welsh Piper. Thay are showing that they appreciate your time, dedication, skill, creativity, and passion, that you have put into making Chimera RPG one of the best multi-genre roleplaying systems around. They are acknowledge the respect and experience you have had from your gaming hobby over the past 30 or so years, and all that you can share with the community to enhance the industry and hobby as a whole. Every sale is someone trying to say thank you for doing this, and please continue. You can’t get a better anti-piracy incentive than that.

    This is a significant part of the design ethic behind DVOID Systems. Our policies are built around this, or mission statement is defined by it, our ideas and concepts run from it. Our customers are buying a bit of us, supporting us, with every product. That means we can use that, providing we can deliver, to grow.

    The Legend of Zelda Roleplaying Game is a free fan project that started almost a decade a go by a group of dedicated fans for the fans – lots of time and effort were spent, and continues to be spent, to update and maintain this project. DVOID Systems was established in part to help support this project – that means fans of the Legend of Zelda Roleplaying Game can help support this project by buying DVOID Systems products, knowing that their support is also supporting the Legend of Zelda Roleplaying Game.

    There are other things we can do as well – our lifetime updates policy means we can release lower quality products at full quality price, because the initial revenue from product sales will be reinvested into the product to improve it’s quality. The product becomes a service, and by thinking in this way, many of the standard problems in traditional models can be overcome. A service never diminishes in value as long as it remains current, and has a much longer life-span than a product. This means that business-wise, it is much more easier to break even – selling thirty copies of a product to cover art costs is much more reasonable when the entire life cycle of that product is measured in years rather than days.

    I like where Chimera RPG is going, and with that, if you’ve been reading the DVOID Systems blog at all, you know that we’ve been working on a cross promotion with Chimera RPG. We are still keen to see this go ahead, and therefore you will hopefully see plenty of Chimera RPG material on both the DVOID Systems and Legend of Zelda Roleplaying Games websites over the next few months once Basic is released, and I for one will look forward to helping provide feedback to Erin to see Chimera RPG go where it can go.

  2. October 7th, 2010 at 11:14 | #2

    @Da’ Vane : Thanks for the encouragement. I agree that there’s a definite shift toward service as opposed to product, and I think it’s the right (if not natural) progression. Traditional barriers to entry no longer apply, thanks to the Internets and the invention of PDF files.

    Just to clarify: the Core Rules are on ice, not the Chimera RPG, which will be released as Chimera Basic later this month. I think a free, basic game of 30 or so pages is more accessible than a 111-page PDF that costs $12. Plus, the latter is a lot more effort to produce, so I’d like to cultivate the Basic game to lay a more solid foundation for a larger Core Rules volume later.

  3. deimos3428
    October 8th, 2010 at 09:43 | #3

    Just wanna say I like the term “advocationing”. Like advocating on vacation! :D

  4. October 8th, 2010 at 10:06 | #4

    @deimos3428 : Or that the process of endorsing something is akin to holiday. As in, “Chimera? Oh yes, divine. Simply divine. Let’s have another mai tai and I’ll tell you all about it.”

    Da’Vane has something there…

  5. October 8th, 2010 at 14:26 | #5

    @Erin D. Smale : “Oh come now dahlings, you absolutely must sample this fine selection of Chimera. It is truly exquisite…”

  6. deimos3428
    October 8th, 2010 at 23:03 | #6

    Heh. And so as to completely derail the topic: http://xkcd.com/798/

  7. October 9th, 2010 at 09:47 | #7

    @deimos3428 So in addition to measuring everything in nickels, I now pledge to use these words at the rate of at least 1/week.

  1. October 11th, 2010 at 06:54 | #1

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