OSR Tempest

Those are dice that were my eyes...

It's been a long and terrible week for clarity. And I blame Scott over at HUGE RUINED PILE for his stupid great ideas.

After reading Scott's analysis, I was inspired to re-read Moldvay Basic. This is the game that I cut my roleplaying teeth on. This is the game that I always came back to after failed (and sometimes abusive) relationships with AD&D, GURPS, and Rolemaster. Moldvay always welcomed me back with open arms. Even the much-liked Rules Cyclopedia gave me the occasional fit, and indeed, its shortcomings were the basis for pretty much every D&D rule mod I ever created. But not Moldvay. And never Cook either, for that matter. In all respects, and at all times, B/X was my best good RPG friend.

But Here's the Problem

I'm in the middle of finishing up Chimera 3.0. And while I don't mean to juxtapose the merits, playability, or elegance of Chimera against B/X, thanks to Scott and his Mesmerising Blog, the two are now competing for my present attentions. Here's the deal: Chimera has a lot of great ideas, it's easy to learn, version 3.0 (which is just about ready for playtesting) is very streamlined.

Chimera is an RPG about flexibility. Started as a multi-genre engine, Chimera gives you tools to create pretty much whatever you want in any setting desired. In addition to completely customised characters and character abilities, there are guidelines for creating powers, weapons, monsters, new classes, vehicles, and whole campaigns. These are all consistent and balanced and work in any setting. Anything you need to build and run a campaign--it's all there--though it's a hard sell.

Why would such a bounty of RPG goodness be a hard sell? Mostly because it's a new game. It's a whole RPG system. I'm not asking people to give it a look so they can incorporate it into their existing game. I'm asking them to make it their existing game.

And it really doesn't matter how good it is--just ask the Betamax people--if you can't get people to try it.

Deep Thoughts

All this is fine, but it prompts pause for due consideration. Consequently, Chimera's development is at a crossroads, and it's time to weigh pros and cons against what I hope to achieve.

Primary concern: Do I want to spend the majority of my precious gaming time trying to convince people to play Chimera?

No. Not at all. I'd rather be playing Chimera, or working on my campaign, or producing tools for the busy GM, or going down the occasional Scott-inspired rabbit hole.

Secondary concern: What do I hope to get out of Chimera?

Many things, in roughly descending order:

  • An easy, flexible system I want to play
  • An easy, flexible system that others want to play and discuss and improve
  • A solid gaming engine I can use to drive whatever I want to play, whenever I feel like it--whether that's medieval fantasy, sword & sorcery, pulp sci-fi, space opera, or Fun With Cthuloids
  • A platform for expansions--settings, rule mods, and character options--to share and to sell
  • Income (more than beer money but less than my mortgage)

Last concern: Is Chimera really unique?

Well, parts of it are. A unique encumbrance system, and I've never seen the character advancement model in any other game. Combat gets great feedback, despite the absence of hit points, and the Perk/Flaw system creates unparalleled flexibility.

But much of what I've done for Chimera could apply to any game. For example, an expanded version of the Hex-based Campaign Design system is included in the Core Rules, but it works for D&D, GURPS, whatever. Plus, it's important to note that most of Chimera's core mechanics and conventions derive from house rules made as an overlay to my Rules Cyclopedia campaign of old.

And that, my friends, brings me back to good ol' B/X.

So Then With The Crying

Scott's (likely unintended) prompting got me to revisit B/X. While clearly geared toward fantasy roleplaying, B/X is actually quite suitable for multi-genre play. Back in the day, I used B/X to run a pulpy sci-fi campaign set in the near-future Solar System. Thieves were bounty hunters, clerics were my version of Jedi Knights (or Sith, depending on alignment), magic-users were psions, and fighters were pretty much unchanged. Humanoids were from Mars, elves from Venus. "Magic items" were pseudo-science, and there were white apes everywhere.

It worked because B/X was so flexible. Trappings were easy to change--no problem going from fantasy to sci-fi--because the mechanics were so solid. Given that, didn't B/X already have the flexibility I was after? And, if it did, why not make use of it instead of reinventing the wheel with Chimera?

The more I thought about it, the harder it became to shake the notion that maybe--MAYBE, mind you--Chimera's current direction was not only a drain on my RPG time, but a redundant effort to boot. Reviewing my Deep Thoughts, it occurred to me that there was no reason B/X couldn't satisfy my needs. Plus, it was more familiar than Chimera, so I wouldn't have to spend all my time convincing others to take a look at my material and eventually agree that, yes, Erin's mind for game mechanics did in fact evince a sort of orphic genius.

Only problem was that there's no license to write for B/X. Hence the crying, though I'm sure the savvy among you can see where this is going.

Sea Change

Regular readers are no doubt familiar with my stance on OSR materials, which can be summarised thus: I do not want.

Yet, taking a more thoughtful approach yields a more moderate position, albeit one still seasoned with little crystals of salty doubt.

So--surprise!--sell-out time. What if (and, please, this is completely hypothetical), what if Chimera was ret-conned for Labyrinth Lord, the OSR version of B/X?

Go ahead, roll it around a bit. Get all the "Smale's a back-pedaling hypocrite reptile douche" out of your system. I'm OK with it. After all the terrible disdain I've heaped upon OSR, I'll own it.

But let's give it some serious consideration. Where B/X is flexible, where it's familiar, where it's portable and easy to learn and solid, so too is the bulk of LL. Why not graft the best parts of Chimera onto Labyrinth Lord, maintain my end of the OGL, and get back to playing my game, working on my campaign, producing tools for the busy GM, and going down the occasional Scott-inspired rabbit hole?

Final Words

OK, I know. This is a shock to some (least of all Dan Proctor, who, I daresay, has responded to my critique of LL with more patience and maturity than I probably levied at him). I identified the lack of originality to be OSR's biggest flaw, but to be fair, Dan makes no claim to originality, as stated in his forward to LL. For that, I owe Mr. Proctor a sizable apology. At least.

Still, maybe I'm not to be trusted. I strongly suspect that at least three people in particular are this close to never visiting this site again. And what of Chimera 3.0?

Well, to be honest, it's still in development. I reckon it could go any direction. Maybe it'll be about pushing an original game. Maybe it'll be about modifying a retro-clone. What it definitely shouldn't be about is re-carving the wheel.

But Chimera will exist, and it will be good. What I need to remember is this: Chimera is a pastime. Roleplaying is a hobby, B/X and LL are games. When these things start to become work, or when the struggle to reach my RPG goals becomes a frustration, it's time to re-evaluate.

So lay it on me--what's your take?

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