Shifting Generic Gears

How I spent my Christmas vacation

I need to get organised. There are too many ideas in the brain-case and not enough discipline to get them all in line. Or, rather, not enough application of discipline. Having just published Chimera, I find myself contemplating how it will mature. There are many paths. So let's take stock, check priorities, and hopefully with your input, pick the right direction.

Contemplating Chimera

Chimera is a multi-genre system. We called this "generic" back in the dim ages, but Chimera is more than that. The idea behind Chimera is this: if you can think it, you can play it.

That's a highly loaded statement with a lot of gaming potential. Unfortunately, I'm convinced that I haven't explained it very well.

If you're like me, you see something on TV or in a movie, or you get a cool idea from a book, and you want to add it to your campaign. And maybe you like fantasy some days, sci-fi on others, and occasionally a bit of horror or modern or historical roleplaying. But you don't want (or have time) to learn and run different RPG systems, and you get annoyed and frustrated when rules make you rethink your creativity.

Chimera is different. If you can think it, you can play it. That's the concept. Conjure something up in your head and, happily, Chimera's flexible system lets you add it to your campaign, whatever the genre, without the crying or hair pulling.

But it hasn't taken off the way I'd hoped. Ignoring my own bias for the game's benefits, there are several valid and objective explanations:

  1. Gamers spend a lot of time learning a system's rules, creating campaigns, and customising mechanics; switching to a new RPG system is a lot to ask.
  2. Chimera provides a host of flexible guidelines, but perhaps isn't specific enough in any given genre; whereas Chimera is broad and shallow, methinks gamers would prefer narrow and deep.
  3. Chimera may, in fact, suck.

Ignoring #3 for the moment, and assuming that #1 is always the case, it seems that #2 is where I should concentrate.

So, what if there were Chimera ports for specific genres? For example, a ruleset for Chimera Fantasy, another for Chimera Apocalypse, still another for Chimera Sci-fi, etc. Each would be compatible with the Core Rules and each other, but more focused. Chimera Fantasy would exclude all the Core Rules stuff that didn't pertain to fantasy, couch everything in fantasy context, and expand on aspects of the fantasy genre that wouldn't have been appropriate for the Core.

In this way, the Chimera Core Rules becomes something like the Rosetta Stone of Chimera games. It's compatible with each genre book, so that if you wanted to add some non-fantasy thing to your fantasy campaign, you could do so fairly easily.

This also makes it easier to write adventures and settings, and supplements. Now, each supplement becomes an extension of its specific genre, instead of an instance of a generic parent. A side benefit is that fans of one genre aren't distracted by details from another.

Chimera Roadmap

Assuming this all makes sense, expect genre-specific ports of Chimera in the near future. Since fantasy roleplaying seems to be the most popular, I'll start with a Chimera Fantasy (under an appropriately clever title). I'm thinking of about 60 pages of PDF-ery, using fantasy terms instead of the multi-genre language in the Core (e.g., "spells" instead of "powers"). If the concept takes off, the Swords of Telm supplement (scheduled for Winter 2010) will be written specifically for Chimera Fantasy (as opposed to the Chimera Core Rules).

In supplement-land, I'm also leaning toward stat-free, mostly to promote their use in non-Chimera campaigns. Again, I'll test-launch this with Swords of Telm, using basic descriptions where possible for NPCs, monsters, and such. So instead of a full stat block that you'd have to convert to your own system, you'll see something like "Boromir (Ftr9); longsword +2" or "Hydra (Mon5); 300gp". Chimera stats would be included as an appendix or separate download (what do you prefer?).

Incidentally, this changes the Chimera product line, as well. Before, the plan was to publish material relative to the Core Rules, so you'd have expansion rules (that, remarkably, expanded the Core Rules), but that weren't dedicated any given genre. Which, again, makes sense for a completely generic RPG, but if the genre experiment above proves successful, then it sounds like genre-specific products would be in order.

Final Words

I'm learning a lot about the RPG market—especially how much it's changing. When I finished Chimera 1.0 in 2006, the landscape was very different: there was d20 and non-d20. Today, slightly less than 4 years later, the divisions are drawn along D&D 3.x, D&D 4E, and some flavour of retro-clone. Clearly, there's a preference for genre-specific material you can dive right into over multi-genre content that requires customisation. If that's the case, then it makes sense to publish genre-specific stuff. And, if in a few years, the pendulum again swings toward the generic, then the Chimera Core Rules will remain ready.

What do you think?

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