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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?

  1. Anarkeith
    January 6th, 2010 at 20:39 | #1

    Happy New Year, Erin! As part of your info-gathering, how many reviews of the game have been posted? Do you have any local game stores where you could run demonstrations? I’d also look at gamer complaints about popular systems and then blog about how Chimera does things differently. I think it’s a worthy system, and wonder if the slow start is more about awareness. Before you devote a bunch of time making your system non-generic, maybe it’d be worth marketing the strength of a generic system?

    Imagine a gaming group that meets regularly, but alternates between fantasy and scifi campaigns while still using the same rules. Keeps gaming fresh, while making it time-efficient!

  2. January 6th, 2010 at 23:05 | #2

    @Anarkeith
    Hi, Keith – Happy New Year to you, too!

    You’re absolutely right – awareness could improve. I need to do some better marketing and cross-pollination to spread the word. On the plus side, the feedback I’ve so far received has been positive, so I’m confident the Core Rules does what it’s supposed to.

    Still, I can’t help but wonder if a genre book, based on the Core, might not be more accessible. If you wanted a steak, would you go to a supermarket or right to a butcher?

    I think I’m going to progress with Chimera Fantasy as a test. The Core would still remain multi-genre, though. In programming terms, think of the Core Rules as a class and Chimera Fantasy as an instance of that class. Chimera Fantasy inherits from the Core, but may have a few of its own methods.

    But it still needs better marketing, regardless. Thanks for reminding me about this – it’s certainly more workable than option #3… ;)

  3. January 7th, 2010 at 19:28 | #3

    I grok. This is the peril of a “generic” system, in that it is hellishly hard to market such a system and you have an inherently difficult time to impart mood to a book. Additionally, have you done or considered printing of dead tree copies? Paradoxically, I think that might be beneficial to your PDF sales.

    I am trying to dodge the same beasts by hooking into a hereto underutilized group, giving away about half of my book for free and selling the other half for quite cheap. I expect that my first few years will be money loosing propositions in the hopes of getting enough momentum, fan base and attention to make good on some supplements.
    .-= Jason Pitre´s last blog ..Under Construction =-.

  4. January 9th, 2010 at 00:43 | #4

    @Jason Pitre
    I hear you, Jason. Generic has the “broad and shallow” appeal, but that does imply a fan base that isn’t already attached to a genre. Thing is, Chimera will serve a bevy of gamers–it’s just getting them the proper exposure. The Chimera Fantasy ‘experiment’ is designed to expose those gamers and see if there’s an interest. We’ll see… ;)

  5. deimos3428
    February 18th, 2010 at 22:23 | #5

    A little late to the discussion, but a good friend of mine that just happens to be an experienced game publisher is fond of mumbling something along the lines of “Systems don’t sell settings, settings sell systems.” Chimera is an excellent system and I don’t think it requires additional genre-specific rules so much as a setting supplement which you already have in the works. (I’d forego “Chimera Fantasy”, etc. and jump straight into “Swords of Telm”. After you’ve got people “hooked”, you can show ‘em how to use Chimera Fantasy to build their own…)

    The fact that Chimera is capable of far more than any single setting doesn’t mean people aren’t essentially sheep. They need you to show them the way before boldly going forth. A few more short, low-cost/free adventures would go a long way to building interest as well. I loved the one in the quickstart!

  6. February 18th, 2010 at 23:39 | #6

    @deimos3428 : Great point, Deimos. I’ve had similar feedback from other quarters. The March issue of the newsletter will provide a near-term product roadmap, which includes a minor revision to the Core as well as more material for a Chimera fantasy setting. If those supplements/adventures do well, I’ll concentrate on an expansion for fantasy play, much as you sagely suggest.

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