Pretty much anyone with a passing knowledge of Greek mythology or fantasy gaming knows what a chimera is, right? Part lion, part goat, and part snake, embodied in this Etruscan bronze statuette. It’s a goofy-looking beast in its original form. It has a lion body (note, however, the body looks more canine than leonine), a goat’s head — which is said to breathe fire — embedded in the middle of its back, and a tail that is a snake. The snake’s head bites the goat’s horn, and the lion head seems to be crying out in pain, though this may be due to the fact it was discovered in pieces and re-assembled incorrectly. Still, I like the metaphor of a creature at perpetual war with itself.
In myth, the monster was born of monsters, and, interestingly, was a she. In the story of Bellerophon and Pegasus Bellerophon kills her on the orders of the king of Lycia, who never dreamed the hero would survive the mission. But the chimera’s real legacy was in art. Popular as a decoration for vases, plates, and figurines, its usage extended into Roman times.
In modern times chimera as a word has become a way to reference any kind of mixed-up-creature, and in the biology community, a creature with more than one set of DNA, for example, this cat. A type of ghost shark is also named a chimera.
But, for fantasy writers, readers, and gamers, the chimera will always be the tripartite creature. When the first edition of Dungeons and Dragons was released in the late 1970s, the chimera featured prominently as one of the higher-level monsters for characters to conquer. The original D&D chimera stuck to the appearance of the statue, but later came another version, the Greater Chimera, that had three heads side-by-side on the creature’s front: dragon, lion, and goat, plus dragon wings, and this later, sexier version seems to have become the standard for modern depictions.
There are other depictions, of course, which get rid of that awkward goat’s head on the back. Some artists put the lion and goat head together on the same neck, while others eliminate the goat entirely, giving the lion head goat horns to hint at this identity. Often the heads are swapped around, tigers, eagles, and sharks being some others I’ve seen. But for all of them, at least lately, the idea of three creatures melded together remains, and the idea of three different heads.
Gamer John Crowley has come up with variations on the chimera at his site the wanderingalchemist.com in the posts here, here, and here. In the same spirit, here are some randomgenned chimeras whose descriptions wrote themselves.
Different kinds of chimerae
|Shumyra: This variant of the classic chimera has the heads of a bull, a tiger, and a cobra. Its body is that of a tiger but it has the scaled belly and tail of a cobra. This variant enjoys swimming and lives in tropical or semi-tropical areas. It is slightly larger than, but also slower, than its classic brethren and its cobra bite is, of course, poisonous. Shumyra are known to make pests of themselves preying on humanoid settlements. They are proud and entitled creatures and collect treasure like dragons.
Chaffera: Also a tropical chimera variant, this creature has the heads of a deer, a jaguar, and a python, with the python’s long tail. Its body is that of the jaguar but its leg and feet are of a deer. Chaffera prefer to strangle with their python tail in most situations. They are a shy creature, but charmed by music, especially flute music.
Chrymeera: The chrymeera is found in mountains and high hills. Its heads are those of a mountain goat, a gray wolf, and a salamander. The salamander head can breathe fire and also makes the monster impervious to fire. It is a reclusive creature, much smaller than the classic chimera, but able to leap nimbly up and down high cliffs on its mountain goat hooves, while its lupine hindquarters propel it from behind. It seems to feed on hares, pikas, and marmots. Its wolf head tends to be the dominant one and may make it more amenable to human taming.
Ephemera: This awe-inspiring creature has the heads of a unicorn, a white lion, and an equally white snake, all with golden eyes. Its body is that of the lion, but with the high legs of a horse. Unlike most chimerae, it has a good alignment. It is a curious, confidant creature endowed with simple magical powers, among them invisibility and healing. Though it has no wings, it can fly by galloping through the air. It has an air of wonderment around it, in that all those who see it will gape and marvel and forget whatever they were doing at the moment. Ephemera usually feed only with their unicorn head on plant matter. Every once in a while, they feel the urge to eat meat, which is a source of embarrassment for them, and they will try to do so in private. A good way to blackmail an ephemera is to catch one doing so.
Gimhida: The gimidha swells in dark forests. Its heads are those of a ram, a leopard, and a basilisk. The basilisk head can turn beings into stone with a peck from its beak, but the gimhida only uses it as a last resort on a more powerful enemy, as it has to come too close. Usually it will bite and claw. It has a leopard’s body, but its feet and giant claws are those of the basilisk. A magical aura of horrendous despair surrounds this creature and even its appearance looks shadowed, as if it lives under a dark cloud. Gimidha eat anything a leopard eats.