This is a page about the specific 3-headed creature of Greek Mythology. For chimera as a general term for mythical beings made up the parts of various creatures, see Composite Monster. For the scientific blending of genetic material from two different species see chimera (genetics).
Homer said it had the "front" of a lion, the "behind" of a snake, and was goat in the middle. That certainly leaves much to the imagination, but plenty of classical artwork exists showing it as basically a lion with two extra heads. Generally, the snake head is attached to a thin snake-like body that protrudes from where the lion's tail should be, and the goat head and neck is often shown protruding from the middle of the lion's back (well behind the lion head).
That level of bizarreness is certainly fitting if you intend for it to have a certain alien eldritch abomination quality, but modern artists (and game designers) have often seen fit to make it more "normal" by planting the two extra heads on the shoulders right next door to the lion's head.
Also, sometimes the snake head is a dragon head instead, because in the original myths the Chimera had the ability to breathe fire. Chimera is officially a female, but most artwork shows her with the mane of a male lion.
The chimera ravaged the land of Lycia (in what is now Turkey) until it was slain by Bellerophon. The hero's final blow (delivered while riding pegasus) consisted of holding a lead-shod spear where the creatures flaming breath would make the spearhead molten, and then shoving said molten lump down the beasts throat. Which doesn't really make a hell of a lot of sense on the surface. If it breathes fire, it's probably pretty resistant to heat damage. If it has three heads to breathe from, clogging any one of them is unlike to asphyxiate it.
All of which implies there's some sort of coded myth going on, possibly some secret from one of the mystery cults of the era. Exactly what it all means is anyone's guess. The molten lead notion suggests smithing. Sir Isaac Newton was convinced the bulk of Greek myths were actually hidden recipes for alchemy. Pliny the Elder identified the chimera with a hill in Turkey where natural vents of flaming methane existed (and at which site a temple to Hephaestus had been built). There's certainly room for interpretation.
These are the family of Chimera. Those listed as Chimera's children could instead be her half-siblings, depending on which source you follow.
Parents: Echidna and Typhon
Siblings: Cerberus, Orthrus and the Lernean Hydra
Children: Nemean Lion and the Sphinx
A similar creature existed in older Hittite Mythology, attested to by just one relief carving and thus not well known. It was similar to the Greek chimera, except instead of a goat's head mounted on it's back, it had a human head mounted above the lion's head. It also had the snake head tail like the greek version.
The term chimera is also sometimes more generally applied as a term for all mythological creatures that are hybrids made up of the parts of various animals. Sometimes folklorists call this a Composite Monster, so we'll use that term here to differentiate. For assistance in designing your own creatures of this sort, see our Random Animal Hybrid tool.
Game and Story Use
- You could use our Random Animal Hybrid tool to generate your own chimeric monsters for your game.
- Coded Myth interpretations could factor in to a mystery scenario, especially one that involves a treasure map or secret formula. Just make sure that whatever the solution to your "riddle" is, the answer involves some sort of triad and fire. Name drop Newton and Pliny to lend a veneer of authenticity to your plot.
- The Chimera Lives! It was immune to Bellerophon's silly attempt to burn or choke it, and merely played dead to wait a better era to assault the realm of the mortals. It has returned, and only the PCs can save us.
- The Hittite man/lion thing has a passing resemblance to the manticore.
Building This Character
Clearly part of the fun for the GM in including the Chimera in their game is the choice of how to interpret its form. Snake for tail, or dragon head on the shoulders? Full body of a lion, or just the torso and forearms of a lion combined with either the hindquarters of a goat or a giant snaking constrictor body? Human head instead of the goat, as the Syro-Hittites did it? You can really make this beast your own while still falling within the boundaries of the myth.
Some attention should be spent on the breath weapon: How large, how hot, and how often? Is it immune to fire, or must it take care where it belches?
Do the snake fangs have venom?
Does the presence of three heads give it any added life expectancy? Can it survive if one head dies? Is it immune to choking? Does it get multiple actions because of the duplicate brains? Is it particularly difficult to sneak up on a monster with that many heads?