I first interviewed Rose Bailey in the spring of this year, and have been wanting to do a follow-up interview with her for some time now to discuss her creative process. In the meanwhile, she just released a 2nd edition of her setting book Shadow of Golgotha on Drivethru and itch, and since it is written for OSE (my current go-to game, and, I'm guessing, used by many readers) I figured this would be a good time to combine the two.
Question: Talk about Shadow of Golgatha. It's the default setting for a game you wrote called Miserable Secrets. It's got some interesting mechanics, including a playing card resolution system, and is set in the far future. It could probably be billed as Philip Marlowe meets Vampire Hunter D. I'm curious to see how the setting came to be.
Answer: It started about 20 years ago, right after I got out of school. I wanted to try out a game called Donjon with my group at the time. Donjon was one of the first games I played with a lot of player authority; the way it works is that you roll a dice pool and, for each success, you get to add one fact to the narrative. (It also used fistfuls of d20s which got larger as you leveled. My group and I literally bought up all the loose d20s in a gaming store for it!)
I came up with a setting I called Bleeding Earth, in which the vampire Aristocracy were pitted against the ever-growing plants and fungi Green. I pitched it to my group as "A War Between Life and Death -- with Humanity Caught in the Middle!" The party, IIRC, were a classic rogue, a half-demon, a dhampir, and a gadgeteer. With those characters, we gradually fleshed out a lot of the world.
I returned to the setting a number of times, including a campaign in 2014 that introduced one of my favorite classes (which is in both MS and TSoG 2e), the Numerological Monk. They calculate strikes for maximum effect and track by solving people's minds like equations.
The later campaigns took on a very hardboiled detective tone, so in 2018, I designed a system for that from the ground up. That's Miserable Secrets, which I pitched to the playtest group as a "Cadfaelvania."
More recently, I decided to do a version more focused on action and survival, while retaining the gothic noir atmosphere, and that became the two OSR editions of The Shadow of Golgotha.
Q: One of the things that I always hear about Miserable Secrets is how smoothly the investigation mechanics work. Is that something you've thought about adapting to the OSE version? How did the other mechanical adaptions work, do you think?
A: Let me recap the investigation mechanics briefly. The system is based on card matching, like the traditional card game Memory/Pairs/Concentration. You arrange cards in a grid and take investigative actions to flip them over, and the suit of the cards decides what kind of secret you learn
Hearts are interpersonal secrets like love affairs, Diamonds are things of physical or sentimental value like a locket from a friend, Spades are unexpected things like ambushes and stabs in the back, and Clubs are clear evidence like broken windows and bloodstains.
You gather cards from the investigation system and then spend them in the battle system, which is inspired both by games like D&D 4e and hit-and-run combat from video games like Symphony of the Night. It's pretty fast, and it completes a resource loop.
I'm going to be using a version of the same investigation system with a different conflict system in my upcoming game Beautiful Anomalies Second Edition.
An investigation model to pair with old school games is definitely a cool idea. Since investigation in MS is more or less self contained, you can use it with other systems. I have a friend who runs Wrath & Glory with it.
Q: I know you're interested in solo gaming. Have you thought about adapting or providing guidance for SoG to use as a solo game?
A: I'm definitely planning on it! Still in the rough sketching out phase, though.
Q: You've got some really interesting classes available for play. Can you talk about them a bit? How did you decide on the classes, for one, and how do you think the class options drive the tone of the game you're looking to convey. Is there anything you're really pleased with how it turned out?
A: The biggest thing I learned at White Wolf was that games with classes live or die based on how exciting the individual classes are. Think about the clans in Vampire -- they immediately provide iconic imagery and buttons you can push to make things happen.
My favorite two in this bunch are the Gasoline Witch and the Virtuoso Exorcist. The witch is someone I've had in mind since the first version of the setting -- someone who embodies and empowers herself with the post-apocalyptic aspects of the setting. She has a hot ride the way paladins and knights have mounts, and, through her ride, can wield magic.
The virtuoso came to me from Tanith Lee's Kill the Dead, which is a pulp ghost story featuring a musician with an impossible instrument and his adventures with his ghost girlfriend and a brooding spirit hunter. I started with the core idea of a bard who can turn undead, and the rest of the class unfolded from there.
Q: You've mentioned doing a hexcrawl supplement for this. Is there anything you'd like to share about this potential project?
A: I absolutely adore hex maps, and I've wanted to do a hex crawl for more than a decade. I wanted to do a massive atlas for Cavaliers of Mars, but I never had the time or budget to make it happen.
Right now, I'm thinking of doing a region in the style of your own Populated Hex supplements, bringing together a little of every aspect of the setting -- a Noble ruler, remains from the crusade against the machines, an infection (or blessed redemption) of the Green, religious revolutionaries, and so on.
The hexes themselves could be built the way I did locations in Cavaliers -- bullet points for characters, spectacles, and hazards, with mini-tables for each one.
It's very much at the concept stage, but it's territory I can't wait to venture into.
Q: Finally, I was intrigued by something you had posted awhile back elsewhere discussing your creative process. I'm going to go ahead and quote the whole thing here:
"My writing process goes like this:
Spend some time goofing around with ideas via notes kept in Google Docs.
Write an outline in Google Docs, going into detail as far as Header 2s. I do estimated wordcounts for each section.
Turn my outline sections into a big list of tasks in ClickUp, and make a hierarchy of text documents in either Google Docs or Scrivener.
At the start of each week, move my tasks for the week into a "This Week" section in ClickUp.
Each morning, select tasks from "This Week," and move them to "Today."
Spend the day writing today's sections. I do this in 20 minute sprints with 5 minute breaks between them)
My goal each day is to produce about 1200 words, but I always make sure I only count on 4000 a week in my schedule. I almost always exceed that, but since some tasks can balloon, I build in some cushion time.) When the whole book is finished, I do revisions using the same steps. I mix playtests into those steps as I have the opportunities."
I found this to be a fascinating approach, and it made me look at how I wrote. I just kinda, you know, write, and I assumed that other people did it the same way. The idea that you can go about it in a much more methodical fashion, with outlines, projected wordcounts, etc. has really changed the way I think about writing. If you don't mind, I'd love for you to expand on this process. Do you, for instance, write each chapter in a separate document, or is it all in a single doc? How are you able to ballpark wordcount? Is it is kind of a "I'd like the chapter on character creation to be five pages, and I know I can fit x number of words per page, etc.?"
A: The process is something I adapted from my years working on the World of Darkness brands, when I had to keep a lot of projects going at once. At some point, I realized I should just break down the stuff I do for myself the way I do it when I work with other people.
When I'm in Google Docs or Word, I give each chapter its own file. Scrivener works in a tree of documents already, which is super useful. For Google Docs (or, rarely, Word Online), I have a structure of browser tabs. For example, I'll have a Utilities tab with Google Drive and my project tracker, ClickUp open. Then I'll have a tab group for the chapters, and a tab group for notes. The tab bar does tend to get a little crowded, but it's worth it to be able to move around the book quickly.
Scrivener, again, makes that easier, with things like being able to split screen multiple document panes. Windows 11 also lets you quickly arrange windows on a split screen, so that helps when I'm working in the Google apps.
I basically break down wordcount the way I used to on WoD stuff:
Chapters should be 5k-15k. We did 20k-30k chapters all the time on WoD books, and there were good reasons for that, but I honestly feel they were often unwieldy.
Header 1s (major topics, like character creation or an umbrella header for classes) should have 1k-3k under them.
Header 2s (significant subtopics, like a particular class) should have .5k-1.5k under them.
Header 3s (very specific topics, like a subclass or power tree) should have 250-.5k under them.
Header 4s (super specialized topics, usually for powers, spells, or short class features) vary a fair amount, but should usually be no more than .2k.
Each of those contains the others, so the 1-3k for Header 1s includes the .5k-1k for Header 2s, and so on. Figuring out the hierarchy of what I need to write in an outline generally tells me how big each section needs to be. I usually work down to the 2s in my outline and task tracking.
It's not an exact science -- sometimes the hierarchy of a chapter needs to use smaller or larger chunks to be clear or complete. Or sometimes I want it to appear a certain way in the table of contents or bookmarks.
I do keep page count in mind and regularly estimate it to keep me on track, but for most chapters it's not as much of a concern as wordcount. If I need to fit something really specifically in a layout, like for character types that need to fit on two page spreads, I resort to the dangerous and shameful practice of writing directly in InDesign. ;)
My very focused process isn't for everyone, but it helps me manage big projects through the many, many words I need for a whole book. In fanfic and romance circles, people often categorize themselves as plotters (planning very precisely) or pantsers (trusting intuition). I'm definitely a plotter.