horror, OSR, Review, roleplaying, RPGs

Review: She Bleeds

It’s time to get back to reviewing the set of GenCon exclusive booklets produced for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. This week it is She Bleeds by Elizabeth Chaipradikul. Elizabeth is not an author I am familiar with outside of her being the founder of Angry Hamster Games. Let’s find out what horrors she has in store for us here.

What you get: The booklet comprises 24 pages, plus cover. The first page is taken up by front matter and the last with a letter from the author, so you get 22 pages of content in total. Available in PDF for $5.99 (about £4.61)

Summary:

250060She Bleeds is a gaming supplement for Lamentations of the Flame Princess, offering characters unique abilities if they engage with an otherworldly entity. This is not an adventure, but a supplement adding new character features. Therefore, this supplement most likely requires an adventure and most certainly needs at least one adventurer who is seduced into making questionable choices in exchange for the weird.

In essence, She Bleeds provides a new character option for player characters. In order to acquire the new abilities the supplement offers up, characters will have to first become infected by the otherworldly entity, simply known as She throughout, and will henceforth have to endure a monthly ritual for the rest of their life that follows the phases of the moon as they become one of the “Blooded”. The outcome? Several strange powers that manifest throughout the ritual and access to one out of two of Her Avatars, dependant upon choices you make.

The Good: As might be obvious from the front cover, title and the summary above, She Bleeds takes menstruation as its central theme. As a man, I am woefully underskilled in commenting on how the content and its subject matter marry up to one another, but I heartily applaud what Elizabeth has attempted here. As she herself writes in her letter to the reader on the final page, “writing a piece about periods is tricky”, but I believe she has carried across a sense of this experience both in her writing and in the gameable content, all the way from the pain to the empowerment that it can deliver.

The writing style throughout the supplement is excellent. It is written as if someone is communicating the precise steps of the ritual the character must go through in world, with the game specific rules intertwined within. There is no separation between the two, with the technical parts masterfully intertwined with the narrative, making this little supplement an entertaining read.

Each stage of the ritual that a Blooded character must go through imparts different powers to them based on choices they make. Sometimes there is only one choice to take during a specific phase, sometimes two or more. These powers are interesting as well. Some last for the full cycle of the ritual, while others only for a specific phase of the moon. Some are powerful but must be earnt at cost. Others have potential downsides as well. For example, during one phase of the ritual, the character must cut themselves and drink their own blood, allowing them the power to unleash the damage they inflict on themselves upon an opponent at a later date on a like for like basis. However, this effect has the result of reopening the inflicted wounds to do so as the character’s blood gushes out to asphyxiate their enemy. The result is that the player is presented with meaningful choices over how they wish to undertake the ritual each month. While the powers they gain are certainly powerful, the costs balance them out and I would not say that any of them are particularly overpowered.

Of course, much of the ritual is centered around blood. In addition, the actions you have to carry out as part of the ritual are suitably horrific for a Lamentations product, meaning that players choosing to undertake this ritual long term will end up doing some horrible things for the sake of power. As a result, NPCs are going to react accordingly to Blooded characters if they hang around in an area for too long. The entity they serve, however, is not inherently evil. Male characters can also be infected by the entity and undergo the ritual, but in doing so will lose their male genitalia and gain those of a woman, alongside a menstrual cycle that is controlled by the phases of the moon.

The art throughout the book is also excellent, and highly evocative of the subject matter and the ritual discussed, including the blood spatter effect on the pages. It is, however, not safe for work, and the sexual aspects of it may be offputting to some. That said, it shouldn’t come as a surprise for a Lamentations book.

The Bad: There is very little negative to say about She Bleeds. I was initially confused on my first read about what the book professed to provide for my gaming table, and this is one area that the choice of narrative over technical style actually trips the supplement up. It isn’t explicitly clear what is on offer from the get-go. However, reading through the text, this is opened up stage by ritual stage. The more technical aspects of the supplement (what the entity is, how infection works etc.) do not come until page 19. While my brain would have liked this information up front in order to parse what I was reading in advance of it, I think it actually works as is. To have swapped the structure around would have taken some of the mystery out of the ritual and in my opinion, would have spoiled the experience of that initial read through.

For a ritual that follows the phases of the moon, there could be a lot of issues with getting bogged down in tracking this in in-game time. Elizabeth has acknowledged this, however, and provides clear instruction on how to overcome this issue on page 23. However, even with this simplified method there does appear to be a bit of extra bookkeeping on both the GM’s and the player’s part in keeping tabs on what stage the ritual is at and what powers the Blooded character has access to. That said, these are not insurmountable for those willing to put the effort in.

While the layout of the book is very good, the text is let down in a few areas by poor editing. Like Going Through Forbidden Otherworlds, these are not major issues, but niggling little things that nevertheless jump of the page to an editor like me. An example would be the lack of italics for one of the choice headings on page 7 or a rogue double space on page 3.

The Verdict: I really like She Bleeds. It is a bold supplement dealing with a tricky subject matter. I believe it does so exceptionally well and at the same time provides some evocative and inspiring gameable content. While it might be somewhat onerous to track at the table, I think the experience it will provide far outweigh the negatives. It generally only suffers from some minor editorial issues that can be easily overlooked. Overall, it is an excellent addition to my Lamentations collection.

Style: 5

Substance: 5

Overall: 10

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