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Friday 9 August 2019

Friday Fantasy: She Bleeds

Having reviewed Going Through Forbidden Other Worlds and seen the effects of Obscene Serpent Religion 2, we move onto the effects of She Bleeds. This is one of four short scenarios and supplements for use with Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay released by Lamentations of the Flame Princess at Gen Con 2018. It presents a path to female—and male, if they are ‘brave’ enough to follow it too—empowerment through menstruation and worship of an otherworldly feminine deity in a lunar cycle and so has a subject matter which may not be to everyone’s tastes. In fact, copies of the supplement were famously destroyed by a British distributor, as reported by Geek Native and covered in more detail by Tenkar’s Tavern, because its subject matter was deemed to be ‘disgusting’. Now some may find the subject matter of She Bleeds—which at no point is obfuscated, starting with the front cover and carried through to the back cover—to be in poor taste, to be too uncomfortable to deal with round their gaming table, to be unsuitable for their game, but that is very much all in the eye of the beholder. Rather, She Bleeds is a supplement which takes a subject matter and a biological process that is typically seen as disgusting and distasteful, as making a woman weak, and so on, and turns it into a means of empowerment.

From the start, She Bleeds is not obviously written as a gaming supplement. It is written instead as a secret manual handed from woman to the next, explaining the rituals involved in the worship of an otherworldly deity known only as ‘She’ or ‘Her’ and the gifts that she grants. Once infected by She, the woman—and it is primarily a woman, although it is possible for a man to follow this path—who has the honour of bearing her, will return again and again to enact rituals at eight different phases of the Moon. Now one of the ‘Blooded’, in return for completing the ritual, the woman is granted a new power associated with her flesh or her blood. Some of the rituals grant different powers depending on which of the two Avatars of Her the woman selects. For example, in the first ritual at the Full Moon, the woman accepts her role as a host to Her, drinks the saliva of a young woman and an old, and after completing the ritual, either selects ‘By gentle kiss’ or ‘By force’. The former grants the woman’s saliva the power to hear as she licks the wound, the latter makes her saliva poisonous that can be licked onto weapons. Such gifts are not permanent, and to refresh them, the woman has to enact the ritual again. These are the slightest of the gifts that She grants, and as the woman enacts further rituals under different phases of the Moon, she is granted more powerful abilities, her blood coming alive until she can become an avatar of Her. A man can also follow this path, but as he accepts the infection that is She and enacts ritual after ritual, his genitalia changes and he too comes to menstruate—and in the process, would gain access to the spells and magic presented in Vaginas Are Magic. That though, would be a path all of its very own…

Only at the end of She Bleeds, after each of the rituals has been presented is the nature of She presented, almost as a final revelation. She has no form but sacrifice and comes to those in pain and suffering, offering her solace and power three times. Should Her chosen accept, then she is infected and becomes an Initiate of She, compelled to enact the first of the lunar rituals—the first of many.

Similarly, the introduction to She Bleeds comes at the end, an afterword rather than an introduction. Here she states that, “Writing a piece about periods is tricky.” before adding that, “No monthly event in my life has made me feel more weak or, at times, more powerful. There’s something integrally beautiful about menstruation and something terrifyingly brutal—much like being a woman—much like playing Lamentations.” She Bleeds is a response to that, a way to make the experience gameable, but without descending into prurience or making it purely about empowerment. There is empowerment here, very much so, but it does not come without cost, for the rituals, repeated over and over, changes the Blooded. There then lies the allegory at the heart of She Bleeds.

Physically, She Bleeds is neatly presented. It maintains a sharp separation between the in-game description and the technical rules description of the rituals presented in the book. The writing needs editing in places and the artwork matches the adult tone of the writing, but is anything other prurient.

Where the difficulty and complexity comes in She Bleeds is in both Referee and player of the woman infected by She keeping track of the calendar as the phases of the Moon change. A simplified method is provided as an easier alternative, but it is not that much less complex… But whatever the method, the point of a player keeping track is to involve him and his character more fully in the turn of the Moon and the powers being granted. To get the fullest out of She Bleeds, that player and his Referee needs to embrace both the nature and process of becoming one of the Blooded, and in doing so, it enables their game and their gaming experience to explore an issue that many might not otherwise. 

1 comment:

  1. Good review. I wasn't quite sure what this supplement was about... but it sounds like a must-have for me... like not-entirely-horrific body horror.