Transvestite Flaw

Hi David : )

One small suggestion --I'm not even sure if it's an errata-- would be eliminating the minor personality flaw "Transvestite" from pg. 59 of the core rules. I know it made a big difference to me, as a female player, when my gender was removed as a flaw from the earlier editions. The same holds true in this case for genderqueer, trans, or nonbinary players who might be very put off by the language and implied ideology here.

Currently the flaw reads:

Minor, Personality
You dress and act as a member of the opposite gender, and expect to be treated as such. Note that this is not a delusion — you know what your physical gender is, but choose to live as the other gender. In Christian and Muslim lands you are regarded as a freak, and are often shunned, laughed at, or even chased out of town. However, these problems will only arise if others realize you are not a member of the gender you are living as. Because of your long experience living as a member of your chosen gender, attempting to live as a member of your physical gender will result in a
–3 to all social skill rolls for as long as the character attempts to live as this gender.

A couple of reasons for the change
a. transvestite is an early 20th century term & concept, it doesn't fit a medieval paradigm
b. in 2021 using the term as an umbrella for gender non conforming people is rude and offensive
c. the references to "personality flaw" and "freak" could be particularly upsetting to young players struggling with sexual and gender identity
d. troupes that want to explore store lines of gender non-conformity can use a variety of other story components, virtues, and mysteries, that don't come ladened with such pejorative connotations.

Hoping this is an uncontroversial suggestion. I know these forums can be like a Tytalian eristic moot and this is actually my first time stepping up to contribute!


Welcome on the forum!

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100% agreed, welcome to the forum!

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Not only do I 100% agree but I also want to say, welcome to the forum!

:laughing: They can be. But we usually do try to stay at least somewhat polite here. :laughing:
Welcome to the moot! And again: :laughing:

The fact is that this is a social disadvantage in the context of christian and muslim lands, much like the pagan flaw. Whether or not it should be kept is something that ties in to a lot of other game design issues.


Actually, I am afraid the suggestion (to remove the Flaw) is controversial: I am politely, but strongly oppoosed to it. Although, hopefully, some of your concerns can be otherwise addressed. Let me go through your points.

We have to distinguish between the 1. the concept and 2. the terminology, I believe. The concept that the Flaw encapsulates is that of a person who chooses not to follow the generally accepted gender rules of society. I think it's uncontroversial that any society who has reasonably strong gender rules also has people who chafe under those rules. So the concept should fit in almost any medieval society (since almost all medieval societies, like the vast majority of societies in human history, had strong gender rules). As for the terminology, perhaps you could suggest something uncontroversial?

Again, there are several issues here. The first is that, I believe, young players are not so easily upset. Those who are should be prevented by their parents from reading the book, and playing the game. Not because of the reference to Transvestites. But because lengthy portions of the Ars Magica line are devoted to killing other people, raping their minds, etc. I trust that any child mature enough for the latter concepts should be mature enough not to be upset by the term "freak" - particularly since the text clearly suggests that it's a particular type of society that holds the character in ill-regard for that character's free choice, rather than some intrinsic failure of the character.

As for "personality flaw", I am sure you realize that in the Ars Magica context "personality flaw" is a technical term that precisely identifies certain mechanics of the game, not a moral judgement on a certain type of behaviour. In a nutshell, it says that your character will struggle in a bigot society. Note that, for a similar reason, being Pious is a personality Flaw; having made a Vow to help the oppressed is a personality flaw; etc.

By having the Transvestite Flaw, the game is actually 1.acknowledging that discrimination happened back then and 2. rewarding you for sticking for what you feel is right, because you get an extra Virtue point "for free". I think this is an extremely positive aspect that should be maintained. And yes, I believe even children can grasp it. My 11-year old niece, who likes to play Conanesque burly male barbarians, chose to play a Transvestite female warrior, impishly confessing "because Ars gives me an extra point for being what I want to be".

Please share!


In this illustrates @silveroak's point that this is tied into much more fundamental questions of game design. What is the World you want to play in? In the extreme. you can choose between a authentic medieval world or a politically correct fantasy world.

Your niece gets that bonus point because in the authentic medieval world, gender non-conformity is a social flaw, and it creates tensions which allow for good role play and story telling. Players should be rewarded for traits which creates stories.

If you make a fantasy world with modern tolerance, embracing non-conformity, such non-conformity is no longer a flaw and it should not be rewarded as such.

I find that most players have limits to what they can comfortably play, and a perfect authentic medieval world is out of reach for most. However, some players strive for the authentic feel, while others boldly state that they are not good enough roleplayers to play intolerant, chauvinist pigs.

In my opinion it is a flaw of Ars Magica that it tries to balance on this edge between an offensive and authentic world, and a politically correct world. I would have preferred to have two games, to illustrate the extreme points in their fullest. The rulebook already states that the troupe has to make their own decisions about gender roles and discrimination, but I think it should have been pointed out at a more fundamental level, offering more complete, alternative rulesets.

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I've split this thread out, because this isn't technically errata (there is no problem with the rules), but it does need discussing.


Recalling, that the Flaw Transvestite was first introduced in earlier ArM editions for shamans, I found this popular website:

This is another, AFAIK quite frequent approach: "I am a girl, I play in an RPG with lots of male warrior characters. To have my character fit in, she dresses and poses as a man. Yes, this makes her feel more safe in men's clothes now.
Nice that you have a flaw for this! I take it! How's it called? Nevermind, we know what it is!"

What about re-naming the Flaw more matter-of-fact: Cross-dresser - just implying a general habit to do so?

EDIT: Here is a movie just out on festivals, and hopefully soon to cinemas in many countries: Erna i krig

Erna i krig: Directed by Henrik Ruben Genz. With Ulrich Thomsen, Trine Dyrholm, Anders W. Berthelsen, Ari Alexander. A woman disguises herself as a man to join the army in order to protect her educationally subnormal son who has been called up to...

The protagonist ist played by magnificent Trine Dyrholm, who had played the older
Nico in the film by Susanna Nicchiarelli.


It may be a frequent approach, but it's obvious that's not the case at my gaming table.
It's obvious to me, of course, because I know my gaming table.
It's not obvious to you, of course, who do not know it.

I think that this is the way to go.

When I was writing my grog a day, I asked a very LGBTQ+ gaming community for tips on writing a character with that flaw. The word alone ruffled a lot of feathers (and I didn't say it was a "flaw", just a personality "trait") as @Colleen pointed out, it is a very loaded word at this point (welcome to the forum btw).

"Gender non conforming" might be broad enough to encompass a number of aspects that would be sources of problems in the period. It could cover in a blanket way a woman who takes up the sword and banner (like Jeanne d'Arc), a Norse man practicing seithr, the various trans* etc


I think here the word Hook is bettr than flaw.

When I introduced my students to Ars Magica, I was at pains to say (explicitly for this example) that Flaws are messages to the GM to say "I would like stories about this aspect", and it was perfectly possible to play a character who is non-binary/pagan/jewish/etc without taking the corresponding flaw if you didn't want to have stories about it.



I just want to add a couple of notes as guidance.

I do want Ars Magica to be accessible and welcoming to any LGBTQ players who want to play games in Mythic Europe. I also want Ars Magica to be capable of handling any kind of LGBTQ characters. The discussion is about the best way to achieve those goals (which, we have already seen, is controversial).

Changing the name of these types of Flaws in general to Hooks is not possible, because it affects too many places in the game. That's way beyond errata. Changing the name of this particular Flaw is possible, because it only comes up a dozen or so times in the whole line, so it is practical to errata all of them.

There will definitely be a passage along the lines that Bob suggested emphasising the meaning of these Flaws, and that it is legitimate to not take them if you simply do not want to tell stories about that, even if they seem to apply to your character.

Further discussion of how we should handle this broad issue very welcome.


That is the best way to name it, in my opinion. I am a gay man, and the current name has rubbed me the wrong way. Not enough to stop playing the game, obviously.


Looks like a good change. I know the word caught me off guard in the Theban tribunal book just recently.

If it absolutely must stay then "gender non conforming" is a much better term.

FYI cross-dresser is also not a great term.

edit: I would also recommend that you ask for help with this from outside the forums, from more people that are LGBTQ+, or even a sensitivity consultant


But maybe a paragraph about «flaw» being a legacy term, which should not be read literally. New in 5ed, I think, many of the flaws are really hooks. They are made «flaws» in order to reward players with virtue points for story generating traits. Players should have this is in mind and choose hook type flaws to trigger the stories they want, and as mentioned, they can play a trait without the flaw if they do not want the stories told. This is encouraged in the context of Covenants in that supplement, but it could be done in core for characters as well.

On changing the name to «Gender non-conforming», one could also simplify and generalise its definition. E.g. «you do not conform with the gender roles assumed by society, and this causes awkward social situations in an intolerant society».

While conformity may be well-defined, there is almost always more than one way to non-conform, and trying to direct the players to one particular flavour of non-conformity is generally a bad idea, and it is a particularly bad idea when it comes an area with so much conflict as gender roles.

The existing definition of the flaw could be retained as an example, maybe, but always stressing that the player and the troupe has to make their own interpretations.

And again, one could stress that this is only a flaw if the player/troupe wants to tell the stories about the awkwardness/embarassment/conflict it creates in the society.

If one can avoid any assumptions whatsoever about what gender is, the players have liberty to fill it with the meaning, and tell the stories that they want to tell with the characters they want to play. Gender is certainly too complex an issue to pin down in a rulebook.

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I'm in the minority here but I might actually advocate keeping the name of the virtue.
Simply to underscore the how problematic it is in medieval society.
As well as to point out how the value of words change and what is inoffensive today might be a highly charged term tomorrow.

That said, it would be as a case of me playing the Devil's Advocate.


And please keep the term understandable also by a native speaker of - say - Tagalog using a good dictionary and the wiki. ArM5 has readers around the globe.