Transvestite Flaw

@Jank, @Timothy_Ferguson and I were writing about 13th century sources mentioning Pope Joan.

Saint Marina is a Catholic saint. No Catholic haters involved there.

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That was not clear. Pope Joan is clearly a legend even if true, which is improbable. One does not keep their head down and make pope (except 1 time in the middle of the 12th century- pope Eugene III, but...)

@Colleen -- I very much approve of the adjustment of this flaw to "gender non-conforming," but was also concerned. The idea of Ars Magica explicitly defining playing a character of the female gender as a flaw didn't seem in-line with the conversations I'd had with the creators Jonathan Tweet, or Mark Rein*Hagen, or especially Lisa Stevens, who was responsible for editing and compiling the first and second editions of the game.

I have access to the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th editions, so I reviewed them closely and didn't see it, and I am checking with a friend I know with a 1st edition, but I'm really trying find the reference you mentioned. I think it's important for the language here to be considerate in the edition going forward, and think the modification to "gender non-conforming" is good, but I also want to also understand the legacy of the game I love. Knowing the source of your experience would be important.

I also know that perceptions can be muddled or conflated with house rules on occasion. The existence of such text has really no impact on changing the flaw, but does reflect on the reputation of Ars-- I'd rather not have to have conversations with new players that begin, "Isn't there an edition of that game where being female identifying was a flaw?" It becomes an obstacle I don't want to need to overcome later.

Thanks for sharing your experiences and thoughts; they're very appreciated.



I think that transvestite entered ARS magica in third edition, which perhaps itself encapsulates the entire problem. Third edition was extra special in some ways, especially as the line matured, if we wish to use that word. It was progressive in a very early 90s way, which is to say not at all progressive by today's standards. New paragraph new paragraph

I think it is fair to call that kind of sensitivity exploitative, though I do not believe it was deliberate. By some measure, it could be said that simply allowing the issue to be put into the spotlight is a step forward. I don't think it's true, neither then nor now, but it is an easy mistake to make. New paragraph

I suspect that any choice we make today will not hold up well 20 years from now. And some of those reasons 20 years from now will probably be good reasons, rather than just the flavor of the day.

I think it would be best for the flaw to be utterly removed. The flaws that are listed and the virtues and aspects of a character called out that are neither flaws nor virtue, represent areas that the game wants us to especially think about. By any name, an attribute of gender conforming or gender non-conforming or transvestite announces quote look pay attention to this unquote. New paragraph

A sidebar or section talking about gender roles with historical examples that be lie expectations might be more useful and more interesting say something about the world and let players do something with it.

But if this is something that we really do want to call out within the setting, then sure, we need something, similar to the way the game seems to need material about Judaism, even though no matter what is written it never sits comfortably. Though better than most games that try.

That said, I really like the proposed section about how story and personality flaws work.




To me these are all points about why the game should move away from being historical and towards a more fantasy setting as well. I mean if you do manage to strip all the bigotry out of the middle ages is it still the middle ages anymore? How do you stay out of that cesspool of controversy?

also worth consideration- if we stick to the idea of the middle ages as the people in the middle ages saw it, are homosexuals in the game generally condemned to hell? After all that would have been as much the prevailing opinion as demons allotted to the seven deadly sins.

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We've gotten a bunch of notices about posts in this thread being flagged for inappropriateness. I can see that it's a fraught subject, but I'd like to ask that if you want to join the conversation that you consider your words carefully. If we get more flag notifications I'll likely close the thread. Thank you for respecting your fellow forum users.


Hi Ben---
(direct answer) I'm not sure about the edition! This was mid 2000s but I don't know if my group was 'cutting edge' or using an older version. I hadn't considered that it might have been a house rule passed off as RAW... that's possible.... especially given the guys in the group. I was told I had to take the flaw, and it would limit my characters social reactions. Played for a few weeks, but wound up not feeling comfortable with the vibe. Years later I read a free online rulebook for Ars Magica (I think that was 4th edition?) saw that the rule had changed, and then started buying the 5th edition materials since that's what folks were currently playing. Thank you for checking earlier materials, I only have 4&5.

(less direct answer) I'm not sure how much the edition, or my faulty memory matters. My basic point was that being a woman isn't a flaw despite social realities of the time period, so why does trans or non binary identity need to be a flaw? I was only using my experiences to explain why the topic mattered to me, and why I was bringing up a sensitive subject.

Honestly, I'm kinda surprised that my recollection is an issue at all! I made a small proposal in a much larger series of errata suggestions. That post was shifted into it's own thread, at which point it triggered a whole lot of reactions. Some of those reactions were very angry/intense, so I tried to disengage and not respond rather than get sucked into an unhealthy dynamic, and even said as much in a post.


There's a couple of points to respond to here, but first I wanted to say, "thank you for replying; I appreciate it."

Most important here, I feel, was having the courage to say "couldn't we change the perception of this game element?" And I don't want to minimize it, but rather acknowledge it. I think the conversation out of it has been beneficial. It was a brave thing.

But, the concerning underlying point to your statement, which prompted me to go research, is that there could be an unidentified mechanical equivalent of a historical offense in the game. The memory isn't the point, the further, potentially hidden, hurtful choice was. A mechanical choice of that kind of tone deafness, on par with say Space:1889's only available character class for women being "adventurer" (or similar)-- that should be identified and resolved is not the sort of thing you want to discover on accident or have put up in counter-point, should you recommend this game to people, and I'm pretty regularly recommending it. I am sure there are other elements which could be considered insensitive, but that would have been pretty egregious. However, it also really didn't seem in-line with the values of the people I knew involved in Ars' creation and continued development, which also drove me to look. We can't address a problem we don't know about, and what was suggested was a pretty big problem, even if it was historical. It also would have fundamentally shifted perceptions of people involved in the game's creation; it was a question I, personally, really needed resolved.

Thank you again for your response. I appreciate it.


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I don't want to blow this out of proportion. Your post was far too well thought through for one issue to make a difference.

It is a fact though that the claim made many of us curious. Even if I did not post at the time, I was looking forward to the answer to the question made by others, because I wanted to look into it and understand how players and designers thought at the time. It's a different topic, but still one I would have found illuminating to look into.

If it turns out to be a case of faulty memory, as you put it, nobody is going to hold that against you (or at least I hope so). Thanks for clearing it up. Now I am happy to move on.


The topic of engagement, I think it's worth looking in to.

What is posted, not who posted it, should be the main reason to agree or disagree on an issue. The prevailing attitude seemed to be remove the flaw, until 3 key moments. We discovered a trans-gendered individual added the flaw to the books initially; a member of the LGBTQIA+ community recommended keep the flaw; and then someone who described themself as obese also said obese should be there, and the tone changed.

While clearly one should give a bit more weight to someone with a degree of lived experience, the forum is a tiny microcosm of the world. No group of people agree on everything. I am confident there are many people in the LGBTQIA+ community who would want the flaw removed, and many who want it kept.

Prior to post 78, it was a few dissenters saying keep the flaw, and most people were saying it is horrible, similar flaws are horrible, it must go, burn it with fire, if it must be kept the name flaw must be removed, Atlas should do better, etc. Post 78 we get someone saying the same as the dissenting voices previously but they say they are part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Third highest like count on the page, and the first saying keep the flaw that goes more than 3 likes.

The dynamic changes. That is mildly concerning. Is the outcome due to a well considered combination of arguments looked at based on their merit, or would it just depend on who was at the forum on any certain day and how they present?

I think earlier on I should have mentioned I have a genetic disorder called Dariers Disease (if you are bored,look it up. In Mythic Europe I'd be shunned, and also not have Bepanthan or Elocon). Maybe I could have changed the dynamic 50 posts earlier.

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Oh, this is a very good question, and one that I had not fully grasped in your original post.

First of all, remember that "Flaws" in ArM5 are aspects of a character that allow you to take Virtues, i.e. perks. Flaws are of three types: "normal" Flaws, that handicap the character (so they "balance" the perks); Story Flaws, that allow the SG to drag the character into external events (by taking them, you are "bribed" for making the SG's job easier); and Personality Flaws, that mostly constrain the behaviour of the character, allowing both more colourful characterization and more story opportunities.

Transvestite is a Personality Flaw. As written it does not make a character transgender (at least not in the sense of a mismatch between birth sex and gender self-image); neither does it make a character non-binary per se. It just says that one has chosen not to follow societal roles assigned to one's sex/gender, thus constraining behaviour and raising interesting story possibilities. Bradamante (the famous female warrior from Orlando Furioso) is a typical character with this Flaw -- she fights with men and attired as a man, but she still feels and looks a woman, and is attracted to men. A woman leading a congregation as a (rather heretical!) priest would be another good match.

Why is Female not a Flaw in ArM5? The answer "because it would not be politically correct" is not the only one; it's also not the most interesting one, in my opinion.

It would be hard to make Female a "normal" Flaw. The average female probably does incur, on average, slight in-game mechanical handicaps compared to the average male. For example, females are on average slightly smaller and slightly weaker than males. Also, in medieval times, they are often beholden to their husbands and fathers. However, they also enjoy a number of perks: for example, they are often far more shielded from violence by custom. The crux is that in that "average" there's a whole lot of perks and handicaps packaged together, most of them of really small mechanical impact, and typically eclipsed by an individual's own specific characteristics. So it is far more effective to just ignore the vast majority of those little "nudges", select the aspects that are most relevant to the character, and upgrade them to full Virtues and Flaws, that are often available to male characters too. I would stress this is true of social status too: a sizable minority of women in the middle ages were the head of their household, de facto if not in name.

It would be even harder to make it a Story Flaw. Just being female does not mean external stories tend to hit a character any harder or in any very specific way. Sure, one can be a coveted Heirress, an Envied Beauty, etc. but those are not intrinsecally tied to being female -- despite perhaps being associated more often to females in folklore.

A slight case could be made about Female being a Personality Flaw: it could be argued it's an internal trait that tends to constrains a character's behaviour, and generates story opportunities; note that this could be equally argued about a Male Personality Flaw. But it is too vague, generic and stereotypical to make for good characterization. It is much more effective to force a player, who wants to play a character strongly defined by being female, to think more deeply about the specific way in which being female defines the character -- and take the corresponding Personality Flaw. Transvestite is a fitting example: it's strongly character-defining, and a story magnet, to be female for a warrior or a would-be priest in most of medieval Europe. Hence, in this particular case, Transvestite is a good Personality Flaw for a female character.


ugh. Some of y'all really do know how to leech all the joy out of a game.

I raised a suggestion. I didn't want an endless argument. When the topic blew up, in my first response, I tried to reply to as many folks as possible, but the interface limited me to ~10 name mentions, so I scaled it back. After that, it seemed a fool's errand to reply to every thing that was posted, especially because there were so many other thoughtful voices in the mix, so I didn't bother.

One person kept calling me out by name, and put up several posts asking the same question over and over. To me, that indicated a sense of entitlement... that I was somehow required to respond to him merely because he wanted attention. As a forum reader, I'd seen lots of threads devolve from rich discussions into these ping-pong parleys between just two people. It's a bad outcome.

I answered Ben's question for two simple reasons. The first was that he asked nicely. The second is more complicated, but here goes...

In my late teens I played a few sessions of Ars Magica. I was told the rules required me to take a certain flaw, so I did. During play, I was told that flaw meant there were penalties to some actions (trying to threaten an innkeeper) but bonuses to others (just try to flirt with the innkeeper.) I eventually stopped playing with those guys. But I've always been kind of embarrassed about the whole episode.

Fast forward over a decade. It wasn't until Ben's post that I realized..."wait, what if that wasn't in the real rules at all?" It's a pretty sad realization that I was not only dumb enough to play act some weird as*****s weird turnon, but I'd been gaslit into doing it. I'm also kind of ashamed at myself for never insisting on seeing the written text. And more embarrassed that I brought my misunderstanding up here.

So... since people are harping on it "Yes, I was wrong about the text in earlier editions. Yes I'm an idiot."

Does my limited bad experience still matter? Well, yes, it kind of does.

I still don't play table top games very often because that sort of stuff keeps happening, and not just to me. An earlier post'er told a really sweet story about playing with his young niece. That story got me in the feels because I grew up playing rpg's with with parents and uncles. But eleven year old girls don't stay eleven year old girls forever. They become seventeen year old girls, and twenty year old women, and sometimes even seventy year old men. And as they do, the tabletop can become less like arcadia and a lot more infernal.

The "transvestite" flaw irked me so much because I saw it as a way for some bigot to weaponize the rules against another player. I thought that was what happened to me. In fact, what happened to me wasn't supported by the rule set; but the RAW could put a butch woman or more effeminate man in the same pickle. All the while, a bigot could hide behind their supposed mastery of, and fidelity to, the core rules.

This thread has spiraled so far off the original point. For the record, I never tabbed anyone's post as inappropriate. I just tried to turn my own attention to more enjoyable threads.


I believe you are referring to me. I just want to clear up any misunderstandings about it, so that there are no hard feelings. I certainly do not wish to be a bully. I'd also rather not pass as one, but that is less important.

Let me get the facts straight. I just thought that your point about "Female as a Game Flaw" was interesting and I politely explained in a post (that got censored) why. So I asked about it, exactly twice, in a concise and polite fashion. The first time I did not tag your name. Since that brief post was quickly drowned in many other posts, some of which you responded to, I asked a second time, with the @Colleen tag, to make sure you saw it, and you were actually choosing not to answer rather than having simply missed it. That was all.

I am sorry if you saw it as "repeatedly calling you out by name". I cared about attention only insofar it might get me an answer to my question. I did hope you would politely provide such an answer (people on these forums usually do), but certainly did not feel entitled to it.

Please note I never said or implied you are an idiot. I don't think you are at all an idiot, quite the opposite. I would find bizarre to consider one an idiot because one recalls a rule incorrectly in a 5000-page line (and that's counting the most recent edition alone). Some of the people I most admire on this forum have repeatedly recalled rules incorrectly. Including the line editor :slight_smile:

Also, I do not think asking a reference to a stated claim, and answering once to a question about its importance, is "harping" on it.

I can totally sympathize, as I have been irked by "ideological tiranny" in the rpg scene before (rules, rule-changes, setting elements etc.). I think it's quite common, and getting more common, unfortunately. It killed some really exciting discussion venues. But I still have this ... Delusion Flaw that if people talk in a civil fashion about it, things can be sorted out.

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@ezzelino Hey, it feels like you are trying to turn this from a discussion to a debate that you can win. From the outside, it seems especially like you want to be proven correct over the other people in the thread and especially Colleen, despite any consequences that might have.

Perhaps treating other board members with respect and not engaging with things that obviously make them feel more attacked is more important than winning an internet discussion.

Also, maybe don't come into this threat to have a fight about "ideological tyranny" with people who are not here to have that discussion.


@Zaleramancer I am not trying to win any debate. I think my intentions (and actions) have been misunderstood and misrepresented. Sometimes people see ill-intent where there is none, and feel attacked by a sentence that was never meant to attack them. I believe it's important to dispel any confusion on such issues to avoid fights and hard feelings. That was all my last post was trying to achieve, as I clearly stated from the onset.

Let me also say I think I have treated people with far more respect on this thread than I have been treated with (once again, my reaction about Paizo being the single exception).

Last but not least, I don't want to have a fight about ideological tyranny. In fact, quite the opposite. It seemed to me Colleen had suffered from it; so I expressed my sympathy on the issue, because I had often been discomfited by it too. That is all.

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I want to say that I appreciate Colleen opening up about the episode that lead her to her misunderstanding about the text … because I have a couple very similar stories myself.

I think we've actually gotten to a pretty good spot to end this, so I'm going to oblige.


I'm reopening this thread briefly to post our decision.

First, I'd like to thank Colleen for raising the issue, and everyone else for discussing it in a largely constructive way.

We are going to replace Transvestite with a very slightly rewritten version of the Gender Nonconforming Flaw that I proposed, as below.

Gender Nonconforming

Personality, Major or Minor

You do not conform to the expected behaviour for a person of the gender that your society would assign to you in the absence of social cues such as clothes and behaviour. This may mean, for example, that you dress as a member of another gender, or that you structure your life in a way considered appropriate to another gender, or that you are sexually attracted to members of the same gender. It does not necessarily mean that you disagree about what your gender is, although it may. As a Minor Flaw, it does not normally cause you problems, whether because your society accepts your behaviour, or because you can turn people who object into newts, or for some other reason. As a Major Flaw, it does cause you problems.

(I added some language to make it clearer that the concrete examples are just examples, not an exhaustive list, and revised away from gender binaries.)

We decided that there were enough problems with the phrasing of the original Flaw that we couldn't just leave it as it stood. On the other hand, the Flaw was originally introduced to the game by a trans person, and at least one member of the LGBT* community posted a strong request to keep something like this in the game. Representation and visibility are important, and we decided that a less-prescriptive version of the Flaw was the way to go. By including the Flaw, we are saying that these sorts of characters are a valid choice in Mythic Europe.

On a purely practical level, the Flaw is referenced in several supplements, and it was much easier to errata them to refer to Gender Nonconforming than to rewrite them to avoid referencing any specific Flaw. (One of those cases is magical tortoiseshell cats, and Gender Nonconforming is a much more appropriate name for the Flaw there.) We are planning to update the for-sale versions of the supplement PDFs, but this will take some time as we need to consult and ensure that we are making the right changes.

The insert about Flaw choice is too big for errata, strictly speaking, but I will see what we can do…

Thank you again for all your input. I am now going to close this thread again.