Every month I answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Here’s one that came up this month…
In honor of the recent International Transgender Day of Visibility, are there any canonical NPCs you would consider being trans and/or nonbinary?
My immediate answer is every elf in Eberron, as called out in this article. Beyond that, however, this is a question where I’m far more interested in what other people have to say than in my own cisgendered opinion. Because the basic answer is that anyone could be. Exploring Eberron presents the idea that cosmetic transmutation is a safe and effective tool for transition. We’ve said that the people of Khorvaire are comfortable with gender fluidity and nonbinary identity—whether it’s the ongoing fluidity of a changeling or elf or a long-term decision. So the simple answer is that any canonical NPC COULD be transgender. But this in turn has a certain sense of “So what?” If Krozen transitioned when he was twenty but has identified as male for two decades, how exactly is it visible now? Should it even be called out now, given that Krozen is who they wish to be? I wonder if rather than “Which canonical NPCs transitioned in the past,” a more interesting question might be “Which canonical NPCs might transition in the future”—because to me, that’s what would make the story visible.
The short form is that I’m more interested in the answers of those who are living this experience than in my own ideas. Please share and discuss your thoughts—whether about canonical NPCs, transgender and nonbinary representation in Eberron in general, or experiences from your campaigns—in the comments. And while it’s not my work, I’d like to draw attention to Blessed of the Traveler, a DMs Guild book discussing this topic!
AN IMPORTANT UPDATE. I have never had to moderate comments on a post before, but I will be doing so on this post. I am asking for the input of people who are living this experience. Saying “I’m not trans and I don’t include any representation in my campaign” doesn’t add anything to this conversation, and instead further isolates people who are already isolated. This post isn’t going to force you to change how you DM. What it is—I hope—is for a chance for fellow gamers who normally feel unseen and unheard to share their experiences and to talk about how they would change the world. The question here is how do you include representation in your campaign; “I don’t” or “I won’t” aren’t useful contributions to this discussion and will be removed to keep things focused.
I have said before that in my campaign, “good” reflects empathy and compassion—our ability to understand the pain of others and the desire to avoid causing suffering. So please: be good. If the experiences of the people posting here are not your own, listen to them; this is not the time or the place to argue. Thank you all for your time, your energy, and your compassion.
Thank you, Keith. I think there is a lot of opportunity here.
We have Common isn’t English, but it is nice to see roles like the Princes of the Lhazaarite Principalites can be held by anyone, as an example.
I did recently use an enby gnome NPC from the Towering Woods called Sparrow. The PC playing a warforged enjoyed their company. Just nice to have representation.
Somewhat tangential, but on the Common’s not English front, we played with this rather directly in a crossover campaign, with an Earth native deposited on Eberron having a complete language barrier despite being a polyglot; this created a nice opportunity to highlight the advantages common magic can present in this sort of situation, and is also why, at least in certain continuities, I have a linguist NPC at the Library of Korranberg who has become fluent in English (said Earth native character having provided lessons as a return favor for tutoring in Common).
So, the Host is an interesting question – the Traveler has been nonbinary/genderqueer since day 1, but there’s 14 others for representation…
I had a player who cast the Shadow of the Cazhaak Creed as a feminine yin counterpart to Aureon’s masculine yang, which has a different set of gender implications
Pathfinder 1e has the Elixir of Sex Shift, while Starfinder and Pathfinder 2e have the Serum of Sex Shift. They are all virtually the same thing: a relatively affordable item that instantaneously switches up a person’s sexual characteristics to a personally desired form. I imagine that Jorlanna d’Cannith, alchemist extraordinaire of Cannith West, would produce many batches and ship them out across Khorvaire.
Pathfinder 1e also has a couple of non-magic alchemical items that act similar to a really fast acting HRT, but even cooler because you can also use them to become androgynous! In general, Paizo has been really good at including this stuff.
I feel like Dyrrn’s cults are a good place to find trans folks; the idea that a body is incomplete, made to be molded and perfected… It hits very close to home for me. Just as long as you don’t fall into the “queer villain” trap. Maybe you could have a side quest or something, convincing an NPC that the evolution this group chases isn’t truly what they’re after.
On a totally different end of the spectrum, I feel like a lot of the Arcane Congress is probably trans (with even Princess Aundair herself having been trans in “My Eberron”). Driving progress in transmutation, making deals with fey… These sound like things I’d want to do, if nothing else.
So. I think there is a whole lot of different things here that make this a very complicated subject. I really like your point about rephrasing the question about who would be interesting to be in the midst of transition — because that really adds an element where it can be something that is noticeable and talked about without being insensitive.
If I had to name a major character I think could fit that set-up, a good candidate would be Oargev ir’Wynarn. I could definitely see writing a trans storyline with Oargev coming to terms with who they want to be to the world after seeing that everything in his life could be so fleeting. Then you get to have a bunch of fun questions: how far does Oargev wish to go? Who does Oargev tell first? Will they perhaps ask for something to be recovered from Cyre that will be affirming that Oargev didn’t know they wanted until now? That could have some dang good and comfy stories!
Regarding characters who have already transitioned, I think that you are right to acknowledge that it is tricky. On one hand, if transition is available, effective, and socially accepted — people should not really draw attention to it and it would be odd to call it out in a character.
On the flip side, I think that if you do have social acceptance, you can assume that there should be a diversity of form — not every trans person is uncomfortable in their own skin in the same way (or uncomfortable at all) and the steps trans folk take in our world varies widely. I think in this case, just showing diversity of form will help people identify with a character if they want to — tall women, short men, etc. Furthermore, if being trans is acceptable socially, maybe more people do feel comfortable discussing it, as a childhood fact that has since changed.
I think behind the DM screen, it’d be great to have more character profiles that say that somebody is explicitly cis or trans and that is just part of their identity, but not the only important thing. Giving that information to the DM puts it upon them to reveal it, but not necessarily as something that needs to be revealed unless they think that it would be good for storytelling and would be comfy for the players and DM alike.
I like the thought regarding Oargev, and the first place my brain goes is to the political implications. Do the crowns of the other Nations fear a new Queen, heir to Mishann and claimant to the Throne of Galifar? Do the remaining Cyrans think fondly or poorly of their Queens through the years? If fondly, would Oargev’s first presentation to the people post-transition be a public festival like a coronation? Or concurrent with the coronation itself? If so, the first MacGuffin for adventures that springs to mind would be Mishann’s crown.
I think the social questions hinge on service accessibility. For the elves, as Keith discusses, they probably have quite a bit of comfort with the diversity of form you describe. But if it’s something that needs coin, like a Jorasco service, then maybe there is a class aspect as well. And it lets you introduce trans NPCs who may be “saving up for the day” and/or repaying a loan to cover said costs, and thus amenable to a bribe from some friendly adventurers. That calls it out and it serves a story purpose for the PCs.
Accidental double-post, apologies all.
If transition is effective, available, and socially accepted, it may still be expensive. Perhaps an NPC informant is “saving up for the day” and the PCs are trying to bribe them. Perhaps it is available but under monopoly by one of the Houses. If potions are involved, perhaps the Cannith alchemists want to hire a plausibly deniable team of adventurers to infiltrate a Kundarak vault in search of the secret Jorasco recipe. And just because it’s available now doesn’t mean supply lines can’t be interrupted. Perhaps some key ingredient came from Cyre and stockpiles are running low after Mourning?
Regarding Oargev, I think that’s a great suggestion and could make a very interesting story with the political implications. Perhaps the macguffin you suggest is the crown of Queen Mishann of Galifar? Sized and fit for her Thronehold coronation that never happened. And if Oargev wants that crown, does that mean she’s intending to make a play for Thronehold again? What would the other nations think of that? Let alone the remaining Cyrans.
Thanks for sharing this. There’s a lot of interesting elements to consider here!
I am aware that my thoughts and wording may not be the best in being seen as good.
I do like the idea that while it is acceptable, it is still an expensive process. I also like the idea that it was becoming cheaper before The Last War started and now with the end, supplies and movement has been halted or slowed down. It also makes it so that in the case of what Keith Baker said of elves is a thing for your Eberron it doesn’t just discount that ability, and makes them less special if everyone can do it too.
I also like the idea that nationalities and culture is a good deciding factor.
Example, the Valenar – while an elven culture – could have said elves venerate their ancestors and follow gender identity in a more stricter sense. Maybe an ancestor that a Valenar has chosen to venerate was a strong woman? So, that Elf has now stuck to being female strictly because of that, or vice versa or possibly somewhere in the middle.
Another thought is figuring out what cultures and areas are more binary in thought and which ones are not so much. In doing so, it makes it so players who want to have a diverse party can have places that relate to their train of thoughts and are home to them rather than being an outlier or vice versa or anything in between.
Those are my thoughts on it. I hope it was not too rude.
I think Warforged who choose certain gender identities for themselves may be considered transgender inherently — they are starting from a base that society would judge as agender, so especially choosing a binary gender identity would be a deviation from that!
Trans Warforged for all!
Changelings and Kalashtar are also pretty heavy on being genderqueer, what with changelings defaulting to genderfluid while Kalashtar can have a mismatch between assigned sex at birth & the spirit of their quori.
You’ve also got unusual relationships with reproductive capacity with those three races – warforged having none, changelings being able to fully reform their organs, and then Kalashtar having advanced psychometabolism that could easily cover medical transitions.
I was thinking on this re Changelings and am interested in how this is with Passers, Becomers and Seekers. Passers, with only one form, have a tough time in some parts of Changeling society which is an interesting spin though I imagine it’s more due to the idea about sticking with one form to make non-changelings (ie: the social establishment) more at ease, and how it looks to be changeling apologist rather than standing up for poly-form rights, and less about gender politics specifically.
“Kalashtar can have a mismatch between assigned sex at birth & the spirit of their quori.” – I’ve not heard about that before.
I’ve told one of my players that of all the races in Eberron, Kalashtar are the one race that are least likely to be trans.
There’s a whole paragraph about the mismatch in Races of Eberron. This is an area where lore has shifted a bit – in RoE, two Kalashtar who have kids will pass their spirit down based on matching the sex of the parent (father to son, mother to daughter). Rising has removed that correlation. But the original Kalashtar Leader, Taratai, is canonically trans with a male human monk, female Quori, and once becoming a Kalashtar only referred to with she/her pronouns.
“But the original Kalashtar Leader, Taratai, is canonically trans with a male human monk, female Quori, and once becoming a Kalashtar only referred to with she/her pronouns.” – I’ve read Secrets of Sarlona. I didn’t see that there. Or in Exploring Eberron.
This is really interesting and changes everything.
Given the 5E rules on how warforged can change out their armor/components, certain gendered features could be changed out with little more fuss than a long rest and some tools. Perhaps there are warforged out there experimenting with or manufacturing components to serve their peers liberated after the War?
This is certainly a thing that not only makes sense, but that we recently briefly highlighted in our campaign. It was a small thing, just a description of a passing warforged with armor plates modified to incorporate feminine curves, but it was slotted into a fairly opportune moment while a couple of the PCs (one of whom is non-binary and trying to sort out their own sense of gender identity) were discussing the question of what it meant to be female.
I’ve actually played with this before – wondering what perspectives on gender would be – because the question is whether cosmetic transmutation would lead to widespread trans acceptance only for gender conforming people? Like, what room is there for me, a trans woman who would really only want to lose the beard, thin down my jaw a little, and have a bigger vocal range? I think the answer of what cultures would take what perspectives is a difficult one.
And the other difficult question is whether or not there should be some kind of transphobia in the setting. Does it break my connection and feeling of belonging to this world more to say “oh transphobia’s just not a thing here. we’re all good” or to say “gender roles and assumptions exist in the setting, but in a vastly different way from our world, and a largely much much more trans-friendly way”?
As a side note, I was talking to my friend when this article popped up and I realized how special it is to me that this setting has always been what I needed. Part of being any fantasy enthusiast except for the most able, cishet white guy is running into something in a work that puts a little crack in it, one you can never really stop noticing, that reminds you that you’re not quite welcome here. And Eberron hasn’t ever had that moment for me.
When I was an angry 14 year old, it told me that there is no innate and inborn evil, but that you can be born in a situation that makes it easy to do evil. When I was 19, and fascinated with the things that we try not to think about but can’t avoid, Eberron showed me gods of rage and storm and death, and acknowledged how scared we are to accept them.
And now, as a 24 year old trans woman, it really, powerfully, touches me to see this setting was always ready and excited for trans characters and trans perspectives.
You raise many good questions, some no doubt quite personal to the player/DM and in need of discussion. As to the in-universe questions, I like that with Eberron, there’s also the possibility that the questions gender presentation and how it’s viewed by society varies quite a bit by nation. Old Cyre, noted for melding the best of all Khorvaire and viewing almost any craft as an art, seems like it would welcome all sorts of gender expression. A more regimented society like Karrnath might not. Thrane could subvert player expectations by leaning into affirming theology, something along the lines of “the Flame within you matters more than the shell of your body”.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and I’m glad you’ve found joy in the world.
In my game I changed King Kaius III to Queen Eupraxia III, in part because I wanted to change up the lore a small bit so the few experienced Eberron players might be caught off guard, but also because I just wanted Karrnath to have a queen in power.
Over the course of the campaign they eventually met Eupraxia I, but they soon discovered they were genderfluid and to avoid confusion with the current ruler, told the party, “You can just call me Kaius. Any pronouns.”
My table, all of us being queer players, just adored Kaius at this point, never quite knowing his true goals that she’d be queen again one day, but that didn’t matter for their small part in the story.
Some of my players have also explored their own gender identity through warforged or changelings, really liking the idea that baseline these ancestries allow them to either find themselves or be anyone. (They know they can do this with ANY ancestry, but there’s a certain draw to these two in particular.)
Heck, I know some players who picked one of those races before they even considered themselves nonbinary/agender/genderfluid. Something about it spoke to them, and then months/years later it all clicked.
Just wanted to say, read this yesterday while trying and failing to think of a comment to post. Love, love, LOVE this!
Whole new dimension to Kaius, and a fun little twist that also uses a recognizable and notable npc. Bravo
I enjoy warforged both for giving space for agender/genderfluid-by-body-modification characters, but also the for allegory space we get with the species as a whole. In My Eberron, I like to walk a player through the age of their warforged and the gender implication as a result. Is an old first-gen warforged’s self-image closer to that of a construct, and thus gender is an alien concept of the soft-skins? Is one of the mass-produced 2nd generation “masculine” because they served with a majority-male unit in The War? Is an experimental last-generation warforged gendered because the customer ordered them that way? And then after The War, is any given warforged satisfied with the self they created (or had created for them) during the War? The characters can choose to explore that or not, but it’s a neat cultural tidbit for NPCs, the Lord of Blades, and worldbuilding.
I’ve always loved the inherent disruption of gender norms in the setting. Warforged getting to choose their approach to gender, the mutability of changelings, and Kalashtar or Tairnadal with a spiritual guide with a different gender expression. It’s always made it a very comfortable and welcoming place as a non-binary person. I also think it makes it a great place to make questions of gender as big or small of a deal as you want.
To the direct question, I don’t see any of the major NPCs as inherently trans, but any one could be. I don’t have any stories burning where that would need to be a central plot point. Magic handles it so easily that if it’s a big deal for someone, the answer is readily available. I don’t find a lot of NPC drama there. However, I can see a ton of stories where a PC can work through their identity and there are lots of cool ways to do that.
In all, I’m just so happy to have a world where we can write stories that explore gender without having to force it. Your warforged can be confident in their gender while mine agonizes over what it means to choose masculine or feminine pronouns and both are equally seen and supported in the lore.
Another way to address the question of transgender visibility is to make it visible not through specific NPCs or characters, but through how the world itself operates. So to that end, some ideas:
-Certain cultures might actively EXPECT young people to try a few different gender expressions before settling on whatever they’re comfortable with. Obviously Changelings, but also consider specific nations (Cyre comes to mind due to an Inner Circle Exclusive you posted previously) and high-society cultures that have easy access to cosmetic transmutation
-Related to this, having those cultures have ways to celebrate someone finding themself, easily done by retooling some real-life and fictional “coming of age” ceremonies. Elves may only take their adult name once they’re sure who they are. High-society individuals might be introduced properly to their peers at a debutante ball. Since the Silver Flame is vaguely Catholic-coded, maybe retool the idea of taking a Saint’s name at a first communion to declaring a Truename at a similar event.
-How shopkeepers interact with players and sell items. Tailors might ask if there are specific body-form features that a patron may want to show off or hide via the cut of clothing, or if they are going to have different measurements in the near future (due to cosmetic transmutation). Races that can customize their bodyform (like changelings and warforged) might be given multiple cuts of a single item at a bundle-discount price (1.5x the price of one item instead of the full 2x)
Just a few short ideas ofc, but some prompts that will hopefully spark some inspiration for players and DMs!
Oooh, I really like the idea of trying to push it to be something that is part of cultural traditions. I am definitely going to consider trying to implement some of that in my Eberron, particularly for the well-to-do which should have access to a lot of cosmetic options (and may remember Cyre fondly).
I’m imagining how some people try the freedom to try different gender roles on Halloween or costume parties, and the differences when this can be augmented to an actual change. I would think a culture where most people have tried on a different body would be much more tolerant.
There’s a lot of great ideas to explore here. This might be a case where I’d actually focus on Aundair as opposed to Cyre; while Cyre loves artistry and style, this could be a place to focus on the fact that even if Cyre borrowed the best of everything, magic is more WIDELY integrated into society in Aundair, along with the fey flavor of Aundair. The coming-of-age event adds an interesting possibility for the monarch-walking-among-the-people, as well; the idea that young aristocrats are expected to actually live the life of a commoner for week, literally walking and working in a vassal’s (and perhaps with that vassal being transmuted as well and experiencing the life of the noble for that week). And I love the idea of adventurers pursuing a rakshasa into a masquerade party where all the attendees have feline heads…
The moment the party artificer was able to afford to make a Hat of Disguise was a joyful time for my non-binary kobold PC… even if one of their first thoughts was to try making their scales look like precious gemstones. 😉
There’s a lot to be said for the flexibility of being able to just wear magical illusions to a social gathering; shortly after making the Hat of Disguise, the party had to infiltrate a masquerade ball (and avoid being recognized by someone there), and my PC ended up getting themselves a performer gig along with their intelligent mount docent-driven goat-construct with a built-in music box. A scroll of Disguise Self bought shortly before the event, and we were able to both show up incognito; a kobold wearing an authentic-looking Dhakaani military uniform riding a worg construct made for a reasonable choice of costume when recounting a tale of ancient Dhakaani heroes during the daelkyr war, and after the performance it was simple enough to transition to the appearance of a fancy ball gown, and avoided the rather obvious faux pas that leaving their rather cheap armor visible would have presented.
Something I think adds to the complexity in a setting like this is that, unlike our world, there are sapient, intelligent species without evident sexual dimorphism (for instance, I assume male and female kobolds, lizardfolk, sahuagin, bullywug, and dragonborn look almost identical), who are genderflued to an extreme degree (changeling, elf), or are essentially “assigned neither at birth” (warforged), so it generally changes social attitudes around the idea of gender and what its signifiers are.
In very isolated communities that mostly only see humans (very rural Thrane, perhaps?) or repressive socieities (Unity of Riedra), attitudes might be more familiar to our world, but I assume in the overwhelming majority of the setting, the attitude towards gender itself is totally different.
I guess it’s hard to consider, since we live in our world, and we don’t have kobolds going to school with our kids, but it seems like a part of this is also in trying to map out how very alien the concept of gender held by a citizen of a cosmopolitan part of Eberron would be to us.
Of course, it’s worth noting that for the most part, if there are kobolds at your kids’ school, you’re probably poor. That might vary with interpretations, but it’s worth noting that perceptions may likely differ with social strata.
I personally run with the idea that kobolds do actually have enough sexual dimorphism that other kobolds or people who are very knowledgeable about kobolds can tell them apart visually without much difficulty, but little enough that most people of other races would not know the difference. As such, only a handful of NPCs have actually recognized my non-binary kobold PC as having a female body (and when it does happen, they still haven’t quite figured out how they feel about it). Most people don’t really try to gender them either way, and when they face discrimination it’s generally always due to attitudes toward kobolds rather than anything gender-related.
Long post incoming:
If we’re talking major canon NPCs, there already are some (if only through poor editing) – Haztaratai, the first kalashtar, was the fusion of Hazgaal, a human man, and Taratai, a quori woman, but is only ever referred to as “she” in the text, which reads to me as her being a trans woman; Aeren, the founder of Aerenal, has been referred to as both “she” and “he” in various texts, which I choose to interpret as being genderfluid (in the “fluid gender identity” sense, not the Change – one’s gender wouldn’t necessarily change because one’s form does, and genderfluidity has no inherent bearing on one’s desires about one’s body shape).
If we’re talking modern-day NPCs, I like Sierra V’s idea about Oargev; I’ll also call out Harash from the Rising section on Daask as a male member of a traditionally female monster type (I know 5E’s cursed medusas can be any gender and 4E had bald male medusas with a venomous gaze, but they’re still mostly female in art and myth, and in my Eberron, medusas are parthenogenetic); Jaela Daran being trans in either direction could make for an interesting story if framed as “extraordinary kid still faces ordinary childhood experiences”. I don’t think it’d necessarily qualify as being trans – as Sierra says, warforged are assigned agender at the creation forge – but I don’t see the Lord of Blades as needing or wanting a softskin gender. Frankly, if you’re playing up the tragic angle of her story, I could see Erandis Vol as a trans girl – there’s certainly a cohort of boys in our world whose tragic backstories forged them into necromantic witch-queens!
However, all of this is ignoring the real answer, which is that the best Eberron characters to make trans are PCs and the characters they interact with. Eberron doesn’t have a Drizzt (although that won’t stop me from reading trans subtext into Lei d’Cannith from the Dreaming Dark novels); the stars of the story are played by the people at your table. If your game is focused on the internal politics of Droaam, for example, it matters very little whether or not Oargev is trans, but it matters a great deal if Zaeurl is an example of how one form doesn’t dictate who you are in more ways than one – especially if that gives her an unexpected form of kinship with your harpy PC with the captivating baritone. Make sure it’s not just the Big Important People who are trans, too – we’re everywhere, and while it may make you cooler and more interesting, being trans isn’t tied to your narrative significance. Transing your Zaeurl is all well and good, but it’s a hollow victory without also including the Keel Ruukesh types (a nonbinary aspiring goblin playwright who had a bit part in my college campaign).
As for actually bringing it up in your game, I (though I don’t speak for every other trans person) personally don’t see anything wrong with assuming that PCs are able to casually discern that some people are trans – in a world where the default assumption is “no transphobia”, I think people would be a lot less concerned with passing, even though magic makes it easier. You as the GM can say that Lady Elaydren d’Vown is trans in the same breath as you mention her blue glamerweave gown and move on. I also don’t think it would be a particularly invasive question for people to ask in Eberron – a lot of people I know, as long as they’re correctly gendered, are fine with other people knowing they’re trans (or are indeed enthusiastic about people knowing it); our transness is as much a part of who we are as the particular gender we’ve chosen.
… And that’s all well and good, but if you’re a sociology nerd (and really, liking the way Eberron does worldbuilding makes you at least a little bit of a sociology nerd by default), you need to build on the things many commenters here are saying and start questioning how gender operates in your Eberron at all. If you want, it’s possible to say that there is transphobia, or at least cisnormativity, in your Eberron, and that trans people face similar journeys to the ones they do in our world. But if you’re really thinking about how gender would evolve in a magical, multi-species society, you’ve got a lot of imagination to do. Bekah McCue brings up a lot of good suggestions, but it’s possible to go deeper and start coming up with new models of what gender even is for various cultures in your Eberron. Real-world gender is an accretion of several different things, and trying to come up with one unifying model of How Gender Works is doomed to failure, but childbearing status, division of labor, sexual roles, and spiritual connections all come into it. When you take into account different ways of having children (such as the various egg-laying peoples, or the possibilities of transmutation magic), the hand-in-hand presumed lack of homophobia in Eberron, the various forms of magical labor in Eberron (think about how arcane and divine magic are gendered in Lolthite drow society in baseline D&D), and the possibilities of Eberron’s various faiths (if agriculture is governed by a female Sovereign, magic by a male one, and war by both, you might well get the messages that a woman’s place is in the fields, a man’s at the enchanting table, and both need to be able to fight), you might well come up with genders that only bear vague resemblance to genders in our world. Eberron games occur in translation anyways – who’s to say that the pronouns aren’t getting translated as well? The Tairnadal might gender based on narrative tropes; the Talenta might divide labor based on patron dinosaur rather than sex; the Riedrans might see gender as the exclusive province of the Inspired. The sky’s your limit.
… I think about this stuff a lot. Thanks for handing me the tools to tell these stories; Eberron’s grown up alongside me, and it’s a place where I’ve never felt invisible.
(Except when I’ve cast invisibility, of course.)
Well said, and thanks for sharing it.
I would just like to say that I love this post so much and there are so many good ideas here.
I guess my only concern would be due to our social situation — a lot of trans folk make an effort to not be called out as trans (albeit often based on a need to want to avoid discrimination or violence) and therefore there is a stigma of saying you can tell somebody is trans. It’s also one of those cases where there is a lot of overlap with somewhat sexist/racist social expectations — if you are saying you can tell a character is trans because they are a tall woman with a large frame, you’re saying something about your expectations of women.
And I think your solution honestly helps a lot with that — by moving it into the omniscient narrative of when we introduce an NPC, we sort of remove some of the value judgments from it. We don’t have to call out features that make them stand out as trans even —it just becomes a part of their identity that we simply tell. It is representation without forcing anything on them and then we can build from there in a careful manner.
Thank you so much for your thoughts!
Yeah, clashing tertiary sexual characteristics as-trans-markers runs into the issue that plenty of cis women are tall with broad shoulders or whatever else you pick.
I do feel like this is a place where good art can help; I know I at least can struggle with describing even cis people, but having art options can help me diversify.
Yeah, getting more diversity of form in TTRPG art is a whole related struggle. Gimme more POC! Gimme more natural hair styles! Gimme more gender nonconforming characters!
The world is big and broad and beautiful and we should try to be inspired by all of it.
I honestly just love Eberron for how simple and “mundane” LGBTQ people existing is. They are not relegated to a specific culture, a specific race, a certain subculture or religious function. They just ARE. Since the founding of Galifar, and long before. Dhakaani culture might be divided along racial and gender lines but it only takes extraordinary purpose to break through there as well.
I will agree with that others have said about history being one thing but a living breathing world requiring NPCs who are parts of these groups as well. I know I’ll return to this comment section often to review how I might include trans npcs going forward.
It’s always a wonderful opportunity to showcase how Eberron is and can be a better world, that tolerance and acceptance have a greater purview. Normalizing things in Eberron cultures that our cultures see as Other goes a long way towards that end.
Here’s a weird and hopefully not offensive question: How do y’all handle the crunch of a character that has transitioned? If someone is under the effect of transmutation magic, would their “older” (no idea what the right term for that is) form be revealed with true seeing? If they enter an anti-magic field or have their magic transition dispelled, wouldn’t that be a monstrously traumatic experience? Does Locate Creature work if you use a deadname? Does it ever stop being magical and just become a mundane permanent change, like aging?
Or, more simply, if you’re trans how would you want the crunch to be handled, if at all? This sort of stuff gets brought up in rules-heavy strategy groups like mine and I’d like to get ahead of it.
So I’m cis, but I do remember people expressing discomfort with WotC’s truenaming system (present in various UAs, Descent into Avernus, and Wild beyond the Witchlight off the top of my head) relying on “given name at birth”, which is problematic for all sorts of reasons beyond trans folks (eg people who’ve escaped abusive backgrounds and taken up new names & found family)
This is to say, good questions but I’m not sure the answers.
So, my personal take (which may bend the rules a little) is that when it says to describe or name a creature familiar to you, what it really is looking for the *player* to give information about they want to the *GM*. In the magical space, I think it works on some sort of fuzzy magical divination matching — some image held by the *character* that gets matched against the images of people within range.
Now, because of that, I think that it pings in some cases and doesn’t in others. If somebody has socially transitioned and just changed their name, but you were really close to them and just happened to miss the event? I like that it would still work.
If you’re trying to use it to track a casual acquaintance and you missed a huge life event for them, maybe it doesn’t ping at all.
I think this has a bonus for solving some weird Changeling interactions. If a Changeling is impersonating King Kaius and you befriend that changeling, I don’t think a locate person on King Kaius should only point to the REAL King Kaius. Ultimately, I think Locate Creature shouldn’t serve as a perfect changeling detector that way!
But really, this is about the story for it. If you want the NAME to have power, then the process of a true name is very common in fiction — and trans folk often put great stock in the names we’ve chosen for ourselves. In that case, I would say that you need their current *chosen* name to be able to ping on everything. If they have ceased to identify by the name, your name finding won’t work.
This is fairly similar to my own thoughts on how a lot of magic would work relative to identity issues. I think something like this also came up in the context of personas shared between multiple changelings and how that might interact with things like the Missive and Correspond powers. I think a lot would really depend on exactly how the caster/manifester’s familiarity with the target impacted the spell/power, and I would tend to encourage GMs to be creative with this.
In terms of the crunch for physical transition, I think it could be reasonable to consider whatever magical effect causes it to be Instantaneous in duration, rather than lasting until dispelled. In essence, it’d be similar to how casting Dispel Magic on a statue created via Stone Shape wouldn’t return it to the form pre-shaping, or taking an object repaired via Mending into an Antimagic Field wouldn’t immediately cause it to break.
Notably, this also avoids the awkward situation of trans characters constantly having an aura visible to Detect Magic.
As far as how truesight works with magical transition, there’s probably multiple ways to work with it, although it’s also worth noting that truesight is not exactly common, so likely many trans people would be willing to accept the limitations of the basic magic, with the confidence that it probably won’t really ever matter. Additionally, possible workarounds somewhat depend on how exactly the given source of truesight works. It’s arguable that True Seeing’s truesight works under a different principle than a modron’s truesight.
First, one could decide that since the magic being used draws upon the subject’s sense of self, the new form registers as the subject’s original/true form. I would definitely consider this effective with forms of truesight drawn from Thelanis or Daanvi, where the effect is likely based on either narrative conventions of the self, or drawn from an effect that forces truthfulness. An analogy might be the fact that a being with a grievous wound healed via magic would probably not still have the would when seen through truesight, even though their body was, in some sense, transformed via magic.
Another option is that as the subject becomes used to and lives in the transformed body, it does in fact become their original form. It’s worth noting that if this does not come into play, one might need to consider what, exactly, the subject’s original form would look like after a long life. If a human transitions magically at age 20, what would their “original form” even be by the time they reach 80 years? As far as how long to have it take, one could maybe say it takes 7 to 10 years, drawing on how long it takes almost all of the cells in the body to renew themselves(although this may differ for nonhumans). Alternatively, it could just take until the subject is used to their new form, in a more nebulous and subjective sense(for example, if they’ve become taller, no longer bumping their head on things that would previously not have hit them, etc). Of course, this does have implications for other forms of magical transformation, which may not be ideal.
Yet another option is simply that there is a second, optional, part to a magical transition, which “seals” the new form as the subject’s original form to truesight. Notably, this could also be used to exacerbate the class issues discussed in other comments, since the transition magic and the form-sealing magic would likely be more expensive than just transition magic, in exchange for removing any possible trace of the subject’s pre-transition body.
Lastly, it could just be that there is no way to change it, and trans characters will have that singular issue with their magical transition. Of course, it is probable that a non-magical effect equivalent to hormone replacement therapy could exist, meaning there are still options for trans characters who find the truesight situation uncomfortable.
A final thing to consider is that it’s likely that many beings with truesight just wouldn’t care if they noticed someone’s original form differs from their current one, especially since a lot of beings with truesight are extraplanar creatures that likely wouldn’t care much about the subject’s body or transition unless it’s relevant to their concept. The other beings with truesight that one may encounter are also potentially unlikely to care, depending on their own culture.
I hope this was helpful or at least interesting! It definitely was not an offensive question, to me at least, and actually was rather interesting to think about, so thank you for asking it, I suppose!
IMHO maybe the issue with Truesight is more a matter of “RAW versus RAI”. If Truesight was developped as a mechanic to counter/avoid trickery from shapechangers and such, to see their “true” form, that’s slightly different in intent than a transition (even magical). If that’s the case then wouldn’t it be more logical that Truesight is faithful to the identity of the person rather than their former body shape? AKA Truesight shows just who the person really is; the previous body would be the wrong one.
As a trans person with trans people at my table I would probably rule it so because I believe that’s the intent behind the spell, rather than rule it as written; though it may depend on the story we’re building.
My party is running the Adventurer’s League series (DDAL-EB). Lots of it takes place in the Mournland and there are lots of Warforged.
I’ve been defaulting to “they” pronouns for all of the Warforged. But certain specific NPCs have selected genders. So “Sheriff”, in Salvation, goes by “he”, “Big Bara” of the Brelish military goes by “she”. I’ve also briefly introduced a hippie-style Druid that is wildly ungendered.
I’ve leveraged this to kind of highlight the awakenings within Warforged culture. Beyond the Lord of Blades and its military cult, we’ve met Ambassadors and Caretakers and a Writer, they’re all trying to explore a new world where they’re not just war machines.
The way (my) Warforged view it, this very weird construct of gender is just another thing they can learn about. The humanoids seem to treat them differently based on the gender they present, so it’s also becoming a tool to fit in.
In the Eberron game I’m currently running, the NPC healer sidekick is genderqueer. While deciding their backstory, I ended up creating a magic item that would be useful for trans men, AFAB enbies, cis men with gynomastia, and cis women who just want their breasts out of the way when trying to move: the combat binder. It uses bag of holding-like technology to give the impression of a flat chest, but unlike an IRL binder it won’t compress ones ribs and lungs, making it safe to use in for combat and other athletics-heavy situations. The combat binder would be a common magic item instead of an uncommon one like a bag of holding is for two reasons. First off, while I haven’t decided if the sidekick binds or has had cosmetic transmutation, a common magic item is easier to justify them having than an uncommon magic item, given their and the rest of the party’s financial situation. Secondly, the combat binder wouldn’t have nearly as much of a carrying capacity as a bag of holding. One might be able to squeeze in a small coinpurse or an amulet, but it couldn’t be used for something larger like an alchemy jug or a warhammer. A similar magic item could be created for a gaff, with a similar lack of negative effects found in IRL gaffs.
One thing that struck me when the spell was pointed out to me (while I was investigating potential backstory hooks for a character) is that the Reincarnate spell explicitly randomizes the race of a revived character, but says nothing about sex. My initial thought was that it would randomize that as well, but that doesn’t seem like the common interpretation.
My PC in the campaign I’m currently playing in is actually the result of a botched Reincarnate spell (cast from a scroll by a level 5 druid); in their backstory, they came back as a physically-female kobold with the fusion of the souls of two dead creatures: a male human fighter, and the very young female bronze dragon said fighter’s party had recently killed, from whom the fighter had kept a talon as a trophy. Due to extreme memory loss in the wake of the reincarnation, it took quite some time for them to sort out who they actually were… and even now they really aren’t sure whether to think of themselves as male, female, or neither (or both).
The campaign has very much involved a journey of self-discovery for them, as they contend with their slowly-returning memories, their initial discomfort with the idea of being the fighter whose memories constituted most of what little they did remember from before reincarnation, their uncertainty over the question of gender, their realization that they were no longer physically attracted to humanoids (a matter that somewhat complicated things when they remembered the human fighter had a lover), and later discovery that not only were they attracted to other kobolds, but that they were attracted to kobolds of both sexes (and their discovery that they were apparently neither iredar nor irvhir, potentially isolating them on some level from all the kobolds they’re likely to come across). And all of this is happening while they’re also fighting desperate battles to save people from extraplanar horrors and cultists.
I forgot to mention above, but to avoid potential confusion, I should note that this is in a 3.5 campaign, so some details on the Reincarnate spell might be different than people expect.
Honestly, something I’m super curious about regarding gender and genderqueer people in Ebberon is culturally specific models of gender. Not just stuff like elves regarding all aspects of gender as very fluid, or kalashtar dealing with quori-host mismatches, but what each nation regards as masculine or feminine or neutral traits. IRL, Italian ideas of masculinity and feminity are very very different from, say, American WASP gender roles, and I think it would be interesting to explore those kinds of cultural differences, especially for refugee or immigrant character concepts.
Some of the joy for me in the setting is the way non-traditional genders are woven into Eberron. To be able to portray agender warforged, bigender kalashtar and genderfluid changeling who *aren’t* trans, but in fact cis-gendered. It’s a joy that nonbinary representation goes beyond the fringe experience it is for us in the real world. And it opens up for much more genderrelated character plots, from the warforged seeking to find it’s preferred gender expressions to a Valenar elf coming to terms with being chosen by an ancestor with a very gendered legacy.
In my own headcanon the Mror culture, and the dwarven language itself, doesn’t differentiate by genders at all. This becomes even more apparent as almost everyone cultivate elaborately styled beards, wear fine jewelery and have a similar build. Only among the more integrated dwarves of the Five Nations have the male and female gender binary become commonplace, often expressed by shaving among women and a more masculine beard among men.