3e: Your Guild Leaders Are All Trans

3rd edition D&D doesn’t do much with queerness. It’s an interesting artifact of the late 90s, early 00s, where the whole edition was something that, to use the parlance of now, would be claimed as ‘woke propaganda’ now, was still something that didn’t feature a queer NPC until a Dragon Magazine published well into the release schedule of 3.5, and when it did, he drew heat that the editorial lineup of that magazine had to fight about it in the letters column of the next issue.

There are other areas that the game can be seen as surfacing queerness, and I’ve talked about one – the way that the D20-SRD component Unearthed Arcana introduces transphobia in the form of gender dysphoria as a byproduct of literal madness. That’s not great. It is, in fact, uh, bad. You can even have a multiple personality disorder identity which has a different gender to you, isn’t that cute?

But uh, okay, so that’s one way that explicitly not-cis-not-heteronormative culture showed up in 3rd edition. Uh… is there anything better? Anything that could be considered, um, nice?

There aren’t a lot of things that even mention the word gender. There’s a table for random NPCs. The Deck of Many Things can summon a knight that has the same gender as you, which implies you have one, I guess. Which is rude for any of y’all agender people reading this. Object Reading, the level 2 Psionic Power, can detect the gender of a previous owner of an item, which feels like it COULD be a cute idea for a mystery puzzle but it also winds up misgendering someone.

Like, you, cis author, are thinking of trying that idea, but uh, you know what, ask like twenty trans people about that plot twist first before you decide it’s okay, right?

The Disguise skill can get involved in gender, where changing the entire presentation of yourself as your gender is a -2 to the disguise check. The rules here get a little weird, because if your disguise check to disguise yourself as you, but a different gender fails, people know it’s you, but since you’re not trying to hide your identity, just your gender and intimate partners are really easily able to tell, this skill definitely doesn’t seem to be made with the idea of actually changing an actual gender in mind.

Know what can actually change your gender, though?

Cursed items.

There’s a really funny, dumb thing going on here. Because okay, so, magic items with curses or drawbacks cost less than the conventional thing they are. You can have a +2 sword with a curse attached to it, and that costs less than a +2 sword, because it’s just a less useful object. If an item has a drawback on it like it can only be used by Paladins or Rangers, it saves you money making it.

And you may think ‘huh, that’s a weird loophole for magic item crafters to abuse’ and yeah absolutely, and we tried, and every sensible Dungeonmaster looked at the obvious loophole abuse and stamped on our toes.

But still, it does mean that a cursed magical item, with a drawback, will persist its drawback as long as you have it. You don’t even need to be using it, it’s just there.

One of the curse drawbacks is that the magic item changes the gender of the user as long as they own it, even if they’re not using it. For it to be a slotless magical item, like a tattoo that gives you a +1 to a skill, then you can make it for 200 gold pieces. It doesn’t need to be obvious, removable or limited in any way. And then bam, you’re now the opposite gender to what you were, and that’s funny because it implies genders have opposites, rather than being two surprisingly similar camps that are very near one another in a very large, very wild forest full of some truly brave rugged individualists finding their own things to do out there.

How affordable is a 200 gp item? Well, as an unskilled hireling that a D&D character can recruit costs one silver piece a day and that’s enough for them to live on, and is enough money for that hireling to consider it worth doing. Like following an adventurer around is worth doing at one silver piece a day. You don’t need to feed or water them so it sounds like their day to day living is enough that that 1 silver piece covers those needs and then some because it’s not like ‘following an adventurer’ is a non-hazardous job. On the other hand, it’s not like players need to track their food in this game either.

At one extreme, it’s possible that 1/sp a day is just profit, and it’s possible that it’s much less. But let’s say half your wages go to living and the other half goes to surviving, it means that you could raise the money for this item, as an unskilled labourer, in something like two thousand days, or about five years. That’s rough but let me tell you, the idea that an unskilled labourer could meet their needs including food and lodging and medical needs, and afford to self-finance their transition as a one-time fee in five years is the kind of deal that a lot of trans folk right now would absolutely say compares favourably to whatever they’re having to put up with.

But also, for extraordinary needs, there are extraordinary measures.

See, a level 1 combat encounter, which you can engage with a large enough group of people with free weapons (clubs), or which you can with enough time and patience, make an elaborate trap to destroy, generates about 300 gp per, or, basically a few afternoons of work if you know how to find the right bandits. What I’m saying is, cheap medical transition is a potential onramp for young adventurers, and once you’ve taken out one Challenge Rating 1 encounter, why wouldn’t you keep going, it’s one of the best Get Rich Quick schemes available to you.

And from there, well, what are you going to do? Most queer folk I know are interested in uplifting one another, so the next step is construction of an organisation to put people in the path of this kind of opportunity. You could even start crafting these for a modest fee – making one of these tattoos is only 100 gp, and something like 12 XP, and that’s almost nothing.

I guess what I’m saying is the majority of guildleaders across any given 3e D&D game are probably trans, if you’re willing to weaponise the way that the game says ‘this thing transes your gender’ as a explicit drawback.