Shardra as an NPC trapped in the wrong body was inspirational, eh? Saving that square helmed shaman from the vagaries of genetics is a slick little twist on the damsel in distress, and one that should appeal to gamers on either side of the political aisle. If adventure was the goal
But there’s more to the story than just Shardra. They could have done something interesting by using Shardra as a launching point for some fresh thinking on the effects of transformation magic on fantasy societies and gender roles, let alone using the character as an inspiration for adventure. Sadly, no. Paizo opted to take the path more travelled by using the first ever transgendered iconic character as nothing more than the literary equivalent of flashing a Left Wing Gang Sign.
A bit of analysis makes it clear why they took the path of pandering to the cool kids table. Even the slightest consideration of the effects of magic as it relates to body transformation would completely destroy the single most important aspect of the character. Using basic body transformative magic would destroy Shardra’s primary raison d’etre – a transformed Shardra would no longer be transgender.
It’s a sad state of affairs when the political left is not just anti-science, but anti-magic. What a dull and dreary world in which they live. As conservatives, we love science in our real world, and magic in our fantasy worlds, so let’s look at how they intersect when it comes to RPGs.
Science tells us that sex (the physical part of identity) is determined by chromosomes; females possess an XX pair of chromosomes and males possess an XY pair. (Side note: This is for mammals – if you have any bird-based characters, the pairing is reversed. Also, there exist edge cases of folks born with more than two chromosomes, but let’s keep this simple and focus on the binary gender model for now.) Sex is hard coded into your DNA. Gender is that internal and subjective sense of self that normally syncs up with the physical sexual characteristics, but not always. The common term for a person whose gender and sex don’t match is transgender, the clinical term for this is a medical disorder by the name of gender dysphoria.
(The Left rejects gender dysphoria for purely emotional and subjective reasons much the same way they reject huge swathes of epidemiology. Hence the assertion that the Left is anti-science.)
What’s all this science hoo-hah got to do with fantasy role-playing games and transformative magic and good old Shardra? Everything. Check out Paizo’s magic item, the Elixir of Sex Shifting: “Upon drinking this elixir, a character changes sex, permanently transforming into a member of a different biological sex. While the user’s physiology changes dramatically…” This potion changes the very DNA of anyone who drinks it.
That’s very different from the real-world where even the most perfect surgery will leave the chromosomes of a person unchanged. A post-op transgendered person is still genetically the wrong sex for their gender, and is still transgender. If Shardra drinks the Paizo potion, she no longer has the medical disorder gender dysphoria – her sex matches her gender identity, and she’s all woman now.
Consider also that, as a sub-class in the cleric mold, healing magics are part of the shaman’s stock in trade. The relevant spell in this case would be remove curse, but any spell or item that cures diseases would presumably work on genetic disorders as well. It’s not clear from anything available on-line what Spirit Shardra follows – her use in game is less important than her use as a Red Badge of Courage in internetland. Based on the backstory where she calls forth an earth elemental of enormous power, by the time the morality tale is over she should be at least fifth level, which would allow her to cast remove curse on herself. As a cleric you’d think her Wisdom score would be high enough to spot the easy solution. The editorial decision to make the character not do so exposes the author’s hand – it’s more about winning social points in the real world than writing a character that makes a lick of sense.
Enough about Shardra, the squandered opportunity, and putting messaging ahead of adventure. Let’s look at some ways to use transformative magic in your campaign:
- The obvious: The aging king and queen are facing an order of succession nightmare. The crown passes to the oldest male heir, but they’ve only had daughters. One of the daughters has enough balls to handle the throne, but not enough to assume it. The Elixir of Sex Shifting to the rescue! As the various noble families sharpen their knives in the fight for the crown, the PCs are tasked with getting their hands on an elixir, so that the eldest daughter can be transformed into an eldest son. Alternatively, if they can get to the fountain of youth and grab a vial, they may be able to turn back the queen’s biological clock by enough years to take another couple of stabs at producing a male heir.
- The Sword of Saint Lola: A particularly nasty mage forges a powerful sword with a strange safeguard. When first used in combat it becomes clear that the sword has a raft of bonuses, but it also changes the sex of its wielder and it’s powers can only be used by females. So a male character that handles it gets changed to a woman and gets the bennies while a female character loses the sword’s benefits but earns the raft of benefits we’re told automatically accrue to men in society – it’s a win-win situation for anyone who grabs the Sword of Saint Lola!
- If the Church in your campaign takes a sensible approach to gender roles, then could very well wind up with a cleric shut out of an important monastery or convent due to the sex god granted them. In a high magic world, an Elixir of Sex Shifting may serve as a useful compromise between the Holy Order and your PC’s. Again, as a potion that costs more than one person can make in a year it’s possible the Order has a few, but it’s much more likely that the Elixir would be safely tucked away in a dragon hoard somewhere. The Order might even know where it is, and offer up the compromise – kill the dragon, quaff the potion, and come on back. Once you’ve purified yourself and met the requirements, we’d love to help.
- Alternatively, an Elixir of Sex Shifting would be a great way to delegitimize a powerful religious figure. The Mother Abbot of a nunnery giving your characters fits? Sit her down for a nice dinner to hash things out and slip her a dose, and suddenly you’ve cleared the way for a new, less intractable Mother Abbot. Of course, the old one is now eligible to become Bishop of the area, which may lead to other problems on down the line. Such is the way of the devious conservative DM.
The possibilities are endless, for anyone willing to consider gender bending from the perspective of somebody interested in role-playing games and adventure. Shame the big publishing houses aren’t among them.
* As mentioned previously, the existence of an Elixir of Sex Shifting is part of the Paizo canon.