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Sword Noir Fatality

Over at Sword’s Edge Publishing, I’ve revealed the huge gaping hole in my definition of sword noir—that being the lack of the femme fatale.

I’m not going to re-write everything I wrote over there, but considering that women are often the motivators of action in sword & sorcery, and that the femme fatale can certainly be readily found in S&S, how often does one find it in role-playing games?

I can’t say that I’ve ever created a femme fatale (or, simply fatale, if we want to go gender neutral/inclusive) for a game. I also can’t remember a time when I encountered a fatale as a player. So why is this archetype missing? Or is it?

It is quite possible that those of you out there reading have encountered or included a fatale in one of your games. For me, as I mentioned in the other article, the fatale is just another kind of macguffin. The fatale motivates the plot. It just happens to be a macguffin that can just as easily be a scapegoat. The fatale ensnares the character, leading the character into jeopardy. It allows the character to claim innocence and victimization.

Player characters should never be able to claim victimization. When a PC is a bad spot, it’s because the PC or that PC’s group has made conscious decisions that have led the PC into the bad spot. The bad spot should have been expected. Even when the PCs are caught in the middle of something, they should still be in control. When the PCs don’t have control, they might think they are playing Thomas the Tank Engine, the RPG.


The fatale might work if the fatale is leading the characters treacherously into danger. But then, there are so many other ways to do it other than through seduction. Greed rather than lust seems to be the vice of choice when herding PCs.

Seduction is also tough to RP, unless the players are blessed with extensive willing suspension of disbelief.

So, for me, the fatale is not something I would use as a motivator in a game. I can think of better macguffins and better RP experiences for my players.

Though I’m sure there are mileages out there that are varying.

1 thought on “Sword Noir Fatality”

  1. I’m reminded of one of Phil Foglio’s cartoons, in which he depicts the problems with romance in RPGs, since so many of us are overweight, bearded heterosexuals. Such a creature playing a seductive woman does bend one’s mind away from suspension of disbelief. 🙂

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