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Plot Armor...for PCs and NPCs


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How much plot armor do you provide for PCs and NPCs in your game?  Does it vary by genre?

For me, I enjoy gritty and noir games and as such am pretty dice centric...I play the NPCs smart so they use tactics, retreat when beaten and conduct recon before attacking.  In my games, my players actively avoid combat unless they spend the time to prep beforehand.

My wife on the other hand GM's in a very cinematic style where dice are a guideline to how the scenes play out.  Plot armor is used as the battles are there for a reason and although

Our group thankfully enjoys both types of gaming and the varying levels of plot armor involved, primarily due to the pre-game conversation about expectations, genre, and character creation.

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Can you define plot armor? Are you talking absolute 'script immunity' or some kind of mechanic to lessen the risk of PC/NPC death? Or something else?

I don't currently GM with any 'safeguards' in place for PCs or NPCs. I have used Fate Points in MRQ2 before but they're a limited resource.

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I don't do anything to protect the plot. Dice decide. Villains and PCs can fall at any time. Sometimes that means an adventure kind of evaporates because the players find some clever workaround.

However in another sense, you can provide 'plot armour' by providing multiple links between the plot elements, so that if the players miss one they can find another clue elsewhere (this works for all genres, not just detective ones).

Sometimes I trip myself up by asking for skill rolls to find some clue or link, but then nobody makes it and the clue goes unfound, unless I hand it over anyway. I guess that's a kind of plot armour which I do occasionally (but I always hate it when I get into that situation.)

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By plot armor, I am referring to ensuring that PCs or NPCs survive regardless of dice.

When I need to protect the plot (not NPCs) I have the enemy plot on a timeline, so there are specific points that PC actions can influence the enemy, but if they wander off to investigate red herring number 3 and ignore all the clues, oh well...I have never been accused of railroading.

-STS

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I never assume that PCs or NPCs will survive. If an NPC is vital to a plot and the PCs kill the NPC then they will have a hard time working out the plot. However, this can spark a number of other plots.

Sometimes my players ask whether they can take out an NPC as it might affect the plot. I always say "sure..."

 

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11 hours ago, sladethesniper said:

By plot armor, I am referring to ensuring that PCs or NPCs survive regardless of dice.

Ah. In that case, definitely no. I don't play in that style - and to me, it feels like rather hollow experience.

The implication with plot armor is that the PCs and NPCs are intended to survive, so that the GM can tick off his dramatic scenes and get everyone to the story climax, unscathed. The story plays out exactly as the GM intended it to, with the players being malleable to the highest priority, which is the story or plot. The bad guy / boss monster must survive till the end so it's confronted in the thrilling climax.

IMO, from a player-perspective, it's like being a passenger where your actions have no real impact, and you're just along for the ride until you pull into a story-climax station. Not an interesting way for me to play, personally.

Quote

When I need to protect the plot (not NPCs) I have the enemy plot on a timeline, so there are specific points that PC actions can influence the enemy...

I don't protect the plot, or feel the need to preserve the storyline, even when I'm running published material for Call of Cthulhu or something else. Plots/stories/adventures rarely survive the plans and actions of the players. And often the players can take the plot in an unexpected and more enjoyable direction than what the GM planned out originally.

Edited by K Peterson
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I judge a particular moment or encounter based  on the stakes. A random encounter with an orc or an undead thing that shouldn't be an obstacle won't likely kill a player, unless the players play it dumb or raise the stakes. I won't let a bad die roll kill a character in those encounters designed to distract them, but I will maim a character, draw down their resources, and use it to raise the stakes. To see how they react and how far they push back over something simple.  Players die in side encounters because they want to King Arthur everything. i.e. That scene in Excalibur where Arthur is determined to beat Lancelot even after he is beaten and can walk away in honor.  Doing so has consequences (watch the movie if you do not know what they are). If a player really wants to do that, there is no ex machina gonna save their butt.

Now in the high stakes scenes, die rolls are what they are. My NPCs have to face the music too and I will let players see my dice rolls at times so they feel assured.  I do not believe in Luck rolls or Luck points, but then I am not a killer GM. The players can succeed if they are smart or lucky, just like in real life. The deck really is stacked in their favor already.  Unless its CoC of course or some similar game. Tone does have something to do with it. In those cases, the odds are stacked against the players but they know this already.

As for Plot... things happen on a timeline, but that timeline is not fixed. The adversaries may have to adjust their plans, the adventure may end early, the players may lose if they are not smart. Good story and adventure design allow for that, but it is also a skill that can be practiced and learned. 

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HI

I have a basic rule that a PC whose player is absent can not die, any other character can if the player makes bad decisions.

As we have used Legend or RQ6  lately they also have Luck points and if they have used there last one rather than keeping to safe themselves from death that is there problem. 

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2 hours ago, Chris said:

I have a basic rule that a PC whose player is absent can not die, any other character can if the player makes bad decisions.

I do something like this. If a player can't attend a session I give them the option of having their character involved in the investigation/adventure or not. And if involved, they're run by the other players and by me.  

If their character is not involved, a convenient excuse is given for their absence. The character is at no risk but, also, won't acquire experience checks or otherwise benefit from the session. If they are involved they acquire experience checks, and any session benefits, but are at the risk of death and insanity.

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3 hours ago, K Peterson said:

I do something like this. If a player can't attend a session I give them the option of having their character involved in the investigation/adventure or not. And if involved, they're run by the other players and by me.  

If their character is not involved, a convenient excuse is given for their absence. The character is at no risk but, also, won't acquire experience checks or otherwise benefit from the session. If they are involved they acquire experience checks, and any session benefits, but are at the risk of death and insanity.

Though, I have had a few character fatalities when their player is absent and it always leaves me with a bit of a bad feeling (and no doubt the player too). So I usually try to have absent players = absent characters if possible.

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I've run some Star Trek campaigns where the ship gets destroyed. In those cases I've killed off characters of absent players, since it hard to justify why they survive when the ship goes up in a massive fireball all around them. 

 

I don't use "plot armor" per say. I do use various die roll modification rules, such as hero points. I have, on occasion, ran situation or adventure that react to things that happened in the game. For example, in one game the group messed up and got captured. The next game session had the players who were absent the previous session lead a group on a rescue mission to free the other characters. The players whose characters had been captured got to play members of the rescue team, either by taking over a NPC or bring out a backup character. 

 

Once in awhile, I've even had NPCs show up and rescue the PCs, but I usually try to come up with good "in game " reasons for that to happen, so the players won't come to expect a rescue. In one campaign one of the PCs owed a lot of money to an NPC, so he rescued him to make sure he got his money! In a Star Wars campaign I was running, the PCs got captured, and got thrown into the brig, where they found Asoka Tano chained to the wall. When Skywalker and Kenobi showed up to rescue Asoka, the PCs got rescued as well, being fellow Republic troops in the same cell. That was probably a close to "plot armor" as I get, since I set the situation up in advance specifically in case the PCs got captured and couldn't mange to escape. 

Chaos stalks my world, but she's a big girl and can take of herself.

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I generally prefer to run a 'sandbox' style of game... so no plot and no plot armor.

Also, as a Player, I don't like games without repercussions/consequences and particularly death on the table. For a while I played in a group where the GM pulled his punches a lot and told us that PC deaths were 'bad for the story'. That really isn't my sort of thing at all.

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If I run for kids, their characters are fully-plot-armored; same for newbie players (first few sessions), or anyone else who seems like they're still "finding their way into" the fun.  Experienced players usually get mild-to-moderate plot-armor, either with the last [body level|few hitpoints|etc] being very-difficult-to-lose, or having the PC's conveniently-close to uber-healing (e.g. Frodo getting Morgul-blade'd near Rivendell).

I run "absentee player" characters as heavily-plot-armored but passive and less-effectual NPC's -- unless the player STRONGLY wants "my PC isn't there unless *I* am there" (which I have met once or twice), which I accept.  So, they can't die (except on TPK when a lone survivor would make no sense (this has never come up)) BUT:

They do nothing pro-active

They take no "leading" or "solo" or any other "spotlight" roles / actions

They always go last in combat

This generally results in fewer experience-checks and other in-character rewards, but I don't have to come up with "convenient excuses" which I sometimes find impossible to construct within an acceptable level of suspension-of-disbelief.

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Ten or fifteen years back I was a long-time player in a friend's D&D campaign, lots of exposition, lots of "story" and lots of set-piece battles. I was always moderately amazed that so few player characters ever seemed to die. That is until one day I caught him fudging a die roll to save my character. I was absolutely crushed. Two years of gaming and good times evaporated in a matter of seconds when it dawned on me I was playing in a fixed game. I quickly moved on from shock, to depression and then to apathy and then I quit playing altogether after about three more months of trying to "get over it." -- His act of "charity" had robbed me of any sense of accomplishment and I could never trust that the game wasn't just some colossal wank fest thereafter -- with false player agency and pre-determined outcomes in service to "story." 

I'm not telling people how to have fun or run their games, but sometimes it's worth telling your players up front that you run a rigged game. A lot of people seem to OK with that kind of play experience apparently, but there are some people (like me) who want to know that their accomplishments (and failures) are their own and if they ever suss it out that you've got your finger on the scales, you might have some very disappointed gamers on your hands. 

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Occasionally I protect my player's characters when I've led them into a hideously unbalanced encounter because I either feel guilty or I just don't want to kill off the campaign and start over again.  I've never really bothered with overarching plots, because I don't know how to pull them off successfully, so that's never a problem.  In a lot of the games I've run character creation is so involved that I don't want to bother going through it all again; I'm a really lazy GM that way.  For the most part I never let the PCs find out I've fudged and I do kill off entire parties who get themselves over their heads often enough that it keeps them honest, so really for me plot armor is entirely situational.

After writing that I realize that I'm a pretty capricious GM.  The more you learn, right?

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Were I to use "plot armor" I'd make it explicit, e.g. Fate/Fortune/Hero/Drama/etc. Points.

That said, the GM has a lot of discretion without fudging die rolls or other obvious tricks.  If the opposition is too strong, allow the PCs to surrender (or be knocked out) rather than be killed outright.  Provide a fortuitous escape route, or a convenient rescue.  You could design a whole adventure where a frontal assault is obviously suicide, and the PCs have to find a secret entrance, concoct a cunning plan, or find the mystical dingus that tilts the odds heavily in their favor.  And if players can't take the hint, just let their characters die.

Granted, I've been playing a lot of a non-d100 system where player characters are a cut above ordinary mortals ... and where the GM rolls NO dice.  d100 combats are far more brutal, which is an excellent reason to offer adventures requiring investigation, intrigue, and skulduggery rather than stand-up fights and bug hunts.

Frank

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