July 1, 2014
For those who have not heard of it before, having “plot armor” is when a writer/Gamemaster protects a specific character through events of circumstance in order to make sure they survive. When the bad-guys do not take the easy kill shots, or something random happens to save the character at the last minute, or another character shows up just in time to save the day, these are all examples of plot armor. Characters in books, movies, and television all have some measure of plot armor… well, unless we are talking about Game of Thrones here, but it comes up in role-playing games too. Not as often, I would wager, but often enough that it is noticeable. Most often, this happens as Gamemaster’s alter the results of their dice rolls for the players’ benefit, often without the players knowing. Players’ feelings toward plot armor differ in any given circumstance, but I know many who feel that it goes against the very spirit of table-top role-playing games by taking out a measure of the randomness generated by dice rolling.
Personally, I do not have any problem with some measure of plot armor. I used to, certainly, but as I have grown as a Gamemaster, I have come to see what I think is the bigger picture. That being what is most important in tabletop role-playing games are not the rules, but the fun and the story. One thing that plot armor does is help preserve these things at the cost of a bit of the fairness of the dice rolling. In this regard, I both approve of the use of plot armor – and cannot deny using it myself from time to time.
However, that is not to say that plot armor cannot be abused, both my players and by Gamemasters. If players realize they have plot armor, then they sometimes use that as an excuse to start having their characters perform reckless or even suicidal actions under the confidence that the characters will make it through it thanks to the Gamemaster’s “reluctance” to kill their characters off. In short, this is game-wrecking behavior. If using plot armor right, then the Gamemaster has plans for your character. Acting in such a destructive manner is a quick way to lose that plot armor, not to mention your character.
As for Gamemasters, the misuse of plot armor comes from playing favorites. All Gamemasters have their favorite player characters. That is fine. When they start protecting specific characters over others, that is when plot armor is starting to get misused. That is not to say that if any character has plot armor, then all characters should have it. Rather, it’s saying that plot armor should only be used to the benefit of the present story. If the story is presently focuses on one of the characters, such as exploring a part of that character’s back-story, then it is fine to give that player character a measure of plot armor just so the whole of the group can see that story through to the end. Favoring one character — or player, for that matter, as I have seen this in game groups where couples are gaming together and one of them is the Gamemaster — over all the others does not help the game. If anything, it further removes all other players as they will quickly be able to tell who the Gamemaster’s favorite is.
When used right, plot armor can be a great asset to a game, but when used wrong it is a quick way to wreck it. Use it carefully, if at all, my fellow Gamemasters. That is my advice to you.
As always, thanks for reading and I wish you all good gaming.
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