In my game, you have a companion with you, who offers you assistance in combat. During gameplay, the companion basically acts like an activated ability, where he becomes a human shield and absorbs incoming fire for you. After receiving enough damage, the ability goes on cooldown for a few seconds.

This is all fine for the gameplay, however it clashes with the story of the game: the companion is invulnerable. He literally can't be killed in any way, that's why he acts like a human shield for the player character, who can die. However, having an ability that can always block damage for you would make the game incredibly boring to play, hence why I wanted to limit him for the gameplay.

I want the game to be fun to play, but I also want the story to make sense. Should I worry about these kinds of things? Is it ok to bend the rules of the story for the sake of the gameplay or would that take the player out of the story too much? Or should I keep gameplay consistent with the story?

I know many games would simply throw story or lore out of the window for the sake of gameplay (I'm not criticising them for that, just saying). Celeste for example never once acknowledges the dash ability the player has (it only alludes to it in the last chapter) and Overwatch give characters abilities in gameplay that they're not supposed to have in the story/lore. I assume most players would be ok with the gameplay not being consistent with the story, but I'm unsure if that would be ok for my game, which is a lot more story focused than those games.

  • I don't really see how this constitutes a writing problem. Can you clarify?
    – user
    May 19, 2018 at 18:58
  • @MichaelKjörling Um... character is said to be invulnerable in the story, but isn't in the gameplay? ... Not really sure what you expect me to clarify.
    – user23083
    May 19, 2018 at 19:12
  • @noClue You could phrase this better as seeking a plot device that changes the story to reconcile it with actual game play, or vice versa without becoming too boring.
    – Amadeus
    May 19, 2018 at 20:13
  • Could the immortal character sometimes need to recharge?
    – J.G.
    May 19, 2018 at 22:43
  • Obligatory TV Tropes link (and obligatory warning that the site is a massive time-sink).
    – F1Krazy
    May 20, 2018 at 9:58

4 Answers 4


You see this sort of inconsistency all the time even in games that focus heavily on the story element.

For instance, in World of WarCraft major NPCs are often invulnerable, and when they can be killed it takes a group of 20-40 players half an hour to kill them. Yet when they go down during scripted cinematics they do so after taking 2 hits like a normal person would (or by drowning, lol).

This works in WoW and other games because those NPCs do not take part in regular gameplay, and they are understood to be mere mortals made unkillable in specific circumstances, for gameplay reasons. Your situation is the opposite: an NPC who plays a major part in regular gameplay, whose defining trait is to be invulnerable, yet somehow does not act invulnerable in the game. That doesn’t work. So yes, you should definitely worry about that.

First you could look for a justification to explain why that companion isn’t always able to help. If they’re participating in the fight right alongside you then obviously they’re distracted and dealing with monsters to kill of their own. In a real fight you couldn’t always count on your bigger, stronger buddy saving you every five seconds. Therefore, the hero of your game shouldn’t expect his/her companion to do that either—otherwise, why isn’t the companion the hero of the story to begin with?

Which brings me to the more crucial point here: if the companion is invulnerable, why do they need the hero at all? That’s the part that I would immediately question once I learned that the companion was invulnerable. As @Amadeus suggests, you need to change the story so your sidekick isn’t absolutely invincible, but perhaps has an ability which itself goes on cooldown after being invoked by the player character. Give it a fancy name like the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, and come up with some lore for it. From a game-design perspective, it’s a more-creative approach than plain “Invulnerability” anyway.

In the grander scheme of things, your companion needs weaknesses that justify him/her partnering with the hero, thus making them need each other. When you cannot be killed, you need one hell of a reason to need someone fighting at your side.

Look at games like Diablo, where your sidekick actively helps you during fights, may occasionally throw themselves between you and impending death, tosses you a heal here and there, but still takes damage and is very much susceptible to death. They may not be invulnerable, but they’re (ideally) powerful enough that you’d be left at a significant disadvantage in the event that they die.

Note that the same problem exists with the other extreme, when sidekicks are so weak that players don’t bother keeping them alive or resurrecting them. In that case why does the hero need the companion at all? Which happens to be addressed in this related question: How to make side-characters look competent next to the Chosen One?


The first rule for writing narratives for games is always that the mechanics should inform the narrative. If you're finding that what you want to be the story isn't consistent with what you have for the players, then the story likely needs to change--which is a bit of an odd concept for some. The gameplay is the primary draw for a lot of people, and at the end of the day, you're crafting an experience, not writing a book. This means that internal consistency is possibly more important here than anywhere else because players have direct control over the world and can break things in all manner of ways the creator never intended.

Now, with characters that have unlimited powers like this, it gets difficult to write interesting situations for them around those powers because of their inherent nature as constant and infallible. These characters are often paragons by their very nature and so cannot fail in specific instances, which then requires either some very creative writing to navigate around these, or additional caveats. Perhaps this character IS indestructible and functionally immortal, but still feels pain and doesn't enjoy feeling hurt for too long at one shot or needs to recover from the damage taken before they're ready to be a human shield again. Both of these are potential solutions to this problem, and neither one interferes with your mechanics. For all intents and purposes, this character still plays the same way and still cannot die, but this ability of theirs has an in-universe reason, which provides quite a bit of opportunity to write around as well. This ability to protect pretty much anyone--within reason--already shapes how this character will behave and respond. If they experience a lot of pain, they might hide it for the sake of your player's character to keep them from worrying about them. There's a lot of room to explore all sorts of ideas and concepts here, and really all you need to do is figure out what works best for your narrative and keep chugging along.


Gameplay should come first in a video game. That does not mean that story should be just ignored. It isn't hard to be creative and give some kind of explanation. For example, just with what you gave us, I could say the NPC is ALWAYS invulnerable, but when he gets "tired" because he is being pounded on, to remain invulnerable, he becomes immaterial. That way he remains invulnerable (his primary ability) at the expense of being able to protect others. This could be conveyed visually by animations that show him getting tired, and then by his becoming somewhat translucent. After all, just because he remains invulnerable doesn't mean he must always be substantial.


Change the story more (as you have already begun; sidekick isn't always invulnerable). Give the sidekick damage points that he can't recover for some turns after a battle: This becomes a part of strategy too, the player must avoid battle for a few turns if his shield is still effed up by the last battle, or take his chances without the shield, or risk the death of the shield. Or even preemptively take on the battle himself, to save his shield for a more intense battle later.

Instead of computing damage, you could just compute battle defense credits: He can defend in 3 battles, his credit begins at 3, but it takes 2 game days to recover from each battle. If his points are at zero and he defends, he dies (and warns the player that will happen).

That way the player might not want to waste a battle defense on some troll he can likely defeat himself, but will against a squad of demons likely to kill him and eat him.

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