The main reason the Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy is still in business (along with a handful of other tropes). Just by being the main character, the laws of the world seem to bend around the character in a more than figurative way. For some reason (and not even an explicit ability), just being the main character or on his team protects you from death, serious wounds, and generally any sort of harm until dramatically appropriate. Even psychological damage can be beaten by Plot Armor. Unless you're explicitly marked for death, or Tempting Fate.
The real reason, of course, is that the movie/book/game/etc. would be awfully short if the main character died the first time they should. But it can get somewhat unreal at times.
This trope is sometimes referred to as "Script Immunity" or a "Character Shield."
Note that this is specifically about cases where it's suggested (by way of Informed Ability, generally) that something should happen that would be very bad for the hero - but it tends to fall short as soon as he gets involved, for no given reason besides luck.
Novice viewers will often confuse plot armor with more justified survival explanations. If Superman survives a bullet to the eye, that's just him using his powers. Superman is Nigh Invulnerable. If Indiana Jones does, that's plot armor. (Bonus points if he isn't even blinded.)
Typically absent in episodes involving All The Myriad Ways, Time Travel, or any other guaranteed-Reset Button situation. Suspended when the Hero Killer is present.
Sub Tropes of this include:
Compare Contractual Immortality (where the characters seem to die, but it's known that the actors haven't left the show) and Rule of Empathy (which may give Plot Armor to non-protagonist characters, even villains, provided they are sympathetic).
For examples where important characters are just magnitudes stronger than the poor slobs who can't take even one hit, see Almost Lethal Weapons.
Contrasts with Anyone Can Die, Plotline Death, Red Shirt (which is someone wearing a plot target).
Done as straight as an arrow for both the four major protagonists and Xellos of Slayers, and the one time that they were thought to have died was a Disney Death. Also, any character that winds up allying with them for an extended period of time also survives, with the only exception being Ozel in Evolution-R.
This is more or less averted in the novels when Millina and Luke, Zelgadis and Amelia's replacements, wind up dead (Millina is poisoned and Luke, as a host of Shabranigdo, is killed in battle), but they were more distant in helping Lina and Gourry than Zelgadis and Amelia were.
Bleach is notorious for its characters averting death on a regular basis, to the point where the series is now frequently described with the phrase "Nobody dies in Bleach"... even when the Vandenreich entered the scene they only accomplished a grand total of two named character deaths, one of them off-screen.
Conan Edokawa from Case Closed takes more and more bullets in the recent movies, but always survives. This has to do with him being in the movies based on the TV show. Any non movie-exclusive characters can't die anyway because that would damage the main story.
The ending of the series further deconstructs it due to the requirement of a main character's death to fully conclude the entire story.
No one dies in Fairy Tail. Jellal gets hit by the biggest and baddest spell in the setting and survives without a scratch (this would've been a spoiler, but it's too obvious considering that this page is about plot armor), all four of the main characters go through at least one near-death experience per arc and survive, and even Lisana who dies before the story starts, ends up in Edolas rather than Heaven. And again at the end of the Tenrou Island arc, all of us thought the main characters died after getting blasted by Acnologia's attack. Seven years later, and we find out Mavis Vermillion, the first guild master of Fairy Tail, converted them into magic. We're more happy about this than annoyed, however.
Well technically, people do die in Fairy Tail. Just not the main characters, it's mostly villains.
Gauron of Full Metal Panic. This guy just will not die. Of course, every time he gets defeated, nobody bothers to look for a body, so that might be the problem.
Officially subverted in Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid/The End of Day by Day. Sousuke finds Gauron in dire straits, laying in a hospital bed, hooked up to numerous IV tubes and shit, and covered in the wounds from his previous battles with Sousuke. Gauron begins talking to Sousuke and, after revealing what he wanted to do with Sousuke, as well as saying that he killed Kaname and saw her broken body covered in blood (which was a lie), Sousuke pulled out his pistol and fired six shells directly into Gauron's body at a near-point-blank range.
Near the beginning of Ginga Densetsu Weed, the protagonist gets shot. A lot (there were at least 34 bullets in him, according to a later scene). Not only is he back on his feet after a few days, but he is also showing absolutely no signs of being shot over thirty freaking times afterwards. Did I already mention that the protagonist in question is a months old puppy?
Every Gundam series uses it to some extent due to the general During the War/War Is Hell setting, with extremely few main characters ending up as causalities of plot-irrelevant battles regardless of their tactical situation. Some shows completely spare the main cast while others put the lesser heroes through the ringer (and typically only in the last few episodes, at that; if the Plot Armor gets pierced, it almost always happens in the finale). Many a Flame War has been started by someone declaring that one of the series uses Plot Armor beyond Willing Suspension of Disbelief, while either ignoring or forgetting that the show they're currently championing does as well. (Translation: Use the Rule of Cautious Editing Judgment and do NOT post specific examples here.)
Lampshaded in Medaka Box; The reason the Arc Villain won't start her plans yet is because Medaka is the main character, and thus guaranteed to defeat her if she is challenged. At which point she recruits Medaka's childhood friend Zenkichi to do it for her, and grants him an ability of his own choosing called "Devil Style" which nullifies Zenkichi's own plot armor. First, though, she has to shift the genre of the work to make him the main character in the first place.
In Naruto, Sasuke has an annoying tendency to get into fights that are beyond his ability to win, only to suddenly demonstrate a new power that had never been seen or even hinted at before, or for another villain to bail him out at the last second. And then there's the infamous "Great Snake Escape", in which Sasuke evades certain death by a combination of two moves that each had immense chakra requirements, despite the reason that he was in danger in the first place being that he had already used up almost all his chakra, and did so in an implausibly short amount of time.
In the latest arc of the manga, over forty thousand members of the Shinobi Alliance have died, which is half their total forces. Only about three of them had names, and even those were mostly introduced just to be killed off. Given just how many characters there are, it's a bit hard to swallow that half the army could have been killed off and none of the major characters were among the casualties.
Of Gaara's three fights to date, there's no way he should have won two of them:
To recap, he somehow made a clone of himself, switched places with it, and disappeared, all in the second that it took for Lee to blink, while he was in the air and being bounced around like a pinball
Why? Because Gaara was more important to the plot than Rock Lee.
In his fight with Kimimaro, he only survived literally because Kimimaro dropped dead on the spot, and even then he still should have been killed but dying completely robbed Kimimaro's attack of its momentum. For some reason.
Monkey D. Luffy of One Piece sports a rather blatant form of Plot Armor, to the point where it may very well be a plot point. The same goes for the rest of the Straw Hat Crew, especially Zoro. Granted that he had immense strength and durability but sometimes it's kind of unbelievable.
Luffy's is actually acknowledged in-universe. When Basil Hawkins is trying to predict a situation in which Luffy would surely die, every prediction left him with a chance of survival.
Parodied in Excel Saga. The first thing that happens is the main character gets hit by a bus, and she is brought back by the Great Will of the Macroism explicitly because she is the main character. Her boss is aware of this, and tends to kill her when she gets too annoying.
Pegasus Seiya from Saint Seiya, to the point that it becomes annoying. He will suffer unaccounted pain and bleed like hell, but still manage to stand up no matter what.
In Jinrui Wa Suitai Shimashita, fairies act as plot armor, in that the number of them you meet is tied directly to how safe you are from danger.
In "Shingeki No Kyojin" a lot of characters die, but a few of the main characters sport some balatant Plot Armor that stops then from dying no matter what happenes, even in a world where people die like flies, and even if they are not particularly skilled.
During the Decimation event, Plot Armor thoroughly protects the most currently marketable mutant characters from a horrid catastrophe that has depowered and/or caused the deaths of over 10 million others and reduced the population to approximately 198.
The few notable characters who were depowered, such as Jubilee, ended up either being repowered or gaining new superhuman abilities to compensate. The D-listers weren't so lucky.
Squirrel Girl, from the Marvel Universe, has beaten every archvillain she has faced, including Doctor Doom, Mandarin, Modok, and Thanos. This is impressive considering her superpower is the ability to communicate with squirrels.
DC Comics hero The Question had legendary plot armor during the Dennis O'Neil run. In one fight a mook has a gun to the back of Question's head and pulls the trigger. When nothing happens, the mook looks at the gun quizzically and simply says "Misfire?" before Question pummels him.
The Question once DID get shot in the head and dumped in the river. The bullet went around the skull, as it was a weak gun. As for the rest, he was rescued by Lady Shiva, who knows all about healing (and killing).
G.I. Joe comics. Scarlett survives a shot to the brainpan in the same manner as The Question. Later, she's stabbed straight through the chest... by Snake-Eyes. No, really. Snake-Eyes, being a ninja, knew the least-worst spot to stab her, as part of a scheme, but still...
Max Allan Collins, who took over Dick Tracy after Chester Gould's retirement, once observed the importance of the Anyone Can Die principle in maintaining credible suspense. Most notably, Junior Tracy's wife was murdered during Collins's tenure as writer. However, he conceded that Tracy himself would never die (though he frequently got badly injured), because he is the main character.
In the Mass Effect fanfic The Council Era, when he is in conflict with the Villain Protagonist's son, the Chaotic Evil Takavor Derishama throws his spear and it directly impales him. When he throws the spear at the Villain Protagonist, it goes too far upward, just cutting off one of those muscle-horn things that salarians have.
DC Nation usually requires a player wanting to kill a character to go through an application process of the mods and muns of the characters teammates. The exception is when a mun leaves the game and the character cannot be adopted out for one reason or another.
Lelouch in Soul Chess has an excuse, but apart from that, Word Of God states that even Ichigo and his friends will lose theirs after graduation. Some of the other characters from Bleach have lost theirs already. Like Head Captain Yamamoto.
John Rambo, of the Rambo series, is noted for escaping hails of gunfire relatively unscathed. This is occasionally lampshaded by various parodies.
Mr. Glass in Unbreakable commits various acts of mass murder over multiple years in an attempt to find someone wearing Plot Armor in order to turn him into the superhero he is meant to be, which he finally does.
Star Wars: Stormtroopers are supposedly elite soldiers, and Obi-Wan notes that their marksmanship is unusually precise, yet they hit precisely no important characters despite ample opportunities.
By means of an odd twist in plot armors - Brenda dies in SM3, her corpse even explodes into pieces. But she reappears in SM4. Lead Character Cindy, who remembers her friend dying one movie ago, even says to Brenda "I thought you were dead!" To which Brenda replies "I thought you were dead!" One look of confusion later and they decide to drop it.
In the first movie Brenda is stabbed to death in a theater for being rude and Cindy is run down by a car at the very end.
In the second movie, Brenda says that she only had a "near death experience", and it turns out Cindy is alive because she was never officially declared dead.
The series that first inspired Scary Movie, Scream, has blatant examples of this with the three protagonists (Sydney, Dewey and Gale), who are always slashed by the antagonists, and even finish the movies in a hospital, but never die.
Big Fish: the father claims to have been shown his own death by a witch, and that it made him fearless, because he knew nothing but that could kill him. Of course, that was 90% lies.
Lampshaded in The Movie of George of the Jungle, the narrator mentions during a recap that "George was really shot but can't die because, let's face it, he's the hero."
GI Joe The Movie. In the original script, good-guy Duke is hit with a snake-spear from Serpentor and dies. However, after Transformers The Movie traumatized kids with the death of Optimus Prime, Executive Meddling saddled the Joe movie with a hasty edit. Duke's injury merely resulted in a coma, and a voice-over near the end of the movie announced Duke's recovery.
For any villains we may meet, we haven't any fears; Paramount will protect us, 'cause we're signed for five more years.
Every James Bond movie ever made. James is never killed, and rarely seriously hurt, no matter how many bullets fly and explosions go boom, or how many times the villains capture him and have him helpless.
In Peter Jackson's King Kong, there is a scene with Jack Driscoll and a few crew members running in between a pack of Brontosauruses legs down a narrow path while also avoiding being eaten by velociraptors in full charge. Jack is not only fine, but jump-kicks one of the velociraptors in the face, all while still running UNDER the Brontosauruses.
Der Clown Payday: One of the heroes, wearing a police-grade body armor, holds a Mook in front of him as another Mook shoots him. The Mook in front of him is pierced by more than a dozen high-velocity rounds shot from a machine gun in full auto mode while the hero doesn't even have his shirt damaged.
This trope is played completely straight and completely serious ,as it is literally the superpower of Eli in The Book of Eli, due to him being protected by God Himself. And while it may sound silly, it really, reallyworks
Played straight in Pirates of the Caribbean, especially the second film, wherein the main characters' ship is attacked by the Kraken, who kills most of the crew except for every single main character who board the lifeboats except for Jack Sparrow, who is left at the ship and then killed by the Kraken as it sinks the boat. He comes Back from the Dead, though.). Even the guy with the talking parrot survived.
In Last of the Mohicans, Alice, Cora, and Major Duncan are the only survivors of two giant massacres.
The eponymous Mystery Team has tremendous luck for the fact that they're inexperienced detectives.
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra: The only possible explanation for the Baroness and Storm Shadow to survive their vehicle being hit by a train and catapulted, spinning 30 feet in the air and back down. While their driver dies they hop right out of the wreck and run a good distance.
One of the many letdowns of the Twilight books is Meyer's continuous promises of danger to characters followed by little to no follow through. In the first book, Laurent refuses to fight against James even though it would be an eight to two fight. Which basically means James must be the badass of badasses. Actually Jasper and Emmett take him out alone. And easily. Book Four is the biggest Plot Armor moment when a brutal battle between the Volturi and the Cullen/Cullen allies that has been worked up for ages devolves into a friendly talk and a okay, let's go home situation. The Twilight characters are supposed to be in real you-could-really-die situations but somehow everyone leaves everything unscathed every single time. (With the exception of Jacob breaking some bones that heal in a day or two.)
This is made literal in the Xanth novels. In the very first Xanth novel, Bink's magic talent is essentially plot armor, as he cannot be harmed by magic. Unlike many examples, the book is kept interesting because it is a great deal of the point of the plot, and it is not known that this is his talent until quite late in the book, when he exploits it. In the second book, he is specifically chosen for the task of finding the source of magic due to his immunity to harm from it. Despite this, his talent is somewhat picky about what is defined by "harm", and he is still worried that he could be killed by mundane means, as well as by the source of all magic itself, a nearly omnipotent demon. In the end, however, it is implied that his talent is in fact so powerful that even the demon could not overcome it, and that all his seeming misfortune was what saved him in the end.
Okra Ogress tries to put Jenny Elf into a life threatening incident, but can't do it simply because Jenny is a major character. Ironically, the reason Okra was trying to get Jenny killed was so that she could get the major character status for herself.
In Foundation And Empire, Toran and Bayta escape Kalgan. After a series of highly improbable escapes, Bayta observes their Plot Armor can only mean they have brought the source of the problems with them.
The later novels in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series feature some heavily lampshadedPlot Armor: Arthur Dent knows he can't die until he visits Stavromula Beta. (Arthur learns this from meeting somebody who wants to kill him because of a long list of things Arthur did, including something that happened there. When he discovers that Arthur hasn't even heard of Stavromula Beta yet, he realises that this means Arthur can't be killed yet without causing a serious time paradox — but he's so angry he tries to kill Arthur anyway.) This leads to a shocking twist at the end of Mostly Harmless, when Arthur unwittingly fulfills the conditions of the accidental prophecy, and is swiftly Killed Off for Real.Probably. To much collective dismay, Authors are not granted the benefits of Plot Armor, and Author Existence Failure has caused a serious disruption in the successful use of Plot Armor.
While A Song of Ice and Fire is known for being an Anyone Can Die series, it's not too difficult to see the plot armor on most of the POV characters, who often scrape through numerous deadly situations. Of the fourteen main POV characters, only one is dead by the fourth book.
Daenerys Targaryen, Tyrion, and Jon Snow are generally perceived by fans to be the untouchable characters who are going to be there for the end game.
Arya Stark racks up a virtually countless number of daring escapes unscathed. The author has promised is wife she will survive, so Arya has out-of-universe Plot Armor.
Bran Stark survives several murder attempts.
Catelyn Stark doesn't let death get in the way of remaining in the series.
Brienne of Tarth faces death several times, but somehow always survives at the end.
The Warhammer 40000Gaunt's Ghosts books were like this at first with all the main characters, but the central characters have been steadily moving away from Plot Armour. Particularly notable was when they killed a Chaos Baneblade in Honour Guard while only losing two or three troopers and one tank.
Since the death of Bragg in book 5 and Corbec in book 7, it's been pretty clear that Anyone Can Die. Indeed, less than 10 characters named in the first book remain alive at the end of the twelfth, with another looking likely to go before the end of number 13. Poor, poor Doc Dorden.
Seen all the time in Discworld novels. Savvy characters sometimes just outright give up/run away because they recognize the plot armor the other guys have.
In the X-Wing Series Wedge Antilles, the Mauve Shirt in the movies who became an Ascended Extra, once has a down moment when he thinks about all the friends and companions he's flown with who are now dead, and he imagines them coming between him and what killed them, then wonders when it'll be his turn. He's survived time and again without so much as the excuse of being Force Sensitive - maybe he was Born Lucky, but at a high cost.
He'd beaten the odds for so many years, years in which literally hundreds of pilots he'd known had died in battle around him, as though they were living shields for his X-Wing. Someday his luck would run out and the deadly statistics would catch up to him.
Wedge can actually be considered a nice deconstruction, of a character granted Plot Armor but who considers it more of a curse than a blessing, for the aforementioned reasons.
Lampshaded in The Stormlight Archive, where Kaladin's fellow bridgemen notice that arrows have this ever-so-convenient tendency to miss him just barely in situations where they really, really ought not to. The fact that he's unconsciously Surgebinding might have something to do with it.. Somewhat deconstructed in that Kaladin ends up getting depressed about how he keeps surviving situations where others got killed, and thinks he might be literally cursed for a while.
As the Redwall series went on, the mortality rate went from "Anyone Can Die" to "Only vermin are in danger". Perhaps the nadir: One named, nonvillainous character died in Pearls of Lutra, and she had only had five nonsinging lines beforehand.
By Word Of God, only one character truly has this in the Honor Harrington series: MacGuiness, Honor's valet, because Weber's wife likes him. In practice, Honor herself ended up with some, though, as she was supposed to be killed off at the end of At All Costs, only for fan outcry (and a change in the series' timeline) to save her. Also, when in one of the later books a massive catastrophe wipes out the entirety of a city where one of Honor's relatives is having a birthday party with the whole clan showing up, all but one of the Harringtons we've seen onscreen just barely misses being there, and the one who does bite it was in all of one scene half a series ago.
While there's a definite sense of Anyone Can Die throughout the series, there is generally plot armor within a single book. If a character goes through significant plot development—especially if they're newly introduced—chances are they'll be among the few who survive the inevitable Honor Death Ride toward the end of the book.
Used as a major plot point in Redshirts, and the Plot Armor of the Intrepid's head officers is exploited by the main characters in order to travel to the real world and get the television show they're characters on cancelled before their characters are killed off.
Later on Andrew Dahl uses his own Plot Armor to deduce that he is the real main character of the book.
This trope is one reason Gotrek, son of Gurni is either the best or worst member of the Slayer Cult, a penitent branch of dwarfen religion, sworn to atone for their sins by finding the biggest baddest enemies of dwarfdom and kill them (repeat until one of said enemies kill them). We don't know how long Gotrek was at this before he hooked up with Felix, but the two of them have been trying to get Gotrek killed for over 25 years in-universenote and in that time have literally killed several entire armies, not to mention several god-like beings, a dragon and an entire floating city of Dark Elves. Of course, Gotrek does carry an epic-level magic axe, which makes him significantly harder to kill.
Also applies to many of the other characters, particularly "Mad" Malakai Makaisson (a Slayer engineer, who has survived the explosion of at least two hydrogen-filled airships, plus a mountain exploding and collapsing on him, among other things) and Grey Seer Thanquol (a Chaotic Stupid rat-man wizard. He's actually the only major enemy Gotrek and Felix have had that's still alive. Mostly because it's funny).
A particularly blatant example is Spike's special resilience to the sunlight. No-name vampires are seen immediately disintegrating the moment they're pushed into the sunlight, but when Buffy takes off the Gem of Amarra from Spike's finger during their fight in the broad daylight and he remains without protection, he has just enough time to run into the shadow. Other times he can walk during daylight if he just wears a rug over his head (or in season 9 comics, a hat).
Though that has been canonically explained by descendants of the Master being much more resilient when it comes to sunlight... not that this resilience extends to the poor NPC vamps descended from him.
This also goes for the Scooby characters in earlier seasons such as Willow, Xander and Cordelia, who have no problem taking nighttime strolls through Sunnydale without Buffy, despite having no special powers or abilities to defend themselves with. With nightly sirings as common as they are portrayed, the group should have been vamped a long time ago.
The reason the Sliders never happened to slide right into sulfuric acid.
They did once wind up on a world that was completely engulfed in fire - but they were conveniently only stuck there for 10 seconds.
One slide had them facing down some whacked-out tsunami coming to turn California into very tiny dirt clumps. Fortunately it was a short trip.
While their plot armor managed to save them from several of the most horrible scenarios, it had no qualms with leaving them at the status quo as well... in one episode, they slid into a world in which everyone - including them - had become filthy stinking rich. Naturally, they could only stay for a few minutes and didn't have time to capitalize on their newfound wealth.
In the first season of LOST, Arzt tells the rest of the Losties that the centuries-old dynamite they've found is very fragile when holding a stick... which then explodes in his hand. But then rest of the Losties (Jack, Kate, Hurley) carry the dynamite without ever exploding, even though they do, in fact, run with it. Happens again in the sixth season, where Ilana, in the middle of a rant, roughly drops a bag of said dynamite. She dies rather anti-climatically.
Also, in the last season, Lapidus survives an exploding submarine, which is absolutely necessary for the plot because he's the only pilot. Parodied in "How Lost should have ended".
In all the Star Trek series, the weekly evil alien menaces have killed dozens of redshirts but only two major characters. And one of them kind of came back, albeit with a new body and personality. During space battles the ships that house major characters also have character shields, with many other ships being destroyed instead.
All four main characters in Supernatural, but especially Bobby. The general rule is that Bobby is invincible, Sam, Dean and Castiel can die fairly frequently but will always be resurrected, and nobody else makes it through more than a season or two at most. Both Castiel and Bobby die in season 7, with an entire episode dedicated to the latter. Although of course, a return through resurrection or haunting hasn't been ruled out.
Bobby's plot armor seems to have fallen off as of the end of Season 7. Although he did come back as a ghost, when he started losing it, Dean torched his last remaining link to earth, thus destroying his ghost as well. Castiel's fate remains to be seen as of the beginning of Season 8.
Castiel is now back. Apparantly a host of angels died to save him from purgatory. According to producer Robert Singer Bobby is due to come back in some shape or form too.
Doctor Who is notable for its extensive use of Plot Armor throughout its long run. The Doctor constantly faces super-powerful alien menaces with only his wit to save him, but he actually survives many of his close scrapes by fortuitous circumstances or getting taken captive instead of killed. Of course, his Bizarre Alien Biology has allowed him to regenerate from fatal encounters.
Klaus, Rebekah and Elijah on The Vampire Diaries. During Season 4, it was announced that they would all go on to star in TVD's spin-off "The Originals". Hmmm, I wonder if they'll die...
Gwen on Torchwood is another prime example. Despite the show touting an Anyone Can Die world, circumstances always seem to ensure Gwen's survival, even in highly implausible situations. This is mostly necessary to preserve her pairing with Jack as the lead characters on the show, since Jack is explicitly immortal and can thus be expected to survive pretty much anything that gets thrown at him. Being a mere mortal, Gwen instead survives by writer fiat. In one particularly notable instance of Bond Villain Stupidity, a group of government assassins sent to kill the Torchwood team is delayed in tracking down Gwen because they never bothered to research her home address!
In Castle, at the end of the first half of a two-parter season finale, Kate Beckett's apartment exploded just as she stepped out of her shower. We all knew her Plot Armor would protect her, but we still had to wait a week to find out how. Turns out she survived by hiding in the bathtub.
They tried to avert the trope by playing that episode's guest star as a potential Suspiciously Similar Substitute (lines including "She's like the federal you!"). It was less than completely convincing, but a valiant effort.
In Stargate SG-1 episodes "Camelot/Flesh and Blood", an Ori fleet destroys a combined force of more than 10 allied ships, and miraculously the main characters (divided among three of them, the fourth floating unprotected from debris and only kilometers away in space as it all occurs) all manage to survive due to various circumstances. Par for the course for this series, it's the Russian ship which goes down.
A variation of this trope appears in the fourth season episode "2010" in which the four regulars do actually die, but they are considerably more resistant to the effects of the automatic security weapons than an unnamed extra who dies almost instantly. While they do eventually succumb after dozens of hits, they naturally survive just long enough to accomplish their mission which is basically to push the Reset Button.
Lampshaded in Rome: Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus return to Caesar's camp and reveal that they encountered a fugitive Pompey on their way and let him go. Caesar furiously berates them and threatens to have them crucified, but then without an explanation dismisses them without punishment. Mark Antony, confused by this, asks why he let them go when by all accounts they should have been punished severely and made an example of. Caesar replies: "Any other man, certainly. But those two, they found my stolen standard, now they survive a wreck that drowned an army, and find Pompey Magnus on a beach. They have powerful gods on their side (the writers perhaps?), and I will not kill any man with friends of that sort."
Tenkaichi: No matter what kind of danger, I'm still the main character! I won't be killed.
Fujii: Unlike your usual self, you're pretty manly this time.
Tenkaichi: Exactly! How can the main character die before the solving the mystery? If I die like this it'll be a weird ending.
Merlin in Merlin. Not only has he managed to survive various attempts on his life, living as a magical person in an anti-magic kingdom, his lemming-like tendancy to jump in front of Arthur and bartering his own life but most recently surviving something that was said to kill all other people that it touched, he was even getting better from it. Arthur counts as well, but a large amount of that is Merlin shielding him (and in turn being shielded by his Plot Armor). There's a Shrug of God on whether or not he's immortal, though, so it may or may not be justified.
Merlin also managed to go a whole day with a serious sword wound that, that slashed his chest and sliced his stomach while running away from the enemy and having to deal with Arthur's overattentive panicked mothering. Then he survived a giant rockfall avalanche. Then Morgana healed him and possessed him, making him hellbent on murdering Arthur. Yet somehow, most likely due to Arthur's plot armor, all of Merlin's fairly well-thought out attempts on his life flunk for the silliest reasons.
Sir Leon has this. The guy survived being bathed in flames by a dragon, being beaten to death long enough to be healed by the Cup of Life, and took a magic bolt to the chest that had just killed two knights and got up without so much as a scratch. Although this isn't Plot Armor so much as Ensemble Darkhorse Armor, and the fact that he's too popular to die.
This applies to just about any TV detective, including Columbo, who often made himself very vulnerable to getting killed by the murderers he was investigating. Sometimes he even manipulated them into trying to kill him so that he could get the evidence he needed of their previous murder—needless to say, they never succeeded. Not least of all when he tricked a murderer into trying to cut his head off with a guillotine.
In the second episode of McMillan and Wife, during the final climax the villian barely looks at a police officer entering sideways through a sliding door, and instantly kills him. When McMillan walks through the same door a few minutes later, the man gets 2 shots off and misses both times.
The first edition of Dungeons & Dragons described Hit Points as a combination of toughness, luck and other factors. Fourth addition also introduced the reverse: 'minions' are adversaries that specifically exist to be taken out by the first hit to be scored against them and thus explicitly lack any plot armor whatsoever.
A great many games have points you can spend on various things including not taking damage. Plot Points in Serenity, Chips in Deadlands etc. etc. The World Of Darkness games generally don't have this but in Kindred Of The EastDhampyr actually do have Plot Armor in the form of Passive Joss, which is a form of involuntary luck that sometimes stops them being hit by throwing freak events in the way.
The Games Workshop Lord of the Rings game gave major characters something like "Fate points" — allowing them to shrug off wounds just because they're major characters. The number of fate points a character gets is determined by how good their final fate in the films and books is — for instance, Aragorn, Sam, Gandalf the White etc. have high fate point counts, whereas Boromir, Denethor, Gríma Wormtongue etc have low counts.
In GURPS there's an option to play a "cinematic campaign", which basically allows the DM to run the show based on Rule Of Cool. Characters start out with twice the normal point allowance (and they're considerably more badass than ordinary people to begin with), they get special bonuses in combat, and they can save an unspent character point or two to shake off a bad injury as "just a flesh wound."
Shadowrun has a "karma pool" for each character. You can "burn" one or more dice to give yourself a bonus to some challenging roll at a moment of dire need. The karma is gone once used, but survive long enough and you'll get more.
Shadowrun also has a related rule called Dead Man's Trigger. The character will still die, but by using up their entire Karma pool, they can enact one last action before expiring. This can result in the last hero standing shooting the Big Bad dead just before succumbing to all the wounds taken during the final climactic battle, making it literal plot armor... it protects the plot, even if it doesn't manage to protect the character.
Invulnerable saves in Warhammer 40000 and Ward saves in Warhammer are usually justified as superior agility, magical wards, or force fields, but for some people they are explained as luck or fate.
Plenty of special characters have the Eternal Warrior rule that grants them immunity to instant death attacks. It's supposedly to represent their superhuman toughness, but let's face it, the game developers don't want to see the likes of Marneus Calgar, Chapter Master of the Ultramarines or Abaddon the Despoiler, Warmaster of Chaos get one-shotted by a lascannon on the first turn.
The newer d20 Star Wars RPG has "Force points" which can be spent on temporary bonuses.
The older Revised Edition d20 Star Wars RPG had vitality points to represent hits as tiring near-misses, and critical hits could very well kill you since they bypassed them.
Eclipse Phase has "Moxie," which can be used to "flip" a roll - since all rolls in Eclipse Phase are done on percent die (d100) flipping a roll can turn a 91 (a very bad failure, usually) into an 19 (a nearly guaranteed success). Criticals (11, 22, etc.) are notable for not being flippable - a Critical Failure (99) is irredeemable.
Hong Kong Action Theatre bases its difficulties to hit characters directly on their importance to the plot of the "movie." Player characters are assumed to be of major importance, and are generally much tougher and more skilled than minor importance mooks, who go down like tenpins when faced with the former and often need a natural 20 to even hit them at all. The top tier of importance is Extreme which is mainly reserved for the Big Bad. Major and Extreme importance characters can make Toughness rolls to resist getting One Hit Killed if their opponent scores a natural 20, dodge grenade explosions that would kill lesser characters, and even survive getting blown up provided that they can take the damage.
Similar to (and preceding) Fourth Edition D&D, Mutants & Masterminds has a "minion" rule that designates certain enemies as lacking plot armor - one good hit floors them. The "default to nonlethal" rule also acts as a form of plot armor; however, on the same page is the rules for lethal damage, for when the gloves come off.
West End Games' old Star Wars RPG had this trope codified in the rules. No matter what else happened, you would rarely die. They called it "Script Immunity" and a number of people still identify this trope by that name.
Paranoia features characters who simply are invulnerable because the GM declares that they are. This protection is absolutely inviolable and only bestowed by the GM's grace. The GM is encouraged to make you rue the day you were cloned should you attack such characters. Knowing that this is the case is treasonous, and whining about it is doubly so. Now, taking advantage of it without admitting you know about it is decidedly in the spirit of the game. Nothing can save you if the GM gives it to you; you're being set up for a legendary fall. Now that you know this, please report to Room101 for a fun, happy, bouncy execution.
Several games that rely on a Metaplot make sure that their important characters, when they show up in a published adventure, are impossible for the PCs to kill. Sometimes they simply don't have stats at all to avert the tabletop version of the Lord British Postulate ("if you stat it, they will kill it"), while other times, the GM is simply instructed to railroad the plot so that they survive whatever the PCs do.
Examples of the former include Antediluvians and Caine from Vampire The Masquerade, Harlequin from Shadowrun, and Stone from the first edition of Deadlands. In later editions, Stone gets stats, but he gets a special ability that leaves him effectively invulnerable anyway.
One of the most infamous examples of the latter is Samuel Haight from the Old World of Darkness; Storytellers are explicitly told to ensure that he gets away with whatever he does.
The Ur Example of the latter may be the original Dragonlance D&D modules NPCs were all fully statted, but the GM was instructed to arrange a last-minute escape and/or a Never Found the Body situation whenever necessary to preserve someone for future plot. The writers called it "obscure death."
The Dresden Files has something like this in the form of consequences and concessions.
Consequences are a series of wounds that a character can take to avoid being Taken Out and keep fighting. While PCs and named NPCs generally are allowed the choice to use them or not, GMs are advised not to give any consequences to mooks. As a result, a successful gunshot that will kill a Mook might cause a PC to weather it with only a twisted ankle from ducking out of the way.
Concessions are a way to be Taken Out on your own terms. In normal gameplay, whoever strikes the final blow that takes someone out decides what happens—whether the target lives or dies, for a start. But taking a concession means you decide how you're Taken Out, at the cost of some still-tangible loss. So while a vampire taking out a PC may well result in the vampire killing that PC to retrieve a MacGuffin, a PC conceding to a vampire may mean the PC is merely knocked out while the vampire grabs the MacGuffin and makes good an escape. This process is, again, typically not offered to nameless mooks.
Destiny acts this way in BIONICLE. It is impossible for any character to die unless they have completed their destiny, unless their destiny actually involves dying. Although, many characters appear to retain this immunity even after completing their destiny by virtue of being very popular with the fans...
Bad Guys never seem to go quietly, so Robo's last shot reduces the Toad's sporty spacecruiser to a flaming jalopy!
Trying hard, but failing miserably to mantain their cool, unflappable image, the Toads crash their bullet ridden banger onto an empty planet!
As the Toads are the heroes in this game, they escape the mangled wreck completely unscathed!
Using the teleporters, that they just happened to have with them, they travel back to base!
Reimu Hakurei of Touhou is this. She is the Barrier Maiden and Gensokyo would just vanish if she dies. This is why more powerful beings such as Yukari, Yuuka, Suika, Remilia go along with the spellcard rules, so they can resolve their differences without accidentally destroying the world.
In Freespace and Freespace 2, mission designers have this tool at their disposal. Ships can be set to not take damage past a certain point, which is usually set to a number that isn't suspicious at first glance.
Played for laughs in Just Another Day, where Alpha 1 is unkillable due to being the player character. Reality very blatantly warps around him to make sure he always has a way out of whatever ridiculously unfair situation he finds himself in.
Also, in Metal Gear Solid 2, Metal Gear Ray was originally designed specifically as a counter to the now widely proliferated Metal Gear Rex. However, in part 4 Solid Snake manages to hold his own against the prototype Ray in the reactivated husk of the destroyed Rex (left to rust for a decade).
Ocelot refrained from using Ray's trump card, a water cannon that can slice up tanks, for reasons unknown. He probably could have taken down Rex in seconds if he had used it.
Worth noting is that Otacon installed a street fighter program in secret, which was made in the event that REX got into a fight with another Metal Gear similar to it. Obviously, this would help against RAY.
Subverted in Call of Duty 4. During one of your missions as Jackson, your chopper is downed by a nuclear shockwave, and you wake up soon after in the wreckage. Instead of the expected harrowing escape through the wasteland, you end up only being able to stagger around in Ground Zero for a minute before dying.
As well, when finally facing the game's Big Bad, at least half, if not all, of the game's main characters are shot to death.
The Call of DutyWiki has its own page for the phenomenon, covering the entire series; note that there are some characters who have full-on plot armor for all their appearances, and others who only have it until their role in the plot is fulfilled.
Many a fan groaned at in Fate/stay night at the conclusion of the Fate route, where Shirou´s Healing Factor is revealed literally minutes before the Final Battle to be a Noble Phantasm capable of blocking Ea, Gilgamesh´sWave Motion Sword capable of destroying the entire world in a single blast. It was then used to block that and a swarm of curses from the Grail, completely killing any conflict once Shirou and Saber finally used it.
The Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion, perhaps to avoid completely breaking quests as one could do in its predecessor Morrowind, had certain characters marked Essential - they cannot die, only fall unconscious, after which they would get up like nothing ever happened. However, this can still end up Unwinnable if they're trapped somewhere where they continuously take damage, like a lava pit.
Fallout 3 handles critical-NPC death in the same way (usually) as Oblivion does. Children, though not (usually) plot-important NPCs, cannot be harmed at all, though they, let alone all adults near them, will notice if you attack them and will, if armed, respond in kind.
As for Morrowind, plot-critical NPCs were capable of dying just as everyone else was, and since the game had no "dynamic targeting reticule" that turned into a crown whenever it was pointing to someone particularly important, the player had to make sure he or she understood who was important. Hopefully no one came across a character he or she was not meant to at the time, before knowing if or why this character was important.
However, if a character important to the main plot was killed (it actually uses the same Essential flag as in Oblivion, they just changed the effect of it and added scripting to add or remove it in-game for the later game), the game was decent enough to inform you that the "thread of prophecy has been severed" and suggest that you might want to re-load. The tricky thing is that which characters give the warning and which don't are a bit hit-and-miss (some plot-important characters don't give the warning, and some random plot-unimportant hostiles in tombs do).
Warcraft III hero units took less damage from most forms of attack. Even though they could be slain non-plot, they could be revived at special Altars. Certain characters had "Divine" armor that reduced all non-Chaos attacks to one point of damage.
In Wing Commander and Wing Commander II (and associated add-ons), the home bases for the character are able to take damage far exceeding the defensive stats in the manual. In the WC2 add-ons, the Bonnie Heather is pretty much unkillable by anything. Attempting to destroy it using the "Finger of God" option in Debug Mode crashes the game.
Prince Of Persia The Sands Of Time lampshades this with the Prince telling the story of his adventures. When you die in-game, he comments that it didn't happen that way and that he should start again. Though how you relate a story to someone and mistakenly add a bit in where you died is beyond me.
It's pretty much a given in the Time Crisis series that Wild Dog will be in every game, even if he suffers grave wounds every time.
Lampshaded by Balthier, the self-proclaimed "Leading Man" in Final Fantasy XII. While performing a heroic sacrifice during the game's climax, he assures his companion Fran that the main character "never dies". She seems to doubt his Plot Armor however, as she admits that he's "more of a supporting role". He lives!.
Heavy Rain: Ethan can get into a car accident, cut up his body crawling through broken glass, electrocute himself, cut off his own finger, get shot at with a shotgun at point-blank range (it clips him, though) and fall off a building in that order, and he still can't die until the endgame. Shelby can get beat down, get shot in the shoulder, get beat down again, get beat down once more, nearly drown in his car and get shot at by Mooksin that order, and he still can't die until the endgame. Justified in Shelby's case, as he's the main villain.
In an example of literal Plot Armor, Perfect Dark tends to give the Big Bads unbreakable energy shields during in-game missions. They generally run off before you can try to shoot them down anyway, leaving you with several armed Mooks, but chasing them down and pumping them full of lead proves they're invincible until their respective death cutscenes. This doesn't apply to your allies, of course.
In the endgame of Mass Effect 2, where all characters have the chance to be Killed Off for Real, Miranda Lawson can survive situations that would kill other characters for half of the mission or so. Afterwards, she can die like anyone else.
Par for the course in Resident Evil: the T-Virus that the heroes try to fight against is spread via biting (or through the environment, like water), and you can have your player bitten (or wade through T-Virus infested water in the case of the first game) and suffer no ill side effects. The only exception is the first game's Yawn, who poisons the player normally instead. Also, Jill gets infected in the third game, but another survivor, Carlos is able to make a vaccine for her.
Finally justified with Resident Evil 6 and the C-Virus, which spreads only by gas, not by skin-to-skin contact.
Final Fantasy IX has particularly bad examples of this where the main characters lie prostate at the feet of the villains only to not be killed. And this happens no less than three times.
At least one of these is justified. Especially at the end of Disk I, because the person looking at the party is none other than the Smug Snake Kuja.
In Kingdom Hearts II, while Riku can take damage during the final battle, he will not fall unconscious even at 0 HP. The only time he can lose is when Sora is captured by Xemnas and Riku must rescue him under player control. If he has 0 HP when this happens, he may simply not take any damage. The same applies to the data rematch in Final Mix.
The trope applies to all party members in the series. While the playable character's defeat is a game over, party members simply fall unconscious, only to get up after a moment with some HP. The only exceptions are the above, where the party member cannot be defeated, and the fight with Captain Barbossa in the second game. If Jack is defeated, the game is over.
Baten Kaitos makes this a part of the plot. A character who bonds with a Guardian Spirit (read:player) is said to be granted incredible strength. Kalas, the main character of the first game, knows this... and used it to cover his ass as he set up his betrayal of the entire party. AND YOU.
Squad 7 in Valkyria Chronicles. For the most part it's unobtrusive, since it's a war game and it's entirely possible to lose during the individual stages, but it's impossible to lose any of your lieutenants permanently (without getting a Game Over, anyway). There's also the fact that Selvaria, upon being captured, requests that Squad 7 be let go to escort her men away from the battle field before she flash-fries the rest of the army in her Suicide Attack. Squad 7 is the only reason she was captured in the first place and represents the only serious threat to the Empire; if she didn't have to let them walk because of the plot, the Empire would've won.
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm has drawn some criticism from fans of the MMO for supplying the Horde with some pretty heavy plot armor. YMMV as to how true it is, but the Horde does seem to effortlessly win a lot of battles with zero reprisal from their longtime rivals The Alliance.
If certain characters (lookin' at you, Garrosh) weren't protected by Plot Armor, their own faction would have killed them long ago. Thrall is protected by several Physical Gods and a MacGuffin, so his Plot Armor is more canon. However, Alexstrasza should have died. She is totally useless and her mental breakdown in one of the novels was totally brushed aside in the game (one could argue that the novels aren't meant to totally coincide with the game, however).
In Wrath of the Lich King, Tirion Fordring was protected by Plot Armor because he was the Lich King's Arch-Enemy and the only one he ever feared (and a Shadow Archetype, in a way), so Tirion survived because he had to, even after killing the "heart" of Arthas almost killed him. Were it not for Friendly Enemy Death Knights, Tirion would have died and the whole expansion pack would have been a failure.
Plot-critical friendly ships in the X-Universe games are typically indestructible: they'll go down to 93% hull and then stop. The jumpgates are also indestructible unless otherwise specified by the plot (as in the Kha'ak invasion of President's End in X2: The Threat).
In Bob and George the characters frequently note they won't die because they are title characters or otherwise plot important. This sometimes takes the form of literalPlot Armor, as in the plastic-wrap force-field the title characters were given by their mother.
They both lose their plastic-wrap force-field, but still retain their plot armor. At one point when Bob is presumed killed, the title and banner of the webcomic changed to simply being 'George,' until it was revealed he actually survived.
Schlock Mercenary has plot armour in a kind of roundabout way, only a handful of characters are ever permanently killed, most just end up with their heads temporarily in jars (Tagon is killed in one story arc, but then Kevyn warps back from the future and changes history so that he doesn't, oh, and Petey suicides earlier in the piece, but he appears later having backed himself up into a mini-tank).
An honourable mention should go to ensign Red Shirt (yes, that's his name) from Legostar Galactica, who has some kind of Plot-anti-armor. Laser beams will curve around other crewmembers just to hit him, whether the enemy was actually aiming in his general direction or not. Although the medic always manages to fix him up afterwards, so perhaps he has some sort of straight Plot Armor, just not a very nice one.
The Order of the Stick lampshades this in the last panel of this strip. Miko is shown to hold her own against the Order with Durkon doing nothing, and is very strongly implied to only have this ability in bad weather, which acts against V's magic and Haley's shooting. But in the linked strip, she beats and captures the entire Order between panels, not even merely routing them.
Shelley Winters of Scary Go Round is indestructible. She survives several catastrophes that should have killed her, and even a few that did, but she came Back from the Dead. It's even discussed in the comic. In fact, not even the end of Scary Go Round (with her leaving town) can stop her, as she still appears around her author's website.
Homestuck gets hit with this pretty hard; while the series doesn't shy away from the main characters dying, there's usually a loophole to get them out of it. Dream selves, time hopping doubles, and alternate timeline duplicates are all fair game though. In fact this is so prevalent that when Bro and Davesprite seemed to be Killed Off for Real, the predominant fan reaction was Like You Would Really Do It. Turns out only one was actually killed.
Andrew Hussie is also prone to giving characters temporary plot armor by way of the series's weird time mechanics and flash-forwards.
A general rule so far is this: If a character is a human SBURB player, Karkat, or one of Karkat's friends, they're safe and any death will turn out to be a fake. Anyone else dying is fair game, including any carapacian including AR and the agents, some of the more minor trolls, and Vriska.
Ascending to the God Tiers gives characters near-impenetrable in-story Plot Armor. They can only be killed in a manner that is either heroic or just, preventing meaningless deaths.
The Cyantian Chronicles is a collection of comic series , the first one "Campus Safari" taking place ten years after the current series, "Darius". Any characters that appear in "Safari" (i.e. Syrys, Darius, Sheanna, Ravon, Cilke, Chatin, Silver, Tira, Darrik, Rama and a significant number of others) are certain to survive at least until the latest chronological strips, but it looks like you shouldn't get too attached to anyone else.
In Futurama, Fry's death has been subverted kind of often. In one of the first episodes it was implied that he was mere days from death.
Bender: Ooh! Dibs on his CD player!
Every one of the several times Fry has "died," or done something that was supposed to result in his death, it turned out he either wasn't really dead, it didn't happen, etc. Though, he did die just like nearly everyone else as part of the premise of the "Rebirth" episode.
The DCAU wasn't immune to this as well, with various criminals clearly having an easy target at Batman or another hero. Of course, they always miss their target. The rare example being Darkseid, who was able to casually vaporize a fairly important character with disregard. People didn't even realize he was actually dead until the funeral scene kicked in.
Of course, Darkseid does have 'chase you down' death-beam eyeballs.
Naturally, Batman and Superman both have Plot Armor to avoid or just plain tank it anyway. Its even more silly in the actually comic storyline, where they LITERALLY are protected by The Source, one of the aspects of The Presence/DC God, and therefore are practically immune to his Omega Beams.
grudge-match.com once had a match between the two reality-benders, Bugs and Neo. Bugs won.
Lampshaded in Spawn, where Twitch takes a bullet to the brainpan and the only result is (relatively realistically-portrayed) Easy Amnesia, baffling the doctors and Police Chief Banks, who shot him in the first place.
Though more violent and mature than many comic book cartoons, Young Justice isn't immune to this either. There's an Anyone Can Die-style atmosphere in the second season, but of the characters killed in the Time Skip (Aquagirl, Jason Todd, Marie Logan and Ted Kord), only Aquagirl and Marie had any real role in the plot. All of the major characters were safe.
Roger the Alien Among Us from American Dad! is practically made of plot armor. Although he may take an occasional beating, death can't touch him. Not only does he always survive certain doom, he's almost always saved by the most amazing and unlikely of circumstances, usually at the last possible second. His own people tried to rid themselves of him by deliberately crashing his space ship into the desert outside Roswell, New Mexico but no dice.
Stan also undergoes all sorts of horrific injuries and scenarios, including, on separate occasions, being paralysed by gun shot (and rehabilitated by another), having his retinas detached, undergoing numerous bloody beatdowns, losing his legs to a polar bear attack and briefly being pronounced dead on at least two occasions. Regardless of this however, he always recovers and reverts to the Status Quo by the end of each episode.