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How would a civilization adapt to a typical video game protagonist? People who always seemed to win any fight in front of them, but where there was only one of them, or a small team?

Background. In my book, there's a historic conflict between two races of people. Both, like humans, increase in technology over time, but one side has a unique advantage. They birth a protagonist whenever there's a conflict. Whenever one dies a new one appears fully grown soon after.

This protagonist would have several abilities.

  1. They consistently win fights, and grow more deadly the more they slay. Armies or individually deadly warriors don't stop them. They get stronger, faster, more durable, and gain unique abilities that let them kill more people.

  2. They can be slowed, but not stopped by environmental conditions and problems. They always seem to find a way out.

  3. Technology and animals sent against them tend to be co-opted or taken over.

  4. There is always either one, or a team of up to six of them working together in the same area. They never split up.

A difficult foe to face. The protagonists are meant to be like storms, beings that you avoid or weather, not kill, and so socially people would have to adapt to them.

So, how would a rival civilization best handle such a being? How would technology and population grow when your enemy could send a single person or small group against you to wipe out any group? I can imagine how you might use such a protagonist- send them against populated enemy cities or armies and have an army behind them to mop up survivors- but I am not sure how you would effectively handle such a being as a civilization and keep growing and expanding and developing technology when your hubs got killed whenever they wandered in.

Props for answers at a few different technology levels (e.g. stone age, medieval, modern) since this is a over several thousand year story. Trying to find clever ways to kill them is not the point of the prompt, any more than at the moment we can do much to kill hurricanes.

Edit. Extra info.

Breeding is an option, though the chosen tribe tends to protect their sacred bloodlines, and they don't know exactly how inheritance of the power works.

The protagonist can kill anyone, and so turning them is an option, and any internal power struggles in the protagonist civilization will often revolve around turning the protagonist. The protagonist isn't inherently any smarter or wiser than an average gamer.

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    $\begingroup$ According to your description, the "protagonists" are guided and protected by trope/narrative plot rules. Does this mean that the enemy can discover these tropes/heroic rules and use them against the protagonists? For example, you could design a scenario where a "heroic sacrifice" is required to stop the bomb from blowing or whatever. The hero, being the selfless, self-sacrificing type, kills themselves to prevent the explosion from happening. In general, this reminds me a lot of "A Practical Guide to Evil" which is a very good series. $\endgroup$ – Dragongeek Jan 23 at 10:27
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    $\begingroup$ Keep them farming lootboxes $\endgroup$ – Cyrus Jan 23 at 12:17
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    $\begingroup$ Quoting HDE 226868: Hi, Nepene Nep. Your question is not very well constrained, and there's currently no easy way to rank one answer over another, or determine if an answer is fully correct. Please edit your question to explain the specific details of what your superpower can and cannot do, and what makes one answer better than another - that is, what objective criteria it should satisfy. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Jan 23 at 14:02
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    $\begingroup$ I see this as either, "I have an unstoppable villain. How do I address that?" or "How does society respond to X?" The first, as linked, is story-based. The latter is too broad. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Jan 23 at 14:15
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    $\begingroup$ There's an anime called Log Horizon, about a bunch of fantasy MMO players who get trapped inside the game world, and one of the major plot threads is how the world's NPCs react to the emergence of these immortal warriors. (From memory, they're torn between thinking they can manipulate the players into doing their bidding, and blind panic.) I'd recommend that as further reading material, and also because it's just a very good anime in general. $\endgroup$ – F1Krazy Jan 23 at 15:55

12 Answers 12

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Avoid Them

Human history has typically revolved around either killing people or creatures that are considered to pose a threat to them or avoiding a fight they can't reasonably win. Society "works" because people feel safe that other people around them will not unexpectedly resort to violence for fear of capital punishment or reprisal. If you are predestined to win any physical confrontation there is no reason not to always resort to violence and there is nothing anyone can do to stop you. Unkillable "protagonists" that only "spawn" in a particular group of people, cannot be stopped, trapped, or slowed, only get stronger as they fight, and cannot be negotiated with would definitely pose a threat to everyone else around them. They don't even have to be outright warlike, the "protagonist tribe" can just demand tribute from everyone else using gunboat diplomacy and if they don't comply said tribe will sic their unkillable terminator protagonist on them.

This isn't even X-Men where you have a subgroup of people with supernatural abilities that can occur in any group. This isn't even Attack on Titan, but it is pretty close with a set number of less than ten super-powered individuals tied to a particular ethnic group. However the titan shifters in Attack on Titan aren't as much of a threat because a) they aren't invincible, they can lose fights easily against one of their own or someone using unconventional tactics, b) they can be tricked, trapped, or sealed away, and c) the downsides with titan powers are bad enough that the average member of said ethnic group doesn't want titans running around anyway. Fate manipulation like you're suggesting means they are essentially impossible to fight and there is nothing to stop them from being monsters. Normal heroes usually aren't seen as a threat by the common person because a) they are treated within the narrative and universe as unusually skilled individuals that gained their abilities through hard work, divine intervention, or fate rather than being tied to a particular group b) they are mortal, fallible, and can lose, even Hercules died eventually and Kryptonians always have Kryptonite. They aren't "protagonists" but merely individuals with extraordinary abilities, and aren't at the same level of threat.

That's another big question. Do the "protagonists'" "protagonism" powers work on their own people? Because if that's the case there is nothing to stop them from overthrowing the existing government with physical force and ruling as unkillable god-kings because they can never lose in a physical confrontation. Assassins and underhanded tactics can't even get rid of them. Think having typical Dungeons and Dragons gamer protagonist murderhoboes as autocrats. Bad.

The best way to deal with such a society is to be wherever they aren't. Nomadic tendencies would become common as a way to pick up and leave whenever the "protagonist tribe" are near. The "protagonist tribe" would monopolize the best farming lands and the lands for resources, leaving other peoples with suboptimal places to live because better there than constantly under "protagonist" threat. Any sign of a "protagonist" would be a good reason to pick up and leave, hopefully before they see you.

Advanced technology would be hard to make since nomadic lifestyles don't lend one's self to heavy industry. At best you might get something like some of the northern Asian steppe peoples or some North American Native American groups (flint mines) where there are hidden areas where the protagonists can't get to that make weapons and tools for the rest of the society.

The best way to fight the "protagonist tribe" would be guerilla attacks on non-"protagonist" members. And...and I hate that I'm even saying this...it's highly likely that non-"protagonist" peoples would fight back by trying to genocide all non-"protagonist" members of the "protagonist" tribe. If "protagonists" can't be killed, slowed down, sealed away, or negotiated with, but they are tied to a particular people, then genociding that group of people and making them extinct is one of the few practical solutions people can implement to the problem. However, if "whenever one dies a new one appears fully grown soon after" that probably wouldn't work. But it raises the question as to why your "protagonists" are tied to that group in the first place if they aren't born in it.

Alternatively, if there is any intermarriage between the two groups, the boundaries between them would rapidly become blurred. "Protagonists" would no longer solely arise within the "protagonist tribe", they could pop up anywhere because anyone has ancestry of the "protagonist tribe" within them. It doesn't even matter if there is a particular "protagonism gene" that allows protagonists to be born, because before modern genetics all people will be able to figure out is that protagonists tend to be born in some families more than others. Indeed if your story takes place over thousands of years it is possible that "protagonism" genes could be spread all over the world and their origins lost.

EDIT: The more I think about this the more I think this issue is literally a more extreme version of the metaplot of Attack on Titan,

complete with the breeding issue, ties to a particular ethnic group, other groups without a superpowered bloodline controlling the nine superpowered individuals through propaganda and threats on their (non-super) family's life, dubious methods of inheritance that no one really understands, attempted genocide of the superpowered tribe, and conflict between the superpowered god-kings over control of the non-super members of their tribe (Great Titan War). Look at that for potential avenues of conflict.

The biggest issue is going to be the "protagonists" are always connected to that particular group of humans, which is going to inherently turn the narrative into an "us versus them" story. There's no "convince them to side with you" like Superman or "get protagonists of your own to fight fire with fire". While the Moses situation is possible and it's almost impossible for them to reach the heights of dogmatically xenophobia seen in the Pak Protectors, they have a very strong pressure to always value the lives of their tribe over non-tribe peoples. About the only peaceful solution would be "marrying in" so everyone is tied to the super bloodline.

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  • $\begingroup$ You're "Genocide actually is the Final Solution* answer reminds of the Pak from Larry Niven's Known Space novels. In essence, the Pak are like the protagonists: They are extremely strong, extremely hard to kill, and they are hugely intelligent (which lends its own problem, "free will disappears when you always know the right answer). The "adult" form of a hominid race, their only weakness is that their only loyalty is to their bloodline. As a result, genocidally killing their bloodline (if you can, they're called Protectors for a reason) causes them to die of self-inflicted starvation. $\endgroup$ – SE is too politically correct Jan 23 at 2:56
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, I added some info. And yeah, they can do internal conflict stuff in their civilization, and I do imagine they would become kings often. Breeding out the protagonist stuff is possible, though a risky plan. I imagine Moses like shenanigans where someone is raised as the prince of the rival and then rebels. $\endgroup$ – Nepene Nep Jan 23 at 3:00
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    $\begingroup$ Overlord handled this problem as well. The "solution" the NPCs came up with was turn the protagonists against each other by playing on divisions and rivalries within their social group until they all killed each other. Each was so used to playing god-king that the idea that there was a situation that they couldn't just get their way on set them off and they quickly resorted to violence. $\endgroup$ – user2352714 Jan 23 at 3:11
  • $\begingroup$ I gave this comment the top mark, as it was the only one that addressed how the civilization would develop technology and offered several interesting avenues for developing the world. It also suggests what most rivals would likely try to do- marry into this obviously blessed civilization. $\endgroup$ – Nepene Nep Jan 23 at 14:15
  • $\begingroup$ Seriously, can we not do the spoilers? $\endgroup$ – Mindwin Jan 23 at 14:47
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Psychological Warfare

You see, even protagonists aren't immune to losing - you just have to be sneaky about it. By employing psychological warfare, you can have the Hero believe he's winning or has won, and in actuality, he isn't winning at all. For instance, you can prop up a figurehead as the 'Dark Lord of Evil' which can only be vanquished by the 'Legendary Hero of Good' and whip up a propaganda-esque legend that says once the 'Legendary Hero of Good' defeats the 'Dark Lord of Evil', all war can come to an end and peace can be ensured between the two nations. Thus, once the Hero kills your figurehead, the Hero will follow the rest of your 'prophecy' and ensure that war between your countries stop.

Or, in the event you feel like really messing with the Hero, get him to change sides. This would need to be some kind of a false flag operation - for instance, leak some intel about a 'top secret military base' to the enemy commander who helps the Hero, and when the Hero goes to investigate and slaughters them all, it turns out that it was just a harmless lab of scientists and politicians working to make the world better. Lather on the guilt to the Hero, hire some philosophers to start chipping away at his moral outlook, and see if you can convince him to be the Hero who starts off working for the villains, but switches sides. (Do note that if he finds out you've tricked him, you're screwed and nothing can save you.)

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  • $\begingroup$ Makes sense. So you convince the hero to enforce peace between you two? Sounds like a solid strategy. As does trying to turn heroes. I imagine they would do their best to build a psychological profile. $\endgroup$ – Nepene Nep Jan 23 at 2:06
  • $\begingroup$ I think the disinformation campaign is more effective than the "avoid them" solution. $\endgroup$ – SRM Jan 25 at 6:19
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Kiting may work

The undefeatable characters do not seem to have any other purpose than fighting. So the world has no other choice but to oblige. Send a continuous stream of hostilities against them, just make sure they never figure out the real source of them. Draw them away from population centers. They can't be defeated, but they can be slowed. So give them a task to do. And another task, and another...

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    $\begingroup$ The El Dorado solution might provide a similar solution that doesn't require exhausting soldiers. Tell the protagonists there is a big threat. Way over there, on the other end of the known world, and have people keep doing that to lead them on a wild goose chase. $\endgroup$ – user2352714 Jan 23 at 3:33
  • $\begingroup$ Part of the question involves the protagonist having the backing of their civilization, so they would have access to traders and scouts and advisers to tell them who to kill. NPCs to give them quests. $\endgroup$ – Nepene Nep Jan 23 at 4:01
  • $\begingroup$ @NepeneNep, this doesn't change much. "Protagonist" killing abilities has a cap of N people per day. And this N is far, far lower, than normal birth and death rate, and even crime rate. So you can easely oversaturate it even with D-personel (SCP slang). And it is the dumpiest solution of all! Much smarter kiting strategies can apply. $\endgroup$ – ksbes Jan 23 at 8:25
  • $\begingroup$ They get more and more deadly the more they kill, so trying to defeat them by sending their kill cap at them every year isn't a reliable solution- they get more dangerous over time, and can surpass their previous kill caps. $\endgroup$ – Nepene Nep Jan 23 at 13:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Nepene Nep so the solution is to keep them busy in the area where characters would be hindered by difficult terrain and nature elements rather than "D-personnel" alone. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Jan 23 at 17:07
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SHRUG AND LIVE WITH IT

It is just one man or a small team. How many people can they manage to kill in fights? (It sounds from your description that they don't use weapons of mass destruction).

If they kill 100 people every day, it comes to 36,500 people a year. That's only a little more than annual gun-related deaths in the US (33,636 deaths in 2013), and exactly NO steps are taken to reduce gun deaths, even though it would be far simpler than stopping your superkillers. We shrug and accept that as a small price for the right to bear arms.

More than 32,500 people are killed in motor vehicle accidents every year in the US alone. We shrug and accept that as a small price for being able to take our cars everywhere.

Cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the US, including more than 41,000 deaths resulting from secondhand smoke exposure. This is about one in five deaths annually, or 1,300 deaths every day. We shrug and accept that as a small price for being able to have a smoke, though it could easily be remedied by a ban.

Given that we just shrug and accept comparable or far higher death counts from situations that we easily could do something about, why make major efforts against killers that can't be stopped, anyway? Yes, I know that massive amounts of mney and manpower are used to limit death by terrorism, though only 225 people in the US were killed from terrorist attacks in the 15 years following 9/11 (roughly evenly divided between right wing and extremist islamist attacks) - but that is because that sort of terrorism is fairly new. As I understand it, in your world the superkillers have been around for generations, similar gun violence, car accidents, and smoking. We learn to shrug and live with old, familiar dangers.

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    $\begingroup$ I am not sure about the comparison. The issue is the high geographic concentration of protagonist deaths. 325000 deaths spread out over the entire US may have a negligible effect on society as a whole, but the complete eradication of a vibrant center of trade and administration will cause significant ripples throughout the entire region. $\endgroup$ – lidar Jan 23 at 10:46
  • $\begingroup$ Ok, so you just live with your entire command center being ravaged every week? Because that's whats gonna happen. Your """"""answer""""""" doesn't solve anything $\endgroup$ – Hobbamok Jan 23 at 12:30
  • $\begingroup$ They can use guns and swords and bombs and planes competently enough to cut through armies so they could kill a lot more than 100 a day. They can also head to population centers where there's lots of people and rip their way through those. $\endgroup$ – Nepene Nep Jan 23 at 13:08
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    $\begingroup$ Also consider that these are not "random", distributed deaths like car accidents or smoking deaths. These "protagonists" are part of a military campaign, which is going to target high-value assets like leaders, scientists, engineers, infrastructure, and manufacturing. If a few people in your city drop dead every day from random causes, everyone else can carry on as normal, but there will be much further-reaching effects if an entire factory/quarry/farm/laboratory/parliament is wiped from the map each week. $\endgroup$ – Nuclear Wang Jan 23 at 15:08
  • $\begingroup$ what is your source for "325,000 people are killed in motor vehicle accidents every year in the US"? Wikipedia has that at 1/10th of your figure; even in the worst years, it was only 1/6th of that $\endgroup$ – landru27 Jan 23 at 17:57
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Pleasure Dome

You need to take a lot of pages from Evil Overlord List and work up from there.

Never murder villages, because one child WILL somehow survive and swear revenge. Never use magic powered by sacrificing orphans, because friend of one of the sacrifices will swear revenge, or protagonists who had no real personal issue with you will find it a reason to kill you at any cost. Never gloat. Never give "protagonists" personal reason to go after you. First you must be a villain with very good publicity, that sets the stage for second phase.

You said they have support of civilization they were born to, but do they? Said civilization wants to use them for it's own goals no matter what they want, this is your chance to subvert them: find out what THEY want and give it to them.

If you made sure that "protagonists" don't have strong personal or moral reasons to oppose you, then you can start subverting their desire to undergo arduous tasks. Wine, women and song, sex, drugs and rock'n'roll, crack or boardgames, something will erode their will to fight, you just need to find out what and drown them in it. Heck, you are comparing them to average gamers, so setting up a small council of clerks, preferably posed as independent, counting their "achievements" (just 9428 more rats for Piper of Hamelin badge!) would be well enough, you can combine it with appeal to vanity with bardic songs or reality TV based on their "achievements" (extensive bard corps or streaming depending on tech level). Create a "hero" ranking for something superficially important and let them indulge the irrelevant.

Not everyone will give up their noble goals for life of opulence, but many will. Assuming they had noble goals in the first place, and weren't just after selfish goals of fame and fortune entire time. If they were, give them that, cater to their desires: give rogue/thief a luxurious life he always dreamt of, make fighter a figurehead marshal to satiate his thirst for glory, provide mage with ingredients and assistants and let them delve into magical research, promote bard into famous pop singer. Sure it'll cost a lot, but those people are a major threat and who knows, perhaps you can somehow make money off of them. Even better, perhaps you can make them fight for you to defend their new way of life.

Sidequests

Oh no! Poor elderly widow displaced her last mite! Who could possibly help her? Can be combined with Reality TV from previous suggestion: what kind of hero WOULDN'T help? Enough people think that Reality TV and wrestling are real so you won't have to fear for public shattering illusion by figuring out that widow was in fact an actor in no distress whatsoever. If heroes figure it out, it doesn't matter anyway, they don't want to disappoint their fans, now do they? Well, if they do, perhaps you can turn ALL civilizations against heroes? Perhaps they'll be too busy to focus just on your country, perhaps this will spawn new heroes to oppose fallen ones keeping both groups hero parties off your back for a while, pull some strings to even up the fights and make it last.

Exploit the fact that real, systemic social change isn't very personal and distract heroes with personal quests. If you go reality TV route, be careful to manage their image and issues they tackle, lest you accidentally give them platform and following large enough to enact significant changes, you don't want any of them getting elected, now do you? That being said, perhaps you can convince them of flaws of their homeland that need to be addressed and send them back so they can use their newfound fame to interfere with internal affairs to your benefit. Even if that fails and they rally back against you, according to your phrasing main danger lies in their uncanny combat prowess, will they be just as uncannily effective as political leaders? If not, that's still a win for you.

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The clear answer is you make them King. Or your oligarchs.

The situation as described can only be explained by the individual or individuals being specially favored by the gods (if your society uses religious explanations for real world phenomena) or has perfect knowledge of the future / the ability to move forward and backward in time (if your society uses high concept sci fi explanations for real world phenomena).

Once you have proven to yourselves that you cannot beat them, the logical course of action is to make their abilities an asset for yourselves. The most straightforward way I can see to do that is to enlist them to rule.

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    $\begingroup$ A solid and reasonable solution. $\endgroup$ – Nepene Nep Jan 23 at 13:28
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Be the Good Guys

Charity, compassion, and social well-being are the cornerstone of your society. If someone is hungry, they're fed. If they lack shelter, they're clothed. Be generous with your neighbors and welcoming to strangers. Your justice system is fair and merciful, and your government is equitable and responsible to its people's needs. Likewise on an international level--build consensus, find the win-win solutions, encourage trade and sharing of ideas and knowledge.

And whatever you do, do not start a conflict with the Protagonists' people. You don't need to roll over at any sign of aggression, but always work to deescalate and seek peaceful, diplomatic solutions. And if an armed conflict does start, your armed forces consist of farmers defending their homes and plucky youths with their fathers' swords.

Protagonists always want to be the Good Guys. If they're sent into your country and find it full of friendly, helpful people who are desperately defending themselves against a horrible invasion, they'll be taking up arms against their own military in no time.

(If possible, also arrange to have suitable Love Interests in the area to convince the Protagonist to stay in your country after the war ends. Bonus points if you land your own branch of the Protagonist bloodline as a result.)

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  • $\begingroup$ The world isn't black and white. While you may be as good as you want, the "heroes" will be born into the society of your arch nemesis. You are good in that you further prosperity of your people by allowing great liberties? The heroes are staunch communists who see the indirect exploitation of the unfortunate. YOU are the comuinists? The Heroes are staunch capitalists. And so on. You cannot be good according to their view $\endgroup$ – Hobbamok Jan 23 at 12:34
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I like to think of it as a video game problem that needs a video game solution.

They are not completely unkillable, but the are hard to kill and when you kill them, they will respawn a few moments later.

So, where do they respawn? Do they have some base that can be blocked? For example if they always respawn in the same room of the same house, you can tear down the house or move a giant rock into that room, so they can't respawn anymore.

Do they need some device to respawn? Then break the "respawninator" or cut off the power or material supply.

Do they store their mind somewhere when they die? Then hack the server and corrupt the mind backup.

Is your world a simulation? Then use cheat codes.

When you hinder them from respawning, you only need to kill them once to get rid of them.

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  • $\begingroup$ They are all killable, but they have unique and different methods of immortality that protect them and are absurdly tough. The long term goal of the story will be to find ways to handle them and stop them, but I was curious how in the thousands of years up to that point they'd handle them. Their respawn points are anyone of their bloodline. $\endgroup$ – Nepene Nep Jan 23 at 13:37
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    $\begingroup$ Anyone of their bloodline? Then the solution is obvious - genocide. You wipe out every single person of their bloodline and THEN kill the protagonist. $\endgroup$ – Andrew Davie Jan 23 at 15:34
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Skull Island

Inveigle, trick, or hoodwink the protagonist into a quest that culminates in a one-way quest to reach the famed island of super monsters. Or simply drug the protagonist and drop them there. It really doesn't matter if there really are giant monsters there - the protagonist is a worse monster anyway.

If Skull Island is too hard, then convince the supers to fight each other with broadswords - only the last immortal can with The Prize. Of course, since new supers appear after every conflict, nobody can win The Prize.

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    $\begingroup$ I like this idea, but doesn't it fail "2) They can be slowed, but not stopped by environmental conditions and problems. They always seem to find a way out." and "3) Technology and animals sent against them tend to be co-opted or taken over"? Drop a protagonist in Skull Island and they come out riding a T. rex. $\endgroup$ – user2352714 Jan 23 at 2:32
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, leaving them with an island of monsters leaves the likely outcome they come out riding a T-Rex leading an army of monsters to avenge their people. Giving them a major resource like many monsters is a risky plan. $\endgroup$ – Nepene Nep Jan 23 at 2:54
  • $\begingroup$ So let them come out riding the T-Rex. Let them come out herding a battalion of T-Rexes. Anything other than the protagonist is the lesser monster anyway. Nobody was afraid of Genghis Khan's dog. The important point is the isolation...and the challenges to keep the protagonists in isolation as long as possible. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Jan 24 at 1:44
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If opponent is about as powerful AND has these protagonists, you obviously have no chance to win, so the answer assumes a MUCH weaker opponent, except for these superhumans. Think 300 vs full Persian army; except those 300 are attacking and get reborn if they die.

Now, as long as you are defending, you can have heavier weapons that with mop up anything protagonist can come up with. So, simply just defend and prevent protagonist from ever getting close enough to inflict damage.

For a modern example, use simple DMZ with automatic machine guns - like the one in Korea. Yeah, protagonists can keep coming, but so what, the only cost is some ammo = not expensive. On the other hand, using a tank/plane is NOT free for protagonist. Same basic principle is easily extended to any technological level. Even stone-age people could still build stone heaps and throw rocks. Add some fires to illuminate surroundings during night, even in storm, and you are mostly fine.

Sure, this is not a perfect solution, if you have a huge country to defend, all these walls are expensive and impractical. But you might have a castle to defend important people while peasants might die at the hands of these assassins. This isn't a great cost, just replace them with fresh peasants which are also in nearly endless supply.

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Scorched Earth Destroy all the plants, animals and salt the earth wherever they appear. If they are players, they'll stop logging in when it's not fun.

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Coerce the protagonist.

They could take possession of something or someone the protagonist cares about enough to respect their demands.

Assuming that, like for most of the humans living in a society, something should fit in that description.

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  • $\begingroup$ How will this address the ability of the Invincible Protag to basically overcome all obstacles? Please feel free to flesh out your answer! $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Jan 23 at 21:44

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