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Basic Information

An Avatar (derived from the Sanskrit word for "descent") is a physical presence of an otherwise immaterial deity. The idea is predicated on the deity in question not typically having a material form and so creating one which is typically distinct from its core identity - this is as opposed to deities commonly assumed to have a distinct form manifesting and wandering about in the mortal world. The distinct identity is a core part of the concept of being an Avatar - when the Ancient Greeks conceived of Zeus, walking amongst mortals, then that was Zeus and all of Zeus (albiet possibly wearing a specific aspect), wheras to a Hindu Krishna is Vishnu, but not all of Vishnu and to a Christian1 Jesus is YHWH, but not all of YHWH. Some deities have only one avatar, others many - some of them of different species or gender to the normal conception of the deity. Depending on the theology of the religion in question, avatars may exhibit differing levels of divinity - some may be (literal) holy terrors full of awe and might, others more of a living parable and quite unremarkable to the casual observer. They may ascend into the heavens (or other appropriate destination) when their business is concluded, or become mortal and die, perhaps leaving mortal descendants behind to found ruling houses and/or serve as culture heros. Note that in spiritual terms an avatar is generally incarnate - that is, formed of genuine matter as opposed to ectoplasm - hence their occasional ability to found ruling houses.

There is also the potential of god-fragments - pieces torn from a deity in one crisis or another - becoming incarnate (viz. the legend of Attis, the incarnate form of the excised male aspects of the god Agdistis). Logically pieces torn from a living deity should seek reunion (as with Attis and Cybele) but those left behind after the destruction of a god may do all sorts of things. These fragments might be prone to apotheosis in their own right.

Somewhat hubristically, the term is also used for the "incarnation" of humans (or other intelligences) in an electronic virtual world - whether a little square picture next to your user name or a fully animated 3D virtual reality model.

The ragdoll avatar is an interesting subset which occasionally crops up in horror and similar genres.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Having a deity with an online avatar might be quite amusing … especially if someone decides to troll or rick-roll them.
  • These should probably not be introduced into a campaign lightly - having deities stomping about tends to lead to the sort of (literal) deus-ex-machina that can put a lot of stress on a campaign.
  • That said, done correctly, the meeker sort of Avatar could be a useful NPC - and has been used as such in a variety of fantasy novels.
    • Also, the avatar of the crappier kind of deity. If the gods themselves are on a par with powerful mortals (as in some badly run RPG campaigns) then the avatar of a god should be par for the course.
  • If your Avatar has to go through the rigmarole of being born (as many do), they may need protecting until they come into their full power. Possibly for a given value of "need" depending on the deity.
  • Note the bit about founding ruling dynasties - that would certainly put some poke under the "Divine Right of Kings".
    • Even the rumour of it may be useful.
    • Although an excessive desire to "keep the bloodline pure" may lead to problems (as Herr Starr remarked in Preacher "Son of man or Son of God, you can't (marry) your sister and expect good to come of it".
  • In the Cthulhu Mythos Nyarlathotep is particularly well know for his many avatars (know as the "Thousand Masks".
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