Avatars were the physical incarnation of deities in Shadow World, which by their intrinsic nature were non-corporeal entities. These were literally 'power given physical form', as the gods were conscious manifestations of pure essence. With the use of an avatar the god was able to interact as a humanoid would with the outside world. These were invariably fantastically powerful corporeal manifestations, whether with spell-craft or physical combat, and often with unique powers. For example, Koar had some limited control over the flows of essence, and Lorminstra was the only one who could reincarnate the souls of the fallen.
There was a trade-off in that the concentration of their power in a physical incarnation made them relatively vulnerable compared to their innate formlessness. Whereas a god would be broken from its sphere of emanation with only great difficulty, much like the Greater Elementals of modern Elanthia, it was possible to temporarily incapacitate a deity by destroying its avatar. It was also possible to exploit this weakness to banish the god to other realms or otherwise imprison it.
In the I.C.E. Age lore there were physical limitations to avatars, including the inability of deities to sustain more than one at any given time. These were forms they could only hold temporarily without recovering at their base of power. In principle, adventurers represent the opposite end of a spectrum, beings whose power is utterly dependent on their corporeal form.
In the Shadow World timeline of GemStone III, the Lord of Orhan (Liabo) were absent for most of world history. These gods were ultimately extra-planar in origin, as they are interpreted in DragonRealms, except they arrived here as a result of a cataclysm which formed the inter-dimensional rift allowing magic. The Lords of Essaence were unaware of their existence, because they hid themselves by making their moon invisible. It was not until the Dark Gods began appearing in 450 Second Era that the Light Gods revealed themselves, and fashioned avatars to leverage their influence in the mortal world. These may have been Lord of Essaence experiments let off their leash.
The Dark Gods were relatively physical in nature, and had no qualms with dominating the world. However, they were little more than an uneasy alliance of treacherous rivals, and the pantheon of the Light Gods was significantly more powerful and capable of unified action. It was the defiance of a lesser pantheon under the rule of Orgiana (Eorgina) which ultimately enraged the Light Gods to intervene in the Wars of Dominion. It was only a matter of decades before all of the Dark Lords were more or less imprisoned. There were statistics for the levels and abilities of these avatars, where on average the light gods were roughly twice as powerful as the dark gods.
While the word "avatar" is used in the modern history of Elanthia, its meaning is not necessarily consistent with the original definition. There have been cases of powerful servants being referred to as avatars of Arkati, whereas the older concept is typically what is meant by phrases such as "preferred manifestation." The concept of being incapable of influencing the physical world without an incarnate form has existed modernly with Meyno and Althedeus.
Powers of Avatars
For the most part the gods used humanoid forms for their avatars, which could be augmented to 12 feet in height at will. The Dark Lords would often have a secondary form, possibly even their "natural" one in this reality, which was more bestial or otherwise monstrous. The Great Spirits have the same basic strengths and weaknesses, except on a lesser scale. These were demigods of roughly the same power as Ordainers.
General Powers Include:
- Immunity to natural heat and cold, greatly diminished vulnerability to spells.
- Haste themselves as much as they wish.
- Effectively cannot be stunned, would still be able to parry regardless.
- Project bursts of light (or darkness) overpowering magical effects to the contrary for 300 feet.
- Subconsciously aware of all of their followers.
- Resist equally to all forms of magic, and suffer from no partial effects.
- Immunity to all magic involving control, mind, illusion, or spirit.
- Instantly communicate with each other at will.
Limitations of Avatars
It is impossible for the avatar of a moon god to sustain its form on the world for longer than the rotation of one day. If it does not return to the source of its power to recover, it will be destroyed just as if it had been defeated by violence. In the event the physical incarnation of a deity is "killed", the god is rendered incapable of manifesting itself for some duration of time. It does not prevent them from communicating with other gods, serving as a power source to their followers, or sending non-corporeal projections of themselves. In the absence of some interference, the artifacts carried by an avatar will disappear with it, making looting them virtually impossible.
It is much more difficult for the Dark Gods to sustain their power over great distances. In the Wars of Dominion they had suddenly revealed they had much easier access to the world via gateways than they had let on for several thousand years. When they were defeated by the Light Gods, these portals were all warded with immortal guardians. Consequently, the Dark Gods could still send themselves to the world, but in much weaker form that effectively prevented their conquest.
The Lords of Orhan (Liabo) were able to ride the flows of essence between the moon and the world at tremendous speeds. Their godlike powers were unmatched by any other pantheon, though a few individual Dark Gods were more powerful than some of the weaker Light Gods, and prowess does not reduce entirely to nominal level. For example, even Kuor (Koar) was unable to defeat Cay (Kai) in unarmed combat, even though their king was significantly more powerful overall. Their avatars could also become embarrassed trying to fight a local god at the nexus of its sphere of emanation, which is part of the reason they allowed the world so much autonomy. Local gods were present even before them.
General Limitations Include:
- Recovery time from "death" is always 70 days, the length of one orbit of Orhan (Liabo).
- Travel time from projecting their avatar to one of their temples takes six rounds.
- Limit of their physical range was essentially the solar system.
The Dark Lords of Charon (Lornon) were considerably weakened by traveling very large distances, whether through space or up through the earth through the portals on their moon. It was the point of the Estrion incident that Scalu (Sheru) needed the mortals to open a portal so that he could send his avatar through with its full might. While they could only pass through a "static portal" if it was opened from our side, it would still restrict the avatar to its limit of a single day. In contrast, Estrion and Siarl were opening a temporary gate that could be sustained by continually drawing power, which would have allowed the god to remain indefinitely.
It was the backlash of this ritualistic summoning that caused the flow storm to anchor over the unstable portal within Darkstone Castle. When Estrion attempted to absorb the power of Sheru's avatar, Sheru saw through his ploy, and cut them off from the other end. They were trying to force the portal back open by channeling more power when they triggered the lingering mana storm. Some of his forces were left behind, most notably the harbingers who would also later take up residence in the Broken Lands.
General Limitations Include:
- Recovery time from "death" is a random length, between 10 and 100 days. Other sources say 50 to 150 days.
- Half power when projecting their avatar through space from the moon. Only can stay a few hours.
- Otherwise require rare, special portals for their avatars to have full power.
Unlike the Great Spirits which had served the Light Gods since time immemorial, the Dark Spirits were extensions of will of the Dark Lords which could be absolved whenever they wished. Ironically, the Dark Spirits could remain indefinitely on the surface of the world, possibly because their masters would channel them power. It was possible for their essence to not survive the trip back to the moon if their avatar was destroyed, and whatever artifacts they were carrying would not disappear with them. They would also not be aware of their followers without being disturbed through a ritual or summons.
The Dark Spirits being that much more physically dependent, they often had special vulnerabilities which were especially dangerous for them. These weaknesses ranged from running water, such as rain storms, to special kinds of holy gems. While the Dark Lords might have some minor weaknesses, the same was generally not true of their light counterparts.
However, the flow storms were dangerous for all manners of gods and greater spirits, potentially able to kill them regardless of their power. The I.C.E. Age avatars of Kai and V'tull were blasted apart from each other by one forcing them to draw. Modernly, the Drake's Shrine was cut off for thousands of years by the storms, though the archaic gods lore allowed avatars to pass through the barrier formed by the Eyes without being harmed.
They were also able to send non-corporeal images of themselves through their temples or channeling points. These were unable to influence their physical surroundings, including casting spells, but allowed the god to be aware of the surroundings. Unlike the limitations of avatars, it was possible for them to sustain dozens of projections, simultaneously all over the world. It would only be possible to prevent them from being able to do this by truly "killing" them, which for a non-corporeal entity essentially means rendering it permanently unconscious or unable to reconstitute its awareness or will. However, it was possible to destroy the projection with magic, which resisted at half the level of an avatar.
Modernly, Luukos appeared as a projection at the Felstorm incident in Maelstrom Bay, which was subsequently disspelled by Lorminstra. The Eye of the Felstorm itself was anchored by a mass of essence, guarded by a spectral serpentine head, which may also have been some form of extension of Luukos' power. Gods might cause magical effects in a room without an avatar seemingly present, which is not strictly consistent with the older lore.
Examples of Avatars
Some examples of avatars correspond to the original concept directly, others only reflect the same general idea or refer instead to powerful servants.
- Kai's Shrine: The Order of Voln step requiring unarmed combat with the avatar of Kai originates in the archaic lore about him being impossible to defeat in that method. While he will kill you if you attempt to cheat by casting magic, it was once possible for other people to attack and kill the avatar. It would not vanish in a flash of light, but instead would say "the body of Lord Kai."
- Estrion Incident: The purpose of opening the portal to Lornon, with endless power sucked into it, is rooted in the archaic lore on Dark God avatars.
- The Dark Shrine: Marlu is represented as 12 feet tall, the same height as the power draining crystal dome.
- Fash'lo'nae: Kesh'ta'kai had a natural form reminiscent of an enormous beaked squid flying through the air.
- Eorgina: The physical incarnation of Orgiana was immune to fire, but would take twice the damage from cold.
- Luukos: Commonly uses a serpent manifestation, slightly different from the archaic form, which was flying while wearing a collar.
- Andelas: Sometimes manifests as a great cat, but his lore refers to an "avatar", called "The Claw of Andelas."
- Mularos: The Dark Alliance high priest of Mularos, the Painlord Eryael Ladrinyth, was once called an "avatar."
- Lorminstra: Appeared as a "young lass" during the Vvrael incident.
- Althedeus: Without the ability to physically incarnate in this world, Althedeus intended to use an urnon golem as a proxy.
Behind The Scenes
The general concept of the innate power of a non-corporeal being concentrated in incarnate form to relative scale, and becoming vulnerable to destruction by theoretically weaker beings as a result, has fairly clear influence from Tolkien and the fall of Sauron in Lord of the Rings. In principle, the "gods" of Elanthia are now all of a single race called the Arkati, so these nuances are no longer defined. It is not clear what makes one such god more powerful than others, or what specific vulnerabilities they might have owing to their special individual nature. The avatar concept makes the idea of being killed by violence essentially meaningless, whereas the religion in the modern lore treats them as fundamentally mortal.