I'm confused with what an avatar really is. I understand it's the materialized form of the deity itself, right? Or, is it a part of the deity taking a physical form?

What happens if you kill the avatar?

How does one truly kill a god? I've heard that you make it mortal. How, by killing it's avatar? Can someone explain how this works?

  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ Can you expand on the source of the info you're getting for 'avatar' as well as what you've already looked at thus far? Are you strictly looking for answers related to 5e or will other editions work as well? \$\endgroup\$ – Pyrotechnical Oct 5 '18 at 18:41
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I think there are three different questions — what is an avatar, what happens if somebody kills an avatar, how can a mortal kill a god. \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Oct 5 '18 at 18:42
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ The details of how gods and avatars "work" have changed between editions. We use the [dungeons-and-dragons] tag for questions that span all editions of D&D. If you're curious about how deities work has changed over time then it is the right tag to use (along with maybe [edition-comparison]). If your primary goal is to kill a deity in a 5th edition game, then you should remove that tag. \$\endgroup\$ – Oblivious Sage Oct 5 '18 at 18:44
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ The reason why I ask is because by party's goal is to defeat the God of Dragons, Askeroth. Askeroth, much like Tiamat but my version, has created dragons and since the dragon race was being killed by dragon hunters and mankind he decided to take matter in his own hands and materialize himself in to a Dragon a cause discord while his creation was freed from death. Other deities created artifacts to kill his dragon form (avatar?). One man killed him years ago but now Askeroth is resurrected back for vengeance. In order for Askeroth to not be resurrected again they need to kill the deity himself. \$\endgroup\$ – Tnokes1914 Oct 5 '18 at 18:47
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ Please don’t edit in follow-up questions: ask a new question. We have a one question per Question policy, for several reasons, but most importantly your edit has made my answer incomplete, and forces someone who wants to answer the follow-up question to also answer the original question, because all answers are required to be complete answers to the question. (You can feel free to ask a new question and link back to this one, if you like, and/or link this one to the new one.) \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Oct 5 '18 at 19:08

One of the major conceits of D&D’s gods is that their very presence powerfully affects reality around them. They literally cannot go anywhere without warping reality to be more in line with themselves—and that isn’t something that does you any favors with the other gods, even those who are otherwise friendly towards you. Showing up somewhere important, particularly the Material Plane, in person is a good way to get every other gods’ attention, and even your allies aren’t likely to support you. You are literally damaging the plane by your very presence and it’s simply not OK to do that.

There are some exceptions. The Outer Planes are far more resilient, since they are already so strongly aligned, and a god with an invitation and/or paying the proper respect to the places they travel to or through can avoid doing so much damage. And a few gods do roam the planes, even the Material Plane, rather than set up their own divine realms; they can do this because roaming (and not putting down roots and affecting things) is part of who and what they are, and consequently they don’t warp things so much. But when a god goes somewhere forcefully where they aren’t welcome, well...

For reference, gods being in places they shouldn’t be, in person, has been used as an explanation of why the laws of physics—the game’s rules—have changed from edition to edition. That is the level of effect we are discussing here.

So in order to avoid pissing off the other gods, most deities will usually avoid doing things in person. They’ll operate through proxies and champions, or when they really need to do something themselves, through an avatar. In a lot of ways, an avatar is a lot like a very particular conjuration spell: it creates a physical representation of the god, with some of that god’s divine essence invested in it. The god can “pilot” the avatar as an extension of themselves—which is exactly what it is.

But importantly, the avatar only has a fraction of their power. It doesn’t warp reality as strongly—it still does, but not nearly as much. It’s far easier to justify the use of an avatar to the other gods. The damage it does is more localized, and easier to undo.

It also explains why the “god” can be defeated by mere mortals—that wasn’t the real god, you see, just an avatar. Many, many adventures have claimed that the adventurers are fighting a god, only for later canon to ret-con that to an avatar, to allow the god to continue to be used and to explain why the god was so “easy.”

In terms of what happens when an avatar is killed, it does hurt the god. They have invested some of their essence and divine power into the avatar, and that being destroyed hurts them. How much is left largely up to the DM and/or adventure authors, but the destruction of an avatar “shouldn’t” be just ignored. It’s a major event and should be portrayed as having consequences for the god in question.

As for truly killing a god, it can happen (the Astral Plane is known to be littered with the corpses of dead gods), but it’s pretty rare, especially these days (where almost-all gods are well established and entrenched, and exceedingly difficult to approach even for other gods). Usually, it involves a beat-down by another, stronger god. And often times, even that doesn’t stick—if the god in question still has believers, then the god can be restored through their faith alone. So in practice, starving a god of faith is the only real way to get a god to die and stay dead. That generally means diminishing the god, killing or converting their followers, or destroying the god and then subverting its faith to another god so that it can’t go to restoring the original god (Shar has something of a specialty in this).

The other thing known to be quite capable of killing a god is the Lady of Pain. She flayed Aoskar, a god of portals who made the extremely unwise choice of attempting to move to Sigil and claim that the Lady was, in fact, an aspect of him. When one of her dabuses converted to his faith, she took it personally and destroyed him. It’s unclear what would happen if a significant number of people began to believe in Aoskar again, but the Lady has been quite clear that to do such a thing would be exceptionally foolish and in practice he’s more of a punchline than a god now. Considering that there are precisely zero gods interested in disrespecting the Lady (despite the incredible power Sigil might offer) certainly suggests she could do the same to gods much more notable than Aoskar, too.

  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ @Tnokes1914 You might want to upvote this answer if you feel it is useful, but wait for a day or two before accepting, since a better answer might appear. By accepting my answer you reduce the chance of other people answering. \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Oct 5 '18 at 19:28
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ As an extension of KRyan's answer, some deities (and other powerful beings) may project "aspects." An aspect is to an avatar as a summoning spell is to a calling spell - it's a pale imitation, but gets the job done. The most important distinction between an avatar and an aspect is that an avatar is personally created by, sent by, and piloted by the deity - the deity curates the use of avatars personally and some pantheons will impose rules and restrictions on what a divine avatar can and cannot do. An aspect is "created" through the belief of worshipers, and represents their idea of the deity. \$\endgroup\$ – afroakuma Oct 5 '18 at 20:55
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ Would it be possible to get a couple references for some of this information? Particularly p3: it sounds like you are referring to a specific case. \$\endgroup\$ – Imperator Oct 5 '18 at 21:27
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ @Imperator Several specific cases, actually. It’s happened to the Forgotten Realms... twice? thrice? The Time of Troubles was caused by just avatars duking it out on the Material (hence it also being known as the Avatar Crisis). And then there was Vecna in Sigil (Die, Vecna, Die!), which caused 3e. Ultimately, though, the lore on gods in D&D is... thinly spread across dozens of books in at least three different editions of the game, so... providing sources on everything is really hard. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Oct 5 '18 at 21:40
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ That’s fair. I was just wondering if there was errata or something specific Wizards of the Coast released. \$\endgroup\$ – Imperator Oct 5 '18 at 21:50

Implementing the Avatar concept in 5e

The “avatar” concept is presently not a strong suit in the WotC RAW. But we can briefly summarize the main themes of this concept from ancient and medieval literature and talk about how to make sense of that in 5e without destroying play balance. (For a general reference sumarizing such literuature, see Geoffrey Parrinder's Avatar and Incarnation: The Divine in Human Form in the World's Religions from Oneworld Press, 1997.)

Some of the answers given in other forums around the Web are a bit heavy-handed in assuming that an avatar encounter must be a massively disruptive event that would shake the entire realm instantly, being almost impossible to survive. It could be in rare instances. But generally, the avatar concept is almost the opposite of this – it is a deity voluntarily bringing itself “down to size” so that it does not obliterate mortals or up-end their sphere of activity.

When manifesting as an avatar, a divine being limits or empties itself of some of its divine attributes to assume a mere mortal form, albeit still possessing some super-humanoid qualities, such as still having wisdom, intelligence, and charisma through the roof. How limited the avatar is, relative to the fullness of the deity, is up to the deity. Likewise, how much of the corporeal nature the avatar possesses – how human or elvish or whatever – it is, is up to the deity as well. But there will be at least a bit of both natures manifesting.

Moreover, the avatar does not have to be a perfect specimen of its worldly species; the avatar may have weaknesses such as a limp or a missing eye (like Gangleri, an incarnation of Odin), that it voluntarily tolerates.

Translating into 5e, all the avatar's ability scores are probably above 20, and at least one or two of them should be 30. It likely has innate magic, perhaps manifested by ostensibly mundane acts (like playing a flute), and many of its spells should have higher numerical values than stated in a standard description (higher damage, greater duration, longer range, more creatures effected, etc.). The avatar might have the power to partly or completely regenerate itself and/or other creatures. Invisibility and/or teleportation at will, are somewhat likely for any humanoid avatar.

Most importantly, killing the avatar does not in any way kill the deity; the deity may revive, replace, or transform its avatar form, perhaps switching to a similar or very different form, at will, though it is generally a once-per-few-centuries occurrence.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Hello and welcome to RPG.SE! When you get a minute, please take the tour to learn a bit more about the features on this site. This answer could be improved by citing relevant passages in the 5e source books so that future readers can verify the information and find other ancillary information of interest. Happy gaming! \$\endgroup\$ – Joel Harmon Oct 9 '18 at 11:36

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.