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Chapter 1: Introduction

1.1 What is Avatar?

Avatar is a character based role playing game. It aims to be as flexible as possible, in terms of setting, by including an innovative World Building game and by basing action firmly around characterisation by means of a system of personality traits that build a realistic picture of the character for player and Gamesmaster alike.

Avatar uses open-ended combat and magic systems, which constantly refer back to these character templates to ensure the personality has a real and important effect on the game scenario. The rules assume some previous experience with role playing games, and many common gaming conventions are used without explanation (for example, 1d20 for the value obtained from rolling a twenty sided dice).

The system aims for fast, simple, easily resolvable rules management, with a minimum of in-play table reference. Once the basics have been understood, game-play should be slick, favouring character interaction over number crunching.

1.2 Background

Any world in the Avatar system is superimposed over a background of Twilight and Shadow. Twilight represents the real world, but an area of the real world impinged upon by Shadow, a purely conceptual dimension that is directly linked to the personalities of every living creature within Twilight.

Twilight can affect Shadow - events changing people - but in Avatar, Shadow can also affect Twilight - people and personality directly affecting reality. More details on this subject are given in section 1.9 onwards.

1.3 The World

Avatar incorporates a method by which worlds can be generated by the entire group, players and Gamesmaster, who are to use that world in the game. This obviously allows for a wide variety of different settings for the game.

The rules are purposefully non-restrictive, allowing for this variation in settings. For this reason, the game is suggested for experienced Gamesmasters and players, although intelligent beginners should have few difficulties.

A sample world is provided, to give some idea of what is possible with the World Building game, and to provide a setting for those people who do not have time to build a world, or convert an existing world to Avatar mechanics.

1.4 Character Generation

Characters are expressed in four ways.
Each character has Attributes to reflect their bodily capabilities, and how influential to Shadow (i.e. inherently magical) they are.
These are described as Affinities and Aversions. Concepts define the likes and dislikes of the character, both consciously and unconsciously.
Demeanour traits:
These depict the personality of the character, and are based around a list of thirty pairs of opposite traits.
Each character has a list of numerically rated Skills in which they are competent, the level of proficiency being based on how much time the character has spent engaged in the use of that Skill, and how well their personality Demeanours and Affinities are suited to the demands made by each Skill. Character generation is fully explained in Chapter 3.

1.5 Combat

The rules feature a two-tiered combat system, the first of which is the Abstract system. This aims to provide a fast and simple combat system based around a set of Fighting styles. Characters learn one or more fighting style and their ability to succeed at fighting using these styles is rated as a Skill. This value depends on how much time they have spent in practice, and how well their individual personality is suited to the styles they have chosen. Any action is allowed in combat, with the difficulties being based openly around the action's relevance and compatibility with the chosen Fighting styles and the character's personality.

Wounding is recorded as a collection of wound codes of varying severity which are directly related to a character's physical health. Every character has three Wound States based on their personal constitution. The wound codes suffered build up until they reach the level of a character's first Wound State, at which point the character is first seriously affected in terms of abilities. At the next Wound State, they are knocked unconscious, and at the final Wound State, they are killed.

The damage system also allows for various hit locations, and for the maiming or destruction of limbs, as well as instant death due to severe head or torso hits.

The second level is the Duellist system. This involves a more complex mechanism for resolving combat, designed for duels and small skirmishes. It is fully compatible with the Abstract system, and one may be exchanged for the other at any time, even in the middle of a conflict. The Duellist system breaks the combat round into segments, and each activity has a certain cost in Actions, which are a measure of what can be performed, and depend on a character's personal agility. The higher the Action cost, the greater number of segments the activity takes. This can allow for more thoughtful, strategic play within combat.

1.6 Magic

Magic in Avatar is a reflection of how influential a magician is in Shadow; how deeply that magician's personality affects the world around them. Anything is possible in the Avatar magic system, from spot magic effects to spells and rituals, created to fill any desired purpose.

When magic is cast, the magician can suffer mental damage known as Backlash, depending on how difficult the task they attempted was, and how proficient at magic they are. If they are too disoriented by this damage, they are prevented from successfully manifesting the effect and may be driven insane. A full system for insanity, linked to the Demeanour system, is included.

Rules for binding spells and magical effects to items, and creating spells and intelligent magical objects, are also present. These processes are dealt with as an extension of the usual spell casting mechanics.

1.7 Theomancy

Included in the rules for magic is a system of religious magical power which is based around the results of praying to gods. The chances of a success are greater if the character praying has a higher standing with the god in question. This standing is represented as a Skill total, dependant on the character's devotion to the god, and how powerful the god is in the world. Because in Avatar the personalities of people directly affect reality, people tend to create their own gods (although they will be unaware of this), the deity being stronger the more people there are that believe in it. For more information, see section 1.11.

1.8 Basic Mechanics

The rules use two different types of dice - d20's and d6's - and essentially three different mechanics for resolving situations.

The first is basic task resolution, which involves rolling 1d20 and adding the result to a numerical value, usually a Skill or Attribute. This value is then compared to a Task Difficulty, with success depending on whether or not the total equalled or exceeded the Task Difficulty. Basic task resolution is usually open ended, meaning that any numerical value is possible, as any roll of 20 allows you to roll again. For more information, see Chapter 4.

Secondly, some rules use matrix resolution. Here, a certain number of d6's are rolled (usually 2d6, but not always), and the result modified by various factors, depending on the situation. The resulting value is compared to a table which will provide the result. The most common use of matrix resolution is for the Wound matrix (Table 26) and the Backlash matrix (Table 42).

Lastly, several rules use index resolution. In index resolution, d6's are not treated at face value. Each 5 that is rolled is counted as a +1, and each 6 as a +2. All other values count as 0. In a way, each die is rolled as if it were 1d6-4, with values less than zero being treated as zero (some people may prefer to roll and ignore any dice that come up 3 or higher, as this will yield equivalent results).

Where this mechanic is used, any appropriate values will be expressed as an index. This consists of two parts: the number of d6's in that index, and a numerical modifier, for example 2-1, indicating that 2d6 should be rolled (counting 5's as +1 and 6's as +2), and 1 subtracted from the final result. The most common use of index resolution is for combat Initiative (Table 17) and for Armour (Table 29).

Another concept that is worth mentioning is blocks of 5. In some cases, two values will be compared and the result expressed as a number of blocks of 5. In all cases, this refers to the number of complete units of 5 in difference between the two values. For example, there are 3 blocks of 5 difference between 12 and 29 (difference is 17, which is three blocks of 5. The remaining 2 is ignored).

1.9 R-space and P-space

The following section is a discussion on a purely theoretical subject, the concept of personality-space, or P-space. Whilst it serves to explain how magic works in Avatar, it is not essential reading and can be passed over, if desired. We are all familiar with Real-space, or R-space, the four dimensional array in which all matter exists. We move about in R-space, confined by the laws which govern it, and all objects can be defined in terms of its four dimensions. Whenever you move or alter an object, you are changing some of the values of the R-space array. You yourself are defined by a (large) set of values in the R-space array.

Now let us assume that a person's personality and memories can also be expressed in some form of array. Such an array would contain one common dimension to R-space, time, but the other three dimensions would not be used. We might expect such an array to have a very large number of dimensions, although we cannot easily say how many dimensions such an array would need if it is to completely describe all possible personalities and memories - their software, if you like. This array is P-space. As an abstraction, P-space exists. Whether you believe it physically exists is a different matter (the more mystical amongst you might be inclined to say that it does, as it can be used to rationalise all manner of psychic and metaphysical phenomena).

Events in R-space are affected by P-space, because the way in which a sentient being acts is determined by that being's definition in P-space. The contents of P-space are affected by R-space, because events that occur in R-space will have an effect on the personality and memories of the people who are influenced by it. If you like, there is a set of 'links' between R and P space at the points where a sentient being is defined in the two arrays: its body in R-space, and its mind (or soul) in P-space. We can further assume that when a sentient being dies, its definition in P-space remains, but since it no longer experiences stimuli from R-space, it becomes purely static and unchanging.

1.10 Twilight and Shadow

The concept of multiple planes (or dimensions, but this term might be confused with the dimensions of the P-space and R-space arrays) is one familiar to almost all readers of fantasy: that there exist a number of different worlds, each on a different plane of reality. We generally think of each of these as being a physical plane - an R-space plane - but there is no reason for us not to think of some of these as P-space planes.

Now imagine an area where P-space and R-space have crashed into each other - where the P-space plane overlaps the R-space plane. Here, as well as events in R-space affecting the personalities in P-space, the thoughts in P-space can directly affect the events in R-space. Instead of cause and effect being straightforward, reality has become a twilight world, with shadows cast upon it by the thoughts of the minds within it.

In such a place, the way people think can actually affect how things happen, because the configuration of shadow (P-space) affects the configuration of twilight (R-space). Here is a place where magic is real - because belief in something is sometimes capable of making that something happen.

1.11 Gods and Magic

Because everyone is inherently different, Shadow is normally quite sparse. However, if people think in the same way, then a denser area is produced, and it is easier to affect Twilight with an extent proportional to the number of minds that think that way. When people believe in a god, for example, they define an area of Shadow. The more who believe in that god, the denser the area of Shadow becomes, and the more powerful the god becomes.

Each god is defined by the sum of its believers. Together they form a kind of Superentity in Shadow with powers and motivations related to how its followers perceive it, and a degree of power proportional to the number of people that support it. Each of these believers will, to some degree, be able to influence the nature of that god. If it is believed that Priests of this god can call upon its powers then it follows that the priests will be able to alter reality to some degree, depending on the power of the god, and the status of the priest (which will depend on how well the individual serves the purposes of the god).

Similarly, if people believe in a particular form of magic, they will produce a dense area. Here, however, we have a passive Superentity, because whereas faith in a god defines an entity with motivations and powers, belief in a form of magic produces powers without motivations (although doubtlessly with limitations). Unlike gods, the entity here is much hazier in its definition.

In order to alter reality by using these entities, it is necessary to alter your state of mind so that your existence in Shadow has moved into the dense area. Once in that area, the individual can make an alteration which in turn will affect reality.

In addition, sorcerers will be able to define specific areas of higher density around the area which defines their school of magic. These areas can be made to apply to Twilight when certain actions cause the correct configuration in Shadow. Such actions are spells and incantations, rites and rituals. Once one sorcerer has defined an area, anyone may be taught to use it (learn to cast the appropriate spell), and this provides an easier way to achieve an effect.

1.12 Phase and Backlash

Different people are more or less able to affect Shadow (and hence alter Twilight). People who are more able to affect Shadow are referred to as being in phase with Shadow. Such people are capable of great feats of magic (if they pursue such a calling) and of resisting malevolent magical effects because their own beliefs and ego have a greater presence in Shadow, and will act (subconsciously) to oppose changes in Twilight.

Conversely, people who are out of phase exist less prominently in Shadow. Their personality and mind still exists in Shadow, but they are vulnerable to magic because their own beliefs and ego have less presence in Shadow and are hence less able to resist changes in Twilight.

Because of the alterations of mind and thought required to perform magic, there is a disorienting effect invoked when magic is performed. This repercussion, known as backlash, tends to push the magician towards insanity and confusion, if they do not take care to rest their mind and calm themselves between casting spells or performing magic.

Phase is represented as a numerical figure, one of the six Attributes that all characters have.

1.13 Local Phase and Dead Zones

As well as individuals possessing a Phase, different places have different degrees of Phase. Areas which are high in Phase are potent places for casting magic, because the caster has a significantly greater effective Phase when in such places, whereas areas which are out of Phase are naturally resistant to magic and alteration, because the caster has a reduced Phase when the surroundings are low in Phase.

In addition, there are areas where Shadow no longer exists simultaneously with Twilight: where P-space and R-space are no longer in contact with each other. In these places - the dead zones - magic is powerless, or near powerless, and people who are high in Phase will feel weak and fatigued in such areas.

It is possible to bring areas into Phase, but this tends to result in bringing other places out of Phase, the net result being that dead zones can behave like air bubbles behind wallpaper. Destroy one, and you merely produce another somewhere else.

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Last Updated: April 16th, 1999