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Occasionally when I'm close to a bonfire, a character/avatar will appear. The character looks like an NPC, but I pass through it and am unable to interact with it.

I suspect they are actually other players, but their appearance is much more vivid than the usual ghostly animations seen about the world.

Can anyone confirm what these characters are? Is there any significance to them?

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up vote 9 down vote accepted

As you suspected, these are actually other players playing the game. These are similar to the ghosts you sometimes see running around, although more vivid. According to the Dark Souls wiki:

Near bonfires (and only near them), the phantoms of other players are more distinct and visible than elsewhere in the game. Seeing other people resting at the same bonfire helps players realize that these people are probably facing the same challenges.

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Thanks for the link! I suspect the next paragraph is also relevant: "If someone strengthens a bonfire, this will be transmitted to people "nearby" (in network terms) who are using the same bonfire, giving them an extra Estus Flask. Strengthening a bonfire costs valuable Humanity, but you can use it to help out strangers and gain a sense of solidarity with your fellow strugglers." – YellowMegaMan Oct 16 '11 at 9:05
@YellowMegaMan that would explain why I am given an extra estus flask every so often for no apparent reason – Wipqozn Oct 16 '11 at 22:43

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