Expanded Religions (3.5e Variant Rule)
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This variant allows almost limitless possibilities for religious faith to be expressed within the D&D rules, rather than choosing a particular deity and following them. It requires some modification to the standard list of planes, the addition of Heaven and Hell, as well as changing the rules on what happens when you die.
Under this variant, any conceivable religion should be available, but each religion must fit into one of these categories: Polytheist, Dualist, Taoist, Spiritist, Atheist, Agnostic, or a Combination. These religions differ in two fundamental respects: what they believe and where they go when they die.
Belief: The correct object of worship is one or more of the multitude of powerful deities.
Afterlife: A polytheist goes to the plane of their chosen deity or deities.
Polytheist religions are the standard religions in the D&D world. Use the rules, or any variant of the rules, found in the core rulebooks. Clerics and fighters are often Polytheists.
Example: The temple of Olympia holds festivals and services in honor of the gods of the Olympian pantheon. In addition, that temple houses the cults of several individual Olympian deities, such as Zeus and Hera.
Belief: There is an ultimate good force (or a personafied God) and an ultimate evil force (or a personafied Satan) and one of those two is the correct object of worship.
Afterlife: Dualists either go to Heaven or Hell (which are distinct from any plane presented in standard rules.)
Dualist religions are usually founded by a prophet who explains some interpretation of Heaven and/or Hell and how one gets there. No one knows exactly what Heaven and Hell are; the most skilled scryers have looked into those mysterious planes and discovered only a bright light in Heaven and a dark emptiness in Hell. A few have invented complicated rituals they believed would transport them there; whether or not those rituals work is unknown as the subjects simply disappeared and never returned. One oddity regarding dualist religions is that alignment does not seem to influence it. One can be evil and still use the domains of Heaven (DM's discretion) or good and still use the domains of Hell (again, DM's discretion), although obviously Exalted and Vile domains are only available to Exalted or Vile characters.
Example: The church of Kathol follows the teachings of the apostle Kathol who founded the church based on the teachings of the prophet Junon, who spread his vision of the God of Heaven to the pantheists in the realm of Akhrabas. It is an extremely heierarchical and secretive religion, and although it is a religion of good, its followers often believe that only the church of Kathol is really good and all others must be converted at all costs.
Belief: No entity or force is worshipped. Rather, a particular path toward enlightenment is followed.
Afterlife: Taoists are naturally reincarnated, and lose most of their memories in the process (though some have regained those memories through magical means). No one has determined how the location of the reincarnated spirit may be found.
To be a Taoist, one must find a Guru. There have been occasional Taoists who discovered paths through books or even spontaneously, but they are very rare. Taoists believe that there is one perfect path, though none is sure what it is, and that once you have walked it, you will cease to be reincarnated and will achieve Enlightenment. There are many schools of Taoism, each of which tends to believe that its path is the correct one. Only Taoists are able to unlock the power of their Ki.
Example: The Monastery of Elders, in the island of Solastrí, follows the teachings of Unshartan. It trains monks and followers to believe that meditation and nonviolence, except for defense, are the ways to enlightenment. Monks are adopted from orphanages as infants and trained their whole lives to use their Ki to great effect. When the monks reach age 16 they go out into the world to experience as much as possible, and return in their old age to tend the gardens, write poetry, and teach the arts to their young students.
Belief: There is a wide range of beliefs for Spiritists, depending on what they believe have spirits. Some believe that everything has a spirit (Animists) while other ascribe it to only plants and animals, only animals, only sentient beings, only great ancestors, and many other possibilities. Worshippers of undead or of so-called "family deities" are Spiritists as well.
Afterlife: Spiritists' spirits inhabit in the Earth in some way consistent with their beliefs.
Spiritism is most common among nature centered or tribal civilizations. Spiritist religions are unlikely to be the least bit beaurocratic and often are not even written down. They tend to be family based or tribally based word of mouth religions. Only spiritists can unlock the power source of Nature.
Example: The Black Swamp is ruled by the ancient black dragon Spythe and his evil minions, but at least one good druid circle has survived. These "Druids of Antespith" worship a pantheon of spirits, including the spirits of their greatest ancestors, and they have great respect for the spirits of the trees within the swamp. They use geurilla tactics to stop the servants of Spythe, whom they see as enemies of the trees, and nurse to health those creatures who are hurt in battles against the swamp's evil denizens.
Belief: Deists do not deny the existence of deities, they merely do not believe that the great power deities wield justifies worshipping them. Deists do not worship anything.
Afterlife: Deists wander the Earth for a time and, having nowhere to go, eventually fade away into nothing.
Deists tend to be the most philosophical of all religious people, and also the most proud. Often they believe that their own power is what matters, rather than the power of deities, and some even seek to become deities themselves.
Example: Gnocke started out as wizard, but was fascinated with divine magic. He tried to become a cleric of various religions, but repeatedly found himself dissatisfied with those who ran the temples, believing them all to be fools. Eventually he discovered the more difficult path of harnessing divine magic without any object of worship. After a career of adventuring he opened a magic item shop, but spends all his spare time working on spells to extend his life, because although he has accepted himself as an Deist, he dreads the Deist's lack of an afterlife.
Belief: Agnostics either do not care about religion, are not intelligent enough to have an opinion, or believe in a combination of faiths without choosing any one as the primary object of worship.
Afterlife: No one knows where Agnostics go when they die. The epic dualist cleric, Dealhana, attempting to prove that they vanished like the atheists, inadvertantly proved that they did not when she created an epic ritual that brought back to life an Agnostic who would have faded long ago as an atheist. Unfortunately the ritual did not retain memories from the afterlife.
Agnostics tend to be the least philosophical of all religious people. Some wander from faith to faith haphazardly while others just don't care one way or another. Sorcerers are often Agnostics, and for all intents and purposes, animals are always Agnostic.
Example: Chenolith of Heptarchae refuses the title of Atheist, believing Atheists to be just as dogmatic as any other religious person. He simply wants to live his life as it comes, and live his afterlife as it comes, whatever that may entail, without fear or hope for the future. His success as a warlock and adventurer largely just fell at his feet, without significant stress on his part. He is never without work, and is known for spending money or gambling it away as soon as it arrives in his pocket.
Belief: Those who combine faiths must choose a primary faith from those listed above, but may incorporate elements in any way to create any imaginable belief system. That primary faith need not be easily apparent by the believers behavior or the organization of the temples.
Afterlife: Followers of some combination of faiths go to the afterlife corresponding to their primary faith.
Although many religious organizations fit neatly into one of the six options listed above, the majority actually combine elements of multiple religions. When individuals choose a belief not associated with a particular church, it is most frequently a combination. In general, the most unique and interesting of religions will be combinations.
Example: The city of Husadim was founded on a particular religion which worships the God of Family, Husad. The city is designed like one large homestead, with a temple to Husad in the center. Each home within the city has in its center a small shrine to the elders of that family which inhabits it. As different families marry, and as the occasional family joins the city, new "household gods" are added. Followers of the city's religion believe that upon death they will join their families in the outer plane where Husad lives, but that their spirits can visit their homes through their descendants' shrines in years to come.
Rules on the Afterlife
Many specifics on the afterlife are unknown. Anyone raised from the dead loses the memories they formed following their death. Nonetheless, powerful necromancers have uncovered a good deal.
The moment a person's body is no longer alive, it's ethereal spirit leaves it. The spirit is invisible, even to those with access to the ethereal plane. It is disoriented at first and provided it is not trapped or sent anywhere by magical means and provided the death did not occur under very extreme circumstances, it will wander off. If the moment of death occurred amidst intense negative emotion, such as might be generated by being murdered by a best friend or dying just after seeing the death of a loved one, the spirit will sometimes manifest itself as a ghost and attach itself to anything it connects with the emotional experience, such as the place it happened or the person who caused it.
Provided nothing unusual has happened to the spirit, it wanders for anywhere from a few years to hundreds of years. The spirit will feel a pull towards its eventual destination, determined by its chosen religion. How quickly it manages to find the path to its destination will depend upon how devoted it was in life. It is only during this time that a spirit can be resurrected or reincarnated by magical means. Once the spirit has found its path, even if it still in the realm of the material plane, it can no longer be summoned back into a body willingly.
After the spirit has found its path, it walks it until it finds its resting place, whether that be in the outer planes, in Heaven or Hell, in the realm of like spirits, or in the womb of an expectant mother. Atheists never reach this point, but their wandering becomes more and more erratic until eventually they cease to exist completely. As mentioned before, no one knows where Agnostics end up. Regardless, atheists and agnostics still reach the point of being unable to be resurrected at approximately the same rate. The faithful, however, seem to have achieved what they expected in most cases, and generally the achievement of the final rest is a goal that the living wish upon the dead in their prayers.
List of Religions Using This Variant