Defining Religions in Your Campaign

Dr. Ninian Smart’s Seven Dimensional model of Religion is an excellent tool for world building and crafting your own religions. This article introduces the seven dimensions and how to use them in your game.

religion.jpg

Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

What’s a Religion, Anyway?​

The problem with defining religion is that there are a lot of things humans do that are very similar. Many actual religions suffer from definitions that insist worshiping a god is an important factor. Some don’t have any gods and a few don’t offer what they would consider worship. Essentially, religion is a pretty mixed bag, and if you want to model it accurately in your games some of the fundamentals may surprise you.

Smart’s seven dimensions offer seven aspects that every religion will have in at least some form. For instance, the Ethical and Legal dimension might be one rule saying ‘Be nice to each other’ or a twenty volume legal treatise detailing a rule for every aspect of life. But as long as the faith has at least something, it has that dimension covered. So, when designing a religion of your own, make sure you cover at least one aspect of each dimension.

So, with that introduction out of the way, let’s take a look at the seven dimensions themselves:

Ritual​

All religions have some form of ritual, but it can take many forms. Personal prayer or meditation is very common, as are larger rituals like masses. Festivals also have a ritualistic component, making carnivals and bacchanals just as important in some religions. Ritual can be a group affair or individual practice, and be something anyone can do or something that requires a priest of some form. Most offer some form of ritual for at least birth, death and marriage at least. In a fantasy game, such rituals can easily offer magical effects as much as being simple ceremonies.

Narrative and Mythical​

People turn to religion for answers to the big questions, like, where do we come from and how the world was made. Even if it concentrates on the here and now, a certain amount of cosmology is usually required. As many deal with life after death in some form, the detail of what that is, and how it can be possible comes under this dimension. Essentially, this dimension helps the adherent find their place in the universe. Many religions have a wide range of stories and myths, often to either present the gods as heroes or offer moral guidance.

Experiential and Emotional​

Faith always connects to people on an emotional level. This experience can range from several people falling on the floor at a wave from a priest to the simple peace felt when entering a church. A religion needs to make you feel something, often at least a fellowship or a connection to the divine.

What will differ between religions is the sort of emotions that it mainly tries to inspire and how it goes about it. The Sith value rage and anger as a way to channel the power of the force, but the Jedi value peace and tranquillity so they can connect to the force through meditation.

Social and Institutional​

Like any gathering of a lot of people, religion has some logistical and administrative concerns. This dimension covers how a religion is organised among its adherents. Are there any hierarchies or special responsibilities, and if so who performs them? Even if the religion has no priests or leaders, someone might be needed just to remind people when it is time to pray or look after the holy book. Most have at least some form of priesthood, and within that priesthood may be several ranks. After all, unless the deities regularly manifest, someone is going to need to make decisions for the faith in the community.

Ethical and Legal​

Perhaps the most contentious dimension, the ethical one offers the rules of the religion. These are usually codified very specifically, but they can be simple and broad or very specific. In a pantheistic religion the rules might be shared by all the gods, or each one might have their own amendments and/or full sets of their own.

The amount and tone of the rules will depend on the faith. Some religions have a vast array of rules to ensure that adherents must always be considering them, and therefore their faith, almost every hour of every day. Other faiths might simply offer the rules as guidance for keeping the community together peacefully.

In most cases these rules are only ever enforced by the community at large, rather than being arrestable offences. But offending the community by breaking them might lead to social exclusions or even banishment. Essentially, these rules are designed to ensure everyone lives together peacefully and harmoniously to the tenets of the faith and for their own personal enlightenment. However, they are rarely up for discussion if anyone has a problem with just one or two.

Doctrinal and Philosophical​

Similar to the ethical and legal rules are the doctrines of the religion, this dimension focuses on the general principles those rules are derived from. For instance, the Doctrinal dimension details what is required for a happy life, and the Ethical dimension then puts that doctrine into the rules you must follow to achieve such a life. Where it is often hard to argue with the rules of a religion, its doctrine and philosophy might be widely discussed, and even challenged. There may be strictures detailing the level of learning/faith/experience required to be allowed to engage in debate, but others might welcome healthy discussion. Just as some adherents might be wary of the ‘holes in the argument’ and dislike seeing them discussed, others might believe that their doctrine is too strong to worry about a few malcontents.

The doctrine and rules of a faith are usually collated in some way, commonly as a holy book of some form. But many religions rely on oral traditions and pass such learning down by teaching and storytelling. Usually the more complex the doctrine and rules the more likely it is to be written down, but this is not always the case.

When it comes to holy books, these can come in many forms. Some are collections of teachings, others of stories, some resemble legal texts. This will often depend on the style of the faith and how important the book is. Some have a single text, while others also reference collected stories from the lives of leaders and prophets to help understand and clarify the rules and ethics of the holy book those leaders wrote or received.

Material​

This dimension is the easiest to see as it represents what physical items are part of the religion. All religions make some sort of mark. It might be the founding of many places of worship, to small roadside shrines, to sacred symbols or holy books. Even religions that emphasise freedom from possessions still offer small trinkets or particular clothes for adherents. Such items not only give the adherent something to physically hold as a representation of their faith in times of crisis, but also mark them as adherents and show the world how widespread the faith is.

Material items will always depend on what the faith declares appropriate. Some might insist building vast churches to show the glory of their deity is important. A god of travellers might just have a few roadside shrines to offer blessings. Sun gods might insist on vast stone circles or cairns that have particular effects when the sun strikes them at certain times of the year. The same goes for the personal dress of both priests and adherents. Do the priests wear grand robes to show they are special or dress simply to show they are no better than those they lead? Do adherents wear particular colours, and do they change across the year as the seasons change? Various holy symbols might be cast in gold or worn as small carved necklaces.

As the physical representation of a religion, it is the material items that are usually attacked by its enemies first. So a religion in hiding will often rely on special symbols to mark places of worship, shrines or practitioners so they can maintain their community.

In Your Campaign​

With these building blocks, you can now flesh out any religion in your campaign. Remember that you can have any emphasis on any of these dimensions, as long as there is at least something for each. Dimensions can also vary within religions. Some adherents of the same faith might just offer simple prayer, while others are screaming for redemption in mass gatherings. Most real world religions have different sects and cultural practices within them and there is no reason yours should be different, especially as these differences are often a source of conflict that might lead to story and adventure for your characters.
 
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Andrew Peregrine

Andrew Peregrine



This is something I'm covering in my next project actually. While the nature of this supplement somewhat insists upon the greater focus being on cults and religions that actively worship a specific deity. I do have a section on designing and incorporating religions and the cultures that surround them in general, which covers many of the concepts mentioned here as I wanted to help GMs create a rich world for their players.

Do you have any thoughts on how GMs can incorporate various religions into their games without being unintentionally disrespectful of other cultures? It is not necessarily reasonable to expect every GM to spend the time necessary to fully understand all of the varied religions and cultural practices that surround them but at the same time; assuming your goal is to create a rich and diverse world (if you're interested in this topic then you probably are) it is almost unavoidable that we draw from many different cultures of which we are aware but possibly not possessed of an expert level of knowledge. On one hand, the easy answer and one that may be ultimately correct is "just don't include it if you don't have a full understanding of it" but if we follow that logic we commonly end up with a bland and typically eurocentric world. I'm not sure there is a 100% correct answer for everyone. I'd be curious what your answer is.

Of course, I won't ask you this question without providing my own answer. The answer I propose is that when drawing inspiration from an existing culture/religion that the GM should try to only use one or two aspects of it. If we stick to using say a material inspiration and an institutional representation from say Ancient Egyptian religious beliefs and develop the rest from either our own imaginations and knowledge we can create something new that is truly just inspired by it. So how might that example look?

So the Ancient Egyptians Religious Material would provide people whose clothing incorporated a lot of gold, white and turquoise, various iconography similar to the ankh, temples, pyramids, burial chambers, etc... The Institutional and social aspects would have pharaohs (living god rulers), priests, and presumably a slew of lesser members of the religious class, etc... From here you design unique gods, one god, or even no actual gods at all. decide their doctrines, morality(try to stay away from pure "evil" concepts), laws, etc... In the end, hopefully, you end up with something uniquely yours and far more interesting because of it.

If we put what I have listed here together and not fully develop this, for the sake of not writing a book in this reply, we could end up with this. A religion that has an ultimate representation of their gods acting as sole ruler of the people (Pharoah, god-king, etc...) They are adorned in great wealth golds, and whites, fine jewelry, etc... The lesser members of the religious class spend some of their younger years in the direct service of the god-king and their family. They are housed in or around grand temples. The high priest acts as their advisor and performs religious ceremonies for major state events and religious days of great significance. Lesser priests run the day-to-day religious duties for the people. They worship no named gods beyond their god-king as they are seen as the physical embodiment of their god. When the body dies their spirit moves into their heir. They explain political assassinations and the like as the god being tired of their current body and desiring a new body. The people are largely unfettered by law beyond the "natural order." The right to anything, including life, is dictated by your ability to maintain it. Intelligence is just as valued as physical strength. Might does not always equal right in this case. So on and so forth until fully developed.

This got very long but I think I got where I wanted to go with this, which was to expand on the concepts in your article and hopefully help people to think about how to incorporate the real world into their game's religions and culture without spending hundreds of hours on research but without being insensitive or having to fully invent absolutely new systems of religion when so many amazing examples exist all around us. If some of what I had to say here or this topic in general interests you, I have links in my signature.
 

Corone

Adventurer
Do you have any thoughts on how GMs can incorporate various religions into their games without being unintentionally disrespectful of other cultures? It is not necessarily reasonable to expect every GM to spend the time necessary to fully understand all of the varied religions and cultural practices that surround them but at the same time; assuming your goal is to create a rich and diverse world (if you're interested in this topic then you probably are) it is almost unavoidable that we draw from many different cultures of which we are aware but possibly not possessed of an expert level of knowledge. On one hand, the easy answer and one that may be ultimately correct is "just don't include it if you don't have a full understanding of it" but if we follow that logic we commonly end up with a bland and typically eurocentric world. I'm not sure there is a 100% correct answer for everyone. I'd be curious what your answer is.
Ah, big subject, and not one I'm sure I'm qualified to answer!

Real world religion is tricky to make use of without offending people, but to a certain degree that is true of anything.
I think the best option is to remember to respect each religion whether you believe in it or not and if you do then I suspect you'd be ok. Record what the religion does without making any judgements on it.

I'm reminded of two things that may be both interesting and helpful.

There is an interesting comparison with attitudes towards appropriation of religion in Hinduism and Native American religion. When the Beatles brought a lot of Indian religion into the public eye in the 1960s I don't think many people were upset by this. They were clearly adherents wanting to share what they'd learned and they pointed people towards their mentors if they wanted to know more rather than set themselves up as an authority.
Whereas when the 'west' discovered Native American religion they cherry picked the easy bits, took a lot out of context and then tried to sell it to people as authentic. Quite rightly the Native Americans were somewhat annoyed about people trying to sell a twisted and incomplete version of their faith back to them.
So here the key is respect and offering better sources for people who want to know more, rather than declaring you know all about it.

Interestingly there was another controversy worth noting when it comes to investigating a religion.
It is well known that Islamic art does not feature human figures, especially not of the prophet.
However, one of my text books was amended as it showed an ancient picture, painted by an Islamic artist depicting the prophet.
Despite it being a matter of history, many Muslims were offended and the picture was removed from the text book (although the discussion about its existence was not).
So, when looking at the history of a faith you might find some controversial aspects modern adherents are uncomfortable with. In which case it is important to report them in a way that won't offend them.

Religion is an interesting academic topic because there are two ways to study it, as a believer and as a non-believer. Both have their advantages and flaws. The non-believer can be more clinical, but they will never really understand the experiential aspect that is key to an understanding.

Essentially (now I've gone on a bit too!) treat religion as you would something important to you. If you'd be offended about something someone would say about gaming (for instance), especially when they are an outsider who doesn't know much about it, consider how something you might be saying might feel to a religious person.
 


treat religion as you would something important to you. If you'd be offended about something someone would say about gaming (for instance), especially when they are an outsider who doesn't know much about it, consider how something you might be saying might feel to a religious person.
I think this is an important and vital part of the answer and something I unintentionally left out of my reply as I got a bit carried off by the design aspects (who'd have guessed such a thing might happen to someone interested in game design). I also appreciated the real-world examples you included. Respect is likely the ultimate key to addressing this and many other elements of our real-world in our game worlds.
 

jgsugden

Legend
I think it is a nice backdrop, and provides considerations that we as DMs/GMs should consider for in depth world building, but there are distinct differences between what the model, which relates to real world religion, does for us and what is needed for a fantasy world, especially those where a person might have coffee with their God. We don't just have stories and myths to consider - we have history. We don't just have people falling to the floor on command when they are overwhelmed by emotion - we have people struck down by force because they failed a DC 25 saving throw made at disadvantage when the God made their presence felt. The Gods work in mysterious ways, but they also work in directly visible and manifested ways that show their hands directly. As such, I think rather than approaching them as religions like we have in our world, we need to focus on them as historical figures and write their story to determine how they'll impact their worlds. That is what I have done over 40 years.

For my homebrew world, I found that the best course of action was to 'walk it down' from the origin of the world to modern day. I sat down with some notebooks (once upon a time) and began to write the story of my world. The goal of this approach was to create the Gods as NPCs with their own distinct personalities, goals, and concerns ... and to see how that would influence the world, including those that worship them. I had a lot of time and enthusiasm then - as this was before I had video games, I was allowed only 30 minutes of TV a day, and I had a group of friends that were SUPER enthusiastic about D&D.

My tome(s) of lore for my campaign is in outline form and begins with my primary universe gaining a limited form of sentience, and then creating two forces (The Positive Energy Plane, known as the Light; and the Negative Energy Plane, known as the Dark). Those two forces spawn the first three Gods (Tiamut, Bahamut and Vorel), who in turn (accidentally) create Primordials, Dragons and Giants. 12 of those beings discover power sources that allow them to become Gods, with some of them being cast down and replaced over ~7000 years. They eventually spawn Angels, Elves, Dwarves and Devils. Then, the Fallen Archangel Asmodeus discovers that mortals (like Elves and Dwarves) can provide greater power to the Gods through Pact or Worship, and everything explodes with the 12 Gods raising many Lesser Gods from mortality to divinity to serve them and each God creating one or more heritages of intelligent people with the free will so that those free willed beings can worship the Gods, or make pacts with the Gods. Then the Far Realm crashes into the main reality, shattering it and creating Demon Lords, Far Realm Powers (like Cthulhu), etc... who in turn also seek power from mortals. This is the modern version - it evolved over time to incorporate new ideas I really liked as they came out, such as the Far Realm, Transitive Planes (Shadowfell, Feywild), etc...

I started world building back in 1982. What I did was walk through history, starting at the beginning, and using an outline format I spent time thinking about the role of each of these major players as they came into power, and how they interacted with that core storyline, and what it means for that individual being to have worshippers, or to gain power via pact. I started with one consolidated document, but then realized it was too hard to follow and started to create partner documents that were more specific to a particular power, place, etc...

It has grown and grown and grown and grown. I moved it to a digital format in the late 1980s. If I were to do it again today, I'd make a wiki format rather than separate word documents, but I'm down the rabbit hole already and the thoughts of troubleshooting conversion of it gives me nightmares. I've done major rewrites of it three times now to adjust the lore substantially (twice for in game revisions to the timeline caused by the climax of a campaign that involved time travel, and once when I rebooted the entire universe after moving to a new location and desiring to fix certain elements of the setting that were problematic (and to rename all of the Gods to use more accessible names from D&D lore rather than my homebrew names). Those efforts have made life difficult enough without the technology hassle of moving the documents to new format and checking for problems in the final product.

The current assembly is around 1000 separate documents, which grew from a few to dozens to hundreds over time.

  • I have a separate timeline document for each God or Power (There are 185, including Demon Lords, Far Realms Powers, Archdevils, Archfey, Lesser Gods, DemiGods, Greater Gods, and Elder Gods (which is a different concept than Far Realms Powers like Cthulhu).
  • I have a consolidated time document for each pantheon (There are 20 - they're mostly small with 3 to 6 Gods in it, but the Archfiends and Demon Lords are larger).
  • I have a consoldidated timeline for the entire universe. (It is massive)
  • I have timelines for different regions in my world, including Planes, Continents, Major Cities, etc... (I have over 800, but many have only a couple sentences as they've never been more than a part of a backstory for a PC.).

When I want to add to the lore, I start reading the universal, region(s), pantheon(s) and God(s) involved and make sure that I don't see any contradictions. Then I update the relevant timeline documents to include the new addition.

Each of the ~185 powers has been given undivided attention every few years. I sit down with them occasionally, read one through, and consider what they might be missing that would make for a better universe. I think about their story and consider how they developed, how they interact with their followers, and why they remain relevant. It includes who their primary worshippers are, what the edicts of the religion require, how often the being gets directly involved in the affairs of mortals, etc... I am a huge believer in the idea that power corrupts, so there are very few of these beings that are truly benevolent. I usually go through a pantheon in order starting with the Greater God, then the Lesser Gods, then any Demi Gods ... and then I transition to the Pantheons that most connect to them that I have not done recently to capitalize upon my refreshed familiarity.

I believe this is an amazingly effective approach to take for a setting that will exist for decades, but you need to START SMALL and build into the larger construct. For example, If I were to reboot today, I'd start with just a single universal document in outline format and then only build separate documents for powers when they became relevant. I would also start with a menu of ~12 powers/Gods for players to consider - knowing there were more out there, but that their PCs do not know about them. Then, when bored or inspired, I'd add more to the 'off screen' elements to flesh out more and more and add them to the available information for PCs.
 

The current assembly is around 1000 separate documents, which grew from a few to dozens to hundreds over time.

  • I have a separate timeline document for each God or Power (There are 185, including Demon Lords, Far Realms Powers, Archdevils, Archfey, Lesser Gods, DemiGods, Greater Gods, and Elder Gods (which is a different concept than Far Realms Powers like Cthulhu).
  • I have a consolidated time document for each pantheon (There are 20 - they're mostly small with 3 to 6 Gods in it, but the Archfiends and Demon Lords are larger).
  • I have a consoldidated timeline for the entire universe. (It is massive)
  • I have timelines for different regions in my world, including Planes, Continents, Major Cities, etc... (I have over 800, but many have only a couple sentences as they've never been more than a part of a backstory for a PC.).

Sounds like you have an impressive amount of information documented for your campaign world. I'm envious but it's downright horrifying to consider the process of compiling such a collection into one primary document. The alternative of having to hunt down information in such a widely distributed system however might make that nightmare worth it at some point soon. Also, I hope you have someone to pass all of that amazing work on to one day. I know sharing my creations is one of my favorite aspects of ttrpgs other than the design and actual play.
 


Something @jgsugden is getting at and I was going to comment on; this Smart's model is nice and all, but is really not where one need to start when considering religions in a fantasy RPG. Some of the first things to decide before you can start detailing the religions are;
  • Are gods real? How are they real? Are they mortals raised to immortality?
  • What's the cosmology/metaphysical?

And it goes from there :)
 

Voadam

Legend
Can someone give an example of the ethical and legal and the doctrinal and philosophical aspects of what we know about classical Greek and Roman polytheistic religion?

Those are aspects I normally associate with classical culture and philosophy in general and not with the religion in any specific fashion.
 

Can someone give an example of the ethical and legal and the doctrinal and philosophical aspects of what we know about classical Greek and Roman polytheistic religion?

Those are aspects I normally associate with classical culture and philosophy in general and not with the religion in any specific fashion.
The dominant religious practices tend to have a very strong influence on those aspects of culture often being completely inseparable from each other. Particularly in older cultures and religions. Less so in our modern highly connected world but still a significant factor.
 

Eyes of Nine

Everything's Fine
Something @jgsugden is getting at and I was going to comment on; this Smart's model is nice and all, but is really not where one need to start when considering religions in a fantasy RPG. Some of the first things to decide before you can start detailing the religions are;
  • Are gods real? How are they real? Are they mortals raised to immortality?
  • What's the cosmology/metaphysical?

And it goes from there :)
I think your questions are actually covered by this model in the Narrative and the Doctrinal sections.

Also, you don't necessarily need those answers at the beginning. It could emerge during play.
 

jgsugden

Legend
Sounds like you have an impressive amount of information documented for your campaign world. I'm envious but it's downright horrifying to consider the process of compiling such a collection into one primary document.
It isn't compiling/bringing together so much as initially organizing and then adding systemically. If you start with a well organized core, then building onto it is pretty easy.
The alternative of having to hunt down information in such a widely distributed system however might make that nightmare worth it at some point soon.
There is a lot of hunting to be done, sadly, because I have things in separate documents. If it doesn't register on the main document, which does not include every little bit of information persent in the other documents, it can be a pain to remember the details of something that I vaguely remember setting up years earlier. Having it in a single wiki would solve that issue, but every time I've decided to start moving it I've begun to realize how many hours it would take to do so, even if I use an automated approach, and how much 'clean up work it'd require.
Also, I hope you have someone to pass all of that amazing work on to one day. I know sharing my creations is one of my favorite aspects of ttrpgs other than the design and actual play.
The actual files are under lock and key, although I often summarize the publicly available info for a player when they build a PC from an existing location, or that worships a God. The secrets should remain secret.

I gave a copy of the files to a friend that moved away to Texas - and they later 'used some of it for inspiration' (which is a polite way of saying, "Yeah, I never used it."). I had another friend that moved away to Canada with no plan to ever return to my area ask for it and he really read it ... and then moved back to my area and wanted to rejoin my campaign world. However, he knew all the secrets. I brought him back in to the setting, and his in depth knowledge (which astounded me - the dude knew a lot of stuff I had totally forgotten about) was something I had to factor in to the storylines and characters he could play (I've since moved and only occasionally play with my old groups). After those two incidents, I decided not to share further - preserving the mystery is the best approach.

Further, I wouldn't want to rob someone of the fun I've had building this world. I think that stock settings are great for inspiration, and are great ways to bring an experienced player into an existing group for test runs - but having your own world with depth and unique mysteries that only you know - until some PCs eventually uncover it - is a fun element that not all DMs get to experience. For example, there is a secret organization in my world. I remember the day I thought them up, why I thought they should exist, and how they'd function. They evolved some over the years, and they influenced many games ... but it took 25 years before I ever spoke the name of the organization out loud to a player. Three months later the group discovered a lot more about how the organization works, why it existed, etc... That night, one of the players (who had played with me off and on over many years) and I sat down after the game and he worked out a lot of the ways in which this organization had influenced entire campaigns he had enjoyed, and which NPCs were actually agents of the organization. It wasn't an 'in game' moment, but that evening was one of the best times I've had in D&D as I watched him puzzle out things from two decades of games. It would have been much harder to have that evening if I'd just been running the Forgotten Realms since the Grey Box was released.

I've likely spent as much time world crafting as I have DMing for the setting - and I have a lot of fun doing both.

I'm happy to share my tool set and techniques, and I've talked about the widely known lore of my world often - but I'd rather see people build their own world than copy my lore.
 

Voadam

Legend
The dominant religious practices tend to have a very strong influence on those aspects of culture often being completely inseparable from each other. Particularly in older cultures and religions. Less so in our modern highly connected world but still a significant factor.
Can you think of any example of polytheistic classical religion ethical and doctrinal elements according to this model?

I am having trouble thinking up some, the closest I am getting are mythology morals such as stories involving the gods with a point like divine retribution for comparing yourself to the gods. That is not quite religious practices though on its own.
 

I think your questions are actually covered by this model in the Narrative and the Doctrinal sections.
Perhaps, but I don't see it as outlined by the OP.
Also, you don't necessarily need those answers at the beginning. It could emerge during play.
Not necessarily, but it depends what those answers are. And, as a DM, I would want to know that answers even if the players and characters don't, otherwise you are developing the world in response to the players & characters at a fundamental level.

i.e. if you don't now if gods really exist, then what do you do with a cleric that wants to worship the One God? If you don't even know if gods exist (and have power) and if their is actually more than one such entity, how do you empower divine magic? There are answers to this, but that imo is not something I would want to determine during play.
 
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Voadam

Legend
Perhaps, but I don't see it as outlined by the OP.

Not necessarily, but it depends what those answers are. And, as a DM, I would want to know that answers even if the players and characters don't, otherwise you are developing the world in response to the players & characters at a fundamental level.

i.e. if you don't now if gods really exist, then what do you do with a cleric that wants to worship the One God? If you don't even know if gods exist (and have power) and if their is actually more than one such entity, how do you empower divine magic? There are answers to this, but that imo is not something I would want to determine during play.
That seems more directly a question of what powers clerics. If it is gods then gods are necessary. If it is belief then you don't need to know if gods are real, belief in a false god will do it. If it is divine power that clerical spellcasting taps then gods might or might not exist and non theistic religious casters will work as will theistic ones.

You can go the Eberron route and have the existence of gods be a theory but ultimately a mystery but still have clerical magic work for a variety of belief systems.
 

gamerprinter

Mapper/Publisher
While Jonathan McAnulty detailed much of the religions of my published Kaidan setting of Japanese Horror (PFRPG), in the Gamemaster's Guide to Kaidan. As the concept creator and developer of the setting, I didn't focus on the actual religion itself, rather how life and the afterlife, the rules of tenmei work (reincarnation cycle) which was derived from the Buddhist reincarnation cycle, (called Zaoism, kind of a cross between Zen and Dao, in name only). So I focused on the actual cosmology and cosmic integration with a social caste system (the mechanics of how the religion actually functions, cosmically), less so on actual ritual and practice. Though it is derived from Buddhism, without Nirvana, only the reincarnation cycle (and it's broken, cosmically speaking) - it is a horror setting.

Also the truth behind the religion as it cosmically works, is mostly kept secret from the general public.

I have a detailed post about it in the D&D 1e Non-Japanese Elements of OA thread on the upper part of the 3rd page, elsewhere on ENWorld, rather than repeating all that information here.

Since I only wrote "term papers" for my inclusions in the various chapters of the GM's Guide, Jonathan wrote the meat of that and could explain how our religions specifically function ritually - however, it closely emulates Buddhist worship.

So I guess what my contribution to this thread is, is neglible at best. ;)
 
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Amrûnril

Adventurer
Something @jgsugden is getting at and I was going to comment on; this Smart's model is nice and all, but is really not where one need to start when considering religions in a fantasy RPG. Some of the first things to decide before you can start detailing the religions are;
  • Are gods real? How are they real? Are they mortals raised to immortality?
  • What's the cosmology/metaphysical?

And it goes from there :)

I think this makes sense if you want the nature of divinity to be the main focus of a seting or campaign narative. If that's not the case, though, I'd argue that the sociological questions are a lot more important. Plenty of campaigns will never feature direct contact with gods, but almost all of them will feature interactions with religious people.
 

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