Day 20 T is for Temples

T – Temples

Temples present a special case. Ancient wards against evil or good, if an evil temple, would still be in place. Clay golems and other holy/unholy guardians could be about. What sort of quest might be placed on someone to take up a holy relic?

My BA degree is in history. Way back in college, two of the professors had a lecture about the Medieval Cathedral as scripture. They pointed out how the stained glass windows, statues, and other facets of the soaring cathedrals served to help educate the illiterate masses. The high ceilings showed the awe and power of God, and symbolized the distance between man and heaven. Various statues and stained glass windows usually portrayed a story. For example, Jesus is only depicted with a beard before his resurrection. I won’t go into further details here, just enough to illustrate the idea. If you want to debate the merits of religion in general or Christianity in particular, this is not the place.

How detailed you wish to get is up to you, but what types of art are in the temples in your campaign?

Art can be in stone as statues, reliefs, functional or only decorative. Such as many gargoyles’ mouths being the downspouts to direct the flow of rainwater off of roofs.

Cloth is used for tapestries with either scenes, or designs, vestments, liturgical cloths on altars, pulpits, and lecterns. Banners, flags, pennons and other large, but mobile cloth could be about the temple. they could be used in processions, or when the faithful go to battle. There could be holy or unholy battle standards of a magical and perhaps intelligent variety that ward off enemies of the faith, or assist those aligned with the goals of the deity (ies) in question.

Glass can be for windows either clear or stained glass, glass or ceramic ceremonial cups, glass, bottles, plates, etc. Do the current inhabitants have the technology for large panes of glass? (Magic fire, i.e. a fire started by magic, like burning hands, fireball, dragon’s breath, etc. is known to burn hotter. Forges, ceramics kilns, and glass works get a bonus for using magical fire.)

Frescoes on walls or floors can be in glass, ceramic, precious stones, colored stones, or shells. These can depict scenes or merely patterns and designs.

Would a temple be recognizable as such to the uninitiated? Perhaps a temple is not in the temple district, so that hint is missing. Perhaps is has a totally different architecture. A temple to an infernal or subterranean deity might be underground, or carved into the stone of a hill. Perhaps only some symbol alerts others (who know its meaning) about what is inside.

A temple, if such exist, to a deity who is patron to magic users and illusionists, might just look like a big wizard’s tower, with a lab and all the attendant equipment as the sanctuary. Would this be in the main temple district, or near or in the college of mages?

A temple to a good deity could have an evil creature trapped. How easy is it for the PC’s to free it by mistake? Likewise and evil temple could have a good creature trapped. Would the trap make the good creature appear as a foul demon? Perhaps by an illusion?

Would a large parkland inside or near the city contain a grove holy to druids and worshipers of nature deities?

Would a large enough human city have enough demi-humans in it to support temples to their deities? A full on dwarven temple, might have a working forge. A gnome temple might have a gem cutter shop. A halfling temple might appear more like an inn with an excellent larder and wine cellar, and the best halfling beers and ales. An elven temple could be a grove, or a stone circle, or other nature/woodland themed building. Would these temples be in the temple district, or would they be segregated to the districts of the appropriate races?

Will some temples have the most holy area that requires a saving throw for a non-believer or opposite aligned creature to enter that area? For example, evil/good, law/chaos, etc. Did such a protection once exist and the temple was defiled? Will the players be able to restore the blessings of the temple, if they are good? Will an evil big bad be able to restore the power and might of an evil/chaotic temple?

Will temples have their own cemeteries? Will rulers and the famous be interred under a temple? Will the temple district or any temples be near the main graveyard for the city? Will it only contain smaller sanctuaries sufficient to conduct the burial rites of that group?

Will an evil temple worshiping undead be allowed to coexist contemporaneously with a temple devoted to the destruction of undead? Perhaps in a time of upheaval, the people turn to darker ways rather than trusting in the goodness of the deities of light and good. In an ancient, fallen city, what will the player’s be able to learn about such things? Will a sage know, will their be a hidden scroll, or will the players have no way to know and just have to deal with whatever is going on?

Will there be altars, statues, and shrines throughout the city to remind the people of the presence of the various deities? Will a seafaring culture that worships a sea god have its temple near the docks, or partly in the water? Or will the main temple be in the temple district with a shrine by the water? Perhaps what is now a large shrine by the water was once the original temple, and with the growth of the city, a larger temple central to the worshipers was needed in the temple district.

Types of Worship Centers:

  • Marker (Stone, collection of stones, ruins, worked stone, monument, obelisk,statue, free standing altar, etc.)
  • Landmark (Physical place, stone, collection of stones, holy grove, cave, special tree, hill, mountain, ranges of hills or mountains, etc.)
  • Semi-Permanent (Hut, tent, booth, wagon, etc.)
  • Shrine (From a small covered road side altar, to a small building. Contains the bare minimum for the rites of this group, altar, pulpit, or the equivalent.)
  • Sanctuary (The worship center for a village or small town.)
  • Temple (The worship center for a town or small city.)
  • Cathedral (A worship center for a large city or a special location, either significant to the faith, or of some other importance, such as political or economic.)

Types of Worship Items:

  • Incense (Air?)
  • Water (holy/unholy, ceremonial bathing/purification)
  • Fire (Candles, braziers, ceremonial fires, sacrificial fires, forges)
  • Earth (dirt, clay, mud, stone)
  • Dress (Whether special dress is limited to the clergy, or there is some ceremonial garb for all worshipers. Like the Sunday best, or yarmulkes & prayer shawls.)
    • Are there any rules for day to day dress of believers?
  • Standing or Sitting? (In the early Christian church, the pastor/teacher sat during the sermon and the congregation stood. Later pews and kneelers developed.)
  • Prayer rugs
  • Prayer bead or other devices
  • Holy/unholy symbols
  • Giving (Tithe means 10%. Some religions on Earth do more or less.)
  • Sacrifices (time, money, labor, blood (from blood letting of self or others, or animal sacrifice, or human sacrifice.)
    • This can be combined with burning, pouring out or sprinkling of water or other substances, sprinkling or dipping in the blood
    • An altar or other place to collect or perform sacrifices is needed.
    • Reading of entrails or patterns of blood?
  • Books/Tomes/Scrolls of teachings or ceremonial instructions like a prayer book.
  • Directions – Is the rising sun or moon, or alignment of the stars important? For example, for druids, the change of seasons is important.
    • Do buildings have to have a special orientation?
  • Omens & Portents – Are there certain everyday signs that are treated as good or ill? For example, what does it mean when a black cat crossed your path, or you see an owl in flight during the day? Do these signs really mean anything, or are they just tales?
  • Can non-believers enter any of the area, or is any of it off limits to non-believers?
  • Monastics/Ascetics? Does this faith have monks, nuns, or hermits?
  • Organization? Is there a central authority/hierarchy, or is each site independent?
  • Heretics & Schisms? Are there divisions in the faith with more than one branch? Do the different branches consider the other to be heretics or merely on a different path?
  • Sounds (Bells, gongs, cymbals, musical instruments, singing, chanting, etc.)
  • Movement (Is dancing part of worship, or frowned on? Processions, entrances, exits, etc.)
  • Colors (Are there any significant colors? Are they just the same colors all the time, or do they change with certain times throughout the year?)
  • Times & Seasons (Are their certain times of day, week, month, year, or season that are important? For example, a sun cult would see sunrise and sunset and the solstices and equinoxes as important, and lunar and solar eclipses might signify a battle of the light vs. the night, or good vs. evil. Does every deity get worshiped on the same day?)
  • Does celibacy play a factor for clerics? (Never, for a special term, only until married, life, etc.)
  • Food (Are there rules about what kind of foods can or can’t be eaten? Are there any ritual foods?)
    • Ritual fasting?
  • Intoxicants/Hallucinogens (Wine, beer, liquor, or other fermented substances, mushrooms, herbs, etc.)
  • Hair (Shaved, long, unkempt, no rules, etc.)
  • Body Markings (Permanent – Ritual tattoos or scars? Temporary – Something like henna markings or body paint.)
  • Most forms of worship seek to touch all the senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, movement, mental, and emotional.
  • Relics (Objects of significance, such as a weapon, tool, device, or instrument, or a body part of a famed member of the faith.)
  • Idols/Images/Statuary/Artistic Representations of the deities, famous faithful, or mythological scenes.
  • Fertility cults (They got quite raucous in the ancient world. It varied from ritual sex of a few, to everyone letting loose. Keep in mind that not everyone needs to go into minute detail about this.)

Rites of Passage: (What happens, how are they celebrated/observed? Not every event will be ritualized or celebrated in a formal way.)

  • Birth
  • Puberty/Adulthood (Religious and Traditional Culture may have separate but coextant processes. Some might be opposed to each other.)
  • Marriage (Divorce?) (How many spouses and what form of marriage?)
  • Pregnancy/Miscarriage
  • Death
  • Burial (Includes cremation & are the ashes scattered or gathered and put in an urn, entombment, platform burial like some native American tribes, burial at sea, mummification, ritual cannibalism, etc.)
  • Status (graduation, appointments, promotions, elevations, enoblement, knighthood, crowning, enfeoffment, etc.)

Shape of Religious Buildings:

  • Round
  • Square
  • Rectangular
  • Pentagon
  • Hexagon
  • Other Polygon
  • Must include a natural element. For example, one end open to trees, or include a significant cave or holy pool.

Building Materials:

  • Rough cut lumber
  • Rough cut stones
  • Unworked stones
  • Earth/Clay/Brick/Adobe/Cob
  • Fitted stones
  • Finished lumber
  • Any wood
  • Any stone
  • Wood or Stone
  • Any material
  • Special (Dragon bones, whale bones, oliphant tusks, semi-precious or precious stones, precious metals, magical materials like stone from mud to rock or wall of stone or wall of iron, etc.)


  • Number of floors allowed. (Is odd or even numbers important? Is above or below ground permitted/required?)
  • Number of rooms allowed. (Only one big room for ceremonies, or are cells, kitchens, hostels, outbuildings, walled compounds, etc. allowed?)
  • Towers (Allowed? Is a certain size, shape, color, or placement required?)
  • Religious symbols on the building?
  • Tithe house or barn (Room, building, or other type of treasury to hold collected donations.)
  • Parsonage/Rectory (Where do the clerics sleep? On site in the religious building, or in huts, cells, or houses constructed on the grounds?)
  • Is there a special room or location where the clerics learn their spells?

One does not need to detail every tiny detail of a group of worshipers, but keep the above in mind to add a special flavor or distinctiveness so that all temples are not the same identical structures. Perhaps all the temples in a given mythos are the same general design, except for the god of the underworld and it has to be a natural cave, for example. Maybe a certain color, symbol, word, or substance is required or forbidden in the worship area.

It can be fun and interesting to develop these things, but if it never comes up in play, don’t let it frustrate you. If it will frustrate you that no one will ever know of all your detailed preparations, don’t spend the time to do that much. Use the time to detail the things that will be used in play.

In March, 2014 I published an article on districts or quarters of a city.

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