While shrines can take various forms, they primarily manifest in two types: "secluded" shrines, often found in natural settings and believed to hold significant power, and "wayside" shrines, situated along roadsides or within local neighborhoods. High temples and cathedrals often incorporate areas within the church structure, called "stations," that act as a third kind of shrine.
Most shrines lean towards clerical traditions, but there are those distinctly rooted in druidic practices. Rangers often frequent druidic shrines, while paladins typically seek out those of clerical lineage.
In Europe, the prominence of shrines began to wane in the 14th century, though this historical trend is ignored for the sake of the game world. Here, gods are real, and the acts of praying and making sacrifices at shrines produce visible outcomes. As a result, the significance of shrines has endured into the 17th century, and they remain ubiquitous. The same is true in nearly all the rest of the world, particularly the Orient, where shrines may be built in the yards of common landholders.
The responsibility lies with the dungeon master to determine the nature and locations of these shrines in the game world. It's advantageous if some are closely associated with the character's affiliation. Such places then resonate as anchors for the player's relationship with the game world, guiding players to establish roots or make plans to return frequently.
Shrines nestled in natural environments are quite rare. These have a unique ability to amplify the faith and potency of clerical magic. Devotees whose beliefs align with a particular shrine experience enhanced power when casting spells near it. After dedicating 15 minutes to prayer at a given shrine, a cleric may find that they're able to cast at 1 or 2 experience levels higher than normal, when within 60 ft. of that shrine. This empowerment doesn't grant access to new spells; but it does make a spell more effective.
This is especially valuable for divination spells, or when a cleric seeks a haven to escape from foes. The inherent sanctity of these isolated holy shrines makes them invaluable. Once discovered, though often hard to reach, a cleric may repeatedly visit these places to harness the profound energy they bestow.
Wayside shrines are familiar sights for locals, who often know their locations by heart and are eager to share directions with seekers. These shrines can manifest as adorned poles or pillars, towering crosses, altar niches with petite roofs, cairns, engraved runestones, fenced-off gravesites or even diminutive chapels just spacious enough for a solitary individual. Each form is prevalent in specific regions and resonates with the corresponding local beliefs.
Regardless of one's importance within his or her faith, those whose convictions align with a wayward shrine can harness it's benefits. These shrines are commonplace in any settlement larger than a hamlet, marked with two hammers. To tap into the shrine's power, a brief prayer, lasting roughly the span of a combat round, is all that's needed.
By doing so, the devotee receives a 2% boost for any experience accrued over the subsequent 48 hours. Additionally, the petitioner is granted as a one-time +1 bonus, which may be applied to any single roll during this time frame, be it a saving throw, attack, damage calculation, ability check or other dice roll, of the player's choice. Once this boon is used, it cannot be reacquired the same day; but the next, or any time thereafter, the character may again revisit the shrine and enjoy its benefits.
These function similarly to wayside shrines, except that they provide two +1 bonuses and a 3% boost to experience. However, one must be a member of the congregation, or given, for some other reason, preferential treatment to access a station. It cannot be obtained by an individual just passing by.
Reverence and Desecration
Respect for religious sanctity is a prevailing norm amongst spiritual leaders, who not only honour these shrines of their own religion, but fear to desecrate the shrines of others. It does happen, but desecrating such holy sites can jeopardize local harmony and peace. Many turbulent periods of violence and war originated with the iconoclasm of shrines. In such times, a collective misfortune seems to subvert the shrines themselves, so that they fail to give support to those who might otherwise expect it. It's as if the desecration of any one shrine threatens to end all.