A divine character is any character for whom worship of a greater power -- often a deity but sometimes a more abstract force or philosophy -- is an important part of daily life. Giving your character an allegiance to a set of beliefs and a connection to forces beyond the mortal world can enrich the D&D experience, no matter the race and class of your character. Within these pages you'll find divine connections to prowess in battle, stealth, negotiation -- and even arcane magic. Whether you're a cleric of peerless faith, a shadowy killer-for-hire, a crusading paladin, or a wizard in search of greater mysteries, there's something in here for you. Players can read through the entire book without hesitation, and DMs can use the material to generate their own surprises without any help!
From Chapter 6: The Divine World
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER YOU DIE
For many D&D characters, the afterlife is just a temporary destination. Allies are often available with raise dead or resurrection spells to restore your character to his or her living, breathing, adventuring self, often within a matter of minutes.
But sometimes characters stay dead for an extended period of time. And sometimes they don't come back at all, passing beyond the realm of adventurers forever.
The Moment of Death
When characters die, their souls -- the intrinsic "self" and life force that transcends whatever body they happen to occupy -- linger in the body for a round or two. If the corpse was completely destroyed, they linger at the location of death. The last breath spell works the way it does because the soul of the deceased hasn't gone anywhere yet.
The dead character doesn't perceive anything at all, doesn't think, and has no notion or memory of events beyond the moment of death. The soul is beyond magic's power to detect or affect. It's not incorporeal, it's not a ghost, and it is not a creature of any kind with measurable statistics.
The magic jar spell separates a character's soul from body without killing the body. Souls separated from their bodies by magic jar die whenever they don't have an appropriate receptacle (the gem or an available body). Just as the souls of dead characters do, souls deprived of a host body feel the inexorable tug of the afterlife after a round or two, so they pass on to their final destination. Likewise, the trap the soul spell does exactly that, preventing a soul from leaving a gem until the spell is completed or someone picks up the trigger object.
Some creature types don't have souls and simply cease to exist when they die. Constructs just fall apart, for example. Undead creatures likewise cease to exist, although destroying an undead creature sometimes frees a soul trapped within it (as described below).
Making the Passage
After a few rounds spent lingering at the point of death, one of several things can happen to the soul.
For the vast majority of dead characters, the soul travels to an outer plane affiliated with the alignment or deity of the deceased. The journey requires no spell or portal; your soul just leaves the spot where you died and appears somewhere on another plane.
Some souls gather incorporeal ectoplasm around themselves and become ghosts (described in the Monster Manual). This process often takes days or months. No one knows why some souls pass on to the Outer Planes and others are "stuck" where they die, but a typical ghost has an instinctive sense of why it specifically exists as a ghost rather than passing on. Usually there's an unresolved situation that prevents the soul from resting in peace, such as a lover who hasn't returned from a far-off war or a killer who hasn't been brought to justice.
The souls of characters who die in specific ways sometimes become undead. Those driven to suicide by madness become allips, while humanoids destroyed by absolute evil become bodaks. As with ghosts, the soul creates a new body, whether it's incorporeal such as an allip's or corporeal such as a bodak's. The soul is twisted toward evil if it wasn't already. The new undead creature retains some general memories of its former life, but doesn't necessarily have the same mental ability scores, skills, feats, or other abilities. Not every suicide victim becomes an allip, and not everyone destroyed by absolute evil becomes a bodak; as with ghosts, the exact nature of the transformation is unknown. Similarly, liches are characters who've voluntarily transformed themselves into undead, trapping their souls in skeletal bodies.
Some undead such as vampires and wights create spawn out of a character they kill, trapping the soul of the deceased in a body animated by negative energy and controlled by a malign intelligence. Sometimes the undead creature can access the memories of the deceased (vampires, spectres, ghouls, and ghasts can), and sometimes they can't (as with shadows, wights, and wraiths).
The barghest can feed on a recently slain character, consuming the corpse and part of the soul as well. Part of the soul is forever destroyed, while the rest passes on to the outer planes. Half of the time, the surviving remnant of the soul is too badly damaged to ever return to life.
Certain artifact- and deity-level effects can destroy the soul -- a sphere of annihilation does so, for example.
Regardless of what happens to the soul, the intact corpse (if there is one) retains an echo of the character's soul and personality. It is this imprint that clerics connect to when they cast speak with dead. The imprint has the basic personality and memories of the deceased, but it doesn't think for itself other than to answer questions. It has no capacity to measure the passage of time or learn anything new; if you cast speak with dead a second time, the soul-imprint won't remember your first set of questions. Each time you contact the soul-imprint, it responds as if it had died only recently -- from the perspective of the soul, no time has passed.
The Final Destination
As a practical matter, it's okay to let a PC decide which plane his dead character's soul goes to. In general, alignment and allegiance determine which outer plane a soul travels to after death.
If you were a cleric or devout worshiper of a specific deity, your soul goes to the outer home that is home to that deity, even if your alignment doesn't exactly match your deity's. For worshipers of Fharlanghn and Vecna, this means that your soul appears in some far-off spot on the Material Plane. Souls faithful to Fharlanghn often linger near crossroads, while souls faithful to Vecna appear in one of his many secret strongholds.
If you were a cleric of an entire pantheon, your soul goes wherever the pantheon designates. This destination might be the same plane the pantheon lives on, or it might be a different "underworld" plane.
If you didn't worship a deity, or if religion wasn't an important part of your life (as demonstrated by your behavior, especially right before death), your soul goes to an outer plane that matches your alignment. In some cases, any of a number of planes might be appropriate. For example, a chaotic neutral character's soul might go to Ysgard, Limbo, or Pandemonium. Decide which plane matches the character's behavior best, giving extra weight to how the character behaved shortly before death.
If you aren't sure whether a character was devout enough to be with her deity in the afterlife, err on the side of uniting the soul with the deity that it worshiped. Contact with the deities in the afterlife generally makes for a more memorable D&D afterlife, and the deity can always remove an insufficiently worshipful soul from its presence later if it wants to.
Here's what the final destination looks like on each plane . . .