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The Role of Eccleiastics




And Like Persons including Shamans & Friars:


By Gary Gygax

© 2001 Trigee enterprises Company.  All rights reserved.

For over a quarter of a century the clerics in the fantasy RPG realms have been  treated in two basic ways.  The few are active adventuring characters accompanying parties of other sorts of persons who engage in quests and exploits.  The majority are supporting cast sorts, characters directed by the game master and who are basically sedentary dwellers within castles or religious compounds, those of “nature,” shamanistic sort generally relegated to “sacred places” such as groves or trees and the like.  That seems to fit well with historical fiction, and history too, in regards such figures.  But wait!  A closer look at medieval history indicates a far greater pervasiveness of the ecclesiastic in all society.  Couple this with the nature of the environment subsumed in the genre, and an entirely different picture emerges.

In effect my earlier writing established the template for the clerical role in the FRPG.  Indeed, but a year or two previous I would have been quite content to point to that as an “accomplishment.”  As is now apparent, I was in error.  Two things called the matter to my attention, the second being the trigger for this essay.

Initially, assertions of having characters in fantasy games that were atheists gave me pause.  While that didn’t draw the veil from my eyes, it did ring an alarm bell.  How, pray tell, in a milieu where deities were manifest and active could a person dwelling therein not believe in the existence of potent spirit beings?  Attempts to assert that such beings were not “gods” set aside as fatuous, for by definition the make-believe entities in question qualify as such, I considered if there could be any other bases for justification of atheism.  As the deities in a fantasy universe generally become material, intervene thus in mortal affairs, empower magic, and do all manner of other supernatural things, the obvious answer was there was no logical foundation for a player asserting such creed on behalf of his game persona.  The person denying the existence of deital beings in a milieu in which their active presence was continual and plainly evident would have to be either mentally retarded or insane.  As that conclusion is arrived at through only a casual examination of the working premises for the fantasy universe, it was far too easy for me to dismiss the subject.  Doing so was an error.

When developing the fantasy universe for the LEJENDARY ADVENTURETM RPG system in 1996, the rules and mechanics for the game were foremost in consideration.  That there were active deities, and their servants, the priesthood if you will, was never in question.  The various pantheons of deities Ability of Theurgy, and the Ecclesiastic Order were fundamental portions of the primary work.  It was subsumed that the potent spirit beings would be active.  There was no question that the Extraordinary Ability of Theurgy was a major one.  Similarly, the archetypal Ecclesiastic Order was designed to be a major feature in the milieu, its members of great importance therein.  At that time, though, I still had not put the second portion of the equation into place.  That happened only recently, when I set about defining the typical socio-economic structure of the cultures to be encountered in the fantasy world setting.

To accomplish the task it was necessary to examine our own past.  Given that the audience for the game form is oriented towards the model of medieval Europe, that treated primarily in the English language and centering around the British Isles, that is where I concentrated my attention.  Because of considerable former reading and research done in the Anglo-Saxon period through the Renaissance in England, only specialized works dealing with everyday life of the various classes—noble, gentle, yeoman, common were perused.  In so doing, I discovered an extensive detailing of the religious community, ranging from their buildings through their roles in daily life.  Eureka!  At last the light came to my eyes.

In the whole of the Dark and Middle Ages, the clergy, lay and ordained alike, played a central role in all life.  From the courts of kings to the peasants’ hovels, religion and clergy were paramount.  That term is used advisedly.  The central theme of life was religion, and even the rulers were elevated to their lofty heights by the grace of God.

Returning to the history of this earth, we need but examine the British Isles from the 9th through 13th centuries to get an idea of what the religious life in a universe with diverse and active deities would be like.  The ancient Egyptian model also serves in that it provides us with the manner in which the various deities of the controlling pantheon would be revered.

What follows applies to the worship of and service to the good, benign and tractable agathocacological beings belonging to a pantheon.  The harsh and evil deities of such a group that are worshipped openly, if at all, receive mainly propitiatory offerings, usually by a minority of persons in the pantheon’s area.  Malign deities of a pantheon typically have no recognizable organization, clergy, places of open worship, etc.  Thus the material hereafter is not generally applicable to these deities.

As in England in the medieval period, every community, large and small, will have religious buildings.  The cities will have great temples, lesser ones, fanes, shrines; chapels and abbeys, convents, and priories will be found there as well.  Smaller communities will have perhaps a single great temple, with such lesser places of worship and religious life as are supportable or otherwise founded and maintained there.  In rural areas a religious house (abbey, convent, or priory) might serve for the local folk to congregate to observe worship, or a small place of specific sort (a fane chapel or shrine) will serve the community or the locale, persons from several miles around coming there to observe services.

Now turning to the ancient Egyptian model, we see that as there are multiple deities in a pantheon, the chief city of a state will be the seat of the great temple of the chief deity or deities of the pantheon, with temples for the other principal gods and goddesses there as well.  Other large cities will generally have a large temple to a principal deity other than the chief one.  In all metropolitan communities major and minor places of worship and religious houses that honor a specific deity will usually at the same time acknowledge the chief deities of the pantheon.  Think of a cathedral with its many small shrines to various saints for a model here.  Also, think of various churches named for saints, but replace the name of the saint with a deity of the pantheon.  Thus, assuming the Tenoric Pantheon, one might find the fane of Baldur or of Freyja, a chapel of Byggvir (god of barley, grain, brewing), or a shrine of Torge the mountain giant.  Abbeys, convents, priories too will be established in the name of one or more specific deities of a pantheon.  For example, there might be a Convent of Ran (the sea goddess) or one of the Walkeries (Nordic Valkyrjr) or Asynjur (Frigga’s handmaiden demi-goddesses).  An abbey might be dedicated to Volund (Wayland) the smith god or to the Einheriar (the hero-warriors of Valhalla).  Priories, with preaching and teaching friars could be dedicated to the Norns, Baldur, Byggvir, Holdur (god of wisdom)—you get the picture.

As was the case in both medieval Europe and ancient Egypt, the clergy will be pervasive and rank high in each socio-economic tier.  The great priests and priestesses will range from just below the sovereign of the state to just below the nobility. In the middle tier will be the ordinary clergy who serve that class.  Likewise, in the lower stratum will be those religious persons who tend to the ordinary folk.  Note that this applies in more primitive societies equally with the most advanced.  There is no difference in regards the obvious and direct relationship between the acknowledgement of and service to deities and the welfare of the community.

An examination of clerics in history reveals that their roles were basically in three areas—government, performing worship services, religious instruction in regards to faith and service, and general education.  In comparison, their role in the fantasy milieu would be broader.  The functions accomplished in the historical model remain, and in addition there come a host of duties that directly impact virtually every aspect of life, from the highest to lowest classes.  What will ecclesiastics do in the fantasy universe?   Let us consider each aspect separately, adding in the yet-unnamed other functions:

Government, other than that of the theocratic sort, will have the ecclesiastic or shaman involved mainly in counsel (advice) and judicial roles.  These clerics will, of course be of the upper class, ranking as nobility.  This is actually similar to the clergy of the middle ages in Europe.  These potent theurgists and shamans will serve also as the personal priesthood of the rulers and aristocracy, assure their devotion to and acceptance by the deities recognized in the land.  Going with these roles will be considerable wealth—fiefs, manors, estates, annuities, and stipends.  This raises a question as to accumulation.  Would the clergy, by grants and gifts from high and low, come to own more of the state than any other group, sovereign and nobles included?  “Unlikely indeed in a deity-active universe.  Although the priesthood of a benign or even agathocacological deity would be dear to that entity, greed and power seeking beyond the bounds would not be.  Such activity would indicate either self-seeking, not service, or an inability to distinguish what would best serve the state.  Why serve the state?  Simple.  A powerful and prosperous state reflects upon the pantheon it acknowledges, will promote the worship of the deities concerned, thus benefit them.

Worship services, mentioned briefly above, will be many.  Depending on the pantheon and deity, the ordinary sort will take place regularly, from a weekly to daily bases, perhaps several times daily.  There will be holidays and feasts to direct.  All such activities will be to propitiate and bring active assistance of the pantheon, one or another deity thereof, in regards the state, the people, health, fertility the weather, etc.  Part of that means the protection by the pantheon deities of the worshippers, especially against evil beings. Of course such benefits are not expected, rather requested through worship, prayer, and sacrifice. A part of the latter will be such portion of the worshippers’ income and/or labor as is called for by deities in question.  For example, the pantheon might require a tithe (tenth) of income in produce or money.  On the other hand the contributions expected might be according to the free will of the faithful giver, be it in whatever form chosen by that one as suitable.  The whole of the hierarchy of the ecclesiastics will be involved in this activity, the great serving the great, the middle range caring for the middle class, and the least providing for the commoners of the lower tier of the society.

Religious instruction, seeing to the spiritual needs of all persons, will be a very central and key function of the ecclesiastics in the milieu.  To be acceptable to the pantheon, to gain the benefits bestowed by the deities upon their followers, to help in assuring this for the whole of the state, not just the individual, and to gain the benign afterlife, all persons in the state will be sought for and given teaching.  Payment to support such activity by the clergy will be covered mainly in the contributions required from the faithful.  Again here, the activity of instruction will be done from highest ranked to least of the clergy for the corresponding social classes of the laity.  Friars will serve here to find and teach those otherwise missed by the priesthood proper.

Education, beyond the teaching of the proper form one must follow to give acceptable worship and service to the pantheon, is another ecclesiastical matter.  While all places of higher learning will not necessarily be or religious nature, many will be.  Special training by the clergy, whether religious or secular, this being akin to college or university instruction, will typically require tuition payment so as to help support the institution providing such learning.  In general, the middle strata of the ecclesiastical community will be most involved with the education of the secular upper and middle classes.  Monks, nuns, and friars alike are likely to be found in many roles in such institutions.

Seeing to the needs of the poor and disabled speaks for itself.  Some portion of even a highly prosperous realm will be of the sort unable to properly care for itself.  Funds for this charitable care will come from the greater ecclesiastical organization, from patrons, and from the local community.  All ranks of the clergy will be involved in such care.  The higher will oversee the large efforts in regards the needy.  The middle range of the priesthood will attend the local needs; with abbeys, convents, and priories playing central roles too.  The wandering ecclesiastics will seek out and help the isolated and otherwise unreachable ones who are deserving of charity.

Providing for widows and orphans is similar to the charitable work noted above, but it also covers such aspects of care as protection (legally and physically), gainful employment, adoption, apprenticeship, and education.  Funding for this is much the same as for the poor.  Although sometimes the provision will be for the upper or middle class persons of the society, generally it will be the lower strata than are in need.  Thus, the brunt of this work will be borne by local clergy, the abbeys, convents, and priories nearby.

Health care for persons falls into two separate categories.  The main portion of caring for persons who are diseased, sick, injured, in need of eye or dental treatment will be at special hospices maintained for this purpose, or else done in religious houses from temple to abbey.  Those unable or unwilling to come to such places will be treated by those spiritual workers who travel about and see to the needs of such persons.  Patients able to pay for such care are expected to do so.  Those unable to pay for the actual costs, or even part of them, will receive charitable care.  In general, all such work will be done by the whole range of the clergy, but the brunt of it will be borne by the middle and lower ranks of ecclesiastics.

Health care for animals will be accomplished mainly at the local level, with some assistance from those spiritual workers who are itinerants.  This work is mainly for agricultural livestock, thus assists the state and the people on all levels, of course.  Costs for animal care will be borne by the owner of the livestock, wholly or in part.  The poor will not be deprived because of this need, and when applicable the treatment will be of charitable sort.  Generally speaking, the middle and lower ranks of the clergy will manage such matters.

Care of crops is much like care for animals.  Apply the material for the latter to this function of the spiritual workers in the milieu.

Maintaining clerical properties is generally self-explanatory.  There are two sorts of property to consider, however.  Buildings belonging to the clergy and of religious nature must be maintained and cared for.  In regards to places open to all, the work will typically be done through a combination of hired persons and volunteer labor.  Structures in generally closed religious communities will be cared for by the members of the community, with little hired or volunteer work done by “outsiders.”  Such places include abbeys, convents, and priories.  Costs incurred will be paid for by pantheon funds and contributions from the laity.  With regard to other real property, buildings and lands not used for worship, the most common means for maintaining these will be through tenants.  The ones residing in the buildings, working the lands, will pay a rent in cash, land produce, and/or labor to the ecclesiastical owners.  From such payments the real property will be maintained, and excess from such contributions will assist the pantheon in maintaining its religious places, support the general works of the clergy.

Clerical labor should be evident from the foregoing enumeration of with what the spiritual workers are concerned.  Although the upper ranks of the ecclesiastical community are not much burdened with physical labor, they are certainly fully occupied in other ways.  In the middle ranks of the clergy, there is a mixture of spiritual duties and physical ones too.  At the lower end of the spectrum, and into the associated, non-priesthood orders (such as that of the Friar Order), the emphasis shifts to include as much or more physical labor as the sacred duties to be performed.  In general, such labor brings in income that supports the workers, and excess of that will accrue to the benefit of the Order, the pantheon, and thus eventually to the people as a whole.

The seeking of charitable gifts is a necessity.  This is something that the clergy practices on all levels, from highest rank to lowest.  Considering the many duties of needed to be performed, the needs of the state and its folk, it is plain that additional funds and assistance of many kinds that promote the efforts of the clergy benefit all concerned.  Certain sorts of ecclesiastics, and those of the Friar Order in particular, eschew the ownership of income-producing property, must depend mainly on charitable gifts to support their work.

With the main concerns of the clergy enumerated, it is time to move on to consider the daily routine of persons so dedicated.  Because of the variable nature of the deities of a pantheon, exact schedules can not be set forth.  However, general routines can be established to some degree.  While this assumes a dawn-to-dusk sort of timetable, keep in mind that it might actually be from noon to midnight, duck until dawn, or any variation that accords with the nature of the deity being served.

The following extract from another article I have written regarding this matter will establish the hierarchical structure likely, and identify the persons concerned:

Prelate (representing the entire pantheon)

(equal to an emperor in precedence)

Sub-prelates (each representing a major deity of the pantheon)

(equal to king or palatine noble, a prince or duke)

Sub-prelates (each representing a minor deity of the pantheon)

(equal to a lesser noble, from viscount to baronet)

Grand High Priest/Priestess

Grand High Priest/Priestess

(of the pantheon)—Serving

(of a major deity)—Serving

a state or region of the world

a state or region of the world

in a grand temple

in a grand temple

(equal to a duke)

(equal to a marquis)


High Priest/Priestess (of the

High Priest/Priestess (of a

pantheon)—Serving a part of

major deity)—Serving a part

a state or region of the world

of a state or region of the

in a grand temple

world in a grand temple

(equal to an earl)

(equal to a viscount)


Master of an order of warrior clergy

Master of an order of warrior

(of the pantheon)

clergy (of a deity)

(equal to a baron)

(equal to a lord)


Prior of an order of friars

Prior of an order of friars

(of the pantheon)

(of a deity)

(equal to a lord)

(equal to a baronet)


Chief Priest/Priestess* (of the

Chief Priest/Priestess* (of a

pantheon)—Serving a High

deity)—Serving either a High

one in the state or region

one in the state or region, or

in a temple

else representing a lesser deity

(equal to a baronet)

in a temple


Abbot/Abbess (of the pantheon)

Abbot/Abbess (of a deity)

(equal to a lord)

(equal to a baronet)


Officiant Priest/Priestess* (of the

Officiant Priest/Priestess* (of a

pantheon)—Serving a Chief

deity)—Serving a Chief one

one in the state or region in a

in the state or region in a

temple, alone in a chapel

temple, alone in a chapel

(equal to a grand knight)

(equal to a knight)


Warrior-clergy (of a pantheon)

Warrior-clergy (of a deity)

(equal to a grand knight)

(equal to a knight)


Priest/Priestess (of the pantheon)*

Priest/Priestess (of a deity)*

—Serving a locale in a chantry

—Serving a locale in a chantry

(equal to a esquire)

(equal to a gentleman)


Under Priest/Priestess (of the

Under Priest/Priestess (of a

pantheon)—Serving a locale at

deity)—Serving a locale at

a shrine

in a shrine

(equal to a gentleman)

(equal to a gentleman)


Friars (of a pantheon)

Friars (of a deity)


Almoners (of a pantheon)

Almoners (of a deity)


Monks/Nuns (of a pantheon)

Monks/Nuns (of a deity)

Lay warriors

Lay ecclesiastical servants

Lay friars

Lay monks

*Here is about the level at which a shaman fits in.

The above sort of structure, altered to suit the culture and society of a people, thus provides multiple layers of ecclesiastical care.

¨      At the top we have the prelate in some especially holy place where pilgrimages come for special things.

¨      Below that we have special grand temples in special places in the state, also places for pilgrimage, of course, with clerics of great potency.

¨      In the middle we have temples, places in cities and towns, with potent heads and various lesser clergy because of the needs to be served.

¨      Closer to the bottom there are the “parish” places of worship—fanes and chantry—located in metropolitan wards, small communities, and in the domiciles of warrior-clerics, priories, abbeys, and convents.

¨      Scattered from middle to bottom there are chapels and shrines for the immediate, and sometimes also special, needs of the populace.

¨      Warrior-clergy protect the people.

¨      Friars preach and also educate, go from place to place to assist with mundane and special problems.

¨      Monks educate the young, serve travelers, pray, and create medicines and the like.

¨      Nuns help protect women and children, pray, teach, and create medicines and the like.

What is a day in the life of a spiritual worker like?  Here we have the guidelines:

Grand Vicars: Those of the very highest rank, the “royalty and great nobility” of the spirit workers are busily engaged in matters of worship, ecclesiastical direction concerns, and things pertaining to their state duties.  They are the pantheon’s prelate, sub-prelates of major deities, and grand high priests & priestess.  In general it is assumed that while their schedule is less rigorous than those beneath their station, such clerics are nonetheless fully active on a daily basis.  As exemplars, they will arise at a set time, perform worship services, and fulfill such special routine duties as are reserved to and required of a theurgist of their calling and rank.  Obviously the Prelate of the Olympian Pantheon, for instance, will have a different routine than will the Sub-prelate of Bacchus-Dionysus and the Grand High Priestess of Artemis-Diana.  As a general rule all such very high ecclesiastics will be surrounded with various assistants and servants, so that mundane things will be done for them wherever possible. They lead busy but privileged lives, associate mainly with the uppermost society, and enjoy all the comforts and benefits allowed to them by their religious canons.  The daily routine of the highest of clerics might be something like this:

Morning: (4th-7th hours—4 AM to 8 AM) Sleep (?), arise, perform ablutions, dress, worship, break fast, read messages, receive intelligence.

Forenoon: (8th-11th hours—9 AM to Noon) Lead worship services, consult with secular rulers, perform state duties, meet with foreign dignitaries, noon meal with such figures.

Afternoon: (12th-15th hours—12 AM to 4 PM) Perform state duties, meet with clerical associates, worship services, conduct religious affairs.

Evening: (16th-19th hours—5 PM to 8 PM) Retreat for meditation, prayers, study, correspondence, conduct religious services, sup; or after religious services attend banquet

Night: (20th-23rd hours—9 PM to Midnight) Conclude celebration or reading, always prayers, retire and sleep.

Late Night: (24th-3rd hours—1 AM to 4 AM) Sleep.

High Clerics: “Lesser nobility” of ecclesiastical sort are the high priests & priestesses, masters of orders of warrior clergy, sub-prelates (or lesser deities), priors, chief priests & priestesses, abbots & abbesses and officiant priests & priestesses.  All such persons will have a considerable number of assistants and attendants, and their station will admit to such privilege and luxuries are commensurate with their religious canons.  The daily routine of the lower tier of the great ecclesiastics will be similar to the uppermost one, might be something like this:

Morning: (4th-7th hours—4 AM to 8 AM) Sleep (?), arise, perform ablutions, dress, lead worship services, break fast, read messages, receive intelligence.

Forenoon: (8th-11th hours—5 AM to Noon) Consult with advisors, perform official religious duties, meet with dignitaries, noon meal with such figures.

Afternoon: (12th-15th hours—1 PM to 4 PM) Perform official religious duties, meet with clerical associates, perform worship services, attend to special matters.

Evening: (16th-19th hours—5 PM to 8 PM) Retreat for meditation, prayers, study, correspondence, conduct religious services, sup; or after religious services attend banquet.

Night: (20th-23rd hours—9M to Midnight) conclude festivities, or reading, always prayers, retire and sleep.

Late Night: (24th-3rd hours—1 AM to 4 AM) Sleep.

General Ecclesiastics: Warrior-clergy members, treated as of the aristocracy in social standing, fit into this middle range where one finds the priests & priestess and under priests & priestess that make up the bulk of the ordained clergy, and who are in the middle social strata.  At the bottom of this class come the higher- ranking friars, almoners, monks, and nuns.  These ecclesiastics might have assistants and/or servants, but might not.  Their social station and income will admit to some small privilege and minor luxuries, again as allowed by  religious canons.  The daily routine of the clerical “gentry” might be something like this:

Morning: (4th-7th hours—4 AM to 8 AM) Sleep (?), arise, perform ablutions, dress, engage in worship services, break fast, receive instructions.

Forenoon: (8th-11th hours—9 AM to Noon) Consult with fellows, perform official religious duties of sacred and/or secular nature, meet with visitors, visit with parishioners, noon meal with such persons or at religious institution.

Afternoon: (12th-15th hours—1 PM to 4 PM) Perform official religious duties of sacred or secular nature, meet with supplicants, visit parishioners, perform worship services, attend to special matters.

Evening: (16th-19th hours—5 PM to 8 PM) Visit parishioners, attend to special matters, retreat for meditation, prayers, conduct religious services, sup; or after religious services host meal for visitors of the needy.

Night: (20th-23rd hours—9 PM to Midnight) dismiss guests, study, prayers, retire and sleep.

Late Night: (24th-3rd hours) Sleep.

Common Clergy: In the lower class are found the mass of ordinary friars, monks, and nuns plus all lay warriors, lay ecclesiastical servants, lay friars, and lay monks.  These common spiritual workers indeed do physical labor in addition to their clerical activities.  In most cases the lower station they have admit to little privilege and no luxuries, as much by choice as by stricture of religious canons.  The daily routine of the ordinary low ecclesiastics might be something like this:

Morning: (4th-7th hours—4 AM to 8 AM) Arise, perform ablutions, dress, engage in worship services, break fast, receive instructions, perform physical labor duties.

Forenoon: (8th-11th hours—5 AM to noon) Carry on with religious duties of sacred and/or secular nature, engage in worship services, noon meal with fellows at religious institution or amidst those that are being served.

Afternoon: (12th-15th hours—1 AM to 4 PM) Carry on with religious duties of sacred and/or secular nature, attend to special matters as required.

Evening: (16th-19th hours—5 PM to 8 PM) Finish work or labor, retreat for meditation, prayers, engage in worship services, sup, brief study.

Night: (20th-23rd hours—9 PM to Midnight) Prayers, retire and sleep.

Late Night: (24th-3rd hours) Sleep.

Shamans, coming from a less stratified and codified societal form are not so easily placed.  In effect most of their higher-ranked membership will be of the upper class of whatever society they belong to.  The lower-ranked shamans will be in whatever group falls just under the upper one of the society.  A few might be found in the lower strata of their society.



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