This useful document defines the different roles and positions of priests, their superiors, and their followers with the church. Various titles are provided for each position in the church as well as a description of the duties and scope of the positions responsibilities.
Lord Patriarch (High Patriarch, The Pope)
For any faith there is an absolute ruler who, aside from the appearance of an avatar, is the ultimate authority of the church. This religious ruler may preside over their religion within an empire, across several kingdoms, numerous nations, or may even be the highest ranking authority of all the church's world-wide branches. This leader manages the affairs of the religion as a whole. This person, selected from among the high priests of the various states, is known as a Patriarch.
A Patriarch will also be found in those rare cases where churches of the same deity exist within several non-united nations and no schism has resulted. In both cases, the patriarch has clerical powers of at least 15th level and will assume the role of church leader from any of the high priests. The existence of a patriarch does not reduce the power of the high priests by very much, as the church is so large that they must all manage the affairs of an entire nation.
A patriarch, who will almost always be at least 70 years old, is accorded the respect due a member of the imperial family. As one might imagine, a call for revolution or patience by a person in this position is so great, that many emperors will openly court the favor of a patriarch with gifts and oaths of loyalty to the doctrines of the church.
Viceroy (High-priest, Arch-Bishop, Arch-Prelate, Cardinal)
Viceroys can be as powerful as kings, a person of ruling authority over a country, province, and so forth. They are the deputy of a sovereign.
At the top of every religious order is a Viceroy, also known as a high priest. This person is the absolute ruler of the faith in a given kingdom. Because, in many cases, a faith or branch of a faith is popular only in a single kingdom, the viceroy is usually the absolute ruler of the church. In cases where the same deity is worshipped by more than one culture, a schism tends to develop along culture lines which causes the faith to splinter into two or more groups, each with its own high priest. If this is not the case, then the high priests will answer to a patriarch who oversees the church as a whole (see above).
Each viceroy typically commands the powers of a cleric of no less than 13th level. Because of this, they are generally treated as if they were members of the royal family itself. Only a king who is insane or absolute in his power will directly challenge the authority of the high priest.
The average viceroy is well into his fifties by the time he assumes offices. The rigors of his life have been such that he is respected as the final authority on all matters of faith. In many churches, the word of the viceroy is assumed to be divine and must be taken as the word of the deity himself. No member of the church may refuse to obey the instructions of his high priest without risking the wrath of the deity himself. To be sure, this is not something that any member of the church should take lightly.
Bishop (Prelate, Primate, or Pontiff)
Bishops are high ranking clergy, often the head of a diocese or church district.
The bishop of a church is second in power only to the viceroy. They are able to command such mighty power and have so much say in matters of the church that they are assumed to be fully as important as any member of the noble class.
Obviously, the years of devotion and study required to attain this position means that the bishop will tend to be quite old. As a rule, the youngest of bishops will be in their forties. While in modern society this is not "old" by any stretch of the imagination, it represent a good portion of a man's life in a medieval setting. Of course, the healing powers of the faithful tend to result in very long-lived members of religious groups .
Each bishop is entrusted with the supervision of all church affairs in a given region. As a rule, any kingdom will be split into 1-6 regions, each of which will be under the guidance of a single bishop.
Bishops, having the powers and abilities of an 11th or 12th level cleric, are recognized by their noble peers as being very useful friends. Conversely, they are also acknowledged as very dangerous foes. Just as the bishop's favor can be important to the operation of any noble's holding, his wrath can be swift and eternal. Few are the nobles who will not try to avoid a clash with this level of the church.
The next rung in the ladder of church affairs is occupied by the dean. This powerful individual is accorded all the respect and influence due to a knight or similar member of the Chivalric class. In his hands is placed the supervision of all church holdings in 1-6 towns. The dean is an important link in the church structure, for he often acts as an interface between the church's highest officials and the local representatives of the faith (in the person of the local curates and priests.)
Deans will tend to be in their mid-thirties, having devoted most of their lives to the service of their deity. As a result, they have acquired the spell casting abilities of a ninth or tenth level cleric. With such power and influence, the dean is clearly a force to be reckoned with in any feudal nation.
The dean is, obviously, entrusted with a great deal of authority. In the absence of clear direction from his superiors in the church, the dean is permitted (indeed, expected) to make very important decisions regarding the practice of the faith. As such, they tend to be very conservative people who seek to avoid making any decisions which might be viewed as radical by their leaders. In times of crisis, such resistance to change and the desire to avoid "going out on a limb" can often cause serious problems.
The curate is recognized as the head of all church activities in a given town or city. Depending upon the size of the town, he will usually have 1-6 churches in his jurisdiction.
Because the curate is one of the most powerful members of the local religious community, he is assumed to have roughly the same rights and privileges as an important guildsman. As you might expect, a request for favors from such an individual is always taken very seriously by the local nobility. In many cases, a town which might otherwise be in unrest can be kept in check by the actions of the local curate.
In addition to their sway with the local populace, Curates are respected for the powerful magic which they can employ. In times of crisis, a local noble who could not afford to maintain a powerful Lord High Chaplain or a Lord High Wizard will petition the curate to act on his behalf. If the request is reasonable, serves the interests of the church, and is accompanied by an indication of the lord's devotion (that is, gold), then the request is likely to be granted. Of course, this also places the noble in debt to the church, a situation which is highly desirable.
A prior is the head of a monastery or priory, or as a Prioress is in charge of a convent. These solitary or socially reclusive religious organizations are often centers of learning and introspection. Often times they were left out of wars which raged about them and were the meeting places for truces as they remained politically neutral. Brethren who joined a convent or monastery usually did so for life upon taking various vows of obedience. Such places tend to embrace pure principles of their deity.
As the prior of such an organization, he is supremely responsible for the welfare and running of the abbey or monastery. There may be several priests who are subordinate to the prior and who assist with the tasks of keeping the monastery running.
Depending on the size of the monastery there may be schools of learning within, scribes, historians, and libraries which may or may not be available to those who live outside of the abbey. During such dark medieval times as the Black Plague or more ancient Ice Ages, it was places such as these which kept the surviving historical records and genealogies preserved for future generations. It is not uncommon to find religious artifacts of significance to be secreted away or guarded behind the walls of larger monasteries.
Abbey's tend to be larger and more publicly active than monasteries. They also tend to have better protection. As such, an abbot may hold more political power within or without of the church than a Prior.
Priest (Pastor, Father, Minister, Rabbi, a Cleric, a Chaplin)
The priest is the backbone of any religious order. Without them, there is no church. Each temple is assumed to be under the guidance of one priest, who is in charge of all that goes on within the temple he is associated with. A priest is usually in his late twenties or early thirties and has the holy powers of a fifth or sixth level cleric.
Priests are selected from the ranks of the postulants and assigned to serve in areas where the church needs to establish a new temple or replace another priest for some reason. Each priest will oversee 1-6 postulants and (by default) 1-6 acolytes for each postulant.
In the feudal social pyramid, priests are roughly equal to townsmen. They are accorded more respect than the lesser members of the faith, but are not recognized as true power figures. This is often an unjust assumption, as a charismatic priest can have a strong influence over those who worship at his church, but it is nonetheless the case.
Postulant (Deacon, Friar, Clergyman)
The postulant is an acolyte who has proven himself to be true to the church and devoted in his vows. He is generally older (in his late teens or early twenties) and has attained the third level of experience. Upon reaching his new level, the former acolyte is expected to take on more responsibilities.
In addition to overseeing the training of the acolytes he has left behind, the postulant is now expected to play a greater role in the worship of the deity. In fact, lesser holy services may actually be wholly under the supervision of the postulant.
In terms of social level, postulants are generally accepted as the equals of yeomen. They are awarded some respect, but have no real decision making power in the church. Still, their devotion to the faith is noteworthy, and they are accorded their share of social privileges.
A postulant will usually have 1-6 acolytes assigned to him as students. Of course, while they are under the charge of the postulant, they are expected to follow his instructions in all.
Acolytes are students of the faith who hope, through great study and devotion, to become active members of the church in time. As a rule, they are young (generally in their mid-teens) and very eager to show their devotion to their superiors in the church.
Acolytes tend to draw the least interesting assignments in a given temple. They are in charge of copying holy documents and assisting in religious services, but they have no true power in the church.
Acolytes are assumed to have the powers of a first level priest, though are usually not as fit for combat or adventuring as a player character at first level would be. In other words, where most player character clerics represent members of holy fighting orders, the NPC acolyte is assumed to be a non-fighting individual. Still, they have begun to acquire certain holy powers, and are often called upon to employ their healing powers on the faithful of the church.
Lay Brethren (Brother)
The lay brethren are not actually members of the religious power structure, but they do deserve mention here. This group includes all those persons who are of an unusually pious nature and spend some (or much) of their time working with or for the church. Examples might include those who sweep the temple out after services or even the cook who makes meals for the priests at their homes.
Lay brethren do not expect great monetary rewards for their efforts, they work for the honor of serving their church in the only way they can. While it is true that many of them are paid some token salary for their efforts, most do not depend upon the church for their living. As is often the case, of course, there are exceptions to this. A secluded temple might require a full-time groundskeeper or a permanent cook. In both cases, the individual would be paid a living wage and, probably, be provided with room and board in the church's facilities.
Because of their great love for their church, many members of this group tend to adopt a "holier-than-thou" attitude. While this is certainly not always the case, it is easy for a person who has no other claim to fame in a feudal society to focus on the one thing they do which makes them feel valuable. This is understandable, but the PCs may not always find such aggressive followers of a faith to be pleasant company.