Across the many fantasy RPGs, there is a plethora of “divine” character types – cleric, paladin, war priest, avenger, shadow priest, and so on. The Night Priest is not another one of these classes, but an alternate, darker concept or template that can be applied to an already existing one. Its inclusion in the game is most definitely at the discretion of the DM.
Basically, a Night Priest is a royalty-sanctioned divine warrior, given the authority to seek out evil (in any form), and destroy it. Only those members in the immediate royal family are exempt from the Night Priest’s judgement.
The Night Priest Origin
Over five hundred years ago, the reigning king was at odds with his kingdom’s most influential church. Though he was king, the repercussions of him directly opposing the church would shatter the stability of the land, guaranteeing a civil war (the church really was that powerful). The church, seeking more control than it had already, insisted on the king agreeing to several concessions, one of which was the formation of the Knight Priests (later to be termed Night Priests).
These Knight Priests were to be elite warriors of the cloth, though given the same level of authority as noble knights. With that authority, they could better root out evil in all its forms. This included demons, devils, the supernatural, and those who practiced one of a few dark magics. This meant that they were allowed to investigate, judge, and execute internal enemies of the kingdom and church. The king (and most of the noble class) did not like the idea of giving free reign to these religious knights, but considering other demands made by the church, it was too minor a concession to fight over.
Their true purpose, however, was to serve as a means for the church to affect and maneuver the noble class (which would, in turn, increase the church’s power and influence). Much could be done in the political arena under the guise of “rooting out evil from the kingdom,” and the church carefully and methodically employed this tactic from time to time. Certain noble families or rich merchants, who never uttered a word of heresy in their lives, were suddenly targeted by the church and eliminated by the Knight Priests. The church always made sure to provide damning evidence of the accused, and the Knight Priests dispenced justice swiftly. Others in the kingdom applauded the tenacity and dedication of the Knight Priests – for ridding the land of such supposedly dark, demon-worshiping evil-doers.
However, within just a few years, the church took a turn for the worse. Three Knight Priests came across a prominent church official secretly taking studies in the use of Necromancy. The Knight Priests dispensed justice immediately, and very quickly the church all but fell as the king, his knights, and the Knight Priests tore through the rankings of the church. It had no choice but to relinquish much of its power.
The Knight Priest’s Transition
With a severely weakened church, the kingdom has continued on to what it is today. The various kings kept the Order of the Knight Priests in service as a symbol of justice, and as a reminder of the dangers of evil and temptation. The divine warriors were often used as inquisitors for rooting out and destroying evil, and also as a reminder that the royal family supersedes any church. With a crippled church, the Knight Priests were often looked to for spiritual guidance. They were famous and admired, and welcome in most of the land. For a while, the title of Knight Priest was quite a prestigous position to hold.
However, as the centuries counted on, many people began to care less of the past power struggle between royalty and church, or the past treachery of the church. In fact, the church began to regain some of its past favor (though without the power). People began to look toward the church for guidance, instead of the aging Order of Knight Priests. With the position becoming less favorable, fewer and fewer men and women of the cloth took to it. They began to receive less funding, and fewer celebrations in their name.
Knight Priests were eventually used less as leaders and inquisitors, and more as hunters (often as the first wave of force against any possible supernatural threat). If demons, devils, undead, vampires, ghouls, and trolls were going to prey upon the citizens of the kingdom, the Knight Priests were sent in to deal with them first. They typically have the means to deal with the supernatural, whereas real knights (noble men of birth) could be spared. The Knight Priests were often sent out into the night – to deal with these night-time threats, oftentimes not coming back.
Their falling out of favor with the public was actually a benefit for the Order of Knight Priests. In an effort to prove themselves still worthy and needed, they dove headfirst into their mission, taking oaths to forego most other personal needs. This, and the nature in which the Knight Priests now operated (fighting evil head-on, facing death and chaos at every turn), turned them into highly dedicated and extreme warriors. Over time, the overall look of the Knight Priest changed to match their demeanor – dark and foreboding. When they walked the streets, people tended to mutter a quick prayer to their god, and move on.
Because of their mission, outlook, and grim nature, the Knight Priests eventually came to be known as Night Priests. Most people believe it has always been this way.
Due to them being viewed as a stigma instead of a status symbol, the king began to feel pressure to have the Order disbanded. However, before that could happen, the Night Priests discovered that the king’s sister had been possessed by a demon. Not allowed to confront the highest of nobles or royalty, the Night Priests were forced to make a decision: take the disbandment by the king, or defy their oath by going after the king’s sister. For the benefit of the kingdom, the Night Priests killed the king’s sister, but not before taking heavy losses. In the end, after the truth came to light, the few remaining Night Priests were released from prison, and reinstated to their posts.
The Night Priest Today
An official Order of Night Priests no longer exists, but the tradition of knighting a priest for the position still continues. Today, a Night Priest has the same mission and oath as the once-standing Order, but with fewer resources and backing. His position as a holy warrior still stands, and he still has authority over the common man, but with so few other Night Priests walking the land, he is largely left to his own devices. As a Night Priest, he has the blessing of the crown, the authority to intrude into most places, and exemption from any wrongdoing as a result of dispencing justice.
However, while the Night Priest has been given authority, he does not usually have the means to enforce that authority. How he is received in any given town or home largely depends on the people residing there. Some will open their doors with open arms, while others will curse him in the street. For the most part, though, a Night Priest is seen as a mysterious and dark authority, one who wanders the land in the name of the kingdom, intent on destroying all that is evil. He can usually expect at least some cooperation from local authorities or nobles, although sometimes he runs into people who feel they don’t need to acknowledge his position. Unfortunately, the death of a Night Priest is rarely investigated or avenged.
In combat, he fights aggressively. Everyone knows that the Night Priest has given his life to the crown, and shall know no fear in the face of death. All or most of his abilities and skills are geared for destroying evil; not helping others. He is a warrior priest of action, focusing on rooting out evil and destroying it. It is not uncommon for him to temporarily gain command of a few soldiers, though that is largely dependent on the local’s view of him, and his ability to intimidate or persuade.
He is rarely affiliated with a particular god or deity, opting instead to occasionally revere several gods. While he may pay respect to a local church, he is forbidden from forming close ties with any church. In his travels, if he does not have the means to support himself, it is widely understood that various churches of the land will supply him with room and board and/or some modest travel money. Inns and taverns will also sometimes accomodate a Night Priest.
Since evil is in the eye of the beholder, the Night Priest is free to pursue his mission how he sees fit. Those he works with, those enemies he targets, and the strategies he employs, are all largely up to him.
His mission is to seek out and destroy evil. If a Night Priest walks into town, it’s not because he’s there to heal the sick and injured, or help out at the local monastery. Most people know better than to ask for his blessing.
Today, the Night Priest is an archaic tradition. Very few are ever knighted and given the station. While most people would not want that post, they understand the Night Priest’s duty, and respect his power. His position is known by most (if not all), and he can immediately be recognized by his adornments and affectations – most notably, the skull of an evil enemy that he has slain, hanging off of his belt.