Not everyone becoming a man of the cloth wore a priest’s robes. Some chose the path of the monk, dwelling in a monastery, shut away from the world in accordance with monastic rule. Others chose the role of friar, which swore to the same vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as the cloistered monks, but saw their mission in communities, where they were to spread the Gospel of Christ, living on the charity of others in exchange for spiritual guidance. Friars generally received more formal training in their art than parish priests, many of whom couldn’t even read or speak Latin, so their sermons in urban areas tended to be better-received.
Typically, orders of friars went forth into the world to fulfill specific missions. The Dominican Friars, for example, focused on teaching and fighting heresy.
Inevitably, friction developed between the orders of friars and high-ranking church officials, largely over the friar’s vow of poverty. While they were permitted to beg for food and clothing, friars were generally prohibited from accepting gifts of money for their work. It was common for friars to wear simple, homespun garments and to go barefoot, in stark contrast to high churchmen, who lived lives of splendor similar to the great lords of their time.
As the years passed, friars were authorized to celebrate mass and hear confessions, and with added power came some level of corruption. The profile Chaucer provided for his friar in The Canterbury Tales described a fellow who had a license to hear confessions, but provided easy penance for those who accompanied their confessions with large cash donations. In some places, the conduct of the clergy led St. Bernadino of Siena to say, “Men often believe in nothing higher than the roof of their own house…and this is because of the evil lives of monks, friars and priests.”
Of course, the level of piety prevalent among friars in a D&D game falls within the purview of the dungeon master (DM), but friars maintaining a higher moral standard than temple priests could create interesting tensions within the game, particularly if a player character hero’s role falls on one side of those tensions.