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"Do you think he's Catholic?"
"Not that I know of, why?"
"Well, he'll never make Pope then will he?"
"Uh … no, probably not. Why…"
"Which is sad, because he definitely looks like some kind of primate…"

Basic Information

When used as a job description (rather than a zoological term) a primate refers to the spiritual leader of a given religion or religious sect.

Of course, not all religions have a primate, but if they do the person in question will normally be a priest and/or a king. It is unlikely for a religion with no concept of priesthood to possess a primate as these religions tend to lack the necessary hierarchy but even a religion in which every man is a priest1 might invest some kind of authority in a spiritual leader, perhaps in the form of a sacred king.

Depending on the setting and the religion the primate may live in the capital city, in a monastary up a mountain somewhere or even in a hut in the wilderness. Some are more likely than others. There is also the distinct possibility of a religious capital separate from the secular one2.

Where a primate leads a sect of a given religion, rather than the religion as a whole, expect conflict with the primates of other sects. Likewise, where a religion has a number of nominally equal leaders who are close to primacy, expect sects to form as they conflict with one another3.

In the right sort of campaign a primate may be divine or semi-divine … or at the very least the mortal descendant of a deity.


Some examples of real world primates might include:

  • The Pope (Primate to the Roman sect of Christianity)
  • The Dalai Llama (Primate of the Tibetan branch of Buddhism)
  • The Emperor of Japan (Primate of the Shinto religion)
  • The Aga Khan (Primate of the Ismaili sect of Islam)
1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • One way or another the primate of any religion worth considering is likely to be an extremely significant person in your campaign world.
    • How much power he actually has will vary depending on the setting but his influence will typically be huge.
  • Likewise a change of primate is likely to be an epochal event in the politics of his religion - and quite possibly in the politics of one or more secular states as well.
  • In a silly setting, especially one where reincarnation is a big feature, it might well be possible to have a religious primate who is also the other sort…4
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