Most paladins are not incorporated directly into the Church's heirarchy. Some orders are associated with kings and countries. Some are monastic and semi-independent. Regardless, they are all universally trusted and respected.
Except for a few that aren't.
The Condemned -- The Order of the Beetle
Sometimes paladins fall. Their crimes are so horrible that they cannot be allowed to continue in their current position, and yet remain redeemable in the eyes of the Church. (And besides, some of them are too skilled to waste.)
Some are allowed to repent and pay simple penance, but for others, their penance is to be condemned to the Order of the Beetle.
In the eyes of the world, they are criminal paladins, serving out their sentences, to be obeyed, yet despised. Oftentimes, their sins are understandable, and yet inexcusable. Their crimes are usually sympathetic (which is why they are given a chance to redeem themselves).
One might confess: "I killed an innocent so that a dozen could live."
Another: "I knew she was guilty, and yet I let her go. She was no harm to anyone anymore."
So while the Church may have sympathy, there is no ambiguity in the Orthochism.
Paladins of the Beetle are locked inside their armor. Their names are stripped from them, and they are answer to the name of Beetle. If you need to differentiate them, use adjectives.
If they die before their full term is served, they will continue on as dutiful undead, until the completion of their service.
If they complete the shameful length of service, their names and honor are restored, and their time in the Order of the Beetle is never spoken of again.
Their coat of arms is a disjoined beetle beneath a new moon. The background is yellow.
|Baldwin IV from the Kingdom of Heaven|
The Church conducts many charitable works, and one of their most visible ones is the care of lepers.
Leper colonies (such as the one at the Isle of Pigs) are built, protected, and fed by the Pope's purse. All lepers are welcomed there.
However, lepers who are still able-bodied are strongly encouraged to join the Alabaster Order, which is composed almost entirely of lepers. (The few exceptions are usually people who joined on behalf of a family member with leprosy, who was unable to join the Order personally.) It is not a duty, but an honor, to serve in the Alabaster Order.
It is said that no paladin will rot as long as he shows neither cruelty nor cowardice. And indeed, that sometimes seems to be true. There are members of the Alabaster Order who are so ravaged by their disease that they cannot speak except through a stylus, without any lessening of their sword arm.
Their visors look like white faces, and they wear scarves soaked with rosewater. (Remember: diseases are caused by foul smells, and that rosewater = antiplague in Centerra.)
They are based in the House of the Fountain, and led by Sir Grindelwine the White.
Their coat of arms is white rose with petals falling from it, on a field of red.
The Unrecognized -- The Order of the Owl
There is a problem with forbidden knowledge: it corrupts. It corrupts inevitably, if given enough time.
For a long time, the Church fielded paladins who would hunt down insane cults and execute heretics.
But cults must be studied before they can be infiltrated, and heretics always talk so much. And so it was, that the Church's best witch hunters would eventually fall victim to the same corruption that they stamped out. They would doubt, or they would despair, or they would go mad from their rough enlightenments.
A simple solution was found. The paladin's mind would be partitioned off, entire lobes would be quarantined. This would keep the mind from intercorrelating too many of its contents.
<digression>This is not as mad as it sounds. You (reading this blog post) have a conscious brain that is aware of itself, but you have many submerged systems running in the background. You have a secret ur-brain that makes you sad when you hear a song that reminds you of your ex. You have a secret sub-brain that down-regulates hunger when you are playing WoW. You have a secret sub-brain that gives you boners in Algebra for no reason. </digression>
In the original implementation, these paladins were divided into three parts. Each person would become three people. The conscious (normal) mind, the "librarian", and the "library". The librarian chose what the conscious mind would forget, and would store it in the library. These partitions would protect the paladin from any harmful knowledge.
That practice isn't too common anymore. Too well-known, and therefore more controversial, but they exist.
A more extreme (and potentially more common) practice is to isolate the part of the paladin's brain that remembers that they are a paladin. And so you have people who are puppets of their subconscious (moreso than usual), who manipulate themselves to innocently infiltrate the cult. They could be naive for years before the librarian pulls back the curtain, the memories come rushing back in, and they murder their cultist friends and then march back to Coramont for absolution.
They have no coat of arms, and are not acknowledged by anyone.
The Unsanctioned -- The Order of the Maggot
The psychology of a ghoul is especially remarked upon. The classic legend, told of taverns everywhere, tells of the loving husband who died protecting his loving wife in the midst of a hateful war. But he returned as a ghoul, and lovingly hunted down his wife before lovingly eating her alive.
When a person becomes a ghoul, most of the memories remain intact. The personality also tends to survive the process. The mood is, allegedly, much improved by the process, and stories about of good-natured ghouls who are as cheerful as they are ravenous.
What does not survive are the specific cares and motivations. They still crave the company of their old friends, and remember their addresses, but care nothing for the health or happiness of those same friends.
Most ghouls have lost what little faith they had in life, but there are some exceptions. Those who are especially devout--who are so committed to their faith that they absolutely cannot conceive of a self-identity that lacks it--sometimes carry that religion into undeath.
Mostly dead clergy, supplemented by no few soldiers. You'll find them everywhere, but especially places where brave corpses were abandoned.
The Order of the Maggot is a loose collection of devout ghouls that have sworn to shun the flesh of the living faithful. More incredibly, it is a vow that they keep. (For the most part--ghouls have a famously hard time keeping promises when they are hungry, and they are often hungry.)
<sidebar>Sidebar: ghouls are cosmopolitan, and when common people imagine ghouls, they think of a trio of fleshy-faced graverobbers who travel between towns, digging up fresh corpses and eating them, who must be burned when they are caught and killed lest they raise from the dead. The mad, withered things that you'll find in dungeons are the uncommon phenotype. And being intelligent and cosmopolitan, they naturally seek out others of their kind. And so it is that culture and words spread among the ghouls.</sidebar>
And so they are the armored fellows crawling on the ceiling of the cistern, who will ask you if you've recently attended church. (How recently? I suppose that's recently enough.)
They may ask you recite some verses, to prove your faith.
If they are very hungry, they may ask for more obscure verses.
If they are very, very hungry, they may eat you anyway. Who remembers every word?
And sometimes, if you are in trouble, they will help you. They are especially likely to assist you if the act is likely to yield some tasty zombies to eat.
Their coat of arms is a worm rampant on a sable field..