Worldbuilding: Government

One day…one day I will have a blog that doesn’t begin with an apology for how late it is.  Today is not that day.  Seriously though, I’ve had this information just sitting there, all typed up, but I needed/wanted to add some stuff to it.  Well now that I’ve copy/pasted it into the blog I see just how long it is, adding any more to it would be information overload.  So, next blog!

Alright kiddies, today we’re going to look at Government.  I do want to say, I’m certainly not just overflowing with all sorts of seemingly useless information on world-building. All of this information gathered is a culmination of what I’ve found works/doesn’t work, inspiration I’ve derived from other stories and even video games, various research, word-of-mouth on what works from other authors, and above all, D&D. Role-playing of course is a huge inspiration, but there is also a series for DMs called City Builder that has been hugely helpful for all of this and I highly recommend you all consider checking it out.
These classifications can apply to a specific city or your kingdom as a whole. More often than not in a fantasy setting you have a kingdom, some cities and a King, it’s a monarchy, problem solved. Yeah, if you want to be the most boring kingdom this side of the hemisphere!  Hopefully understanding the varying definitions and scenarios will help you add some variety to your world. Entire books and plots can revolve around politics, revolutions, uprisings, assassinations and the like. If that isn’t exactly your scene or your book focuses more on the romance or is an epifan that follows some kid across the country on some quest to save his girlfriend, guess what? You still need to know this.

Now I don’t write romance, that’s no secret. So you may not need insane tome level amounts of information on the history and government of your world, but I think it’s good to know some information. You may say it’ll never come into play because obviously your heroine and strapping young hero are the only two people in the universe, BUT, what if she decides to run away to a nearby city so they can elope?  Well, what if that city is a theocracy that has a habit of sacrificing young virgins?  They don’t want to use on of their own fair maidens so enter your heroine!

Even if it doesn’t effect your plot on as grand a scale as that, it’s nice to have the background knowledge. The on-going revolution could be mentioned by a side character but it fluffs up your world a bit, other things are going on around your characters.

Now what about this poor sap on his way to save his girlfriend from an incredibly generic castle?  Surprisingly enough, the same situation could apply.  He could be marching his way right through a village and find himself on a sacrificial altar. What if there’s a political dispute going on and one side has been planning to strike for months but didn’t have a scapegoat until your character sauntered in?  The possibilities are endless but only if you know what kind of world your working with.

So, from the last blog, we should have a pretty solid idea on the geography of our world and some of the basic ecology and history. The history is probably going to change based on whatever you come up with now for the government. If you decide that the royal city was originally settled as a small village by people looking to avoid religious persecution, that will probably effect how the kingdom is run now, or at the very least the general opinion on the matter. We’re going to be constantly making edits as we go through these steps, so don’t stress it too much! Hit enter a few times and just put in Name of Kingdom, v.1.2, and start your new thoughts and notes there. This way you have a basis for comparison so you can decide on which scenario you prefer.

Types of Government:

Anarchy – More often than not, this form of government is not chosen but it is the result of war, a revolution or even a flood, earthquake, or some sort of disaster. Anarchy doesn’t always mean chaos and violence either, but that there are no formal rules or leadership. Take a small fishing village for example, there doesn’t need to be a law about the procedure on the boats, it’s understood, and the village works.
Pros: Depending on what kind of settlement you have, there are no laws, no lords to answer to and perhaps no taxes. If it’s a village that supplies needed items to a major city, such as fish, grains, or livestock, they can cut out a middleman but directly charging the city their own fees or taxes and make additional profits.
Cons: This kind of situation is the perfect opportunity for people in positions of power to try and take over. A guild that is stronger than others can place themselves in charge, (think mob-style). An affluent family with delusions of grandeur will name themselves leader, or even someone with only the best intentions at heart can still rage war and devastate a land in an attempt to make it better. This area is very susceptible to outside threats and may not even have an organized procedure when it comes to dealing with disasters, such as a fire, famine or flood or an attack from outside enemies/wild animals.

Dictatorship: The possible outcome of an unsettled area in the midst of anarchy, a dictatorship is when one figure holds complete control over the people. A dictator however, can be benevolent or malevolent towards their people. Using the example of the ruler that has only the best interests at heart for the land, the road to their seat of control was war-torn and bloody, but once they’re in place they do all that they can for the benefit of the people. Crimes could be punished with hard labor, or an appropriate amount of time in jail, nothing too extreme or unusual. On the other hand, an evil dictator could execute and torture for even the smallest transgressions, taxes are exorbitant, and the people struggle just to make a living. No matter how large the city is there may only be two classes, low and high. The high class being made up of those who are either well armed enough to maintain opposition with the dictator or those that are in the his pocket, and the lower class making up everyone else.
Pros: Depending on how this form of government came to be, this does provide the opportunity to have a very organized government with the best possibility for balance. An even (or close to) socioeconomic caste of high, middle and low class, an established form of laws, regulations and process for trials and punishments will all contribute to a fairly peaceful existence.
Cons: As easily as a dictatorship can mean smooth sailing it can mean just the opposite, and more often than not, does. An evil ruler can punish all who don’t agree with or at least follow his decrees. Their punishments will be cruel and unusual, frequent and without moderation. This city could also be in a constant state of turmoil, not just because of internal disputes but if this land and its leader is considered a threat to other lands they may be the target of continuous attacks. Either in an attempt for other lands to take them over and assimilate them into their own rule, in an attempt to ‘free’ the citizens, or the dictator himself may insist on continuously expanding his reach by attacking other lands, forcing his people to fight for him. Additional issues can arise with the members of power. A mayor or magnate that oversteps their bounds or abuses their privileges. Perhaps lords of different towns are constantly having a pissing contest with one another, trying to show who has the best handle on their lands and subjects, with the citizens caught in the middle. This could be interesting from either persons POV. *Writers note: It seems to me that dictators are often portrayed as evil men hell-bent on power and money. The word, for sure, has a negative connotation with it. Take a different approach. Try the approach of the man who meant nothing but the best for the people who is either blind to the error of their ways or steadily becomes corrupt along the way, dissuaded by the difficult road and complications. It would be an interesting story to see, not the after effect, their rise to power being an anecdote told in the background, or a sad backstory that’s revealed at the end, let’s SEE it happen, witness the internal conflict with the character. Or, the dictator that is a benevolent ruler, treats his people well, but the people aren’t happy with having only one ruler. They want to vote, or are tired of seeing the same family line in charge always. There isn’t necessarily anything WRONG with the rule, but they want change and that leads to a revolution, creating the opportunity to raise the question of who is actually right, if anyone?

Magocracy – An oft forgot category for rule and government (the spellcheck wants me to change it to democracy lol), a magocracy is a government where wizards, spellcasters, summoners, or mages hold power. Anyone without the ability to cast or do some form of magic (depending on what’s appropriate for your world) is not eligible for a position of power, they will not hold office, or rule, and may even be oppressed. Magicless may find themselves needing special permissions to own properties, have shops or businesses and could even be treated like slaves. It’s possible for this type of society to be divided into only two classes, the Mages and the Magicless, using whatever terms best fit your world of course. (For example, if magic is considered a gift from the Gods then the magicless could even be called The Fallen, those without grace, the unclean, the unfavored, etc. Or, if the view is taken that they are like sad, sick little puppies that need all the help they can get, they could be called The Small – referring to both their considered stature in society and/or their number in comparison to those who can use magic, the helpless, etc.)

It’s also feasible that this society will have subdivisions of a caste within their two divisions of Mages and Magicless, within the Magicless you could have middle and low class. A good example of a magocracy (and technically by way of a monarchy) is The Innocent Mage by Karen Miller. You have the Doranen and the Olken, the Olken are not necessarily looked down upon as a whole, although many Doranen do. The Doranen live in the fancy blah-blah part of the established kingdom, and can be divided by the middle and upper class, there really isn’t any lower class. The Olken that don’t live in the city, live in the fishing villages along the border and can be divided among middle and lower class. Viewpoints can also further divide a socioeconomic level. Among the middle class Olken you will have those that are very proud of their role as fisherman and will even hold their noses in the air a bit because they can make it through the day without the use of magic. But then you may have those in the middle and more than likely the lower class, than may look at the Doranen with star-filled eyes wanting desperately what they have and either hating or loving them for it.
Pros: A magocracy, like a dictatorship, could be a very well organized land. Depending on the magic available to the people, laws have a means of being enforced like never before. Being locked in a cell pales in comparison to being locked in a darkened void of your worse fears for an entire lunar cycle. You have the possibility to have a fantastical world like no other, with flying creatures, spells cast left and right, and any limitations that may have been placed on a fantasy setting due to the lack of technology are now lifted with the aid of magic.
Cons: There are many, many different classes of mage. You could have summoners, casters, elementalists, illusionists or even necromancers. These various schools of magic may not agree with others. Necromancers damn near never get along with anyone else. Try to stray from that. What about a society where Necros are revered? Or ignore necros all together (not everyone can write Sick Puppy Lit ;) ) and what about a city where elementalists are renowned and respected for their ability to be one with nature? Considered to be one with the Gods. Illusionsts, however, may be spurned for forcing false imagery upon people, lying to themselves, twisting nature against what it should be, and spitting in the face of the Gods.

A magocracy, in my opinion, would be perfect as the ruling government for an entire kingdom, opening a doorway to have various schools of magic become the founding purpose for the different cities that make up the kingdom. All the summoners were exiled because 5 year old Fehrel summoned a chimera that beheaded the Prime Caster’s son. Now, centuries later, Fehrelden (wait…isn’t that a place in DragonAge?) is a city full of summoners, a oligarchic magocracy run independent of what governs the rest of the kingdom.

Mayorship – This form of ruling could fall under several, if not all forms of major government. To me, this would be best as a subdivision, when a powerful ruler divides up his duties. Mayorship can also be substituted with various other terms, Earl, Lord, Magnate, Magistrate, Cheiftan,  Jarl, Governor, etc. Whichever suits the needs of your structure. A mayorship is subject to the same pros and cons of any major government organization and, ideally, the same rules.

Oligarchy – An oligarchy is a government where a small group remains in charge for an indefinite amount of time, making important decisions among themselves. For example, if you have a monarchy but the King suddenly falls ill and it’s up to his advising council to make the important decisions, for that time period the kingdom could technically be considered ruled by an oligarchy. It is supposed to work in a way that no one member is more powerful or has more sway than another.

An oligarchy can be made up of nobles, royal family, the affluent or a leading guild. For example a fishing city may be run by those with a particular investment in the docks or warehouses, the families that profit the most from the trade. Another scenario would be the city comfortably settled in anarchy while two guilds fight for supremacy, whichever guild wins, if they can manage to run the city as a whole, would be an oligarchy. Until one person thinks they know more than the other, and then more fighting would ensue and whomever remains standing would then take over as a dictator. And who knows, centuries later, when the history of the city or kingdom is forgotten, his family line will continue to rule as a monarchy.  (See how easily it all falls into place?)
Pros: If done right, it could be extremely beneficial to the people being governed. If you had an oligarchy made up of varied persons with different opinions and the ability to look at situations objectively, the kingdom would run incredibly smooth, there should be very little unrest among the people.
Cons: Realistically, it is very difficult to get a group of people to see eye-to-eye on any one subject, especially if it is a major decision involving politics. Some persons may have more of a charge in, best-defense-is-an-offense kind of viewpoint while others would rather gather information, perhaps infiltrate and spy first before making any rash decisions. For example, while the leading powers argue and discuss, time is ticking in the ‘real world’ of the city. The people are unhappy and tired of waiting for a decision to be made one way or the other. A few head members of important families or guilds get on their soapboxes and incite the people to take matters into their own hands. Now, on top of whatever external issue the government was supposed to be dealing with, the kingdom now faces a revolution (or perhaps a civil war if enough of the population is split on wanting to wait for the government or to take actions into their own hands).

Republic – Fun fact: ever since pretty much Caesar a ‘republic’ is pretty much what we commonly know to be a ‘democracy’. So, looking at it that way, it’s very easy to visualize what a republic should be. Laws and the like are put into effect by votes while a select number of officials are appointed to carry out or enforce said laws. The people literally have, or should have, control of what happens to their city in their hands. They vote for the people in charge, the laws to be passed, and everything in between.
Pros: In theory the fate and direction of the kingdom/city are in the hands of the people. Issues are brought forth perhaps in an open assembly, people vote on what matters most to them, and changes are made.
Cons: Looking at our own history in the U.S., not everyone could just wake up on their 18th birthday and vote. Only certain persons, of certain gender, of certain color and even a certain place in society had the opportunity to cast a ballot. In a fantasy setting the basis for prejudice are hugely varied. Only humans/halfing/orcs/giants/goblins/elves can vote. Only the men of the aforementioned race can vote. Only mages can vote (and if that’s the case wouldn’t it technically be a magocracy masquerading as a republic?  Hmmm…)

Theocracy – This form of government is ruled by the prevailing religion of the area. Priests/priestesses, shamans, witch doctors, seers, and the like are who hold the real power and make all of the major decisions. All of the laws and decrees would be based on what is considered moral by their religion. For example, a city run by a theocracy that worships the goddess of drink, revelry and sex may have seasonal festivals in honor of her name that other places would consider lewd and shameless. Something else to keep in mind, say for the same city, places such as taverns, theatres, and even brothels may be exempt from taxes in an attempt to not offend the goddess.
Pros: A monotheistic theocracy has the potential to cover all bases in terms of persecution, prejudices and crime. A holy book that states what is acceptable and what is not would serve as a reference point for nearly everything to happen within the city walls. Provided everyone follows this one religion and are staunch in their beliefs, it should be a fairly peaceful place.
Cons: In a polytheistic universe, if the city only worships one god or goddess in particular it has the potential to create a very unbalanced, even chaotic environment. An entirely pacifist city would be the target of nearby lands looking to expand their reach. Likewise a city that worships the god of war would attempt to take over nearby lands or ally with nearby lands that are at war with other places. No matter what god is revered the possibility of religious persecution exists. Citizens may be forced to attend any ceremonies or assemblies that take place, visitors of other faiths may be asked to hide their symbols or markings of their denomination, and persons persecuted for their different ideals could either revolt or migrate to a different area, creating and settling their own village where they’re free to follow their own beliefs.

A political ploy would be for those in charge to allow a small district to follow whichever god pleases them in exchange for higher taxes, indentured servants, or similar services.

Something you will always want to keep in mind: People are fickle. They may revolt to get a ruler off the throne, endure long and bloody battles, and two decades later revolt again to get the person they put in, out again! There are many different categories for government and it’s fine if your city or kingdom doesn’t neatly fit into just one. A lot of different factors apply and if you’re working on a story where politics plays a heavy role, everything can change in the blink of an eye if the right people are assassinated.

For more information check out this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Form_of_government On the right-hand side is a list of various other forms of government that you may find useful. Don’t worry about finding a category for your city or kingdom, figure out first what works and label it later. You will probably never have to actually say what it is in-story, it’s just helpful for you to know.  And it’s always an awesome feeling to be able to just break down all the little nuances of your book and world to potential readers or fellow writers.

Next Time on Verbose Veracity! Worldbuilding:  Buildings – Government & Religion (and also population!)

4 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: Government

    • I’m glad you found it useful! Man was it a love/hate adventure putting all that info together! The rest from here on out should be fairly easier to manage…I hope lol

  1. Great, expansive read here – particularly enjoyed having a list of several government types that took it to the next level: I.E. pairing them with pros and cons of each. Certainly provides food for thought. Most people just throw out the barest generalities of what they think their government is, what it should look like, without all the considerations for what it could mean, what they can do within said government structure, or how said structures actually work…etc.

    Nice to see thought being put into the process! It’s certainly key to any immersive world.

    • Sorry for taking so long to respond! I’m in the middle of a cross-country move. Thanks so much for taking the time to read this, I’m glad you liked it.

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