Geekdom Come, World Building 101

World Building 101- Governments

“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”- Winston Churchill. Unless your protagonists are adventuring through an untamed wilderness completely devoid of humanoid life they will inevitably encounter societies of sentient beings. Those societies will have rules and structures the will dictate how the individuals in that society interact with one another. When those rules and structures are codified that’s called Government. And in this edition of Worldbuilding 101, you and I are going to see if we can’t up with something that can’t prove Mr. Churchill wrong.
We will begin with the simplest and most common type of government: The Single Ruler. Now, this can be a king, a queen, a dictator, or just a tribal chief, but the idea is that there is one leader who commands the society’s supreme authority. It is important not to mistake the concept of supreme authority with that of absolute power. Unless you plan on creating an omnipotent god-emperor your ruler will need to rely on some sort of external power. This could be the love of the common people, a coalition of shared interests within the nobility, or the loyalty of the society’s military. Be sure to clearly establish at least in your personal notes how your ruler maintains their power. You’ll also need to answer the question of how your ruler came to power in the first place. Is it a hereditary rule they inherited or did they claim their territory through conquest? Perhaps there was a coup de’tat or maybe they were elected by the nobility. There is always the possibility of single combat to challenge for leadership or maybe they were chosen by the gods. The point is that while saying ‘oh he’s a king’ seems simple enough, from a narrative perspective you’ll find yourself with a much richer and varied array of story options if you dive a bit deeper and flesh these ideas out.
Sometimes a society will be ruled over by a group of individuals or families. This could be in the form of a council of elders or wise ones. This is common for societies that put a heavy emphasis on their ancestors and traditions. In a society that functions more as a meritocracy, decisions could be made by a council of merchants or intellectuals, perhaps a corporate dystopia where the board of directors issues directives with an eye towards maintaining their profits. Another possibility is a feudal system of hereditary rule where a group of ruling families makes decisions in concert with each family having a head of house who sits on the council. Whatever the particulars of this form of government the concept of a group or council has a very particular advantage in terms of the narrative options it allows you. This form of government is tailor-made for political intrigue. It provides a system where shifting alliances and power structures are the norm and your characters can fight for status and leverage both within their own faction and on the council itself. Secrets and dramatic betrayals should abound if you chose this set up for your story. Do not make your ruling group monolithic. It’s lazy storytelling. What is the point of having multiple characters if they are not going to have multiple personalities and motivations?
The final form or government we will touch on is that of rule by the citizenry, most commonly in the form of democracy or a republic. In this system, citizens either make decisions based on a direct vote or through designated representatives. It is important to note that I say citizens and not people. Universal suffrage is not all that common historically. The term citizen could be limited by a number of things such as race, gender, religious affiliation, affluence, property ownership, intelligence, etc. Setting up who can vote and who cannot vote should be justified within the context of your narrative as those sort of designations are rarely arbitrary but once established they can provide another layer of conflict and development to your story.
These by no means the only governmental forms around but they are the most common. Try mixing and matching different elements to see what you can create. And even if your story consists entirely of outlaws and lone wolves those characters don’t exist in a vacuum. If your character is an outlaw what law do they exist outside of and why don’t they don’t want to live within it. If your character is a lone wolf what is the society they are avoiding and why.
That’s it for this edition of Worldbuilding 101. I hope you’ve found it helpful. Remember the two most important things to know about any government are how did it come to power and how does it stay in power. Until next time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.