This section covers authoritarian states.
A government where one person can do what they please without any inhibition, or fear of consequences from government or society, is an autocracy. These are great for fantasy and SF villains running a country. These are the sort of people our hero can destroy. However, when this individual is destroyed, the power vacuum can be devastating and lead to even worse. Absolute monarchies, like Brunei and Saudi Arabia, and dictatorships are the main forms of autocracy and will be discussed below.
In a totalitarian government, the state has total control of everything, including military, communications, and infrastructure. There’s only one political party, which uses propaganda to remain in power and control minds. Citizens have no power at all and no laws to protect them or advance their wishes. Dissent can bring brutally harsh punishment, including death (and mass killings), long prison sentences, or hard labor. The military is used to enforce the will of a leader, who can often be part of a cult of personality designed to worship him. Many of Earth’s most evil figures were leaders (usually dictators) of such regimes. They are typically very charismatic.
The ownership of weapons is highly restricted, as is free speech, assembly, art, science (magic?), morality, even thoughts. Even architecture symbolizes the hulking, brutish dominance. The state terrorizes its subjects into submission and has secret police.
This sort of state will have an all-encompassing effect on any story we’d like to set there, as there’s no such thing as living in this regime and not having it impact you deeply. Such states make for excellent enemies of our characters or threats to their way of life, particularly when the regime seeks to expand and conquer the place where our hero lives. Think Nazi Germany and the resulting world war.
This form of government can arise from the destruction of war, when a power vacuum is created and a political party seizes control, particularly when it controls mass weapons and then communications. Imagine a Kingdom of Illiandor defeating the Republic of Kysh, but Illiandor leaves because it lacks the resources to control Kysh, or its army is needed on another front, or some other reason. Now Kysh is on its own again but its government is destroyed. A military leader in Kysh takes power and it becomes a totalitarian government.
This government also forms after anarchy—a lack of government.
An authoritarian government is a less extreme version of totalitarian ones. It has a single political power, whether an individual or group, and the leader is not particularly charismatic and may even be disliked. Separation between society and the state still exists, but the state constrains political and other groups, and the legislature, while also having so much red tape to regulate everything that it can stall out progress it disagrees with. Corruption is high and personal connections and favors are important to maintaining power. Elections, if held, are rigged. Unlike a totalitarian government, the state is only concerned with aspects of political life, not everything else. This allows the people to have at least some illusion of control. As long as society is not challenging it, the regime allows some liberty, such as a private business.
Examples include the United Arab Emirates, Laos, Egypt, and China, Sudan, Vietnam, and North Korea.
When one person or party rules a country, it’s a dictatorship. It can also be seen more as a role in government than a type of one. This is partly because it’s not possible for one person to truly do it alone; he must have others supporting him, such as with an oligarchy. Sometimes the apparent dictator is a figurehead, chosen by an inner circle that holds the power. The government is typically authoritarian or totalitarian. There are no elections and the people have no power, which rests exclusively with the dictator (and his inner circle) and is achieved by force.
Dictators sometimes arise after the collapse of a government, when they lead a military group that exerts force to take control. If the existing government is weak in any way, these soon-to-be dictators can seize power. Sometimes these military leaders appoint themselves political stature (like declaring yourself emperor). Elected presidents and prime ministers can seize power by crushing opposition and creating one-party rule, which is possible when the government is weak. These leaders typically live in opulence by stealing the nation’s wealth.
Some dictatorships are temporary, to resolve a problem, with the dictator intending to return power to government after a crisis is over. Other dictators never intended doing so despite what they may have said. This gives us a few scenarios for creating such a character, though we’ll need a motivation for their decision.
A stable dictatorship can last a long time. A dictator may avoid too much provocation. Why would the dictator risk their extravagant lifestyle by stirring things up? It helps if an established dictator refrains from aggressive tactics such as war against neighbors, because losing a war tends to undermine their stature. New dictators, however, may need war to establish their power, earn respect, and enrich themselves (from foreign wealth they promise to their people but keep for themselves). They have less to lose. If a dictator dies and is replaced by a son, for example, this individual might need to establish himself, destabilizing the dictatorship. When creating a dictatorship, decide how old and stable it is.
Examples of dictatorships include the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin and Nazi Germany.