Understand Government Types - The Art of World Building
Jul 122018

Most of us don’t find a discussion of government entertaining. We don’t want to research it and explain what’s going on to our audience any more than they want us to explain it to them. But stories can be improved when told by someone with a high understanding of different power structures and their sources. These can cause conflict that affect our characters, whether our story heavily features government characters or just causes life to be hard.

The usefulness of Earth analogues abound. Somalia’s destabilized government has caused pirates to seek a better life through plunder, which can affect us if we sail near. The United States is admired for personal liberties, causing millions to desire fleeing to it; it is also despised by dictatorships. Some countries are known for their corrupt governments, police, and drug cartels, and the resulting problems citizens face. Our world’s inhabitants should be aware of how desirable various kingdoms are or whether they should be avoided, and why.

This section provides details on the various sovereign power types. Entire books have been written on each, but we’re not going that deep here. If you need more detail, this section can help you decide which government type you want to create before making such a deep dive via another resource.

Each name for a government type has implications, but sometimes a sovereign power has the wrong name. The Empire of Kysh might be a federation if one “looked under the hood” at how its government functions. A dictatorship is unlikely to call itself one. World builders should strive to get it right most of the time, but we might like “Empire of Kysh” better than “Federation of Kysh”—or our inhabitants might have some reason for the deception/inaccuracy. We have some leeway here.

Another issue is that a government type doesn’t last forever in a given sovereign power. They rise and fall, replacing each other. For this reason, when writing in our world building files about our new sovereign power, include a note about what government type it has right now. We can also include other types from which it arose. Each will have left an impact on the present in some way, whether that’s structures, statues, or military. The cultural impacts will be felt, too, including languages spoken and general feelings among the population, such as relief or dread about the most recent change. Working these out is optional but adds color and depth.

Government types can be organized in various ways, such as by power structure or power source. The latter is used here.


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