Governments are important facets of worldbuilding, as they offer opportunities to explore political intrigue, the trappings of power, and decisions that shape the fate of planets. And for those that enjoy designing bureaucratic hierarchies, infrastructure that spans galaxies, and inherent efficiencies and inefficiencies in those systems, where better to start than the government?
Below are different types of government with common variants found in fictional worlds. While certain genres may be most associated with certain types of governments (high fantasy and monarchies or cyberpunk and corporatocracies, as examples), don’t let this constrain your thinking. Unusual combinations of elements often make for the most intriguing worldbuilding.
Remember, governments rarely last for long. Assassinations, political coups, the razing of capitals and the fall of empires are all bound to happen eventually. The birth, reign, and death of a political system are yours to explore.
Monarchy is a system where power is inherited through bloodlines, and a single ruler, usually an empress/emperor, king/queen, or chieftain holds central authority. This form of government lends itself well to tales of royal intrigue, political marriages, and dynastic struggles. Utilize monarchies to explore themes of power, responsibility, and the impact of lineage on a nation’s fate.
|Eternal Monarchies: a god, spirit, magic-user, or other immortal (or near immortal) monarch reigns.
|Insectoid Societies: monarchies modeled after the social hierarchies of ants, termites, and/or bees and usually found in fictional insectoid alien species or other insect-like creatures.
|Chosen-Ones: an individual chosen by a god, force, or other power is granted rule.
|Power-by-Possession: an individual in possession of a legendary weapon, relic, artifact or other item is granted rule
Dictatorships are autocratic systems where a single ruler, often with absolute power, controls the government. Such regimes provide excellent opportunities for exploring the psychological and sociopolitical consequences of unchecked authority. Use dictatorships to delve into themes of oppression, resistance, and the human desire for freedom.
|Military Dictatorship: rule by a single military leader or group of military leaders (military junta)
|Nazis-in-all-but-Name: an authoritarian and fascist government modeled after the Nazi rule of 1930-1940s Germany.
|Evil Tyrants: an evil person, power, or monster wields absolute power.
Democracy, a government by the people, offers a broad range of worldbuilding possibilities. It can serve as a backdrop for political thrillers, social commentaries, or stories of grassroots movements. Democracy allows you to explore themes of representation, civic engagement, and the delicate balance between individual rights and collective decision-making.
|Direct Democracies: people vote directly for rules, laws, and policies.
|Representative Democracies: people vote for representatives whom in turn determine which rules, laws, and policies are implemented.
|Hive Minds: the collective consciousness of a population, achieved through technological, magical, biological, or psychic means, determines which rules, laws, and policies are implemented.
In a theocracy, religious leaders or institutions hold ultimate power. This form of government is ideal for stories that delve into the intersection of faith, governance, and morality. Through theocracies, you can explore themes of religious zealotry, the clash between secular and divine law, and the impact of dogma on society.
|Authoritarian Theocracies: utilize religion to control the masses. Gods may or may not be real.
|Bastion Theocracies: last line of defense against the very real hordes of hell.
Oligarchies are ruled by a small group of individuals who possess wealth, influence, or expertise. This form of government lends itself well to exploring themes of elitism, inequality, and the concentration of power. Oligarchies can be hubs of political manipulation, corporate dominance, or secretive organizations working behind the scenes.
|Plutocracies: the richest individuals control the government either directly or through exerting their influence
|Corporatocracies: corporations control the government either directly or through exerting their influence
|Shadow Governments: a secret council, group or organization controls the government
In a meritocracy, positions of power and influence are granted based on individual merit and abilities rather than inherited or appointed status. This form of government emphasizes the value of talent, hard work, and intellectual prowess. Meritocracies are fertile ground for exploring themes of ambition, competition, and the pursuit of excellence. They can also delve into the moral and ethical dilemmas that arise when a society places excessive emphasis on personal achievement.
|Council of Elders: the wisest and eldest of a group possess decision-making power
|Magocracies: the most powerful magic-user or magic-users rule over the less gifted
|Rule of the Strongest: rule is determined by combat with the victor wielding absolute power
Anarchy represents the absence of formal government or authority. While it may seem chaotic, anarchy offers an opportunity to explore themes of individualism, self-governance, and societal reformation. Anarchic worlds are ripe for stories of rebellion, social experiments, and the pursuit of alternative forms of organization.