• Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us!


Miles Lacey

I've been working as a scrutineer for a political party I'm a member of at a local polling station as part of the New Zealand General Election. Basically, I just sit and look for anything that might look suspicious as votes are cast. Sitting there doing next to nothing in a polling booth got me thinking about governance.

Share with me how government works in your fictional world and what real world empires, regimes, ideologies or countries inspired governance in your world.


toujours gai, archie
The human governance is historical, so I won't bother with that. But when it comes to non-human nations, I tried to achieve at least a little bit of creativity.

For dwarves I chose a combination of clans and leagues. For the most part, dwarves live in smaller communities, few real cities, and rely on commonly recognized traditions rather than formal laws. When there is a dispute or need for clarification, a council is formed for that purpose, then is disbanded again. So, no formal law or judges, just elders and traditions. For really big issues, the whole community assembles and judges.

These communities form associations across a geographic area. This is called a canton, which is largely a self-defense organization, but there's a common culture there. Clan and Canton is a phrase that reverberates deeply with dwarves. There are three main cantons--Pyrenees, Alps, and Carpati--and several lesser ones. That's about as detailed as I've had to get with my dwarves, so far. Oh, no taxes. Just donatives for specific needs that go into a community chest.

Dwarves do go out into the world. For the most part, they form communities there, too. Mining towns, construction communities, or in a few places a permanent community that finds enough work to persist (e.g., in a city or at the imperial court). These communities are called kontors and are self-governing.

Elves are more amorphous. I know they don't form cities at all. A great many elves either live alone or in very small groups. Family isn't very important; families exist primarily to get the youngsters to adulthood, then everyone goes off on their own. The idea of romantic love means nothing to elves.

Some do form communities--fisher elves or the wagoneers, for example--but I don't see any real governance there.

Orcs are not well developed in my world, but I'm working on them. They have copied the Roman imperial model, but religion plays a more important role, so there are two rulers, the imperator and the supreme shaman. There will surely be interesting ramifications, but I just haven't worked them out yet.

Gnomes live in vills, in the countryside. In human towns they are mostly personal servants, so don't have governance. A gnome vill is self-governing internally, but lives under the laws of whatever community they serve--human, dwarf, orc, troll--for anything beyond the vill. There has never been anything like an independent vill, at least not until the "reforms" of the Steam Age, and those reforms were catastrophic for gnomes.


Fiery Keeper of the Hat
There are five countries in the region where my story is set and each one is a bit different.

The Kingdom of Crenifer has a king, who appoints a herald. The Herald routinely goes to the ten ... I guess counties?, I haven't named it, and interviews tons of people. He then selects five magistrates, and then there's an election for which of them will be Reeves-Governor. So there's always one and only one county having an election. The RG has five ministers running the local government, one for Admin/Taxes, one for Revelry, one for Zoning, one for Trade, and one for handling Citizen Groups, which would including education.

I'm hoping to have an election as part of the story in a later book, so I have that worked out.

The other four countries (and honestly, the kings' side of Crennifer) are less worked out. But Kax Helyis is run by a wicked council full of Bodachs (they use corrupted seelie magic), the Noric of Altracia is run by whoever scores highest on a test, Pel Daxis has a hybrid emperor/republic (i.e., Rome during its better years), and the Loxiem Principality is ruled by a "Prince" who claims to be the "true heir" to the Pel Daxis empire.

Miles Lacey

Some very interesting ideas here. When I came up with the Tarakan Empire's unusual non-hereditary constitutional monarchy made up of self-governing regions it was because the origins of the Tarakan Empire was a trading guild (the Tarakan League) that was established by spice merchants, plantation owners and those who transported the spices. The Charter the League drew up became the basis of the Imperial Constitution.

The League had its own ships, which usually had a few cannons and armed militiamen on board so they could defend themselves against pirates and, later, raid non-League spice traders. This formed the basis of the Tarakanese Imperial Navy and Army.

To ensure members adhered to Charter rules a network of spies and informants were used. This network eventually became the Ministry of Internal Security.

The Empire always used threats, gunboat diplomacy and economic boycotts to expand its territory. In exchange for introducing its constitution and recognising the Tarakanese Emperor as their ruler the local rulers were usually allowed to stay in power and rule (within the restraints of the Imperial constitution) as they saw fit. This is why there is such a wide diversity of governments among the regions and why it has such a diversity of cultures.


toujours gai, archie
Miles Lacey, how is transfer of power effected? Does it happen upon the death of the current emperor? How is a new one chosen?

Also, what does a current emperor do with his children?

Miles Lacey

Miles Lacey, how is transfer of power effected? Does it happen upon the death of the current emperor? How is a new one chosen?

Also, what does a current emperor do with his children?

If the Emperor dies in office, loses a duel or vote of confidence, reaches 80 years of age or is deemed "unfit for the job" anyone who meets the criteria to be a candidate can put their name forward. The rulers of each region then flies to the Imperial capital to gather at the Hall of the Grand Council. They meet the candidates before holding an election to decide who becomes the Emperor.

To be a candidate for the job of Emperor they must be aged between 25 and 45, be a member of the aristocracy (usually a merchant or plantation family depending upon the region where they live) but not a member of a regional Royal family and they cannot be a mage. They also must be free of any criminal convictions and be a citizen of the Empire, along with their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.

To be considered elected the candidate must win a two-thirds majority of votes. If no clear winner is decided on the first vote a second vote will be held in which the top three candidates will compete. If that produces no result a third vote will be held in which the two highest polling candidates run head to head. If neither candidate gets a two-thirds majority the highest polling candidate will rule as an interim Emperor until a year has passed. Then the voting process will be done again. To date this has happened only three times.

Once the candidate has been elected they are coronated and swear the Emperor's Oath, which is similar to the oath of office that the League Master used to take.

The children of the current Emperor will often act as advisors if they're adults but otherwise they're treated just like the children of an aristocratic family.

Between the departure or demise of the old Emperor and the coronation (and swearing in) of the new Emperor the Deputy Prime Minister rules as the Regent.

The term Emperor is used regardless of the gender of the person in this role.
There's a kingdom in my book I've recently been giving a bit more attention. This is still quite early as far as building this nation goes, but I'll give an idea of the basics.

Essentially, it is an archipelago, with each island acting largely as a city-state. They do consider themselves to be one kingdom though, and are all connected through trade. Each island is led by a powerful merchant, and each of said merchants sits on a council that handles the kingdom's affairs. They allow each council member to run their island as they wish, but do have certain stipulations. They will also collectively make decisions when they affect the kingdom as a whole. Money is the driving factor for the council. The common saying is that in Verseba, everything is for sale. This includes seats on the council (although it isn't as simple as buying a seat). They also collectively have a large army, and arguably the most formidable navy on the continent (although this entire force is a collective of each island's personal armies). As I said though, everything is for sale in Verseba. Even their armies act as free companies. Also, it is important to note that despite trade being a major driving force, there is also a strong religious presence in the kingdom. There is a high priest that also sits on the council, although this priest isn't officially associated with any single island.

That's the basics of it. I'm still pounding out the details.


My Empire is based on basically combination of Roman Republic, Roman Empire and Byzantine Empire, with traces of Holy Roman Empire as well. I already posted this before, but what the heck:

Political ideology and background

The Empire had formed for reasons of trade and security. Originally, the people of the Empire had been disunited despite their cultural commonality. However, a series of external invasions had led to the eventual unification – first into an alliance, then federation, and finally an Empire. Circumstances of Empire's formation had also reflected on its political, cultural and mental state, creating what is in essence a "bunker mentality". This mentality had also led to further expansion, as anyone living nearby was a threat and threats had to be conquered.

The Emperor has imperium, basileia, the imperial authority and the mandate to care for the state and the people. However, the Emperor is not an absolute ruler. He is constrained by the res publica, public matter. He is not a lawgiver; rather, he is an interpreter of the public will and tradition. Laws are invariably based on the customs and tradition. Many customs have as their sole authority the will of the masses, and if laws are to be relevant, they have to follow that same will. But a custom is not legally binding unless it is made into a law. A priori de facto aspect needs to be followed by a posteriori de iure aspect for it to become legally binding. The laws are the supports and the foundations of the res publica, yet res publica has autonomous and prior existence. For laws to matter, they have to be advantageous to the comunity, and have to strenghten that same community. They are a legal expression of common customs, and are nullified by lack of use; their validity depends on the universal consent, consensus universorum.

Res publica is a continuity of society and political structures, including laws. It cannot operate without laws, yet laws are drawn from it. Res publica consists of all persons in the imperium, or at least all persons that contribute to it.

Communication system

Communication system is crucial for maintaining an empire. An empire generally has advantage in resources over its smaller neighbours, but utility of this advantage is limited by empire's ability to draw on those resources in a timely manner. This means that any effective empire also requires effective communication and transportation network, which typically means roads. For any given speed of communication, larger empire automatically means more decentralization; but depending on circumstances, empire may not be as centralized as it theoretically could be. More decentralization means greater efficiency when dealing with local issues.

City of Vetronia is connected to the primary mountan pass into the empire with a line of beacons which can deliver warning over 700 km in an hour. Other than that, a developed post message system allows for sending messages at rate of 100 kilometers per day, with 380 km per day possible in emergencies.

Political organization

The Empire began as essentially a union of cities. Term "Empire" comes from imperium, that is the area that is under authority of Vetronia, but states little of overall organization. Due to history of independent cities as well as limits of communication, decentralized government is a necessity. Each city is allowed to manage its own affairs, but under different terms. Normal arrangement has local municipal government – formed on city's own terms – overseen by imperial governor, whose duty is to make sure city fulfills its obligations (in terms of tax, military obligations etc.) to the Empire. As long as these obligations are fulfilled, no interference by central government will happen.

Empire as such is divided into provinces. Each province is both civilian administrative area, as well as administrative and recruitment area of a field army. Provinces are further subdivided into areas which are administered by individual legions of a field army, and legionary areas are divided into areas administered by individual cohorts. Commander of army of a province is thus also governor of the same province. Unlike soldiers and officers to the rank of legate, governors and other high officials are not given lands: they draw their income wholly from wages provided by the central government. This discourages any separatist tendencies.

Overall organization is as follows:

  • Provincia – Field Army – Magister Militum per [province name]

  • ConsulariaLegioLegatus

  • PraesidiaCohorsTribunus
As noted, commander of each unit holds military and civilian authority in the area assigned to support unit in question. Cohors is the smallest military unit with assigned corresponding territory, and thus the lowest level at which military and civilian command are unified. Each province has military governor who is also overall governor of the province, as well as civilian governor and ecclestical governor (bishop) who act as assistants to military governor. All three governors are appointed by the Emperor.

Most day-to-day governance however is carried out at individual settlement level. Many laws – those which concern internal governnace of cities – are in the hands of city assemblies. These assemblies can range from only richest people in the city to the entire adult male populace. Cities may also however be under rule of an individual, or a small ruling council. Citizenship is hereditary and strictly regulated – foreigners do not have the right of voice, though what counts as a "foreigner" varies from city to city (with citizenship requirement typically being several generations). They do however have to fulfill all the obligations, such as paying taxes. Many cities also have customs tax, regulating import and export of produce.

At the head of the Empire is the Emperor. Citizens can bring issues to Emperor's attention in one of several ways:

  1. daily reception (salutatio)

  2. public banquets

  3. religious ceremonies
Common people lack most of these options, but can bring issues to attention by organizing protests and demonstrations at forums or at public games. In extremis, traditional option to invade the palace and throw the Emperor out of the window (defenestratio) is also available. Provincial populace expresses its political interests through the army, which itself is drawn directly from provinces and is heavily localized.

Emperor himself is proclaimed after securing the acclamation of the Senate, the people and the army. In practice, since Senate has little real power and people of provinces are represented by the army, only acclamation by the army (both central and provincial) and by people of the capital truly matters. There is no hereditary principle; as such, successor must be proclaimed Emperor – and prove himself capable – already during predecessor's life. This means that Emperors usually declare a junior Emperor to rule alongside them, and succeed them after their own death.

Emperor is commander-in-chief of the army, and head of the Church and the government. He can appoint and dismiss officials at will; thus status in state apparatus has no connection to wealth other insomuch that certain level of wealth can secure necessary education. Emperor may also confiscate properties of landowners. In day-to-day governance, Emperor consults with a circle of advisors, the comitatus. Emperor is thus uncontested lord of the Empire, with only provincial armies able to check his power, and even that only if several governors reach agreement.

Imperial Senate is significant in interregnum, when it essentially takes over governance of the Empire (alongside palatial officials) and may also elect or at least suggest candidates for the throne. In normal day-to-day governance it acts primarily as an advisory body, and also as a highest court in state for cases such as high treason.

Politics of power

SEE: Internal Politics


The Empire has extremely complex internal politics. Empire has essentially three power blocks: Emperor, large landowners (optimates), and small landowners (populares). Last group is centered primarily on military personnel and many local officials. Aside from those three Empire-wide groups, there is the fourth group – inhabitants of the capital – who push their influence by direct pressure on the Emperor. Church likewise is a major player.

Emperor and the court are the center of political power. Emperor has in theory unlimited power, although in practice he still has to take into consideration various interest groups. He is blessed by God, and is thus supreme source of the law. Even so, Emperor is constrained by the law as well – not just by the state law, but also by the moral law, theological law and customs law. Moral and theological laws are based on religion, but customs law is based on tradition, culture and popular customs.

In terms of power relations, Emperor and small landowners usually unite against large landowners. Prohibition on maintenance of private militia means that large landowners cannot directly defy the Emperor, and instead have to attempt to install an Emperor who is favourable to them. Fact that the Emperor himself must rely also on support from the military means that it is impossible for an Emperor who favours any single group to exclusion of all others to remain on the throne. It also means that access to imperial military power is necessary to push one's agenda in a violent manner – town militias are simply not enough – which again serves to curtail separatism.

The people living in the capital city are able to put pressure on the Emperor and imperial court. When emperor Trebius wanted to shift his capital away from Vetronia, people of the capital rose to demonstrate, and the plan was abandoned.

Army itself depends on peasants and small landowners for its existence in its current form. As such, it also serves as a pathway through which said classess can articulate and present their demands. Military rebellions, when they happen, are often caused by specific local grievances, such as abuses of power by magnates, or high taxes. In some areas, heresy and heterodoxy may also lead to rebellions.

Main problem is the provincial aristocracy. They are indispensable as a source of educated officers on frontiers, but likewise present a danger to military system of the Empire by their depredations aimed at military lands. While they are forbidden from buying military lands, that does not necessarily prevent them from trying to do so – or from rebelling when prevented in it by central government. Natural disasters can easily result in mass sell-outs of land to the aristocracy.

Provincial aristocracy itself had came out of the military system, and consists of military commanders. Due to education, they tend to be able to acquire high commands, which are profitable due to plunder. They also acquire a retinue of veterans of their commands, which can prove extremely valuable on the battlefield. However, as their loyalty is primarily to the magnate in question, they often rebel. Civilian bureocrats attempt to emulate them by buying lands, using funds gained through service in central government.

Because of this, central government is forced to regularly buy or confiscate lands from the magnates and give them back to thematic troops. While magnates are quite happy to fight enemies of the Empire, they are also happy to turn their forces against each other or the central government. Latter however is rare, as legally only government has access to military power, and no magnate can build up strength to challenge even a portion of provincial forces, unless he becomes a military commander of a province.

Under legislation, only imperial chrysobulls are a valid proof of ownership. Likewise, civilian officials are strictly regulated, and paid the absolute minimal sum possible.

A system has emerged from this situation where soldiers are tied to the land and the military service which itself is also tied to the land. An aristocrat attempting to buy such land would be going directly against the emperor and, technically, committing treason – for which punishment is dispossession and death. Land grant is only for life and cannot be inherited. Users of land still have to pay taxes, albeit those are lower than what person actually owning the same amount of land would have paid.

Even so, magnates remain powerful. While access to offices of the state is the easiest way of becoming powerful, economic power is another way. And these magnates have both economic power, and interest in self-promotion. Further, some of them are able to resist taxation, with the result that imperial estates have gained importance as a source of revenue. If a magnate rebels, he is regularly stripped of a portion of his lands, which are transferred to the state ownership. Acquisition of military lands by a magnate is treated the same as a rebellion.

Magnate lands are heavily concentrated in the North. While this does not necessarily cut into military lands, it leads to constant power struggle with the state as magnates try to be more independent and avoid taxation. This is made more complex by magnates of Moslavia, which while a separate state is considered a vassal of Ardean Empire, and by Elisi families which had been settled in southeast. They however do not present an existential threat, as none of magnates hold separatist tendencies. Access to military power is a matter of proximity to the Emperor and the position within the hierarchy of the state. As a result of this and dominance of imperial military, political power can only be attained through offices of the state, and no single magnate – or a group of magnates – has power to resist imperial military by themselves.

Ghuzz offensive, aimed at conquering the Empire and imposing rule of new religion, has forced the people and the elites of the Empire to stick together. Even peaceful settlement is out of question – due to pronounced religious, ethnic and ideological differences, conflict is inevitable, and any attempt at peaceful settlement always degenerates into open warfare. This impossibility of coexistence has kept the Empire safe from potential peaceful subversion, as even provincial elites which find themselves in advantageous position relative to central imperial government are forced to use their power towards defence of the system. This is especially true for generals of settled provincial armies.

Presence of central imperial army loyal to the Emperor – Exercitus Praesentalis – means that no single provincial governor may attempt seccession or usurpation, but requires cooperation of at least several more governors, and neutrality of the remainder.

Religion and Church play a major role. The Church considers Vetronian Empire to be blessed by God, to be His state in the world. Hence going against the Empire is not just treason, but also sacrilege and heresy. Emperor himself is annointed by God, and thus is blessed and holy – for as long as he fulfills his duties towards the Empire. Because of this, politics is often expressed through religion – an Emperor who proves incompetent or does not fulfill his duties has forsaken blessing of God, and thus has to be removed for God's favour to be restored. But Emperor also has to be orthodox, for disbelief or heresy also risk forsaking God's favour.

Church however is under state control: Emperor can appoint and remove the patriarch as needed.



(as you see, it is not finished)


In my world its mostly dysfunctional stratocratic rule.

Either by the emperor who rules by having the largest and best army around or by various hereditary kings beyond the empire's borders and so on. Its not entirely militarized to the degree that, for example, the feudal Western Europe would be, but the army is the institution that holds most of the power and they are well aware of it.

There are naturally many other peoples of influence and power who are not soldiers but their ability to have influence and power is often by making the soldiers do what these people want. Or get soldiers of their own.


toujours gai, archie
Miles Lacey, I asked about the children because historically every elected monarchy has tended toward hereditary because daddy naturally tries to arrange for his children to be in positions of power. This means granting lands and titles, putting them into offices, ... you know the score. Even if it doesn't abolish the elective principle, it can lead to a stranglehold, such as that exercised by the Hapsburgs in the HRE, the Julio-Claudians in the Roman Empire, and other examples. The descendants tend to become heirs.

The vote of no confidence sounds like an effective counter. If Senior is seen to be moving in that direction, the vote can be held. OTOH, conditions might be unsettled--a major war--and Senior stays in position long enough to set the empire in that direction. For example, a couple of rulers in other districts might be killed in battle or otherwise die, and Junior 1 and Junior 2 are put in there--just for the emergency you understand. <g> But for the most part, the no confidence angle would work. It was also no uncommon to find the electors become uneasy with a family after the second or third generation and deliberately choose another family, often one that was rather weak politically. So your no confidence would come in handy then.

Have you thought about using a Mule once or twice? (ref: Asimov's Foundation trilogy)


Miles Lacey, I asked about the children because historically every elected monarchy has tended toward hereditary because daddy naturally tries to arrange for his children to be in positions of power. This means granting lands and titles, putting them into offices, ... you know the score. Even if it doesn't abolish the elective principle, it can lead to a stranglehold, such as that exercised by the Hapsburgs in the HRE, the Julio-Claudians in the Roman Empire, and other examples. The descendants tend to become heirs.

The vote of no confidence sounds like an effective counter. If Senior is seen to be moving in that direction, the vote can be held. OTOH, conditions might be unsettled--a major war--and Senior stays in position long enough to set the empire in that direction. For example, a couple of rulers in other districts might be killed in battle or otherwise die, and Junior 1 and Junior 2 are put in there--just for the emergency you understand. <g> But for the most part, the no confidence angle would work. It was also no uncommon to find the electors become uneasy with a family after the second or third generation and deliberately choose another family, often one that was rather weak politically. So your no confidence would come in handy then.

Have you thought about using a Mule once or twice? (ref: Asimov's Foundation trilogy)

This however can be avoided for a very long time, so it would be interesting to see how. For example, while Byzantine Empire had hereditary dynasties, most of these did not last very long, and even in those that did good half of emperors within the dynasty were actually extradynastic - generals who usurped the throne during legal Emperor's minority, who married into the dynasty and so on.

Family tree of Byzantine monarchs - Wikipedia

This I think had to do with idea of legitimacy. Reason why Habsburg thing happened was that family inheritance was the basis of legitimacy in society as a whole, so of course elective monarchy could not survive. But in Byzantine Empire, Emperor was a military dictator, so he had to be a competent general or else he would be overthrown (importance of this however varied through history). Also, Empire actually never developed the doctrine of succession, so the succession was ensured by the Emperor crowning his son or brother a co-emperor - otherwise succession could not be ensured. Summa summarum, it is not necessary for a monarchy - even a long-lasting one - to become hereditary one, even though it is likewise impossible to completely exclude the hereditary principle.

Vote of no confidence is not an effective counter unless senate actually has power - you might look at Hungarian elective monarchy as practiced throughout Middle Ages.

BTW, I found this:
Elective monarchy | Wikiwand


My principal culture uses a form of sortition; random selection for their leadership. The counsel is made up of druids and civilians in the same proportion they are represented in society at large (it varies by community). They are male and female in the same proporttions as well, and they must be between 15 and 55 years of age to be chosen. Those chosen serve on the counsel for a year, using the expertise of the elders in the various guilds to assist them in making decisions when issues in certain areas come up. After that, they go back to their regular life and another group is chosen. In small communities, it is entirely possible to be chosen several times during your lifetime.

The only people not eligible for selection are citizens that have committed a crime in the 10 years prior; not that that happens much.

There are no perks to the job; no bonuses, yet it is considered to be an honor to be chosen. They remain in their family home, continue their life and job. They must also make the trip to the tree spire everyday, to gather with the other "elders" in case there is an issue that must be dealt with. During their time as elder, they are marked with a glowing rune that covers their whole body, the "family" markings; which tend to vary by family.

If something affects more than one community, then whoever are the elders in that moment gather to discuss the options and make a decision that benefits the largest number of people.


I would also add the part of entitlement and dangers of claimants in leaving out a ruler's children from the succession.

A ruler's sons will likely have come to have spent many years very close to the throne and thus enjoyed great power and privilage in that time. This means that they can absolutely fight back and have had a very good chance to cultivate, or inherit, a significent power base to make a bid for the throne either because they see the succession as an insult and theft of their inheritance or from ambition, or just because they knew that the new emperor might see them as a threat and seek to either kill or ruin their lives to prevent them from a future challenge or become a rallying point against the new emperor.

Hence allowing a favored son of the last emperor to become the new emperor can in some cases save the realm a civil war.

Miles Lacey

For the purposes of the Imperial Constitution of the Tarakan Empire the moment the Emperor is coronated and sworn in as Emperor their family becomes a ruling Royal Family. Thus, when the throne becomes vacant those who are a member of the departed Emperor's family are automatically disqualified from running for the job because a candidate for Emperor cannot belong to a ruling Royal Family.

However, it's important to keep in mind that the children of the Emperor are already part of an aristocratic family. Thus, even after the Emperor has ceased to be so, they will still weild considerable influence socially, economically and politically. Families who can prove they had at least one Emperor in their family tree is held in high regard. But no families are held in higher regard than those who can trace their ancestry back to the first Master of the Tarakan League or the first Tarakanese Emperor.

I should've also mentioned that Emperor doesn't have a lot of power. That is a legacy from the Tarakan League years when the Master of the League served as a guiding hand, a mediator and the person who represented the League in its dealings with non-members.

The Emperor is the Head of State, Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces and is sworn to be the "Defender of the Empire. Defender of the People. Defender of the Constitution." That last bit ensures the Emperor won't try to abolish or undermine the Constitution. If they try to undermine it they could end up on the losing end of a vote of no confidence or a duel.