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Have any of you written a world with multiple empires?

Think the warring states era in China, think the Romance of the three kingdoms. But instead of treating my empires as fragments of a larger empire, I want to treat them as separate entities.

However, how do I build an empire?

The way I see an empire is as follows: made up of multiple ethnic groups, conquered and governed by a central government, relying on military power.

If someone were to write fiction set in say the roman empire, they could simply focus on the current emperor and the current border issues and/or internal issues. In essence you create the impression of an empire while also ignoring most of the territory it consists of.

Is that how you guys write empires: focus on the things that are happening and leave the rest in the mist?


I think that's the best way to write the story and the story only.

I almost agree but I would say "I think that's the best way to write". It's always good to leave some things open for the reader to imagine. I think it helps get them more engaged with the world.

Anyway, I'm not really sure about how you would go about building an empire. I assume the same way you would any other country. In my big WIP, there's two empires and neither of them are directly involved in the plot. They're just background fluff to make the world seem fuller.
I think that the larger your invented country is, the more thought needs to go into it. If you have a small city-state, or an ethnically homogeneous country, then that's one. If you have a Roman Empire equivalent then you need to think about what, precisely, is holding it together. Military power? Economic benefits? Inertia? You also need to think about where the empire started and how it got so big.

However, exactly how detailed these answers are does depend on your story. I have a setting with lots of empires but only one of them is actually important to the story; but since the story deals with high politics I had to think about how the government worked, the relationship between the throne and the nobility, the nobility and the middle class, the army and the civil government etc in a way I wouldn't have needed to bother about if the story had just been about a gladiator slogging through mud and blood out in the sticks.

So what is your story actually about?
In very few words: it's about conditioning empires against large scale war and forcing them into longterm equilibrium.

A few clarifying words: my main characters manages to establish a magical network that has the same functionality as today's airline network. Imagine the advantage that would yield in a world running on horses, feet and boats. The need to keep it secret is paramount. The people that use it can be considered 'world police of the assassin and guerilla variety'

To me, the idea sounds naive, but I also love it. Sure, there's tons of issues and I will need to compromise. Also I will need to be careful that I don't make my world too dumb to find out about something so significant. But I digress.

I found Scipio's comment a useful one, 'only bother thinking about what's actually going to matter', the rest is fluff. I need to pinpoint exactly what strategies I want to go for.

Maybe thinking about 'what makes an empire stop expanding' would be useful.

Bruce McKnight

I leave the rest in the mist, but as I write, I add more detail as it suits the story. When I procrastinate writing, I get lost in world-building because I find the random details add flavor and occasionally spark plot ideas later.

That being said, for all the benefits of deep world-building, it means you aren't writing :/

In your specific scenario, you mentioned that you view an empire as governed by a single government and relying on military power. I think this is traditional and creates a lot of opportunities for conflict, but I also think it could be really interesting to explore what happens if a group of people actually wants to be conquered by an empire:
- Maybe they don't like the current government.
- Maybe there's an ethnic minority that wants to be a part of another culture
- Maybe new trade routes could open up in an empire that would make life better for the conquered citizens
- Maybe the conquerors will eliminate slavery (GRRM)
- Maybe a nation was a part of an empire before but was separated and wants to be reunited
- Maybe there are factions in a nation trying to help an empire conquer them
- Maybe there's old bloodlines among royals filled with betrayal and intrigue

I think there's a lot to do with the military control subtext, but also opportunity for something different. With an empire, you could have a different motive for each nation. This is where world building kills my writing time...
I'm writing a story with three main empires as well as loose knit ethnic groups and tribal elements. It is interesting to say the least. Thus far I've been focusing on developing very different cultures between the nations and unique internal conflicts. My religious nation was originally meant to be a city-state alone, but has turned into an ethnic region with a large city-state governed by religion, that government is harmoniously split into two factions leaving me the option of conflicts of religion both internally and externally.

My second empire is like a corporate state, only the emperorship is having issues with piracy and so while the imperial livelihood and culture is ingrained into the populace, governmental stability is threatened by the extension of civic duties onto lesser imperials where originally they would be controlled by the Emperor's house. As such, powerful houses have been created within the government and there is political backdrop over the previous religion.

My third empire is sort of industrial in nature. They strive for academia and knowledge and while a powerful nation of their own are always meddling in the other nations to seek their goals.

There are also clans which have developed from abandoned empire settlements of the second country, and tribal groups.

I've also left some land uncontrolled as either wild, or simply not yet incorporated into a country to offer up other alternative plot twists.

The one thing I am torn on is whether to have a pangea or continents. I both like the idea of two continents and some isles and a pangea so it's up in arms at the moment.

Really I think that so long as you have established goals for your characters, the backdrop can be interesting despite governmental aspects of your story. It really depends how big you want your conflicts to be I think and how blended of a culture you are trying to create.
If I think about the different kinds of empires that come to mind, you have the Roman and the Persian empires, based on military power that strengthened their confidence in their own right to govern. These were highly structured entities that fell because they needed to expand to pay for themselves. Then there's the Assyrian model, a mixture between military and religion, it was paramount to their that they wage war and not lose a battle. A weak basis for an empite by any means. Next is the Islamic model, which was highly effective, too effective actually. The originators of the surge of conquests were to small in number to control all they conquered. Religion was powerful incentive and wasn't something that could be stopped or ignored. Where their armies didn't make it, their religion still spread. There's also the Chinese model, which is the height of conservatism. The mandate of Heaven says that the emperor has the right to rule, the entire nation should strive to support him. If things go wrong, then he has lost the mandate and the nation has the right to depose him. It's a recipe for both stability and rebellion. Finally, you have the colonial empires, which were rooted in military power and above all boldness. If you see how quickly all of these empires suddenly fell, it becomes clear how tenuous their grasp really was.

I shouldn't forget conquerors like Alexander and more importantly Genghis Khan. Neither of these managed to establish an empire from all they conquered, but both alexander and the Mongols certainly managed in breaking an empire.

I'm working with one large continent, a size smaller than Eurasia. Surrounding it are large islands and such. I'm thinking that either that is a mistake or I need to start from my continent's features to work out what empires I want to pick. Even the Mongol expansion stopped short of coming anywhere near conquering the whole of Eurasia.

You know guys, this is really helping me think. I don't have any writer friends so it's really nice to be able to talk about this and have someone answer you with more than a kind of indulgent look.


A few clarifying words: my main characters manages to establish a magical network that has the same functionality as today's airline network. Imagine the advantage that would yield in a world running on horses, feet and boats. The need to keep it secret is paramount. The people that use it can be considered 'world police of the assassin and guerilla variety.

Sounds similar to an idea I had for a "modern" fantasy. Basically, all of the kingdoms on the continent have a network of public "doorways" called shrouds that serve much like rapid transit within cities. Step through it and find yourself on the other side of town. They are set up much like modern bus stops, where the archway is marked with where is goes and often there are central hubs with dozens of them in one place; usually in the commercial or industrial areas. Those the population use are short-range (say within the city limits) but there are others that the military and certain trade organizations use to take them almost instantly to the neighboring cities or even other kingdoms. Most of the population are forbidden from using the long-range shrouds; especially those that travel beyond the kingdom's borders, (for sake of controlling emigration) and instead have to rely on the network of airships, naval vessels or magic-powered "trains" to get around.

They also have ones that serve the same duty as elevators. Approach a doorway, touch a glyph and it whisks you to the 34th floor... the next person touches a different glyph and goes to the penthouse.

As for your world, I agree with much of what was discussed above. Every empire has a history of how it began and what holds it together. You; as the author should at least have a bit of history and also a general idea of how the region works economically, militarily, socially and religiously so it comes through in the writing. That goes whether you have one, two, three or more kingdoms "implied" in the novel.

I love world-building; like others here, and I have gotten lost in my world a time or two, so I know the dangers of too much world-building. It tends to write you into a corner if you aren't careful. You need to have the background, but be flexible, not intractable with the details of the world you already have. No idea is so good that it can't be changed later if some other and better idea (in the context of the plot) comes along.

I think your ideas have merit and I wish you the best of luck. :)


Myth Weaver
My primary world has a number of nations that could be considered Empires. They didn't have much choice.

The southern hemisphere of my world is mostly plains country, roamed by nomadic nations. Every few generations, these nomads band together and invade the more civilized northern hemisphere. To withstand such hordes, the northern civilizations consolidated into three or four empires.

Solaria, my main empire, is almost a confederacy of sorts: it consists of half a dozen semi-autonomous regions, each almost a separate nation, held together by a national church, national army, and the ponderous imperial bureaucracy.

On the other side of the world, I have a sort of oriental empire which was originally a collection of independent fiefs until they made what was supposed to be a temporary alliance to stop a nomad horde. Afterwards, the general in charge of the alliance proclaimed himself emperor. About a hundred years ago, a bizarre civil dispute caused this nation to fragment: two of the parts utterly ignore each other (officially) and the third is dissolving into warring petty states.

The defeated survivors of the same nomad horde that attacked the oriental region retreated north, laid claim to a warm arid country, and founded the Hobgoblin Hegemony, which kind of sort of counts as an empire. A few hundred years ago, they tried invading a colder realm further north, but after a few generations were forced south by Olaf the Red, who proclaimed himself Tsar and turned a disparate collection of tribesmen and decadent city states into the large messy nation of Cimmar.


Tried it before but now I'm more gunning for many small kingdoms and tribal states and what else they've got running around.
I have lots of different empires in my main series (of course, it spans multiple worlds, dimensions, and timelines, sooooo . . . ), but most of the information is just information for my reference and eventual updating of the website/wiki (eventual). Only the relevant bits get thrown into the books themselves. What's the writing technique about the gun on the wall? That.


In my world I have had several Empires about in its history. Each was different based on what the empire was based around, and there were many different regions/cultures within. All of which grew as the years went on as the people adjusted to their climate, and the culture themselves grew. Depending on the year depends on what issues are more focused on. During some its more internal issues, and then others involves more external.

For example being when Humanity came to the 'Western' continent. When they invaded not only did they shatter the Elven Empire that was existing during that time, but they also shattered several 'Kingdoms' during their invasion. With the major reason it actual shattered being the amount of dissent within the Empire itself. Some desiring to detach themselves, others who wished to remain apart of it.

Resulting in not only a war with this invading party, but also a civil war in these minor kingdoms as they struggled to make a decision. From these actions a Human Empire rose out of it, but of course imploded in itself from various reasons. Thus several Kingdoms formed out of that some of which formed confederacies with one another.

There was a lot more to it then just that, and also a lot more going on during said periods, but that is the general gist. Now there are pieces of this information that depending on the book gets incorporated. For history value, or its something that still is around based on the past.
My world has multiple continents, So many Cities, 1000s of years of history. I flesh out details at different levels. like.. continent map, country map, city and outlay lands map, city streets map, tavern map, I fill in from characters points of view.. I don't worry about filling street after street with shops. I let the world build itself as its roleplayed in.


I don't worry about the minutia either. I think and plan in only the broadest terms. I only name a village, town or place if it has some presence in the story. There are at least four major civilizations on one continent alone, and each one is extensive enough to be classified as an "empire" though none are referred to as such. All are comprised of numerous large communities, small communities and have their own cultural, religious and sociological beliefs that differentiate each one from the others.

The level of detail I have for each one varies on how important they are to the story. One of the "empires" is simply mentioned because one of the female leads was born there and is the origin of her peculiar magical abilities (in comparison with how her "adopted" culture sees it). I know where it is, the names of all the major cities, and a bit about how their society works, but I doubt it will play a part in the story, so I haven't gone into more detail yet.

A second one is briefly visited in the present manifestation of my story; so I have a bit more detail than the other one barely mentioned. They are a psuedo-oriental feudal society with numerous communities and strict societal bonds between individuals and communities.

The other two are up front parts of the novel; since all of the characters except one comes from one or the other. These ones I know the most about them for obvious reasons. An author should at least know as much as they can about the area and cultures within the story so it is believable and so they don't make as many mistakes while writing.


When I am building nations, I come up with a bunch of facts such as resources, general political attitudes, government types, treatment of populace, etc. and then when I need more facts about that empire, I use the facts of the involved empire(s) to generate more facts. That way the conflicts don't happen for no reason, and I can easily create histories.