How to Choose a Government


The type of government is the first choice we should make because it affects so much of life in a sovereign power. A dictatorship, constitutional monarchy, and federal republic offer wildly different experiences for everything from personal freedom to opportunities for employment. Most of us take for granted the form of government in our own land because it likely hasn’t changed in our lifetime unless we’re in a war-torn country. But those who are suffering due to government failures for infrastructure, human rights, and other issues are keenly aware of their government and foster a desire for change or escape.

With the government type decided, we should decide who the head of state and head of government are; these may be the same person. Names are not important, just the roles. In a constitutional monarchy, just state the monarch is head of state and the prime minister is head of government. See the previous section for roles.

Decide the head of state’s role. Does he have actual power, and how much? What can he make happen? If his role is ceremonial, what does he do, bestow knighthood and appear at big sporting events, like a joust? Does he bless new ships, space stations, or weapons?

No ruler rules alone. Decide who else has power (it may be a group) and whether they’re helping or thwarting him. Is it the legislature in a constitutional monarchy? Is it an inner circle of trusted sycophants in a dictatorship? It might be the people in a federal republic, voting legislators out of office. Special interest groups can lobby for power and control events.

When deciding to use a parliamentary system, for example, we can write in our files something like this: “This sovereign power is a parliamentary system with a prime minister (head of government) chosen by the head of state (king) but who can be removed (by the legislative branch) with a vote of no confidence. The king’s role as head of state is largely ceremonial.”

To recap, follow these steps to get started:

  1. Decide on government type
  2. Decide on head of state and head of government
  3. Decide head of state’s role
  4. Decide who else has power

The history of our sovereign power doesn’t need to be created, but doing so often enriches our writing. A previous section provides ideas on how each type of power rises and falls, lending ideas for a changing political landscape and fortunes for our inhabitants. It’s unlikely that our sovereign power has had the same government type through history. Changing it can provide opportunities for stories, such as abandoned places that might now be harboring something deadly.

In all likelihood, our characters won’t know that a current aspect of their life originated in a previous form of government. But in certain cases they will. This includes shared coinage that a long-gone empire might’ve caused to spread. Grand buildings could be ancient and in disrepair like those of Egypt, the government that created them long gone. Common languages and customs arise from such things, too.

We don’t need a complete history or many details. Just decide that some previous versions existed, choose a point in the past and work your way forward (dates can be added or altered later). For example, an absolute monarchy can give way to a constitutional one, which then collapsed during a war that left a power vacuum that a dictator filled. Maybe that guy was destroyed by a hero, who became an absolute monarch, then conquered other nations, becoming emperor.

States sometimes fail because they no longer provide something a state must provide. This could be economic stability, enough military might to control its territory, or basic services to the people.

Try to think of a legacy that each government left in its wake. Maybe it increased learning, language, and literacy (more likely in a democracy), voting rights, laws (which may not be honored later or can be), coinage, slogans, and improved the general disposition of a population. Maybe knights are far more widespread now, or plants and animals were imported from other regions. Perhaps a species was banned or allowed in after a ban and introduced cultural ideas. Maybe ships of a particular type weren’t allowed but are now, or vice versa.

When creating history we can write something like this in our files: “Up until a hundred years ago, this was an absolute monarchy. This changed as a result of the king burning heretics, a rebellion, war, or some other events. This led to the current system of government and a curtailing of the king’s powers” (i.e., removal as head of government while keeping the role of head of state).