Government Types for Fantasy and Science Fiction

Queen of Outer Space movie poster

Government is a powerful element of setting in fantasy and science fiction stories.

I keep a list of government types, for inspiration in creating settings in the role-playing games I run and the settings for my fiction. It is very useful, especially in the genres of science fiction and fantasy, where exotic locations and unusual social situations are the norm.

Cover of the original Traveller role-playing game.

Traveller, the science fiction role-playing game, inspired much of my science-fiction writing.

This list has it’s foundation in the science fiction role-playing game of Traveller. In Traveller, the player-characters roam through a far-flung empire of planets, usually as a ragtag team in a Firefly-like space ship. In the Official Traveller Universe (OTU), there are more than 10,000 planets, almost all populated most entirely by the human race. These planets are all part of an empire, the Third Imperium. Within this empire, each planet has autonomous rule, for the most part, while the empire controls interstellar commerce and common defense against enemy confederations and internal rebels.

Thus, each planet has a uniquely different culture, with unique societies, governments and laws. In this way, the OTU is much like the universes in Star Wars, the Asimov Foundation and Empire series, Dune, and Firefly.

Traveller has rules for random generation of planets and star systems, drawn from the general makeup of the Milky Way galaxy. The system determines the physical aspects of the planet: the size, atmosphere and percentage of surface that is liquid (not necessarily water). The system also randomly generates the population, the government type, and the severity of the laws. Finally, the system would determine the technological capabilities of the planet.

The Traveller system will generate one of sixteen types of government, as seen here in a table clipped from the Traveller Wiki:

Traveller Government Types

Name Description
No Government Structure. In many cases, tribal, clan or family bonds predominate
Company/Corporation. Government by a company managerial elite, citizens are company employees
Participating Democracy. Government by advice and consent of the citizen.
Self-Perpetuatlng Oligarchy. Government by a restricted minority, with little or no input from the masses
Representative Democracy. Government by elected representatives
Feudal Technocracy. Government by specific individuals for those who agree to be ruled Relationships are based on the performance of technical activities which are mutually beneficial
Captive Government/Colony. Government by a leadership answerable to an outside group, a colony or conquered area.
Balkanization. No central ruling authority exists. rival governments compete for control.
Civil Service Bureaucracy. Government by agencies employing individuals selected for their expertise
Impersonal Bureaucracy. Government by agencies which are insulated from the governed
Charismatic Dictator. Government by a single leader enjoying the confidence of the citizens.
Non-Charismatic Leader. A previous charismatic dictator has been replaced by a leader through normal channels.
Charismatic Oligarchy. Government by a select group, organization, or class enjoying overwhelming confidence of the citizenry.
Religious Dictatorship. Government by a religious minority which has little regard for the needs of the citizenry
Religious Autocracy. Government by a single religious leader having absolute power over the citizenry
Totalitarian Oligarchy. Government by an all-powerful minority which maintains absolute control through widespread coercion and oppression

This list, however, seems limiting to me. To make the game a little deeper, I researched a list of government types found in history and in fiction. My intention was to create a more diverse and interesting planetary setting for Traveller games.

I soon discovered that this also brought about a better game of Dungeons and Dragons. In Dungeons and Dragons, the typical government setting tends to be fairly consistent: a simplified monarchy, or an evil tyrant overlord. Armed with a varied list of different governments, I was able to create a lively campaign setting of unusual fantasy nations.

Eventually, my creative juices turned from role-playing games to writing fictions. The list of ways that we might govern ourselves proved to be very helpful. Which is probably why so many writers have been asking me to post this list.

Please note that this list is not meant to be academic in any way. Many of the definitions are slightly off. I have invented names for other types of government. This is merely a tool I created for myself to spur my imagination when world-building. Feel free to change definitions to suit your own creative process.

David Rozansky’s Government list, for fantasy and science fiction

    Portrait of King Henry VIII

    It’s good to be the King!

  1. Aristocracy: Rule by royal birthright.
  2. Martial Law: Rule by military law.
  3. Theocracy: Rule by priests and clerics who speak for the deity/ies or who base their decisions on holy writings.
  4. Shadow Government: Puppet leader controlled by an “evil” entity that intends the community or the legitimate government harm.
  5. Puppet Government: Puppet leader controlled by a foreign government, covertly or openly.
  6. Sycophant Government: Puppet leader loyal to another, non-evil person who has the good of the community or the betterment of the legitimate government in mind.
  7. Syndicate: Rule by organized crime mob bosses.
  8. Magocracy: Rule by a council of mages.
  9. Xenocracy: Rule by aliens from off planet or a “monster species” that shares and controls the state.
  10. Psiocracy: Rule by psionic leaders, often with mind control used over the governed.
  11. Autocracy: Government rests in self-derived, absolute power of hereditary leader.
  12. Bureaucracy: Rule by departments and bureaucrats.
  13. Confederacy: Rule by league of social entities, which may or may not be rather diverse.
  14. Direct Democracy: Citizens vote on everything.
  15. Representative Democracy: Citizens appoint delegates to make decisions for them.
  16. Dictatorship: One supreme leader, come to power through the previous government, which has been abolished. Note that one dictatorship can lead to another.
  17. Feudality: Feudal allegiances between nobles.
  18. Feudalism: A feudality in which a supreme leader owns the land and grants the use of it to lords; citizens are usually serfs in forced allegiance to their respective lords.
  19. Gerontocracy: Rule by a council of elders, usually the oldest able people in the community.
  20. Chiefdom: An absolute ruler who is the eldest able person in the community.
  21. Gynococracy: Only women can rule.
  22. Androcracy: Only men can rule.
  23. Matriarchy: A gynococracy of the eldest women.
  24. Patriarchy: An androcracy of the eldest men.
  25. Hierarchy: Rule by levels of responsibility, as in a corporate structure.
  26. Religious Hierarchy: An hierarchy where priests of increasing power control each level of responsibility.
  27. Meritocracy: Ruler chosen based on qualifications or required accomplishments. May be a winner or challenger in a contest of ability.
  28. Militocracy: Military general is in charge, under the rule of civil law.
  29. Constitutional Monarchy: Rule by a single leader, usually hereditary, checked by a parliamentary body.
  30. Oligarchy: A few powerful leaders sharing power equally.
  31. Star Chamber: A secret oligarchy.
  32. Unicameral Parliament: Part elected delegates, part hereditary nobles, in one great council.
  33. Bicameral Parliament: One council of elected delegates and another of hereditary nobles.
  34. Tricameral Parliament: One council of elected delegates, another of hereditary nobles, a third of appointed delegates.
  35. Unicameral Republic: A council of delegates elected by the citizens.
  36. Bicameral Republic: Two councils of delegates elected by the citizens, often according to different electoral districts.
  37. Tricameral Republic: Three councils of delegates elected by the citizens, often according to different electoral districts.
  38. Deitocracy: Rule by one or more deities. “Oh, look, the natives are bowing to us. See if we have any flashbangs in the ship’s stores, would you?”
  39. Pharoah's death mask

    It’s better to be a god!

  40. Pharoanic Deitocracy: Hereditary ruler revered as a deity, usually leading a theocracy or religious hierarchy.
  41. Technocracy: Rule by those who have superior technology or control of vital technology such as power or water.
  42. Feudal Technocracy: A supreme leader controls all rights to vital technology and grants licenses to lords. Citizens are often employed or enslaved in the service of their respective lords.
  43. Monopoly: One individual or group controls vital services, such as food and water, and provides these services to whomever it pleases.
  44. Duopoly: Two competing individuals or groups that control vital services, often on the verge of war with one another.
  45. Polypoly: Three or more competing individuals that control vital services, with citizens choosing allegiances.
  46. Anarchy: No leaders at all.
  47. Communism: Government plans and controls the economy for all citizens equally; there is no private property.
  48. Socialism: Government provides for vital services citizens and controls all business; there is no private property beyond basic personal belongings.
  49. Limited Socialism: Government provides crucial services for citizens; many important businesses are owned by the government.
  50. Federation: Community is a member of a group of communities that have one set of laws, usually through a republic style of cooperative government.
  51. Diarchy: Two equal rulers.
  52. Dyad: A diarchy of two dictators often vying for power.
  53. Triumvirate: Three equal rulers, who might be required to rule by unanimous consent or by majority rule of two of them.
  54. Triad: A triumvirate of three dictators often vying for power.
  55. Polycentrism: Several leaders within a single political organization with each leader being responsible for a different function of government.
  56. Modular Governments: Each function of government operates independently, with independent budgets and laws over their particular jurisdictions. May lead to contradictory laws and multiple taxes.
  57. Layered Government: Citizens belong to two or more communities, and each community has a separate government, often in order of “eminent domain.” For example, federal, state, county and city governments all forming laws that govern the same citizen.
  58. Fascism: Dictatorship with strong central control of socioeconomics, usually accompanied by a secret police.
  59. Garrison: All citizens are in the military, and military authority is the rule. Tends to coincide with fascism. “Service guarantees citizenship. Want to know more?”
  60. Colonial Hegemony: Established and ruled by a foreign government that is physically removed from the community.
  61. Imperial Hegemony: Ruled by a foreign government that has a military stranglehold on the community.
  62. Mobocracy: Near chaos.
  63. Ochlocracy: Rule by the masses, but without votes.
  64. Pantisocracy: Utopian society where all citizens rule equally, that is, by pleasant consensus.
  65. Plutocracy: Rule by the wealthy, perhaps by purchase of the throne in an annual auction.
  66. Regency: Rule by an individual holding power until the rightful ruler can assume power.
  67. Satrapy: A government of delegates appointed by a foreign government, not unlike having the United Nations run your country.
  68. Utopia: No government required because everything magically works smoothly and there is no crime.
  69. Frontier Government: The community is newly formed and the government is still being created, which usually gives considerable leeway to public officials in applying and interpreting the law.
  70. Mysticism Government: Leaders receive orders from a mystic source. “The computer is your friend, citizen.”
  71. Occupation: Foreign military has invaded and holds the community under martial law.
  72. Ruins: War-ravaged community where leadership has disappeared. Not unlike Mad Max and other post-apocalypse movies.
  73. Besieged Community: The community is under attack, with survival being the rule of the day.
  74. Rasputinian Rule: For lack of a better name. Rule by soothsayer.
  75. Astrocracy: Rulers and laws determined by the positions of the heavenly bodies.
  76. Ming the Merciless

    Pathetic Earthlings! Who can save you now?

  77. Demonocracy: Government ruled by a demon. In SF, this usually means that the citizens are cowed by an individual or an alien government who wields fearsomely destructive technology and who may be willing to execute the complete annihilation of the community if displeased.
  78. Quearchy: Each citizen in turn rules for a select amount of time, perhaps for only a day.
  79. Government by Lottery: Ruler is chosen by a drawing of names.
  80. Government by Contest: A regularly scheduled contest determines the ruler. This may be a physical, mental or chance-driven competition, or a combination thereof.
  81. Government by Oracle: An oracle, perhaps one kept in stasis for years at a time, writes the laws. Not unlike a Mysticism Government, except that the source of the leadership is known to the citizens.
  82. Absent Dictator: Leader with absolute control has no interest in running the government, causing a power vacuum among his subordinates.
  83. Advancement by Combat: Leadership and the hierarchy of the governing organization are determined by lethal duels.
  84. Company Town: The community and many of its stores and businesses are owned by a large merchant company (i.e., a megacorp), and the citizens generally are employees who are prevented from leaving by their debt or physical constraints.
  85. Pottersville: One powerful businessperson controls the community through mortgages, usury, exploitation and bribery, within the law, without actually being the ruler of the community.
  86. Ancient Law: The laws were written a long time ago and never change, enforced by an elite group. The ruler merely judges but has no other power.
  87. Private Government: Each individual private owner of the land rules absolutely on that property.
  88. Lunacy: Rulers are lunatics and make up the laws seemingly at random.
  89. Revolt: The government is under attack by its own citizens.
  90. Civil War: Two or more governments are violently vying for control; citizens take up sides.
  91. Impotent Leader: Leader makes laws, but no one enforces the laws, either because they cannot be enforced or no one chooses to enforce them.
  92. Machiavellianism: Evil overlord bends and corrupts everything to his will, usually through fear and intimidation.
  93. Big Brother is watching you!

    Big Brother is watching you!

  94. Orwellianism: Secret thought police and constant scrying, which support an oppressive, fascist state.
  95. Police State: The Constabulary creates and enforces the law, possibly without trials.
  96. Automatocracy: Rule by computers and machines. They may or may not be berserk machines.
  97. Robocracy: Rule by robots with artificial intelligence; may follow the Three Laws of Robotics of Isaac Asimov.
  98. Imperial Rule: Ruled by an emperor directly, within a large empire of many governments. In Traveller, this of course means the Imperium directly governs the planet.
  99. Clans: Ruled by family councils in a feudality, where allegiances are drawn along familial relationships.
  100. Psi-Puppet: A puppet leader who acts under the secret mind-controlling powers of a psionicist.
  101. Imaginary Government: The citizens believe they have a type government, but the government is incompetent to act or has been removed from power. Leaders may not realize that they hold no power. No one is in actual charge.
  102. Illusory Government: The citizens are led to believe that they have a particular type of government, such as a democracy or republic, but in truth, the government is another government system, usually a Star Chamber or oligarchy. The elected leaders may not realize that they have no power.
  103. Preprogrammed Government: The laws and decisions of the government have been determined in the past and are disclosed at preselected times. Soothsaying may have lead to the preprogramming. The influence of the program may be direct and exposed, or subtle and covert.
  104. Psychohistory: A preprogrammed government that relies on a mathematical model of large societies. The mathematics of psychohistory always predicts the best course of action for a government to take. Mathematicians rule. However, the traditional problem of psychohistory is that it cannot predict the actions of individuals, which often change the dynamics of society whenever a dictator comes to power.
  105. Elected Leader: A simple form of democracy where the citizens elect a single leader, who then controls the entire government.
  106. Boss: Ruled by a leader who is appointed by someone other than the citizens. Usually a government for small groups working on company projects.
  107. Syndicracy: Ruled by groups that control different types of services and trades, such as a council of trade unions.
  108. Pedocracy: Rule by scholars.
  109. Penal Colony: Community is made of criminals and debtors sentenced to work in a colony. Colony leaders are usually part of a colonial hegemony, using the prisoners for slave labor.
  110. Exiled Government: The rightful government is in exile while a hostile government has taken over. The exile government plots to return the community to its own control once again.
  111. Government in Exile: The government has left the community but still rules the community. This is often the result of invasion or war.
  112. District 9 Movie Poster

    They just want to go home.

  113. Refugee Camp: The citizens have fled their government in fear, usually by physically leaving the community, and have found themselves without a community of their own. They are either a large homeless community with no government that forages to survive, or are living as guests in another community that may or may not assist with basic survival needs.
  114. Slave Camp: The government forces the members of the community into forced labor for the financial, political or military gain of the government leaders.
  115. Judicial Law: The law is set by judges who hear cases. Laws and decisions are based on the results of previous cases.
  116. Talmudic Law: A form of judicial law, except that the judges not only hear current cases but consider hypothetical cases to create laws before they may be needed.
  117. Proprietary Government: The government is run by a corporation that owns the community. Citizens themselves are usually the product. Citizens may be grown in vats or be drugged into unconsciousness for most of their lives. Citizens may have an illusory or imagined government.

Using the List

I have a randomization table to pick from this list via percentile dice, dependent on the original Traveller government type. For fiction and other RPGs, I consider different variations and combinations after reading through the list once or twice, to fit the story. Often, I pick two or more government types.

For instance, I may select one type of government to define the judicial function of government, another for the practical application of community services, and a third for legislation, maybe even a fourth for enforcement functions.

I also tend to mix government types. A direct democracy rules the nation, but the local city government is a theocracy. Or a bicameral republic where one house of government includes delegates voted by a populace who have votes equal to their wealth, while the other house is a pedocracy.

If you’d like to have this list for yourself, you can download it as a text file.

Now its your turn:

1. Can you add to to this list of government types?

2. What ideas for a science fiction or fantasy setting, in fiction or a role-playing game, do you have?

Please post your answer (or other comment) in the comments section. And please tweet me about it on Twitter with the hashtag #SciFiChat; my Twitter account is @DavidRozansky.

“We have the best government that money can buy.” –Mark Twain

About David Rozansky

Publisher of Flying Pen Press; Author's Business Manager; Author of Fishnets & Platforms: The Writers Guide to Whoring Your Book; Aviator; Author; Adventurer.
Tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Government Types for Fantasy and Science Fiction

  1. Wonderful blog! Do you have any hints for aspiring writers? I’m planning to start my own blog soon but I’m a little lost on everything. Would you advise starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option? There are so many options out there that I’m totally confused .. Any tips? Kudos!

    • It’s all a matter of taste and what features you want, but I find that WordPress has adequate functionality and versatility for an author’s blog. I recommend using it with your own proprietary URL instead of the WordPress.

      Whatever blogging application you go with, though, the real power lies in what content you supply.

      Post on a consistent schedule.

      Use an editorial schedule, and try to keep a one-month supply of material at hand.

      Give your readers what they want to read. Not what you want to write. Don’t write about writing (inless writers are your target market).

      Be the expert in your field. When people can learn from you, they will keep coming back.

      Tie your blog in with your writer’s brand and positioning.

      One resource I like a lot is the ProBlogger blog, as well as his book.

      Keep ’em Flying,
      David Rozansky

  2. NeuroGlide says:

    I think you have some redundancy there. Isn’t a Demonocracy just a subset of a Xenocracy? Also why does it matter how many houses a government has rather than who they are. More than one would be complex/mixed, right?

    • A Xenocracy is an alien government that wants to actually govern the citizenry, although not necessarily in a good way.

      A Demonocracy is an alien entity that has no desire to govern and probably does not recognize the native denizens as citizens but rather sees them as animals: perhaps as mere fauna, or as vermin, or as food, beasts of burden, or sub-sentient slaves. A demonocracy may only rule long enough to mine a planet of its resources (such as water) or may be intent on planetary destruction (A disturbance in the force as though a million different voices were crying out in agony and then were suddenly silenced).

      It’s all about intent and perspective.

      As to the difference between a unicameral, bicameral or tricameral seat of government, or a single leader, a dyad or a triad, the difference lies in balance of power. With a unicameral body or single leader, power becomes concentrated in the hands of the most influential. In a bicameral or dyad government, opposing forces give the opposition enough power to prevent absolute corruption, but all too often controversial issues stall out. In a tricameral process or triad (or more than three bodies), where only two houses need agree, things move smoothly but politics then becomes incredibly full of intrigue – the stuff that epic fantasies are made of.

      Anyway, that’s why I have them on the list as separate government types.

      –David Rozansky

  3. Thanks to John C. Osborn, @bayreporta, for suggesting Hive Collective in a tweet. I am surprised I’ve overlooked the idea all these years. His suggestion also gives me a second idea, that of the Hive Organism.

    114. Hive Collective: Government issues orders to citizens towards accomplishment of a single goal, usually the increased power of the government, and for some reason citizens comply immediately and efficiently.

    115. Hive Organism: The citizenry act as if with a single mind. This unity of thought may be natural, psionic, magical or technological. There may be a supreme entity overriding the combined citizens’ thoughts, or the citizens may have a single combined consciousness.

    Those are great additions, John. Who has more?

    –David Rozansky