When writing fantasy, most people choose to adapt an existing nation or culture, change a few key concepts, and use that as their outline. This is still very feasible today, and you can still draw plenty of unique ideas from even the most used cultures.
Case study: everybody has done the Romans, but when they do, they tend to copy the visual rather than the political aspects. A lot of Rome’s political structures seem very alien to us today and so they are ignored, but they could definitely be repurposed for modern fantasy. The idea of two rulers of equal power so that one can’t become too powerful? Easy enough, different to anything we really have today, and it already begins to suggest things about the history of your invented nation (why are they so afraid of dictators? What happened to make they go to such great lengths to avoid it?) Bodies of representatives like the senate are much more familiar to us in our modern day, due to the American political system, but things such as the Twelve Tables story, the myth of how Rome obtained its laws, has some reworkable value to it.
There are literally thousands of examples, and I’m not going to list them all. I’m going to suggest you point to a random part of the map (that youre not from), choose a random date, and start Googling. You’ll find something.
However, I’m not here to teach you how to copy, I’m here to tell you how to make a fantasy political system and make it feel authentic. With that in mind, here are the things you should be considering about your proposed system:
- Who is in charge? Is it a certain group of people? How long have they been in charge? What do the other groups think of this? Is there unity in this group, or do they fight amongst themselves?
- Is slavery a thing? How long has it been? Are the slaves suppressed, or on the verge of revolution? If you subscribe to Marxian theories of history, there will be a revolt eventually. How would that go down if it were to happen? Some of the conflict from that may end up featuring in your story.
- Consider nationalism, prejudice, racism, tolerance, and factor these into your political system. If your people hate the people of another nation, then those people will most likely be abused by your nation’s political system. Imagine how medieval Europeans would have reacted if they actually met the dwarf race. Slavery?
- Consider popular culture and propaganda. What do people think about things, and what does your government want them to think about things? More room for story conflict here!
- Religion has been an important factor in human politics for most of history. Think about how this works in your story. Are there multiple religions? Is there only one official religion of the government? Is it the same as the majority religion of the country, or not? How does this affect the ways your politicians behave or have behaved?
These are some pretty loaded points, and you should spend some time thinking about them before you dive in to your worldbuilding.
One more thing: these things dont have to be layered on top of each other. They can be scattered through the timeline of your world. Maybe religion was much more important in the past than it is now, and so there are still ceremonial aspects of your government that have survived into the modern day. Or maybe people are so untrusting of dictatorship that they always call their leaders ‘prince’ instead of ‘king’. Maybe racial conflict was much more important in the past: maybe that race is now accepted, or maybe it has been enslaved or destroyed. Is race even important in your story at all? Things to think about.
I’ll be happy to add more to this article if people request it. If it hasn’t answered a question you have, comment and I’ll talk about it.
Click here to go to see the rest of my ‘How to write fantasy’ posts!