What goes onto our fictional empire-builders’ checklist? This is where essential world-building for culture and setting begins.
In the current fantasy-fiction challenge, our protagonist is in revolt against the Evil Empire de Jour. With inspiration from the Mythcreants blog, here’s a ten-step questionnaire for creating detailed and credible Imperial powers.
While each of these is worthy of an extensive essay of its own, we’ll make do with some prompts beneath each question.
- What’s the Empire’s reach?
- System of government?
- Method of control?
- Enforcement of power?
- Social strata?
- Technological advancement?
- External threats?
- Internal threats?
- External targets?
- Expansion targets?
Ten-Steps and More
1. What’s the Empire’s reach
How far and wide in your fictional world does the empire extend?
- Scattered (dependent territories)
2. System of government
Without getting into reams of political theory, crossovers and hybrids, the most common governments with imperial ambitions are:
Inherited or elected monarchs wielding absolute or limited (constitutional) power
Small group of powerful/wealthy individuals
- Representative Democracy
Government elected by popular vote – parliament, congress, duma
- Elite Democracy
Council or assembly constituted of qualifying individuals – families, professions, castes
Government exercised by high achievers, specialist talents, contributors to ‘the common good’
Government constituted of technical specialists – scholars, scientists, engineers,
Government exercised by officials of a dominant, established religion
Military rule by junta / martial law
Power exercised by a single (charismatic or manipulative) individual
Power exercised by wizards, witches, sorcerers and other magical persons
3. Method of control
How does the empire exercise and maintain control across its territories?
- Subjugation (occupation)
- Statrapy (puppet heads of state)
- Devolved/Local autonomy
4. Enforcement of power
How does the empire enforce its power throughout its territories?
- Standing professional army
- Citizen army
- Local levies
- Foreign levies
- Hired mercenaries
5. Social strata
How does the empire treat and integrate non-native populations within its bounds.
- Voluntary assimilation
- Enforced assimilation
- Incentivised assimilation
- Second-class citizens
- Apartheid/enforced separation
- Caste system
6. Technological advancement
What are the empire’s technological achievements and how do they help/hinder the advancement or stability of the imperium?
- Industrial production
- Agricultural methods
- Science / learning
7. External threats
What outside factors threaten to bring down the empire?
- Rival states (direct or cold war)
- Other empires (direct or cold war)
- Raiders / brigands / pirates
- Natural phenomena
fire / flood / earthquake / volcano / pestilence / plague
- Unnatural phenomena
Gods, monsters/aliens (Kaiju, triffids, Martians), Demons, ghosts, zombies
8. Internal threats
What threatens to bring down the empire from within?
- Rebellion (moral, political, religious, economic, cultural, racial)
- Civic decay / corruption
- Resource shortage
9. External targets
Who or what does the empire aim to conquer or destroy?
- Neighbouring states
- Distant civilisations
- Conquered peoples (deportation/slavery/genocide)
10. Expansion targets
What drives the empire toward expansion from its existing state?
- Need for more land (soil, timber, water)
Need for additional resources (people, metals, fuels, materials)
Political distraction from internal strife
Image credit: Rome Italy Roma – Creative Commons by gnuckx (3208740782)