Monday, February 20, 2012

World Building Part 2 - the Governing Agencies

In the first post, I took a long look at the way in which I set about starting to build a fantasy world, and explained a little bit about the history that I have with the genre. As is to be expected, I like my fantasy forward thinking - progressive, avant garde, and one where the rules are internally consistent to my specifications. Works where one pines for the good ol' days, when the good king John ruled from the throne and the monarchy made sure the trains rain on time by keeping a highly stratified society in which the shit flowed down hill but not much else is not something I aspire to. There are plenty of different government styles, and as I start to build my worlds, I look to those. Any society that has an autocratic ruler is not likely going to be one that I aspire to by any means.

Far too often, I think, the government style of a fantasy world gets overlooked. "Let's just throw a king or pope or some other autocrat in there and get it over with, and move on." The problem with this is that you end up with so many examples of autocracy the entire genre begins to look anti-democratic. Not helping matters is the notion that heroes can only be "chosen ones" and are "much larger than life." Heroes in fiction aren't necessarily supposed to loom larger than life. Heroes in fiction aren't necessarily supposed to be leaders, nor are they supposed to be demi-gods who discover that they're the lost king. They don't necessarily have to be one of a select few who can wield magic/psionics/whatever.

Take for example Human Black Box. Chloe, Zira, and Anjali all look larger than life to us right now, but that's because they live in a world where it's possible. The thing to remember is that they're relatively normal, and in some ways, inferior, to others in their world. Chloe, Zira, Anjali and the other characters in HBB are otherwise normal people in this society. The thing is, technology has advanced society so much that even normal people are on a level playing field with the heroes of old fantasy and mythology. For instance, in a recent Eclipse Phase session I had, the players sleeved inside of modified Olympian morphs and reenacted the myth of the Calydonian boar hunt. While something like that is still a bit beyond the capacity of the average individual - the Olympian cost an arm and a leg and the creation of the boar pod that housed the AGI role-playing as the Calydonian boar was itself tremendously expensive - the stuff is there for them. They, for the most part, are not particularly wealthy. They have average occupations, if they have one. They were able to sleeve into a body and relive a tale form Ancient Greek mythology, and in some ways, even outpaced the mythological heroes. Normal people, outpacing mythology. This is what equality and transhumanism is about. Making that technology available to everyone so everyone can do it is what being technoprogressive is about. While it's hard to directly mirror the philosophies in fantasy, the values can carry over with a little work.

Because I can't rely on technology in my setting, and having magic as is usually presented skews the power structure away from the average folk - with industrialization not really helping - I have to keep this in mind. The normal person is where I start when I build a world, because I don't expect my heroes to be much more than them.

Selecting the government style and setting the world up for the average person ensures a world that's deeper and more expansive than one that's built around the heroes first. It also requires a lot more work, but it's not something that's impossible. Selecting the government style first also determines, in subtle ways, what kind of economy you're looking at. Because the economy is scarcity-based, with some things more scarce than others, I'm going to be looking towards the "classical" economic theories, rather than some new, bleeding edge economic theory for a society that's passed the scarcity-level. It also determines in subtle ways the levels of freedom that your average folks - and by extension, the heroes - will have. So with all this in mind, I set about trying to determine what kind of governments I was looking at.

Recall that I gave a rough idea what the world was like in my last post. It's a mostly desert world, with civilization clinging along the Western coast of a continent. There are large mountains that separate it from a vast, expansive desert. It has a couple of different biomes, from dense jungle further south along the coast to rough Sahel, savanna, and several different types of desert. The climate is probably going to be Mediterranean, with Tropical further to the south. I don't have a solid map yet, only a rough image in my head of what I'm after. At the end of the day, the map is usually one of the last things I do, after I've got a concrete idea what I want from this world and what it's going to look like.

Recall predominate influence was going to be Arabic and North African, with a substantial minority influence from East Africa (Ethiopia in particular) and West Africa. The land was going to be a collection of city-states, at varying degrees of wealth and unity with one another, with different approaches, with tribes scattered around them. At least a handful of the city-states in the Eastern Mountains were going to be different as they were directly influenced by Ethiopia, while some to the south were going to be West African. Technology level was going to vary, although the more technologically advanced city-states were steampunk and industrialized. Magic existed in the form of crystals or glass shards that was used in a form of alchemical thaumaturgy, to manipulate the classic elements - earth, fire, wind, water, and a fifth one, glass. Without a shard of this glass, there would be no alchemical thaumaturgy. Theurgy would be practiced by the clerics of the various religions, most of which were monotheist with the exception of the animist religions to the south.

So, when I'm setting up a government, I have to look at the rough hash of the society that I've got:

  1. It's a collection of city-states. They're not all going to be the same. It's influenced by industrialization in some parts, and not in others. This disparity suggests economic disparity.
  2. City-states that are less wealthy than others are more likely to be autocratic, although this isn't a rule so much as it is a guideline. City-States with less wealth are also likely to be less technologically advanced.
  3. Magic - or alchemical thaumaturgy, as it's professionally called - is done with glass shards. These glass shards must be mined/gotten somehow from nature. This makes them the very picture of scarcity. Depending upon how I wanted to play this out, I could use them as an analogy for oil, in much the same way that Dune used spice as a stand in for oil and CHON as a stand in for OPEC, which suggests the existence of entities that cross city-state lines - NGOs, as it were.
  4. Tying together points two and three - if I do have the presence of some sorts of NGOs, which would likely be large economic bodies or entities united to pursue a common interest in the production or sale of some type of good(s) (let's call them corporations for now), the door opens up to have these NGOs use and abuse less technologically and monetarily advantaged city-states. These NGOs, depending upon how powerful I wanted them to be, could range from anywhere to the wealth of the strongest city-state, or even more powerful. They would also be a unification among the city-states, which would mean that conflict between them would be reduced, but not outright eliminated. Instead, most of the conflict within the city-states at the mercy of these corporations would internal class warfare. As far as economic disparity goes, in favor of corporations, I have a few government/economic plans I can choose. However, capitalism is far and away the most obvious choice, so I'll keep this in the back of my mind.
  5. I have to keep in mind the societies I'm drawing from. To call hospitality a "big thing" in the Middle East is a huge understatement. The environment will require that people work together to survive; if you do your own thing, you'll likely starve to death in the desert. Throughout Africa, tribal loyalties seem to be more important than nationalistic identities, based on my watching from the outside (although this isn't clear cut by any means, and based just on my assumptions. In some cases I'm sure that there are people who identify themselves as Kenyan first and a particular tribe they belong to second). Both of these suggest insular cultures, based around the family unit in a way that Western Society is not, and one based around the community. So my corporations will either look very different from Western ones, or they're going to be very unwelcome.
As you can see, I'm looking at economics and I'm looking at government styles, while keeping in mind society models. My next step is going to be determining just how many city-states I'm actually going to have. Before I do this, however, I need to determine a rough idea of where I want them; city-states that collect together a generally similar in someways, because it's easier for ideas to trade between them if they're closer. Thus, it's helpful if I take a look and break the map up into "zones", so I know where I'm putting what. Here's what I have so far - it's by no means a complete map, and in fact, it's barely even a rough one, but it helps with the visualization:

As you can see, I divided the territory up into 6 rough zones. Zone-1 is the wealthiest Zone, because it has a privileged position along the coast, where the climate is probably more forgiving. Zone-3 is likely going to be similar to Zone-1, but it's not as wealthy because it doesn't have that wide of an area. Zone-2 is probably the next step down, home to the poorer city-states, because they're pushed back towards the mountains. Zone-4 is further to the north, and it covers a larger area spanning from the mountains to the coast. This should suggest a wealthy city-state, but that depends upon what kind of terrain we're dealing with. I suspect the further north you go the harsher the land becomes, so while Zone-4 has a good position, spanning across the inhabitable part of the continent, it also occupies one of the most mineral poor. The city-states in Zone-4 are likely to be some of the poorest. Zone-5 is our Ethiopian-influence zone; it's mostly located in the mountains, but it's also situated in the desert. I suspect it'll be in a similar position to Zone-4, in that it's relatively mineral poor. However, the mountains suggest the existence of things like coal - which would be very useful for the steam technology of the city-states in Zone-1. So Zone-5 has economic leverage by being situated on the mountains, even if it would have a rough time using it. Zone-6 is the last of the zones, at the very bottom and either bordering or being pushed right into the denser tropical jungles to the south. Jungles are notoriously poor for agriculture, but they can hold quite a few resources. So once again, Zone-6 is probably in a similar boat to Zone-5; it has resources it can trade, unlike 4, but it might not have the monetary leverage to make use of them.

The benefit of breaking them up into zones like that is that I can speak broadly about a large area, and then go in and tweak and redefine as needed. It didn't just start existing - it always existed. See how it matches the city-states around it in culture and economic status?

This also isn't to say that there won't be rich city-states in Zones 4 through 6, or poor city-states in Zones 1 through 3. However, this is me looking at averages for the moment, and determining broad cultures from economic and environmental conditions present. So Zones 1-3 tend towards wealthy, powerful city-states while 4-6 do not.

Some potential points of conflict also become visible. In particular, the range of mountains that belongs to Zone-2, where Zones 2 and 5 meet. Zone-3 is squeezed by Zones 6 and 1; a particularly expansionist leader would turn their eye to the north before they did the south, so there might be some potential for conflict there as well.

So, here's what the economic map looks like:

With all this in mind, I can start looking at the government styles and the philosophies of the particular Zones. The well-off nature of Zone-1 does not necessarily mean there's no economic inequality - in fact, it'd be fun to have it mean the exact opposite. However, I want to avoid having governments where the Sultan or Sheik has a lot of power. In fact, in Zone-1, the authority and power would likely belong to the corporations who run the shoe - the Industrial Sheiks, as it were (since Baron is an Germanic title, I won't use it. I wont the same connotation, though).

Because the Industrial Sheiks are the ones with the power in Zone-1, they're going to shape a government that benefits them. Enter Crony-capitalism, stage right. Since I'm leaning "Gilded Age" I might as well just give it up and go that way whole hog. Zone-1 gives the appearance of being super-wealthy, but there's arguably more disparity in Zone-1 than there is any other zone. The governments in Zone-1 are likely dictated by the Industrial Sheiks and their large corporations, or in this case, consortium, since their entities would be banding together and replicating the circumstances of the society. These are not loan-wolf corps, vying for total monopoly; these corps work well together, and are open and hospitable - to each other, anyway. To reflect that, there's a consortium of corporations that likely runs the various governments in Zone-1, using crony-capitalism as the economic vessel.

So any type of government I put in Zone-1 is likely going to be a figure-head government anyway. So I might as well go representative democracy in some of the larger city-states, or parliamentary democracies with the Sultans and Sharifs and other authority figures as figure heads with very little power. There may be a few autocracies in Zone-1, but in large, crony-capitalism, corporate consortiums, and "representative" democracies are the rule.

Zone-2 is in better shape than Zone-1 is, even though it's not as wealthy. It has a few resources, no access to the cost, but a good position as it sits right in the middle of Zones 1 and 5. I've decided that I want my glass to be found in the desert and in the mountains, giving Zones 4, 5, and 6 a huge boost. This also helps Zone 2, because Zone 5 has an idea position to mine it and ship it. There's a lot of interest in developing Zone 2 to make the shipment of the glass and other raw materials from Zone 5 to Zone 1 cheap. So Zone 2 is going to be home to relatively open societies based on trade. The downside about all this is that Zone 2 is the least likely of them all to have a unified structure; the only thing I can say about Zone 2 is that it's a melting pot for all of the other zones, being right there in the center of the map.

Governments in Zone-2 will vary. Due to the open nature of the trade, open economies that aren't state regulated are likely going to be the order, so capitalism is much more likely to be seen here than, say, socialism. However, the trade makes Zone-2 wealthy - not as wealthy as Zone-1, but wealthy in it's own right. Open trade and a even distribution of wealth would suggest that Zone-2 has a less corporatist lean, but also a less statist lean. This likely means any autocratic rulers or ruling bodies may be elected officials, due to the open nature of society. However, I can't call Zone-2 libertarian, because libertarianism - I got mine, fuck you - flies in the face of the engrained nature of the society. So I'm looking at some kind of classical anarcho-libertarianism, with a weak government, minimal corporate influence in some areas where the smaller companies in the city-state control the shipping and distribution of goods and services. Again, this is just a broad painting, but Zone-2 looks like it'll be the most open of the various city-states. At one time, it may have been the frontier - it still is in some ways.

Zone-3 is down along the coast. It's sandwiched between 1 and 6, and with a big bully like 1 to the north, it's likely a place that the corporations turn to take advantage of. Thus, Zone-3 is likely going to be a mirror of Zone-1, but with the negative qualities enhanced due to the fact that, you know, it's not Zone-1.

Zone-4 is the poorest of the bunch. I strongly expect to see a lot of autocratic governments here, ruled by unpopular rulers who hold authority because they're backed by the corporations that fund them or because they manage to direct the anger and rage of the population in other directions away from them. The mountain city-states may be more moderately wealthy, but not by much, because as a poor zone, it's the most likely exploited by the corps of Zone-1.

Zones 5 and 6 will receive special attention at a later date, once I start hammering out the minor details. They have positions that are at once privileged and unprivileged, and they differ in very large ways from the over-reaching cultures of Zones 1-4. This difference of culture will reflect in the government style, and not necessarily in positive ways.

So there we have it. I hammered out the economic and governmental zones of the different regions, named them, and drafted a small map. In the future, I plan to take a closer look at each region, and eventually name them. But for now, this will do.

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