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Basic Information

Traditionally an empire is the territory ruled over by an Emperor - that is, a super-national polity containing a number of distinct states and/or peoples. Strictly speaking, the actual presence of an Emperor appears to be optional - for example the Roman Empire functioned as an empire whilst still a republic, only acquiring an Emperor later, and the monarchs of the British Empire went for many generations before claiming imperial pomp.

Long term, Empires will tend towards instability as a result of their diverse character - the most stable amongst them will inculcate a homogenous identity amongst their elite, so that the rulers of remote provinces have more in common with the ruling class in the Imperial homeland that with the people they rule, but still cultural and ethnic diversity will tend towards separatism sooner or later.

The Empire, by contrast is an empire serving as an institutional character.


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Game and Story Use

  • How an empire actually functions will vary depend on its actual social structure - a feudal Empire such as the (much maligned) Holy Roman Empire is a very different beast to a despotism or monarchy. In some senses a feudal empire may play out like a multinational setting as local power centres are prone to be emphasised over the centre - with the interesting wrinkle that given province may only be a few miles across (in the case of a monastic or civic vassal) or a substantial kingdom in its own right. There is also the potential of provinces drifting in or out of the Empire due to heredity unless someone does something about it.
  • It would, in fact, be entirely possible to set an entire campaign within a single Empire: one which, like Ancient China, has expanded to cover pretty much all all of the known world and has only fringe lands around its frontier.
  • Expect at least some of these in your campaign world unless it is horribly balkanized.
  • Note the diversity vs. stability angle - ironically the traditional fantasy empire that has lasted for millennia might actually have a chance of surviving based on that other fantasy cliché; the impressive lack of cultural or linguistic diversity over long times and distances.
    • Also long lived fantasy races are likely to help prop these things up. If each generation lives for centuries, turnover is likely to be slow.
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