Roleplaying games have taught me more than I'll ever fully realize. I'm sure everyone reading this blog would agree. One thing I'm sure I learned from RPGs (and not from paying attention in school) is the name of several strange forms of government, especially feudalism and also many others found in the 1st Edition Dungeonmasters Guide such as theocracy, gynarchy and the fictional magocracy. Growing up in America in the 70's and 80's you'd hardly know there was anything other than democracy or communism in the world. To my delight I found the World of Greyhawk made use of alot of these obscure types of government. Take that, social studies!
One of these words I've noticed, oligarchy, has been coming up an awful lot more in the last decade. First it was in reference to our old nemesis Russia. Since the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union broke up, the word oligarch/oligarchy certainly applied to the wealthy business owners who now had all the influence afterwards. Here lately however, the media has been throwing out that word to describe the United States as well. As the link above shows, a country can be one system of government and still be an oligarchy. They're the power behind the throne so to say. And truth is often stranger than fiction.
The Free City of Greyhawk is an oligarchy. Once ruled by Zagig Yragerne (magocracy?) and the Great Kingdom (feudal), rulership of the free city is now in the hands of a fluctuating number of oligarchs called Directors. These Directors come from many walks of life, but largely they are all wealthy and powerful guild leaders or temple heads. The Lord Mayor is elected from within their ranks and serves an indefinite period. These positions aren't hereditary but they may as well be, since the oligarchs make sure that new members are handpicked from their own organizations or spheres of influence. In this fantasy setting it's no surprise then that organized crime has some of the highest seats at the table with military and religious leaders.
So compared to Greyhawk City is the USA an oligarchy yet? Is that a bad thing? I'll let greater minds than mine draw distinctions. I'd also be happy to hear other examples of obscure government forms used in real life. Until next time, carry on.