Ripped From The Headlines
The Referee has quite a lot of latitude on how to set up the “Ruling Inner Circle” of an Imperial government. With the NYT’s article Xi Jinping’s Inner Circle Offers Cold Shoulder to Western Officials, we get a model of a highly suspicious and closed Inner Circle, where information is hard to come by and the man on top holds a lot of cards close to his vest.
Example: In Stellar Reaches’ Third Imperium
In the setting I work in – the Solomani Rim War – I chose to set up the highest levels as a near-diarchy where Princess Elizabeth handles internal affairs (especially rebuilding the Imperial security services after the extensive damage Solomani Security inflicted) while Emperor Gavin focuses on the war effort against the Solomani Confederation. As Princess Elizabeth successfully purges the branches of the Imperial government (starting from the military and secret services, and expanding from there), trusted Noble Houses are put in charged of the now-cleansed ministries and bureaus.
A substantial percentage of the most trusted administrators are Naval people, that earned the respect of Gavin during his Navy years. Due to the racial nature of the current war (and the numerous Solomani turncoats), an above-average number of ministers, new nobles, etc are Vilani, Mixed Vilani, and Non-human – and a sharply below-average number are pure Solomani.
(It’s gotten to the point that Princess Elizabeth is quietly looking for loyalist Solomani who can be appointed to a few positions, to avoid building a mirror-image “no Solomani” government, a mere reflection of the “pure Solomani” Confederation.)
Note the distinct lack of family/household appointments. The previous Emperor, Styryx, was a turbulent and rather undisciplined man (and something of a playboy). Even though he left a large number of bastards in his wake, they have chosen The Good Life as well, and have neither the interest or aptitude for the responsibilities of leadership. Fortunately, the legitimate children turned out better; treated fairly poorly by their father, Gavin, Elizabeth and Christopher (acting House Archon for the Alkhalikoi Dynasty, handling the money and family affairs) reacted by aspiring to be better Nobles than him, a goal they have broadly succeeded in reaching.
(For further details, see Stellar Reaches #13)
It will still take time to repair the dynastic damage that Styryx inflicted before the coup and his subsequent imprisonment in (very comfortable, but very isolated) quarters in the Imperial Palace.
There are different levels of trust, and different ways of earning trust, in a government. In China, people from the old families that were part of Mao’s branch of the Communist Party are the rough equivalent of the Noble Houses: not automatically gaining power, but definitely in the inside track. In the British Empire, old families from the right schools were in the Outer Circle. In other societies, family & clan is always important, but religion, schooling, shared ideologies, shared hometowns, and sometimes shared experiences in war or prison are the bonds.
You can expand this indefinitely: vested corporate officers, firm partnership, secret societies, KGB-types, early members of a terrorist group, even the original members of an adventuring party…
This Types of Government webpage could be useful as quick-n-dirty inspiration for the next government your PCs have to deal with. Simplistic, yes, but it leaves a lot to the Referee’s imagination…