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Thread: Realistic vs. Fantasy Populations

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      Zetesofos is offline
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    Default Realistic vs. Fantasy Populations

    Hey everyone. So, as an attribute to my "dedication" I'm trying to decide and formulate the population sizes of my various countries for my fantasy world. While I'm not trying to be TOO detailed, I seem to have hit a snag. Researching a little classical demography, there were easily upwards of 20 million people living in just Europe around the middle ages, if not more. The classical roman empire like-wise just had 30 mil just in Europe, with another 20 elsewhere.

    However, the problem is that for my fantasy setting, these numbers SEEM very large, even considering the rough equal land mass. But, how do I reconcile a large population of humans, or huminoids with areas that should also be populated with Dragons and other monsters ready to EAT and or other dispicible things to them. The sources I have for my games put cities (the largest unit save unique locals) at around 25,000 per, but how packed should these cities be to each other?
    In short: For those who care about these types of things - would it seem more believable to lean towards more historical accurate populations sizes, and if not, how much should they be reduced to be believable within a fantasy setting?

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      Ascension is offline
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    The way that I approached this was to create a hierarchy of towns - from hovel to megalopolis in 16 levels - and decide on a population for each type of town. Then I put in a bunch of different size towns on my map and added up the numbers. If the numbers seemed too large then I cut the numbers down per town and re-added things. That drove me crazy after a while as it was totally obsessive and anal. So now I just use about 3 or 4 sizes of towns and give them big numbers and just say that the rest of the population lives in small unimportant villages. This way I can say that the country has a few million people without getting so obsessive about placing all those towns and villages and hovels and cities and etc.

    Then I base my military upon those numbers, roughly 25% of the population can be called into service (that's a number I decided on so it may not be accurate). So with 2 million people that would give you an army of 500,000...quite large but is a max number of total able-bodied men no matter their age. For a standing army I use a number like 2.5% which is 50,000 and reasonable since those guys are spread over a vast countryside...some patrolling, some in forts, some in cities, etc. with even the smallest village getting at least a squadron of soldiers (roughly 5 to 10 men).

    If you want lots of monsters roaming the countryside, a la Points of Light, then you just make up whatever number you want...in this instance take it down to 1 million people total with about 200,000 in big cities and towns with a standing army of 25,000. This leaves lots of open land for monsters to roam around in which makes the countryside very dark and dangerous. The reality of the medieval period was far more prosaic since there were no monsters (just bears and wolves and large cats) the population was much much larger, hence the seemingly skewed numbers. The reality in which fantasy is based on is very boring so you have to cut down the numbers of people to make it work.
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      waldronate is offline
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    One way is to decide on your cities and not worry about reality. Another is to determine how much and what quality land you have and then figure out how big a city it will support. Another is to read up on some rules of thumb and use those.

    http://www.history.ac.uk/resources/e...rs/keene-paper seems to be a fairly nice paper on basic human development in the medieval period.

    A single large monster like a dragon can probably be considered equal to a small city in terms of its food requirements. Simiarly, races without an agricultural tradition (goblins and orcs being the traditional examples) will tend to raid agricultural fields, putting additional strain on resources.

    On the other hand, it may be quite likely that fantasy crops are higher-yielding and more disease-resistant than their medieval equivalents. Very high quality forage plants, for example, might well allow raising animals on relatively small plots of land. Grains that produce their own fertilizer (e.g. a form of nitrogen-fixing wheat) would reduce the need for allowing fields to lie fallow 1/3 of the time. Meat trees (the fruit is primarily protein dense enough to be equivalent to meat) allow even the most vegetarian race to grow fast enough to keep up with the carnivores. And so on.

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    Guild Master Gracious Donor Midgardsormr's Avatar
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    20 million was probably around the low point of European population in the period between the fall of Rome in the 400's and the rise of Charlemagne around 800. At its peak, right before the Black Death wiped a lot of it out, the total medieval population of Europe was somewhere around 70 million. That would have been in the late 1200's, if I recall correctly. France alone held about 18 million in the 1280's. By way of comparison, India had a peak medieval population of about 200 million people just prior to the Muslim invasions (I don't remember which century that occured in), and it's a much smaller bit of land than the whole of Europe. China had about 125 million in the early 1300's, again right before the plague reduced the population significantly.

    Another handy bit of info (the article waldronate linked to might mention this; I only skimmed it) is that on average, an acre of cultivated land grows enough food to feed 4-8 people. That may or may not be true, but it's an estimate that I've seen in a number of places, and one that I use in my own demographic estimates. And a single cow needs 2 to 3 acres of pasturage. Two animals to five acres. Horses require similar amounts of land, but they can graze in less hospitable country than cows.
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      jwbjerk is offline
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zetesofos View Post
    However, the problem is that for my fantasy setting, these numbers SEEM very large, even considering the rough equal land mass. But, how do I reconcile a large population of humans, or huminoids with areas that should also be populated with Dragons and other monsters ready to EAT and or other dispicible things to them. The sources I have for my games put cities (the largest unit save unique locals) at around 25,000 per, but how packed should these cities be to each other?
    Remember that in the medieval world the vast majority of people were food producers (farmers, fishermen, etc.) and didn't live in cities. Today a single farmer can feed hundreds or thousands but with medieval methods the ratio is more like 1 to 1 (depending on the period, fertility of the area, and who you believe, etc)
    You get a much thinner, evening distributed population than we have now.
    For spacing your cities the primary consideration is food. There needs to be enough fertile countryside around them to support enough farmers to feed the city. A starving city doesn't grow.

    Quote Originally Posted by Zetesofos View Post
    In short: For those who care about these types of things - would it seem more believable to lean towards more historical accurate populations sizes, and if not, how much should they be reduced to be believable within a fantasy setting?
    There were always wild relatively uninhabited lands in the real world. That's where the monsters are generally imagined to go, but in the real world there was usually a more prosaic reason for the uninhabited status, lousy soil, lack of reliable water, etc.

    To figure out how this effects human(oid) populations, you need to figure out the balance of power between civilization and monsters. Are the monsters relegated to the outskirst, land that humans really wouldn't do much with anyway, or are the monsters pushing back, and occupying good land that humans would love to use if they could? A single dragon (depending on exactly what your dragons are like) could reasonably "ruin" hundreds of square miles for human habitation.

    For a quick and dirty method i'd figure a percentage of human-useable monster dominated lands. If it was 50%, cut the humanoid population by 50%, i.e. to 10 million.

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      ravells is offline
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    Have you seen John St John's 'Medieval Demographics made easy?' there's a spreadsheet that goes with it floating somewhere about on the internet.

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    Guild Artisan Greason Wolfe's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ravells View Post
    Have you seen John St John's 'Medieval Demographics made easy?' there's a spreadsheet that goes with it floating somewhere about on the internet.
    Not sure if this is the one that ravells is talking about, but it is a javascript based on the referenced link that breaks things down fairly well and in a fairly generic (game system wise) format.

    http://www.rpglibrary.org/utils/meddemog/

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      OldGuy is offline
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    In a fantasy setting, I'm of the mind that the villages, towns, and cities should be whatever size best fits with your own image. Historically, the population was spread out all over europe in small farms and villages that stretched between the large cities. If the lands are full of monsters, especially organized creatures such as orcs or goblins, spreading out like that in a fantasy world would just provide easy pickings. I would expect all the farms to be clustered as close as possible around the cities for protection. Also, in a world of fantasy, there may well be crops and livestock that can be grown/bred more efficiently and in much smaller areas. Magical aid may be used to assist in feeding the populace as well (protection against insects and weather, etc).

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      loongtim is offline
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    I think OldGuy hit the nail on the head - the fact that it is a fantasy setting means it won't be much like reality unless it's a very, very low-magic culture. Maybe you could start with historical numbers as a base, and then ask yourself how the monsters and magic that inhabit your world would change the dynamic. Not only will it affect population sizes and concentrations, but also cultures in general. For instance, if every noble has a pet mage slinging Transmute Rock to Mud around, how many nobles are going to waste their time building stone castles? Actually, in that case, all nobles probably would be mages - maybe they all just Rope Trick themselves to bed every night and let all the Muggles fend for themselves.
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      tilt is offline
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    yes, magic can have a huge diffence on how the world looks (as monsters can). I'd concider the following:
    Monsters:
    How strong are the monster force - is it a "war" against them ie. are there need for constant troops and skirmishes to keep them to the wilderness or do they just pose a random encounter now and then.
    Dragons would probably a nuisance for farmers with his sheep and cows as easy pickings, but seing that some dragons are intelligent they might not attack people to limit the need to "kill the dragon".
    Magic:
    Does the magicusers help everybody or just the nobles? If everyone can get healing for instance you'd have a very healty population - that might leed to fewer kids though.
    Does the magic help growing crops etc ... then you can argue that the fields can support much more people.

    Especially magic can change the world a lot ... making it very different from the classic middle ages
    Good luck with your campaign
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